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FC Barcelona Football Team Seeks to Reclaim Prominence - 2003-08-01

FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have almost always dominated Spanish football (soccer), but in recent years, Madrid has held a distinct advantage, both in Spain and Europe.

FC Barcelona has won the European title just once, in 1992, and has not captured the league championship since consecutive crowns in 1998-1999. Last season's poor start and sixth-place finish in Spain's 20-team League cost two coaches their jobs. Barcelona finished 22 points behind champion Real Madrid.

In charge of rebuilding Barcelona is new coach Frank Rijkaard. The new coach is a soft-spoken, 40-year-old Dutchman whose youthful looks, dreadlocks and lean physique make it sometimes difficult to distinguish him from the players.

According to Rijkaard, the fans are ready for a winning season. "Besides Real Madrid, I think that most people in Barcelona, they really want to have a successful team," he said.

Barcelona came to the United States in July to play in the Champions World Series for exhibition games against other top clubs from the world. Rijkaard and the team are hoping their three-game U.S. tour will mark the start of a renaissance season.

Helping to transform FC Barcelona is the addition of Brazilian Ronaldhino, who Rijkaard enjoys to watch.

"I think that you can see when he touches the ball that something happens. He has some very fantastic passes and movements," he said. "He is very inventive, Ronaldhino, especially when we are in position of the ball."

Playing alongside Ronaldhino is Argentine forward Javier Saviola, Dutch national team veterans Cocu, Marc Overmars and Patrick Kluivert. Other team members include Swedish defender Patrik Andersson, Mexican Rafael Marquez and Portuguese newcomer Ricardo Quaresma.

Earlier in the year, Barcelona appeared to be on the verge of adding perhaps the best player available, Englishman David Beckham. But Beckham went to Real Madrid. Still, fans seem to like the squad's new look, but the players are aware that another substandard performance in league play this season will not be accepted well. According to head coach Frank Rijkaard, Barcelona has to build from within before it can build victories.

"If you want to be successful, then at first, you have to look at yourself," he said. "And work really hard to build a strong team, and to have the right mentality. If that goes well, then we can look at other teams, like for instance, Real Madrid."

On Sunday, Barcelona finished in a 2-2 tie with Italian power Juventus in Foxboro, Massachusetts, and defeated European champion AC Milan of Italy, 2-0, Wednesday in Washington. Barcelona will close its U.S. tour with a game against Manchester United of England on Sunday in Philadelphia.