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3. PREVIEW: Spanish clubs load up
August 25th, 2006 3:45PM



Spain's La Liga starts this weekend after a hectic summer during which clubs loaded up on international stars signed from foreign teams. The moves confirmed La Liga's status as the best league in the world. Here's a look at moves by the principal contenders:

BARCELONA. The champions spent almost $40 million on new talent. Barca picked up Frenchman Lilian Thuram and Italian Gianluca Zambrotta, two of the best defenders at the 2006 World Cup, from Juventus in the wake of the Italian club's relegation to Serie B. Icelandic forward Eidur Gudjohnsen, signed from Chelsea, adds depth to the attack.

REAL MADRID. Under new president Ramon Calderon, it spent more than $100 million on players. The acquisitions included Italian World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro from Juventus and Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy from Manchester United. The key additions may be a pair of defensive midfielders, Malian Mahamadou Diarra and Brazilian Emerson, acquired from Lyon and Juventus, respectively.

VALENCIA. Picked to challenge Barca and Real Madrid, Valencia signed striker Fernando Morientes from Liverpool, midfielder Joaquin from Real Betis and defender Asier del Horno from Chelsea. Spain World Cup striker David Villa returns from a loan spell at Celta.

ATLETICO MADRID. Signed Argentine striker Sergio Aguero for $28 million from Argentina's Independiente, making him soccer's most expensive 17-year-old ever.

SEVILLA. The 2006 UEFA Cup champion signed Schalke's Danish midfielder, Christian Poulsen, German defender Andreas Hinkel from Stuttgart and Monaco's Uruguayan striker, Javier Chevanton.

VILLARREAL. The surprise 2006 Champions League semifinalist signed veteran Frenchman Robert Pires from Arsenal, but he and central defender Gonzalo Rodriguez both tore cruciate knee ligaments in preseason games.

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