Soccer

Barcelona hopes Messi back to full fitness

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MILAN (AP)

Heading into one of its toughest weeks of the season, Barcelona is hopeful star player Lionel Messi is back to full fitness.

Messi was cleared on Friday after recovering from a muscle injury in his right leg but only played the final 22 minutes of the goalless draw at Osasuna the following day.

Next up for Barcelona is Tuesday's Champions League group match at AC Milan before it hosts Real Madrid next weekend in the first clasico of the season.

''I think Messi is fine,'' Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino said Monday. ''It would have been a risk to play him in Pamplona from the start. We tested him for a bit to see how he felt, seeing as we had important games coming up.

''He has had a very quick recuperation time, quicker than we expected. He has been given the all clear to play and there are the same risks playing him as with any other player.''

This is the seventh time in three years that Barcelona will face Milan, after meeting in the group stage and the quarterfinals in the 2011-12 season, and again in the last 16 the following year.

It was in that last match-up that Milan recorded its best result, with a surprising 2-0 victory at San Siro, with Barcelona perhaps guilty of underestimating its opponents. The Italian side was swiftly brought back to earth as it was crushed 4-0 in the return leg.

''I think sometimes things are seen differently by outsiders,'' Martino said. ''But in the dressing room last year, like in the dressing room tomorrow, we think we are facing a great team, a team with a great players, a team with great tradition.

''Milan is an institution in the world of football and they will want to play well and win. In no way is this match a formality, it's a very difficult game.''

Barcelona has won both of its opening matches and tops the group, two points ahead of Milan.

''This is a very decisive game in the group,'' Martino added. ''It would be very good to win this game as if we win tomorrow we'd have almost guaranteed qualification.''

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