Real Madrid director of institutional relations Emilio Butragueno said that a strong first leg was vital after his side were drawn against Napoli in the last 16 of this season’s Champions League.
Zinedine Zidane’s team were unseeded for the draw after finishing behind Borussia Dortmund in Group F — and Monday’s draw means the holders will play the first game at home at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, before travelling to Napoli’s Stadio Sao Paolo for the return.
The former Madrid striker told beIN Sport from the draw in Nyon that the key for his side was to have an advantage to defend when they travelled to what was sure to be noisy Sao Paolo in the second leg.
“It is always difficult at this stage,” Butragueno said. “We have the first game at home, we must get a good result. We know the atmosphere in their stadium for the second leg. They will be extra motivated playing against Real Madrid.”
Madrid’s only previous meeting with the Serie A side came in the 1987-88 European Cup, when Butragueno featured as a Napoli side featuring Argentina superstar Diego Maradona was eliminated 3-1 on aggregate.
“I remember the game against the Napoli team with Maradona in 1987,” Butragueno said. “The atmosphere was great for them, but difficult for us. So we will have to get a good result at home.
“That was in September, in the first round. We won 2-0 behind closed doors at home, they scored early in the return but we had the luck to equalise before half-time and we were able to equalise.”
Napoli’s current squad includes ex-Madrid players Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol, but Butragueno pointed to their coach Maurizio Sarri and Italian teams in tight knockout games as being the dangers.
UCL last 16 dates
– Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) December 12, 2016
“They have a very good coach,” he said. “They have improved a lot in recent years. They will be a very difficult opponent. That is why I say we must be very solid at home, if we want to be here for the quarters.
“Italian sides compete very well, they are used to these types of ties, they can play with the scoreline close, know how to handle the pressure. So we must be very careful as for sure they will be a dangerous opponent.”
Even when winning the tournament twice in the last three seasons Madrid have thrown in a dodgy performance early in the knockout rounds, and Butragueno said it was vital his team kept their focus this time around.
“Of course just one slip can be definitive in Europe,” he said. “We always say that, 10 minute without focus you can concede goals and be out of the competition.”
Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis said he is looking forward to a “beautiful and hugely fascinating” clash.
The Partenopei will be bidding to reach the quarterfinals for the first time against the record 11-time winners, and the anticipation is already growing in the football-crazy Italian city.
“It’s going to be a beautiful and hugely fascinating tie,” De Laurentiis said on his club’s website. “Real Madrid are the titleholders, they have amazing champions and absolute world class stars. As for us, we have team strength and we want to show what we are worth, expressing a brilliant football which, thanks to [head coach Maurizio] Sarri, we are showing in Italy and in Europe.
“It’s a match which in any case will go down in the history of Neapolitan football. We’ve been competing in Europe regularly for years now, with plenty of pride and passion. This game is another experience for us to grow and mature on the European stage.”
The Azzurri will hope to have summer signing Arkadiusz Milik back for the tie as he continues his recovery from a serious knee injury he picked up shortly after arriving in Naples.
On Twitter, the Polish striker expressed how much he would like to be involved, writing: “You play football for a moments like this. Big challenge ahead, we are waiting for Real.”
You play football for a moments like this ���� Big challenge ahead, we are waiting for Real.
– Arkadiusz Milik (@arekmilik9) December 12, 2016
Meanwhile, Real’s Butragueno also praised current Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, who is expected to be awarded his fourth career Ballon D’Or award later on Monday.
“No doubt Ronaldo deserves this recognition for the year he has had,” he said. “It is a privilege for all of us to have him at Real Madrid.
“He is a man who we must say, after Alfredo Di Stefano, has been the most decisive player for this club in all its history. We must keep enjoying having him for many years.”
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan