Barca hit the road as ash fails to halt holders

MILAN - Barcelona are travelling by bus to Tuesday's Champions League semi-final first leg at Inter Milan, showing not even grounded flights and a huge volcanic ash cloud can halt the brilliance of Lionel Messi and Co.

Inter, though, did manage the rare feat of stopping the holders and their Argentine magician from scoring back in September when they met in a goalless draw in the group stages at the San Siro.

A 0-0 draw in the La Liga derby with Espanyol on Saturday and tired limbs from the 985-km bus trip, including an overnight stay in Cannes, will also give Inter hope that Barca will not be at their sparkling best.

An ash cloud from an Icelandic volcano has stopped air transport for much of Europe but Barca are not making excuses.

"With so many hours together on the coach, I am sure it will help us to be more united and to create a tight-knit group to beat Inter," midfielder Sergio Busquets told a news conference.

"It's a long journey and it's not something we are used to but with music and some films I'm sure the trip will feel much shorter."

Coach Pep Guardiola, without the injured Andres Iniesta but with former Inter striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and left back Eric Abidal back in his squad, has plenty of time to mull tactics.

In recent games, Guardiola has dropped one forward in his habitual attacking trident in favour of a full back, Daniel Alves or Maxwell, who have played in an advanced role to help combat opponents' attempts to crowd the midfield.

However, it was not very effective on Saturday.

Meticulous Inter coach Jose Mourinho will have taken note of how Espanyol successfully harried and disrupted Barca's creative department, keeping Messi and Xavi largely under wraps with close man-to-man marking.


Media reports have therefore speculated Mourinho could make another surprise tactical move for Tuesday after the way his unexpectedly attacking line-up stifled Chelsea.

Right back Maicon may be asked to play in a more advanced role to pack the midfield like Barca, some reports have said.

UEFA said in a statement on Sunday that the game and Wednesday's other semi-final first leg between Bayern Munich and Olympique Lyon would go ahead despite the travel problems.

Inter are glad the match has not been postponed after rediscovering their confidence and swagger in a 2-0 win over Juventus on Friday.

Their Serie A title defence had stumbled badly in recent weeks despite their impressive elimination of Chelsea in the Champions League last 16.

"We have to prepare for the match with tranquillity. Games like these are played more with your mind than with your feet," Inter's former Barca striker Samuel Eto'o told Inter Channel.

Inter, who lost 2-0 at Barca in their second group meeting in November, are at full strength apart from left-back Davide Santon being ruled out after minor knee surgery.

Probable teams:

Inter Milan: 12-Julio Cesar; 13-Maicon, 25-Walter Samuel, 6-Lucio, 4-Javier Zanetti; 8-Thiago Motta, 19-Esteban Cambiasso, 5-Dejan Stankovic; 10-Wesley Sneijder; 9-Samuel Eto'o, 22-Diego Milito