Buoyant Bayer to challenge Juventus

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The Independent Online

Juventus face a stiff examination of their Champions' League ambitions when they face the new Bundesliga leaders, Bayer Leverkusen, in Turin tonight.

Juventus face a stiff examination of their Champions' League ambitions when they face the new Bundesliga leaders, Bayer Leverkusen, in Turin tonight.

While the Serie A side were finally ending a run of six games without a win at the weekend, Leverkusen were replacing the European champions, Bayern Munich, at the top of the table in Germany.

Juventus, who beat Parma 3-1 on Sunday, will be without their Uruguayan defender Paolo Montero, who is on World Cup duty, and gave away the decisive penalty in his country's 1-0 defeat to Australia in the first-leg of their qualifying play-off.

Bayer Leverkusen will almost be at full strength, with the German international midfielder Bernd Schneider their only absentee with a hamstring injury. The goalkeeper Hans-Jorg Butt twice played for Hamburg against Juventus in the Champions' League last season and made several vital saves in their 3-1 win in the Stadio Delle Alpi. "We can't say that as soon as we reach the second round we are satisfied," Butt said. "Of course, we have a very tough group with Juve, Deportivo La Coruña and Arsenal. But we want to reach the quarter-finals and I know it's possible to get a point in the Stadio Delle Alpi."

The coach, Klaus Toppmoller, also believes Leverkusen can earn a draw in Turin, although he insists the odds are against them of making the quarter-finals. "I rate our chances of belonging to the best eight teams in March at only 25 per cent," he admitted.

In Group C, Real Madrid are treating their away game with Sparta Prague with caution by arriving in the Czech capital two days before the tie. "Why did we get here two days early? We are not going to underestimate anything," said the midfielder Ivan Helguera.

Despite winning the past five league championships, Sparta remain something of an unknown quantity in European football, a fact that has caught out several opposing teams in the past.

"Sparta has a good team and playing against us they will no doubt have a lot of motivation," said Real's sports director, Emilio Butragueno. "What more is there than to line up on the field against Real?"

Real have been struggling to find consistent form in La Liga, with just four wins in their first 12 games. However they beat Seville 2-1 on Saturday to move up to seventh place in the table.

By contrast, Sparta lost 2-1 at the weekend to city rivals Bohemians – the Czech first division leaders first defeat in 11 games. Moreover, they will be without two key players – the defender Zdenek Grygera, with a torn thigh muscle, and the striker Lukas Hartig, who is not yet fully recovered from a calf strain.

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