Barca Can Hurt Inter Without Messi, Valverde Warns

Barcelona’s Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde looks on during the UEFA Champions League group F football match between FC Barcelona and SK Slavia Prague at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on November 5, 2019.
LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Lionel Messi’s absence for already-qualified Barcelona will not make them less able to stop Inter Milan gaining their spot in the Champions League last 16, coach Ernesto Valverde insisted Monday.

Barcelona are already through to the knockout stages as Group F winners after Messi scored and set up two more in a convincing 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund last time out, a victory which means Inter will ensure themselves a spot in the next round with a win over the La Liga leaders at the San Siro on Tuesday.

Six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi broke yet another record by hitting his 35th La Liga hat-trick on Saturday as Barca maintained top spot in Spain with a 5-2 win over Mallorca.

“Messi needs to rest,” Valverde told reporters. “We’re coming off many consecutive games and we have other important ones to play, so I left him at home.

“He’s a decisive player, but our goal tomorrow does not change, we want to win against Inter.

“We know what he represents for the opponents, but last year he didn’t play in both games against Inter, and we still had a high level.

“We are already qualified but it remains a game of great value.”

Messi and midfielder Sergi Roberto have been left out of Barca’s 20-man squad along with the injured Ousmane Dembele, Jordi Alba, Nelson Semedo and Gerard Pique.

The Argentine’s absence means that they will be relying on Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez to supply the goals, while teenage prodigy Ansu Fati could be fit to play.

Inter are four points behind Barca in second, level on seven points with Borussia Dortmund. The Italians need to match or better Dortmund’s result at home to Slavia Prague to qualify as their superior head-to-head record will see them through should the two clubs finish on the same number of points.

‘Heads Held High’

“They have great players like (Romelu) Lukaku and Lautaro (Martinez) who score a lot,” Valverde said of Inter’s strike duo, who have scored 24 of the team’s 40 goals this season.

“Lautaro is a great player, fast and powerful, he’s having a great season.”

Inter coach Antonio Conte also has injury worries with Stefano Sensi, Nicolo Barella, Alexis Sanchez and Roberto Gagliardini all out.

“Barcelona are calm in first place and will play without pressure and can create problems,” said 50-year-old Conte.

“We have to give everything knowing that it might not be enough.”

Barcelona beat Inter 2-1 at Camp Nou last time out, but Conte believes his Serie A leaders have grown since then.

“We played very well at Barcelona, with great courage and personality, but the defeat came thanks to their great players,” he said.

“It’s been a while, we’ve grown in some respects. But we would be fools to think we won’t suffer when Barca are in possession.”

The former Chelsea and Juventus coach hopes the home crowd of 72,000 can pull the three-time European champions through with their “heads held high”.

“Our stadium can give us a lot of positive energy and I’m sure it will,” added the Italian.

“We all want to get to the last 16, it would be a prestigious achievement.”

Messi To Miss Barca’s Champions League Trip To Inter

Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi waves before the 54th Joan Gamper Trophy friendly football match between Barcelona and Arsenal at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on August 4, 2019. Josep LAGO / AFP

 

Barcelona star Lionel Messi will not make the trip to Italy for Tuesday’s Champions League game against Inter Milan, the Spanish club confirmed on Monday. 

Barcelona are already through to the last 16 after six-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi scored in a convincing 3-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund last time out.

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The Spaniards are also sure of finishing top of Group F as they have 11 points from five games.

Antonio Conte’s Inter still have to book their place in the last 16. They are second, level on seven points with Borussia Dortmund who host Slavia Prague.

Inter will qualify if the two clubs finish on the same number of points due to their superior head-to-head goal difference.

AFP

Messi, Rapinoe Tipped To Win 2019 Ballon d’Or Honours

 

Lionel Messi and USA women’s World Cup superstar Megan Rapinoe are tipped to leave Paris later on Monday with the 2019 Ballon d’Or awards.

