Football: Champions ready to show their credentials

Click to follow
IN A season when Uefa allowed domestic runners-up to join Europe's premier competition, tonight's Champions' Cup semi-final line-up suggests that it has at least lived up to its name.

Borussia Dortmund, the defending champions, go to Real Madrid, the record six-time winners, for tonight's first leg. Juventus, the losing finalists last season and also on course for their second Italian title in a row, host Monaco, who have won the French championship by 12 points and put out Manchester United in the quarter-finals.

The Real Madrid chairman, Lorenzo Sanz, is in no doubt about who should lift this year's cup. "Real Madrid have a historic obligation to get to the final," said Sanz, whose son, Fernando, is likely to make the team in place of the suspended Fernando Hierro.

With Sanz's team six points behind Barcelona in the Spanish League, Real have virtually written off holding on to their title. But extending their record to seven Champions' Cup titles, 32 years after the sixth, would more than make up for that.

Dortmund's coach, Nevio Scala, declared Real Madrid "the strongest team in Europe" although Juventus would argue with that. After his team finally shook off Bayern Munich in a closely-fought quarter-final which had one goal in 210 minutes, Scala's players are ready for another tough battle.

Dortmund have their central defender Jurgen Kohler and the midfielder Jorg Heinrich ruled out through injury, while the Austrian sweeper Wolfgang Feiersinger is banned with two yellow cards.

Juventus, so close to elimination at the group stage, are now in a rich vein of form and look likely to make their third final in a row. Filippo Inzaghi, whose late winner against Manchester United in December enabled Juventus to scramble into the quarter-final, scored three in a 4-1 quarter- final win at Dynamo Kiev and two in Saturday's 4-1 beating of Milan in Serie A.

While confident of his own form, Inzaghi is wary of Monaco. "We have to be aware of the French club," he said. "We are talking about a team that eliminated Manchester United and we know quite well how tough it is to beat the English."

Juventus should see the return of the midfielders Zinedine Zidane and Antonio Conte but may miss the Uruguayan defender Paolo Montero because of a leg muscle problem.

Monaco 's goalkeeper, Fabian Barthez, and the striker David Trezeguet, who were ruled out of France's friendly against Russia last week, should both make the trip to Turin.