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Cole calls for focus ahead of Barça test

With memories of the 2009 semi-final defeat by FC Barcelona still vivid, Chelsea FC's Ashley Cole has warned his side "not to take your eye off the ball for a minute" on Wednesday.

Cole calls for focus ahead of Barça test
Cole calls for focus ahead of Barça test ©UEFA.com

Given that Chelsea FC are facing UEFA Champions League semi-final opponents who defied them in the dying seconds at this same stage three years ago, it is little wonder defender Ashley Cole has warned his side "not to take your eye off the ball for a minute" against FC Barcelona. "Any one of them could step up and do something magical," he told UEFA.com.

Cole remembers all too readily the agony of that semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge, when his side were seconds away from what would have been a repeat of the previous year's final against Manchester United FC. Michael Essien's early opener had seemingly done enough to earn the Londoners victory, until Andrés Iniesta crashed in a dramatic added-time equaliser to take the eventual champions through to the Rome showpiece on away goals.

The England left-back believes Chelsea paid the price for dropping their guard, and that is not a mistake he intends to repeat when Josep Guardiola's holders come calling again on Wednesday for the first leg in London. "Against a team like that you have to be concentrated for not just 90 minutes, but 94 or 95 minutes," said Cole. "We were doing well until the [93rd] minute when Iniesta stepped up with a great goal. So we know it's going to be tough.

"They've got a great manager who has been in this situation for years, and they've got so many world-class players that you can't take your eye off the ball for a minute, because any one of them could step up and do something magical. So we've got to be fully on our game."

No pre-match build-up involving Barcelona is complete without reference to three-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi, who has equalled Gerd Müller's long-standing competition scoring record with 14 goals this European campaign. Yet excellent though the Argentina forward has been, Cole knows there are more strings to the Azulgrana's bow than their famous No10.

"They are not just a one-man team," said Cole. "Everybody says it's all about Messi, but I don't think that's the case. All their players are world-class. Everyone thinks you've got to stop Messi and that's it, but then you get the other players who contribute. We know we've got to stop more than just Messi."

Despite the onerous nature of the task that awaits them Chelsea are in fine form. Since the departure of André Villas-Boas they have rediscovered their belief, winning nine of their last 12 matches, including Sunday's 5-1 FA Cup semi-final defeat of Tottenham Hotspur FC. Back in the last four of the UEFA Champions League for a sixth time in nine years, they also boast a 100% record at Stamford Bridge in this season's European campaign.

"The players are buzzing," added the 31-year-old veteran of 92 UEFA Champions League matches. "We went from a bad patch to progressing to the [final] of the FA Cup, and the semi-final of the Champions League ‒ not many people would have said we'd have got there in January or December. We've started to come on more as a team now, and thought 'it's down to us', because we've seen the manager go, and that was our fault, so now we've got to change things. It has turned around and hopefully we can now go on and win a trophy for the fans."

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