Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane has resisted the temptation to rush back a fit-again Gareth Bale their Champions League clash tonight against an on-form Napoli backed by Diego Maradona.Bale returned to training for the first time since suffering ankle ligament damage in November on Sunday and has been left out of Zidane’s 19-man squad. Cristiano Ronaldo has been passed fit, though, as the Portuguese has shrugged off a knock picked up in Saturday’s 3-1 win at Osasuna to keep Los Blancos top of La Liga.“He has had nearly three months out and we have to go slowly with Gareth,” said Zidane on Tuesday.“Everyone wants to win the Champions League, but it is a hard and long road and we are on that path.“The good thing is that we are in good shape. We have everyone fit, that means it will be harder to pick the squad, but I’m happy to see everyone ready and committed for the return of the Champions League.”Napoli’s sensational free-scoring form that has seen them reel off an 18-game unbeaten run has seen the Italians’ hopes of shocking the holders soar.Among the expected 10,000 strong travelling support will be Napoli’s greatest ever player as Maradona arrived in Madrid on Monday.“Thankfully he is not playing! We are happy about that,” said Madrid midfielder Luka Modric on the presence of Maradona.“He is one of the most important players in the history of football. It is nice he is here to see the game live.”Zidane, though, insisted he is more concerned by the likes of the on-fire Dries Mertens, who has scored 14 goals in his last 11 outings, including three hat-tricks.“He (Maradona) was one of the best players in the history of football, but I am more worried about those that are on the field.”No side has managed to retain the competition in the Champions League era with AC Milan 27 years ago the last team to win back-to-back European Cups.However, Modric believes the 11-time winners are better placed than anyone else to bring that streak to an end in June’s final in Bale’s home city of Cardiff.“We are Real Madrid and it has never happened, but we think we can be the first team to defend the title,” added the Croatian.“Wednesday is the first step against Napoli, that is the most important thing not looking further ahead. We want to be in Cardiff but we need to go game-by-game.”Napoli have a returning star of their own as Arkadiusz Milik has made the bench for victories over Bologna and Genoa after suffering cruciate ligament damage in October.However, the Polish international will start on the sidelines again with Mertens partnered by Lorenzo Insigne and former Madrid winger Jose Maria Callejon.“We are going to play an away match against the champions of the world and a really strong side,” Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri told the club’s website.“They are so strong that we don’t even know if we will be able to stop them.“I don’t know what to expect and what it will happen. I just want to say that I want commitment, dedication and nerve in order to understand exactly who we are and where we can get to.”Napoli will be forced to abandon one lucky charm, though, as Madrid will be the ones in their famous white jerseys today.The turnaround in Napoli’s fortunes in recent months coincided with superstitious President Aurelio De Laurentis’s decision to replace the club’s traditional sky blue colours for white back in November.Share this:FacebookRedditTwitterPrintPinterestEmailWhatsAppSkypeLinkedInTumblrPocketTelegram
Ahead of Syracuse’s (11-5, 2-1 Atlantic Coast) matchup with No. 1 Duke (14-1, 3-0) on Monday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, The Daily Orange connected with Stephen Wiseman. Wiseman, a Duke beat writer for The News & Observer in Raleigh, addressed the No. 1 Blue Devils, the possibility of a Syracuse win, and how Duke’s defense has turned heads in recent weeks. The Daily Orange: Let’s start with what Syracuse fans want to know most: How can the Orange come away with an upset? Where are the Blue Devils most vulnerable?Stephen Wiseman: Prior to Saturday’s win at Florida State, I would have said perimeter shooting. Duke has not been a good 3-point shooting team this season, hitting only 33 percent of its 3s. Duke made 11-of-24 against FSU, with Cam Reddish hitting 5-of-8. That performance looks like an outlier. The Blue Devils get to prove if that assessment is true or not against the Orange’s 2-3 zone.The D.O.: Is there any indication that Duke can shred apart the 2-3 zone, just as it has with most man-to-man defenses? Or might they struggle a bit, at least early on?S.W.: A team has to be super athletic to play man-to-man for 40 minutes against Duke. The Blue Devils are so long and athletic they create matchup problems all over the court. Zion Williamson’s availability will be key against Syracuse because Duke puts him in the middle of the zone to make things happen either by a pass or move to the basket. R.J. Barrett is also adept there. Both can pass, shoot or drive. But, back to the 3-point shooting, Duke will need Reddish and Jack White to hit their 3-pointers to make things easy against the Orange.