On a sunny Saturday morning, the Real Madrid XI arrived at the South African training facility in Pretoria for the first time since their first game in the capital.
A full squad, including players from the team that won the Champions League in 2011, was on hand.
It was a familiar sight: the players from Madrid, who are now on a 10-match unbeaten run, were there to celebrate the Champions’ Cup, a trophy that is awarded to the team with the best domestic record.
A few days before, the team had lost 1-0 to Real Sociedad in the Europa League, the same result that had prompted them to skip the Champions Cup.
“It was quite surreal,” midfielder Juanfran Guedes said.
The squad has grown since they arrived, as they have trained and trained, while a lot of the players have gone to college and developed as professionals. “
The people of South African football are amazing and the support from our fans has been tremendous.”
The squad has grown since they arrived, as they have trained and trained, while a lot of the players have gone to college and developed as professionals.
“I think the players are learning a lot from us,” said the coach, Jorge Mendes.
“They are not used to working with each other in training and I think this is the beginning of the change.”
The team, which is playing its first game at the Mwabane Stadium since March 2013, is the only African team to have won the competition.
“There is a lot to learn from the South Africans, especially on the pitch,” midfielder André Schürrle said.
The team will be looking to build on the successes of last season, when it finished sixth, having been runners-up to Real Madrid.
“At the end of last year we were struggling a bit and we knew we had to work,” said goalkeeper Marcelo, who scored the winning goal in the quarter-final defeat to Real.
“But in this moment we are all together and we have a good team.”
The new team has the potential to be an important player in South Africa’s quest for success, as it is a player who is still fresh from his move from Juventus to Real in the summer.
He joined the squad as a young player at the start of last term, and the manager, Marcelo Bielsa, was impressed by his performances.
“When I first arrived, he was playing in the reserve team but after the World Cup he got a call-up for the internationals and was very important,” Bielsab said.
Real have been working on the transfer of players since, with the team currently looking at a number of options, including the signing of striker Kolo Toure.
The coach also has another target in mind, as he is keen to add to the squad of players that he has already signed, with another signing to follow.
“If I can sign one more player I will definitely sign another one, so we can keep the roster intact,” Biarsa said.
In terms of internationals, the coach has a strong interest in signing Brazilian midfielder Andres Iniesta, who was a key figure for Spain in the World Championships.
“He is a very talented player and he deserves to be a World Cup winner,” Bilesa said, referring to the player who won the Ballon d’Or in 2007.
“His performances in the Confederations Cup and Copa del Rey will be key for us.”
The players’ focus will be on making the most of their opportunity to face Real Madrid, as the Champions have been one of the teams most successful in recent seasons.
“What will we see?
I have a very clear idea of what we are going to face, and I am confident we will be able to overcome,” Guedis said.
A lot of players from South Africa are ready to make a mark at the World Cups.
“Everyone wants to win, so this is not just about winning trophies, it’s about showing the country what it is capable of,” the goalkeeper said.