Vilanova defends Messi selection

Barcelona boss Tito Vilanova has defended his decision to include Lionel Messi in last night's Champions League game against Benfica after the Argentina star suffered a knee injury.

Although Messi was left out of the starting XI for a match which had little significance for Barca given they were already assured of top spot in Group G, he was introduced 13 minutes into the second half.

He lasted just 26 minutes, however, before being carried off after colliding with Benfica goalkeeper Artur Moraes and then twisting awkwardly when trying to curl a shot into the net.

Messi, 25, went into the game one goal shy of Gerd Muller's record of 85 in a calendar year but Vilanova denied that played a part in his selection.

"We talked about the possibility of him playing for 30 minutes. He's a player that likes to play," said the Barca boss.

"He's not focused on breaking the record that everyone is talking about, if that were the case he would have played against Alaves (in the Copa del Rey last week) and the full 90 minutes against Benfica.

"Playing is part of his physical training."

Vilanova was adamant he would not change the way Messi was handled.

"Should we sub him out every time we're leading 3-0 in case he picks up an injury?" he added.

"We've never behaved this way. I'd make the same decision (to play him) seeing that he can get injured at any moment."

Barca later announced Messi had suffered nothing more than a bruised left knee although further tests were required to determine whether he would miss any significant time.

The news will come as a major relief to the Catalans, who made a host of changes in a goalless draw against a Benfica side needing to win to advance to the knockout stage.

Porto, Arsenal, AC Milan, Shakhtar Donetsk and Galatasaray are their possible round-of-16 opponents and Vilanova does not have a preference.

"Whoever we play against will be a big team," he said on www.fcbarcelona.com.

"The round of 16 is always complicated.

"We did what we had to do, we wanted to finish first and have that small advantage of playing the return leg at home."

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