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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Barca unsung heroes impress Antic
By John Sinnott

Barcelona's Carles Puyol tackles AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko
Puyol has missed just one Barcelona game in Europe this season
Mention the word Barcelona and the name Ronaldinho inevitably follows as night does day.

But according to former Barcelona coach Radomir Antic, who managed the club in 2003, it is the team's lesser lights who have impressed him this season.

Antic told BBC Sport: "This team is mentally very, very strong.

"They have good leaders all over the pitch - Victor Valdes in goal, Rafael Marquez and Carles Puyol in defence and Deco in midfield who's a great player."

Antic added: "Yes Samuel Eto'o and Ronaldinho, Xavi, Iniesta are good, skilful players, but these other squad members are natural leaders and are ready to face any situation.

"Barcelona are very strong and composed, and in every game they produce something interesting.

Rijkaard has given Barcelona great stability
Former Barca coach Radomir Antic

"They have got great balance in their passing game.

"What I really like about Barcelona is that they look to attack - for my mind many other champions are too defensively-orientated."

Antic pointed to Barcelona's 3-0 away win over rivals Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in November as a turning point in a season which has seen them win the Spanish league as well as reach the Champions League final where they face Arsenal.

One commentator described that Barcelona victory over Real as being "the sort of game you wanted to frame and hang up in your front room".

Antic said: "That win was very important for Barcelona as it gave them the confidence to show they could play with authority in difficult situations.

"It showed Barcelona are a side that had the confidence to play for 90 minutes."

Antic also highlighted the contribution of Ludovic Giuly and Henrik Larsson, who have often played vital roles when they have come off the bench.

"Larsson has been very important in the league, while Giuly's goal against AC Milan in the first-leg Champions League semi-final at the San Siro showed his quality."

Radomir Antic
Antic has coached both Barcelona and Real Madrid

Frank Rijkaard replaced Antic at the end of the 2002-03 season as Barcelona coach and after a difficult start the Dutchman has blossomed at the Nou Camp.

"He has given the team great stability," added Antic, who as well as coaching Barca has managed Atletico and Real Madrid during his time in Spain.

"Rijkaard was clever in dealing with the provocation of (Jose) Mourinho earlier this season when Barcelona played Chelsea in the Champions League.

"He made sure all he did was talk about his own side."

Antic forecast Barcelona will beat Arsenal in Wednesday's final at the Stade de France.

"Sevilla's win over Middlesbrough in the Uefa Cup final demonstrated English sides are not good enough defensively.

"I know Arsenal have not conceded a goal in the Champions League this season, but I think they give possibilities to opposition players before they receive the ball.

"They don't pressurise the player enough before he gets the ball - that costs them energy and allows the opposition space."


SEE ALSO
How Arsenal can beat Barca
15 May 06 |  Europe
Alan Hansen's column
15 May 06 |  Football
Tim Vickery column
15 May 06 |  Football


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