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Gunners and blues look to march on

Updated: 2013-11-26 07:33
By Agence France-Presse in Paris ( China Daily)

English heavyweight sides poised to advance to final 16; Dortmund in danger of elimination

Four teams have already qualified for the last 16 ahead of matchday five of this season's Champions League group phase. On Tuesday, Chelsea can also progress with just a point in Switzerland, while Arsenal could wrap up qualification too.

Group E

FC Basel (SUI) vs Chelsea (ENG): Knocked out in the group stage last season as the defending champion, Chelsea needs just a draw against Basel in Switzerland to clinch its place in the last 16, and a fourth successive win in Group E will see the Blues advance as winners of the section. Chelsea won at St. Jakob-Park last season in the semifinals of the Europa League but will be wary of the Swiss champion, having lost 2-1 when it met in London in September. Chelsea come into the game fresh from a 3-0 win at West Ham United that left it in third place in the Premier League. It has lost just one of its past 13 games in all competitions, while Basel remains clear at the top of the Swiss Super League and has lost just once in 19 outings.

Steaua Bucharest (ROM) vs Schalke 04 (GER): Schalke comes into matchday five in second place in Group E, and a win in Romania coupled with a defeat for Basel against Chelsea will see the Bundesliga club through to the knockout stages. The Royal Blues were comfortable 3-0 winners when the sides met in Gelsenkirchen in September but they can be infuriatingly inconsistent and threw away a two-goal lead before needing a late Benedikt Hoewedes equalizer to earn a 3-3 draw at Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga on Saturday. Coach Jens Keller described that result as "maddening". He is still without long-term injured star Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for the visit to the Romanian capital to face a Steaua side which is unbeaten domestically but without a win in Group E.

Group F

Arsenal (ENG) vs Marseille (FRA): Arsenal will look to close in on a place in the last 16 by inflicting a fifth defeat in five games in this season's competition on Marseille. If the Gunners win at the Emirates Stadium, they will qualify for the last 16 should Borussia Dortmund fail to win at home to Napoli. A draw will be enough if Dortmund loses. Meanwhile, Marseille is already eliminated but could yet steal third place and a Europa League berth with the right combination of results. That seems unlikely, though, especially with coach Elie Baup having fitness concerns over Andre-Pierre Gignac and Mathieu Valbuena. Premier League leader Arsenal - which won 2-1 in southern France in September - welcomed back Theo Walcott after injury in Saturday's Premier League victory over Southampton.

Borussia Dortmund (GER) vs Napoli (ITA): Last season's beaten Champions League finalist, Borussia Dortmund, could be eliminated with one round of group games still to play if it fails to beat Napoli in Germany and Arsenal beats Marseille. Such a threat is very real for Juergen Klopp's team, which suffered a shattering 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga on Saturday as it struggles to cope with a defensive injury crisis. Neven Subotic, Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer are all sidelined. Napoli beat Dortmund 2-1 in Italy and a win here would seal its place in the last 16. However, it also comes into the game on the back of a disappointing domestic result at the weekend, a 1-0 home loss to Parma damaging its title prospects in Serie A.

Group G

FC Porto (POR) vs Austria Vienna (AUT): Two-time European champion Porto needs to win at home to Austria Vienna at the Estadio do Dragao as it chases Zenit for second place in Group G and a place in the last 16. The Portuguese side won 1-0 in Vienna in September thanks to a second-half Lucho Gonzalez goal but has taken just one point in its subsequent three matches, losing at home to Zenit and Atletico Madrid. Paulo Fonseca's side is undefeated in its domestic league and sits top of the standings, but was held to a 1-1 draw at home by Nacional on Saturday, leaving the pitch at fulltime to jeers from its supporters. Those fans will not tolerate another slip up against an Austrian side which has registered just one point in Group G and has failed to score a single goal.

Zenit St. Petersburg (RUS) vs Atletico Madrid (ESP): Atletico is already through to the last 16 as the only side apart from defending champion Bayern Munich to win its first four group games. Diego Simeone's side is certain to finish first in Group G too, so the Argentine coach has rested key players for the trip into a Russian winter, Diego Costa and David Villa among those left at home. The clash with Zenit comes on the back of a stunning 7-0 win against Getafe that kept it in contention at the top of La Liga. Zenit has only won once so far in the group and was beaten 3-1 in Madrid in September, but a win at the Petrovski stadium will take it through to the last 16 should Porto fail to win.

Group H

Ajax (NED) vs Barcelona (ESP): Remarkably, Barcelona's 4-0 win against Ajax in September was the first ever competitive meeting of two European giants linked by iconic former player and coach Johan Cruyff. Now they meet in Amsterdam for the first time, with Barcelona already through to the last 16 and needing just a point to be sure of winning Group H. The Catalans - who are top of La Liga - are without a host of injured players, including world player of the year Lionel Messi and goalkeeper Victor Valdes. Ajax beat Celtic in its most recent group game to keep alive its chances of progressing and comes into this match fresh from a 3-0 win against Heracles in the Eredivisie at the weekend.

Celtic (SCO) vs AC Milan (ITA): This tie at Celtic Park is a crunch encounter in the race for the second qualifying spot in Group H. Milan heads to Glasgow in second place and will be through if it wins and Ajax loses at home to Barcelona. However, the Rossoneri are a club in crisis just now, their 1-1 weekend draw with Genoa leaving them in the bottom half of Serie A and sparking protests from angry fans. Celtic is at the bottom of the group but it is a formidable prospect at home and beat Milan 2-1 in Glasgow's East End in the group stage of the competition in 2007. A repeat this time would take the Hoops above Massimiliano Allegri's side in the standings.

(China Daily 11/26/2013 page23)

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