Real Madrid top goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo will miss tonight’s Copa del Rey final against Barcelona after failing to recover from knee and thigh muscle problems, coach Carlo Ancelotti has confirmed.
The Portugal captain and Ballon d’Or winner has missed Real’s last three matches since limping off near the end of the Champions League quarter-final, first leg against Borussia Dortmund on 2 April.
Ancelotti said on Friday there was a still a chance Ronaldo might recover for the clash at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia but confirmed at a news conference the player was unavailable.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is out, we have a lot of players sidelined,” said Ancelotti, who will also be without longer-term absentees Jese, Sami Khedira, Alvaro Arbeloa and Marcelo.
“But we have a lot of confidence in this team,” added the Italian, who declined to answer a question about who would start the cup final in Ronaldo’s absence. “It has always reacted well to injuries and I think we can also do things very well tomorrow.”
The latest edition of Spain’s ‘Clasico’ between arch-rivals Real and Barca is their 228th meeting and a repeat of the 2011 Cup final, also held at the Mestalla, when Ronaldo’s extra-time header secured a 1-0 win.
The Portuguese is top scorer in La Liga and the Champions League this season and Ancelotti will be desperate to have him back for the semi-finals of Europe’s elite club competition later this month when they play holders Bayern Munich over two legs. We are losing a player with incredible quality. But it could be that Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence will motivate the rest of the team even more,” Ancelotti said.
“The matches we have played without him have gone very well, working harder, running more and working together more.
“I don’t think there will be any problem motivating the players, they are all very motivated and very excited. I am seeing a lot of desire to play this final.”
Ancelotti dismissed a suggestion Real could have avoided Ronaldo’s injury if they had given him more rest. “Cristiano did not rest because there was no need,” he insisted. “There was no situation we saw that suggested he was tired and if he had been tired he would not have played. He has a problem many players have at this stage of the season. We protect Cristiano in the same way we try to protect all the players as much as possible.
“It could be a risk playing him and we are not going to take that risk as there are very important games still to come.”
Gerardo Martino’s men are preparing to face their arch rivals after a week in which they were eliminated from the Champions League by Atletico Madrid and had their Primera Division title aspirations dealt a devastating blow with defeat at Granada. The two results were the latest chapters in a tumultuous campaign, which has witnessed the resignation of president Sandro Rosell, a Fifa-imposed transfer ban for breaching its rules on the international transfer of minors, plus a host of injuries to key players.
However, speaking at the pre-match press conference, midfielder Andres Iniesta said: “We always try to isolate ourselves from what has happened, even though it is very difficult. If you analyse the season from day one, we have had to endure incredible things and deal with big setbacks that have been very hard to take – it’s not been easy.
“But we have to overcome it all, because that’s life – it’s about survival and you cannot stop to think. We are ready to play this final.”
Iniesta rejected suggestions that Real headed into the final as favourites, given Barcelona’s recent dip in form.
“My personal feeling is that Barcelona are not down in the dumps,” he said. “We have had a week with two tough moments, but we have to put it behind us, even though it’s difficult. This game is a final – there’s a trophy at stake. It’s another competition and a chance to make the fans happy. We cannot allow ourselves to think about anything else other than this final and winning this trophy. We are convinced we can do that but, if we want to, we have to be at our best against a powerful rival. The team is capable of playing well and winning and that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Martino was forced to play midfielder Sergio Busquets in defence in the defeat at Granada and may have to do the same against Real Madrid, with Marc Bartra still not 100 per cent following a hamstring problem. Bartra was able to participate in the final training session before the final – unlike veteran defender Carles Puyol, who has a knee injury, and Gerard Pique, who suffered a hairline fracture to his pelvis two weeks ago.
However, all three defenders will travel to Valencia with Martino insisting each had a chance of recovering in time. The Argentine also stressed that winning the cup was enough motivation for his team, regardless of the recent defeats.
“We want to win because it’s the Copa del Rey, because it’s a trophy and because the only reason you play in a final is to win it – it has nothing to do with revenge,” he said.