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Wednesday, March 24, 2004 

Uefa Cup Preview: Barcelona-Celtic

It will require 11 Celtic brave hearts to come away from Camp Nou with their Uefa Cup hopes still intact.

For this is a Barcelona side on a roll. The 1-0 defeat at Parkhead is the Catalans' only recent blemish in an otherwise rampant series of results that have seen them reel off 9 straight victories in La Liga and reach the fourth round of this competition.

Frank Rijkaard is no longer under the extreme pre-Christmas pressure for his job, the fans are filling the stadium each week, and the team itself are playing with the finesse and vigour of a side of yesteryear.

Not that Saturday's 1-0 win over Real Sociedad -a result which saw them move to within six points of leaders Real Madrid- was without its flaws. Yes, they deserved the victory handed to them by an 89th minute Ronaldinho free-kick, but it wasn't a fluent display, with the football constipated, and the players all too often getting in the way of each other.

But job done and Barca can now focus on the task ahead, and one senses they will be made to sweat before coming through this tie.

Alan Thompson, the Hoops' winger who scored the only goal of the first-leg, says Celtic are not holding any grudges against Barcelona despite the fracas in the tunnel at half-time that saw their goalkeeper Robert Douglas and Barca midfielder Thiago Motta sent off by referee Wolfgang Stark.

Both dismissed players automatically miss the return, but Thompson – who is himself nursing a hamstring problem – insists that the incident has now been forgotten by both sides. Thompson told Celtic's official website: "I don't think it will account for anything. I don't think we are an overly aggressive team which some people have said, and I watched the Barcelona game on TV on Sunday night and I don't think they are the most aggressive team in the world. We certainly don't have any grudges going into the game and I would doubt if they have.

"People have spoken like that before about us after games. Now we just have to wait and see. I don't think it has ever affected the way we have approached our games."

Thompson has flown to Catalonia with Martin O'Neill's squad and has not given up hope of playing despite the injury. "I've had a bit of a tight hamstring - it happened during the first leg at Celtic Park - and it's not been 100% since then but I am hoping it will have settled down by Thursday," he said on Wednesday. "If we go through into the next round, I think it will be one of the best results we have had at the club since I have been here. If you don't go through, then the first leg result means nothing, but we are aware of just how demanding it is going to be.

"We want to approach it in a positive manner and it would be nice to get a goal over there. We have to try and prevent them from scoring, especially early on, and what we are looking for is to produce another big performance."

PROBABLE STARTING XI:

Barcelona: Valdés; Reiziger, Puyol, Oleguer, Gabri; Xavi, Cocu, Gerard, Ronaldinho; Luis Garci'a, Luis Enrique.

Celtic: Marshall, McNamara, Mjallby, Kennedy, McManus, Agathe, Lambert, Lennon, Pearson, Petrov, Larsson.

Source: Soccerage

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