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European protagonists
by Paul Kennedy, February 19th, 2008 7AM



[IN THE SPOTLIGHT] The UEFA Champions League resumes with the first leg of the round of 16. Here's a look at some key protagonists in this week's battles, from Chelsea defender Alex to Porto's scoring machine, Lisandro Lopez.

ALEX. The Brazilian, acquired from PSV to provide additional cover for the Chelsea backline, has played well in recent weeks for the Blues, prompting Manager Avram Grant to leave captain, John Terry, out of the team that will face Olympiakos on Tuesday night.

RAFAEL BENITEZ. At the center of controversy all season, Benitez finds himself under fire again after Liverpool's 2-1 loss at home to Barnsley in the FA Cup. The Reds manager needs a big game out his team against Italian champion Inter Milan on Tuesday. "We must think about winning the next game and nothing more," he said Monday.

KARIM BENZEMA. The 20-year-old French striker will get to show off his talent when Lyon hosts Manchester United Wednesday at the Stade Gerland. Benzema has scored 16 Ligue 1 goals this season and been tipped at a United transfer target.

DIEGO CAPEL. The 20-year-old winger 's fine form has helped Sevilla climb to sixth place in La Liga and drawn the attention of English Premier League scouts, and he will be counted upon to break down the Fenerbahce defense on Wednesday in Istanbul.

SAMUEL ETO'O. Away on national team duty with Cameroon at the African Nations Cup, Eto'o has returned to the Barcelona squad in time for its game at Celtic on Wednesday. Eto'o, who has missed Barca's last eight games in all competitions, is key to the Spanish club's Champions League.

VALERIO FIORI. Fiori, AC Milan's No. 3 keeper, has not played a game since the 2002-04 season, but he could be pressed into against at Liverpool. Australian Zeljko Kalac, who recently won the starting job, has dislocated his finger, while Dida, who recently lost his starting job, hurt his back sitting on the bench at Parma.

GABRIEL HEINZE. The Argentine has not played for Real Madrid in the last six weeks, but he's needed for the Merengues' match at Roma because injuries have depleted their backline. "I don't think there's much of a risk," Real Madrid coach Bernd Schuster said of Heinze reinjuring his thigh, "but we have to take it."

LISANDRO LOPEZ. The 24-year-old Argentine will lead Portuguese champion Porto when it travels to German club Schalke 04. Lopez is one of the most productive center forwards in the Champions League with 16 league goals and two more in the Champions League.



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