FC Barcelona know from three previous trips to Poland their tie with Legia Warszawa will be tricky.
By Massimo Gonnella
FC Barcelona will once again start their European campaign against a Polish club. After a tough encounter with TS Wisla Kraków in last year's third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League, the Catalans play host to Legia Warszawa on Wednesday.
The Spanish side were 4-3 victors in the away leg in Kraków last term, with a hat-trick from Rivaldo and one goal from Patrick Kluivert. However, in the return match in Camp Nou it took them 72 minutes before Luis Enrique broke the deadlock to secure Barcelona's route into the Champions League.
Indeed, Barcelona have struggled against Polish sides before. In the second round of the 1988/89 European Cup Winners' Cup, they drew 1-1 against KKS Lech Poznan both home and away, before winning the tie 5-4 on penalties. The following season, they met Legia in the first round of the same competition and again they could do no better than a 1-1 draw at home. Two weeks later, Barcelona travelled to Poland and slipped through following a ninth-minute strike from Michael Laudrup.
So it comes as no surprise that Barcelona are preparing meticulously for the tie against Legia. New signing Gaizka Mendieta said: "We have to look to be decisive in the first leg, but we know that Legia will do their best to give us a hard time. It will be important to prevent them from scoring. I think we will need a 3-0 victory - a 2-0 win would be a dangerous result.
'Match of the season'
"They have the advantage of having already started their season," added Mendieta. "To play the second leg in front of their supporters will also give them an additional boost. Just as it is for us, it will be the most important match of the season for Legia."
Kluivert and Michael Reiziger will be fit for the match against Legia after recovering from slight injuries. Kluivert did not train on Monday due to a muscle problem in his right leg, while Reiziger is back after picking up a sprain during last week’s friendly against Newcastle United FC. Coach Louis van Gaal's only doubt is Gerard López, who is still recovering from a foot injury. Patrick Andersson and Marc Overmars are yet to return after surgery, so new signing Juan Román Riquelme should make an entrance at some point.
Kluivert the key
Head coach Dragomir Okuka insisted the key to success for his team would be to keep Kluivert quiet and Belarussian international Sergiej Omeljanczuk has been given the job of man-marking the Dutch international. Unable to count on the services of Polish international Jacek Zielinski, who is still injured, Okuka is likely to field the same team that played on Saturday against KS Amica Wronki in the Polish first division.
"We have a small chance of qualifying for the group stage but we will do our best to make it," said Okuka. Legia have drawn their first two matches of the season and are currently lying in tenth position in the league.
The tie will be Barcelona's 125th match in the European Champion Clubs' Cup, while Legia will be playing their 35th. Barcelona have won the competition once, back in 1992, and Legia's best result came in 1970 when they reached the semi-finals, losing to Feyenoord 2-0 on aggregate.