Real Madrid's Welsh wizard Gareth Bale says Manchester City have earned the right to be considered part of the Champions League elite, but expects his side to triumph in their semi-final second leg.
Bale said Madrid's maturity and experience at this level of the competition makes them confident of progression, after the two sides played out a 0-0 draw in Manchester on Tuesday.
"I was impressed by City," said Bale.
"You can see they are a very good team and they have some great players, we know a lot about them and we watch them all the time in Spain.
"Obviously, I've also played against them before and they are a really strong team, but so are we. The semi-final is really nicely poised for the second leg.
"They definitely belong among the European elite now. They are here on merit. They haven't got here by luck.
"I'm surprised they haven't got to this stage of the Champions League a little earlier, but they have great players, the club is still growing and they are going to be a force to be reckoned with."
Bale himself had a tough time of it on Tuesday, restricted to a number of long-range shots.
He expected City to be strong defensively again, but said the game was bound to open up as both sides chased a win.
"They are going to be extremely difficult to play in the second leg, but we're confident we can win," Bale said.
"I don't know if we will think we are favourites, but we know everybody likes to put those tags on games like this. I think it will be another evenly contested game and a very difficult one.
"I definitely think we are more mature as a team now [than the one that won the Champions League in 2014].
"We have more experience and that showed against City.
"It was important to keep a clean sheet and not let the lead slip away in the first leg. We've done that and it's very difficult playing away from home in the Champions League, but we will take them back home now."