Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 19 News List

FC Barcelona about to face English leader Chelsea


Real Madrid, AC Milan and Manchester United are playing cameo roles this week.

The main event in the Champions League is FC Barcelona versus Chelsea at Camp Nou, a showdown anticipated since Dec. 17 when the Spanish league leaders were drawn to face the English leaders.

Wednesday's match has it all, with the 100,000-seat Catalan cathedral -- arguably Europe's most famous soccer venue -- as the backdrop. Europe's top club competition has taken a three-month break, but this week's return should be memorable.

A former assistant at Barcelona, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho won the Champions League last season with FC Porto. He has Chelsea playing the same kind of locked-down defense, and he's not ready to give up the title.

Haughty or self-confident, depending on your viewpoint, Mourinho has questioned the coaching ability of his Barca counterpart -- former Dutch star Frank Rijkaard.

"Frank Rijkaard's history as a player can't be compared with my history," Mourinho said. "His is fantastic and mine is zero.

"As a manager though, my history cannot be compared to his. He has zero titles and I have a lot of them."

Rijkaard replied: "I will answer those words next week and I hope my players will also give their answer on the pitch."

The two-leg series is too close to call. Three other matchups on Tuesday and Wednesday are also toss-ups with four of Europe's biggest teams certain to be ousted.

On Tuesday, it's nine-time champion Real Madrid versus two-time winner Juventus, and five-time champion Bayern Munich versus English champion Arsenal. Also on Tuesday, it's Liverpool versus Bayer Leverkusen and PSV Eindhoven versus Monaco.

On Wednesday, two-time champion Manchester United faces five-time winner AC Milan. Also Wednesday, defending champion Porto plays Inter Milan, and Werder Bremen faces Lyon.

Mourinho and Rijkaard are both 42 -- similar and very different.

Rijkaard was among the most talented players of his generation, teaming with fellow Dutchmen Marco Van Basten and Ruud Gullit. But as a coach -- at Barca since 2003 -- he's yet to win a thing.

Mourinho was a mediocre player in the depths of Portuguese soccer. But as a coach, he racked up five trophies in two seasons with Porto: two Portuguese league titles, the Portuguese Cup, UEFA Cup and Champions League.

At Chelsea, he has been almost perfect -- until Sunday's 1-0 loss to Newcastle in the FA Cup. Winger Wayne Bridge suffered an ankle injury and will miss Wednesday's game. Forward Damien Duff and defender William Gallas were limping late in the game.

Mourinho had been dubbed "The Portuguese Man of Four" as he attempted to win four major titles.

Chelsea is still in the running for three. The Blues lead the Premier League by nine points, face Liverpool in the final of the League Cup this weekend, and are a favorite in the Champions League.

"I have to defend what is mine, and the Champions League is mine at the moment," Mourinho said. "I'm the last manager to have won it so it's my competition. I have to fight for Chelsea and for myself, to defend my cup until the last moment."

Mourinho worked at Barcelona for four years in the late 1990s under Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal.

"I don't think that supporters forget people involved in good things," said Mourinho, who was there the last time Barca won the Spanish league in 1999. "It was a great time that I spent there."

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