Striking crisis for holders as Raul drops out

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The Independent Online

Real Madrid will be without their striker Raul for the first home match in the Spanish side's defence of the Champions' League title.

Real Madrid will be without their striker Raul for the first home match in the Spanish side's defence of the Champions' League title.

The Real coach, Vicente del Bosque, said the club's leading marksman had been left out of tonight's line-up against Spartak Moscow at his own request because he had not recovered fully from the lower back and thigh problem that has prevented him from training properly since last week.

Real are already missing Fernando Morientes, who has been out injured for the best part of a month. "The loss of Raul, like that of Morientes, will be painful, but we can deal with it," Del Bosque said. The most likely solution for Real would be to move the in-form Guti up front to partner Pedro Munitis and bring Claude Makelele into the midfield.

After conceding two goals in last week's Champions' League match against Sporting Lisbon and another three in a draw with Malaga on Saturday, Real will be relieved to see the defender Fernando Hierro return after recovering from a bout of gastroenteritis.

Spartak Moscow, hoping to repeat their shock 1998 Champions' League victory over Real, trained at full strength at the weekend. The team has not played since beating Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 last week and also welcome back the Cameroonian defender Jan-Christian Tchuise from illness.

Leverkusen are struggling for form at the moment after three defeats in five games, including last week's opening loss to Spartak, as well as the absence of their most experienced striker Ulf Kirsten for the next two weeks.

"We're under a bit of pressure," said the Leverkusen coach, Christoph Daum, who will probably play Paulo Rink and Oliver Neuville up front, although with the Brazilian midfielder Ze Roberto struggling for fitness, he may field Thomas Brdaric as a third striker.

Sporting are determined not to let another lead slip after going 2-0 up against Real Madrid and finishing with only a point. A lack of concentration and fitness in the closing stages of matches has been their undoing on several occasions already this season. They let a 1-0 home lead slip over lowly Alverca at the weekend to draw 1-1 and are now joint fifth in the Portuguese league.

"We have to be quick in launching attacks and when we are not in possession we must pressure them and not give them any room," said Sporting's coach, Augusto Inacio, who has no injury worries.

In Group B, Lazio will be without their Argentinian strikers Hernan Crespo and Claudio Lopez, both out with thigh injuries. The Lazio coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, is expected to play Simone Inzaghi with Chile's Marcelo Salas up front.

The Yugoslav defender Sinisa Mihajlovic has a damaged cheek-bone and could play using a protective mask, but Eriksson is likely to ask Portugal's Fernando Couto to partner Alessandro Nesta in central defence instead. Luca Marchegiani will stand in for the goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi, who has a hand injury.

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