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Culture

The Battle off the Pitch

Wednesday's Champions League match between soccer powerhouse Real Madrid and Germany's Bayern Munich is likely to be a timid affair compared to the mudslinging and provocation coming from the Spanish and German media.

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Munich's goalkeeper Oliver Kahn hopes not to repeat scenes like this.

As two of Europe's top clubs, there's always plenty of emotion involved when Real Madrid and Bayern Munich meet on the pitch. Both are the most winning teams in their respective national leagues and both have hoisted the Champions League trophy.

And when securing a berth in the next round of the world's most prestigious club tournament is at stake, one might expect the Spanish and German sporting press to get fired up. However, before the first match two weeks ago that wasn't the case. Real's soccer superstars Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo and David Beckham were so heavily favored to steamroller the struggling Bavarians that even German newspapers feared the worst.

Then the two sides drew 1-1 in Munich in a spirited match and all bets were off.

Much of the media furore has surrounded Madrid player Brazilian Roberto Carlos, who put Real's only goal past Bayern keeper Oliver Kahn. He was also banned for two matches after retaliating against a kick from Martin Demichelis with a slap of his own. Since the referee did not see the slap during the game, Carlos was not sent off at the time. UEFA officials imposed the ban only after reviewing the incident after the match.

Roberto the "poisonous dwarf"

Although Kahn was to blame for letting an easy shot through, Germany's Bild newspaper quickly dubbed the small in stature Carlos a "poisonous dwarf." Spanish sportswriter Gaspar Rosety from the daily "Marca" rather tastelessly responded by saying the Brazilian was lucky he didn't "get put in the gas chamber."

Some members of the Spanish press like Rosety see a Bayern-backed conspiracy to get Carlos banned for slapping Demichelis. He blamed Munich's "proletariat management" for seeking success abroad at the UEFA headquarters in Switzerland since Bayern couldn't win on their home pitch.

Not to be outdone, Bild has come up with its own conspiracy: Real's injured striker Ronaldo isn't really injured and will play on Wednesday night as Madrid tries psyche out Bayern.

Oliver Kahn Champions League FC Bayern München - Real Madrid 1:1

Munich's goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, on ground, fails to stop a freekick by Real's Brazilian player Roberto Carlos during the Champions League 2nd round 1st leg match between FC Bayern Munich and Real Madrid CF in the Olympic Stadium in Munich, southern Germany, on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2004. Left is Real's Raul Gonzalez. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. (AP Photo/Uwe Lein)

Regardless of all the hype and who actually does take to the pitch, Madrid will remain the favorite. The club will have 70,000 home fans firing them on at the Bernabeu Stadium.

But Kahn, eager to make good his mistake in Munich, was unconcerned by the ill will Spanish fans have for him ahead of the game. "The matches in Madrid have always been football celebrations. I don't worry about hate tirades," Kahn said according to Reuters.

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