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Adios to the league, admit Barca, but bring on Man Utd

SoccerNews in La Liga, UEFA Champions League 20 Apr 2008

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The Spanish league title may be as-good-as beyond the reach of Barcelona but the Catalan club’s players still believe that they can lift the bigger prize of the Champions League.

Barcelona play host to English Premiership leaders Manchester United on Wednesday in the first leg of the semi-final tie that will see the winners face either Chelsea or Liverpool in Moscow on May 21.

“We’ve got 180 minutes ahead of us to salvage the season,” said Barcelona’s Spanish international playmaker Andres Iniesta at a press conference on Sunday.

“Of course we can make the final, but we need to change our mentality from recent games. It’s going to be an intense challenge and we can’t afford to give United any chances,” he added.

Iniesta came on as a substitute at half time in Barca’s last appearance in a Champions League final two years ago and his arrival on the pitch sparked a second half revival which helped them beat Arsenal 2-1.

“However, the Champions league has been another story for us this season. An example of this is that after the disastrous game against Betis (losing 3-2 three weeks ago) we bounced back to win at Schalke,” commented Iniesta.

Iniesta’s team mates also believe that the prospect of playing United will act as motivation to redeem themselves after throwing away a host of golden opportunities to seriously challenge their bitter rivals Real Madrid for the Spanish championship.

“The (Spanish) league is now very difficult to win but I still think we’ll beat Manchester United. They are a great team but we are the favourites for the first leg,” commented Barca’s tireless midfielder Yaya Toure on Sunday.

“We know that the season is now all about playing United,” added defender Gianluca Zambrotta, after their 0-0 draw in the Nou Camp with local rivals Espanyol on Saturday night left them eight points adrift of Real with the latter outfit set to play later on Sunday.

“We’ve had a lot of problems in the league but we seem to be a different team in the Champions League and we are going to fight to the end to win it again.

“What’s important is that (Lionel) Messi is back. That’s given us a big boost,” added the Italian, who was part of their 2006 World Cup winning side.

Messi, with Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard still treading carefully in committing his mercurial Argentine winger after recent injuries, came on at half time against Espanyol and immediately injected some urgency into Barca’s previously lack-lustre attack.

“I felt good after the game, I kept up with the pace, so I finished feeling happy,” said Messi, despite not adding to his tally of nine La Liga goals this season and Barca’s being held to their third consecutive domestic draw.

“Now’s the time for the team to all get together. At least, the fans seem to be behind us again and I’m sure they will be so once more on Wednesday,” urged the runner up in the 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year awards.

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