It would be an enormous shock if Rapinoe did not depart the Chatelet Theatre with the women’s prize as she returns to the country where she was the driving force on and off the field for the United States as they retained their title.

The suspense surrounds the identity of the men’s winner, 12 months after Croatia’s Luka Modric claimed the crown thanks to his exploits in dragging his country to the World Cup final and winning the Champions League with Real Madrid.

That ended a decade in which Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo had won the Ballon d’Or five times each, but the smart money now is on the Barcelona man claiming number six.

There are 30 nominees in total for the prize, organised by France Football magazine and voted for by 180 journalists from around the world.

 The case for Van Dijk

Among the names is Ronaldo, as well as several of the stars of the Liverpool side who won the Champions League, chief among them Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk.

At one point he looked like the favourite, but Messi already pipped him to FIFA’s The Best title in September.

“In matches that are close and intense, having Leo (Messi) is always a big advantage,” said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde after the 32-year-old scored a late winner against Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Messi top-scored in La Liga last season with 36 goals as Barcelona won the title. He did not have a great Copa America with Argentina, but his genius is undeniable.

“If you give the Ballon d’Or to the best player of this generation then you should give it always to Lionel Messi. That’s how it is,” admitted Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

“But if you give it to the best player of last season, then it was Virgil van Dijk. I don’t know exactly how it will work but that is how I see it.”

The value of individual honours in football is debatable, and the timing unsatisfactory, coming midway through the European club season.

Yet surely nobody could suggest Rapinoe would not be a deserving winner of just the second women’s Ballon d’Or, an award voted for by a panel of 48 journalists.

Norway’s Ada Hegerberg won it in 2018 but will not retain her title after missing the World Cup.

Among the stars of that tournament to be nominated are England’s Lucy Bronze, Netherlands striker Vivianne Miedema, Australia’s Sam Kerr and the USA trio of Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle and Tobin Heath.

However Rapinoe, the 34-year-old feminist icon and outspoken critic of US President Donald Trump, should add this honour to those of Golden Boot winner for top scorer and Golden Ball for best player at the World Cup.

Even her supposed rivals seem to be rooting for her.

“She does lots of things off the pitch, but I think she is the favourite to win the Ballon d’Or mainly down to her performances during the World Cup,” Bronze told France Football.

AFP

Messi First To Score In 15 Straight Champions League Seasons

Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi (2nd L) scores the 0-1 against Slavia Prague’s Czech goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar (R) during the UEFA Champions League football match between SK Slavia Prague and FC Barcelona at Sinobo Stadium in Prague, Czech Republic on October 23, 2019.
Michal CIZEK / AFP

 

Lionel Messi became the first ever player to score at least once in 15 consecutive Champions League seasons after opening the scoring at Slavia Prague on Wednesday.

The 32-year-old Argentinian beat goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar with a low left-footed shot after robbing midfielder Petr Sevcik outside the Slavia box and a quick exchange with Arthur who put him through neatly.

The goal was Messi’s 113th overall from 138 Champions League appearances.

AFP

Messi Admits Tax Problems Made Him Want To Leave Barcelona

FILE PHOTO: Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi looks downwards during the Spanish league football match against Granada FC at Nuevo Los Carmenes stadium in Granada on September 21, 2019. PHOTO: JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

 

Lionel Messi has admitted he wanted to leave Barcelona when he was under investigation from the Spanish tax authorities but insists now he intends to finish his career at the club. 

In an interview with Catalan radio station RAC1, Messi also said he had expected Neymar to sign for Real Madrid last summer after Barca failed to strike an agreement with Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi and his father Jorge were found guilty of defrauding Spain of 4.1 million euros in taxes between 2007 and 2009, for which they paid close to 10 million euros and Messi was handed a 21-month suspended prison sentence.

Asked on Tuesday night if he had ever wanted to leave Barcelona, Messi said: “In 2013-14, when I started having the tax problems, it was very difficult for me and my family.”

“My children were young and we had a very bad time. At that time, I had it in mind to leave, not because I wanted to leave Barca but because I wanted to leave Spain. I felt mistreated and I didn’t want to be here anymore.”

