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By ESPN Staff

Barca will cope with Eto'o absence, says Rijkaard

MADRID, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard said the European champions would feel the absence of injured striker Samuel Eto'o but remains confident the team can cope without their leading scorer.

'It's a shame for the team, the club and especially for the player because he is a very important member of the squad,' Rijkaard told a news conference on Friday.

'But our aim is to keep working hard so that when he comes back he will be rejoining a side that is in strong shape. I think we have the players that will enable us to continue to make good progress.'

Eto'o, who has scored 68 goals for Barca since signing from Real Mallorca in 2004, will be out for up to five months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee suffered during Wednesday's 1-1 draw against Werder Bremen.

He will miss the remainder of Barcelona's Champions League group games, the FIFA Club World Cup and up to 20 league matches.

Although the Cameroon striker has been the club's leading scorer for the past two seasons, Rijkaard still has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in attack.

He can call on Iceland striker Eidur Gudjohnsen and Argentina's Javier Saviola while Lionel Messi, Ludovic Giuly and Ronaldinho provide further options.

Saviola was included in the squad for Saturday's game at Athletic Bilbao and Rijkaard said that he would be given more chances in the first team.

'Saviola has always worked hard even when he has not been playing and so he will now become one of our two main strikers,' said Rijkaard.

Barcelona have suffered a series of injury problems to leading players in recent seasons, but have still won consecutive league titles and the Champions League.

Last December in-form playmaker Xavi tore his cruciate ligament, but former youth team player Andres Iniesta emerged as an able replacement.

They also managed without Eto'o for almost a month while he was playing for Cameroon in the African Nations Cup.