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FOOTBALL

Raul returns to Real Madrid squad

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Raul has not played for Real Madrid since injuring his knee in November

MADRID, Spain -- Spain striker Raul has been named in the Real Madrid squad for Saturday's league match against Alaves, three months after suffering a serious knee injury.

His return is a major boost for Real ahead of next week's Champions League knockout tie against Arsenal and means he is on course to lead Spain at the World Cup in Germany.

"He's been put in some phenomenal work, he's feeling positive and now it is just a question of gaining rhythm," said Real coach Juan Ramon Lopez Caro.

"He has made an extraordinary effort to get back and his behavior has been an example to everyone. Raul carries a lot of weight at this club and in this side, but like everyone he has to be at the top level before playing in the team."

Raul suffered a partial tear of the cruciate ligament and damaged the cartilage in his left knee when he miscued a shot during Real Madrid's 3-0 defeat by Barcelona on November 19.

Club doctors opted to follow a "conservative" programme of treatment to deal with the injury rather than surgery in the hope the player would make a more rapid recovery.

Bergkamp prepared to travel

Meanwhile, Dennis Bergkamp is prepared to drive to Spain or go by sea for Arsenal's Champions League game at Real Madrid on Tuesday.

The Dutch forward seldom plays in away ties outside Britain because of his fear of flying. "I am prepared to go but it's up to the boss," said Bergkamp.

The 36-year-old could make a round trip of more than 3,200km by road or take a ferry from the south coast to Bilbao in northern Spain and drive the rest.

However, in his last season before retiring, Bergkamp may not even be fit for the first leg of the first knockout round tie at the Bernabeu.

"I am just happy to play in any game but I can't talk about games in Europe when I'm not even playing at home at the moment," said Bergkamp, who has a calf ailment.

The Champions League is the only competition Arsenal can win in a disappointing season in which the 2004 English champions are fifth in the Premier League.

The second leg against Real Madrid is at Highbury on March 8.

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