15 September 2014 17:11
Pedro is anticipating a difficult challenge when Barcelona begin their UEFA Champions League campaign at home to APOEL on Wednesday.
On paper, the Cypriot outfit represent the weakest opponents in Group F, which also includes Ajax and Paris Saint-Germain, both reigning champions of their respective domestic leagues.
Barcelona will come into the clash as firm favourites and they boast a strong home record in this competition, with just one defeat in their past 27 matches at Camp Nou.
Despite that run, Pedro is not expecting an easy ride against Giorgos Donis’ men.
“We’ll be playing against a physical side that tracks back well,” he said. “I’m sure it’ll be a difficult game.
“Every year we work hard to reach the Champions League final. It was a shame to lose to Atletico [Madrid, in the quarter-finals] last year.
“We’re really up for it this season and hoping to win the title. But it’s always hard, especially in the knockout phase.”
Luis Enrique – who was in the Barca side last time they faced Cypriot opposition in 1996 – makes his European managerial debut, hoping to build on the positive start to his tenure which has seen the Catalan giants win both of their La Liga matches so far without conceding a goal.
APOEL have done likewise in the defence of their domestic title but will have their work cut out in a bid to repeat the heroics of the 2011-12 campaign, when they defied the odds to reach the quarter-finals before taking on Real Madrid proved a step too far, as Barca’s fierce rivals won 8-2 on aggregate.
Donis’ charges have already played four matches in this season’s competition, coming through the third qualifying round and then the play-off stage to reach the group phase for the third time in their history.
Following a 4-2 aggregate win over HJK, APOEL gained a 1-1 draw in Denmark against AaB before trouncing their opponents 4-0 in the return leg to reach the first round proper.
Dani Alves missed Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Saturday with a knee injury and remains a doubt, as does Thomas Vermaelen (hamstring), although both trained with the squad on Monday.
Neymar came off the bench to score both goals in that victory and could be in line to start, with Gerard Pique also pushing for a recall after playing the second half in place of Javier Mascherano against Bilbao.
Meanwhile, the visitors have fitness doubts over Tasos Papzaoglou (stomach), Stathis Aloneftis (ankle) and John Arne Riise (knock), who won the competition in 2005 with Liverpool.