Barcelona digs for fire

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Wednesday match against Manchester United spells the club’s last chance to salvage season.

23 April 2008

MADRID - As what has been a bitterly disappointing season draws to a close, Barcelona would have one last chance to win over its disgruntled fans at Camp Nou on Wednesday.

Victory over Manchester United will take Frank Rijkaard's under-fire team to the verge of the Champions League final, but to do so the Catalans will have to conjure up some of the magic missing since 2006, when they took the European trophy in style.

Two years on - seasons in which Barça has ceded Liga supremacy to Real Madrid and seen the form of a player who had widely been considered the best in the world, Ronaldinho, go from being a blessing to a source of constant, morale-sapping speculation - hardly anyone seems to expect Barcelona to be able to handle another English team the way it dealt with Arsenal that night in Paris.

Ronaldinho is out of the game and the rest of the season with a mysterious muscle injury, and the mantle of world's best has settled on United's Portuguese winger, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Under veteran coach Alex Ferguson, the English champion is on fine attacking form, as shown by its impressive 3-0 aggregate victory over Roma in the quarterfinals.

Barcelona, meanwhile, struggled to put away Germany's Schalke, arguably the weakest side in the last eight, and a run of just one win in eight Liga matches has produced a series of howling protests from Barça fans.

More bad news for coach Rijkaard is that captain Carles Pujol will miss Wednesday's semi-final first leg through suspension, with Rafa Márquez to take his place in central defence. Thierry Henry is suffering from flu, so it will be Samuel Eto'o providing experience in the front line, probably alongside youngsters Bojan Krkic and Leo Messi, recently back from injury and the home team's brightest hope of fighting fire with fire.

[El Pais / J. Badcock / Expatica]

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