Crunch week in the Champions League

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> This is crunch week in the Champions League. Three quarterfinalists have been determined - AC Milan, Manchester United and Barcelona - and the five remaining sp

Updated: February 25, 2007 09:48 IST
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This is crunch week in the Champions League. Three quarterfinalists have been determined - AC Milan, Manchester United and Barcelona - and the five remaining spots will be filled out by Wednesday. Ten pretenders remain in the chase with only three teams eliminated - Lokomotiv Moscow, Deportivo and last year's runner-up Leverkusen. In Group A, either Inter Milan or Newcastle will join Barcelona. In Group B, nothing has been determined with all four teams still alive - Ajax, Arsenal, Valencia and Roma. No team faces more pressure than Real Madrid, which has won the title three of the last five seasons. Manager Vicente del Bosque is a realist. Madrid has yet to win in Moscow in seven previous European games. "We know that we must win and we're optimistic that we can," he said. "I'm not contemplating elimination, but I know it could happen. Madrid has played a brilliant role in Europe over recent years and we want to continue doing so. It could happen that this time we won't reach the last eight, but we're not thinking about that possibility." Here's how things stack up going into the final group matches Tuesday and Wednesday. Qualifiers move on to the April 8-9 and April 22-23 first and second leg quarterfinals. The semifinals are May 6-7 and May 13-14 with the finals May 28 in Manchester, England. Leverkusen vs Inter Milan Inter Milan will get second place if it beats Leverkusen. A draw would leave the door open for Newcastle. Inter is hoping Argentine striker Hernan Crespo returns from a thigh injury. Inter will be without suspended strikers Christian Vieri and Alvaro Recoba. Veteran striker Gabriel Batistuta is ineligible. "Whoever plays, the goal is the same," said Inter goalkeeper Francesco Toldo. "We'll have to show up with the spirit of a final." Leverkusen has yet to score a point in the second phase and should offer little opposition. Newcastle vs Barcelona Newcastle must win to have any chance. A draw would give the place to Inter. Newcastle manager Bobby Robson is hoping for better luck against his old team than he had in a 3-1 loss earlier in the second rotation at Barcelona. The Magpies are coming off a win against Charlton and are within five points of the league lead. Barcelona drew its third straight league match 0-0 at struggling Alaves on Sunday. Despite the result, the Catalans are still unbeaten under Radomir Antic - six league games and three more in the Champions League. Argentine striker Javier Saviola is doubtful, while defender Carles Puyol and midfielder Philip Cocu are ruled out. Roma vs Ajax Roma must win and have Arsenal beat Valencia to get through. Ajax will advance if it can manage a draw. Roma is the longest shot and will be without several key players, including captain Francesco Totti. Totti was ejected from Roma's last match at Arsenal for a questionable foul. Roma's poor Serie A season worsened Sunday with a 1-0 loss at Perugia. Ajax picked up a narrow 2-1 win over Excelsior on Sunday, probably distracted by this match. "Everyone is trying to do their job, but it's tricky having a match like that between two Champions League games," said captain Christian Chivu. "We'll have to be more concentrated against AS Roma." Valencia vs Arsenal Arsenal could lose and still get through, but only if Ajax also loses. A draw or a win would guarantee the Gunners a quarterfinal place. Valencia only goes through with a victory. Arsenal gets back midfielder Patrick Vieira, but will be without injured defender Martin Keown. Arsenal is not only struggling in the Champions League but slumped to a 2-0 defeat Saturday against Blackburn. Valencia was beaten 1-0 by Athletic Bilbao. Runners-up two of the last three seasons, Valencia midfielder Kily Gonzalez is doubtful with injury. Defenders Curro Torres and Mauricio Pellegrino are out injured. AC Milan vs Dortmund Dortmund must win to have a chance of getting through. "We have seven points and want to try by all means to win at Milan," coach Matthias Sammer said. "I believe it's not necessary to spur the players on for this game because everybody knows about the situation." AC Milan struggled in a 0-0 draw Saturday at lowly Reggina. AC Milan was also demolished 3-1 last week by Real Madrid. Lokomotiv vs Real Madrid Real Madrid could get through with a draw, but needs a victory to be sure. The Spaniards will remember a shock 2-2 draw earlier this season with the Russians at Bernabeu stadium. Real Madrid has never won any of its seven European matches in the Russian capital - five in the Champions League and two in the UEFA Cup. Madrid will be without the suspended Roberto Carlos and the injured central defender Fernando Hierro. Argentine international Santiago Solari is set to replace the Brazilian left back. Francisco Pavon fills in for Hierro. "My only worry is the state of the field. It's sure to be a problem," said Real sports director Jorge Valdano. Basel vs Juventus Juventus qualifies with only a draw and could even lose and make it. Basel can advance by beating the Italians by four goals. Juventus won the first game 4-0. "Contrary to the general optimism surrounding our qualification, I don't think it's assured yet and we'll have to sweat it out a bit," said Juve coach Marcello Lippi. Star striker Alessandro Del Piero may make his return from a thigh injury. Del Piero said he felt good after playing a practice game on Saturday. Basel won't holding back. "If we are up 2-0 by halftime then anything is possible," said Swiss international striker Hakan Yakin. Basel was 3-0 up within 30 minutes when the club played Liverpool in the first-group stage. Basel's attention could be split. On Saturday the team faces Grasshoppers of Zurich in a match that likely will decide which of the two wins the Swiss championship. Deportivo vs Manchester United Man United is in and will field a half-strength side against Deportivo, which is eliminated. Winger Ryan Giggs may be the only key player starting. Among the absent will be David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Fabien Barthez and Rio Ferdinand. Deportivo de La Coruna coach Javier Irureta may rest a host of players with Deportivo visiting Real Madrid in the Spanish league next Sunday. Goalkeeper Jose Francisco Molina, who made his comeback in the 2-0 win over Rayo Vallecano after a five-month absence through testicular cancer, looks sure to play. (AP)

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