By David Sainsbury in Rome
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 match.
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 5.
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.
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