LONDON - Braga could complete a memorable
Champions League turnaround by reaching the 12-point mark this
week but it is likely to be a bitter-sweet success as they could
still fail to progress to the knockout phase despite four wins.
Having badly lost the first two games of their debut
Champions League season and won the next three, the Portuguese
club face an unprecedented scenario going into the competition's
final round of fixtures this week when only four of the 16
qualifiers are still to be identified.
Group H is the only one where both places are still
available and Braga, Shakhtar Donetsk, who they visit on
Wednesday, and Arsenal could all finish on 12 points. No team
has ever earned 12 points and failed to progress.
Shakhtar sit top on 12, three clear of Arsenal and Braga. A
draw would send the Ukraine league leaders through for the first
time and in top spot and even defeat is unlikely to derail them.
If all three teams end on 12 points the qualifiers will be
decided by goal difference in games between the three.
Arsenal, with a 6-0 thrashing of Braga and 5-1 win over
Shakhtar in the bag, would almost certainly come out top in that
equation should they beat Partizan Belgrade at Emirates Stadium.
Shakhtar have a goal difference of 0 from the "mini-group"
with Braga on -7, leaving the Portuguese side needing a
four-goal victory to swing things in their favour.
If their domestic form is anything to go on, that looks a
long shot. They lost 3-1 at Uniao Leiria on Saturday when they
conceded two penalties and had three players sent off.
The defeat was their fourth in the last five games and
leaves them still without an away win all season.
Having begun their first Champions League campaign with the
Arsenal humiliation and then a 3-0 home defeat by Shakhtar it is
something of a surprise that they are still in contention but
coach Domingos Paciencia still sees the domestic league as his
"The most important goal for Braga is the national
championship and finishing in the top four," he said. "We know
the toll will be very different to previous years because taking
part in the Champions League for the first time has a big
physical and emotional cost."
Arsenal warmed up by beating Fulham 2-1 to go top of the
Premier League and they will expect to progress to the knockout
phase for the 11th successive season by making it six defeats
out of six for Partizan.
Barcelona have already secured top spot in Group D and
Copenhagen will join them if they beat Panathinaikos in Denmark.
The Danes have seven points to the six of Rubin Kazan, who visit
Barcelona where they pulled off a shock 2-1 win last season.
Bayern Munich, on 12 points, are assured of finishing first
in Group E and AS Roma, second on nine, are likely to join them
in the last 16.
A point at CFR Cluj would guarantee it but a defeat would
allow Basel to overtake them with a win in Munich.
The only other issues at stake are the top two finishing
order in three groups and the identity of some of the
third-place finishers who will go into the Europa League.
Manchester United will finish first in Group C if they do
not lose at home to second-placed Valencia. A clean sheet for
United would make them the first team to go through the group
stage without conceding.
Tottenham Hotspur can cap a memorable first foray into the
Champions League by finishing top of Group A.
Their superior head-to-head record against Inter Milan means
they just need to match the holders' result when Spurs visit
Twente Enschede and Inter travel to Werder Bremen.
Schalke 04's one-point lead over Olympique Lyon and a
superior head-to-head record gives them the advantage in Group B
but the remaining fixtures, where Schalke travel to Benfica and
Lyon host Hapoel Tel Aviv, leave the group interestingly poised.
The draw for the first knockout round take place on December 17.
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