- Associated Press - Monday, May 2, 2011

BARCELONA, SPAIN (AP) - After three tempestuous meetings raised their rivalry to an even more heated level than usual, Barcelona and Real Madrid meet for the fourth time in 18 days Tuesday night with a berth in the Champions League final at stake.

Barcelona holds a 2-0 lead in the home-and-home, total-goals series after two goals from Lionel Messi in the first leg and got a lift with the surprise return Monday of defender Eric Abidal from surgery to remove a liver tumor.

Real Madrid will be without suspended defenders Sergio Ramos and Pepe and coach Jose Mourinho, banned from the sideline following his ejection last week.

Madrid, a nine-time champion of European soccer’s top club tournament, is vying with Barcelona, a three-time winner, for a berth in the May 28 final at Wembley against Manchester United or Schalke. Manchester United also holds a 2-0 lead.


The disciplinary committee of European soccer’s governing body has yet to rule on five charges filed against Madrid and one against Barcelona. Mourinho accused match officials of conspiring to help Barcelona reach Champions League finals, and Barcelona backup goalkeeper Jose Pinto received a red card for his role in a halftime brawl.

Madrid also alleged Barcelona players dived and feigned injuries to provoke yellow cards and ejections.

“It’s sad,” Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said Monday. “It would be nice to talk about football and not all these pitiful details. “We try our best not to let all of this tension affect us. It’s almost impossible, but we try.”

The Union of European Football Associations refused to charge Daniel Alves, Pedro Rodriguez and Sergio Busquets for feigning injuries.

“It was deemed that there was no common strategy to provoke the Real Madrid players,’ UEFA said. It also upheld German referee Wolfgang Stark’s red card assessed to Pepe, resulting in an automatic suspension for the second leg.

After beating Madrid 5-0 in the league at Camp Nou in November, Barcelona tied its rival 1-1 in a league match on April 16. Three days later, Madrid beat Barcelona 1-0 in overtime at Valencia in the final of the Copa del Rey, and then Barcelona won the first leg of the Champions League semifinal last Wednesday.

“We’ve been criticized a lot but these are ways of winning, ways of playing,” said Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka, who spoke Monday in place of Mourinho. “What matters now is to reach the final at Wembley.”

Frank de Bleeckere, the referee for the U.S.-Algeria game at last year’s World Cup, has been selected to work the match. Mourinho claimed the Belgian for favored Barcelona in last year’s semifinal against Inter Milan, the team Mourinho led to his second Champions League title.

Madrid figures to play more of an attacking game than it did during the first three “clasicos” of the spring, when Mourinho was criticized for his defensive tactics.

“We see football in another light. We like to control the ball, to dominate and control the game. We don’t know how else to play,” Xavi said. “A lot of teams play like Madrid has, looking to crowd the back, but Barcelona doesn’t have that philosophy and I don’t think our fans would enjoy it or forgive us for playing like that.”

Barcelona could start its first choice lineup for the first time since Jan. 16. Abidal was selected after being sidelined since surgery on March 17. The 31-year-old had been expected to miss the remainder of the season.

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