By Simon Hart
The talk ahead of Real Madrid CF's semi-final return away to Juventus FC has centred on a familiar question: Ronaldo's fitness.
The Brazilian striker limped out of last Tuesday's 2-1 win in Madrid with a calf problem and has since undergone intensive treatment in a race to be fit for Wednesday night's match. His prospects have increased significantly too - he trained at the Delle Alpi on Tuesday - and, according to team-mate Michel Salgado, "until the last minute he'll be aiming to play".
Whatever Ronaldo's involvement, Madrid should welcome back their other star striker, Raúl González, following his recent appendix operation, despite him claiming he is "not in the best condition". Raúl's importance needs no underlining yet the fuss over Ronaldo's availability - and Salgado stressed the significance of the Brazilian's speed - makes you wonder how this pair's understudies feel.
Guti, Javier Portillo and Fernando Morientes are the three players in competition with Raúl and Ronaldo. Of the three, it is Guti who has enjoyed the most opportunities in the Champions League this season, making twice as many appearances (14) as the other two, and scoring five goals. Guti's versatility - he started out as a midfield player - is a factor in his favour and he will play as a support striker behind Raúl in Turin should Ronaldo miss out.
Looking ahead to the match, the 26-year-old said: "
I have to make the most of my opportunities and spend as much time as possible on the field of play." Guti has not appeared in any of Madrid's Champions League finals and admitted in an interview with uefa.com that: "There was a time when I was getting disappointed because I didn't play". He has since learned, however, that: "By the end of each season every player gets their chance."
Confined to the bench
Trying telling that to Morientes. The 27-year-old, who scored in Madrid's 2000 Champions League final win over Valencia CF and also started the 1998 and 2002 finals, has been confined to the substitutes' bench this season. He scored three times for Spain in last summer's FIFA World Cup and struck a hat-trick for 'la Selección' in the recent friendly victory over Ecuador. Yet he is more likely to start for his country now than for his club and has not scored a goal in the Champions League this season.
Morientes's frustration reached boiling point in the second half of Madrid's home win against BV Borussia Dortmund in February. Told to warm up by coach Vicente del Bosque he replied with a few angry words, which will only hasten his departure out of the club this summer. Valencia CF have reportedly expressed an interest in his services and he also has admirers in England.
With Morientes out of favour, Del Bosque now turns to the 21-year-old Javier Portillo if he is looking to throw on a goalscorer. Portillo, a product of the club's youth programme, marked his only Champions League appearance last season with the equalising goal in a 2-2 draw at Panathinaikos FC. His contribution this term has been even more important: without his added-time equaliser in Dortmund, Madrid would have been eliminated in the second group stage.
Portillo, like Morientes, will take his place on the bench in Turin regardless of whether Ronaldo passes a late test. Whoever plays, though - and even with an expected back five - you can expect attack once again to be the best form of defence for Del Bosque's side.
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