Vilanova Greets Players after Cancer Operation

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Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova visited team players at their training ground on Wednesday, less than two weeks after he had cancer surgery, the club said.

The visit raised hopes that Vilanova, 44, may soon return to work with the team, which is flying nine points clear at the top of the Spanish league.

"He came to the Ciudad Deportiva and greeted the players who trained there this morning," Barcelona said in a statement, referring to the club's training ground.

Nine members of the Barcelona squad were preparing there for a friendly match between Catalonia and Nigeria on Wednesday evening.

Vilanova faces six weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy but the club's president Sandro Rosell said Friday the coach could be back at work in less than three weeks.

The coach's son, Adria, on Tuesday published on Twitter a photograph of himself and his father standing on a paddle tennis court, further fueling optimism for his recovery.

Adria Vilanova, who plays for one of Barcelona's junior teams, said he had seen in the New Year "playing paddle with someone special".

The club also said that first-choice goalkeeper Victor Valdes would miss the Catalonia regional team's match against Nigeria because of a swelling in the sole of his foot.

"The goalkeeper did not train this morning in the session of the players called up to play for Catalonia due to a plantar fasciitis in his left foot," the club statement said.

"It is planned that Valdes will do recovery work in the afternoon."

It did not indicate how long Valdes would be sidelined for.

Surgeons operated on Vilanova on December 20 for cancer in his salivary gland that had returned following a first operation in November 2011.

The news shocked the Catalan team who have made their best ever league start after Vilanova took over from Pep Guardiola when he stepped down last season.

Unbeaten with 16 wins and one draw, Barca are 16 points ahead of their fierce rivals and title holders Real Madrid and nine points clear of second-place Atletico Madrid in the league.

FC Barcelona's next game is a city derby against Espanyol on January 6.

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