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Messi and Benzema clash in Euro hotshot battle

SoccerNews in La Liga, Ligue 1, UEFA Champions League 24 Feb 2009

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Lionel Messi and Karim Benzema, top scorers in this season’s Champions League, hold the key to Tuesday’s second round, first leg clash between Lyon and Barcelona which should be an attacking feast.

Both men have five goals in this year’s competition to share top spot in the goal charts with Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard and Miroslav Klose of Bayern Munich.

Argentine ace Messi likes coming up against the seven-time French champions.

Last season, he scored in both group games which finished 2-2 in France and a comfortable 3-0 win in Barcelona as the Spanish giants, twice European champions, made it as far as the semi-finals.

However, Barcelona did not have the best preparation for Tuesday’s clash, losing 2-1 to city rivals Espanyol. It was their first defeat since the opening day of the season, ending a 22-match unbeaten run.

“Nobody said this was going to be easy,” said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. “It was a demanding match and we need our players to recover from it.”

Like Barcelona, Lyon are on top of their domestic league, but coach Claude Puel believes his side have the toughest assignment of the entire Champions Legaue second round draw.

“It?s the most difficult draw we could have faced, given that Barcelona is the best team in the world at the moment,” said Puel.

“It?ll be difficult for us, but I think we have a chance if we play as a team and produce good football. Barcelona have some great individual players, but we have a great team.

“We can produce some great football, and we need to play as a team in order to win.”

Lyon, for whom the sought-after Benzema hit his 12th league goal of the season in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Nancy, will need to shore up a leaky defence having conceded ten goals in the group stage, more than any other side left in the last 16.

In stark contrast, no other team scored as many goals as Barcelona in the group stage with 18 in six matches.

Barcelona will be without French international defender Eric Abidal, a former Lyon star, for the both legs of the tie after injuring his leg in Saturday’s defeat.

Barcelona paid Lyon 15 million euros for Abidal in June 2007 after the player made his mark for France at the 2006 World Cup finals.

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