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Soccer-Cruyff confident Barca can add European Cup to Liga title

Written by: Staff

MADRID, May 4 (Reuters) Former coach Johan Cruyff is confident Barcelona can add the European Cup to their Primera Liga title when they take on Arsenal in the Champions League final on May 17.

The Dutchman was critical of the side early in the season as they experienced a stuttering start but was one of the first to hail their achievements after they claimed their second successive championship title yesterday.

''I am sure we are going to beat Arsenal in Paris,'' Cruyff told Radio Catalunya.

''But we can enjoy what we have won now because we have two weeks to prepare for the final.'' Cruyff's coaching achievements - four successive Spanish championships in the early 1990's and Barcelona's only European Cup triumph in 1992 - have hung like an albatross round the neck of his successors.

But in coach Frank Rijkaard, another Dutchman, Barca appear to have found someone capable of perhaps recreating the era of the 'dream team'.

Cruyff added: ''Rijkaard has managed to get the side to function as a team. Some players do the hard work and others do beautiful things with the ball.

''Ronaldinho remains fresh, for example, because other players sacrifice themselves for him, which is the key.'' The likes of Brazilian forward Ronaldinho, Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o and Portugal midfielder Deco are the high-profile imported names that provide the glamour to Rijkaard's side.

SUPPORTING CAST But behind them have been a supporting cast of homegrown players who have been crucial to the side's success.

The explosive talents of Argentine Lionel Messi were nurtured in the youth ranks, alongside local players such as goalkeeper Victor Valdes, defenders Carles Puyol and Oleguer and midfielder Andres Iniesta.

Another, Spain midfielder Xavi, has missed five months of the season with a serious knee injury and it is a credit to the side they have not appeared to miss him.

The carefully nurtured team ethic and a patient commitment to playing entertaining football were there to see on Wednesday when they clinched the league title.

Due to their having a later kickoff time to second-placed Valencia, Barca knew they were champions at halftime in their match away to high-flying Celta Vigo.

Valencia's 2-1 defeat at Real Mallorca left Barca with an unassailable lead at the top of the table, regardless of the result in their game.

But rather than sit back, the Catalans showed admirable professionalism to step up a gear to win 1-0, with Eto'o netting his 25th goal of the season in the 54th minute.

Around 4,000 fans greeted the team when they landed back at Barcelona airport in the early hours of the morning and thousands more lined the streets as the team took an open-topped bus back to the Nou Camp.

The official title celebrations are expected to be held on Saturday at their home game against city rivals Espanyol.


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