The 32-year-old’s current contract expires in 2021 and Messi believes extending his deal “will not be a problem”.

“Today it is clearer that my idea is to finish here,” Messi said. “For how I am at the club, for what I feel, and for the family and the children and how settled we are in this city. I would not like to disrupt that.

“Of course anything can happen but in principle, the idea is to stay here.”

Messi began playing football aged six for Newell’s Old Boys, the Rosario club he supports in Argentina.

“I always dreamed of being able to play again for Newell’s and to have the experience of playing football in Argentina,” he said.

“But I have already told them that sometimes you have to think about what is best for your family.”

– No rift with Griezmann –

Messi was keen to be reunited with Neymar last summer but Barcelona were unable to agree a fee with PSG.

“I honestly thought at one time, especially in this market, that if he did not come here, he would go to Real Madrid Madrid because I thought he wanted to leave,” Messi said.

“I wanted Ney to come because as a footballer, he is one of the best in the world. He is unpredictable, different and having him in our team would have given us more options.”

Barcelona did sign Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid, despite him rejecting the Catalans the year before. Messi denies suggestions of a rift between him and the Frenchman.

“The first year when we wanted to sign Griezmann, I said he was one of the best and that the best are always welcome,” Messi said. “I have never had problem with him coming. So it’s a lie.”

Messi also offered his support to Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, who has been under pressure after a bumpy start to the season followed the team’s Champions League collapse against Liverpool in May.

“It was not the coach’s fault but it was also not my decision for him to stay,” Messi said. “The club decided Valverde would continue and for me that was a joy, good for stability and he is a coach we support and love.

“If another coach comes, we will be with him. To achieve success, we all have to be united.”

Messi scored his first goal of the season in a 4-0 thrashing of Sevilla on Sunday, after two months spoiled by calf and thigh injuries.

“I’m still a bit short but I’m feeling better,” Messi said. “My legs hurt against Sevilla but it’s what happens when you come back. I’m getting closer.”

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Valverde Excited By Messi And Suarez Rekindlng Partnership

Barcelona’s Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde gestures during the UEFA Champions league semi-final second leg football match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on May 7, 2019. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has said it is a huge boost to have Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez back together again and hopes the pair can reignite their deadly partnership as soon as possible.

Barca play at home to Sevilla on Sunday in La Liga, when they could register a fourth consecutive victory after league wins over Villarreal and Getafe before their Champions League success against Inter Milan on Wednesday.

Suarez scored twice against Inter, including a late winner set up by Messi, who was making only his second start of the season at the Camp Nou following calf and thigh injuries. Suarez also suffered a calf injury in August.

Together, the pair scored 76 goals for Barcelona last season.

“It is clear they have both now recovered,” Valverde said in a press conference on Saturday.

“They are crucial for us, they have some catching up to do because of their injuries but they have to find their connection again. This is an important match.”

Antoine Griezmann started alongside Messi and Suarez in a front three against Inter but the Frenchman was quiet and his place could come under threat.

Ousmane Dembele is fit again after shaking off a hamstring strain while Ansu Fati is close to recovering from a knee problem and could be an option against Sevilla. The 21-year-old Carles Perez has also impressed.

“Every game is different, it can be one player for one game, another for another,” Valverde said.

“We will see who plays. We have Griezmann and Dembele and we also have another possibility, which is Carles Perez.”

On Fati’s fitness, Valverde said: “I am feeling optimistic, we will assess today whether he is ready or not. He is young, he still needs to mature physically and get used to the demands at this level.

“When a youngster like this comes through, everyone wants them to be thrown in the deep end all the time, but we forget he is only 16 years old.”

Jordi Alba has been out for almost three weeks with a thigh injury but trained too on Saturday and could return.

Sevilla have made a decent start to the season under their new coach Julen Lopetegui. Like Barcelona, they have 13 points after seven games played, five points behind frontrunners Real Madrid.

