Back to the grindstone for champs Barcelona

Spanish and European champions Barcelona began their pre-season training on Monday with just their Argentinian and Brazilian players who took part in the Copa America missing.

Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué were among the 18 Barca players who took part in a light training session after completing physical tests.

Puyol, who underwent an operation in June on his left knee to remove loose cartilage, will work on building up muscle strength this week and did not appear on the field, the club said in a statement.

“The injury is healing well and within the predicted time schedule,” it said.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola will give his first press conference of the 2011/12 season after Tuesday morning’s training session.

Barca’s Argentine players Lionel Messi and his teammates Gabriel Milito and Javier Mascherano—along with the club’s Brazilian players Daniel Alves and Adriano—have been given extended leave to take part in the Copa America.

The tournament final is on July 24, but Argentina lost their quarterfinal against Uruguay on Saturday and Brazil went out at the same stage to Paraguay on Sunday.

Barcelona will face Hadjuk Split in Croatia on July 23 in a friendly.

The Spanish league kicks off on August 21, when Barcelona visit Malaga.—AFP