Benfica-FC Barcelona: A European classic

Messi in the match against Spartak Moscow. PHOTO: ÀLEX CAPARRÓS-FCB.
20.45, TV3 and La1: Two historic European football teams, Benfica and Barça, will face off this evening at the Da Luz Stadium for the second match of the Champions League group stage

The next stop in Barça’s whirlwind schedule is the famous Da Luz Stadium in Lisbon. After the agonising and epic victory over Sevilla, Barça visit Benfica for the second game of the Champions League group stage. The two historic European teams, who faced off against each other half a century ago in the European Cup final, will clash this evening for the top spot of Group H.

It looks like we’re in for a great game in Portugal, the two teams sit atop of the table in their respective leagues and they’re both favoured to make it through to the next round of the competition. A good result in Lisbon would leave things all squared away for the Azulgrana ahead of their all-important La Liga Clásico this Sunday against Real Madrid.

Three new faces

Barça’s squad has been significantly reinforced for this evening’s match. Carles Puyol, Andrés Iniesta and Adriano Correia were declared fit to play by the Club’s Medical Services on Sunday and all three were named to the team for this evening’s Champions League game. Thiago, on the other hand, picked up a serious injury in the game against Sevilla and will be out of action for eight weeks. In addition, Piqué, Abidal, Cuenca and Muniesa will also miss the match due to injury.

Tito Vilanova and his men face a tough challenge if they want to maintain their perfect record in the Liga (6) and the Champions League (1). The Azulgrana were held to two goalless draws (1991/92 and 2005/06) in the team’s last two visits to Da Luz Stadium. With that said, Barça went on to win the European Cup title on both occasions.

Benfica, on form

Despite losing a couple of important players this summer, Benfica have also started their 2012/13 season off with a bang. The Portuguese side have yet to lose a match in the league and they earned a valuable point in Celtic Park two weeks ago in the Champions League. Cardozo, who is injured, and Luisão, suspended, will be the most notable absences in Jorge Jesús’ team. The ex-Azulgrana Nolito and other well-known players to La Liga like Aimar, Garay and Slavia will be on hand to threaten Barça’s perfect start.

Benfica-FC Barcelona. Did you know…

Iniesta at the Da Luz Stadium (2006) against Benfica. PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ-FCB.
This evening’s match, the second of the Champions League group stage, is chock-full of curious historical facts between the two teams

The referee

The referee assigned by UEFA to direct this evening’s match is Cüneyt Çakir (TUR). Çakir has refereed eights Champions League matches, one of them was the return leg of last year’s Champions League semi-final between Barça and Chelsea.

– Every time Barça and Benfica face off against each other, one has always gone on to win the European title: Benfica in 1961 and the Azulgrana in 1992 and 2006.

– In fact, Benfica and Barça were the finalists of the European Cup in 1961. The final isn’t remembers with much fondness in Barcelona, the Catalans hit the woodwork four times in the Berne final.

Víctor Valdés and Iniesta are the only active FC Barcelona players that have played in the Da Luz Stadium (2006). Xavi and Messi were both injured and Puyol was suspended.

– The last time Barça visited Portugal was in the 2008/09 season, when the team beat Sporting Club by 2-5. Piqué and Messi, among others, got on the scoresheet.

– The last time Barça faced a Portuguese side was in the 2011 European Super Cup. On that occasion, Barça beat Porto by 2 goals to 0.

– Of Barça’s 24 Champions League matches in the last 4 seasons, they won 11, tied 10 and lost 3.

– Benfica have played 200 European Cup matches and they’ve scored 348 goals. Barça have played 234 games and scored 462 goals.

– Barça are the team that have committed the least amount of fouls in this edition the competition (4).

Azulgrana RoundUp, Week 5

Cesc, Xavi and Alba in the game against Sevilla / PHOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
On this week’s RoundUp: Microsoft founder Gill Gates talks about FC Barcelona’s commitment to eradicating polio, President Rosell sits down with ESPN, and BFB gives an interesting overview of Barça’s U18 NextGen Series match against Tottenham Hotspur…

• ESPN. Sandro Rosell sits down with ESPN to talk about the Club and the nature of his visit to New York City.

