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Rediff.com  » Sports » Wounded Barca, Man U eye Champions League boost

Wounded Barca, Man U eye Champions League boost

Last updated on: September 14, 2010 08:28 IST

'Winning is the only thing that matters at this club'

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Panathinaikos could be on the receiving end of a Champions League backlash from a wounded Barcelona on Tuesday after the La Liga giants were stunned 2-0 at fortress Nou Camp by unfancied Hercules at the weekend.

Barca host the Greek side for their opening Group D clash smarting from a first home defeat in the Spanish league since May 2009, one that defender Daniel Alves said had raised the hackles of coach Pep Guardiola's players.

"Winning is the only thing that matters at this club and when we don't win we get angry," the Brazilian said on Sunday.

"Whatever team we're facing we're always motivated to win and Tuesday will be no different. We'll go out there with the same motivation but we hope that we show a bit more quality."


Image: Lionel Messi
Photographs: Reuters
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'This was a lesson for us'

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Barca were denied a second straight triumph in Europe's elite club competition when they lost out in last season's semi-finals to Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan, who went on to defeat Bayern Munich in the final at the Bernabeu.

With Portuguese Mourinho now at Barca's arch rivals Real Madrid, the Catalans will be keen to lay down a marker and kick their latest European campaign off with a convincing home win.

Guardiola's decision to rest World Cup-winners Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Pedro and Carles Puyol against Hercules backfired and even with Spain striker David Villa and Argentina forward Lionel Messi on the pitch the 2009 winners were worryingly toothless.

However, Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta, scorer of the winning goal against Netherlands in the World Cup final in July, said the Barca players would learn from the defeat and move on.

"We play a lot of matches and we know that what counts is the day to day," he said. "This was a lesson for us and that's that."


Image: Andres Iniesta

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Cisse will play lone striker for Panathinaikos

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Back in the Champions League after an absence of one season, Panathinaikos warmed up for Tuesday's match with a 1-0 win at Aris Salonika that leaves them in third place after two matches.

Their best Champions League performance came in the 2001-02 season when they reached the last eight before losing to Barca.

France international Djibril Cisse, who helped Panathinaikos to a Greek league and cup double last season, scoring 29 goals in all competitions, netted the winner at Aris and will likely play as a lone striker at the Nou Camp.

Midfielder Lazaros Christodoulopoulos, striker Antonis Petropoulos and defenders Giorgos Seitaridis and Nikos Spiropoulos will not travel due to various injuries.

Former Liverpool midfielder Luis Garcia, who is not expected to start, returns to the club where he was a youth trainee alongside Xavi, Puyol, Iniesta and goalkeeper Victor Valdes.

Danish side FC Copenhagen and Russia's Rubin Kazan complete Group D and play in Copenhagen also on Tuesday.


Image: Djibril Cisse

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Ferdinand back to plug United's leaky defence

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Rio Ferdinand will return from injury to shore up Manchester United's defence and striker Wayne Rooney will put aside private turmoil for their Champions League opener against Rangers on Tuesday.

Rooney, who last week appealed for privacy after days of media speculation about his marriage, was left out of the squad for Saturday's Premier League trip to Everton as manager Alex Ferguson aimed to spare him abuse from fans of his former club.

United conceded two goals in stoppage time to draw 3-3, making news of the dependable Ferdinand's return after knee ligament problems particularly welcome before the all-British Group C match at Old Trafford.


Image: Manchester United's Wayne Rooney (right) watches teammates Rio Ferdinand (centre) and Michael Owen during a training session at the Carrington training complex in Manchester on Monday

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'It's a European tie at home, we've got to take advantage of that'

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"I think Rio will play on Tuesday night," local media quoted Ferguson as saying of the England defender who has been out of action since hurting his knee during training at the World Cup in June.

"It's a European tie at home and we've got to take advantage of that."

For that reason, Ferguson is likely to stick by his suggestion that Rooney, United's top goalscorer in the competition last year with five goals, will be back in the team after what the striker called an "extremely painful" time.

Scottish champions Rangers come into the match on the back of their own last-minute drama after Kenny Miller came off the bench to seal a 2-1 victory over Hamilton Academical on Saturday.


Image: Alex Ferguson

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'It's going to take a lot of hard work and a bit of luck'

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Miller said Rangers, who failed to win any of their six Champions League matches last season, will need good fortune against three-times European champions United.

"You're playing against one of the best teams in Europe, if not the world," he told BBC Scotland. "It's going to take a lot of hard work and a bit of luck."

Rangers expect Steven Whittaker to be fit after he missed Saturday's game with a calf injury sustained on international duty with Scotland but fellow defender Kirk Broadfoot is doubtful after limping off at the weekend with an ankle problem.

The clubs' managers know each other well, with Walter Smith having worked as an assistant to Ferguson at United and for the Scotland national team.


Image: Kenny Miller

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English police have stepped up security for the match

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Ferguson has the upper hand against the club he supported as a boy and who he also played for, with United having beaten Rangers and kept clean sheets in both previous encounters, in the group stage of the 2003-04 Champions League.

