- Associated Press - Friday, July 17, 2015

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) - Rafael Benitez says he’s pleased to be in Australia to kick off his managerial career with Real Madrid but not so happy about the Melbourne Cricket Ground surface for Saturday’s match with Roma.

More than 10,000 fans paid 18 Australian dollars ($13.50) to watch Madrid train at the MCG on Friday and in excess of 225,000 tickets have been sold for the three matches of the friendly tournament between Madrid, Roma and Manchester City over the next week.

Benitez says the playing surface of a ground used regularly for Australian rules football “was not the best … we have to be aware of that.” but “we have an important game, important players, hopefully they can do their best for the game.”

The MCG has been hit by a solid week of rain after 15 rounds of the AFL season. The pitch could worsen with more rain forecast, and an AFL match at the venue on Sunday could further affect the MCG turf before Tuesday’s match between Roma and Manchester City.

Benitez said the MCG pitch didn’t compare to AAMI Park or City Football Academy, both in Melbourne, where they trained during the week.

“The facilities we have been training (on) have been really good, we have been pleased,” he said. “I know (the game) will not be easy, just to say it is fine but it could be a little bit better.”

Madrid is using a strong squad for the friendly tournament, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, who competed for the biggest cheers from the crowd during a wet open training session.

For Benitez, the tournament represents the beginning of a homecoming role as manager at Madrid. He started his playing career in Madrid’s youth and reserve teams before coaching the reserves and then moving on to a successful managerial career at Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan and Napoli. He was appointed as coach after the ten-time European champions fired Carlo Ancelotti following a second-place finish in La Liga last season.

Benitez did not reveal his plans for replacing departed goalkeeper Iker Casillas, and would not comment on speculation that Manchester United keeper David de Gea is the expected replacement.



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