Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Knockout stages already in sight for Euro big guns

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.

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 Piqué is the latest man on the treatment table — is a simple one ahead of a double-header against the Czech outsiders.

“There are six points at stake in these games. If we win them both, we will have ten points which will be enough to take us into the last 16,” said the France full-back.

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.

‘Just a decision’
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.”

‘Make the best of it’
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.

“There are many young players … with huge potential, who have been lying in wait for this, to be able to play on this stage of the Champions League, and now it’s up to us, to each individual, to make the best of it,” he told

Valencia’s form so far this season — just one defeat in all competitions — proves that they will not be easy opponents, however.

A disappointing start
Neither Marseille nor Arsenal have found form easy to come by recently ahead of their meeting in France in Group F.

Arsenal’s troubles have been well-documented, although they do at least go to the Stade Velodrome boosted by Sunday’s Premier League victory over Sunderland.

Marseille have won two out of two in the group, and a win on Wednesday would see them take a huge stride towards the next stage, but just one win in ten Ligue 1 outings means confidence remains tender.

“If we take four points [from the two meetings with OM] then we will qualify,” said Gunners’ boss Arsene Wenger.

“They have had a similar run to us — a disappointing start in the championship and they have done well in the Champions League. It is exactly the same.”

Olympiakos and Borussia Dortmund meet in Greece with both sides still chasing a first win in the group that would revitalise their hopes of progress.

APOEL Nicosia are the only side still unbeaten in Group G, but they could be in for a tough time against Porto, while Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit St Petersburg go head to head in Ukraine. — AFP

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Andy Scott
Journalist/broadcaster. AFP sport. Commentate French football for world feed, .

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Fishing subsidies in the W. Cape: ‘Illegal fishing is our...

Fishers claim they are forced into illegal trawling because subsidies only benefit big vessels

Kenya’s beach boys fall into sex tourism, trafficking

In the face of their families’ poverty, young men, persuaded by the prospect of wealth or education, travel to Europe with their older female sponsors only to be trafficked for sex

High court reinstates Umgeni Water board

The high court has ruled that the dissolution of the water entity’s board by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was unfair and unprocedural

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…