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UCL: Barca’s last-16 hopes dealt a blow after Benfica draw

 

Barcelona’s hopes of progressing in the Champions League were dealt a blow as they were held to a goalless draw by Benfica at Camp Nou in Group E.

Xavi – taking charge of his first European game as Blaugrana boss – must now guide his side to victory at already-qualified Bayern Munich in the final group game to guarantee progression to the last 16. Failing that, Barcelona would need Benfica to drop points at home to Dinamo Kyiv, who are bottom of the group on one point.

Handed a surprise start in attack, 18-year-old Austrian Yusuf Demir went closest for Barcelona in the opening 45 minutes when he struck the woodwork with a delicious curler, but Xavi’s side also survived a couple of first-half scares.

Roman Yaremchuk was brought into Benfica’s XI for his aerial presence and Jorge Jesus’ decision almost paid dividends. He looked destined to break the deadlock but saw his stooped header blocked by the knee of Marc Andre Ter Stegen.

Nicolas Otamendi beat the Barcelona goalkeeper with a thumping effort following a corner but the ball was adjudged to have strayed out of play a moment earlier.

Barcelona failed to replicate their high-tempo performance of the first half after the restart and in the 66th minute, Xavi gambled on the fitness of Ousmane Dembele, who replaced Demir. The 24-year-old made an immediate impact with his skill and pace, creating a chance for Frenkie de Jong, whose bullet header was kept out by Odisseas Vlachodimos.

Ronald Araujo thought he had won it for Barcelona when he converted from Jordi Alba’s delicious cross in the 83rd minute – but he was just a fraction offside.

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Gerard Pique then spurned a gilt-edged opportunity when he headed wide from point-blank range, but Benfica ought to have won it right at the death when substitute Haris Seferovic inexplicably toe-poked wide with the goal gaping – a quite unbelievable miss.

Benfica will still be happiest with the draw and must now be classed as favourites to finish runners-up to leaders Bayern and progress in the competition at Barcelona’s expense.

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