Sunday, January 1, 2006
Unfancied Zamora face hard task against Barca
MADRID, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Unfancied Zamora will score the biggest upset of the Spanish season if they manage to halt Barcelona's 13-match winning streak when they host the Catalans in the first leg of their King's Cup tie on Tuesday.
The odds are stacked against the humble third-division side
who are the only non-Primera Liga team to have made it into the
last 16 of this year's competition.
While Zamora have had to negotiate their way through three
rounds to get this far, Barca and the eight other Primera Liga
sides who have been involved in any sort of European competition
this season were given automatic byes into the last 16.
To make the task even more difficult for Zamora, the ties
are now played over two legs and the Castilians have to play the
return at the Nou Camp in a week's time.
Zamora have been given a glimmer of hope, however, because
the Catalans will be without several of their most influential
figures for the first leg and have a poor record in the domestic
knockout competition in recent seasons.
Barca's prolific attacking trio of Samuel Eto'o, Ronaldinho
and Lionel Messi have all been left out of the squad for the
trip to the Ruta del Plata stadium, and winger Santiago Ezquerro
is favourite to lead a makeshift frontline.
Last season Frank Rijkaard's side were knocked out of the
Cup by third division Gramenet. With Barca's attention on
retaining their Primera Liga crown and making further progress
in the Champions League, Zamora will hope to catch their
opponents off guard.
Barca keeper Victor Valdes insists there is no chance of the
Catalans taking their eye off the ball, however.
'These are the sort of games where there is potential for an upset,' Valdes told a news conference this week.
'We haven't done well in this competition in recent years
and we have to show the same respect for Zamora as for a first
On paper, arch-rivals Real Madrid have a much tougher tie
with a trip to the Basque Country to meet Athletic Bilbao on
The nine-times European champions will be glad to see the
back of a year which ended with the dismissal of coach Vanderlei
Luxemburgo and the resignation of director of football Arrigo
Things have gone little better under new boss Juan Ramon
Lopez Caro, however, and the team were dealt a further blow when
leading striker Ronaldo suffered yet another injury in the first
training session after the Christmas break.
Reserve team striker Roberto Soldado, who has performed well
every time he has stepped into the Brazilian's shoes this
season, will be given another chance to prove his worth in the
first leg at San Mames.
With an 11-point deficit to make up on Barcelona in the
league and a daunting task if they are to win through the
knockout rounds of the Champions League, the Cup may well
provide Real's best hope of winning a trophy this season.
Opponents Athletic appear to have turned the corner since
Javier Clemente took charge in November but with only goal
difference separating them from the relegation zone their main
priority is securing their survival in the top flight.
The remaining first-leg matches are to be played on
Holders Real Betis are hoping that new recruits Roberto and
Diego Tardelli will be able to give them a hand when they travel
to high-flying Celta Vigo.
The tie between a rejuvenated Deportivo Coruna and last
season's losing finalists Osasuna and the regional derby
involving Villarreal and Valencia also promise to be tightly