Forging The Path: Champions League 2013-14

Claudio Villa

After advancing to the Round of 16, Real Madrid will need to find it within themselves to make it all the way to Lisbon.

Wednesday saw the closing games of the first phase of the premier European footballing competition – a night highlighted by the expected, the unforeseen and the sensational. The matches were a fitting end to an eventful set of group stage games.

Real Madrid’s potential Round of 16 opponent will be one of Bayer Leverkusen, Olympiacos, Manchester City, Schalke 04, Arsenal, Zenit Saint Petersburg, or Milan.

There are few things in life that deliver thrills on as consistent a basis as the Champions League. Year after year, clash of domestic kings after clash of domestic kings, teams elevate their intensity and quality to steer through the rigors of the tournament and ultimately meet their eventual fates. The cultural dynamic has transformed the continental contest into a manufacturing engine annually producing cherished memories for its global audience.

"If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim ... Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it." - Rudyard Kipling

Today – following three years of near misses and pure gut wrenching heartache – Real Madrid sits, yet again, just seven games from twenty four pounds of complete unadulterated joy in the form of the Champions League trophy. The Jörg Stadelmann original would serve as a wonderful token to toast – and justify – the team’s ostentatious investments over the last half-decade. It is a testament to the stature and reputation of the club that Real Madrid remains as vibrant and visible a household name as ever in world football during their barren run.

Two factors that have contributed to this brand sustenance are: José Mourinho’s restoration of the team’s competitive edge; and Florentino Pérez’s inextinguishable thirst for European supremacy symbolized by an energetic persistence to bring La Decima home.

"We all know that La Decima is the big objective, for the club, for everyone. I have that ambition and that responsibility, that is not a problem for me. Every year the coach has a responsibility. To win la decima is such a big motivation."

Ancelotti, June 2013

On the back of near perfect qualification to the knock-out stages, Real Madrid has grown into a veritable  Champions League candidate. Carlo Ancelotti has created a workable framework to achieve perfect balance between defense and offense. Ideally, the incredible capabilities of Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo shouldn’t be constrained but it is important to avoid overexposure in defensive zones.

Alonso’s recovery and return has enhanced this pursued equilibrium through his provision of adequate all-round support for the tactical architecture of the team. Modric continues to solidify his claim to central midfield command as his status in the team becomes undisputed. The Croatian dynamo capped excellent performances against Galatasaray, Juventus and Copenhagen by scoring a stunner against the latter away-- expertly hitting the top right corner after great footwork for a first class finish. Isco, Illaramendi and di Maria are finding their feet in changing roles while Khedira is sidelined with a knee injury.

"I can say that Xabi Alonso has been the key to this [improvement in form]. He is a very important player for this team and his quality and experience is vital."

Ancelotti, December 2013

Defensively, there haven’t been any major noticeable concerns with none of Real Madrid’s European group opposition providing true challenges.

Real Madrid’s prestige and current form place them among a distinct class of teams that are fully expected to win this year's edition of the classic cup. From this moment on, each member of the organization will need to muster every single ounce of concentration and belief to propel the Capital city club to victory.

This will be a test of the players’ resolve – how will they as a unit react to the intensity and complications of sides like Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain. As beautiful as last season's inspirational second leg semi-final last gasp effort was, it remains a loss in the history books. Medals aren’t handed out for heart, passion or labor. The formula for success is quite simple: Goals (for) > Goals (against) = Win = Champions League.

There is no question that certain things are beyond feasible control but there is always an opportunity to contribute the slightest bit more. The deaths of many campaigns lie within that tiniest window of forsaken assurance.

----------------

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

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