Barcelona missing key players while Nicosia bid to make history


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The Independent Football

Barcelona will be without Alexis Sanchez and Carles Puyol as they look to book their place in the Champions League quarter-finals tonight against Bayer Leverkusen.

Both the Chilean winger and the Spanish captain are out with groin injuries. This is the first year under Pep Guardiola that they take a lead into the last-16 second leg, having won 3-1 in Germany.

Guardiola said: "We have always played the return leg with a draw or a defeat in the first game. But the job is not done against Bayer. We controlled the first leg in the first half but they were very strong in the second half, and very fast."

Leverkusen have won a season-best three league matches in a row, including a 2-0 win over Bayern Munich, since losing to Barcelona. But they haven't won away from home in Europe in almost a decade.

Liverpool beat Barcelona 2-1 at the Nou Camp at this stage in 2007 after a 1-0 loss at Anfield, but the Spanish champions have won all three last-16 matches under Guardiola, beating Bayern Munich, Stuttgart and Arsenal by a combined 11-1.

"If we play like we did in the first half of the first leg we won't be happy but if we play as we did in the second half, in which we pressured a lot more, Barca will be stretched," Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt said.

"We have to defend well, fight, look to score and take advantage of our opportunities."

Apoel Nicosia will again try to defy expectations and overturn a 1-0 deficit against Lyons in their second leg to continue their historic Champions League run.

Apoel have already become the first Cypriot team to reach the last 16 and will rely on home advantage. The team has only lost once in 10 European matches at Nicosia's GSP stadium, and earned group-stage wins over Shakhtar Donetsk and Porto.

"Ninety minutes away from eternity," Cypriot sports daily Goal News said on its front page yesterday. The small club is still considered the underdog against Lyons, but Apoel's players know an upset will make history for the club.

"Everybody's expecting this moment, the most important in the life I believe of this club and a very important day for us as players, as a team," Apoel's Brazilian midfielder Gustavo Manduca said.

"We must score, we must win. We'll take the risk and try to do our best to continue in this competition."