Sunday, June 16, 2024

Knockout stages in sight for Euro big guns


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Paris: Several Champions League knockout stage regulars can take a step closer to the last 16 on Wednesday, with Barcelona, AC Milan and Chelsea all in strong positions coming into matchday three.

Pep Guardiola’s defending European champions entertain Viktoria Plzen at the Camp Nou in a Group H clash that has all the makings of a major mismatch.

After losing 2-0 to Milan at the San Siro three weeks ago, the odds against Viktoria winning in Catalonia are as high as 66-1 with some bookmakers.

Barcelona is counting on Lionel Messi to maintain his excellent scoring form when it hosts Czech champion Plzen.

Messi’s pair of goals in a 3-0 victory over Racing Santander on Saturday took the Argentina striker’s season tally to 16 from 12 games and kept the Spanish champions top of the league.

Barca remain unbeaten this season, and stayed on top of La Liga following a comfortable 3-0 victory over Racing Santander on Saturday.

Now Eric Abidal says the task for an injury-hit Barca — Gerard Pique is the latest man on the treatment table — is a simple one ahead of a double-header against the Czech outsiders.

AC Milan host BATE

Meanwhile, Milan will be looking for Antonio Cassano, Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to reproduce the form they showed in Saturday’s 3-0 success against Palermo as they prepare to host BATE Borisov in the other Group H meeting at the San Siro.

Chelsea clash with Genk

Chelsea defend their unbeaten record in Group E when they host Belgian champions Genk at Stamford Bridge.

With all the focus on the two Manchester giants, the west London outfit have been making steady progress under Andre Villas-Boas, and have scored eight goals in winning their last two Premier League games.

Fernando Torres has not featured in either of these games due to suspension, but the Spaniard is available again and Villas-Boas hinted at a return for the 27-year-old against a side who have been struggling for form in their domestic league.

“If we don’t decide on him, it will be a long time out of the game,” he said.

“But he has been keeping fit and training and played for Spain. It’s just a decision we have to make, bearing in mind what we want for the team.”

Elsewhere in Group E, two former Champions League runners-up meet as Bayer Leverkusen entertain Valencia in Germany.

Valencia were beaten finalists in 2000 and 2001, while Leverkusen lost to Real Madrid in Glasgow in 2002 but, a decade on, the chances of either side going as far again appear slim.

However, Leverkusen captain Michael Ballack, the one survivor from the Factory Team’s line-up in the 2002 final, is looking for the class of 2011 to follow in his footsteps.

Arsenal face Marseille

Arsenal and Marseille will both look to put aside domestic struggles and take control of Group F when the pair meet in a Champions League match on Wednesday.

Marseille leads Group F with six points, Arsenal has four points, Borussia Dortmund is third with one point and winless Olympiakos is last.

Arsenal has never lost in seven trips to France and is keen to avoid a similar drop-off to last season when it won its first three matches before fading to finish second in its group. That condemned it to a knockout stage match up with eventual champion Barcelona. (Agencies)


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