Porto, Sevilla hunt final knockout berths
PA R I S :
While Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund grapple for top spot in Group F, twice former winners Porto and Sevilla look to clinch the two remaining spots in the Champions League last 16 today.
Portuguese giants Porto, European champions in 1987 and 2004, host Leicester City in their final group stage match wary of FC Copenhagen pipping them to second in Group G. Despite a woeful defence of their Premier League crown, Leicester are guaranteed to finish top of their section in Europe and avoid the likes of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the next round.
And the Foxes could well decide which team joins them in the knockout phase with Copenhagen, third in the group, trailing Porto by two points ahead of a trip to pointless Club Brugge. Porto halted a run of five straight draws courtesy of teenager Rui Pedro’s 95thminute winner over Braga at the weekend, ending a club record run of 520 minutes without a goal. “What matters is that we won three points and we are going to try to take advantage of this to continue to grow and believe,” said Porto coach Nuno Espirito Santo.
“I believe the results haven’t been showing what we do.” Porto will secure their passage to the last 16 with victory over Leicester, but anything less will open the door for Copenhagen, who have a head-to-head advantage over the Portuguese on away goals.
“We kept a clean sheet, and now we just have to go Brugge and get a victory and then hope that Leicester do their job and beat Porto,” said Copenhagen’s Swedish international Erik Johansson after last month’s 0-0 home draw against Porto.
Copenhagen, unbeaten domestically this term, stretched their lead in Denmark to 11 points on Saturday after securing an eighth successive win with a 1-0 defeat of Randers.
LYON PLOT SEVILLA SCALP
Three-time reigning Europa League champions Sevilla are favourites to advance alongside Juventus in Group H, with Lyon needing to beat the Spaniards by at least two goals at Parc OL. Lyon’s preparations were overshadowed by the ugly scenes that prompted Saturday’s game at Metz to be called off after just 31 minutes with goalkeeper Anthony Lopes targeted by firecrackers thrown by home supporters.
The Portugal international, 26, was taken to hospital after suffering “traumatic hearing loss” in both ears but is expected to make a full recovery with no lasting damage.
His status for today’s fixture is very much in doubt, but Lyon will draw encouragement knowing Sevilla-without manager Jorge Sampaoli due to a touchline ban-have lost on all three previous trips to France.
Sevilla’s troubles away from home resurfaced in a 2-1 defeat at Granada over the weekend, with captain Vicente Iborra lamenting a sub-par performance. “It’s clear it wasn’t our best match and you pay for that,” said Iborra. “I think we were a bit distracted by the Lyon game and now that we’re here we must make the most of it and achieve qualification.”
Sevilla may welcome back Samir Nasri from injury, while Juventus, a point clear at the top, will be expected to cement first place with group makeweights Dinamo Zagreb rounding out their fruitless campaign in Turin.
Dortmund are one shy of the 20-goal group stage record-achieved by three sides including Manchester United’s treble-winning side in 1998-99 as well as the Real team that landed ‘La Decima’ in 2014 — ahead of their visit to the Santiago Bernabeu.—AFP