A brilliant last ditch challenge from Nicolas Otamendi on 90 minutes that took the ball off of Ousmane Dembele’s toe just as he was about to shoot helped Benfica pick up a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou that leaves Barcelona on the brink of being knocked out of the Champions at the group stage for the first time in 21 years.
Barcelona need a better result than Benfica in their final game but the Portuguese side play Dynamo Kiev and Xavi must take his team to Germany to play Bayern Munich.
Bayern have beaten Barcelona 3-0 and 8-2 in their last two meetings. Bayern have scored 19 goals so far in the group stage; Barcelona have managed just two. It was a failure to find the back of the net that cost them again in the rain at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona will be out of the Champions League if they fail to beat Bayern Munich
Nicolas Otamendi came up with a brilliant sliding tackle late on to deny Ousmane Dembele
Xavi, pictured here with Gavi, knows his team face a tough challenge to qualify now
The game came alive in the last 25 minutes when Xavi threw on Dembele as a last throw of the dice. The effect was instant. He went past Alejandro Grimaldo and curled his cross on to the head of Frenkie de Jong but although the midfielder rose majestically so did Odisseas Vlachodimos to push the effort over his bar.
In his presentation Xavi said that Dembele could be the best in the world in his position and he was playing like it playing passes through the gaps in Benfica’s defence, running Grimaldi ragged, and whipping crosses into the area that Barcelona’s centre-forward defecit meant were not finished.
With six minutes left Ronaldo Araujo was at auxiliary centre-forward when he thought he had scored. He lunged at Jordi Alba’s cross and sent it past Vlachodimos but he did so, just offside, and injured himself in the process.
Haris Seferovic (back) sent a golden chance wide and Benfica could have taken the win
It could have been even worse for Barcelona. They had given so much at one end of the pitch trying to score they were nearly outdone on the counter-attack on 90 minutes but somehow Haris Seferovic sent his shot wide.
That would have been cruel on Xavi’s young team, who with an average age of 25, did everything but score.
The new coach was without the teenage wingers, 19-year-old Abde who is not registered for the Champions League, and 17-year-old Ilias who was suspended, he turned to 18-year-old Austrian Yusuf Demir and he had the best chance of the first half curling a shot on to the bar.
Benfica had the ball in the net with the excellent Otamendi’s rocket going off the undershide of the crossbar.
Celebrations were cut short because the corner that led to the goal had gone out of play before curling back in. It was a boost for Jorge Jesus who had been in perpetual motion on the touchline drying himself with a towel between the rollickings he was dishing out to his players.
Yusuf Demir is a player for the future and the Austrian curled a shot onto the bar
Ultimately neither side could break the deadlock and come away with a victory
Those scares for Barcelona provoked the Demir shot that hit the frame of the goal. As it bounced off the top of the crossbar he gestured to the crowd that they crank up the volume.
The torrential rain all day in Barcelona had washed away the chances of a full house but the 49.572 inside the stadium were vocal as Barça went in search of the win that would see them qualify.
Memphis had the first chance of the second period when he raced clear and onside. He failed to spot Nico to his right and was blocked by Otamendi without testing Vlachodimos.
And at the death came that point-winning challenge from Otamendi. He and his Benfica team-mates could be heading into the draw on December 13. Barcelona need to beat Bayern to make sure it’s them instead.