Real tackle jinx and rejection in league opener

August 28, 2008

MADRID, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Spanish champions Real Madrid must break a 16-game jinx if they are to start the defence of their Primera Liga title away to Deportivo Coruna with a victory on Sunday.

Real have lost on their last five visits to the Riazor and have failed to come away with all three points since winning 3-0 there back in November 1991.

Their thrilling comeback to beat Valencia with nine-men, 6-5 on aggregate in the Spanish Super Cup last weekend, and a 5-3 trouncing of Sporting Lisbon in a friendly on Wednesday has them brimming with confidence.

But the imminent departure of Brazil forward Robinho to Chelsea, and failed last-minute bids for Santi Cazorla and David Villa as possible replacements have cast something of a shadow over their preparations.

Real's new Dutch recruit Rafael van der Vaart will have to wait to make his league debut after receiving a straight red card in the Super Cup on Sunday, but Italy defender Fabio Cannavaro is back in contention after three months out with an ankle injury.

Runners-up Villarreal kick-off their campaign in Pamplona against Osasuna on Sunday but have selection problems up front.

Last season's top scorers Nihat Kahveci (18 goals) and Giuseppe Rossi (11) are both out injured, and French midfielder Robert Pires is sidelined with a muscle complaint.

Barcelona's new coach Pep Guardiola gets his first taste of league action away at second division champions Numancia, having suffered his first defeat at the helm on Tuesday.

Barca lost 1-0 away to Wisla Krakow but took the third Champions League qualifying round tie 4-1 on aggregate to progress to the group stage.

Guardiola, whose task is to prevent Real claiming a hat-trick of league titles, has a full squad to choose from including an in-form and typically defiant Samuel Eto'o, determined to prove his worth after almost being off-loaded during the close season.

'I don't think the league will only be about Real Madrid. If we play to our level it will be difficult for them to better us,' he told reporters in Poland.

Another newly-promoted side Malaga travel to the Calderon on Sunday to take on Atletico Madrid who are in celebratory mood after dismissing Schalke 04 4-0 on Wednesday, qualifying for the Champions League group stage for the first time in 11 years.

With a reinforced defence, midfielder Maniche reprieved after his fall out with coach Javier Aguirre, and inspirational Argentine striker Sergio Aguero leading the line, Atletico will be hoping to improve on last season's fourth place this time round.