MADRID • Rafael Benitez will make his Champions League debut as Real Madrid coach at home to Group A rivals Shakhtar Donetsk tomorrow with marksman Cristiano Ronaldo in red-hot form.
After Ronaldo failed to score in Real's opening two Spanish Primera Liga games of the campaign, there were suggestions the 30-year-old, who is the all-time top scorer in Europe's elite club competition, might be feeling his age.
The Portugal captain answered the doubters in emphatic style on Saturday, when he rattled five goals past Espanyol in a 6-0 La Liga romp. His 32nd hat-trick for Madrid provided him the platform to overtake former Real favourite Raul Gonzalez as the club's record scorer in Spain's top flight.
Ronaldo has 230 goals in only 203 appearances for Real - two more than Raul, who amassed 228 strikes in 550 games. The reigning World Player of the Year also had an assist to his name, crossing for Karim Benzema to tap home.
"The numbers speak for themselves," Benitez said of Ronaldo's record-breaking feat. "Someone who scores so many goals definitely has a place in the history books.
Ronaldo has 230 goals in only 203 appearances for Real - two more than the club's former striker Raul Gonzalez, who needed 550 games to amass 228 goals.
Ronaldo has scored 32 hat-tricks for Real Madrid.
"I hope that he can continue to add to his goals account for his own benefit and that of our team."
At the back, Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas has not conceded a goal in Real's three league matches so far.
Shakhtar could be in for a rough ride at the Bernabeu, where Real have failed to win their opening home match only twice in 45 European Cup campaigns and not since 1962 when they drew 3-3 against Belgian side Anderlecht.
"When the goals come quickly it fills you with confidence and that helps the team control games better," said Navas. "Now we need to focus on the Champions League and hopefully we'll be able to hang onto this level of confidence to win."
Against Espanyol, Real made light of the absence of Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez, who is sidelined with a thigh injury. Benitez was also able to rest influential Germany midfielder Toni Kroos.
Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu will need to engineer a smooth transition from the offensive style the team are used to in the Ukrainian league, to defensive mode in Madrid, after his side won 5-0 at Metalist Kharkiv last Friday.
While the focus will be on repelling the inevitable waves of Real attacks, the club have their own prolific scorer in Brazilian Alex Teixeira, who has netted nine goals in seven appearances this season.
"The problem is Shakhtar attack almost all the time in Ukrainian league games while, in the Champions League, we will have to defend a lot," Lucescu said. "I am thinking what we can do about it." REUTERS
REAL MADRID v SHAKHTAR DONETSK
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