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Maximum concentration, maximum effort and a stylish passage to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals – this is what FC Barcelona captain Carles Puyol is demanding from his team when they face Celtic FC in the first knockout round, second leg in Spain on Tuesday.
Still licking their wounds following a 4-2 weekend defeat at Club Atlético de Madrid, Barcelona understand they could be viewed as more vulnerable than normal by a relaxed Celtic side attempting to overturn a 3-2 deficit from the first leg. However, Puyol wants to banish such thoughts as quickly as possible.
"I would say the team are really hungry to get back into action after the defeat, and the best possible way for us to turn the page and move on from such disappointment is to work hard against Celtic and win the game," said the Spanish international. "I really believe that, although we didn't show it in Madrid at the weekend, the team are in good physical shape and capable of playing our best football. We're very focused and ready to do a good job."
In the first half of their domestic season, Frank Rijkaard's men achieved the club's best defensive record in 20 years. Now that Barça are scoring more themselves, however, the defensive rigidity has softened a little. Puyol, 29, is both irked by the fact and wary of giving Celtic any encouragement whatsoever.
'Respect and concentration'
"We are ahead but we know very well that anything can happen in football, and no one in this dressing room thinks the tie is won. This is a match we will treat with respect and concentration. But it's also true that as we have started to score more goals, we have conceded more too. The back four need to start working to allow the strikers to keep on scoring while conceding fewer goals."
For Puyol, an aficionado of British football, there will be a treat at the Camp Nou whatever the outcome. This will be his sixth chance in under five years to play in front of the Celtic supporters, and he remains in awe of their passion and loyalty. "I'd say that Celtic's fans are spectacular," he said. "As a professional footballer, you attempt to stay totally focused during a match and shut everything out, but with Celtic's fans that is impossible. They are just so, so noisy."
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