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Barcelona take centre stage

LONDON, July 23 – European champions Barcelona return to the scene of one of the greatest triumphs this weekend as the Spanish giants take part in a four-team pre-season tournament at Wembley Stadium.BARCELONA_FCJust three months after being crowned kings of Europe for the third time, it is fitting that Pep Guardiola’s star-studded squad are back at the English national stadium, where Barca first won the European Cup back in 1992.

It is the first time Barca have visited Wembley since the 90,000-capacity venue was rebuilt in 2007 and memories of Ronaldo Koeman’s free-kick winner against Sampdoria 17 years ago will be vivid for all connected with the Catalan club.

But Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, Xavi and company, refreshed after helping Barca will the treble for the first time last season, will be firmly focused on beginning their pre-season preparations in the same style they ended last term.

The two-day pre-season competition consists of four matches to be played across Friday and Sunday.

On Friday, Al Ahly take on Celtic before Barca’s clash with Tottenham. The second set of matches will be played on Sunday, with Al Ahly facing Barcelona before a battle of Britain between Tottenham and Celtic.

The winner of the tournament will be decided on a combined points and goals scored system.

"The Wembley Cup is a fantastic opportunity for our fans in the UK to watch Barcelona play in the incredible surroundings of Wembley Stadium," Guardiola said.

"The club has happy memories of Wembley having won the European Cup there in 1992 so it is great to be returning. The tournament will be a very important part of our preparations for the new season."

While Barcelona are just starting to warm up for the new campaign, Celtic’s Wembley matches are vital tests ahead of a tricky Champions League qualifying tie against Dinamo Moscow next week.

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The Scottish club need to get up to speed quickly as the Russians are already well into their domestic league season.

New Hoops boss Tony Mowbray desperately needs to keep European interest alive beyond August and he will hope new signing Marc-Antoine Fortune makes an immediate impact at Wembley.

Fortune, who starred for Mowbray at West Brom last season, said: "The main game for me is the first leg of the Champions League qualifying tie and the Wembley tournament will help us prepare for that," he said.

"I feel settled here already. Tony Mowbray was the key factor for me when it came to deciding to come here.

"I played for him for six months last season and I really like the way he wants his teams to play."

Celtic are certain to have a large following at Wembley but Tottenham, whose north London home is close to Wembley, will also have sizeable support.

Spurs boss Harry Redknapp could hand a debut to new signing Kyle Naughton after the England Under-21 full-back’s move from Sheffield United this week.

Mohamed Ismaeil, President of Al Ahly, believes the presence of his side among such illustrious opponents is a major boost for African football.

He said: "Playing in The Wembley Cup is a very big step forward not only for Al Ahly but for all African clubs and an excellent occasion for us to showcase our club and players to the world."

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