Saturday, March 8, 2008

Shaken Real face test of confidence

MADRID: Spanish champions Real Madrid, still shellshocked by their Champions League exit at the hands of Roma in midweek, must restore their morale quickly for today's home match against Espanyol. Real had high hopes in this season's Champions League but a 2-1 home defeat to the Italians on Wednesday saw them crash out at the last 16 stage and the league is now the sole focus.Real stretched their lead over Barcelona to five points last weekend but fifth-placed Espanyol, who have already beaten Real in the league this season, are a difficult opponent. Espanyol will hope they do not feel the backlash of Real's anger at being eliminated from Europe.Barcelona are now Spain's sole representative in the Champions League, having overcome Celtic over two legs, but it came at a cost with Argentine sensation Lionel Messi out for six weeks after tearing a muscle in his left leg.Barca host Villarreal, who beat them 3-1 earlier in the season, tomorrow aiming to bounce back after a 4-2 loss at Atletico Madrid last weekend. It was Barcelona's first league defeat since the painful 1-0 reverse against Real on Dec 23 last year.Villarreal lie third, seven points behind Barca, and are one of five teams gunning for two Champions League spots.Atletico, three points behind in fourth, are one of those sides and travel to Real Zaragoza today. It is a first match in charge for new Zaragoza coach Manolo Villanova who replaced Javier Irureta this week.Sevilla, five points off fourth place, are also targeting a Champions League berth and entertain bottom side Levante tomorrow.Like Real, Sevilla suffered European heartache with Turkish side Fenerbahce defeating them at home on penalties after the two-legged tie had finished 5-5.
TODAY: Real Madrid v Espanyol, Real Zaragoza v Atletico Madrid; TOMORROW: Sevilla v Levante, Osasuna v Almeria, Athletic Bilbao v Valladolid, Racing Santander v Real Betis, Real Murcia v Getafe, Real Mallorca v Recreativo Huelva, Valencia v Deportivo La Coruna, Barcelona v Villarreal. - AFP

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