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Thursday, January 17, 2008
Madrid hope for derby glory after cup woe

MADRID, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Leaders Real Madrid are aiming to take out their frustrations at yet another early exit from the King's Cup when they meet Atletico Madrid in Sunday's derby at the Calderon.

Real's dreams of a domestic and European treble went up in smoke when they suffered their first home defeat in major competition this season, losing 1-0 to Real Mallorca at the Bernabeu on Wednesday and 3-1 on aggregate.

Real dominated the match but were undone by a superbly-taken goal by former Atletico player Ariel Ibagaza late in the game.

Although clearly unnerved by the defeat, Real boss Bernd Schuster made it clear that his side's premature exit from the Cup might come as a blessing in disguise.

'I'm very happy with the way the team played and the number of chances they created,' said the German. 'Going out can still bring lots of good things for us. It could help us.'

Although they have failed to set the Primera Liga alight with their football, Real's results have been outstanding.

A six-match winning streak, which included a 1-0 victory away to arch-rivals Barcelona, has left them seven points clear at the top at the halfway stage in the season.

Leading striker Ruud van Nistelrooy has hit five goals in the last five games and keeper Iker Casillas not been beaten in the same period.

Real have a great record at the Calderon and have not lost there since 1999 when they went down 3-1 in the penultimate match of the season.

But after a decade of under-performance, Atletico are finally showing signs of living up to expectations this season.

Javier Aguirre's side are riding high in third place in the standings, three points behind Barcelona, and they booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Cup thanks to a stunning solo goal from Argentine forward Sergio Aguero against Valladolid.

Aguero's strike partner Diego Forlan believes his side will have to be at their very best to end their poor run against Real. 'It will be an extremely tough game,' said the Uruguayan. 'People can say whatever they want about the way they are playing, but they are seven points clear at the top of the table and that hasn't happened for a long time.'

Barcelona face a potentially tricky fixture at home to Primera Liga surprise package Racing Santander who are riding high in sixth spot in the table.

With Samuel Eto'o on international duty and Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho in the final stages of recovery from injury, the Catalans will be relying on Thierry Henry up front.

Ronald Koeman's Valencia, who have not won in seven, have a tough away fixture against regional rivals Villarreal on Saturday.

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