Horodskiy Stadium, Wednesday, September 28th, 2:45 p.m. EDT (U.S.); televised in the United States on Fox Soccer Channel at 5:00 p.m. EDT
FC Barcelona: 1 point (2nd in Group H)
BATE Borisov: 1 point (3rd in Group H)
FC Barcelona: OUT- Ibrahim Afellay (Midfield), Andres Iniesta (Midfield), Alexis Sanchez (Forward); DOUBTFUL- Girard Piqué (Center Back)
BATE Borisov: OUT- Vitali Rodionov (Striker)
Fresh off a 5-0 evisceration of Atlético Madrid at the Camp Nou, FC Barcelona travels to Minsk, where they will square off against BATE Borisov, champions of the Belarusian Premier League for the past five seasons. This match is the second in each club’s UEFA Champions League campaign, which each having drawn its opener- BATE 1-1 against Czech champions Viktoria Plzen, and Barcelona 2-2 against AC Milan.
Look for Barcelona to take the pitch on Wednesday with a fire in their eyes, as they look to erase memories of Milan’s September 13 visit, which Barça controlled, with the notable exception of a pair of defensive lapses, in match’s first minute, and its 92nd, both of which resulted in goals for the Italian visitors. In failing to escape the meeting with Milan with full points, Barcelona has left itself vulnerable to a fluke result in group play. While it’s highly unlikely that such an incredible collection of talent will stumble repeatedly against lesser opposition, Barcelona would like to put some distance between itself and the rest of the group and will spare no effort in pursuit of the full three points.
Not only that, however, the Spanish champions will be looking to redeem themselves after a run of disappointing away results. Each of the last three times Barça has taken the pitch as the official "away" side- the away leg of the Supercopa de España against Real Madrid and league matches at Real Sociedad and Valencia- they’ve allowed multiple goals and failed to come away with anything better than a draw. They’ve managed to not fall off the pace in La Liga thus far, but cannot afford such inconsistency going forward.
To this point, the significance of the match is not lost on Barcelona manager Pep Gaurdiola, who said:
"If we don’t win here we will have to wait until the last game to see if we qualify. We have to realize what we are playing for tomorrow, because it will be a big step forward if we win."
When asked about BATE, Guardiola expressing his immense respect for the Belarusian side:
"it is not the first time they have played in the Champions League … They have experience of competitions like this. They are a team that is used to winning, they are well prepared, they have potential and last year caused some surprises. They are very strong physically, strong in the air and we will have to be orderly in attack, that’s always our objective … we have to know where our spaces are, to be patient, and to realize what we are playing for."
Unfortunately for Barcelona will be without one of its main creative forces in Andres Iniesta, whose torn hamstring will keep him on the sideline. Though one would not go so far as to use the word "fortunate" in describing the loss of one of the world’s great midfield creators, FC Barcelona is in a position to plug the sizable void (given his diminutive stature, the irony is not lost) left by his absence with another wolrd class creator in Cesc Fabregas. Also, the back line, already shaky to say the least, will likely be dealt a blow by Girard Piqué’s hamstring injury, which, while improved, looks likely to sideline the central defender.
Meanwhile, BATE striker Vitali Rodionov, scorer of 45 goals in 96 official appearances, will be sidelined with a knee injury. For all of the difficulties faced in recent weeks by the Barcelona back line, look for the BATE attack to face major difficulties in getting on the scoreboard. Mateja Kezman, who has previously played for Atlético Madrid and Chelsea, will step in to spearhead BATE's attack.
The bottom line: Despite the loss of Iniesta, FC Barcelona is still led by a collection of all-world talents. Thanks to the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi, Fabregas, David Villa and Thiago look for FC Barcelona to find its Champions League footing. With two hat tricks in his last three matches, Messi is in top form and unlikely to be denied in his quest to deliver Barcelona’s first win of this Champions League campaign.
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