MOSCOW (AP) – Real Madrid will be aiming to continue its perfect run in the Champions League on Tuesday when it faces CSKA Moscow in subzero temperatures on the Luzhniki stadium's artificial pitch.
Madrid goes into the last-16 match after winning all six of its group games in the competition and also in fine form domestically, having won 18 of its last 19 matches to lead Barcelona by 10 points in the Spanish standings.
For CSKA, the first-leg match will almost be a season-opener as the Russian league is on a winter break till mid-March.
While Madrid is in fine form with Kaka, Marcelo and Sami Khedira all returning to the lineup for Saturday's 4-0 rout of Racing Santander, Angel di Maria's return was bittersweet after the Argentina international appeared to aggravate a right leg muscle injury as the match ended will miss Tuesday's game.
Fullback Alvaro Arbeloa returns to the squad while striker Gonzalo Higuain is also available.
''We need to now focus on the match against CSKA. Everyone's happy (with our play), we have two days to recover now and we're a happy group,'' Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said. ''We've got a long trip ahead ... but our motivation is high even though we know it won't be easy in Moscow.''
Though it's getting warmer in the Russian capital, the temperatures are expected to range between minus 8 degrees (17.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit).
''The ball resembles a peace of plastic when it freezes,'' CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky said. ''A stone. It's painful to catch or block it. And it doesn't bounce high from the pitch.''
Madrid's Brazilian playmaker Kaka said the cold would be a negative factor for both teams.
''We have to prepare well and play a phenomenal match,'' Kaka said.
Midfielder Xabi Alonso backed him.
''Now we return to a competition that is very important for us,'' Alonso said. ''We all know what we're playing for and it's fundamental to get a good result away from home.''
CSKA has sold its Brazilian star playmaker Vagner Love to Flamengo, but has signed 22-year-old South Korean midfielder Kim In-sung from Gangneung.
Sweden midfielder Pontus Wernbloom has joined from AZ Alkmaar in a four-and-a-half-year deal, becoming the Russian side's second January buy after forward Ahmed Musa, who arrived from another Dutch club, VVV Venlo.
''You never know for sure when it comes to new signings,'' Slutsky said. ''Only competitive games can prove it was a right deal.''
The home side is meanwhile still without injured first-choice goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda.
''Much will depend on the beginning of the match,'' Slutsky said of his team's chances. ''If we are able to be on equal terms from the very first minute, then we might have chances, otherwise it will be tough.''
Slutsky is bracing for a game in which his side is expected to come under immense pressure from the nine-time European champions.
''CSKA has proved that we can play successfully against key teams but we have never faced such a strong test before,'' he said. ''Even Mourinho's Inter, which won the Champions League was weaker then Real today.''
Summing up things from CSKA's point of view, Slutsky said: ''We have a plan for the game and will hope our opponent will not play at its best.''
AP sports writer Paul Logothetis contributed to this report from Madrid.