Barcelona missed the opportunity to secure their place in the Champions League last 16 after they were held to a goalless draw by Benfica, meaning they may now have to win at Bayern Munich.
Despite dominating possession for large periods of the Group E clash at Camp Nou, Xavi’s side were unable to find a way past their stubborn opponents, who might have stolen victory at the last.
Yusuf Demir struck the woodwork, while Benfica goalkeeper Odysseas Vlachodimos produced smart saves to keep out Jordi Alba and Frenkie de Jong before an offside flag denied Ronald Araujo.
Haris Seferovic then somehow missed with the goal gaping in stoppage time, but Barca remain second in the pool – two points ahead of their opponents – albeit with Bayern to play in two weeks’ time, when Benfica are at home to already-eliminated Dynamo Kiev.
Requiring a win to qualify from their group in a 20th consecutive Champions League appearance, Barcelona established early control of proceedings and Alba stung the palms of Vlachodimos.
However, Marc-Andre ter Stegen did brilliantly to keep out Roman Yaremchuk’s thumping header at the other end, before Benfica thought they had the lead when Nicolas Otamendi powered in off the underside of the crossbar, but his strike was ruled out after the initial corner curled out of play.
Demir then went close for the hosts before the break, his curling shot clipping the bar with Vlachodimos beaten.
Xavi introduced Ousmane Dembele as Barca continued to threaten following the restart, but De Jong’s powerful header from his cross was brilliantly saved.
Araujo thought he had netted a dramatic winner seven minutes from time, only to have a late flag confirmed by the VAR, before Seferovic almost snatched victory on the counter, beating Ter Stegen but improbably poking wide.
What does it mean? A chance wasted for Barcelona
Barca remain two points ahead of Benfica heading into the final matchday of Group E. However, they may have to get a result against Bayern, who have won all five group games, or at least hope Benfica fail to beat Dynamo.
The two points dropped in this game, despite having 14 shots to Benfica’s seven, could come back to bite Xavi’s men.
Nicolas Otamendi produced an inspired performance at the heart of the Benfica defence to keep Barcelona at bay.
The Argentina international led the way in an all-action display, with his eight clearances, five interceptions and three blocks all game highs. His three tackles included vital last-ditch challenges on Memphis Depay and Dembele.
The Netherlands international struggled to have the desired impact for Barca. Neither of Depay’s two shots troubled the target, while his 56 touches were the second-fewest among home outfield starters.
Key Opta Facts
– This was Barcelona’s 133rd home game in the Champions League and just the eighth to end as a goalless draw. Benfica are the only team that they have had multiple goalless draws at home to in the competition, having also drawn 0-0 in December 2012.
– Xavi is the 13th consecutive coach to avoid defeat in his first Champions League game in charge of Barcelona (W11 D2), with Louis van Gaal in 1997-98 being the last to lose his first game (3-2 v Newcastle United).
– Barcelona have only scored two goals in five games in the Champions League this season; only Malmo (0.2), Dynamo Kiev (0.2) and Shakhtar Donetsk (0.25) have a lower goals-per-game ratio than the Catalan side (0.4) in the competition this term.
– Demir became the second-youngest foreign player to start a Champions League game for the club (18y 174d), after Lionel Messi, who made his debut against Shakhtar in December 2004 aged 17 years and 166 days.
– Demir became the fifth different teenager to start for Barcelona in the Champions League this season (along with Pedri, Ansu Fati, Gavi and Nico Gonzalez); the most for a Spanish team in a single campaign in the competition.
Both sides return to domestic action on Saturday, as Barca look to get back to winning ways when they travel to Villarreal in LaLiga, while Benfica resume their Primeira Liga title quest away at Belenenses.
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