Football: Ronaldo holds the key as Inter launch revenge mission

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The Independent Online
RONALDO holds the key to tonight's Uefa Cup quarter-final first- leg tie between Internazionale and Schalke 04, the unpretentious German club who beat the Italians in last year's final.

Schalke won 4-1 on a penalty shoot-out last year after the two-leg final had finished 1-1 on aggregate. Now, though, Inter have Ronaldo - and his team-mate, the Chilean striker Ivan Zamorano who scored against Schalke in Inter's second leg 1-0 win last season, believes the Brazilian will tip the balance this time.

"We still feel bad about last year's final and this is the perfect occasion to exact revenge by eliminating them." he said. "This year, too, we have an extra weapon in Ronaldo and his pace is sure to cause problems for the German defenders who are big and strong but possibly a bit slow."

Zamorano's view is echoed by Schalke's experienced Dutch defender Johan de Kock, who agrees that Inter are stronger than last year. "He [Ronaldo] is dangerous, fast and unpredictable. You never know what he is going to do next. The safest way to handle him is to make sure that he does not get the ball."

Inter will be without three players - the suspended sweeper Giuseppe Bergomi as well as the Portuguese midfielder Paulo Sousa and the defender Mauro Milanese, who are both cup-tied. The Brazilian Ze Elias is favoured to take Paulo Sousa's place in midfield alongside Aron Winter, Diego Simeone and Francesco Moriero. In defence, Salvatore Fresi returns in the sweeper role in place of Bergomi, while Francesco Colonesse replaces Milanese. Schalke will be without the Dutch midfielder Marco van Hoogdalem, who has an Achilles injury.

The Inter coach, Gigi Simoni, has one major selection doubt, over Ronaldo's partner in attack. For much of this season, the Frenchman Youri Djorkaeff has been the first choice alongside the Brazilian - but he is under pressure from both Zamorano and Nigeria's Nwankwo Kanu.

For Saturday's 2-0 Serie A win over Napoli, Djorkaeff was dropped in favour of Kanu - but it was Zamorano who opened the scoring with a spectacular back-heeled goal after coming on as a substitute for the Nigerian.

Auxerre tonight try to do what no club has achieved since mid-December - beat Lazio at Rome's Olympic Stadium. The Italians have won 10 consecutive league, Uefa Cup and Italian Cup games at the venue and naturally hope to extend that in their Uefa Cup quarter-final first leg against the French side.

Lazio will be at full strength with the Croat Alen Boksic and Roberto Mancini in attack and the Czech Pavel Nedved alongside Yugoslavia's Vladimir Jugovic in midfield.

Auxerre will be weakened by the absence of their captain Franck Silvestre and the midfielder Christian Henna, both injured. Laurent Ciechelski is suspended.

Ajax face Spartak Moscow at home in the other quarter-final. The Dutch side will be without their Finnish striker and playmaker Jari Litmanen, who has been troubled by a calf strain since late autumn. There are also slight doubts over Ronald de Boer, Dean Gorre and Michael Laudrup, although all should play.

Ajax may include Benedict McCarthy. The South African is normally a reserve, but after scoring seven goals and picking up the best player award at the African Nations' Cup he may feature tonight.

Spartak have a powerful midfield containing the internationals Andrei Tikhonov, the Russian player of the year in 1996, and the diminutive Dimitri Alenichev, who won the award overwhelmingly last year.

"Spartak play beautiful football, a bit like the way Ajax do, and we need two good days to beat them," Morten Olsen, the Ajax coach, said.