Real concern at Makelele absence

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The Independent Football

The battle of "Roonaldo's" wounded knee may be the focus in England but across the Channel the only body part of interest is Ronaldo's calf. The Brazilian's muscle strain is being monitored by the minute as Juventus and Real Madrid prepare for tonight's European Champions' Cup semi-final second leg in Turin.

The constant updates in the Italian and Spanish media may be missing the point. The limb which matters most has already forced its owner to limp out of the contest. Amid Los Galacticos of the Real Madrid dressing room, Claude Makelele is an earthbound presence but remove him and, like an Edwardian home shorn of its domestic staff, the glamourous facade is in danger of crumbling.

That is the concern for Real in the Stadio Delle Alpi tonight. The holders have a one-goal lead from the first leg and the justified belief that they will score at least once and so cancel out David Trézéguet's away goal. However they have no natural replacement for Makelele, who has been ruled out with a thigh injury.

Their preferred response, as in Manchester in the quarter-final, is to attack. Yet even if they are able to start with Ronaldo and Raul they are unlikely to finish with this illustrious partnership in place. While Ronaldo struggles to shake off the calf injury he suffered after scoring in the first leg, Raul is preparing for his first appearance since an appendix operation.

Should Ronaldo, who said "with every hour I am more optimistic", fail to make it, Real will flood the defence and midfield. This will hand Juventus, who recall Edgar Davids and Paolo Montero after suspension, the initiative. That would be welcomed by Marcelo Lippi, the Juventus coach, who said: "The most important thing is to take charge of the game. We will need heart and a lot of brains."

Real's recent form has been patchy compared to Juventus but that provides an extra motivation as, having slipped to third in La Liga, they are in danger of having to pre-qualify for next season's Champions' League unless they retain the trophy. Juventus confirmed their place in next season's competition when they clinched the Serie A title at the weekend.

Whoever wins will start as favourite against Milanese opponents in the Old Trafford final on 28 May but, it may take extra time to determine which it is.

Juventus (probable; 4-4-1-1): Buffon; Thuram, Tudor, Montero, Birindelli; Nedved, Tacchinardi, Davids, Zambrotta; Del Piero; Trezeguet.

Real Madrid (probable; 4-2-2-2): Casillas; Salgado, Hierro, Helguera, Pavon, Roberto Carlos; Figo, Guti or Flavio Conceicão, Zidane; Raul; Ronaldo or Guti.

Referee: U Meier (Switzerland).

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