• The Gates Notes. Bill Gates. Day 1 at the UN: Good Friends from Around the World

“I spent some time with Sandro Rosell, the President of FC Barcelona and the FC Barcelona Foundation.  They have been tremendous partners in using their club and its worldwide fan base to raise awareness of polio with their “More than a Goal” campaign. We recorded a short video together talking about the foundation’s partnership with them to work toward saving children’s lives around the world.”

• Yahoo! Deportes / EuroSport. Christian Pulina. Guardiola y el Barça, han hecho malos a todos los demás

“El mensaje en principio iba a ser el de que el nivel del fútbol europeo es bajísimo, pero luego me di cuenta de que no estaba bien dicho, y que lo correcto es decir que el Barça ha hecho que los demás parezcan muy malos, porque cuando el Barça era horroroso en la época de Gaspart, yo no recuerdo que estos equipos que ahora me parecen malos, me parecieran mejores de lo que son ahora, simplemente eran menos malos que nosotros, que es diferente.”

• ESPN. Roger Bennett. How video game is changing face of soccer.

“We have more research on what motivates people to watch football than anyone in the world,” said Bilbey. The narrative he has uncovered validates the story that played out in Scarborough’s Alabama fraternity house. “We analyzed passive interactions with soccer and compared them to interactive experiences with the sport,” he said, “and while there can be no substitute to seeing Barcelona at the Nou Camp, the American audience enjoys interacting with our game more than watching soccer passively on television.”

• BarcelonaFootballBlog. Linda. Barça v Spurs in the NextGen Series: a few thoughts on youth development

“La Masia’s reputation has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years because it is credited for the success of the first team. Think about it again: a successful first team built around La Masia graduates. That would have sounded like a fairytale to many fans even just 6 years ago. In Barça’s 04-06 dream team, the midfield general and star player were both foreign signings. The ‘brand’ of the La Masia-educated midfielder, in particular, didn’t have half the strength it has today.”

• TXIKOLOGÍA CULÉ. El Barça no tiró de épica, se aferro a su estilo

“Anoche en el Pizjuán pudimos disfrutar de un tremendo partidazo entre dos grandes equipos de fútbol. Como dijo Michel en rueda de prensa, hubo tanto fútbol en el encuentro que ni la polémica arbitral, ni los minutos en los que se consiguieron los goles deben ocultar lo mucho y bien que jugaron ambos equipos. Cada uno con su estilo, por supuesto, pero Sevilla y Barça, Barça y Sevilla, sacaron todas sus armas y las utilizaron con talento y fe.”

Barça train at Da Luz Stadium

Primer contacte amb l’Estadi Da Luz / FOTO: MIGUEL RUIZ - FCB
Barça’s 21-man squad trained in the stadium where on Tuesday, at 20.45, the Azulgranas will face Benfica in the second match of the Champions League group stage

Barça returned to Da Luz Stadium, a ground where the team has never been able to claim victory in an official match, for this evening’s training session ahead of tomorrow’s match against Benfica. Iniesta, Puyol and Adriano -all of whom were given the medical all-clear this Sunday- trained with the group.

The Spanish midfielder is one of five remaining players in the squad that featured for Rikjaard’s Barça in 2006 against the Portuguese side in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Valdés and Iniesta were named to the starting line-up against Benfica, whilst Xavi and Messi, injured, and Puyol, suspended, didn’t travel with the team to the Portuguese capital.

