The eagerly awaited
Spanish league match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid remained in
doubt Thursday after the referees maintained their threat to go on
The referees were expected to abandon the threat, which would force the
postponement of this weekend's games, when league president Jose Luis
Astiazaran said they would receive outstanding payments for February and
March via the Spanish soccer federation and not directly from the league.
However, referees' spokesman Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez said the strike
may not be called off as it was impossible for referees to receive the
money by Friday, the deadline they had given for strike action to be
Referees threatened action last week after the federation, which
normally pays the referees, returned a payment from the league on the
grounds that it didn't meet the entire sum owed.
The strike threat has overshadowed the run-up to Saturday's game at Camp
Nou stadium, which may virtually hand Barcelona its 18th Spanish league
If Madrid loses, it would leave Barcelona 14 points clear with seven
games remaining and almost certainly sentence the 29-time champion to a
third straight season without a trophy -- its worst spell since the
However, Madrid is hopeful of an upset, which would give it renewed hope
of overtaking Barcelona.
"We know we haven't got much chance of the league but what we have
depends on us winning in Barcelona. We need to have the conviction that
we can do it and in the dressing room the feeling is there," Madrid
captain Raul Gonzalez said.
Raul, who has played against Barcelona 29 times, may be omitted from
Madrid's starting lineup after struggling since returning last month
from the serious knee injury the striker sustained during November's
game with the Catalan team.
Instead, Madrid is expected to place its faith in a revitalized Ronaldo,
who ended a goal drought stretching to Feb. 14 by scoring twice in his
last two games against Zaragoza and Deportivo La Coruna.
"After the Deportivo game he was happy. No player likes to be in his
situation. I can confirm he's had a bad time. He couldn't score and he
lives for that," teammate Julio Baptista told sports daily As this week.
Madrid wants to atone for its 3-0 demolition at the Santiago Bernabeu
Stadium in the teams' earlier meeting -- Barcelona's biggest win at the
stadium since the 1984-85 season.
Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o, the league's leading scorer with 22 goals,
said his side needs to be careful despite its superiority.
"When Madrid has a good night it can score five easily, although if we
play as we know how, we are unbeatable," the Cameroon striker told
sports daily Mundo Deportivo on Thursday.
Barcelona will hope to display better marksmanship than in its 0-0 draw
with Benfica on Tuesday in the first leg of the Champions League
"That game shouldn't affect us. One of the most important things for a
player is to be able to forget about the previous game," Eto'o said.
The defending champion will welcome captain Carles Puyol back from
suspension, although Edmilson, Lionel Messi and Rafael Marquez are still
injured, along with long-term casualty Xavi Hernandez.
Madrid will again be without injured defender Jonathan Woodgate, who has
been sidelined for six weeks. Midfielder Pablo Garcia may make the bench
after three months' absence with a torn knee ligament.
Barcelona leads the league with 68 points, followed by Madrid with 57
and Osasuna with 55. Valencia is next with 53 points, while Sevilla has
In other 31st-round games, Osasuna, which suffered its first defeat in
four games last Saturday, aims to bounce back when it hosts Getafe on
Valencia, winless in six matches, will seek to halt its slide on Sunday
when it entertains relegation-threatened Cadiz.
Sevilla, aiming for a Champions League debut next season, visits
crosstown rival Real Betis in an encounter which is often marred by
Eighth-place Villarreal visits 10th-place Zaragoza on Saturday, three
days after its 2-1 defeat by Inter Milan in the first leg of the
Champions League quarterfinals.
Also, it's: Atletico Madrid vs. Celta Vigo; Mallorca vs. Espanyol;
Alaves vs. Athletic Bilbao; Real Sociedad vs. Malaga; and Deportivo La
Coruna vs. Racing Santander.