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Real Madrid battle French demons and knockout round jinx

February 21, 2011

SOCCER-SPAIN/Olympique Lyon’s Stade de Gerland has proved to be something of a graveyard for Real Madrid’s European ambitions over the last decade.

The nine-time European Cup winners travel there for a Champions League last-16, first leg on Tuesday with an abysmal record to look back on from previous visits – three defeats, no goals scored and six conceded.

Their first trip to the French city came in the 2005-2006 season group stages when they slumped to a 3-0 defeat, and the following year they met again at the same stage to fall 2-0.

Last season, a spectacular strike from Jean Makoun gave Lyon a 1-0 win in a last-16 first leg, and Claude Puel’s men went on to progress to the quarter-finals with a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu.

That result made it six consecutive seasons that Real Madrid have failed to make it to the final eight of Europe’s elite club competition, despite them having spent world record sums on players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and former Lyon striker Karim Benzema.

The arrival of Jose Mourinho as coach at Real, fresh from winning the Champions League with Inter Milan last season, has raised expectations that he can finally break the club’s first knockout round jinx.

The Portuguese is a specialist in knockout competitions and has fonder memories of the Stade de Gerland.

He led a Porto side that included current Real defender Ricardo Carvalho there during the 2003-2004 Champions League campaign to defend a 2-0 quarter-final, first leg lead.

They came away with a 2-2 draw and went on to win the competition for the first time that May.

Bearing in mind Real Madrid have won all 19 home games in all competitions since Mourinho took the helm, a victory in Lyon would be a major psychological boost.

What then would be the odds on him going on to win his third European Cup and Real Madrid’s tenth?

PHOTO: Real Madrid’s coach Jose Mourinho waits for the start of their Spanish first division soccer match against Real Sociedad at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid February 6, 2011. REUTERS/Andrea Comas.

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