9 March 2004
HAMBURG – Real Madrid prepare for the most important match of their season so far without two of their most significant players: Brazilian mega-stars Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos.
Both World Cup winners will miss Wednesday’s Champions League showdown against German champions Bayern Munich.
Ronaldo is out for at least three weeks after pulling a muscle in his left thigh in Saturday’s 1-1 draw in Santander. He will probably be replaced by Argentine Santiago Solari, who scored on the weekend.
Raul Gonzalez, Real’s other star striker, missed the Santander clash with a twisted ankle, but should be fit to accompany Solari on Wednesday.
Roberto Carlos, of course, has been controversially suspended by UEFA for two games, on video evidence, for thumping Bayern’s Martin Demichaelis in the 1-1 first leg draw in Munich.
The dynamic left-back was not sent off for the incident. Instead, he went onto score what could turn out to be a vital away goal – courtesy of a horrific blunder by Bayern keeper Oliver Kahn.
The Roberto Carlos suspension is just the latest in a series of bitter episodes between Real and Bayern. The “madridistas” blame Bayern’s “political influence” for the suspension.
On Monday Real’s appeal against the suspension was turned down.
“We have to respond against Bayern’s provocations with good football”, said the normally taciturn Carlos Quieroz on Sunday. “They are trying to make us nervous, but we must remain above this kind of provocation.”
Wednesday’s game will be the tenth Madrid-Munich clash in four years. Whichever team has triumphed in these has gone on to pick up the coveted trophy.
But even though the odds are stacked heavily against Bayern, they travel to Madrid not without confidence.
Oliver Kahn is ready to make up for his first-leg blunder and Willy Sagnol plans to play despite a fractured arm.
Kahn has bounced back though from his costly mistake and, bolstered by strong showings since, especially in the 3-1 weekend league win at Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern captain Kahn is ready for the Bernabeu task.
“I am in great form. I know what I am capable of. If I can play as I did (in Leverkusen) again then we stand an excellent chance in Madrid,” said Kahn.
Another key to a turnaround will be Bayern’s defence, where the French duo of Bixente Lizarazu and Sagnol could be fielded.
Lizarazu has recovered sooner than expected from a thigh-muscle injury. Sagnol is determined to play with a splint on the lower arm he fractured during the game in Leverkusen, that is if a final test on Tuesday in Madrid is successful.
“Things are looking good. Sagnol and Lizarazu will fly to Madrid,” said coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Up front, Dutch marksman Roy Makaay has been highly reliable with now 15 Bundesliga goals and six of Munich’s seven Champions League goals, including the strike against Madrid two weeks ago.
The Spanish team in the worst position in the Champions League, of course, is Celta Vigo, who have the unenviable task of overturning a 3-2 defeat inflicted by form team Arsenal.
Celta will travel to London hoping, rather than expecting, a miracle. They will be without key midfielders Gustavo Lopez and Jesuli Mora, who are both injured. In attack, trying to silence Highbury, will be Savo Milosevic and Edu.
They are also hoping to have keeper Pablo Cavallero back from injury.
Celta warmed up for their trip in perfect style, losing 1-5 at home to lowly Espanyol on Saturday. The latest meltdown leaves Milosevic and company third from bottom, in serious relegation trouble.
The defending champions AC Milan, take on Sparta Prague at home after playing to a goalless draw in the Czech Republic.
Subject: German news