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AS Monaco FC's Jérôme Rothen is looking forward to facing the UEFA Champions League favourites.
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By Matthew Spiro
AS Monaco FC will be looking for inspiration from winger Jérôme Rothen when they take on Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Rothen's mazy dribbles and crossing from the left - coupled with Ludovic Giuly's penetrating runs down the right - have been a major feature of Monaco's progression to the last eight. The danger posed by the pair was best illustrated in the 8-3 win over RC Deportivo La Coruña in November when they scored a goal apiece and set up four more to help the French team top Group C.
The partnership was broken up before the first knockout round when Giuly picked up a foot injury, and Monaco subsequently suffered a 2-1 first-leg defeat at FC Lokomotiv Moskva. Rothen admits he found the going difficult in Russia. "Our big strength is our wing play and Lokomotiv stifled that threat in the first leg," he told uefa.com. "When Ludovic doesn't play there is more of an onus on me and I just didn't get into gear."
The Monegasques, still without Giuly, succeeded in turning the tie round at the Stade Louis II with a 1-0 win. "We imposed our attacking game at home," the French international continued. "We knew we had to close them down quicker in order to win possession further up the field. Once we did that we had better possession and it was easier for myself and Patrice Evra on the left and for Hugo Ibarra and Dado Pršo on the right to do some damage."
The reward for that performance was a draw against Madrid and Rothen, who will be reunited with the fit-again Giuly, cannot wait to take on the nine-times European champions. "Playing in the Champions League against these kind of teams is what every player dreams about," he enthused. "It's a privilege just to be involved.
Most of us [at Monaco] are playing in the Champions League for the first time - it's been a beautiful adventure and now we just don't want it to end."
With Monaco also topping the Ligue 1 standings - albeit with a lead that has been slashed from ten points to two by Olympique Lyonnais - the last two months of the season promise plenty of excitement. And for Rothen there is an extra incentive. "Fighting for a place in the France squad makes me even more motivated," he said. "Going to Portugal is an objective I've set myself and playing in high-profile matches can only help my position. Now it's down to me to make sure I perform at my best."
Ironically Rothen's direct rival for a starting place on the left side of France's midfield, Zinedine Zidane, will be playing against him at the Santiago Bernabéu on Wednesday. With Robert Pires also occupying the wide-left position for Arsenal FC, Rothen could be forgiven for thinking his international chances were slender but he insisted: "I never think like that. I'm not the same type of player as Zidane and Pires, in any case.
"They are both right-footed, whereas my big weapon is my left foot. Zidane's the best player in the world and I know I'm not going to take his place, but if the coach ever wanted to play with a left-footer outside him, then why not me? I'll do everything possible between now and June to make it happen." A match-winning performance against the Spanish champions would go some way to forcing Jacques Santini's hand.