Barça look beyond Messi's magic for Sporting showdown
Valdes urges team-mates to provide cutting edge with talisman expected to be out
Wednesday 26 November 2008
Barcelona have the chance to secure top spot in Champions League Group C and prove they are not solely reliant upon their striker Lionel Messi for inspiration when they visit Sporting Lisbon tonight. Barça's nine-match winning streak in La Liga came to an end with a 1-1 draw at home to Getafe on Sunday, as Pep Guardiola's outfit struggled to open up their well-organised opponents. Messi, who has four goals to his name in the group stage this season, was left in the stands as a precautionary measure after picking up a thigh strain last week, and although he was included for the trip to Portugal, remains a doubt.
"Lionel is a very important part of the team and there is no doubt he is missed when he doesn't play," goalkeeper Victor Valdes said. "But we can't always be waiting for, or dependent, on one individual. Every player has qualities to offer to the group as a whole." Teenage striker Bojan Krkic played wide on the right against Getafe but struggled to make much of an impression and was seen to be in tears on the bench after he was substituted in the second half. He could start in Lisbon along with Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry up front. Midfielder Andres Iniesta and full-back Eric Abidal are out injured. Captain Carles Puyol and midfielder Yaya Touré have been omitted from the squad suffering with minor complaints.
Barça beat Sporting 3-1 at the Nou Camp in September and are unbeaten over their four games, though they slipped up with a 1-1 draw at home to Basle last time out. Both Barça and Sporting have already qualified for the knock-out stage with the Catalans holding a one-point advantage over Sporting, who have progressed to the last 16 for the first time.
Sporting coach Paulo Bento is set to rest a number of players after an energy-sapping 1-0 league win over Naval on Saturday, a match in which the Lisbon team played with only nine men for the last 23 minutes.
"The aim in the [Champions] League is reached," Bento said. "We'll fight for the first place in the group, but with other factors to be taken into account, most of all the attrition [in the Naval match] to which the team was subjected, that may weigh on my options for managing the squad."
Sporting will be without right-back Abel, central defender Tonel and Brazilian midfielder Fabio Rochemback due to injuries, while defenders Marco Caneira, Pedro Silva and Grimi are doubtful.
Elsewhere in Group C Shakhtar Donetsk take on Basle in the battle for Uefa Cup qualification.
In Group B, Cyprus side Anorthosis Famagusta are hoping to keep their historic Champions League run going against Werder Bremen tonight.
Anorthosis became the first Cypriot team to make it to the group stage of the competition and the five points collected so far are good for second behind only Inter Milan after four games. Victory over the German side, coupled with a Panathinaikos loss to Inter, would secure the team's passage into the competition's knock-out round.
"We are fully aware of the historic proportions of this match," team spokesman Alexandros Alexandrou said. "This is a watershed match for Anorthosis and for Cypriot football in general. But pressure is part of the game and players have to live with it and overcome it."
Playing at home bodes well for Anorthosis which beat Panathinaikos and drew with Inter at Nicosia's GSP stadium. But Alexandrou insists his players must remain level-headed against Werder. The German team is fourth in the group with three points."It's a great team we're playing and we're not taking things for granted," said Alexandrou. "We never underestimate our opponent. Our strength lies in knowing who we are."
Despite their lowly position in the group, Werder captain Torsten Frings said the team is still capable of qualifying."We want to advance and we believe we can do it," Frings said.
Their task will be made harder by the absence of striker Boubacar Sanogo, who is out with a cold. A 2-1 come-from-behind win against rivals Apollon Limassol over the weekend kept Anorthosis at the top of the Cyprus first-division standings and buoyed spirits ahead of tonight's match.
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