Nadal puts return on ice, admits ‘not ready to compete’

Nadal puts return on ice, admits ‘not ready to compete’
Nadal puts return on ice, admits ‘not ready to compete’

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Diaz makes up for Bellingham’s absence, leads Real Madrid to win over Leipzig in Champions League

LEIPZIG, Germany: After scoring Real Madrid’s winner with a mazy solo run, Brahim Díaz jogged to the sideline and spread his arms wide open to celebrate.

He was imitating the trademark goal celebration of Jude Bellingham, the injured teammate he replaced in the starting lineup.

“Oh my god Brahim!!!,” Bellingham wrote on X, moments after the goal.

DIaz stepped up in Bellingham’s absence on Tuesday, leading Madrid to a 1-0 win at Leipzig in the round of 16 in the Champions League.

“I really like Jude, from the moment he arrived we’ve been getting along,” Diaz said. “I’m helping him with his Spanish, he is a world-class talent and we are enjoying having him around. He is a great person as well, and I’m very thankful to him.”

Bellingham, one of Madrid’s best players this season after joining from Borussia Dortmund, couldn’t play after spraining his ankle in a Spanish league game this weekend. The England international has 20 goals in 29 games in all competitions this season, including four goals — and three assists — in five Champions League matches. He is expected to be sidelined for two to three weeks.

The return leg will be on March 6 at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid.

“We aren’t happy with the result because we had more chances to score and didn’t do that,” Leipzig midfielder Dani Olmo said. “Brahim Diaz has a lot of quality and seized his chance. Real Madrid is one of the best teams in Europe. You have to make the most of your chances against opponents like that.”

In the other Champions League game Tuesday, Manchester City won 3-1 at FC Copenhagen.

Díaz combined some nifty dribbles with a powerful run to get past three Leipzig defenders before hitting the top corner with a left-footed shot from inside the area in the 48th minute.

“I saw they were afraid of coming after me,” he said. “I’m happy to have helped with the goal, and with with how the team worked hard to make up for the absence of Jude and the other injured players. It showed that we are still a good team, that we are Real Madrid.”

Diaz had to be replaced with an apparent muscle injury late in the game. He walked off the field with ice wrapped around his right calf.

“I don’t know what it is, to be honest,” the 24-year-old Díaz said. “I’m sure tomorrow we will go through some tests.”

Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti again had to improvise in defense, as several players remained injured. He used midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni as one of the central defenders, playing alongside Nacho Fernández.

Leipzig had an early goal disallowed for offside and created most of the chances throughout the match, but were denied by some good saves by Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin, who has been replacing the injured Thibaut Courtois.

“It wasn’t easy,” Ancelotti said. “We were dangerous on counterattacks but Lunin played a great match. He is playing with a lot of confidence. We have a slight advantage but there’s still a lot to play for.”

Leipzig had won the last meeting between the teams in a group-stage game last season.

The German club has qualified for the competition’s knockout rounds for the fourth time in five seasons.

“We’re going to travel to Madrid and try everything,” Leipzig coach Marco Rose said. “We want to be the most difficult opponent possible for Madrid so that they really have to stretch.”

Madrid has been in the round of 16 every season since the format was introduced in 2003-04. It has reached at least the semifinals the last three seasons, having won its record-extending 14th European title in 2022.

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