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FC Schalke 04 coach Mirko Slomka described the visit of FC Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals as "a proud moment in the club's history" and urged his players to capitalise fully on having home advantage in Tuesday's first leg.
A dramatic penalty shoot-out win over FC Porto has taken Schalke into the last eight of Europe's premier club competition for the first time in almost half a century. They were eliminated 4-1 on aggregate by Club Atlético de Madrid in 1958/59, yet Slomka is confident of avoiding more disappointment at the hands of Spanish opponents. "Getting past Porto has given us belief and now we're here, we want to go on," the 40-year-old said, having seen his team go third in the Bundesliga after drawing 0-0 at Karlsruher SC on Saturday.
Perhaps looking to relieve the pressure on his players, Slomka portrayed the meeting with the two-time European champions as "a normal game of football that will pit eleven players against eleven", although even the phlegmatic German struggled to hide his excitement completely. "Every Schalke player and supporter is proud to be part of such a prestigious game," he said. "Our fans give us a big advantage on these European nights and if we play with passion and maintain a high tempo, we have a great chance to beat one of the best sides in Europe."
Schalke may find it hard to dictate the pace without key midfielders Jermaine Jones (suspended), Albert Streit (thigh) and Ivan Rakitić (ankle), yet Slomka is backing holding players Fabian Ernst and Levan Kobiashvili to nullify Barcelona's creative threat. "We need them to be disciplined because it's vital we don't concede," he said. "Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Deco are missing [through injury] but the heartbeat of the Barcelona side is the midfield and that sector remains extremely strong with Xavi Hernández, Yaya Touré and Andrés Iniesta."
Barcelona have also been boosted by news that Samuel Eto'o should start after recovering from the calf strain he sustained during Saturday's 3-2 loss at Real Betis Balompié. That was the Blaugrana's fourth defeat in their last six domestic matches – leaving them third in the Primera División – and coach Frank Rijkaard demanded a swift improvement. "We have to get better quickly because we can't afford a repeat of Saturday night against Schalke," he said. "We're in for a hard match against one of the best teams in Germany and hopefully that will bring the best out of the players."
Rijkaard's greatest concern is the number of goals his side are conceding. The returns to fitness of centre-backs Rafael Márquez and Gabriel Milito, neither of whom featured at the weekend, will offer the Dutchman more options, although he insisted the lapses that have seen Barça's defence breached 15 times in the last seven games are down to collective, rather than individual, errors. "If you look at the players, you see they are all great defenders who have shown their quality in the past," he said. "The problem is collective because you can't point the finger at any one player. It's up to us to resolve it as a team."
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