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Friday 18 August 2017

Zidane won't risk Bale for first leg

Real boss Zinedine Zidane. Photo: Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP Photo
Real boss Zinedine Zidane. Photo: Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP Photo

Gareth Bale will not return for Real Madrid as they host Napoli in the Champions League tonight.

The Wales international, who has not played since November due to an ankle injury, trained with the rest of Zinedine Zidane's squad ahead of the first leg of the last-16 tie at the Bernabeu and is expected to be back playing for Real before he visits Dublin for Wales' crunch World Cup 2018 qualifier against Ireland on March 24.

But despite Zidane saying, "We've got all our players back" as he met press to preview the game, he decided not to risk the 27-year-old.

Bale was not included in the 19-man squad list later published on the club's website.

Cristiano Ronaldo was named despite suffering a knock in Saturday's La Liga victory at Osasuna.

Holders Real, who are also top of La Liga, are bidding to reach the quarter-finals for a seventh successive year.

Zidane is pleased the competition is resuming again after its winter break but is aware Napoli could be difficult to get past.

The France World Cup winner said: "I'm very happy to see everything and everyone ready to play in the Champions League again.

"But you can't win a knockout tie in one match. We're going step by step and game by game. Everyone wants to win the Champions League but it's a long, hard road we're on.

"Napoli are a good attacking side and they play with a lot of intensity and speed. They're small, tricky players with good technique. We have the tools to do them harm and we want to do that."

Napoli, who are third in Serie A, are playing in the last 16 for only the second time.

Maurizio Sarri's men go into the game in fine form having not lost in any competition since October, a run stretching back 18 games.

Zidane said: "Napoli play good football. Sarri is doing a great job as coach and you can see what they're about through their results. Having seen this side play, it's going to be a good game."

Sarri accepts there could be some nerves within his squad but hopes they can turn that into a positive. Sarri said: "With the awareness that we are going to play an away match against the champions of the world and a really strong side, we will be a bit worried but sometimes it's a positive feeling because it gives you a boost.

"On the other hand if you don't have courage to face your opponent with determination there is no need to play."

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