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Barca-Real semi sparks passions

Injury keeps Barcelona's Brazilian Rivaldo out of the tie  

BARCELONA, Spain -- Two of the heavyweights of world football clash on Tuesday night in a fight for the biggest European club prize.

Barcelona's Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid will divide Spain and millions of fans worldwide.

The first leg tie at Barcelona's Nou Camp stadium ignites one of the game's most fierce rivalries. The return game at Real's Bernabeu Stadium will determine who goes on to play Manchester United or Bayer Leverkusen in next month's final in Glasgow.

It is the first time the pair have met in European competition for four decades and the Nou Camp will be filled to its 98,000 capacity -- a theatre of noise, firecrackers and flags. Millions more will watch on TV around the world.

For Spaniards it is almost impossible to be neutral. Everyone has their favourite -- or least liked -- in this tie, even when their first allegiance is to another club.

'Life or death' match preview

Barca, the pride of Catalonia, and Real, founded by royal patronage 100 years ago, last met in European competition in the 1960-61 season.

Real were undisputed kings of Europe having won their fifth consecutive European Cup the previous season. But Barca won 4-3 over two legs, becoming the first team to beat Real in the competition.

Now both coaches know semifinal defeat could cost them their jobs, such is the tournament's prestige.

Barcelona are fifth in the league -- nine points behind leaders Valencia and eight adrift of second-placed Real.

Real's Raul Gonzalez squares up to Bayern Munich's Stefan Effenberg in the quarterfinal
Real's Raul Gonzalez squares up to Bayern Munich's Stefan Effenberg in the quarterfinal  

Coach Carles Rexach, who has been in charge one year, has already hinted he may be looking for a new job next year.

He told a news conference: "I'm making no announcement but I already know what I'm going to do. We haven't strung a streak of wins all season and it has been very hard."

Opposite number Vicente del Bosque also knows he needs to get his hands on silverware, especially after defeat in the final of the domestic Copa del Rey in March.

Earlier this season Del Bosque, who became coach in 1999, said: "I never imagined I would stay so long in charge."

History is on Real's side. They have won the European Cup eight times including 1998 and 2000. They also won the first five tournaments from 1956. Barcelona have the one success, in 1992.


• Real Madrid's party goes flat
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• Figo voted Footballer of the Year
December 17, 2001

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