Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Torres desperate to score against old rivals

NO sooner had Fernando Torres stepped on to the tarmac at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport yesterday, he was surrounded by a swarm of yellow-bibbed runway workers brandishing pens and paper, eager for an autograph.

But while clearly still regarded with great affection by many in the Spanish capital, the Liverpool striker can expect a more frosty reception when he steps out at the Bernabeu this evening.

His match-winning strike in the Euro 2008 final against Germany last summer may have earned Torres the adoration of the entire country.

However, Madrilenian pride means the forward will be public enemy number one to home supporters when Real Madrid host Liverpool in tonight’s blockbusting Champions League first knockout round first leg tie.

Torres, of course, forged his reputation at Real’s city rivals Atletico Madrid, with no love lost between the bitter neighbours.

And despite changing club, country and cultures, the striker once again finds the Bernabeu outfit standing in his way of glory.

Injury deprived Torres of the chance to play in either group game against his former club earlier in the competition.

But now free of the hamstring problems that have hampered his campaign, the 24-year-old believes he is playing for two sets of supporters tonight.

“I have no feelings for Real Madrid,” says Torres. “I played for Atletico, so know that if Liverpool beat Real, it will make lots of Atletico fans happy as well.

“Those games against Atletico in the group stage were very important and I was so disappointed to miss out through injury.

“I was looking forward to the reception but wasn’t even allowed to travel to the Vicente Calderon.

“It was very frustrating for me not to be able to play in either game, but afterwards it was great for me to see the Atletico and Liverpool fans changing shirts and scarves and singing together.

“They were two fantastic days for the fans in Liverpool and Madrid.

“I couldn’t celebrate if I had scored against Atletico. I would have shown respect for my former club where I spent 12 years, the club that helped me become the person I am today. But if I score against Real Madrid, I will celebrate for sure.”

Torres is all too aware of the difficulty in overcoming Real, having never been on the winning side or even scored at the Bernabeu during his time at Atletico.

Indeed, the striker scored only once in a Madrid derby, and has yet to find the net in Europe this season after scoring six times in 11 games during Liverpool’s run to the semi-finals last year.

“It would be great for me to get my first goals in Europe this season against Madrid,” says Torres. “I feel confidence is coming back at the right time and I am sure the goals will follow.

“When I played in Madrid derbies for Atletico we were often the underdogs so it was always very special if we could beat Madrid.

“For the last 12 years or so Atletico have rarely beaten Madrid, it’s been a very long time. It’s always been a very difficult game to beat Madrid.

“When the draw was made, Real were not in their best moment but have improved recently. They are one of the biggest clubs in the world and we have to be aware of that.”

Under the guidance of interim coach Juande Ramos, Real have won nine consecutive games and thrashed Real Betis 6-1 at home in their last outing on Saturday.

The Spanish giants have scored 22 goals and conceded just twice in that period, compared to the 37 goals they leaked during their first 19 games of the campaign.

Tonight represents Liverpool’s first-ever visit to the Bernabeu for a competitive fixture. And while Torres believes the travelling supporters will be impressed by the stadium, the atmosphere pales in contrast to that of Anfield, which hosts the return game on March 10.

“To play in the second leg at Anfield, which is such a magical stadium for us in the Champions League, could be an advantage, especially if we get a good result at the Bernabeu,” says the striker.

“There’s nothing like playing at Anfield. I don’t think there is a ground in the world like Anfield – certainly not the Bernabeu. Liverpool fans will be impressed with the Bernabeu because it is a great stadium but the atmosphere won’t be anything like Anfield.

“It was the same at Atletico. That was a special club with a special feeling and Liverpool is even more so. It will be a close game but it is good that we play at Anfield second. We will have a better atmosphere and it is the small details that will decide this tie.

“Real Madrid will not like playing us because over two games we are very difficult to beat. We are one of the hardest sides to beat in ties like this.”

For Torres, tonight’s game also provides an opportunity, should it really be necessary, to emphatically prove his credentials to those doubters that remain in his home country.

“If you don’t play for Barca or Real in Spain then people just don’t rate you as highly,” he says. “Now I’ve moved to England I still think there’s some of that. I still think some people look at me like an Atleti.

“But maybe now because I am not a rival there’s a bit more affection for me. Moving to Liverpool has given me that chance to show I’ve arrived.”

A debut Bernabeu goal this evening would underline that fact.

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