Injured Baia rated doubtful for Barcelona

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The Independent Online
Barcelona, resigned to losing their Brazilian striker Ronaldo for tonight's Cup-Winners' Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade, now have a goalkeeping crisis on their hands.

The Portuguese international Vitor Baia pulled up in training with a ligament strain in his right knee and is doubtful for the first-leg match at Nou Camp.

The second-choice goalkeeper, Julen Lopetegui, is also injured and on Monday the reserve goalkeeper, Mariano Angoy, quit the club to play American football for the Barcelona Dragons.

As a result, 29-year-old Carlos Busquets is set for an unexpected comeback to Barcelona's first team. Busquets was a regular under the former manager, Johan Cruyff, but when Bobby Robson took over at the Catalan club, bringing Baia with him from Porto, the Spaniard slithered down the ranks into the third team. If he plays it will be his first top-level appearance since Robson and Baia arrived in the summer.

At the other end of the pitch, the Spanish international striker Juan Pizzi is set to replace Ronaldo, who misses the clash with the Yugoslavs because of a Brazilian friendly which has also deprived the holders, Paris St-Germain, and Portugal's Benfica of their first-choice strikers.

PSG will be without Leonardo, whose seven goals to date have helped them to build a commanding lead in the French league, for their first-round tie in Turkey against Galatasaray.

"We'll surely miss him," the Brazilian's fellow midfielder Vincent Guerin said. "But I think we have enough good players to manage without him."

Laurent Fournier will probably move forward into Leonardo's attacking midfield role, with Jose Cobos coming into the defence at left-back.

PSG are expecting a tough game in Istanbul's Ali Sami Yen stadium, in stark contrast to their first-round tie against Vaduz of Liechtenstein, whom they beat 7-0 on aggregate.

The Benfica striker Osmar Donizete - like Ronaldo, the top scorer in his league - misses the Portuguese side's second-round tie against Lokomotiv Moscow to play for his country. But the Benfica coach, Paulo Autuori, is unperturbed, saying: "Someone else will take his place and know what to do."

Fiorentina, the winners of the first Cup-Winners' Cup final in 1961, are confident of overwhelming Sparta Prague in their first leg in Florence. The Italians have taken only five points from their five Serie A games to date but their captain, Gabriel Batistuta, believes his side are about to recover their form.

"I feel I can make a promise to the fans - Fiorentina and Batistuta are just about to take off and the worst is behind us now," the inspirational Argentinian forward said. Batistuta missed a penalty in Saturday's 0-0 home draw with Lazio and says he has a debt to repay to Fiorentina's fans. "If we get a penalty against Sparta, I'll take it," he said.

The Nigerian striker Nwankwo Kanu will have heart surgery in the United States next month. The 20-year-old Internazionale forward had chosen a specialist clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, for the operation, which would be carried out in the next two to three weeks.

The Milan club, who bought Kanu from Ajax this season, had no immediate comment on the report. The newspaper said Kanu had visited specialists in London, Amsterdam and the United States, who had confirmed the findings of Italian cardiologists that he was suffering from a "valvular insufficiency of the aorta".

Kanu helped Nigeria to Olympic gold in Atlanta and won the European Cup with Ajax in 1995. He has vowed to overcome his heart problem, which doctors say may mean he will never play again. "I'll fight to the end before giving up," Kanu said last month.

The player's problem was diagnosed in medical tests at Internazionale after he had moved from Ajax, raising doubts over the validity of the transfer deal. La Gazzetta said Fifa, the world governing body, had written to the two clubs urging them to come to an amicable solution.

The Australia coach, Eddie Thomson, has quit to take up a pounds 260,000-a- year job as head coach with the Japanese J-League side Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Thomson will take up his new post early next year.

Australia's Olympic coach, Raul Blanco, will take over as acting national coach. Thomson was cleared in June last year of corruption by a parliamentary inquiry into overseas transfers of Australian players.