'Bayern buy Beckham' put in perspective

Bayern Munich have made the most expensive purchase in their history and signed David Beckham, according to a statement on the German club's website yesterday. The fact that the piece was dated 1 April, however, tells its own story.

A Bayern spokesman confirmed it had all been a hoax, without saying why they had settled on the England captain for their prank. The Bundesliga leaders could rest their Brazilian defender Lucio and Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro for the match against VfL Wolfsburg today in preparation for next week's Champions' League game against Chelsea.

The goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and striker Roy Makaay missed Thursday's training due to slight strains, although both are expected to be fit.

Beckham's Real Madrid team-mate Ronaldo, meanwhile, has delayed his return to Spain following Brazil's World Cup qualifiers because of family problems and is likely to miss tomorrow's game against Albacete. Beckham will miss the game with a strain he picked up against Azerbaijan on Wednesday. The suspended Zinedine Zidane will also miss out.

A depleted Barcelona face a major test when they meet the high-flying Real Betis tomorrow afternoon. Barcelona enjoy an 11-point lead over Real Madrid at the top with nine games left, but the Catalans will have to make do without their inspirational centre-back Carles Puyol and defensive midfielder Rafa Marquez against a powerful Betis attack spearheaded by the Brazilians Ricardo Oliveira and Edu and Spain winger Joaquin.

Puyol strained ankle ligaments in Spain's World Cup qualifier against Serbia and Montenegro on Wednesday and could be out for up to three weeks, while the Mexican international Marquez is suspended.

In Italy, the Fiorentina coach, Dino Zoff, is expected to field an unfamiliar attack of Enrico Fantini and 20-year-old Giampaolo Pazzini for the match against second-placed Juventus at the Stadio Franchi today.

Juventus, who play Liverpool in the Champions' League on Tuesday, are equal on 66 points with Milan, but with a worse goal difference than the leaders, who have what seems to be an easier fixture at home against second-from-bottom Brescia.

Juve can count on the return of their Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved, who has been out since the first leg of the Champions' League tie against Real Madrid in February.

Even without their suspended playmaker Kaka and defender Jaap Stam, Milan will be confident of beating Brescia. They welcome back European Footballer of the Year Andriy Shevchenko, who has recovered from a fractured cheekbone.

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