Police in the English city have stepped up security for the match, bringing in an extra 250 officers, to try to avoid a repeat of the crowd trouble that marred the 2008 UEFA Cup final between Rangers and Zenit St Petersburg.

"This an opportunity for the club and the fans to put that behind them and move on and show that they can come and watch football and behave themselves," assistant chief constable Ian Hopkins said.

The other teams in Group C are Spain's Valencia and Turkish champions Bursaspor.


Image: Wayne Rooney goes through the grind at a training session on Monday

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Inter's Milito lacks bite for Twente trip

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Struggling Diego Milito has looked a totally different player this term to the striker who so emphatically sealed Inter Milan's Champions League triumph in May but he will still start Tuesday's opener at Twente Enschede.

The Argentinian will lead the line as Inter open their defence in Group A because he retains the faith of new coach Rafael Benitez and, more importantly, is one of very few options up front.

"Diego will gradually get better and better. We have to work," Benitez said.

"Do we lack an extra striker? I think that with Diego and Samuel (Eto'o) we can do what we have in mind. We must move more on the wings to surprise the opposing team because by now everyone knows how Wesley Sneijder links up with Milito."

Inter owner Massimo Moratti sold forward Mario Balotelli to Manchester City and decided not to replace him, leaving the treble winners weaker on paper than they were last season.


Image: Diego Milito

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Slow start for Milan in Serie A

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Benitez, whose side have been off colour for the start of the campaign, pleaded for new blood but instead has been left with only Milito, Eto'o and Goran Pandev as established forwards.

He had been playing all three at once, meaning options on the bench were scant, before surprisingly selecting inexperienced French striker Jonathan Biabiany ahead of Pandev to start Saturday's laboured 2-1 win over Udinese.

The 22-year-old did little and poses no real threat to Milito, who scored both goals in the Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich having also netted winners in the scudetto-clinching match and the Italian Cup final last May.

The early encounters of this season have been very different however and he has not come close to scoring, even missing a penalty in the European Super Cup defeat by Atletico Madrid.

Image: Samuel Eto'o

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'It'll be hard but we have a chance'

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Left back Cristian Chivu limped out of the Udinese win and is a slight doubt for Tuesday along with Dejan Stankovic while Maicon may recover from a knock. Thiago Motta has a knee injury.

Dutch champions Twente beat VVV Venlo 2-1 on Saturday with Bryan Ruiz and Roberto Rosales on target.

They stunned the Netherlands by winning their first league title and believe they can cause more surprises against Inter.

"It'll be hard but we have a chance. We always create chances at home," midfielder Wout Brama told uefa.com.

"The most important thing is not to approach this match like it's a little bonus. It's the UEFA Champions League and we're the Dutch champions. We have to show that."

Former Belgium goalkeeper Michel Preud'homme is now the coach, having taken over from former England boss Steve McClaren, who left to manage VfL Wolfsburg.


Image: Twente's Wout Brama (red) challenges Werder Bremen's Claudio Pizarro

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Roma's Adriano shrugs off injury to make Bayern trip

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AS Roma striker Adriano has been called up for Wednesday's Champions League Group E opener at Bayern Munich after recovering quicker than expected from a hamstring problem.

The Brazilian, a former Inter Milan forward who returned to Italy from Flamengo in the close season, has not played this term but was included on the squad list issued by the Roman club on Monday alongside Francesco Totti, who has a minor virus.

However, defender Philippe Mexes, midfielder Rodrigo Taddei and forward Mirko Vucinic will not make the trip to last term's Champions League runners-up because of injury.

Left back John Arne Riise took a bang on the head while away with Norway and is also not fit.

Roma coach Claudio Ranieri will be looking for a quick reaction from his players after they were crushed 5-1 at Cagliari in their second Serie A game of the season on Saturday.


Image: AS Roma's Francesco Totti (left), John Arne Riise and Philippe Mexes (right)

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Bremen striker Pizarro doubtful for Tottenham match

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Werder Bremen's Claudio Pizarro is likely to miss their first Champions League group match at home against Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday as he is still suffering with a muscle injury, the striker said on Monday.

Pizarro missed the side's 0-0 Bundesliga draw against Bayern Munich on Saturday.

"I do not think I will be able to play," he told reporters.

The 31-year-old pulled a thigh muscle during their 4-2 win over Cologne in late August and missed Peru's internationals against Jamaica and Canada.

Apart from Pizarro, Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf will be missing central defenders Naldo and Per Mertesacker, who are also injured.

French international Aly Cissokho will miss Olympique Lyon's Champions League opener against Schalke 04 on Tuesday as the left back is recovering from a thigh injury.

Cissokho was left out of Lyon's 19-man squad to face the German side at the Gerland stadium.

The 22-year-old Cissokho, who has one cap with France, picked up a thigh injury last month in his team's 1-0 home win against Stade Brest in Ligue 1.


Image: Claudio Pizarro

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