UEFA Champions League holders Real Madrid CF are one of six clubs vying for a place in the quarter-finals of the competition next week as the penultimate matchday of the second group stage approaches.
Madrid meet Milan
Madrid are second in Group C with five points, one ahead of third-placed BV Borussia Dortmund. The Spaniards meet leaders AC Milan at the Santiago Bernabéu knowing that victory, coupled with the 1. Bundesliga's side failure to overcome FC Lokomotiv Moskva, will see them qualify. However, Madrid have mounting defensive problems, with Iván Helguera joining captain Fernando Hierro on the injured list.
Although Milan are already through, they will hope to continue an impressive run of four straight victories. Former Madrid favourite Fernando Redondo should feature in midfield, having made his long-awaited Champions League debut for Milan in the 1-0 victory at Lokomotiv on Matchday 10 after a two-year lay-off.
Point to progress
In Group A, FC Barcelona's eleven-game winning streak in the competition came to an end with a draw at Internazionale FC, but the leaders need just a point at home against already eliminated Bayer 04 Leverkusen to progress. Barça's satisfaction at maintaining their unbeaten record was tempered by injuries to midfielder Phillip Cocu and Carlos Puyol. Both will miss the remaining group matches, as will striker Dani García with a sprained knee.
Second-placed Inter, three points behind Barça, are at home to resurgent Newcastle United FC who are in contention following successive victories against Leverkusen. Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson will doubtless reunite the striking partnership of Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy as the latter's three-game suspension for violent play in the corresponding fixture with Inter has now ended. A point currently divides the sides.
Group B remains evenly balanced with all four teams in with a chance of finishing top. AFC Ajax and Arsenal FC are in pole position, with six points apiece, followed by Valencia CF on five and AS Roma on three. Home victories for the leaders would eliminate Valencia and Roma with a match to spare.
Roma visit Highbury in confident mood after re-igniting their campaign with a shock 3-0 triumph at Valencia. Both sides will enter Tuesday's encounter following a testing weekend in which Arsenal face Chelsea FC in an FA Cup quarter-final and Roma meet city rivals S.S. Lazio in Serie A. Gunners left-back Ashley Cole is out following a hernia operation, while Roma playmaker Francesco Totti, who scored twice against Valencia, has been laid low with influenza.
Three in the hunt
Three teams are chasing the second qualifying spot in Group D behind section winners Manchester United FC. Juventus FC can claim it with a home win against RC Deportivo La Coruña coupled with a United defeat of FC Basel. Juventus and Deportivo are tied on four points, but victory would leave the Serie A champions with a superior head-to-head record against their Spanish opponents after drawing at the Riazor stadium. Alessandro Del Piero could return for the Italian champions.
Basel, on three points, travel to Old Trafford to face a home side beset by injury. Captain Roy Keane has a damaged hamstring, sustained in the Premiership win against Leeds United AFC, and is a definite absentee. Midfield player Juan Sebastián Verón will have a scan on an ankle problem, while defender Mikaël Silvestre and midfield player Quinton Fortune both picked up knocks.
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