FC Barcelona are dreaming of conquering Europe for the first time in ten years.
The Catalan dream factories have been working overtime since FC Barcelona secured their UEFA Champions League quarter-final berth on Matchday Twelve. Already they are churning out the usual hype about a possible semi-final collision with Real Madrid CF. But the Camp Nou club must avoid thinking they are through - and remember that Panathinaikos FC are the first item on the docket for Carles Rexach's side.
Like the city's great Gothic cathedral, confidence is sky high in the Ciudad Condal. Key to the new mood of optimism was the Azulgrana's 1-0 win at Galatasaray SK which clinched their place in the last eight. This coincided with a decent run of results in the league, but Europe remains the priority. The popular belief is that Rexach's side have a better chance of success in Europe than at home, where they lie sixth in the Primera División. With the Netherlands out of the FIFA World Cup, the Dutch players in particular will be pinning their hopes of silverware on the Champions League. And if Rivaldo finds his form, and Luis Enrique his fitness, those aspirations may yet be fulfilled.
It may be April, but Barça still do not have a fixed way of playing. Rexach seems to be caught between two schools: one traditional, the other apparently better suited to his players. The former hinges on a midfield distributor - formerly Josep Guardiola, now Xavi Hernández - and two wingers. Rexach normally picks two from Rivaldo, Patrick Kluivert and Javier Saviola to feed off the wide men. Plan B is to use two 'tapones' or plugs in midfield in Philip Cocu and Fabio Rochemback behind the attacking trio. Fans want to see Xavi dictating the game, as he did in the league draw with Madrid. But there is no guarantee of seeing Rivaldo alongside him. The Brazilian has blown hot and cold in a season punctuated by injuries and internationals.
First group stage:
Catalonia's finest were confirmed as Group F winners thanks to victories against Olympique Lyonnais and Fenerbahçe SK. However, both came courtesy of last-minute goals and flattered Barcelona. Not that they did not deserve to progress, having beaten the French and Turkish sides home and away. Fellow quarter-finalists Bayer 04 Leverkusen were a tougher nut to crack, and edged past Barça 2-1 at the BayArena only to succumb by the same score at Camp Nou.
Second group stage:
Barcelona topped the so-called 'group of death' despite winning just two out of six games. The successes came in their first and last games in the section, against Liverpool FC at Anfield and Galatasaray SK at the Ali Sami Yen. This added more than a neat touch of symmetry; it also gave Rexach's men enough points to be able to afford a 3-0 defeat against AS Roma in Italy.
UEFA Champions League statistics:
Played: 12 Won: 7 Drawn: 3 Lost: 2 Goals scored: 19 Goals against: 12
Top goalscorer: Kluivert (6)
Last five results:
30 March Primera División UD Las Palmas (h) 1-1
24 March Primera División Real Valladolid (a) 2-1
19 March UEFA Champions League Galatasaray SK (a) 1-0
16 March Primera División Real Madrid CF (h) 1-1
13 March UEFA Champions League FC Barcelona (h) 0-0