BARCELONA // While most teams go to Camp Nou in trepidation, Rubin Kazan travel to Barcelona for their final Champions League group stage match with a remarkable unbeaten record against the Spanish giants.
The Russians, who lie third in Group D, one point behind second-placed Copenhagen, have an outside chance of advancing to the knockout round.
To do so they need to beat Barca, who have already secured the top spot, while hoping Panathinaikos, the bottom side, avoid defeat in Denmark.
Rubin have met the Spanish league leaders three times in the past two seasons and have achieved one win and two draws. The victory came in a shock 2-1 triumph at the home of the then European champions, in the group stages last October.
"We have nothing left but to beat Barca in our last match," Christian Noboa, the Rubin captain, said following a 1-0 home win over Copenhagen two weeks ago, their first victory in the group that kept alive their slim hopes.
"We managed to do it last year so we could do it again this time," the Ecuador international added.
Rubin, who have won the Russian league for the past two years, could only manage a third-place finish this year which earns a place in the Champions League qualifiers next season.
Barcelona have been in irresistible form and yesterday had three players - Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi - nominated for Fifa's Ballon d'Or award for the World Player of the Year.
They top the Primera Liga by two points from Real Madrid and have won their last seven consecutive matches in all competitions.
They have not conceded a goal in their last four outings while scoring 19 times.
Saturday's 3-0 victory away at Osasuna in the league came after an impromptu 350km dash by train and bus because of an air traffic controllers' strike in Spain, but they still prevailed despite arriving at the stadium a few minutes after the scheduled kick-off time. The game had to be put back 45 minutes to give the Barca players time to get changed and warm up.
With qualification and first place already assured Pep Guardiola will be tempted to rotate his squad, while their 90,000 capacity stadium is likely to be half empty.
"I ask the fans that they don't desert us because this year we are going to need them more than ever," Guardiola said after the Osasuna game.
Xavi, the midfield schemer, is among those rested after suffering sore Achilles tendons earlier in the campaign and Guardiola also left David Villa, the Spain striker, out of his squad.
Seydou Keita, the midfielder, was a late withdrawal on Monday with a knee problem and joins Argentina defender Gabriel Milito on the injury list.
11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport +9
Twente v Tottenham
Luka Modric has urged his Tottenham Hotspur teammates to go all out for victory tonight when the English club travel to Holland to meet FC Twente in their final Group A Champions League game. Spurs need only to match Inter Milan’s result at Werder Bremem to claim top spot and a more favourable draw in the last 16. Both clubs are on 10 points, with Spurs ahead on goal difference. “We just need to carry on, to try and beat Twente because if you finish first in the group, you can have a better draw,” said the Croatian international midfielder, pictured right. “We know it’s not easy, but it’s important to try to finish first.”
Bursaspor v Rangers
Walter Smith insists there is much to play for as Glasgow Rangers meet bottom side Bursaspor tonight. The manager knows his side cannot qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League but have already secured a place in the Europa League for finishing third in Group C, where a win against the Turks, who have failed to score a single point in five games, will help them be seeded. “We want to do as well as we can do,” said Smith.
11.45pm Aljazeera Sport +2
Manchester United v Valencia
Sir Alex Ferguson has ruled Michael Owen out of Manchester United’s match against Valencia, saying that he will not rush the injury-prone striker back. Ferguson said: “He returned to training in the middle of last week but we are going to make sure he gets two more weeks behind him. We don’t want to take any risks because it was probably our fault he was injured last time.” United require only a point to be confirmed winners of Group C.
11.45pm Aljazeera Sport +3
Lyon v Hapoel Tel Aviv
Lyon have Aly Cissokho and Pape Diakhate available for the visit of Hapoel Tel Aviv after they were suspended for Saturday’s win against Montpellier, but midfielders Yoann Gourcuff and Jeremy Toulalan are doubtful with Achilles and thigh injuries respectively. Despite lying bottom of Group B, Hapoel remain in with a chance of securing third place and a spot in the Europa League. The Israelis need to win and hope that Benfica fail to beat Schalke.
11.45pm Aljazeera Sport +7
Werder Bremen v Inter Milan
Massimo Moratti, Inter Milan president, insists his team will be focused on the game at Werder Bremen despite having already clinched a spot in the last 16. Inter head to Abu Dhabi to take part in the Club World Cup after the match but Moratti is adamant they will not treat the trip to Bremen as a meaningless game, especially as a win could see them edge out Tottenham Hotspur at the top of Group A. “We must do well,” said Moratti. “We must honour the Champions League.”
11.45pm Aljazeera Sport +10
Copenhagen v Panathinaikos
Panathinaikos have warned Copenhagen they will not be given an easy ride when the Greek champions travel to Denmark for tonight’s final Group D game. Even with a victory in Denmark, Pana cannot qualify for the Europa League, but Jesualdo Ferreira, their coach, said: “A Greek team has never finished last in a Champions League group with only two points and we must do our absolute best to ensure that is not going to happen this year.”
11.45pm Aljazeera Sport +1