FC Barcelona are taking nothing for granted as they seek a point against Celtic FC to secure qualification.
By Graham Hunter in Barcelona
Eight months has always been a long time in football but the differing fortunes of Matchday 5 opponents FC Barcelona and Celtic FC since their last meeting here is remarkable.
Celtic FC came to the Camp Nou in March and mounted a heroic effort to draw 0-0 and eliminate Barcelona from the UEFA Cup but now anything less than a victory leaves them with the possibility of being eliminated from the UEFA Champions League and missing out on the UEFA Cup to boot. Meanwhile, Barcelona are widely viewed as being strong candidates to win not only their domestic league but the Champions League also – despite not having lifted any silverware since 1999.
The deep irony of Barça having lost Henrik Larsson for the rest of the season, to their fifth serious knee ligament injury in only four months, immediately before playing his old club is lost on nobody. But it will have been well received not only among the Catalan fans – but in Glasgow too – when Barcelona president Joan Laporta announced that Larsson would automatically be awarded a one-year contract extension.
"It is a great gesture of support in one of the most difficult moments in any player's career," said Blaugrana coach Frank Rijkaard. However, Rijkaard lost no time in pointing out that neither Larsson's injury nor the 3-0 Primera División victory against Real Madrid CF should be allowed to distract attention from doing a difficult but professional job against Celtic.
"No one should forget that this is the Champions League where there is never very much to separate the teams in terms of quality," Rijkaard added. "No one should forget that with a couple of minutes to go against AC Milan in the San Siro, Celtic were drawing. We will prepare against Celtic as if we were facing the best team in the world and I'll expect my players to go out and show their playing style with that in mind."
One point enough
Ludovic Giuly, who scored from one of Barça's 17 attempts on goal at Celtic Park on Matchday 1, will play in place of Larsson but Rijkaard is not expected to make any further changes to the side which defeated Madrid. One point would be enough to guarantee qualification for the knockout stages for Rijkaard's men but opposite number Martin O'Neill understands that a Ronaldinho-inspired Barcelona will be seeking revenge for that embarrassing elimination from the UEFA Cup eight months ago.
Celtic's Welsh international striker John Hartson agreed when he said: "None of us are under any illusions about how difficult this will be – it is going to take something very special to take anything from this game. Personally, I think I'll be up against one of the best defenders in the world – for Carles Puyol is certainly one of the best four central defenders anywhere."
Celtic's problems in team selection centre on the fitness of full-back Didier Agathe, who will need a late fitness test, and Dianbobo Balde, whose wife is due to give birth. Both men remain in contention to start and O'Neill laid out his intentions when he said: "
We need to rectify our lack of away victories in the Champions League.
"Our task is enormous because they are playing fantastic football and possess the best player in the world right now in Ronaldinho. But we will focus on our job and give everything we have."