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Ronaldo cleared for derby after ban set to just La Liga

ESPN staff
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Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo will be able to play in Wednesday's Copa del Rey semi-final first leg against cross-town rivals Atletico after his red card ban was confirmed as three league matches.

Ronaldo, celebrating his 29th birthday, was uncertain whether he would be able to play in the match, with his punishment for the red card shown for raising a hand during a confrontation with Carlos Gurpegi and Ander Iturraspe in Sunday's 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao still undecided that morning.

Spain's competition committee met to make their decision and opted for a three-match La Liga suspension, even though a four-game ban that includes the Copa match could have been imposed. It means, subject to an appeal, that he will miss games against Villarreal at home, Getafe away and Elche at home.

Madrid's legal experts reportedly prepared a defence including apparent errors in referee Miguel Angel Ayza Gamez's report and an argument that Ronaldo's gesture towards an assistant referee as he was jeered from the field was just a show of frustration.

However, AS reported that the referee had been allowed to make corrections to his report after Madrid had presented their case.

But Colchoneros chief Enrique Cerezo told Marca he wanted the Real star to appear, saying: "I hope Cristiano plays, because that will be a great spectacle. He is one of the best players in the world."

Atletico coach Diego Simeone would not be drawn on the issue at his pre-game news conference, but said: "Madrid could argue they are coming in as favourites. They have had a very strong January and have picked up a lot of points. Their coach has found a system, 4-3-3, which makes the forwards they have more powerful. Madrid are better, that is normal."

Simeone - whose side are unbeaten in their last five games in all competitions against Madrid and Barcelona - said each game against one of Spain's 'big two' helped his players improve.

Meanwhile, Madrid president Florentino Perez said he expected former Atletico and Spain coach Luis Aragones, who died last weekend, to be remembered fondly at the game.

"I would like this derby to serve as a homage to Luis Aragones," he told the club's official website. "He marked a before and an after in the history of the national team."

Ronaldo looks bemused after being shown a straight red card © AP
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