F.C. Barcelona went through a light training and preparatory session at lunchtime today at the Camp Nou in advance of the return leg of their last 16 Champions League tie against A.C. Milan this evening. However, the Blaugrana know that their attitude and approach to the game once the match has kicked off can be anything but light as they seek to overturn a first leg deficit.
All of the comments emanating from players, staff and directors in the build up have been positive, stating that the comeback is possible and will be achieved. Twitter campaigns have been set up by the club and various media outlets in support of the comeback. Gerard Piqué was extremely clear with his statement during yesterday’s press conference, “We need 90,000 people to believe it is possible that we will progress, whoever does not believe should give their ticket to their children, or friends”.
Xavi recently stated that he believed that the only thing lacking to achieve from this generation of Barça players is a great comeback. They had won everything else and surely deserved credit and the full backing of their fans in the aim to achieve this.
This revived memories of previous comebacks achieved by other generations of players to wear the famous shirt. In 1985/86 season the side managed by Terry Venables were making only their fourth appearance in the competition, having won the league for the 1st time in 12 years the previous campaign. the side had lost the first leg of the European Cup semi-final 3-0 in Gothenburg on a frozen pitch and looked all but out.
The second leg at the Camp Nou was a sensational night, a hat-trick by Pichi Alonso taking the tie into extra time and penalties. Urruti was the hero between the sticks and it was left to Victor Muñoz to score the winning penalty. A young Pep Guardiola was a ball boy on the night and can be seen celebrating on the pitch with the players.
Guardiola would play a part in another great European comeback, but this time as a player. Barça had lost the first leg 3-1 in London to a Chelsea side on the up under Gianluca Vialli. The second leg at the Camp Nou was again a different story with another epic fight back and more extra time. This time though a penalty from Rivaldo and a Patrick Kluivert header from a Guardiola cross settled the match before the dreaded spectre of another penalty shoot out.
That Barça side contained a large Dutch presence, but the current side are mainly homegrown and most appear for the current World and European Champions at national level, prompting Vicente del Bosque’s comments today.
The Spanish coach has stated that it would be bad for Spain if Barça were to be eliminated, especially with two World Cup qualifiers coming up, including the vital group decider against France in Paris. The coach fears that the Barça players will be crestfallen should they go out to Milan and this will affect their performance in Paris.
Xavi has been passed fit and is likely to start, improving the chances of his and other players predictions coming true. Barça will play with their strongest side, some predict with a defensive three. The most probably lineup will be Valdés; Jordi Alba, Piqué, Puyol, Dani Alves; Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Messi and Alexis Sánchez although many are calling for the introduction of Tello and Villa upfront.
As Pep Guardiola told his squad before the FIFA Club World Championship Final in 2009, “If you lose today you will still be the best team in the World, if you win you will be eternal”. Those same words will echo in the Camp Nou dressing room tonight before the players take to the field.