Soccer

Barca's first loss of season brings up questions

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP)

Barcelona's first defeat of the season has raised doubts about the team's hunger for victory, with the lackluster performance against Ajax prompting criticism by players and coach Gerardo Martino.

The Spanish champions fell behind by two goals and never really recovered in Tuesday's 2-1 Champions League loss.

Playing without Lionel Messi and a host of injured absentees, Barcelona lost for the first time this season under new coach Martino, a stretch of 20 games in all competitions.

Defenders Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, and midfielder Cesc Fabregas said the squad didn't show up for the Group H match at Amsterdam Arena.

''We played horribly and there is no excuse for that,'' Pique said. ''There are no excuses, we need to reflect on this loss and get a lot better. Barcelona cannot give off this type of image with its play.''

Barcelona trailed 2-0 by the break and although it rallied behind Xavi Hernandez's penalty soon after the restart, it never sustained the pressure despite playing against 10 men for most of the second half.

''It didn't look like we were there in the first half. There was a lack of intensity, a lack of hunger,'' Fabregas said.

Martino did not beg to differ with his players.

''In a Champions League game, against a rival that is playing to reach the next round, you need to play with intensity for 90 minutes,'' Martino said. ''We need to analyze, above all, the difference in intensity between the two sides. We cannot allow ourselves to play a first half like we did last night.''

Apart from missing Messi, Barcelona was also without Dani Alves, Jordi Alba, Adriano, and goalkeeper Victor Valdes. Alves, Alba, and Adriano all trained separately from the squad on Wednesday, as did Xavi.

Barcelona has already qualified for the last 16 but could have clinched top spot in the group.

Instead, it will have to try again in the final round of the Champions League group stage when it plays Celtic at its Camp Nou stadium. Celtic will finish last in the group, regardless of the result.

''If we want to win in Europe, we cannot come out like that,'' Puyol said. ''Our idea is to dominate possession, but when you are playing a team that also knows how to hold on to the ball and can bite, this is what happens.''

Barcelona next plays at Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish league on Sunday.

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