Real Madrid stare into oblivion

The pressure is on for the Spanish champions to avoid another embarassing exit.

    Key man: Real Madrid's Robinho [AFP]
    Spanish champion Real Madrid needs to make up a 2-1 deficit from the first leg to avoid elimination when it hosts AS Roma in the Uefa Champions League.

    Only victory will ensure the nine time winners don’t exit at the same stage for the fourth straight year.

    "It's going to be an intense matchup,'' Madrid striker Raul Gonzalez told Tuesday's Marca.

    "We have to come out strongly and look to score a goal in the first minutes to keep our calm and oblige Roma to open up.''

    Madrid hasn't lost to an Italian opponent at the Santiago Bernabeu since 2002, when a Franceso Totti goal handed Roma a 1-0 group stage victory.

    Madrid will rally its offence around Robinho, who scored two goals after coming on as a substitute in Madrid's 3-2 win at Recreativo Huelva on Saturday.

    That win increased Madrid's lead in the Spanish league to five points over FC Barcelona.

    The Brazil forward's importance was evident during a recent two-week absence with a stomach muscle strain, when Madrid lost three straight games.

    "He's a fundamental player for our team,'' defender Fabio Cannavaro said.

    "He can break a game.''

    Attack blunted

    Madrid is missing several other attacking weapons, as Ruud van Nistelrooy has an ankle injury and Arjen Robben is sidelined for a month with an ankle sprain picked up in Saturday's victory. Wesley Sneijder is also out with a fractured rib.

    Center back Pepe has returned after a long absence to help Cannavaro anchor the defence.

    The Portugal defender will make up for the absence of regular right back Sergio Ramos, who is serving out a suspension.

    Roma coach Luciano Spalletti said his team will play an offensive game, rather than just sit back and protect its lead.

    "We can't limit ourselves to not letting them score. It will be impossible. We have an obligation to score,'' the Italian said.

    "If we think about only preserving our result, we'll have big problems.''

    Roma's offence seems to be in good form, after beating Parma 4-0 on Saturday to move within six points of Serie A leader Inter Milan.

    The Italians travelled to Manchester United with the same advantage last season only to depart Old Trafford with a 7-1 drubbing.

    "There's respect for Madrid, but not fear,'' forward Amantini Mancini said.

    Roma is without midfielder David Pizarro, who scored in the first leg at the Stadio Olimpico, and fullback Marco Cassetti (shoulder).

    Brazilian defender Juan (ankle) is also a game-time decision.

    Hoping for a start: Chelsea's Joe Cole [AFP]
    Chelsea target victory to avoid the Blues

    Meanwhile, English club Chelsea needs a win over Olympiakos to reach the quarterfinals.

    Joe Cole and Michael Ballack could retain their places at Stamford Bridge, although manager Avram Grant may decide to bring Michael Essien into the midfield and restore Didier Drogba in attack.

    That would likely relegate Claude Makelele and Nicolas Anelka to the bench.

    The selection of in-form players in their usual positions could give the Blues the attacking spark they lacked in Greece.

    "We defended very comfortably but we didn't threaten their goal enough,'' Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard said.

    "But, in Europe, sometimes you have to make sure you don't concede first and foremost.

    "Maybe we could have been a bit more of an attacking threat, but we weren't and that's why we have to make sure we are very concentrated at home.''

    Imposing home record

    That shouldn't be too much of a problem for Chelsea, which hasn't lost at home in the Premier League for four years, a record run of 76 matches, and was last defeated at Stamford Bridge in the Champions League by eventual winner FC Barcelona in February 2006.

    "It is a great pressure and we have been in this situation before, which could help us,'' Joe Cole said.

    Olympiakos' hopes of springing the biggest surprise so far in this season's tournament were hit when key striker Lomano LuaLua was ruled out of the match with a dislocated shoulder.

    But Lampard is still not expecting an easy match, even with Olympiakos only in second place in the comparatively weak Greek league after a 1-1 draw at home to unheralded Asteras.

    "They play a very strong and compact game and are dangerous on the counterattack so perhaps they are set up to try and come away and nick a goal,'' Lampard said.

    "It's not over yet.''

    Schalke look to salvage season

    Finally, Schalke is hoping to compensate for a disappointing domestic season by advancing at the expense of FC Porto.

    The German club has a 1-0 advantage from the first leg.

    "We are having a difficult time in the Bundesliga and we have to use our chance in Porto,'' Schalke captain Marcelo Bordon said, calling it "our game of the year.''

    Porto, in contrast, is the runaway leader in the domestic title race.

    The Portuguese champion hasn't conceded a goal at home for nine games since November, beating former coach Jose Mourinho's eight-match record run in the 2003-04 season.

    Schalke's 1-0 loss to leader Bayern Munich on Saturday was its third straight defeat, making a Bundesliga title unlikely.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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