Woodgate makes Real progress on the comeback trail

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The Independent Online

Never mind Godot - waiting for Woody is the test for impatient Madrilenos. However, a year to the day since he joined Real Madrid, and 16 months since he last played a senior match, Jonathan Woodgate is finally, it seems, on the comeback trail.

He will not be starting in La Liga just yet but the £13m central defender is in no rush, having previously broken down after attempting to return too early. Yesterday, Woodgate was happy enough to come through a 45-minute outing against a Real youth team.

"I felt good. I didn't feel any pain and didn't have any problems," he said. "I need to continue working hard so that I can return to playing again. I've spoken to the doctors and everything went well. I wasn't worried during the game and felt very confident throughout."

Woodgate, 25, tore a thigh muscle while playing for Newcastle United in April 2004 and has not played a competitive game since. He damaged the muscle again last October and spent the rest of the season under treatment. This season he joined Real's training camp in Austria but yesterday's match, at Real's training ground, was his first serious run-out.

"He looked very good for the 45 minutes, he did very well," said Wanderley Luxemburgo, Real's manager. Woodgate added: "I don't know when I will return. The most important thing was that in my head I felt ready to play again."

Since Woodgate's transfer, both the manager who sold him, Sir Bobby Robson, and the man who signed him, Jose Antonio Camacho, have been fired. Michael Owen could well return to England from Spain without ever playing alongside him.

While Real fans await the return of a centre-back about whom they knew little even when he signed, Barcelona supporters are preparing to acclaim another trophy - the Super Cup. The champions host the King's Cup holders Real Betis at the Nou Camp tonight with a 3-0 first-leg lead to play with.

An intriguing first-round fixture in the German Cup pits Hamburg SV against amateur side Stuttgarter Kickers. A year ago, Hamburg were knocked out of the cup by the amateurs SC Paderborn, a result which cost the coach Klaus Topmoller his job.

The match was later revealed to have been fixed by the referee Robert Hoyzer. The official gave two penalties against Hamburg and sent Emile Mpenza off. Paderborn are also in action today, against VfL Wolfsburg, and will be keen to show they can fell giants through their own efforts.

Two other Bundesliga clubs face difficult ties at second-division opposition, Cologne against Kickers Offenbach and Borussia Dortmund against Eintracht Braunschweig. The holders, Bayern Munich, play the amateurs of MSV 1919 Neuruppin in Berlin tomorrow.

In France, Lyon start life without Michael Essien against promoted and pointless Nancy today. "We talked about it a lot," the midfielder Juninho said of Essien's sale to Chelsea. "I'm very happy for Michael. We will miss him a lot but we have plenty of good players left."

Paris St Germain, the only unbeaten side with maximum points from three games, visit promoted Troyes tomorrow. Struggling Marseilles visit bottom-placed Rennes in a basement battle.

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