‘Astonishing’ feats of football’s cigar-toting ‘Don’

Carlo Ancelotti has the opportunity to add even more history to a remarkable career when he leads Real Madrid into the Champions League cauldron on Thursday (AEST).

The 62-year-old Italian will become the first manager to reach five Champions League finals if he can overcome a 4-3 deficit against Manchester City in the second leg of their semifinal at the famed Bernabeu.

Ancelotti currently shares the record of four with Sir Alex Ferguson, Marcello Lippi and Jurgen Klopp – who hit that mark by piloting Liverpool past Villarreal on Wednesday.

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It would be fair to say that Ancelotti is on a heater.

Madrid’s 4-0 win over Espanyol on Sunday clinched the club’s record-extending 35th La Liga title as Ancelotti became the first manager to lift trophies in the top five European leagues.

It triggered wild celebrations in Spain’s capital and this instantly iconic image of a cigar-toting Ancelotti which went viral after being shared by Brazilian star Vinicius Jr.

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“Can we all take our hats off to The Don, Carlo Ancelotti, at the weekend,” Mark Pougatch said on Stan Sport’s Champions League coverage on Wednesday.

“One eyebrow up there, big cigar in the other hand. The first man to win all five major European leagues as a manager. What an astonishing feat that is.

“Chelsea, Real, Bayern Munich, PSG, AC Milan – I mean that’s off the scale.”

The La Liga win led to Stan Sport FC debating whether Ancelotti was underrated among the all-time great managers.

Spanish football expert Semra Hunter joins the team to discuss Real Madrid winning a 35th La Liga title, Carlo Ancelotti becoming the first coach to win a league title in each of the big five leagues and the Champions League semifinal second legs

Ancelotti first coached Madrid from 2013-15 but didn’t win La Liga.

But in that first tenure, Madrid won the Champions League, the Club World Cup, UEFA’s Super Cup and the Copa del Rey.

Ancelotti won the Serie A in 2004, the Premier League in 2010, the French league in 2013 and the Bundesliga in 2017.

And now Real is hoping to produce one last magical Champions League night at the Bernabeu this season.

After coming from behind at home to get by PSG in the last 16 and defending champion Chelsea in the quarterfinals, Madrid needs to rally past City to return to the final for the first time since it won its record 13th European Cup title in 2018.

“I think Real Madrid are quietly confident they can turn this around,” Pougatch said.

“Having won the league last weekend, (Karim) Benzema in the form he is, just the Real Madrid badge, the shirt, what this competition means to them – tomorrow night (Thursday 5am AEST) is going to be an absolute cracker.”

The match against City comes only four days after Madrid celebrated winning the Spanish league title at the famous stadium.

The club hadn’t clinched a title at the Bernabeu in 15 years.

The 2020 league trophy was secured at an empty Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium at the team’s training center because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ancelotti’s only reason to complain on Sunday was when Madrid’s players stopped throwing him up in celebration.

“I told Marcelo that I wanted to keep going,” he said.

“I was enjoying being up there in the air.”

Stan Sport’s Mark Bosnich asked European football expert Pougatch whether the celebrations would help, or hinder, Madrid.

“I think it’s going to help because Ancelotti, with all his experience, they won 4-0 at the weekend, Espanyol, he didn’t have to over-exert his team,” Pougatch said.

“And of course they will believe him – they’ve won plenty themselves as players – he said ‘right, celebrate tonight then tomorrow, work head back on, we prepare for Manchester City and the crowd, I want them to prepare for Manchester City as well.’

“So I think it’s going to do them a lot of good. I don’t think any of them had any doubts about Carlo Ancelotti anyway, but it’s always nice when the manager comes back for a second spell at a club, that he’s won something. I think it’s going to do them a great deal of good. I’m probably 60-40 towards City but if Real Madrid do go through none of us would be shocked.”

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Madrid have repeatedly shown their fighting qualities and they looked beaten against PSG after losing the first leg 1-0 and conceding early in the return game.

The hosts rallied, however, with a second half hat trick by Benzema.

With another hat trick by Benzema, Madrid won the first leg against Chelsea 3-1 in England, but went down 3-0 at the Bernabeu before a stunning comeback in extra time allowed it to make the semifinals for the 10th time in 12 seasons.

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“It’s going to be difficult, but it’s a great opportunity for us after winning the league title,” Ancelotti said.

“There’s a really good vibe within the squad and we are capable of doing it.”

Scoring goals hasn’t been a problem for the Spanish club.

The team’s Benzema-led attack has scored 22 goals in its last eight games in all competitions.

The last time Madrid went scoreless was in the 4-0 home loss to Barcelona in the Spanish league in March.

“We’ve done well in attack,” Ancelotti said.

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“We’ve been able to score a lot. We had three goals against PSG, five against Chelsea and three against Manchester City. Sometimes you have to take more risks, and we have the quality to do it.”

Ancelotti will not be able to count on defender David Alaba on Thursday because of a muscle injury sustained in the first half of the match in Manchester.

Nacho Fernandez is expected to replace him and play alongside Eder Militao.

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Eden Hazard and Gareth Bale also are not expected to make it to Thursday’s match, but Ancelotti otherwise will have a full strength squad available.

The only doubt remaining is whether he will play Rodrygo or Federico Valverde.

Rodrygo, who scored twice in the title-winning game on Sunday, would make the team more dangerous offensively, while Valverde would help more in the midfield.

City is trying to make it to its second consecutive Champions League final after losing the title decider to Chelsea last season.

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