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Dec, 4, 2012

Messi in contention for Benfica game

Tito Vilanova is to rest six regular first-teamers for Wednesday's Champions League group game against Benfica at the Camp Nou, but Lionel Messi has been named in the squad as he homes in on Gerd Muller's calendar year goalscoring record.

• Is Deulofeu ready for glory?
• Qualification permutations

Messi's double against Athletic Bilbao last Saturday brought him to 84 so far in 2012, just one off Muller's record set in 1972, but the Catalan coach told reporters at the Camp Nou on Tuesday that his squad selection for the game had nothing to do with the possibility of setting a new landmark.

"Leo had a rest last week for the Copa del Rey game against Alaves," Vilanova said. "He always wants to play, not just for records. It is a Champions league game and he is excited to be there. On the pitch is where he feels best, it is his favourite place to be.

"Leo, as always, just wants to win the game and play as well as possible. These things should be just let happen, not be forced. If we are all worrying about the record, it will be more difficult."

With Barca already guaranteed to qualify as group winners, Javier Mascherano, Jordi Alba, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Pedro Rodriguez have all been given the day off, while Barca B defenders Sergi Gomez, Carles Planas, midfielder Sergi Roberto and attackers Rafinha, Gerard Deulofeu and Cristian Tello have been included in the 18-man blaugrana squad for the game.

The Portuguese league leaders, who caused some problem Barca's defence while losing the reverse fixture 2-0, are likely to be highly-motivated as they battle with Celtic - who host Spartak Moscow in their final game - for second place in the group.

"Benfica are playing to qualify and will come out with everything," Vilanova said. "They are very dangerous up front, above all on the break, with Oscar Cardozo or Lima, who can score at any moment."

With senior players David Villa, Thiago Alcantara, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Adriano Correia and Carles Puyol all looking likely to start the game, as well as Messi, Vilanova said whatever Barca team he chose would be capable of winning the game and would uphold the integrity of the competition.

"The team we put out will be to win the game. It is an important game as we represent Barcelona in the Champions League," he said. "There are other teams as well as Benfica who could qualify, and we will compete at our best. For players coming back from injury, this game is perfect for them to get back in match rhythm. Villa has done well when he has played, and he has scored goals."

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