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Three days after their shock home Liga defeat by Hercules CF, FC Barcelona begin their UEFA Champions League campaign at home to Panathinaikos FC in Group D and coach Josep Guardiola believes his players, if still tired from Spain's FIFA World Cup triumph, will respond well to their loss. Panathinaikos coach Nikos Nioplias, meanwhile, concedes that his team are clear underdogs.
Josep Guardiola, Barcelona coach
I never got angry with the players [on Saturday]. We have never had so many Barcelona players in the national team and they reached the final and that has a price and it means they need more time to rest. I never used it as an excuse but it's a reality. We can't live off the six trophies, it's one of those common sentences, a bit of a corny sentence even ... the team wants to carry on winning, they are upset about losing. The day they don't get upset, then we will change half the team or I will leave. I can make life difficult for them, but I can never doubt them.
I expect the strongest possible opposition, as usual. I don't know if they will come to attack, defend or counterattack, but Panathinaikos are a club with a great history in the Greek league, with lots of experienced players. I imagine they are more defensive away from home than in Athens, but it's vital to win the Champions League home games. We want to get back to our best.
Nikos Nioplias, Panathinaikos coach
It's a great moment for the fans as well as for the team. Everyone knows Barcelona, and everyone is amazed by their team, by the football they play, so there's not much more to say there. They are very strong and after losing a game they are even stronger. Surprises can always happen, Barcelona can lose a match but the best team will always finish top of the group. The other three teams in our group can come second.
In a league you can see which team is the best and I can see Barcelona being the better side tomorrow and favourites for the title. Our rivals are the other three teams in our group, not Barcelona. Tomorrow we can draw, win or lose, but the important thing is the outcome of the group. But I have never said we need a miracle.
Carles Puyol has not featured this season after pulling up with a left calf injury during the warm-up before Barcelona's Liga opener against Real Racing Club but he is available to face Panathinaikos. Jeffrén tore his left thigh muscle in training with Spain's Under-21s earlier this month.
Along with Giourkas Seitaridis (quadriceps) and Antonis Petropoulos (groin), Giorgos Karagounis (thigh) and Nikos Spyropoulos (knee) missed the weekend game against Aris Thessaloniki FC after picking up injuries on international duty with Greece.
11/09/10 Barcelona 0-2 Hercules CF
(Valdez 27 59)
Javier Mascherano made his debut and Adriano and Bojan Krkić came into the starting lineup as Barcelona suffered their first defeat at the Camp Nou since a 2-1 loss to Sevilla FC in the Copa del Rey on 5 January. Hercules had also won on their last visit to Barcelona, recording a 3-2 victory against Sir Bobby Robson's side in 1996/97.
11/09/10 Aris Thessaloniki FC 0-1 Panathinaikos
Nioplias made four changes to the team held 1-1 at home to Xanthi FC on the opening day of the season, Stergos Marinos, Loukas Vyntra, Gilberto Silva and goalkeeper Djibril Cissé all coming into the starting lineup. Barcelona old boy Luís García came off the bench to make his Panathinaikos debut.
Did you know?
The Greens' García started his career at La Masia, Barcelona's famous academy, along with Puyol, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Víctor Valdés. All five were members of the Barcelona team in 2003/04 before García joined Liverpool FC.
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