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Football | Champions League

Aguero rallies City



Sergio Aguero has urged his Manchester City teammates not to lose hope as they seek to keep their Champions League campaign alive against Real Madrid on Wednesday.

After drawing 2-2 at home to Ajax in their last outing, the English champions have no room for error and must beat Jose Mourinho's side at the Etihad Stadium to stand any chance of reaching the last 16.

Even then, the odds would be stacked against them.

Only two teams have previously qualified from such a hopeless position after four group matches – Lokomotiv Moscow in 2002 and Porto in 2004 – and City would still need to win at Borussia Dortmund in their final group game and hope other results went their way.

Aguero, who netted twice in City's 5-0 defeat of Aston Villa at the weekend, never won against Madrid during his time with their city rivals, Atletico, but he hopes Wednesday's game will bring that jinx to an end.

"We should never give up. Where there's a will, there's a way, right?" the Argentine told City's official website.

"Of course, it's harder now because we're not just relying on ourselves but also on the other teams' results.

"I think it's even more significant now than if we had been in a better position in the table. It may sound strange but I firmly believe that. We must win this game.

"We have a great team, I have no doubt about it and now it is time for us to show just how good we are."

City coach Roberto Mancini declared his side's chances of reaching the knockout phase dead after the draw with Ajax left City bottom of Group D with only two points, but the win over Villa – which took City top in the Premier League – softened his tone, albeit slightly.

"We want to do a good job. We will have not much of a chance to go through, but we will try," said the Italian, whose side lost 3-2 in Madrid in their opening group fixture after conceding a 2-1 lead.

In Mourinho, Mancini faces the man who succeeded him as coach of Inter Milan in 2008 and then led the Nerazzurri to the Champions League title two years later.

It will be Mourinho's 100th match in the Champions League and at 49, he has reached the milestone at a younger age than any other coach.

A popular figure in England since his three-year tenure at Chelsea, Mourinho returns to the country knowing that defeat at Mancini's hands could seriously compromise Madrid's season.

The Spanish champions are already eight points behind Barcelona in La Liga – a potentially insurmountable gap – and the pursuit of the club's 10th European Cup ('la Decima') has therefore been given added significance.

Cristiano Ronaldo will return to play in Manchester for the first time since leaving Manchester United in 2009 and can therefore expect a noisy reception from the fans of their cross-town rivals.

The Portuguese forward's future is the subject of speculation, amid reports he is seeking an improved contract, but he was still acclaimed by the club's fans during Saturday's 5-1 demolition of Athletic Bilbao.

Sami Khedira, who netted the fifth goal against the Basque side, says Madrid should look to follow the pro-active strategy adopted by Dortmund when they held City to a 1-1 draw in October.

"Dortmund showed how you can compete there: playing a tight game, competing for every ball, and trying to impose your style of play, so I think we have a good chance," the German midfielder told the club website.

"But we definitely have to concentrate on trying to play our own way there, not letting ourselves be influenced by the opponent's style, but instead imposing our strength in attack."

Both teams have problems at left-back, with Marcelo (broken foot) out for Madrid and Gael Clichy (ankle) a doubt for City.

City have only won three of their 10 matches in the Champions League since qualifying last season and failure to beat Real would eliminate them at the group stage for the second consecutive season although Aguero said they were determined to fight until the end.

"We should never give up," the Argentine said. "Where there's a will, there's a way, right?

"Of course, it's harder now because we're not just relying on ourselves but also on the other teams' results.

"What we mustn't do is leave the pitch with any regrets and be content knowing that we have given our all. This club deserves nothing less and our supporters deserve as much, too."

BIG VICTORY

Like City, Real are also buoyed by a big league victory, having thrashed Athletic Bilbao 5-1 at the weekend.

France striker Karim Benzema, back after a thigh muscle injury, was in fine form in that victory, curling in a sweetly struck shot for Real's third goal and unselfishly setting up Mesut Ozil for their fourth.

"We don't like talking about individuals, but he (Benzema) had an outstanding game," former Real striker Emilio Butragueno, now a club director, told Spanish television.

"His movement in attack was fabulous and he scored a great goal," Butragueno added. "It was a delight to see him playing that way after his injury."

Mourinho, hoping to lead Real to the 10th European crown that has eluded them since 2002, also has Sami Khedira back after injury. The German international, who came on in the second half of the Bilbao game and netted Real's fifth, will likely rejoin Xabi Alonso in central midfield.

Mourinho will become the youngest coach to take charge of 100 Champions League matches on Wednesday and only the fifth manager to reach the milestone after Carlo Ancelotti, Arsene Wenger, Ottmar Hitzfeld and Alex Ferguson.

The 49-year-old Portuguese made his debut in Europe's elite club competition in February 2002 when he was in charge at Porto in a game they lost 1-0 to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

His record in 99 matches with Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real is 54 wins, 25 draws and 20 defeats, with 166 goals scored and 85 conceded.

Probable teams:

Manchester City: 1-Joe Hart; 5-Pablo Zabaleta, 4-Vincent Kompany, 33-Matija Nastasic, 22-Gael Clichy; 8-Samir Nasri, 14-Javi Garcia, 42-Yaya Toure, 18-Gareth Barry; 16-Sergio Aguero, 32-Carlos Tevez

Real Madrid: 1-Iker Casillas; 17-Alvaro Arbeloa, 3-Pepe, 4-Sergio Ramos, 5-Fabio Coentrao; 14-Xabi Alonso, 6-Sami Khedira; 21-Jose Callejon, 10-Mesut Ozil, 7-Cristiano Ronaldo; 9-Karim Benzema

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