Messi: "I’m more concerned with being a good person than being the best footballer in the world"

Messi vs Sevilla FC / PHOTO: MIGUEL PUIZ - FCB
In an interview with El País, the Argentinian opens up about the team, his past as a youth player, Real Madrid, and the characteristics that define Tito Vilanova’s FC Barcelona

“This is my home, my club. I owe everything to Barça”
“My hope is that when I retire that I’m remembered as a good guy. I like to score goals, but I also like to be friends with the people I play with. It’s good to be valued as a person, it’s important that they have good concept of who you are beyond being
“I’m lucky to have landed at this Barça, where there are excellent players. They have given me everything: the individual awards, the titles, the goals, everything … This team makes me a better footballer, that’s for sure. Without the help of my teammat

“I prefer to win titles with the team before individual prizes or outscoring everyone. I’m more concerned with being a good person than being the best footballer in the world,” Leo Messi told El País this Sunday at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper. The Argentinean added that “in the end, when all this is over, what can you take with you? My hope is that when I retire that I’m remembered as a good guy. I like to score goals, but I also like to be friends with the people I play with. It’s good to be valued as a person, it’s important that they have good concept of who you are beyond being the guy that scores a lot of goals.”

The following is an excerpt from Messi’s interview with El País [full interview here]:

Question – Do you feel like you’ve paid Barça back for what the it did for you when you were a child?

Answer – No, no … I always want to show that I’m committed to the club. Maybe it was more noticeable when I started playing for the team. This is my home, my club. I owe everything to Barça. And, like I’ve always said, I’m very happy here.

Q- You’ve said that you’re not preoccupied with your personal goal tally but with titles. Is there a title that you especially want to win?

A – Yes, I prefer to win titles with the team before individual prizes or outscoring everyone. I’m more concerned about being a good person than being the best footballer in the world. Besides, in the end, when all this is over, what can you take with you? My hope is that when I retire that I’m remembered as a good guy. I like to score goals, but I also like to be friends with the people I play with. It’s good to be valued as a person, it’s important that they have good concept of who you are beyond being the guy that scores a lot of goals.

Q – What about the possibility of winning your fourth Ballon d’Or?

A – Prizes are always great. I appreciate them, of course. But deep down, this is something that you [the press] are more concerned with … the questions about who is better than whom are constant. Xavi or Iniesta? Who knows the answer to that? I’m lucky to have landed at this Barça, where there are excellent players. They have given me everything: the individual awards, the titles, the goals, everything. This team has reserved its spot in history for everything that its already won. I’m lucky that I get to play here and that I get to play for Argentina, where I get to play with fantastic players. It’s so fundamental to be able to play with quality teammates. This team makes me a better footballer, that’s for sure. Without the help of my teammates, I would be nothing, I wouldn’t win anything. No individual awards, no titles, nothing.

Messi’s non-football side

Q- What makes you mad?

A- I don’t like to lose. – What about outside of football? – In life, I hate poverty. I come from a country where poverty is very noticeable. There are many children that have no other alternative but to beg on the street or try to find work … we’re talking about very young children.

Q – You have a foundation that helps at-risk children

A- Yes, we’re focused on education, we’re trying to get them off the streets through education and sports. We’re working with UNICEF, hospitals, schools … it’s nice to be able to help.

Q – You light up when children come up to you. Why is that?

A- Children are pure, especially when they’re young. They see you and they transform. Some of them are shy. They don’t talk, they don’t understand why I’m there or why I’m talking with them. They only see me on TV so when they see me in person they are frightened. I’m most fulfilled when I make a child happy.

Q – You’re always being watched because you’re famous. Is it suffocating?

A- No, because I’m not acting. I’m the same person on and off the pitch. It doesn’t bother me that I’m looked at all the time because I’m just being me. I’m always me. At first I did shy away a bit, but that was a long time ago.

Messi’s style of play

Q- You once said it’s more difficult to emulate Iniesta or Xavi than it is to do what you do on the pitch. Is it easy to do what you do?

A- I do what I can to help the team … I wouldn’t know how to play like them. I only try to help the team, always. I really don’t like to lose and I try to help so that we can win. I’ve always said that I go out onto the pitch with the intension of winning, not scoring goals.

