Real Madrid CF must beat AS Roma at the
Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday to be assured a place in the knockout
stages of the UEFA Champions League. A draw would only be enough if FC
Dynamo Kyiv defeated Bayer 04 Leverkusen in Germany in the group's other
Behind closed doors
The game will be played behind closed doors as part of Roma's punishment
for crowd disturbances earlier in the competition, and Madrid practised
playing under similar conditions last week, training at the Santiago
Bernabéu rather than their training base at Las Rozas. Madrid's
Argentinian defender Walter Samuel, who is returning to the club he left
last summer, said: "It's a pity there won't be any fans because it's a
great stadium. However, our thoughts are of winning the game, that's it
- with or without fans".
Madrid have brought their entire squad of stars to Rome, many of whom
were rested in the scoreless league match at Villarreal CF on Sunday.
Zinedine Zidane returns after being sidelined for the last two weeks
with a back injury, while the main doubt is Portuguese winger Luís Figo,
who has an ankle problem, although he completed Tuesday night's training
session with his team-mates.
For Roma, who are already eliminated, Cristian Chivu, Damiano Tommasi
and Olivier Dacourt are all long-term injured, while young defender
Giuseppe Scurto and Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi are both suspended.
Then there is a long list of players all carrying minor injuries -
namely, Antonio Cassano, Francesco Totti and Vincenzo Montella in attack,
and Traianos Dellas and Christian Panucci in defence, - whom coach Luigi
Del Neri is likely to rest on Wednesday.
The success of Madrid's season arguably rests on the outcome of
Wednesday's match. They have fallen nine points behind arch-rivals FC
Barcelona in the Primera División, having failed to maintain any
consistent form to date. A battling performance at Dynamo which earned a
2-2 draw at the start of November, and spectacular league wins over
Albacete Balompié and Levante UD have been recent highs, but the lows in
November included a 3-0 defeat at Camp Nou against Barcelona and the
disappointing 1-1 draw at home against Bayer 04 Leverkusen on Matchday
All my players are aware of the importance of the match
Mariano García Remón
Madrid coach Mariano García Remón sounded optimistic, however, as he
said: "All my players are aware of the importance of the match. However,
they believe it will be their best game of the season. They are all
relaxed and there's a good atmosphere within the team. They see it as a
chance to shine and re-establish their international reputation. Even if
we don't win I don't consider it to be the end of a cycle at the club.
This will be decided come the end of the season in June".
While Roma's hopes of progressing in Europe this season are over, they
will want to end their Champions League campaign with heads held high -
and a victory over Madrid at long last, having lost to them in the
Italian capital in the first group stage in both 2001/02 and 2002/03.
Roma have failed to live up to expectations this season, and
problems off the field, with three different coaches in charge in the
space of a few months, have overshadowed their under-par performances on
the field. A 4-0 win at the Artemio Franchi stadium against AC Siena ten
days ago was hailed as the "new" start to Roma's season, but this was
followed by a disappointing 1-1 draw against UC Sampdoria on Sunday.