Eric Abidal confesses he grimaced in disbelief when the UEFA Champions League draw paired FC Barcelona with Olympique Lyonnais, not only in Group E but in the first match of the campaign.
The athletic French left-back earned a move to Camp Nou during the summer, abandoning Lyon despite the hardest efforts of his president to convince him to stay. Now, after a hesitant start to Barcelona's domestic season, Abidal's team-mates face a stern examination against the French champions. But the defender also faces the extra test of imposing himself on strikers, such as Sidney Govou, who know his strengths and weakness intimately.
"Obviously fate wanted it to be this way," grins Abidal now that he has digested his unwished-for twist of fortune. "I must admit I didn't want to play Lyon two months after leaving and face them twice in the group stage. My preference would have been for the two clubs to meet in the semi-final or perhaps even the final - with Barcelona winning of course. It's irrelevant that I will go up against Govou, I have to ignore that and nullify him just as all our team need to block Lyon's best players."
Despite winning sequential French titles during his three seasons at the Stade Gerland, Abidal accepts his leaving could have been more stylish and less contentious. However, despite his willingness to help Frank Rijkaard plan Lyon's defeat, the defender wants to be clear that he bears no grudge against either his former club. "This really isn't about revenge for me; I think I gave my best for Lyon and then moved on - they were good years. But I'll give all the information I'm able to if it will help my new team-mates and the Barça coach construct an important win in our first group game."
One of Abidal's former cohorts at Lyon, Juninho Pernambucano, relishes the prospect of not only pitching himself against the defender but against his Brazil international team-mate Ronaldinho, as well as enjoying the special atmosphere. "The Camp Nou is a mythical, legendary stadium and I'm as excited as a little boy to be playing here once more," admitted the playmaker. "I don't care if some people believe Barcelona are not playing well, they have the individual ability to do something special at any moment so we will need to excel ourselves in order to win."