Dejan Lovren will be faced with one of the toughest tasks in football on Saturday.
In his first Champions League final, the Liverpool defender will not only have to quell Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the greatest players in history, but also keep Real Madrid’s myriad of fearsome attacking threats quiet.
The Croatian has enjoyed an upturn in form this season after well-documented inconsistency since his £20 million ($26m) arrival in 2014.
And after helping Liverpool reach the final and finish fourth in the English Premier League, the 28-year-old tells CNN Sport he will be just as confident as Ronaldo when the pair go head-to-head at Kiev’s Olimpiyskiy Stadium.
“He’s a fantastic player. He’s showed already over 12 to 15 seasons that every year he can score,” Lovren says of Ronaldo, winner of five prestigious Ballon d’Or awards.
“Even if he has a bad season he will score at least 30 goals.
“It will be quite difficult, of course, a big challenge. But I’ve been working so hard in my life to reach the final of the Champions League and I play week in, week out against the best Premier League strikers in England so I’m ready for that.
“We’ll defend like a team. In some moments I will be in situations one against one, but I also have my confidence like he has.”
Experience vs. youth
The central defender, whose partnership with January signing Virgil van Djik has helped stabilize Liverpool’s rearguard, says he and his teammates are “ready to fight” defending champions Real, the most successful team in the competition’s history.
Last year Real became the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles and, should they win on Saturday, the Spaniards will become the first team to claim three successive European Cup crowns twice.
In Ronaldo, Real have a player who has scored in every Champions League game he has featured this season.
The Portugal captain has found the net 25 times in his last 17 Champions League matches and is the only Real player to have played every minute for the La Liga side in this season’s tournament.
“When you want to play in the final of the Champions League then of course you will expect to face one of the best teams in the world,” added Lovren, who is set to feature for Croatia at this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
“Real Madrid are not without reason three times in the final in a row and we need to respect that.
“They have confidence, experience and they know how to play these finals. From our team, for every player it will be our first final, but we are healthy, we are young, and we are ready to fight.”
The contrast in experience is stark. Sergio Ramos, Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Karim Benzema, Dani Carvajal, Marcelo and Isco could all appear in their fourth Champions League final for Real, while no-one in Liverpool’s squad has played in a Champions League final.
‘Anything is possible’
Liverpool last featured in the final of Europe’s most prestigious club competition 11 years ago and have not won the famous trophy since fighting back from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan on penalties in 2005.
Saturday’s final will be a repeat of the 1981 European Cup final, which Liverpool won 1-0 in Paris. Ominously, or perhaps reassuringly for Liverpool fans, it was the last time Real lost in the final of this competition.
Lovren says Liverpool’s youthful side will take confidence from beating English Premier League champions Manchester City, Porto and Roma en route to Kiev.
They have also been in fine scoring form, netting 46 goals in 14 games this season, surpassing Barcelona’s record of 45 in 1999/2000.
“In these 90 minutes anything is possible, especially against Real Madrid,” says Lovren.
“They know how to defend and attack, but when you look back we also played against Man City, Porto, Roma and we showed we can score many goals in the beginning of the half.
“So, definitely it will be an interesting game to watch and, of course, to play and hopefully we can go away with a smile.”