Napoli, Ben­fica, Be­sik­tas bat­tle for last 16 slots

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

As Paris Saint-Ger­main joust with Ar­se­nal for top spot in their group, Napoli, Ben­fica and Be­sik­tas will bat­tle it out to­day for last 16 Cham­pi­ons League slots.

The Group B trio all have ev­ery­thing to play for in their fi­nal pool games as the only one of the eight first phase groups where no side has yet se­cured a berth.

Por­tu­gal’s Ben­fica, Euro­pean cham­pi­ons back in 1961 and 1962 in their hal­cyon days but who have un­der­achieved since, should have se­cured their pas­sage on match­day five but threw away a three-goal lead at Be­sik­tas. That Turk­ish come­back, rekin­dling mem­o­ries of Liver­pool’s his­toric 2005 Istanbul tri­umph, has left the group out­come on a knife-edge with Be­sik­tas know­ing that a win at elim­i­nated Dy­namo Kiev will send them through. In con­trast, the fi­nal round of games pits Ben­fica against a Napoli side who beat them 4-2 back on match­day two in Italy-while Be­sik­tas were drop­ping home points against Kiev.

The Turk­ish side’s sub­se­quent win in Italy threw the group wide open and the 14-time na­tional cham­pi­ons’ re­fusal to sur­ren­der against Ben­fica means they now fancy their chances.

Be­sik­tas will hope that their best pre­vi­ous show­ing-a 1987 Euro­pean Cup quar­ter-fi­nal ap­pear­ance-will not prove a poor omen. Back then, they lost 7-0 on ag­gre­gate-to Kiev.

ALL AT STAKE IN LIS­BON

Turk­ish daily Sabah ex­pressed con­cern Sun­day about the weather in Kiev pre­dict­ing that sub-zero tem­per­a­tures and snow could spell “dan­ger”. The pa­per added Aras Oz­bi­liz, An­der­son Talisca and Caner Erkin are on the treat­ment ta­ble and set to miss out.

The win­ner of Ben­fica-Napoli in Lis­bon will qual­ify as group win­ners, while a draw would be enough to send the lat­ter through given their head-to-head edge. If Be­sik­tas lose, both will progress re­gard­less. Whereas Ben­fica warmed up for the game by los­ing their un­beaten record in Por­tu­gal in slump­ing to un­her­alded Mar­itimo at the week­end, Napoli broke back into the top four in Serie A when Slo­vakia mid­fielder Marek Ham­sik moved to within 11 goals of Diego Maradona’s record haul of 115 goals for the club af­ter scor­ing in Fri­day’s 3-0 romp over In­ter Mi­lan. “As far as we’re con­cerned, we have to go there look­ing for the win,” said Napoli coach Mau­r­izio Sarri. “It will be a dif­fi­cult game, but it could be two games in one. For the first 70 min­utes it could all be nor­mal, then go one way or the other in the fi­nal 20 min­utes.”

Be­yond the tight­est group of the sea­son, the fi­nal round of games is all about se­cur­ing pole position and a the­o­ret­i­cally softer sec­ond round draw. It’s been tight at the top through­out in Group A where there is noth­ing to choose be­tween Ar­se­nal and PSG, both through and level on points ahead of fi­nal games at Basel and home to Lu­do­gorets, both win­less makeweights. Barcelona have al­ready won Group C at the ex­pense of Manch­ester City who none­the­less ac­com­pany the Cata­lan club through re­gard­less of what hap­pens as City host Celtic and Barca wel­come Borus­sia Moenchenglad­bach. Atletico Madrid won Group D by a dis­tance and are the only club in beIN SPORTS 6 HD beIN SPORTS 7 HD beIN SPORTS 2 HD beIN SPORTS 9 HD beIN SPORTS 1 HD beIN SPORTS 5 HD beIN SPORTS 8 HD beIN SPORTS 4 HD

the com­pe­ti­tion with a per­fect record as they pre­pare to do the dou­ble over run­ners-up Bay­ern Mu­nich.

Ros­tov will look to avoid de­feat at PSV Eind­hoven and see their ad­ven­tures carry on al­beit in the Europa League.

A minute’s si­lence will be held be­fore all matches as a mark of re­spect for Brazil­ian side Chapecoense, whose squad was dec­i­mated by last week’s air­crash. — AFP

MANCH­ESTER: For­mer foot­baller and vic­tim of abuse Andy Wood­ward is com­forted by his family af­ter a press con­fer­ence at the launch of The Off­side Trust in Manch­ester yes­ter­day. The Off­side Trust was launched to help vic­tims of abuse and has been cre­ated by Andy Wood­ward, Steve Wal­ters and Chris Unsworth, who were all the vic­tims of his­toric child abuse. — AFP (See Page 17)

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