To the relief of marketing men from Soho Square to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu the prospect of England appearing in Madrid on 17 November without David Beckham diminished yesterday after the Real midfielder identified next weekend's La Liga match against Albacete as his comeback game.
"I can't wait to get playing," Beckham, who has been on the sidelines since breaking a rib against Wales last month, said yesterday. "It's an injury that you can enjoy for a couple of weeks, getting the rest in, but after that it is so frustrating. I can't run, I can't walk, I can't go to the gym.
"A couple of days ago I felt great and tried running, but for the last two or three days I've not been able to move. But I hope to be back for Albacete."
Real, who may be without Walter Samuel against mid-table Malaga tomorrow, have not obviously missed Beckham. They have progressed on all fronts and their confidence was brashly summed up by the goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, who declared of the leaders, Barcelona: "They haven't won anything yet and are five years without a title. Madrid will achieve its objectives untroubled. I want to lead the league when we beat Barcelona in a fortnight."
Barcelona are equally positive having beaten Milan in midweek. They defend a perfect home record against Deportivo La Coruña whose recent recovery turned sour with the home defeat by Liverpool.
Milan will look to put that Nou Camp defeat behind them, and close the gap on the Serie A leaders, Juventus, when they visit Roma tomorrow night. Their hosts, last season's runners-up, are slumbering in mid-table with Serie A's second worst defensive record.
Luigi Del Neri's side were also eliminated from the Champions' League on Wednesday. The only bright spot is the return to form of Vincenzo Montella, the league's top scorer with eight goals. However, Montella is likely to miss the game with an ankle injury. Juventus face a trip south to face Reggina while Inter, who have drawn seven of their opening nine games, will hope to improve on that at Fiorentina.
In France, Marseilles visit arch rivals Paris St-Germain tomorrow, looking to end a run of six defeats against the capital side."We must do something about it," said the defender Abdoulmaye Meite, the only Marseilles player to feature in all six. "It's time to stop it. People are fed up with it and so am I." Marseilles are fifth, trailing the champions, Lyon, by seven points.
In the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich, beaten by Juventus in midweek, may need Roy Makaay to end a seven- match barren run if they are to defeat a Hanover team who have won six on the bounce. The leaders, Wolfsburg, visit Nuremberg.
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