Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard now hopes the Spanish champions can take their improved league form into tonight’s encounter at Camp Nou and make opponents Panathinaikos push forward by scoring early.

“We must show our quality from the start and try to score as soon as possible to open up the game and make it easier to create chances,” said Rijkaard.

A win tonight and Barcelona are virtually assured a place in the knocout stages, but Rijkaard is taking nothing for granted.

“If we win then it would be an important step for us and for our future in this important competition,” he added.

“Panathinaikos have a very well-organised defence. They have some very interesting players. We must maintain the rhythm we have been playing in these last few matches.”

The promising youngster Lionel Messi will start as Rijkaard opts to rest Ludovic Giuly and Maxi López. Rafael Márquez is back after missing Sunday’s 5-0 win against Real Sociedad. Deco and Juliano Belletti are still out with thigh and knee injuries respectively.

Panthinaikos coach Alberto Malesani insists his team have got a chance of securing an unlikely win tonight.

“It would not be a miracle,” he said. “We have to commit as few errors as we can and defend strongly and attack with intelligence.

“Barcelona are one of the most powerful teams in Europe, but we will go out with a winning mentality and with great ambition. If we lose then it would not be a problem because this is a mini-league and there would still be time to recover.”

Striker Evagelos Mantzios, could miss out through injury while Emmanuel Olisadebe and Ioannis Goumas are both absent. Hungarian striker Sándor Torghelle and midfielder Igor Biscan are recalled to the squad after missing the defeat of PAOK at the weekend.

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