Manchester United return to Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium on Wednesday, the scene of one of their greatest victories, with the Champions League final again in their sights.
The reigning English champions and Premiership leaders face the Catalan club, who won the 2006 Champions League, on Wednesday in the first leg of a semi-final tie that will see the winners face either Arsenal or Liverpool.
Both Barca and Manchester United are both undefeated in this season’s Champions League and the Red Devils manager Sir Alex Ferguson is confident there will be a displays to stir the blood of every football fan.
“In the 98-99 season, we drew 3-3 in Barcelona and 3-3 in Manchester. They were great games. Those results show that both teams like to play good football and attack,” said Ferguson on Monday.
“Maybe we’ll see that again in this semi-final. It’d be great,” added the veteran Scottish coach.
The match has been billed as not only a clash between the two giant clubs but a face-to-face encounter involving two of the most exciting players on the planet: United’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barca’s Lionel Messi.
“The Champions League motivates me more than ever. I could play no part in Paris (when Barca won in 2006) and that still hurts. I have unfinished business with this competition and I want to win it,” added the inspirational Argentine.
“Messi is a very good player. It is a pleasure to play against players like him. We seem similar, we always want to score and win,” commented Ronaldo about his rival on Monday.
Ronaldo leads the Champions League scorers this season after finding the net on seven occasions but now faces Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes who has kept three successive cleans sheets ahead of Wednesday’s match.
“Our objective is to win as quickly as possible. We will play to find the best result in the Nou Camp. I want to win but at this stage there are no easy games.
“They are all very important matches where the pressure is very high for both teams and you need the maximum concentration. Anything can happen,” added Ronaldo.
Barca have had a bad run of domestic results recently, and slipped down to third in La Liga, but they have been without Messi who has now recovered from a thigh injury and will be back in harness on Wednesday.
The news that he will be on the pitch from the start has been a big boost to his team mates.
“He’s the best. He plays like he’s on a Playstation,” commented Barcelona’s prodigious striker Samuel Eto’o.
“It is very important that he (Messi) is back against United because the whole season is at stake for us in this game,” said Barca defender Gianluca Zambrotta.
“We are having problems in the league but I think everything is going to be different on Wednesday,” added the Italian World Cup winner optimistically.
The Barca players believe that with the addition of Messi they can defy the odds, both on Wednesday and across the two legs, despite the fact that most pundits have United as the favourites.
“People doubt whether we can win but these sort of challenges are for men to rise to. Remember what happened against Milan two seasons ago? They were the favourites ahead of the semi-final but we came out on top,” said Eto’o.
“It’s very important for us to get to the final and we have 180 minutes ahead of us to do so. We can do it but we need to change our mindset for the two legs, and we can’t afford to give anything away,” said midfielder Andres Iniesta.
“The Champions League has been another story to La Liga. A good example is that after a terrible game against Betis three weeks ago, we were then able to beat Shalke (in the quarter-final first leg),” added the Spanish international midfielder.
United won the 1999 Champions League in the famous Nou Camp stadium in an unforgettable 2-1 win over Bayern Munich but this time they may not leave with such happy memories if hosts Barca can fulfil their own predictions.
One concern for Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard is that Thierry Henry didn’t train on Monday due to a fever and is doubtful to face United but, after his recent poor performances, the Frenchman’s absence may not be too big a blow.
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