Benfica held Barcelona to a scoreless draw in the Champions League at the Camp Nou on Tuesday night, meaning the second team to qualify for the Round of 16 from Group E behind Bayern Munich will be decided in the final game of the group stage.
Barca is two points ahead of Benfica with one game still to play, but it faces a daunting task in the last group when it travels to Germany to take on Bayern, which has a perfect winning record so far. Benfica, meanwhile, hosts winless Dinamo Kyiv at home in Lisbon in its final game.
Benfica’s manager had said on Monday that “a draw would be worse for Barcelona” and he was true to his word. Benfica defended stoically, closing down attacks with a solid five-man defensive line, leaving Barcelona in control of the ball much of the time – but far away from its goal.
For Barca, however, the match was another disappointing struggle, and it now has just two goals to its name in five games in the group stage of the competition.
Barca defender Ronald Araujo put it simply to reporters afterwards: “We had a great game, the attitude was good, we defended well – it was only the goal that was missing. We still have the last game. It’s complicated but not impossible against Bayern.”
Barcelona’s first challenge of the day showed up hours before the game, when a storm hit the city, bringing heavy rain with it, but that didn’t put off 49,572 fans from making it to the Camp Nou.
While new manager Xavi appeared to have quickly fixed many issues like the team’s intensity, rhythm, ball control and collective effort, scoring remains a problem.
Barca had 61 per cent of the ball but created only a few chances, including a shot across goal from Yusuf Demir in the first half, a header from Frenkie de Jong after the break, and a volley from Araujo that went in only to be disallowed because he was in an offside position.
Benfica had its opportunities too, but Barca keeper Marc Andre ter Stegen kept out a header from Roman Yaremchuk, while Haris Seferovic failed to score when through on goal in a stoppage-time counterattack.