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Dortmund and Milan look to reach Last 16

Updated: 2013-12-11 07:08
By Agence France-Presse in Paris ( China Daily)

Tense battles loom as teams jostle for final places in the KO stage of UEFA Champions League

Former UEFA Champions League champions AC Milan of Serie A and Borussia Dortmund of the Bundesliga go into their final group matches needing a result in their respective games to ensure they continue their campaign for the trophy in the New Year.

Group E

Schalke 04 (GER) vs FC Basel (SUI): Schalke and Basel really have everything to play for in a decisive outing for the German and Swiss sides. Basel is on eight points, one behind already-qualified Chelsea and one ahead of Schalke, meaning it could still finish atop the group should it win and Chelsea be held to a draw or lose. Schalke has to go for the victory to ensure it edges the Swiss out of the second qualifying spot in the group. One bad omen for Basel is that the last time it traveled to face German opposition it suffered a 7-0 hammering at the hands of Bayern Munich in the 2012 round of 16 second leg.

Chelsea (ENG) vs Steaua Bucharest (ROM): Chelsea has already qualified for the knockout stages, but still needs to beat the Romanians to guarantee pole position in Group E. Beaten 3-2 by Stoke in English Premier League action at the weekend, the west London side has now conceded six goals in its past two games. Coach Jose Mourinho reacted by giving his players a rare day off after the Stoke defeat, saying it would be "good for their heads". Steaua is yet to register a victory in Group E, having notched up three draws and two defeats in its five games. In fact, the Romanians last won in Champions League action way back in September 2006, against Dynamo Kiev, a 22-game winless streak equaling that of Spartak Moscow (December 2000-November 2006).

Group F

Napoli (ITA) vs Arsenal (ENG): Arsene Wenger's Arsenal will clinch qualification, and top spot, with a draw or a victory in Naples. The Premier League table-topper will also go through with a defeat by two goals or less. Wenger's side enjoys a good record in Italy and with 12 points, is three ahead of Borussia Dortmund and Rafa Benitez's Napoli. The Italian side must beat Arsenal by three clear goals, should Dortmund also win its match against Marseille - which is yet to pick up a point from five losses in five matches.

Marseille (FRA) vs Borussia Dortmund (GER): Victory for Juergen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund over Marseille will keep its hopes alive of a return to the Champions League final for the second straight season. The Bundesliga side will reach the knockout stages by taking maximum points regardless of what happens between Napoli and Arsenal in Italy. Should Dortmund draw, it will progress if Napoli does not win. Dortmund suffered its fourth league defeat of the season on the weekend, a 1-0 loss at home to second-placed Bayer Leverkusen, with Germany midfielder Sven Bender now ruled out of the Marseille game and Turkey international Nuri Sahin in doubt. The winless French club goes into the match in disarray, coach Elie Baup replaced last week by long-time Marseille employee Jose Anigo.

Group G

Austria Vienna (AUT) vs Zenit St. Petersburg (RUS): The Austrian outfit will be bidding to bow out of the group stage with a face-saving first win. However, the Russian side is sure to go for the victory that would ensure it progresses even if Porto beats group winner Atletico Madrid in Spain. The host, though, is far from a sure bet at home, losing three European matches in a row - already an unwanted team record. Zenit, which despite being down to 10 men drew 0-0 in the home clash with Austria Vienna, is effective away from home and has won three of its four away games in this season's competition. Zenit's Belgian centerback Nicolas Lombaerts told he believes the Russians are yet to show their best form. "We are motivated because we did not manage to qualify last season. I think we gave it away, we gave away points," he said. "It is in our own hands now. It would be a shame if we give it away again. We have to give 100 percent for one more game and then we should be able to achieve it."

Atletico Madrid (ESP) vs Porto (POR): The Spanish side has sailed serenely through qualifying and is guaranteed top spot even before hosting former champion Porto. In a delightful twist of fate Atletico can consign Porto to the Europa League just as the Portuguese side did to it in the 2008-09 campaign and the 2009-10 season to boot. Atletico beat Porto 2-1 in Portugal in their first meeting this season and is likely to repeat the dose again and confirm its status as a danger to the more established sides for the trophy.

Group H

AC Milan (ITA) vs Ajax (NED): Milan has had a pretty underwhelming season thus far and failure to get the draw it needs at home to Ajax and secure its place in the last 16 would all but signal the exit of coach Massimiliano Allegri. For the second consecutive season Milan's run-in to Christmas has been anything but festive: it sits ninth in Serie A, 22 points behind leader Juventus and 14 adrift of the first Champions League qualifying spot. It will be looking to Mario Balotelli to be on form both physically and mentally against an Ajax side that, despite its deserved 2-1 win at home to Barcelona in the previous round of matches, has a woeful away record in the competition having not won on its past six trips abroad.

Barcelona (ESP) vs Celtic (SCO): The Catalan giant requires a point against the Scottish champion to ensure it finishes top of the group. Barca will again be without the injured Lionel Messi, Victor Valdes and Dani Alves, but Jordi Alba - who scored an injury-time winner when the sides met at the Camp Nou last season - returned in the Cup win last Friday against Cartagena after three months out and is expected to start. Celtic has nothing but pride to play for as not even a win would get it a Europa League berth.

(China Daily 12/11/2013 page23)

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