Football: League pressure reigns in Spain

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The Independent Online
English club managers may think they have it bad watching their best players being taken away for international duties. But the Fergusons, Evanses and Wengers of the world should spare a thought for their counterparts in Spain, where clubs not only have to relinquish their World Cup players - a mere 16 countries have exercised their claim on more than 40 players, and that does not include the Spain's own players - but they then have to turn out for the regular round of league games.

Valencia and Barcelona will have to scrape the barrel to put together teams for their game today after the mass exodus of players on World Cup duty. Barcelona are so strapped, in fact, that their three Portuguese internationals will be among half a dozen players facing tight schedules to fly back to Spain in time for their club commitments.

The absence of stars, compounded by injuries and suspensions, even led the league leaders Real Madrid to ask for a postponement of this evening's game at Tenerife. The request was turned down and Real have been forced to make special arrangements so their Brazilian players can make the trip back to South America for a friendly. Barcelona's own leading Brazilian, striker Ronaldo, will take the first plane out after leading his side today against Valencia. Ronaldo scored twice on Wednesday in the 4-0 Cup victory at Second Division Las Palmas. But the news was not all good for Barcelona as the defender Sergi Barjuan broke his arm in the game, and has further compounded the problems faced by their coach Bobby Robson in putting together a side.

Also out are the suspended utility player Luis Enrique Martinez, and the injured centre-back Abelardo Fernandez, while the defender Fernando Couto is unlikely to start the game after flying in from Portugal's game in Northern Ireland.

Valencia, who do not have the spending power or the galaxy of international stars of their Mediterranean rivals, will also have to fill key absences. Their newly signed playmaker Ariel Ortega will be with Argentina, striker Goran Vlaovic with Croatia and the midfielder Valery Karpin with Russia. Injuries to several other players and the suspension of the defender Enrique Romero have complicated the job faced by the coach Jorge Valdano.

Nwankwo Kanu, who captained Nigeria to Olympic gold in Atlanta, has completed rehabilitation after heart surgery and told an Italian sports magazine that he hopes to play again with his Italian club, FC Internazionale. "I feel great, I will play soccer again," Kanu told Guerin Sportivo.

Kanu, signed last year from Ajax for pounds 1.25m, had a deformed aortic heart valve repaired at the Cleveland Clinic last November. Doctors initially ruled out his possible return to football.

Doctors said recently that the 21-year-old had made "sensational progress" in rehabilitation. However, a return to the game was just a distant possibility, according to Internazionale's club doctor, Piero Volpi.

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