Puyol fit to answer call for Barca


SOCCER:BARCELONA CAPTAIN Carles Puyol did not train yesterday but will be fit to face Real Madrid in tonight’s King’s Cup final in Valencia, the La Liga leaders said.

The central defender had not played since January 22nd before Saturday’s 1-1 La Liga draw at Real, when he was substituted as a precaution after feeling a twinge in a thigh muscle. “In the end, it was confirmed the (Barca) captain will be available for (coach) Josep Guardiola,” the club said on their website (www.fcbarcelona.cat).

The final, the first time Barca and Real have met in the competition’s title match since 1990, is the second of four meetings between the arch-rivals in 18 days. They are due to clash in the two-legged Champions League semi-final on April 27th at the Bernabeu in Madrid and May 3rd at the Nou Camp in the Catalan capital.

Real coach Jose Mourinho was criticised for his negative tactics in Saturday’s game. The Portuguese deployed centre back Pepe as a third defensive midfielder alongside Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira and left playmaker Mesut Ozil out of his starting line-up.

Guardiola told a news conference yesterday he would like to see his players create more scoring chances and said they would remain true to their stylish brand of possession football. “We might change some small details, but the essence won’t change,” he said. “Whoever imposes their game will win. We will be doing what we can by playing football. We will try to be brave and daring and go out there to win.”

Guardiola has been using Jose Manuel Pinto in the domestic cup instead of his first-choice goalkeeper Victor Valdes and he said he would stick with the reserve for tonight’s game. Fullback Adriano, who complained of a muscle problem after the Real game, was also included in the squad for the trip to Valencia.

Real go in search of their first silverware in nearly three years and first Copa del Rey crown in almost two decades. Whereas Barcelona have won almost every honour going over the last few years, claiming eight trophies since Pep Guardiola took charge, Madrid have not tasted success since winning the Primera Division and Spanish Super Cup in 2008 with their last Copa del Rey success coming in 1993. Under the guidance of Mourinho, they are back in the final for the first time since 2004.

Saturday’s draw at the Bernabeu saw Barca edge closer to the title – they are eight points clear of Madrid with only six games remaining. Barca had looked to be on their way to a record-equalling sixth successive Clasico victory after Lionel Messi put them ahead with a 52nd-minute penalty in an incident that also saw Madrid lose Raul Albiol to a red card. However, the 10 men drew level eight minutes from time through a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty.

Mourinho has named a 19-man squad, with Lassana Diarra and Fernando Gago missing through injury and Albiol is suspended.