Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde says his side are prepared to take on anyone in the last 16 of the Champions League after signing off from the group stages with a 2-0 home win over Sporting Lisbon.
With the La Liga leaders already qualified at the top of Group D and a testing trip to Villarreal ahead on Sunday, Valverde made the expected sweeping changes to the starting XI as talisman Lionel Messi was among the substitutes.
Barcelona finally broke the deadlock just before the hour mark when Paco Alcacer headed in from a corner.
Former Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu netted an own goal in stoppage time, which left Sporting having to be content with a Europa League spot after finishing behind Juventus.
The Spaniards, meanwhile, will be among the top seeds for the knockout stages, but could yet find themselves paired against the likes of Bayern Munich or Chelsea, who both finished second in their respective qualifying groups.
Valverde, though, will take things one step at a time.
"We don't know what could happen in the draw. We will accept any opponent," Valverde said in quotes reported by Marca.
Valverde felt his Barcelona side, which showed some eight changes to the starting XI which drew 2-2 with Celta Vigo, had produced the required result, if not perhaps the flowing performance.
"Our plan is to dominate matches and to create chances, at the same time as making sure they don't create chances against us," he said.
"We try to do things as well as we can. Sometimes we play wonderfully and sometimes less so."
Despite not being able to pull off a shock win which could have kept alive hopes of sneaking into the knockout stages ahead of Juventus, Sporting coach Jorge Jesus believes his side can head into the Europa League with confidence.
"We are leaving the Champions League feeling proud. It was a spectacular tournament for us that ended with one more game against Barcelona," he said at a press conference, quoted on www.uefa.com.
"We are going to the Europa League with the aim of doing well in that tournament. The Europa League has some very string teams and Sporting is one of them."
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde, who will lead the club for the first time in Saturday's pre-season match against Juventus, has dismissed speculation linking Neymar with a move to Paris Saint-Germain.
“Neymar is with us and we absolutely want him to stay here. The rest is just rumours,” Valverde told reporters at a news conference at Red Bull Arena on Friday ahead of Barcelona's first game in the International Champions Cup.
"This is a time for rumours," he added.
Valverde, who played for Barcelona as a forward between 1988 and 1990 under Johan Cruyff, said he had not even discussed the speculation with the Brazilian forward.
"We've talked about other stuff such as tactics and other stuff. It's a player we love and we want. Not only football-wise, but also the things he brings to the locker room."
Sitting alongside Valverde at the news conference, Sergio Busquets said there was no reason for his team mate to move.
"I don't think he could be in any better place. I hope that he stays here for many years," Busquets said.
After the news conference, Neymar joined team mates Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez among the rest of the Barcelona squad in warm-ups and practice on the New York Red Bulls field ahead of the match against Juventus at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium.
Valverde said he was still learning about his new side.
"I'm getting to know them little by little in the practice sessions we've had. "It's not an official competition and Juve and ourself are not in form yet, but I'm eager to see what my players can do on the pitch."
Pep Guardiola has given his backing to new Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde calling him ‘exceptional’ and ‘a good friend’.
The current Manchester City boss, who was at the helm at the Camp Nou between 2008 and 2012, believes the hiring of Valverde following his departure from Athletic Bilbao was a ‘strong choice’.
"Ernesto is an exceptional Coach and a good friend," Guardiola is quoted as saying by Marca.
"Barcelona have made a strong choice."
Guardiola also took time to give credit to Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane, but warned Los Blancos that his former club would bounce back.
"He is a great coach and, as a player, he was on another level," he continued.
"I am happy for him because he has done an excellent job.
"I congratulate Real Madrid because they were the worthy winner of the Champions League, but I would also tell them not to become overconfident because Barcelona always bounce back.”
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