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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Quarter Expected in Euro Cups


LONDON -- There may be a gentlemen's agreement so far as restrictions on fielding foreign players are concerned. But with the top prizes and big money at stake, Europe's top soccer clubs will be giving nothing else away this week.

The 24 clubs in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, Cup Winners' and UEFA Cup competitions have neatly side-stepped the European Union's ruling that the restriction is illegal. They have volunteered to keep it going in the interests of continuity and fairness to each other.

That got UEFA, soccer's European body, off the hook, because it was its rule in the first place. The clubs' decision to stick to it means the EU would find it difficult to take them to court.

But that agreement is on paper only, and it hides the fierce battle for the glory and financial gain that comes with winning any of the three prestigious competitions.

Real Madrid and Juventus, two giants of European soccer, must meet each other for a place in the Champions League semifinal. At this level, whichever team goes out will regard elimination as near disaster.

"The players know the risks," said Real Madrid chairman Lorenzo Sanz, whose team is out of the running in the Spanish league and has nothing else to aim for.

"They know this is the game of the season for us. For some, it could be the most important game of their career."

French club Nantes, which is having a mediocre season at home, has the tough task of ousting Russia's Moscow Spartak, which has emerged as one of the standout teams in the competition with six straight wins in the group stage.

Nantes captain Jean-Michel Ferri, defender Laurent Guyot and forwards Reynald Pedros, Japhet N'Doram and Nicolas Ouedec suffered knocks in last Friday's 4-1 league defeat at Monaco but N'Doram is the only doubtful starter.

Spartak Moscow was the only team to win all six matches in the Champions' League, but since then several key players -- skipper Viktor Onopko, Vasily Kulkov, Sergei Yuran and Stanislav Cherchesov -- have left. Dmitry Khlestov is ruled out with a broken leg while fellow defender Ilya Tsymbalar is recovering from a knee operation and may have to wait till the return leg to make his European comeback.

"Had we been able to keep them, I'm 100 percent certain that we would have won the European Cup," Spartak president and former coach Oleg Romantsev said.

Legia Warsaw and Panathinaikos of Athens have done well to reach the last eight. They also meet in the quarterfinal and, this time, elimination will be no disgrace.

Defending champion Ajax of Amsterdam looked invincible before January when it also beat Brazil's Gremio to win the World Clubs Cup. But the Dutch team has suffered a recent slump in form and German titlist Borussia Dortmund will be keen to take advantage and build a useful first leg lead Wednesday.

In Thursday's quarterfinal of the Cup Winners' Cup, the two Spanish teams, Deportivo de La Coruna and defending champion Real Zaragoza, meet for a place in the last four.

Italy's Parma hosts Paris Saint Germain, Borussia Moenchengladbach receives Feyenoord of Rotterdam and Rapid Vienna travels to play Dinamo Moscow. ()