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Barca, Atletico clash in UCL

31 March 2014, 13:09

Madrid — The Champions League will offer either Barcelona or Atletico Madrid a spot in the semifinals and a boost in the Spanish league.

Atletico leads Barcelona by one point in the Spanish league standings going into their fourth meeting of the season, with the three previous results all draws.

Atletico will be leaning on its stingy defense and striker Diego Costa in attack. But Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is scoring again as the team looks to reach the semifinals for a record seventh straight season.

Lionel Messi is scoring again, and that is rubbing off on Barcelona.

The Argentina forward has scored 17 goals in 12 games to take his season tally to 36 overall, and Messi is gaining steam at the perfect moment for a Barcelona team that had been unusually erratic at times this season.

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino is counting on his squad to rally around its star player.

"It is very important that the players remember what state we were in one week ago and how we are now," Martino said.

Barcelona and Atletico's matchup provides neutral fans with a masterful dose of the midfield maestros that have left Spain at the summit of world football, and will likely maintain it.

Xavi Hernandez has directed Barcelona and Spain's play for more than a decade, with the 34-year-old Barcelona midfielder winning nearly every trophy possible for club and country. Xavi has anointed Atletico counterpart Koke — who assumes the same midfield duties for Atletico — as the chosen one to lead the national team in the future.

"Koke is an extraordinary football player. He's got the talent, he's got the physical strength, he is the football player of the future," Xavi said. "He'll be the one pulling the strings for Spain's national team over the next 10 years."

Koke's emergence coincides with Atletico's improbable Spanish league run, with the 22-year-old Spain international nodding home the winner in Saturday's 2-1 victory at Athletic Bilbao that allowed Atletico to remain at the top of the table.

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- AP


WRAP: English Premiership

23 October 2016, 11:05

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