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Barca hopes in the balance after draw


Barca hopes in the balance after draw

After failing to get the job done at home against Benfica, FC Barcelona knows it will likely need a win at unbeaten Bayern Munich to avoid its first group-stage elimination in the Champions League in nearly two decades.

Barcelona’s hopes of advancing in the top European club competition took a hit with a 0-0 draw against Benfica on Tuesday (Nov 23) at the Camp Nou Stadium.

A win would have guaranteed Barca a spot in the knockout stages for the 18th straight season, but it couldn’t capitalize on its chances in what was Xavi Hernandez’s coaching debut in the Champions League.

Defender Ronald Araujo thought he had scored the crucial winner in the 83rd but the goal was disallowed for offside.

Benfica had its own chance in stoppage time when Haris Seferovic got past Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen but failed to find the net, sending some Benfica players and coach Jorge Jesus to the ground in despair.

The draw kept the Catalan club in second place in Group E, two points ahead of Benfica, but the Portuguese side has the tiebreaker advantage if it beats already eliminated Dynamo Kyiv at home and Barcelona fails to defeat group winner Bayern in Germany in the final round.

Bayern won 2-1 at Dynamo in the other group match Tuesday for its fifth straight victory in the competition.

Xavi, the former midfielder who helped Barcelona win four Champions League titles as a player, made his coaching debut in a much-needed win against Espanyol in a Spanish league derby at the weekend – a result that ended the team’s four-match winless streak.

“We played a great match but couldn’t score,” Xavi said. “We are optimistic. We are Barcelona and will go to Munich to win that match, just like we try to do against every team. We will play with the same attitude that we played today.”

Benfica hasn’t made it past the group stage since 2016-17, when it was eliminated by Borussia Dortmund in the last 16.

Barcelona played well and looked in control from the start even though it didn’t create many significant scoring opportunities.

It was Benfica that almost broke the deadlock in the 34th with a powerful header by Roman Yaremchuck that prompted a foot save by Ter Stegen at the goal line. A couple of minutes later, a goal by Nicolas Otamendi didn’t stand because Everton’s free kick cross went out of bounds in the buildup.

Barcelona answered when Yusuf Demir’s curling left-footed shot struck the crossbar in the 42nd, and in the second half Memphis Depay almost opened the scoring in a breakaway in the 57th.

Ousmane Dembele, coming off an injury, came off the bench in the 66th and quickly set up a header by Frenkie de Jong that prompted a difficult save by Benfica goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos. Dembele also had a chance in a one-on-one situation in the final minutes but couldn’t get a shot on goal as Otamendi came in to deflect the ball away.

Barcelona, in its first season without Lionel Messi in nearly two decades, became in danger of elimination after opening with consecutive 3-0 losses to Bayern and Benfica. It recovered thanks to two straight 1-0 wins over Dynamo.

Benfica’s win over Barcelona in their first match was the first in six decades for the Portuguese side against the Catalan club.

Xavi was without Sergi Roberto because of an injury, while Sergino Dest, who also had been nursing an injury, started on the bench.

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