Barca bank on Ronaldo

European round-up

Whether or not it is just wishful thinking is debatable but Barcelona have played down recent reports that they will lose Ronaldo, their brilliant Brazilian striker, at the end of the season.

On Thursday the agent of the Fifa world player of the year told Italian television that the 20-year-old is likely to end his commitment with Barcelona in June. "There is the concrete possibility that the player will leave Barcelona at the end of the season," Giovanni Branchini said. "It's clear that if there is a good offer, the Italian league would be his preferred choice."

Spanish newspapers have reported that Lazio seem to be the club most interested in buying Ronaldo, but a Barcelona spokesman, Jose Miguel Teres, denied any deal. "There's no official comment beyond the fact that Ronaldo has an eight-season contract with Barcelona, and as there has been no official offer for his transfer, he remains a member of the club," he said.

Spain's most expensive player ever, Ronaldo cost Barcelona pounds 2.5bn pesetas (pounds 12.5m) when he was transferred from PSV Eindhoven of Holland last summer. Just over half-way through the Spanish season he is the league's leading scorer with 22 goals. Negotiations to strengthen his contract and boost the price of breaking it to a massive 10bn pesetas (pounds 44m) from the present 4bn pesetas (pounds 17.5m) broke off in January with no date for them to be resumed.

On the field Barcelona's coach, Bobby Robson, will be under scrutiny yet again today as his team travel to Logrones, trying to close the nine- point gap on the league leaders, Real Madrid. Robson's men are on a high after their remarkable 4-3 win over Atletico Madrid in Wednesday's quarter- final of the Spanish Cup. Barcelona were 3-0 down after just 30 minutes, but a magnificent Ronaldo hat-trick helped them back from the dead.

In France, Paris St Germain's challenge for the championship took a serious blow on Friday as they lost 1-0 at Le Havre, leaving Monaco seven points clear at the top. Monaco beat Rennes 3-0 on Thursday with two goals from Sylvain Legwinski and a third by the Scotland midfielder John Collins.

Le Havre's goal came off a penalty in the 77th minute and it will further weaken the position of PSG's Brazilian coach, Ricardo, whose future at the club has been put in doubt following a series of disappointing results.

Strasbourg leap-frogged into third with a 1-0 win at Marseille while Lilian Laslandes scored twice as the present champions Auxerre beat Cannes 3-1.

Jet-set Collins, page 18

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