“Games against Sevilla are always intense,” Valverde said.

AFP

Messi, Dembele Back For Barca Ahead Of Inter Tie

Ousmane Dembele of Barcelona during the warm-up before the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Levante UD at Camp Nou on April 27, 2019 in Barcelona, Spain.  Jose Breton / NurPhoto

 

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele were back in partial training Monday ahead of this week’s Champions League clash against Inter Milan.

Both were out of action Saturday with thigh injuries for the club’s La Liga victory against Getafe but were able to participate in some of Monday’s session.

“Messi and Ousmane Dembele joined the group for a portion of the session,” Barcelona said in a statement.

If they are passed fit it will be good news for coach Ernesto Valverde ahead of an important week for the club, which includes a La Liga home match against Sevilla on Sunday as well as Wednesday’s Champions League game.

AFP

Barcelona Confirm Messi Thigh Strain

Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi reacts on the ground during the Spanish league football match between FC Barcelona and Villarreal CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, on September 24, 2019. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Lionel Messi has sustained a strain in his left thigh, Barcelona confirmed on Wednesday.

Messi was substituted at half-time of Barca’s 2-1 win over Villarreal on Tuesday in what was the striker’s first start of the season.

He had previously been out with a calf injury sustained on August 5 and Barcelona have not indicated when they expect their captain to return from his latest setback.

“First team player Leo Messi has a strain in the adductor of his left thigh,” a club statement read. “He is out and his recovery will dictate his availability.”

Messi is expected to miss his team’s visit to Getafe in La Liga on Saturday.

Barcelona then play at home to Inter Milan in the Champions League next Wednesday before hosting Sevilla in the league four days later.

They will hope to have the 32-year-old back as soon as possible, particularly after a rocky opening to the season that has included only three wins from seven matches in all competitions.

After recovering from his calf problem, Messi made substitute appearances against Borussia Dortmund and Granada before being deemed ready to start against Villarreal.

He set up the opening goal, providing the cross for Antoine Griezmann to head in after six minutes. Despite Messi going off at the interval, Barca secured a comfortable 2-1 victory at Camp Nou.

AFP

Van Dijk Battles Ronaldo, Messi For World Best Player

Liverpool’s Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk acknowledges supporters during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Huddersfield at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on April 26, 2019. Oli SCARFF / AFP

 

Virgil Van Dijk threatens to eclipse fellow European stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to lift FIFA’s The Best Player award on Monday, to set himself up as favourite for this year’s Ballon d’Or.

Van Dijk, Ronaldo and Messi are the three men’s finalists for The Best Player award, with the winner to be announced on Monday in a star-studded ceremony in Milan’s famous opera house La Scala.

The towering Dutch defender helped Liverpool to the Champions League trophy last season and is well-positioned having already won the UEFA player of the year award.

Since The Best award was created in 2016, the winner has gone on to also lift the coveted Ballon d’Or, which will be unveiled on December 2.

Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder Luka Modric won both awards last year to end Ronaldo and Messi’s ten-year domination.

In the past three years the podiums for both awards have been almost identical apart from Egyptian Mohamed Salah’s third place in The Best in 2018, a spot occupied by France’s Antoine Griezmann in the Ballon d’Or.

Based on Liverpool’s success last season it could be Van Dijk’s turn to become the first defender since Italy’s former World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro in 2006.

The 28-year-old proved himself among the best defenders in the world for Liverpool and the Dutch national side who reached the Nations League final.

Liverpool also missed out on the Premier League title by just one point behind Manchester City.

Both Messi and Ronaldo have won FIFA’s award in different guises five times each.

Former Real Madrid star Ronaldo’s six-year reign as the Champions League top scorer ended last season.

The 34-year-old scored six goals in Juventus’s European campaign, including an incredible treble against Atletico Madrid, before they were eliminated in the quarter-finals.

Ronaldo also won the Nations League with Portugal and his first Serie A title with Juventus.

Messi was top scorer in the Champions League last season with 12 goals before Barcelona were eliminated by Liverpool in the semi-finals.

