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Thursday, September 13, 2012
Real Madrid teammates back Ronaldo

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Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo may still be sad, but he will have little time for moping as his team gears up for a must-win match Saturday (4 p.m. ET) against Sevilla, with the Spanish champion needing to keep the pressure on league leader Barcelona.

After helping Portugal to consecutive victories, Ronaldo quickly reaffirmed his commitment to Madrid 10 days after saying he was "feeling sad" there for professional reasons.

"I would like to reaffirm, without being concerned about contracts, that my focus is solely on winning every game and every available trophy with the essential company of my teammates and all Madridistas," Ronaldo said in a statement on Wednesday, when he trained with his teammates and reportedly sat down with coach Jose Mourinho to discuss the situation.

His teammates have come out to support him.

"For Madrid, for the players as much as the fans, it is an authentic pleasure to have Cristiano here. And for Cristiano, it is a luxury to wear the jersey of the best club in the world," said goalkeeper Iker Casillas. "We all benefit. Madrid fans are demanding, but they are that way about everyone."

Madrid is already in a panic as it trails Barcelona by five points after just three games, and Sevilla has a victory and two draws to start the season. League play resumes this weekend and on Thursday, an Oct. 7 (11 a.m. ET) date was set for the season's first Real Madrid-Barcelona face-off.

Ronaldo's off-field difficulties remain the talking point of club football in Spain, which has allowed teammate Karim Benzema's poor start to the season to be ignored. The France striker has yet to score through five games, while fellow striker Gonzalo Higuain has been in great form with six goals this season including two with Argentina in World Cup qualifying.

Madrid's irregular start has worried Mourinho, even if his team has won seven straight matches against Sevilla. The pressure is on the Spanish champions to win a 10th Champions League trophy this season, with their first continental match coming on Tuesday against Manchester City.

"If I detect that someone doesn't understand this, as a coach I have means of preventing that," Mourinho said. "For example, if someone reserves themselves in league play with the Champions League in mind, then he may get a surprise and not play in the Champions League."

Barcelona will be without injured playmaker Andres Iniesta for Saturday's match at Getafe, but could welcome midfielder Thiago Alcantara back from an injury that had sidelined him since May. Defender Carles Puyol could also return with a specially designed facemask to protect his broken right cheek.

Getafe has beaten Spain's big two clubs in their past visits to southern Madrid.

"Getafe is a match that was already marked off on the calendar, we lost there last season," said striker David Villa, who was still finding his rhythm after returning from a leg fracture. "I need more minutes. I was sidelined a lot of months, almost eight without competing, and that's a part of the process now. With any other team I would have been playing by now."

Atletico Madrid returns to domestic play following its European Super Cup thrashing of Chelsea, with Radamel Falcao eclipsing Lionel Messi and Ronaldo as Spain's top scorer this season. Falcao has scored six in three games for Atletico -- including a hat trick against Chelsea -- and a pair in World Cup qualifying victories with Colombia.

Unlike Madrid, Atletico coach Diego Simeone appears to have a fully committed squad for Sunday's match at home with crosstown rival Rayo Vallecano.

"What I like most about my team is its compromise, as everything is easy once you have that," said Simeone, who will try to keep Atletico from the usual dip in form that has often cost it a top-four finish. "Individual players will be better when the team is good and knows how to control games."

Athletic Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente could play for the first time this season at Espanyol, which has lost its first three games to start the season. Llorente has been kept out of the lineup with his future uncertain until the passing of the transfer deadline, but was also trying to overcome muscle problems to be fit for Sunday's game.

Coming off one of its impressive seasons when it reached both the Europa League and Copa del Rey finals, the Basque club's new season has been mired in near folly since Javi Martinez's links and eventual move to Bayern Munich.

Martinez reportedly broke into Bilbao's grounds late Saturday to fetch his personal belongings left behind before his transfer, just adding more off-field distractions to a team that has looked distracted on it.

"He should know the effect of his actions," said forward Iker Muniain. "We've got more important things to worry about than that. I'm ready to take on the responsibility, there comes a moment when you've got to take the ball in those difficult moments. Not just me, there are others too and between us all we have to all move in the right direction."

Jonathan Dos Santos could make his Mallorca debut against Osasuna on Sunday, when Valencia hosts Celta Vigo with both clubs still looking for their first victory of the campaign.

Other fourth-round matches include: Malaga vs. Levante; Granada vs. Deportivo La Coruna; Real Sociedad vs. Zaragoza; and Valladolid vs. Real Betis.

Information from The Associated Press and Efe News Agency was used in this report.




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