Atletico ready for Bayer battle

Atletico would have secured themselves a place in the last 32 of

the competition if they had beaten Aris Thessaloniki at home in

their last match, but a 3-2 defeat means the Spaniards are now in

serious danger of a shock early exit. Heading into their final

match away to Group B winners Leverkusen, Atletico are level on

seven points with second-placed Aris. However, with Aris having

beaten Atletico both home and away to boast the better head-to-head

record between the two, Quique Sanchez Flores’ champions need a

better result against Leverkusen than Aris manage in their fixture

at home to already-eliminated Rosenborg. Aris have never lost in 23

European matches over 40 years at their Kleanthis Vikelidis

stadium, while Rosenborg have heavily lost both of their away

matches in Group B, conceding seven goals and scoring none. It is

not looking good for Atletico, but midfielder Fran Merida is giving

nothing up for lost. “We’re going to fight until the last minute to

win,” said the summer arrival from Arsenal. “We hope that Rosenborg

help us out. We don’t depend on ourselves, but we have to win.

We’re going to leave it all on the field in Germany to get the

victory. “The team is capable of getting through to the next round,

and we won’t give up until the match is over. “We have confidence

in ourselves, we have the same number of points as Aris and

anything can happen in football. It’s not in our hands, but we have

hope.” Atletico warmed up for the match with a morale-boosting 2-0

home win over Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga, Sergio Aguero netting

both goals in the first half. That result came after three

successive defeats, and Merida said: “After an erratic week the win

over the Galician side was good for us.” Their hopes of beating the

high-flying Bundesliga side have been boosted by the news that the

German team’s regular number one goalkeeper Rene Adler will not be

playing. The Germany international will miss Leverkusen’s final two

matches of 2010 in a bid to resolve a niggling injury in time for

the second half of the season. “From a medical point of view, it is

about time he took a longer break than he would normally get from

the winter break,” said a statement from the club’s medical

department. “That should ensure that he is top fit for the start of

the second half of the season.” Youngster Fabian Giefer will take

over and coach Jupp Heynckes has no qualms about fielding the

20-year-old. “Fabian has proven not only on his debut in the Europa

League against Rosenborg that we can rely on him,” said Heynckes.

“We have our full faith in him and are sure that he will pay this

back. Fabian is a great talent.” Leverkusen have already sealed top

spot in Group B, but will be looking to preserve their unbeaten

record.