Real Madrid keen to begin 2008 in same way as 2007 finished

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Spanish champions Real Madrid are keen to kick off 2008 in the same way as they finished 2007 - by winning.

3 January 2008

MADRID - Spanish champions Real Madrid are keen to kick off 2008 in the same way as they finished 2007 - by winning.

Real ended 2007 - their year of resurgence after three trophy-less seasons - with an impressive 1-0 win away to historic rivals Barcelona.

That crucial win in the Camp Nou leaves the whites seven points clear of Barca at the top of La Liga - and well placed to claim their 31st league title.

On Wednesday the Real reserves beat third division Alicante 2-1 in the King's Cup.

The likes of Iker Casillas, Raul Gonzalez and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, however, will kick off 2008 on Sunday, at home to troubled Zaragoza.

Despite spending heavily in the summer, Zaragoza are ninth and leaking goals alarmingly. A heavy defeat in the Bernabeu could be the final nail in the coffin of embattled coach Victor Fernandez.

Barcelona will kick off the weekend on Saturday away to Mallorca.

The islanders showed they are in good form on Wednesday by thrashing Osasuna 4-0 in the cup. Barca, meanwhile, played out a disappointing 2-2 draw at home to third division Alcoyano.

Ronaldinho has started the New Year as he finished 2007, in poor shape. He could miss the Mallorca match due to tendonitis in his left calf.

Lionel Messi is still out, Thierry Henry has been suffering from migraine all week.

Failure to win in Palma will pile up the pressure on Barca coach Frank Rijkaard, whose departure now seems just a question of time.

Later on Saturday third-placed Espanyol take on fourth-placed Villarreal.

Sunday's other big game, apart from the Real-Zaragoza clash, sees fifth-placed Atletico Madrid away to lowly Deportivo Coruna.

Sunday will also see two local derbies, Sevilla versus Betis and Valencia against Levante.

On Wednesday Sevilla began their defence of the cup with a last-gasp 4-3 win over lively Denia.

Valencia, meanwhile, were beating Irun 3-0, in front of a tiny crowd in Mestalla.

Valencia are about to sign 19-year-old midfielder Ever Banega from Argentine giants Boca Juniors. Coach Ronald Koeman needs to strengthen his squad after controversially axing veterans Santiago Canizares, David Albelda and Miguel Angel Angulo, all of whom are keen to leave now.

Sunday's other games are as follows: Getafe-Valladolid, Recreativo Huelva-Almeria, Racing Santander-Athletic and Murcia-Osasuna.

[Copyright dpa 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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