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May, 10, 2009

Barca's Champions League hopes hit by Iniesta blow

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta looks set to miss the Champions League final against Manchester United later this month after picking up a thigh injury in his side's 3-3 draw at home to Villarreal on Sunday night.

Iniesta looked downbeat as he left the pitch at the end of the match on a disappointing night for Barcelona, as the Catalans failed to secure the three points they needed to seal the title at the Nou Camp.

Early indications suggest the midfielder has suffered a recurrence of the serious thigh injury he picked up in November and Barca coach Pep Guardiola admitted he is likely to lose his in-form star for the rest of the season.

"I don't have a good feeling,'' he said on Sunday night. "We will do tests tomorrow, but there is no way he will play this week.''

That means Iniesta will definitely miss the final of the Copa del Rey, which sees Barcelona face Athletic Bilbao at Valencia's Mestalla stadium on Wednesday night. "We will try to get him fit for Rome - that's all we can do,'' he said. "We will have what the tests reveal.''

Thierry Henry is also fighting to be fit for the season's showpiece against United after picking up a ligament injury in the 6-2 thrashing of Real Madrid last weekend.

Meanwhile, Rafa Marquez is definitely ruled out for the rest of the season and Gabi Milito looks unlikely to return before the summer.

Against Villarreal, Barca saw Eric Abidal sent off for the second time in a week and the France full-back will now miss both of the club's finals through suspension.

With Dani Alves also suspended for the Champions League final, Guardiola faces some difficult selection choices in defence.

But the Barca coach says other players will step forward. "We have suffered many injuries recently and we don't have a huge squad, but we have some huge players and they will step forward for the important games which lie ahead,'' he said.

It was a frustrating night for Guardiola as Barcelona let a two-goal lead slip in the closing stages and missed out on sealing the title in front of their own fans.

The Barca coach says he was as disappointed as anyone to see his side pegged back to 3-3, but remembered that the title is still close.

"It was disappointing because at 3-1 we were in control of the game. But we are still in a great position. We could be four or five points ahead, but we are eight clear with nine to play for, so we know the title is close.''

And despite fielding his strongest available side, Guardiola does not believe tiredness will be a factor in Wednesday's final.

He said: "We have accumulated tiredness because we have played lots of games, but we have a cup final on Wednesday and we'll be ready for it. My players won't need any motivation for a game like that - we just have to out there at Mestalla and play.''

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