- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

ROME (AP) - For Cristiano Ronaldo, team spirit doesn’t involve sharing tapas with Real Madrid strike partners Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.

Just like he never went to the pub with teammates while at Manchester United.

Ahead of Madrid’s Champions League first-leg match at Roma on Wednesday, Ronaldo was asked if his relationships with Benzema and Bale have contributed to Madrid’s slow start in La Liga.

“When I was at Manchester winning the Champions League, with some players like (Ryan) Giggs, (Rio) Ferdinand and (Paul) Scholes our discussions were limited to ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good night.’ But when we were on the pitch together there was total understanding,” Ronaldo said Tuesday through a translator.

“I don’t need to go out for dinner with Benzema or Bale. What counts is what happens on the pitch,” Ronaldo added - pointing his finger on the table for emphasis.

Ronaldo is among the Spanish league’s top scorers with 21 goals, and has scored 11 in the group phase of the Champions League. But he has been criticized for his inability to score on the road lately - with his last away goal coming in November.

“I’m used to it,” the three-time FIFA world player of the year said. “It’s like when you always give kids everything and then when you take something away they start to cry. I’ve gotten the press and fans so used to me always scoring a lot of goals that as soon as I let up for a second, well the journalists don’t cry but they begin writing all sorts of stuff.

“Let’s just say that I would be happy to continue with this not-so-perfect form until the end of the season. … If you can name one player who has scored more away goals than me since I arrived in Spain tell me who? No. There’s nobody,” Ronaldo said and then got up and walked out before his comments were even translated.

The Round of 16 match will also mark the coaching debut of Zinedine Zidane in the Champions League, after the Frenchman replaced Rafa Benitez at Madrid last month.

Zidane scored a memorable winning goal for Madrid in the 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen and he was asked about his emotions before his managerial debut in the competition with the 10-time winners.

“It’s a special competition for me, for the club and above all for the players,” Zidane said. “We all know the history of the relationship between Real Madrid and this competition but the most important thing is that we’re ready and I think we are ready for this match. … When I see that the players are focused that keeps me calm.”

Although Zidane will be without Bale due to the recurrence of a muscle injury, left back Marcelo looks to have recovered from a serious shoulder dislocation.

“Marcelo will play only if he’s 100 percent,” Zidane said. “I think he’s OK but we’ll see tomorrow.”

Roma, meanwhile, will be seeking to avoid embarrassment after getting routed by Europe’s top clubs in recent seasons.

Roma was beaten 6-1 at Barcelona in November and lost 7-1 to Bayern Munich at home last season.

The Giallorossi also lost 7-1 at home to Manchester United in the 2007 quarterfinals - a match in which Ronaldo scored twice.

However, Roma has shown signs of turning around a disappointing season since Luciano Spalletti replaced Rudi Garcia as coach last month, winning four straight games in Serie A.

Zidane will be facing Roma’s 39-year-old captain Francesco Totti for the first time since the 2006 World Cup final that Italy won on penalties over France - a match from which Zidane was sent off for head butting Marco Materazzi.

“What he’s done to this point is spectacular. All you can say is ‘chapeau’,” Zidane said, using the French expression for ‘hats off’. “It’s always a pleasure to see a player like that on the pitch.”

Ronaldo also revealed a wide smile when he was asked about Totti’s perseverance in playing until nearly 40.

“Tremendous,” Ronaldo said in Italian, using a hand gesture that drew laughs. “He’s showing that age doesn’t count in football.”

For Ronaldo, off-pitch camaraderie doesn’t count either.

___

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf

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