Group C
Real Madrid vRoma
Real take on Roma needing a victory to secure qualification in Group C – but is all is not well at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The reigning European champions come into the fixture on the back of series of disappointing results. A 2-0 defeat at Santander followed by draws against AEK and Villarreal has attracted criticism from the Spanish press, and even talk of a crisis at the club.

Coach Vicente del Bosque admitted that Real are running out of time to deliver, saying: “We have to produce a good performance and put the negative results behind us.”

Ronaldo is also attracting plenty of criticism, with Madrid so far failing to win with him in the starting line-up. He was largely ineffective and looked off the pace during Real’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Villareal at the weekend, and was substituted by coach Vincente Del Bosque with twenty minutes remaining.

Critics in Spain are saying the Brazilian is out of sync with the rest of the team’s play, and that he is no where near fit enough. In fact Futbolera even went as far as likening the World Cup winner to Obelix, the porky character from the Asterix comics.

But defender Roberto Carlos has come to the defence of his fellow Brazilian.

“First it was said that he was five kilos overweight, then just three or two. That is not true. Ronaldo is in shape,” countered Carlos.

“He will be the player we saw at the World Cup in just two weeks time. I have been doing some exercises with him after training and I noticed he is very quick,” he insisited.

Carlos is no doubt that Ronaldo, top scorer in the World Cup, will regain his form with a vengeance.

“He is bound to become the top scorer of the championship,” he said. “He is a person that knows about football and he will get into the rhythm of the squad.”

Roma meanwhile began their season indifferently, but have since found some form, taking ten points from their last four Serie A games, and could possibly clinch qualification tonight, depending on results elsewhere. But a defeat in Madrid, coupled by an AEK win over Genk, would see them leapfrogged in the group by the Greeks.

Bearing this in mind, not to mention Madrid’s designs on qualification, Roma’s former Realcoach Fabio Capello commented: “The three points are very important for both teams.”

Roma drew 2-2 with Lazio in the capital derby at the weekend, and are without midfielders Diego Fuser and Ivan Tomic, while Real welcome back Raul and Luis Figo with open arms.

Probable Teams:
: Casillas, Salgado, Pavon, Helguera, Roberto Carlos, Makelele, Guti, Figo, Raul, Zidane, Ronaldo.
Roma
: Antonioli, Zebina, Samuel, Panucci, Cafu, Candela, Lima, Emerson, Totti, Delvecchio, Batistuta.

AEK v Genk
A game of potential firsts is on the cards tonight in Group C, as Champions League draw specialists AEK Athens look for their first win, and Genk look for their first goal.

AEK have drawn all four of their games thus far, but stand only a point behind second placed Roma, who are on five points. The Italians face a trip to Real Madrid tonight, and depending on the result at the Bernabeu, a win for the Greek outfit could see them move up to second spot in the group.

AEK areunbeaten in every competition this season, and despite being unable to register that elusive first win in the Champions League, have produced some notable performances in the Champions League. Last time out they fought back from two down in Madrid to record a 2-2 draw, and they were unlucky not to beat Real in Greece after leading 3-1, before the Spaniards came back to snatch a draw.

But coach Dusan Bajevic is refusing to take anything for granted ahead of the game with goal shy Genk.

“Even with a draw we can still qualify, but our primary goal will be to win,” he promised.

“Genk are disciplined and strong and, if we are not careful, they can spoil our night,” warned Bajevic.

The Belgian side managed a creditable point draw Roma last week and but for some wayward finishing from Dagano, could even have snathced all three points. Genk, with the average age of the squad only 24, are a young side, and their European performances are secondary to the development of their players.

“We knew this would be a difficult campaign,” admitted coach Sef Vergoosen. “My players have got to progress and they are doing just that. We are very young and our faults have been magnified by the level of the Champions League,” said Vergoosen.

Indeed Genk will look to youth to break their goalscoring duck tonight, with 19-year-old striker Kevin Vandenbergh competing for the place vacated by Burkina Faso striker Moumouni Dagano, who has contracted a virus.

Japanese international Takayuki Suzuki is also an option. Captain Josip Skoko looks set to return after recovering from Flu.

Midfielder Theo Zagorakis is suspended for AEK, and the only injury doubt is defender Michalis Kapsis, who faces a late fitness test.