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Cup upset leaves Real with only Europe

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Real Madrid lost 2-1 at home and were eliminated on away goals in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals by a club nicknamed the “pepineros” © AFP / JAVIER SORIANO

MADRID, Spain, Jan 25 – Cristiano Ronaldo tweeted his encouragement for his club and their fans on Thursday, hours after Real Madrid suffered a humiliating elimination by lowly Leganes in the Copa del Rey.

“Courage team. Courage Madrid fans. We still have many battles to win,” wrote Ronaldo in his official Twitter account.

Accompanying the post was a photo of the team training the day after the debacle which left Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane clinging to the Champions League as their only lifeline in a sinking season.

Real lost 2-1 at home and were eliminated on away goals in the cup quarter-finals by a club nicknamed the “pepineros” (or cucumber growers) and only in their second season in La Liga.

“This is a disaster for me,” Zidane said on Wednesday night after the loss to Leganes.

A Real Madrid side filled with back-up players was, the sports daily Marca wrote, “disorganised, lacking tenacity, without leadership in the middle and with a depressed (Karim) Benzema at the front of an army without ammunition.”

Real, who started the game with a 1-0 lead from the away leg, let slip the second potential trophy of the season after effectively bidding adios to the league, where they trail Barcelona by 19 points.

“This is a serious setback for Zidane, because it highlights the squad’s malaise and collective discouragement,” wrote the editor of the newspaper AS.

– Mental problem –

“I do not think it’s a physical problem, the mind is much more powerful and, in the general analysis, you can put the mental first when presenting the problem to the doctor,” said captain Sergio Ramos after the Leganes debacle.

Just as it seemed Real Madrid had turned the corner with two consecutive victories, they gave a display which ended with the home fans whistling their players off the pitch.

“This debacle, which shows up the way the squad and Zidane approached a competition that had become a priority, was a tragedy that leaves Madrid in an agonising, almost anguished, situation. The whole season hangs on the Champions League,” Marca said.

“These are tough times when you have to be together so you do not throw away the rest of the season. We must work and focus on the only card we have left: the Champions League,” said Ramos.

Leganes sit 13th in La Liga. On the face of it, Real, who are fourth, face a far tougher challenge on Saturday afternoon when they travel to Valencia, who are five points ahead in third. Valencia have only lost once at home in the league this season, to Villarreal, and gained a 2-2 draw at the Bernabeu in August. If Real fail to win, Villarreal who host Real Sociedad later in the day could leapfrog a place in the table, pushing Real out of the Champions League qualifying places.

Yet for Real and their coach the Champions League last-16 encounter with Paris Saint-Germain on February 14 and March 6 is now make or break.

“Of course that’s clear”, answered Zidane when asked on Wednesday whether he thought his job was in danger, despite a recent contract extension to 2020, if his side failed in Europe.

The French coach took responsibility for the debacle and refused to blame his players.

“Rebirth from disaster is part of their religion,” Rafa Cabeleira wrote in the newspaper El País.

Real will need to start that rebirth against PSG in just 20 days.

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