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Try as they could, FC Barcelona were unable to turn their superiority into goals on Tuesday night. The game with Benfica ended in a 0-0 draw and it means that although Barça’s destiny is still in their own hands, that will mean winning at the home of Bayern Munich on the final day.
But always assuming that Benfica beat Dynamo Kyiv, that is the only option if Xavi Hernández’s side are to progress to the last sixteen.
It was a tremendous performance from the team. There are absolutely no questions to be asked in that respect, but once again the problem was turning dominance and chances into goals.
The weather was damp but the action most certainly wasn’t. As against Espanyol, it was an all-out start from Barça. The first half-hour or so was a constant onslaught on the Benfica goal, the best of the many chances falling to Nico, who missed the target, and Jordi Alba, brilliantly saved by Odisseas Vlachodimos.
Other than the lack of goals, it had been a joy to watch. But although the visitors were kept in total check early on, they soon started finding a way through of their own. Roman Yaremchuk looked to have scored with a brilliant diving heading but Ter Stegen was perfectly positioned, and then Nicolás Otamendi scored a screamer from outside the area but the goal was invalidated because the ball had gone out of play.
Those were a couple of lifelines for Barça in a game that was turning into an end-to-end classic – Yusuf Demir’s curled beauty onto the woodwork concluding the drama of an entertaining but goalless first half.
Pushing for the goal
If one man had stood head and shoulders above anyone else in this game, that man was Ronald Araujo. It was an impeccable performance from the Uruguayan in every facet of his game.
And Ousmane Dembélé was a lot of fun from the moment he came on as a sub. The Frenchman’s skill and speed made an immediate impact, frequently getting the ball where it mattered, including Frenkie de Jong’s header that would have been a goal had the keeper not got a hand to it first.
The legs were starting to go on both sides as the second half progressed, but it was very much the blaugrana jerseys that were in control. Almost all the football was being played in Benfica’s half, partly because of Barça’s superiority in the possession game and partly because the Portuguese seemed happier than the Catalans with the scoreline as it was.
Barça were doing everything right, but so was the Benfica defence and even when Araujo did cap his brilliant performance with a goal, the offside flag was raised.
Going into the final minutes, the Camp Nou was electric as Barça surged and surged forwards in search of a goal that would send them into the knockout stages regardless of what happens in December. But the blaugrana attacking was matched in intensity by Benfica's defending, and the clock kept ticking and ticking down…
Dembélé was through time and time again. Gerard Piqué almost had it from a corner… Come on Barça!
And then, right at the very end, Benfica broke on the counter. Two against one… Haris Seferovic put through against Ter Stegen. He had to score...
Barça were going out of the Champions League…
And he missed!!! Barça were still alive...
It probably means winning at the Allianz Arena, and that’s not a place where the Catalans have the best of track records. Difficult, by no means impossible, and of course Bayern have already qualified and have nothing to play for. That can only work in Barça’s favour.
There’s plenty of life left in this Champions League campaign… Força Barça!
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