Fri, Sep 22, 2006 - Page 22 News List

FC Barcelona face first serious test against Valencia

AP , MADRID, SPAIN

FC Barcelona faces its first serious test when it hosts Valencia in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Valencia has matched the defending champion's impressive start by winning its first three games to confirm itself as a threat to Barcelona's chances of a third straight title.

Recent history also favors Valencia at the Camp Nou, having won twice and drawn three games on its past five visits.

Valencia goalkeeper Santiago Canizares says the match -- which pits the titlists of four of the past five seasons -- will be a test of his team's ability to win trophies.

"These days, the Camp Nou is the most difficult stage in Europe. It's a good time to find out if Valencia is at the same standard as its rivals and if we can hope to win anything," said Canizares, who will playing his 20th match against Barcelona.

The game has been billed as a battle between Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o and Valencia's Fernando Morientes.

Eto'o will hope to mark his 100th appearance for the European champion by adding to his 68 goals since joining from Mallorca in 2004.

Morientes has scored six times in the last four games, half the tally he managed in a season and a half with previous club Liverpool.

Barcelona has no major injury concerns, but Valencia central defender Carlos Marchena tore knee ligaments last weekend and has joined left back Asier del Horno and midfielder Ruben Baraja on the sidelines.

However, Valencia captain David Albelda is hopeful of a return after breaking a facial bone two weeks ago.

Barcelona and Valencia's goal difference is less than first-place Sevilla, the only other team to have won all its games. The trio have nine points, two more than Real Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna.

Another victory for Sevilla would represent its best start to a season, although it faces a tough match at seventh-place Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Atletico's morale was boosted last weekend by a 4-1 win at Athletic Bilbao in which teenage Argentine forward Sergio Aguero demonstrated his blossoming talent with a spectacular goal.

Sevilla has won its last 11 games, including last season's UEFA Cup final and the European Super Cup. It has scored at least three goals in each of its last seven competitive matches.

Sevilla's Mali striker, Frederik Kanoute, has scored four goals to be the league's joint top scorer with Eto'o.

"Soccer, sometimes, depends on the confidence that a team has in itself. We feel now that no one can beat us," Kanoute told daily El Pais.

In March, Atletico lost 1-0 to and had three players sent off. The match was held up for 30 minutes after Sevilla goalkeeper Andres Palop was hit on the head by an object thrown from the crowd.

David Beckham looks set for the bench again for Madrid's visit to No. 10 Real Betis on Saturday.

Although Beckham scored in last week's 2-0 win, coach Fabio Capello is likely to stick with Jose Antonio Reyes.

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