European Football: Barca's new Romario

RIVALDO is ready to kick-start Barcelona's push for the Spanish league title when his side host Compostela today.

The Brazilian appears to be finally coming to terms with one of the toughest jobs in football - replacing his compatriot Ronaldo. Rivaldo has hit seven goals in 18 days, and after a shift of position is ready to continue his scoring against Compostela.

Ronaldo's is a tough act to follow. In one game against Compostela, Ronaldo waltzed round half the opposition to score a goal few Spanish fans will ever forget.

But Ronaldo proved just as difficult to stop when he slipped through Barcelona's hands and moved to Internazionale. In a last-minute bid to fill the gap, Barcelona dished out a club record 4bn pesetas (pounds 17m) to sign Rivaldo from Deportivo La Coruna. But it was not just the size of the fee that weighed heavily on Rivaldo's shoulders. He was also asked to play out of position on the left-wing.

Despite leading the Spanish scoring tables, Rivaldo inevitably earned the wrath of Barca fans dissatisfied with the system used by their coach, Louis van Gaal.

But all that seemed to change on Wednesday night. With Sonny Anderson sidelined after a row with Van Gaal, Rivaldo was able to shift into a centre-forward role for the cup semi-final with Real Zaragoza. The effect was instant. Barcelona had gone one-down in the first move of the game, but Rivaldo struck twice in the first 10 minutes and completed his first hat-trick since 1995 just after the break.

"It was my best game for Barcelona," said Rivaldo, who set up both the other goals in the 5-2 win and was rewarded by generous praise for his effort.

"Rivaldo is as effective as Ronaldo," trumpeted the front page of the Barcelona daily newspaper, Sport.

Commentators all over Spain concluded that Barcelona can take a league title they have seemed anxious to throw away for most of 1998. And Barca fans are delighted to see that five home-grown players are now back in the starting line-up.

Third-placed Real Sociedad are clear favourites to beat Oviedo after winning 5-0 in October against their visitors today. They have yet to lose at home in the league this season. Abel Xabier and Ivan Iglesias are doubtful through injury for Oviedo, while Paulo Bento is definitely out.

Athletic Bilbao's coach, Luis Fernandez, has had to call up junior team players to fill the gaps left by injuries to Roberto Rios, Larrazabal, Urrutia and Joseba Etxeberria for their trip today to Deportivo La Coruna. Any point would be welcome to Deportivo who are languishing in 13th place.

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