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Pressure on hosts Barcelona, Liverpool
- UEFA Cup - Ronaldinho a doubtful starter; Michael Owen ruled out

London: Former European champions Barcelona and Liverpool hope to avoid slipping on Uefa Cup banana skins on Wednesday with both sides left with work to do at home to Eastern European opposition.

Barcelona take on Slovakia’s Puchov at the Nou Camp after being held to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their first round clash. That result, coupled with Barcelona’s failure to win at home this season, has put pressure on coach Frank Rijkaard, who has called for patience from the club’s discontented fans after his side’s slow start.

The Catalans were jeered by sections of their home crowd following a 0-1 defeat by Primera Liga leaders Valencia on October 5, and any slip-up against Puchov is sure to undermine Rijkaard’s position.

Brazilian forward Ronaldinho is a doubt for the game after suffering a leg strain in a King’s Cup match earlier this month.

Liverpool, Uefa Cup winners in 2001, welcome Slovenia’s Olimpija to Anfield after a Michael Owen goal secured a 1-1 draw in the first leg where they had fallen behind to an Anton Zlogar strike.

Owen, however, has been ruled out of the match as he is yet to recover from a shin injury which kept him out of England’s Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey last Saturday.

Owen was injured in Liverpool’s 1-2 defeat to Arsenal 10 days ago.

Gerard Houllier’s side must shake off recent poor league form, having lost their last two games to sit in eighth place, nine points behind leaders Arsenal after eight games.

Parmaalso drew their first leg 1-1 away to the Ukraine’s Metalurg Donetsk but will be confident of progressing, having not lost at home this season.

Roma, third in Serie A, should breeze through after hammering Vardar Skopje 4-0 in the first leg, while fellow Italians Perugia and Udinese will expect to join them after picking up away wins at Dundee and Salzburg, respectively.

Three German sides will have to improve on their first-leg performances to reach the second round. The 1997 winners Schalke start all-square with Kamen Ingrad after a goalless draw in Croatia, while Hertha Berlin visit Poland’s Groclin Grodzisk, also after a 0-0 first-leg result.

Kaiserslautern, 13th in the 18-team Bundesliga after having three points deducted before the start of the season for breaching licensing rules, travel to the Czech Republic needing to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Teplice.

The pressure is on coach Erik Gerets, who said he feared that the four-times German champions, after battling against relegation and financial collapse last season, would continue to struggle following their first-leg defeat.

Meanwhile, Newcastle United striker Craig Bellamy has been ruled out of their tie at NAC Breda on Wednesday after the recurrence of a knee injury, said manager Bobby Robson.

Newcastle, who lead 5-0 after last month’s first leg at St James’ Park, were told about the injury by Bellamy on his return from international duty after he played the full 90 minutes in Wales’ 3-2 loss to Serbia and Montenegro in Cardiff on Saturday.

Robson said on Tuesday that the 24-year-old, who scored twice in the home leg three weeks ago, has not travelled with the Newcastle squad to The Netherlands.

Bellamy has a history of problems with both knees and a frustrated Robson said: “He is injured. He is not travelling and we have to look at that situation again very closely, which the club will do,” said the Newcastle manager. (Reuters)

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