Soccer

Barcelona, Real Madrid in search of miracle comebacks

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The Canadian Press
4/28/2013 7:46:04 PM
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BARCELONA, Spain -- Fierce rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid are bound to a common cause after heavy losses in the Champions League: the need to believe in miracles.

Barcelona has the daunting task of overturning its 4-0 loss at Bayern Munich in their second-leg semifinal Wednesday while on Tuesday, Madrid faces the slightly less formidable challenge of coming back from its 4-1 defeat at Borussia Dortmund.

No team has ever come back to win from such margins at this stage of the competition, meaning the May 25 final in Wembley Stadium will likely be an all-German affair.

Overrun by the two Bundesliga sides in their first meetings, the Spanish powerhouses will rest their hopes on the two best attacking players in the game.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi has struck eight times in Europe this campaign and is on a record 20-game scoring run in the Spanish league.

Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, leads the competition with 12 goals, followed by Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski with 10 after he scored all four against Madrid last week.

The big problem is that Messi and Ronaldo may not be fully fit.

Messi is still nursing a right hamstring injury from April 2 that noticeably slowed him down in the first-leg rout.

Ronaldo, for his part, has an unspecified "muscle problem" that kept him from playing on Saturday at Atletico Madrid. He went through an individual workout on Sunday while the rest of the team trained.

Messi made his first appearance in four rounds of the Spanish league on Saturday as a second half substitute in the runaway leader's match at Athletic Bilbao.

And even though assistant coach Jordi Roura said afterward that the Argentina forward is still not 100 per cent fit, Messi looked to be back after he scored a brilliant goal against Bilbao that will go down as one of his best.

Within 10 minutes after taking the field at San Mames, Messi had scored one goal after an amazing display of footwork and ball control to weave his way through a pack of defenders, and set up another to leave Barcelona on the cusp of victory until it conceded a 90th-minute equalizer to draw 2-2.

"Messi is slowly recovering and we hope to have him back to full strength," Roura said. "The fitter he is, the better our chances of fighting back against Bayern."

Barcelona will have to conjure up another mammoth effort akin to the one that fueled its historic 4-0 win at Camp Nou to overturn a 2-0 loss at AC Milan in the round of 16 last month.

But Bayern, the newly crowned German champion, is a much better and far more mature lineup than the Milan team that was unable to hang on after Messi got Barcelona going with a pair of early goals.

Bayern rested 10 players from the side that routed Barcelona when it played out a 1-0 win over Freiburg this weekend to set a German league record for points in a season with 84.

"We've all witnessed the magic of Camp Nou often enough. But we want to show the world it won't work on us," said Bayern's Thomas Mueller, who scored twice against Barcelona in the opening leg.

Dortmund, which is the only unbeaten team in the Champions League this season, also made 10 changes to the starting 11 that brushed aside Madrid and had to survive a late scare to win 2-1 against Fortuna Duesseldorf on Saturday.

Lewandowski went on as a substitute and failed to score, ending his league record run of goals in 12 consecutive games.

Dortmund's Mario Goetze was left out with muscular problems but should be fit for the match at the Santiago Bernabeu.

While Barcelona's staff and players recognize that a 5-0 win is probably asking too much even of Messi, the mood in Madrid is a little more hopeful with a 3-0 victory over Dortmund enough for the nine-time winners to go through.

Madrid didn't need Ronaldo against Atletico and a side full of reserves was able to come from behind for a 2-1 victory to keep their hapless rivals winless in 25 straight derbies dating back to 1999.

"It's important to score early," said Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira. "But we can't lose our heads because a goal from them would increase the pressure even more.

"This club has experienced many magical nights in the Bernabeu and we are going to try to add one more to the list."

Lionel Messi (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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