The Argentine was also the top European scorer with 36 goals and won La Liga title with Barcelona.

The 32-year-old helped Argentina to bronze at 2019 Copa America.

Messi however could pay for his three-month suspension by South American football body CONMEBOL after alleging corruption at the Copa America.

Among the women, American World Cup winners Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, are in the running along with England’s Lucy Bronze.

Rapinoe, 34, left France with a Golden Boot and Golden Ball award.

The three contenders for the men’s coaching award are Liverpool’s Champions League winning coach Jurgen Klopp, along with Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino, who reached the European final, and Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola.

US women’s coach Jill Ellis is in the running for the women’s coaching award along with England’s Phil Neville and Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman.

AFP

Messi Unable To Save Barcelona As Poor Start Continues

Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi looks downwards during the Spanish league football match against Granada FC at Nuevo Los Carmenes stadium in Granada on September 21, 2019. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

 

 

Barcelona threw on their stars of the present and the future on Saturday but neither Lionel Messi nor Ansu Fati could save them from a dismal 2-0 defeat away at Granada. 

Messi was still not deemed fit enough to start at Los Carmenes while Fati, the 16-year-old who has lit up La Liga in recent weeks, also began the game on the bench.

But while both came on at half-time with Barca trailing to Ramon Azeez’s opener, it was Granada that scored again, Alvaro Vadillo converting a penalty after Arturo Vidal was found guilty of a handball.

Barcelona have now won only two of their opening five league games and none away from Camp Nou, this their second loss already, just one fewer than the three they suffered during the entirety of last season.

With seven points on the board, this is their worst start to a season since 1994.

“Obviously I am worried,” said coach Ernesto Valverde. “Because we are not getting good results and when that happens in two or three games, it means we are not playing well.”

Instead, Granada go top of the table after capitalising on Atletico Madrid’s goalless draw at home to Celta Vigo a few hours before.

They will stay there until Sunday, when Sevilla, Real Madrid or Athletic Bilbao could overtake them.

Barcelona are sixth, grasping onto the consolation of Messi’s second substitute appearance in five days that now suggests he has finally recovered from the niggling calf injury sustained at the start of August.

Their problems though are unlikely to be solved simply by their captain’s return.

Junior Firpo’s error two minutes into his first start for the club gifted Granada their opening goal and set the tone for a chaotic night in defence.

And up front, Antoine Griezmann was quiet again, with little in any of the combinations to suggest Ernesto Valverde has yet worked out who will form his best attacking trio and in what positions.

“In the end, the coach is responsible and I feel responsible,” Valverde said. “I always think you can win or lose but at least you have to deserve to win when you lose, and today it hasn’t been like that.”

Firpo’s mistake came early, as he shaped to play a long ball over the top back to his goalkeeper. Instead, the lively Roberto Soldado stole possession and slipped in Antonio Puertas.

– Messi impact limited –

With Firpo on the floor, Gerard Pique scrambled across but Puertas’ shot only looped up off the defender to the back post where Azeez headed in.

Granada seemed hungrier than Barca and their dominance persuaded Valverde to make two changes at half-time, Messi and Fati replacing Carles Perez and Firpo.

Messi won a free-kick 30 yards out but hit it straight at the wall while Marc-Andre ter Stegen fumbled a cross and had to react quickly to claw it back off his own line.

Any hopes of a Barca comeback were dashed in the 66th minute as Vidal handballed at the end of a scramble in the box and Vadillo made no mistake with the spot-kick.

One break saw Messi supply Fati but the teenager took too long and then Messi tried himself but his shot was straight at the goalkeeper. In the end, Granada were comfortable winners.

Atletico could have returned to the top of La Liga but were frustrated by a determined Celta Vigo.

After coming from two goals down to salvage a point against Juventus in the Champions League on Wednesday, Atletico failed to sustain the momentum in a match of few chances at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Diego Simeone’s side won their opening three league games but are now two without a victory, following last weekend’s shock defeat away at Real Sociedad.