Q- Tito says that what you do against the best footballers in the world is exactly what you used to do against your 14-year-old adversaries

A-My style of play hasn’t changed much, it’s true, even though it’s obvious that I’ve learned a lot of things since I started. It helped that I came to Barcelona and that I got to learn in the team’s youth system. Just yesterday I got the chance to watch the seven-year-olds train, the way the youth players are trained here is different. When I was a kid, they taught me to play the ball, take care of it, tactics and how to understand the game. The youngsters play just like we do! I’ll always be surprised by that.

Messi’s time at La Masia

Q – What does it say about Barça’s youth system that you and two of your team-mates from that U14 team [you used to play in] now play with the senior side?

A- It’s an example of how Barcelona works. We knew that team had one of the best generations in Barcelona youth football. In my first team (U14) there were three players [Piqué, Cesc, and Messi], but there were other players that went on to be professionals like Vázquez and Valiente – both of whom have played for Spain. But we knew that most of us would make it, and if it wasn’t for Barça’s first team, we knew that we would be able to make a living playing football for another good club.

Q- Did you ever get in trouble when you were a youth player…

A –  I don’t remember! [laughs]. I’m sure we got in trouble because we were a good group of footballers, but we were dangerous!

Q – Is it true that Piqué would defend you from cynical tackles?

A – Yes, he was a pretty big kid and we were all small. Papá [Daddy] would defend us all.

Q- It’s surprisingly difficult to knock you off the ball and you don’t dive either…

A- It’s from when I was a kid. It’s always been that way. I always tried to finish the play. I don’t know … I never looked for it, never took to diving.

Q – They say that when you were a youth player that you were the only player that was never corrected, that your characteristics were always respected.

A – I was corrected, but I don’t really remember anything specific. They did respect my way of playing, but it’s true that the philosophy here is to play one-touch football. But I never passed the ball! They told me many times to get rid of the ball earlier but they realised that it wasn’t working and they gave up. Little by little I started passing the ball more. But when I first started playing… I didn’t give it to anyone!

Barça’s style of play

Q- What defines this team?

A – The best thing about this team is that we always try to win our games. But above all, it’s that this team has ambition. Even after everything we’ve won, we still get upset if we lose a scrimmage in a training session. That’s the best thing about this team, our ambition.

Q- Is Pep responsible for that?

A – Yes, Pep showed us the way and we followed him. He made us play with the intention of always having the initiative, to always try and score. He gave us the attitude and the belief that we could win. It was spectacular. He is phenomenal in his match analysis and how he prepares his players for games. I don’t think we’ll ever see another manager like him.

Q – Rijkaard was the first. Are you still mad that you didn’t play in the Paris final?

A – I practically owe everything to Rijkaard. He was the first to have confidence in me, he gave me my debut with the first team when I was young, he knew how to handle me. He was wise in not letting me play [the Paris final], at the time I didn’t understand and I was upset about it, but then I understood. Everything that came afterwards is thanks to him.

Real Madrid

Q – Which Clásico do you remember the most?

A – I remember all the ones we won. It’s the best thing to beat Madrid. They are a fantastic team. But if I have to pick one game, I’d go with the semi-final in the Champions League, because of what it meant for Barça.

Q – You like to score goals on Casillas. What’s the deal, do you not like him?

A- No, quite the opposite. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to score in the most recent games against Madrid. I hope that can continue. Iker is a great keeper, one of the best. I have scored on him, but he’s saved so many of my attempts. He’s very good and very fast.

Q- What do you admire the most about Madrid?

A- I really like to play at the Bernabéu. Madrid are a club with a lot of history.

Q- What about Mourinho’s team?

A – Real Madrid kills you on the counter. They have extremely fast forwards and the defence-attack transition is done in less than five seconds, then they score. They don’t have to play well to score goals. They create a lot of chances because the players are very, very good. I’m lucky enough to have played alongside Higuaín and Di María. ‘El Pipa’ touches two balls and he scores two goals … From nothing Madrid can score on you.