Knee injury rules out Xavi for six months

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The Independent Football

Xavi, one of the key players that make Barcelona such an exciting and attacking team, will be out of action for six months after tearing knee ligaments. The Spanish international requires surgery and must now fear he will miss next summer's World Cup finals as well.

The 25-year-old midfielder picked up the injury in training. It is a huge blow to both Frank Rijkaard, the Barça coach, and Luis Aragones, who runs the Spanish national side, as Raul, the Spain captain, is also out for two months with his own knee problem.

Xavi has been in impressive form helping Barcelona record six consecutive wins while notching up 20 goals.

Barça play Villarreal tomorrow with their opponents' leading scorer Diego Forlan back in training after missing a month, but he is unlikely to be risked before next week's Champions' League match against Lille.

While Barcelona will feel the absence of their playmaker, their nearest rivals Real Madrid will entertain neighbours Getafe at the Bernabeu today, with Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo back in contention after injuries. Thomas Gravesen has also been included after a month on the sidelines with a knee injury. Jonathan Woodgate is still injured.

Italy's biggest grudge match returns tomorrow when defending champions Juventus travel to face Fiorentina. Fiorentina have been the surprise package of the Serie A season so far, exceeding all expectations by climbing to third place and beating Milan a fortnight ago.

The two clubs met on Thursday in an Italian Cup fourth-round match which ended 2-2 but was halted when tear gas drifted over the pitch after police intervened to stop crowd trouble outside the stadium.

Not since Giovanni Trapattoni was in charge of Fiorentina five years ago have the Florence club been in with a chance of putting one over on their rivals. Fiorentina returned to the top flight last season after climbing back from Serie C2 where they had been demoted following bankruptcy. They avoided relegation only on the final day of the campaign although their home match with Juventus, which ended 3-3, was one of the better moments in a poor campaign.

But the 3-1 victory over Milan, with two goals from the prolific Luca Toni and last week's battling 1-1 draw at Roma show that Cesare Prandelli's revamped side are a different proposition this term.

Italy international Toni has struck 16 times in 13 matches and experienced midfielders such as Christian Brocchi, Stefano Fiore and Martin Jorgensen are all enjoying surprisingly good campaigns.

Today, second-placed Milan, who trail Juve by five points, are away to Chievo Verona while fourth-placed Inter are at home to Ascoli.