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThe D.O.: Besides the big names, which Duke player has surprised you most this season?S.W.: Has to be junior Jack White. He wasn’t a factor in his first two seasons. But he’s playing enough minutes to be considered a sixth starter this season. At a sturdy 6-7, White takes care of the ball, is Duke’s top 3-point shooter (38.6 percent) and has become a solid defender. He blocked five shots against Wake Forest last week.The D.O.: How would you assess the Duke defense and its progression since opening night?S.W.: To me, this the biggest story of the season for Duke. They are back to playing the kind of tough man-to-man defense Krzyzewski loves to coach. Tre Jones is such a good on-ball defender that Krzyzewski has compared him to Bobby Hurley and Steve Wojciechowski. Jones sets the tone, allowing Barrett, Williamson and Reddish to use their length to get into passing lanes for steals that fuel Duke’s transition offense. The Blue Devils also lead the nation in blocked shots per game (7.9).The D.O.: These teams played real close last year in the Sweet 16. But last season in Cameron Indoor, Duke handled SU with ease. Who do you think wins Monday night, and why?S.W.: After how the two teams played on Saturday, Duke looks like a heavy favorite. But we know that’s not how things work in the ACC. If Duke doesn’t shoot well from the outside and Williamson is limited, Syracuse could pull the upset. This Duke team is tough-minded, though. I anticipate a Blue Devils win. This team plays together and has a gear Duke has lacked since the last title team in 2015. Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on January 13, 2019 at 9:50 pm Comments
MIDCOURT, ROADSTER & RESTRAINEDVENGENCE ALL PROMINENT AMONG COMPETITIVE FIELD OF 10 OLDER HORSES IN SATURDAY’S GRADE II,$200,000 SAN PASQUAL STAKES AT 1 1/8 MILES ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 29, 2020)–In what shapes up as an outstanding prep to the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap March 7, this Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes has attracted a competitive field of 10 older horses at a mile and one eighth, with C R K Stable’s Midcourt, Speedway Stable’s Roadster and owner/trainer Val Brinkerhoff’s versatile Restrainedvengence all prominent.Although he had a four-race winning streak snapped when third to top older horse Gift Box in the Grade II San Antonio Stakes Dec. 28, Midcourt will hope to mind his manners and break sharply with regular rider Victor Espinoza up.Last year’s Santa Anita Derby winner, Roadster stretches out off of a second place finish behind Omaha Beach in the opening day Malibu Stakes and speedy Restrainedvengence returns to Santa Anita following a smashing gate to wire win going 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Zia Park, New Mexico on Nov. 27.MIDCOURTOwner: C R K StableTrainer: John ShirreffsA handful in the morning and quite often in post parade on race day, Midcourt has benefitted greatly from Shirreffs’ patient handling which resulted in a four-game winning streak which culminated in a 5 ¾ length win two starts back in the Grade III Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar Nov. 23. Away slowly and shuffled back in the early going, Midcourt, a 5-year-old gelding by Midnight Lute, never seemed to get untracked in the opening day San Antonio while running an even third, beaten 7 ½ lengths. With regular rider Victor Espinoza back aboard, Midcourt needs to break running and “get in the game” early in order to have his best chance on Saturday.ROADSTEROwner: Speedway Stable, LLCTrainer: Bob BaffertWinless in five starts since winning last year’s Santa Anita Derby, this 4-year-old Quality Road colt was a solid second, beaten 2 ¾ lengths by Omaha Beach going seven furlongs in the opening day Grade I Malibu Stakes. Never a factor in the Kentucky Derby five starts back, he came back to Santa Anita and posted a pair of second place finishes, in the Grade III Affirmed at 1 1/16 miles on June 16, and in the ungraded Damascus Stakes at seven furlongs Nov. 2–in which he was beaten a nose by highly regarded sprinter Flagstaff. Fourth, beaten nearly 10 lengths versus Midcourt as the 4-5 favorite in the Native Diver Nov. 23, his second place run in the Malibu was a very encouraging effort and Roadster looms a dangerous horse with Joel Rosario back aboard.RESTRAINEDVENGENCEOwner: Kelly Brinkerhoff and Bob Grayson, Jr.Trainer: Val BrinkerhoffA 5-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding by the Giant’s Causeway stallion Hold Me Back, Restrainedvengence sped to a gate wire score in an ungraded stakes at Zia Park Nov. 27, winning by 4 ½ lengths. With outstanding recent races on dirt and turf at Longacres, Golden Gate Fields, Santa Anita and Zia Park, Restrainedvengence is beginning to take on the look of a major player in the Handicap division and will be ridden for the first time by a red hot Abel Cedillo on Saturday.THE GRADE II SAN PASQUAL STAKES WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDERRace 8 of 9 Approximate post time 4 p.m. PTRoadster–Joel Rosario–122Route Six Six–Jose Valdivia, Jr.–120Restrainedvengence–Abel Cedillo–120King Abner–Flavien Prat–120Midcourt–Victor Espinoza–122Instagrand–Umberto Rispoli–120California Street–Mike Smith–120Two Thirty Five–Ruben Fuentes–120Bold Endeavor–Mario Gutierrez–120Combatant–Drayden Van Dyke–120First post time for a nine-race card on Saturday is at 12:30 p.m. Admission gates open at 10:30 a.m. For additional information, please visit santaanita.com or call (626) 574-RACE.