Humiliated by Hercules, Barcelona sharpen claws for Panathanaikos | sports | Hindustan Times
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Humiliated by Hercules, Barcelona sharpen claws for Panathanaikos

sports Updated: Sep 13, 2010 13:26 IST

Barcelona are looking to put a humiliating league defeat to tiny first timers and newly promoted club Hercules behind them on Tuesday, when they host Panathinaikos in their Champions League Group D opener.

The Camp Nou faithful were horrified Saturday when league new boys Hercules dispatched Barca's superstars 2-0 to hand the Spanish champions their first league defeat since May 2009.

Manager Pep Guardiola -- who said Barca could not blame the recent international break, or any other reason for their setback -- has called for a swift turnaround. "We weren't ourselves but we don't have to worry, we just have to do things better, I see these players every day and I have no doubts about them. There are international breaks all the time and we can't say we didn't win because of that or the pitch. We were beaten by a better team."

"We have to recover quickly, physically and mentally, to be ready for Tuesday's match."

Guardiola started Spanish World Cup winning trio Xavi, Sergi Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez on the substitutes bench in the Hercules fiasco and the trio could return to the first team for the Panathinaikos clash.

Brazilian Dani Alves was also rested and insists there is no reason to dwell on the Hercules setback, pointing out that the club had some early scares in 2009 when they went on to win a unique league, Kings Cup and Champions League treble.

"It is not how you start a season, but how you finish one," said Alves. "We were criticised a lot during the club's most successful ever year (2009) but we went on to finish very well.

"We had a bad day (against Hercules) and when you have a bad day you do not win. But it's better to lose now than to lose in the home straight."

Captain Carles Puyol is still recovering from a leg injury which ruled him out of the Hercules loss so Guardiola may decide to play Frenchman Eric Abidal, usually a left back, as an emergency centre-back having played there on Saturday.

It is Barcelona's first Champions League outing since the painful semi-final exit to Jose Mourinho's dogged Inter Milan at Camp Nou when Barcelona lost 3-2 on aggregate to the eventual winners. Barcelona are one of the favourites for this season's title and have a kind group on paper with Panathinaikos, Rubin Kazan and FC Copenhagen not expected to challenge for the trophy.

Panathinaikos are seasoned campaigners in Europe and their best performance in the Champions League was reaching the 2001/02 quarter-finals when they lost to Barcelona.

The Greek champions, who beat Aris Thessaloniki 1-0 on Saturday, boast previous Champions League winners in French forward Djibril Cisse and Barca old boy Luis Garcia, who both won the trophy with Liverpool in 2005.

Garcia, 32, was born in Barcelona and came through the youth ranks before the club let him leave for Liverpool in 2004.

It is certainly a testing week for Barcelona with the Panathinaikos game followed by a league trip to Atletico Madrid -- the only team to beat them in the league last season -- on Sunday.

"The Hercules defeat will make us stronger, especially with the week we have coming up against Panathinaikos and Atletico Madrid," said midfielder Pedro. "If we win both matches it will really boost our confidence."