Barca centre back Puyol close to return from injury

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Barcelona centre back Carles Puyol returned to training with his team mates on Friday as the inspirational club captain continues his recovery from knee surgery.

Puyol had an operation to remove a cyst from his right knee in June, the latest in a string of injuries, including two operations on the same knee, a fractured cheekbone and a dislocated elbow.

He missed Spain's triumph at Euro 2012 and was left out of their squad for the Confederations Cup in Brazil and made only 13 appearances for Barca in La Liga and four in the Champions League last season.

The imminent return of the shaggy-haired 35-year-old to competitive action will help ease pressure on the Barca defence after their failed bid to sign another central defender in the close season.

"We are at the end of Puyol's period of recuperation," coach Gerardo Martino told a news conference on Friday.

"The team is getting its captain back and we have the centre back we wanted."

There was more good news on the injury front for Martino on Friday when Sergio Busquets was declared fit by medical staff and included in the squad for Saturday's La Liga match at home to Sevilla (1800 GMT).

The Spain midfielder missed the world and European champions' World Cup qualifier against Finland last Friday and Tuesday's friendly against Chile with a muscle problem.

Argentine World Player of Year Lionel Messi and Brazil forward Neymar were both in good physical condition after returning from international duty on Wednesday, Martino said.

"Messi and Neymar had very long journeys and we have to assess their fitness for the match, but physically they are fine," the Argentine added.

Spain forward Pedro is being rested and will not feature against Sevilla.

Barca have six matches in 19 days starting on Saturday, including Wednesday's opening fixture of the Champions League campaign at home to Ajax Amsterdam.

(Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid; Editing by John Mehaffey)

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