This latest setback leaves Simeone with familiar questions to answer about his side’s attacking threat.

Summer signing Joao Felix started before being replaced by Alvaro Morata in the second half, the Spanish striker available again after recovering from a knee injury.

But neither Felix nor Morata, or their partner Diego Costa, could conjur up the decisive opening, with full-backs Renan Lodi and Kieran Trippier by far the team’s most creative outlets.

Atletico drop to third in the table while Celta climb to 14th.

AFP

Messi Back As Dortmund Frustrate Barcelona In Champions League Opener

Marco Reus (L) and Lionel Messi vie for the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group F football match Borussia Dortmund v FC Barcelona in Dortmund, western Germany, on September 17, 2019. SASCHA SCHUERMANN / AFP

 

 

Lionel Messi returned from injury to make an innocuous first appearance of the season as Barcelona were held to a 0-0 draw away at Borussia Dortmund in their Champions League opener on Tuesday.

Messi, who has missed the start of the season with a calf injury, came off the bench in a game which Barcelona were lucky not to lose after Dortmund captain Marco Reus missed a penalty and several chances in the second half.

Lucien Favre’s side delivered on their pre-match promise to play fearlessly against five-time European champions Barcelona, probing the visitors from the wings and repeatedly finding gaps in the back line.

Both sides had chances in a game of cat and mouse in the first half, but it was Dortmund who looked the more likely to score.

Reus was denied at point-blank range by goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jadon Sancho fired the ball over the crossbar shortly before half-time.

The hosts continued to turn the screw after the break, and were rewarded with a penalty when Nelson Semedo tripped Sancho in the box.

Yet Ter Stegen denied Reus again from 12 yards, diving low to his left to beat away his Germany team mate’s spot-kick.

The Barcelona keeper has now saved four of the six penalties he has faced in the Champions League, and was called upon to stop Reus yet again later in the half as Dortmund continued to dominate.

A luckless Reus also fired another good chance well high, while substitute Julian Brandt thundered a long-range effort against the crossbar.

Messi had begun his 30-minute cameo by that point, having come on around the hour mark for Ansu Fati, the 16-year-old prodigy freshly crowned as Barcelona’s youngest ever Champions League debutant.

Yet the Argentine remained as blunt as his team mates in a Barcelona attack stifled by the impeccable defending of Dortmund elder statesmen Mats Hummels and Axel Witsel.

He nonetheless had a chance to score the winner with the last kick of the game, but was denied by a desperate block from Thomas Delaney.

The draw leaves the two teams joint bottom of Group F after one game, after Inter Milan and Slavia Prague played out a 1-1 draw earlier on Tuesday.

Messi Misses Start In Barcelona, Dortmund Champions League Clash

Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi looks on from the bench during the Spanish league football match FC Barcelona against Valencia CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on September 14, 2019. PAU BARRENA / AFP

 

Teenage star Ansu Fati became Barcelona’s youngest ever Champions League debutant after being named in the starting line-up for the Catalan giants’ campaign opener away to Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.

The 16-year-old, who became the club’s youngest ever scorer with his maiden strike against Osasuna last month, gets the nod ahead of Lionel Messi, who returns to the squad after several weeks out injured.

At 16 years and 322 days, Fati is around two months younger than the previous record holder Bojan Krkic was when he made his Champions League debut in 2007.

Should he score against Dortmund, the Guinea-Bissau talent would become the youngest player ever to score in the competition, overhauling a 22-year-old record held by former Olympiakos player Peter Ofori-Quaye.

Messi, who has missed the beginning of the season with a calf injury, will start on the bench against Dortmund.

Coach Ernesto Valverde said Monday that he would decide spontaneously whether or not to let Messi play.

“He has trained two or three times and made a good impression. We will see,” said Valverde.

Tuesday’s game marks the beginning of a gruelling Group F campaign for Barcelona and Dortmund, as they look to qualify ahead of Inter Milan and Slavia Prague.

AFP