MADRID: Barcelona and Real Madrid face off for the first major title of the Spanish season in the Copa del Rey final at the Mestalla in Valencia yesterday. However, the build up to the game for both sides has been disrupted by injuries to key players. World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo is a major doubt for Real due to a hamstring injury suffered in his side’s 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund two weeks ago. The Portuguese hasn’t played in three games since and is unlikely to be risked with Real’s Champions League semi-final first leg against Bayern Munich just seven days away. Brazilian full-back Marcelo is also expected to miss out due to a similar injury, but Sergio Ramos should be fit despite missing Saturday’s 4-0 win against Almeria due to a neck problem. Madrid remain in the hunt for titles on three fronts and coach Carlo Ancelotti believes claiming the first trophy of the season will boost their chances in the Liga title race and the Champions League. “This game is important for many reasons,” he told the club’s website. “Firstly, because it is the first title of the season we can win and, secondly, because we are facing a great team in Barcelona. All of that lends this game a lot of importance. To win the first trophy of the season motivates us a lot. “In the mental aspect, this game will have a lot of importance for what remains of the season. After the game, the team that wins will have more motivation, hope and desire for the rest of the campaign. I think psychologically it will be very important.”
DIFFICULT WEEK Barcelona have enjoyed the upper hand in the two meetings between the sides this season in La Liga as they followed up a 2-1 win at the Camp Nou in October with a stunning 4-3 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu just over three weeks ago. However, the Catalans have endured a difficult week as they were firstly dumped out of the Champions League before the semi-final stage for the first time in seven years by Atletico Madrid and then relinquished their hold on their league title by losing 1-0 to Granada on Saturday to fall four points behind leaders Atletico with just five games remaining. Barca boss Gerardo Martino has a selection headache in central defence as Gerard Pique, Marc Bartra and Carles Puyol are all set to miss the game so Sergio Busquets or Alex Song may once again be paired with Javier Mascherano. “I am working hard to make it, just like Marc and Gerard, “ Barca captain Puyol said on Monday. “There are two days to go and we will give everything we have to be there. Yesterday we will evaluate the chances each of us have.” Puyol has barely featured in what will be his farewell season at the club due to knee injuries, but he still maintains a huge influence over his teammates and insisted they must make amends to the fans for their defeats of late. “We are aware that we have failed in some things, but all I can say is that we will fight tooth and nail for the final and the remaining five games in La Liga, in which a lot can happen. “There are moments in which we haven’t been consistent enough, but now we have to look forward. We have a very important final and we need to give some joy to the fans.”— AFP
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