SPORTS

Close to making next round, Barcelona hosts Panathinaikos

MADRID – FC Barcelona will virtually ensure qualification for the Champions League knockout stage by beating Panathinaikos at the Camp Nou stadium tonight. If Werder Bremen also defeats Udinese in the other Group C game, the Spanish team will be certain of advancing to the last 16. Barcelona leads with seven points from three matches, while Panathinaikos is third with four, trailing Udinese on goal difference. Werder Bremen is last with just one point to its tally. Panathinaikos goes into the game heartened by its 0-0 draw with Barcelona in Athens two weeks ago which spoiled the Spanish champion’s perfect record in the group. But since then Barcelona has regained the style which brought it last season’s Spanish league title, gaining shutout victories against Osasuna, Malaga and Real Sociedad and rising to second place in the domestic standings. The Catalan side netted 10 times in those three Spanish league games, with even captain Carles Puyol putting his name on the scoresheet for the first time since February 2002. «The team’s showing the same desire and attitude as before; all that’s changed are the results. Our next aim is to beat Panathinaikos,» Spain defender Puyol said. Barcelona’s resurgence has been powered by the return to form of Ronaldinho, who has scored five goals in his last four games. Yet Panathinaikos’s Brazilian midfielder Flavio Conceicao says his team should not just focus its attention on his compatriot. «There are other players too, who can hurt us. Barcelona is very powerful at home and their game is aimed at suffocating any opponent. Things will be better if we avoid conceding a goal in the first 20 minutes,» said Conceicao, who previously played for Barcelona’s archrival, Real Madrid. Panathinaikos, last season’s runner-up in the Greek league, has not won in seven visits to Spain in European competition. The team’s Italian coach, Alberto Malesani, has left injured Polish striker Emmanuel Olisadebe and defender Yiannis Goumas in Athens. His 20-man roster includes Hungarian striker Sandor Torghelle and Croatian defender Igor Biscan, who were rested in Sunday’s league win over against PAOK Thessaloniki. Barcelona, which will be without injured midfielder Deco and defender Juliano Belletti, may start with teenage Argentine international Leo Messi in attack to partner Samuel Eto’o and Ronaldinho.