Carlo Ancelotti and Pepe demonstrated the poker-face typical of managers and players when anything interrupts the serious business of football, but if they weren’t willing to betray any sign of amusement at Greenpeace’s successful infiltration of their press conference on Monday then they may be inwardly smiling at Real Madrid’s current standing on the domestic and European stage.
Issues far weightier than Real’s trip to FC Copenhagen were brought to the forefront – or more accurately, the background – after the environmental group somehow managed to install and unfurl a banner reading “Save the Arctic – Show Gazprom the Red Card” as the pair answered questions on Tuesday’s Champions League Group B fixture.
The protest against Gazprom – one of the sponsors of the Champions League – centres on damage caused to the Arctic environment by the Russian company’s drilling for oil there. Thirty Greenpeace activists are already facing trial for scaling Russia’s first oilrig in the Pechora Sea.
|An official steps in to help [AFP]|
It’s all a far cry from the serenity that Real Madrid are experiencing. They are seven points clear of Juventus going into this game against bottom-placed Copenhagen, and have already qualified for the knockouts.
At home, they are a mere three points behind champions Barcelona, for whom Lionel Messi’s new-found susceptibility to injuries has opened a chink in their armour.
Real also have the planet’s in-form player in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo – already with 25 goals from just 18 La Liga and Champions League games this season, and who is up for the Ballon d’Or award.
They also seem to be getting value back from the world-record $140 million they spent on Gareth Bale, who scored his first Real hat-trick in Ronaldo’s absence two weeks ago.
It’s a situation that others going into Tuesday’s Champions League matches would love to be in.
Bale was a target for Manchester United before signing for Tottenham Hotspur from Southampton in 2007, while Ronaldo was in United colours when they last won the Champions League in 2008.
Theatre of distant dreams
Such achievements now seem a distant dream for a squad that appears to be failing to adapt to life after Alex Ferguson.
New boss David Moyes on Monday accepted the blame for a run of form that has seen United lose two straight home games in the English Premier League, slumping to ninth – a huge 13 points behind leaders Arsenal.
The players are hurting because they are used to winning...I take complete responsibility for the results.
Their match against Shakhtar Donetsk at Old Trafford may come as a welcome break from domestic troubles. United’s 5-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen put them through to the knockouts, and they need just a point to prevent the Ukrainians taking their place at the top of Group A.
But the team is shorn of confidence – and rumours emerged this week that star striker Robin van Persie wants to join Real Madrid.
“The players are hurting because they are used to winning,” Moyes said in his pre-match press conference.
“When we don’t win that hurts. The expectancy is to win all the games. They’ll respond in the right way.
“I take complete responsibility for the results.
“Fortunately they have been good in the Champions League but not so good in the Premier League and I will take responsibility for them as well.”
Elsewhere, four former winners of European football’s biggest club prize are all in danger of going out.
One of those could come on Tuesday, with Juventus needing to draw with Galatasaray to keep hold of second spot behind Real Madrid.
Porto, AC Milan and last year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund all face an uncertain future when they play on Wednesday.