Thursday, June 20, 2024

Barca, Milan eye CL knockout stage


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LONDON: Barcelona and AC Milan can effectively seal their expected places in the Champions League knockout stage with three games remaining when they play rank outsiders Viktoria Plzen and BATE Borisov respectively in their Group H matches on Wednesday night.

European champions Barca, who crushed Borisov 5-0 in Belarus in their last Champions League outing on Sept. 28 are the overwhelming favourites to see off their Czech visitors, who were beaten 2-0 away to Milan last time out.

Barca and Milan, who host Borisov, have four points each from two matches while the other pair both have one and the competition’s two giants, who have been European champions 11 times between them, can open a six-point gap with victories.

Matters are likely to be far less clear-cut however when the top two in Group F — Olympique Marseille and Arsenal –meet at the Stade Velorome in the south of France.

Both sides have made poor starts to their domestic league campaigns and, while their Champions League performances have been less erratic, they will nervously hope for a victory.

Marseille are top with six points from two games followed by Arsenal on four but with Borussia Dortmund, who travel to Olympiakos, also in the group and looking for a first win, neither side can afford to slip up.

Group E is even tighter with Chelsea on four points, Bayer Leverkusen with three, Valencia on two and Racing Genk with one but things should become clearer, at least for Chelsea who are odds-on to beat the Belgians.

Surprise Group G leaders APOEL Nicosia will be severely tested when they travel to former Champions league winners Porto, who have won 15 of their last 19 European home games.

Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine host Zenit St Petersburg of Russia in the other match in the section.

Mourinho second-season syndrome kicking in at Real : Jose Mourinho has often said his teams do better in his second season in charge and Real Madrid’s thrashing of Olympique Lyon in the Champions League provided further evidence to back his claim.

Real were utterly dominant against an unambitious Lyon team at the Bernabeu on Tuesday, running out 4-0 winners with goals from Karim Benzema, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Sergio Ramos.

Three wins from three games without conceding a goal left the Spaniards top of Group D, five points ahead of Ajax Amsterdam and Lyon, in their quest to improve on last season’s semi-final appearance.

Real are pursuing a record 10th European Cup, and Mourinho his third all with different clubs, and it seems to be coming together even without Cristiano Ronaldo getting on the scoresheet.

The world’s most expensive player notched an incredible 53 goals in all competitions last year but this season he has been a more creative influence and he provided yet another assist to set up the opening goal for Benzema.

”Ronaldo seems fine to me. I’m delighted with him,” former Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan coach Mourinho told reporters.

”It would be a problem if he didn’t score and the team also didn’t win. It happened against Levante and Racing Santander. He hasn’t scored in the last few games but the team has so it’s not a problem. ”I also liked seeing him giving an intelligent and selfless performance tonight. He won the Golden Boot and the La Liga top scorer award last year and he wants to win things that are more important this season,” Mourinho added. (Agencies)


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