Woodgate named in Real cup squad

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The Independent Football

Centre-back Jonathan Woodgate returned to the Real Madrid squad yesterday, almost two months after suffering a hamstring tear in his left leg.

The 25-year-old England international, who has been in full training since the team returned from the winter break, was named in the Real squad for today's King's Cup match at Athletic Bilbao.

Woodgate sustained the injury in a league match against Real Zaragoza on 6 November shortly after returning from an 18-month lay-off following a serious muscle tear in his thigh.

Real's new Brazilian right back Cicinho was also included in the squad for the match, as was England captain David Beckham who had been struggling with a minor injury niggle following his side's end-of-year friendly against Atletico Madrid.

Defenders Ivan Helguera, Roberto Carlos and Francisco Pavon were all rested, while Ronaldo and Raul miss out through injury and midfielder Pablo Garcia through suspension.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid are close to signing Italy international striker Antonio Cassano from AS Roma, Italian and Spanish media reported yesterday.

Forward Cassano, who is out of contract in June, had been widely tipped to leave the Italian club during the transfer "window", with Real long considered favourites for his signature. Gazzetta dello Sport's website said that Ernesto Bronzetti, an agent who works for Real, was at Roma's training ground yesterday for talks with the club.

Luciano Spalletti, the Roma coach, said he felt Cassano was on the verge of leaving the club. "I'm waiting, but having spoken to the lad I have the impression he wants to go and try a new experience," he told the club's television station Roma Channel.

Real coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, who took charge after Wanderley Luxemburgo was sacked last month, said he would welcome his arrival.

"We all know that Cassano is a skilful player and a goal scorer of international quality," the Real boss said yesterday. "I'm happy with the squad I have at my disposal and if Cassano arrives he will have to work like the rest, but if he can bring something new to the team he will make this club greater."

Cassano, one of Italy's most highly rated young players, has been unable to agree an extension to his contract with Roma.

Roma bought Cassano from Bari for £16.5m in 2001. The striker was part of the Italy squad at Euro 2004 and the Italy coach, Marcello Lippi, has said he could feature at the World Cup - if he is playing regular first-team football.

Cassano's contract dispute at Roma led to him being left out of the side for much of the season and has made only five appearances.