Champions Chelsea face daunting task
London:Dec 4, 2012 Reuters 22:50 IST
Six clubs will be vying for three of the last-16 berths
Six clubs enter this week's final round of Champions League group matches harbouring hopes of grabbing one of the three last-16 places still up for grabs although for holders Chelsea their fate is beyond their control.
The Londoners are vying with Juventus for the second qualifying spot from Group E but even if they beat Nordsjaelland at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday they will become the first champions to go out at the group stage if the Italians avoid defeat against Shakhtar Donetsk.
Interim Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez, an unpopular choice with the fans after he succeeded the sacked Roberto Di Matteo 12 days ago, has done little to win the supporters over after losing one and drawing two of his three games in charge. Celtic and Benfica still have a chance to join Group G winners Barcelona in the knockout rounds while Galatasaray or CFR Cluj will end Group H as runners-up.
For the other teams already assured of a place in the last-16 draw on Dec 20, their final matches will determine whether they progress as group winners. Even some of those with no chance of progressing will be eyeing consolation prizes in the Europa League.
Chelsea's 0-3 defeat by Juventus last month left their hopes of surviving Group E hanging by a thread. The Stamford Bridge club are without a victory in seven matches and discontent is rife as fans openly vent their frustration at the decision to replace the Champions League-winning Di Matteo.
While Shakhtar are formidable opponents at home, Juventus will go there full of confidence after a 3-0 win against Torino on Saturday cemented their place at the top of Serie A. Victory would also see Juventus go through as group winners.
The Italians were held 1-1 by Ukrainians Shakhtar in October and Juve midfielder Claudio Marchisio said he was well aware of the dangers that lurk in Donetsk.
"We can't go on to the pitch hoping to take it easy," he said. "We've got to play like Juve always do. Saturday's win gives us a lot of motivation to face Shakhtar who I believe are the toughest team in the group."
Scotland's sole representatives Celtic will reach the last 16 for the first time since 2008 if they better Benfica's result at Barcelona when they host Spartak Moscow on Wednesday.
Turkish side Galatasaray look favourites to win their scrap for the Group H runners-up spot as they travel to bottom club Braga needing to match what Romanians Cluj manage against leaders Manchester United at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
The only issue to be resolved in Paris on Tuesday is whether Paris St Germain can overtake Porto with a victory over the Group A leaders. Bayern Munich will also guarantee top spot in Group F ahead of Valencia with victory against BATE Borisov on Wednesday.
Even if City win, Ajax Amsterdam will still take third place if they upset group runners-up Real Madrid.