Coach Frank Rijkaard believes FC Barcelona's encounter with Udinese Calcio at Camp Nou could play a significant role in deciding the destiny of Group C after both clubs tasted victory as the UEFA Champions League got under way.
Duo to return
"This game is very important," Rijkaard said. "With both of us having won our first game, this match could prove decisive." With that in mind, the Dutchman is ready to welcome back Ronaldinho and Deco after the duo were rested for Saturday's 4-1 win at Real Betis Balompié. The move caused some controversy in Spain, although Rijkaard explained he had fully clarified his reasons to the players themselves.
"They both accepted my decision after I spoke with them and told them why I was doing it," said the 42-year-old. "The problems surrounding the decision were all created by the media. The squad is united and we are all working towards the same thing. Nothing has changed within the squad because of this."
Mark van Bommel, particularly impressive as Betis were brushed aside, and Henrik Larsson are likely to make way for the attacking twosome as the Catalans look to build on their 2-0 Matchday 1 success at Werder Bremen, although Rijkaard was "not prepared to say whether any player deserves to play". Brazil defender Edmílson and France forward Ludovic Giuly have both been omitted from the squad as the coach concentrates on resting players for the season ahead, but there is a place for Lionel Messi after the Argentinian international was granted Spanish citizenship on Monday.
Not wanting to dwell on the problems at Udinese, where Italy striker Vincenzo Iaquinta has been dropped following his refusal to sign a new deal, Rijkaard pointed out that even without Iaquinta the visitors from Serie A pose a threat. "We are not thinking they will be weaker without Iaquinta," he explained. "
We cannot lower our guard. They are an Italian team and are capable of defending a result."
First away game
There is no doubting, however, that the absence of a player who scored a scintillating hat-trick in the 3-0 Group C triumph against Panathinaikos FC, will affect Udinese in what is their first away match in the Champions League. "If there is one difficult match, then this is it," said coach Serse Cosmi before giving a succinct "yes" when asked whether he would be pleased with a draw.
"Barcelona are the strongest team in the group and it is logical and natural that they see this game as one they should win. For us, any positive result would be great because we know very well who our main rivals in this section are," Cosmi added, referring to Panathinaikos and Bremen. Udinese go into the match on the back of three domestic defeats, but can take confidence from the ease with which they dismantled the Greek side.
Cosmi did not hide the fact he is still a fan of the game at heart, and revealed he is intent on asking Ronaldinho for his shirt as a present for his son, saying of the brilliant Brazilian: "He represents the great things in football and always has a smile on his face. He is a reference point in world football." With Iaquinta out of the picture, the coach should again pair Antonio Di Natale and David Di Michele in attack.
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