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Eto'o left out of Barca squad at own request

MADRID, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Striker Samuel Eto'o has been left out of the Barcelona squad to visit Valencia in the Primera Liga on Sunday at his own request, coach Frank Rijkaard said on Saturday.

'Eto'o has told me he feels his fitness is improving but that he would prefer to stay in Barcelona to continue working to achieve his peak form,' Rijkaard told a news conference.

The Cameroon international stirred up controversy during the week by criticising Rijkaard and team mate Ronaldinho.

Eto'o's outburst came after the Dutchman said he had refused to come on as a substitute in Sunday's 2-0 victory over Racing Santander.

He also made a thinly-veiled criticism of Brazilian playmaker Ronaldinho, who had suggested Eto'o should put the interests of the team before his own.

The matter was smoothed over on Wednesday with Eto'o making a public display of reconciliation with Ronaldinho, while Rijkaard and the club decided against taking punitive action for the incident.

Eto'o, returning to action after four months out with a knee injury, said he refused to come on as a late sub against Santander because he needed a longer warm up.

Barcelona play Liverpool in the Champions League first knockout round first leg, next week.