Real cling on to faint hopes

Barcelona in the driving seat but Real are on a mission to overturn two-goal deficit in European Champions League.

    Mourinho can expect a frosty reception at the Nou Camp where he will be watching from the stands [GALLO/GETTY]

    Barcelona may hold the obvious advantage heading into Tuesday's European Champions League return-leg semifinal but one thing is for sure - Real Madrid will not go quietly.

    Last week's tempestuous first-leg was a mix of cynical challenges, play-acting, drama and mind games.

    Barca are the clear favourites after a 2-0 victory at the Bernabeu stadium due to two masterful goals by Lionel Messi.

    But it was a game dominated by controversy in which Real's defensive midfielder Pepe was sent off along with coach Jose Mourinho who was sent to the stands after venting his fury at the referee.

    The game turned into a stop-start affair and the sports pages this week have been dominated by the fall-out from the game.

    War of words

    Both clubs denounced each other to UEFA's disciplinary committee with Real alleging that Barcelona players Daniel Alves, Pedro Rodriguez and Sergio Busquets feigned injuries to provoke bookings in the first leg.

    Pepe was controversially dismissed after Barcelona full-back Dani Alves over-reacted to a challenge by the Portuguese international.

    Barcelona's substitute goalkeeper Jose Pinto had earlier been given a red card for his part in a scuffle at half-time

    Barcelona reported Mourinho to UEFA for hitting out at the club and counterpart Pep Guardiola, accusing the Barca coach of having won the 2009 Champions League after "scandalous goings-on at Stamford Bridge'', when Chelsea were denied several penalties during a semifinal defeat.

    Mourinho also criticised the second-leg referee Frank de Bleeckere, suggesting the official favoured Barcelona in last year's semifinal with Inter Milan.

    Despite this Real remain hopeful in their almost impossible mission to overturn the two-goal deficit.


    Tuesday May 3

     Barcelona v Real Madrid (agg 2-0)

    Wednesday May 4

     Man Utd v Schalke 04
    (agg 2-0)

    Real's website ran a picture on Sunday of their players celebrating a 2-0 semifinal first-leg victory at the Nou Camp in 2002 that paved the way for their ninth and most recent triumph in Europe's elite club competition.

    Zinedine Zidane and Steve McManaman scored that night and the Spanish giants drew the return leg at the Bernabeu 1-1 before Real beat German side Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 in the final thanks to Zidane's stunning volley.

    "Everyone agrees it will be difficult, but no one gives up hope," the club wrote.

    "This historic precedent is just what Real Madrid need to have even greater faith in their chances on Tuesday."

    Goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas added his voice to the message of optimism.

    "The names of the two teams that will play the final haven't been inscribed yet," the Spanish World Cup winner said.

    "You never know what may happen. We will play in Barcelona knowing a final is set to take place in a month and that any of the four teams still in the championship may be in it."

    Saving grace

    The game's saving grace was the performance of Lionel Messi, who scored a double, the second being an excellent run where he slalomed through the heart of the Real defence before slotting past Casillas.

    Madrid will have to abandon the defensive tactics used in the three prior meetings in just over two weeks, during which Madrid won the Copa del Rey final after a 1-1 league draw.

    Barca and Real rested key players and were both beaten in Spain's Primera Division at the weekend, Barca surrendering the lead and losing 2-1 at Real Sociedad and Real going down 3-2 at home to relegation threatened Real Zaragoza.

    The results preserved Barca's eight-point lead over Real at the top with four games left and the Catalans remain firmly on course for a third successive Spanish league title.

    But Guardiola was not resting on his laurels.

    "This was a lesson for us showing that nothing has been done yet," said Guardiola after the defeat at Sociedad.

    Probable teams


    1-Victor Valdes
    2-Daniel Alves
    3-Gerard Pique
    14-Javier Mascherano
    5-Carles Puyol
    16-Sergio Busquets
    15-Seydou Keita
    10-Lionel Messi
    7-David Villa

    Real Madrid

    1-Iker Casillas
    17-Alvaro Arbeloa
    2-Ricardo Carvalho
    18-Raul Albiol
    10-Lassana Diarra
    14-Xabi Alonso
    24-Sami Khedira
    23-Mesut Ozil
    7-Cristiano Ronaldo
    22-Angel Di Maria.

    "Madrid are a very good team and they have nothing to lose so we have to
    keep our heads. We are going to have some tough moments in the game and we will need the support of our fans."

    Barca's defence has been ravaged by injuries and their problems deepened on Saturday when they lost centre back Gabriel Milito to a thigh strain and reserve team fullback Martin Montoya to a fractured clavicle.

    There was more positive news on Andres Iniesta's calf injury when the Spain midfielder, who missed last week's first leg, took part in Sunday's training session.

    Real will be without Pepe for Tuesday's game and defender Sergio Ramos is also suspended.

    "Madridismo always believes in comebacks," Real Director General Jorge Valdano said on Sunday.

    "If there was just one team that had the habit of being heroic, it would be Real Madrid. Nothing should deprive us of feeling hope and excitement for Tuesday's match."

    Mourinho can expect a hostile reception if he takes his place in the
    stands of the Camp Nou, where he spent four years as an assistant coach but
    has since become a hate figure following bitter Champions League matches with Chelsea and Inter prior to Madrid.

    The winner heads to the May 28 final at Wembley and is expected to be joined by Manchester United after the English club won 2-0 at German opponent Schalke. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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