On-loan midfielder Aleksandr Hleb thought it was "some kind of a joke" when he was told VfB Stuttgart had been paired with FC Barcelona in the first knockout round, noting: "You cannot outplay Barça."
The Belarussian midfielder, 28, was loaned to Stuttgart – who he first represented from 2000 to 2005 – after helping Barcelona win a famous treble last season, and was somewhat startled to hear he would be facing his old team-mates in the UEFA Champions League. "When I heard we were playing Barcelona I thought it was some kind of a joke," he admitted.
He is in no doubt of the task that faces Christian Gross's side. "Everyone in that team can settle a match on their own," Hleb said. "Barcelona are the strongest team in the Champions League, but anything is possible in football. If they have a bad day and we have some good luck, maybe we could cause a sensation. We have to be totally committed in both games and try our luck on the counterattack to be successful. You cannot outplay Barcelona."
'A great test'
Team captain Matthieu Delpierre, who played in the second of Stuttgart's two defeats by Barcelona in the 2007/08 group stage – the sides' only previous meetings – accentuated the positives, saying: "Barcelona have an outstanding team; they are one of the strongest teams in Europe. This is a very difficult challenge for us, but a great test too. We will do all we can to make the impossible possible."
Barcelona are busy at the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, but technical director Aitor 'Txiki' Begiristan kept an eye on the draw. "It will be a difficult test but one we can overcome," he said. "We refuse to get sucked in to a situation where we are over-confident. It will be a great chance for us to see how Aleksandr Hleb is doing and what sort of form he is in."
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