Optimism in Barcelona ahead of tough Milan clash
MADRID (AFP) – Barcelona’s Champions League chances hung by a thread on Tuesday as they prepared to try overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit against AC Milan at the Camp Nou.
But despite the scoreline being heavily in the Italians’ favour, there was still confidence among supporters that arguably the best generation of players the club has ever produced could pull off a European night to remember.
“One, two, three, to the quarters!” ran the headline in sports daily El Mundo Deportivo, predicting that “after three weeks of waiting, the hour of the great comeback has arrived”.
Belief in the Blaugrana is based more on their history than recent results, though. Barca have progressed to the semi-finals of the competition for the last five seasons and even gone on to win the competition three times in the past eight years.
Yet despite comfortably leading La Liga, Barca have lost three of their last five games, as defeat in the San Siro was followed up by back-to-back defeats at the hands of perennial arch rivals Real Madrid.
El Mundo said that the messages from “inside and outside the dressing room are ones of faith and confidence of going through to the quarter-finals”.
As ever, the main focus was on how Lionel Messi could influence the game with past records that create both a positive and negative picture for Barca analysed.
Mundo Deportivo called the Argentine “the man of the last-16″ thanks to his incredible tally of 10 goals in home ties at this stage of the competition in the past four seasons.
But there was also concern that the four-time World Player of the Year has failed to find the net from open play in nine games against Italian opposition in the Champions League.
The other Barcelona sport daily, Sport, struck a similar tone, plastering the words “the comeback is possible” across their front page 17 times.
Inside they claimed that “the best Barca in history are capable of offering a magic night in the Champions League to their fans” and that “the Camp Nou will live a special night with only one thought: eliminating Milan”.
Sport also echoed the words of defender Gerard Pique who on Monday asked that those fans who did not believe in a comeback to not even bother turning up.
Understandably, the mood was different in the Madrid sports dailies, with AS wondering whether Tuesday’s match would produce “a great comeback or the ending of an era”.
They also claimed that Alexis Sanchez and Xavi Hernandez would start for the hosts, whilst inside one commentator described the game as “the day in which the esthetic needs the epic”.
“Made to suffer” was Marca’s headline, as they said the Barca players were “convinced that they can turn it around” and were desperate to dedicate a historic victory to manager Tito Vilanova, who is undergoing cancer treatment in New York.