Nine-times European champions Real Madrid
risk slipping out of the Champions League with barely a whimper on
Wednesday when they take on AS Roma at a deserted Olympic Stadium.
The Spanish side must win the Group B game to guarantee a place in the
knockout phase of the competition, and with Roma already eliminated from
Europe their main enemy could be the deadening atmosphere at the game,
which will be played behind closed doors.
The prospect of playing in an empty stadium prompted Real coach Garcia
Remon to lead training at a deserted Bernabeu last week to prepare his
players for what awaits them in the Italian capital.
Real clearly had one eye on the Roma game on Sunday when a weakened team
gave a lacklustre performance in their 0-0 draw at Villarreal.
Missing Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Raul and Guti they
failed to create any clear scoring chances and were fortunate to emerge
from the game with a point.
But the performance failed to dim Roberto Carlos's optimism about his
side's chances against the Italians, whom they defeated on their
previous two visits to the Olympic stadium.
"This is the most important game of the season so far," he said. "We
want to continue in the Champions League and we are confident of getting
a great result in Rome.
"I'm convinced we will go through because we have a very strong group of
players and then we will go on to reach the final."
Dynamo Kiev top the group on 10 points, with Bayer Leverkusen and Real
both on eight.
Because of their inferior head-to-head record against the Germans, a
draw would be enough for Real only if Leverkusen lose at home to Kiev.
Apart from the long-term absence of Jonathan Woodgate, Real's only
injury worry is Figo, but the Portuguese winger looks to have shaken off
a minor ankle niggle and should play.
Figo's return will mean that David Beckham, who will be celebrating the
10th anniversary of his first appearance in the Champions League, will
move back to a central midfield position after two undistinguished
performances on the right.
The game will also mark the return of Argentine defender Walter Samuel
to the Olympic stadium, following his 25 million euro ($33.62 million)
move to Real at the end of last season.
With Roma rooted to the bottom of the group on one point, coach Luigi
Del Neri has admitted his priorities lie with Serie A.
"The match against Real doesn't interest me, even if - naturally - we'll
try to make a good impression," he said after a 1-1 draw with Sampdoria
at the weekend.
Del Neri is likely to rest his team's leading scorer Vincenzo Montella
and striker Antonio Cassano, who is suffering with a thigh strain.
Roma captain Francesco Totti, however, is expected to make the starting
AS Roma: 22-Ivan Pelizzoli; 2-Christian Panucci, 31-Traianos Dellas,
8-Matteo Ferrari, 32-Vincent Candela; 30-Mancini, 20-Simone Perrotta,
21-Gaetano D'Agostino, 23-Alberto Aquilani; 11-Daniele Corvia,
Real Madrid: 1-Iker Casillas; 2-Michel Salgado, 19-Walter Samuel, 6-Ivan
Helguera, 3-Roberto Carlos; 10-Luis Figo, 14-Guti, 23-David Beckham,
5-Zinedine Zidane; 7-Raul, 9-Ronaldo.
Referee: Rene Temmink (Netherlands)