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Barca, Chelsea to reopen old wounds

European football's most sour rivals are set to lock horns for the third time in three seasons in Champions League.

india Updated: Aug 27, 2006 19:07 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Two of European football's most sour rivals are set to lock horns for the third time in three seasons with Barcelona pitted against Chelsea in the Champions League once again.

The two previous clashes between the English Premiership title-holders and reigning European champions Barcelona -- the two top favourites to win the trophy -- were marked by some dazzling football but were also marred in controversy and bitterness.

In the last-16 tie two years ago, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho sparked an almighty row after the first-leg clash in Catalonia.

He accused referee Anders Frisk of holding a private chat with Barca boss Frank Rijkaard at half-time, landing himself in hot water with European football's governing body UEFA, who branded him an "enemy of football" and hit him with a touchline ban.

Frisk received death threats and retired from the game amid the antagonism.

Chelsea won the tie on aggregate.

However, Barcelona got their revenge last season by knocking out the Blues at the same stage en route to winning the competition.

This time, Chelsea were left raging about the dismissal of their full-back Asier Del Horno due to perceived cheating from Lionel Messi.

Blues chief executive Peter Kenyon tried to throw water on the flames ahead of the back-to-back clashes on October 18 at Stamford Bridge and October 31 at the Nou Camp.

"We've just got to move on from what's happened in the past. There are good relations with the club. Let's just let the football do the talking on this game," he told Britain's Sky Sports television from Monaco where the draw was made.

"I think it was expected and as it got drawn there was a big sigh and here we are again.

"We've got it all to play for. We've got great respect for them as a team and as a club. We've always had a good friendship with them so I hope that people concentrate on the football.

"This is what the Champions League is all about. Our fans want to see us against the big teams and they don't come much bigger than Barcelona.

"Everyone at Chelsea -- the team, the manager, the board and the fans -- will be looking forward to the Champions League starting again.

"Winning our games at this stage in the competition is important not only to qualify but also for improving our coefficient and making sure that next year we're in pot one (the top seeds), improving our chances of not drawing Barcelona."

The tie will have extra significance for Iceland striker Eidur Gudjohnsen, who left the Blues to join the Spanish champions in the pre-season.

The two teams will also meet Werder Bremen, who finished second in the German Bundesliga last season, and debutants Levski Sofia of Bulgaria in Group A.

Barcelona are the outright favourites to win the Champions League at 4/1, with Chelsea the second favourites at 7/2. The Blues are 11/10 to top Group A, with Barca favourites at evens.

Chelsea have drafted in Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko for a British transfer record 30-million-pound (57-million-dollar, 44-million-euro) fee and Germany captain Michael Ballack with an eye on taking the Blues that extra step towards capturing what Kenyon called "the Holy Grail".

"Improving a team that has won domestic titles back to back is always difficult," he said.

"The Holy Grail is picking up the Champions League.

"The likes of Shevchenko and Ballack have certainly added to the team and will bring us great experience for this competition.

"It's already started to be an exciting season and we now cannot wait for the Champions League."



First Published: Aug 25, 2006 11:44 IST