Champions League

Messi still in doubt before PSG clash

Lionel Messi winces in pain during Barcelona's draw with Paris Saint-Germain.
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With or without Lionel Messi on the field, Barcelona is already playing games with Paris Saint-Germain ahead of the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday.

Messi picked up a hamstring injury in the 2-2 draw last week in the first leg, and the Argentina midfielder missed Saturday's 5-0 win over Mallorca in the Spanish league. But Messi showed up for training on Sunday in front of the media's cameras and even on Monday, the squad's day off, leaving just about everyone to wonder if he is going to play at the Camp Nou. Barcelona likely won't reveal its intentions until just before the match.

There's no secret about David Beckham, however. PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti has said the former England captain will start in the second leg after having a ''really good match'' last week.

In Messi's absence, Barcelona proved it can muster a devastating attack without him. Cesc Fabregas filled in for the World Player of the Year by scoring the first hat trick of his career in the victory over Mallorca.

If Messi can't play, Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova might again choose to play Fabregas as a ''false nine,'' the position in which he has been effective while playing for the Spain squad. Forward Alexis Sanchez also made a case for a spot against PSG by scoring two goals and providing two assists for Fabregas against Mallorca.

''I feel very comfortable playing as a false striker, but that position is filled by the best player in the world,'' Fabregas said. ''I am still a midfielder.''

For PSG, Ancelotti included center backs Alex and Thiago Silva in his squad despite fitness concerns. He also has Italy midfielder Thiago Motta, who has only played one game since late January because of a groin injury.

''I feel fine. I'm ready to play. I have no problem,'' Silva said. ''I finished the first leg with a little problem with my knee but I have rested it.''

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Vilanova has defensive injuries of his own and the looming presence of striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front for PSG to worry about. Javier Mascherano is out with a knee injury and Carles Puyol is a doubt as he recovers from knee surgery.

''OK, so we're talking about Barcelona, a team which has almost never lost in the past four years,'' PSG director of football Leonardo said. ''Barcelona is the best team in the world ... but statistics are made to be beaten.''

Last week in the first leg, Messi scored to give Barcelona the lead and the four-time champions later took a 2-1 lead late in the match, but PSG produced an injury-time equalizer to keep the French leaders alive.

''I feel bad about it, because we went 2-1 up practically in the 90th minute and then they equalized in the very last move of the match,'' Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez said. ''It's a pity about the injuries, both Mascherano and Leo. We'll see how Leo is, but it looks like Mascherano is out for a month or a month and a half.''


 

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