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UEFA Champions League Group G preview: Celtic, Benfica vie for survival

Celtic and Benfica will be aiming to keep their Champions League dreams alive in Wednesday’s Group G fixtures.

Barcelona may have already qualified to the knockout rounds with 12 points from their five matches so far, but Benfica and Celtic, both on seven points, have the opportunity to join Tito Vilanova’s men in the final 16.

Celtic looked to have given themselves every chance of advancing when they stunned Barcelona in a 2-1 victory on matchday four.

But the Scottish champions then let their opportunity slip through their fingers as they were beaten 2-1 by Benfica as Ezequiel Garay’s 71st-minute goal ensured the Portuguese side headed into the final round of fixtures in second on the Group G table thanks to their superior record over Celtic.

Celtic appear to have the better chance of progressing, as they will be hosting Spartak Moscow in the final game, the Russian side having already been eliminated from the qualification race.

Spartak have just one win to their name in the competition, one that came over Benfica on matchday three, although they will take some heart from the fact Celtic have proved to be one of the more inconsistent sides going around this season.

Indeed, Neil Lennon’s men could not defeat Second Division Arbroath in a 1-1 Scottish Cup draw over the weekend, although the manager obviously had one eye on the vital European fixture as he looks to make a possible nine changes for the Champions League game.

As a result, perhaps a better indication of Celtic’s form heading into this encounter would be their 4-0 demolition of Hearts on Thursday, when their primary line-up produced a fine performance just two days before the Arbroath game.

Spartak, meanwhile, head into this match in some dreadful form, having been winless since November 12.

And, in their last two games, Spartak have conceded nine goals, crashing to a 5-1 loss to Dinamo Moscow on November 25 and most recently a 4-2 loss to Zenit St Petersburg last Saturday.

Although Celtic will be facing an out-of-form Spartak, the same cannot be said for Barcelona, who set a new record for the best start to a La Liga season last weekend through a 5-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.

Under Vilanova’s care, unbeaten Barca have won 13 of their 14 clashes this season to beat the previous mark set by Real Madrid in 1991-92.

However, whether Barcelona will go for the jugular against Benfica remains to be seen, especially as the Catalan club have already qualified for the next stage.

Benfica also head into the game at the Camp Nou with some form behind them, however, having won 10 of their last 11 games to be second on the Liga Sagres table, behind Porto only by account of goal difference.

And if Benfica simply equal Celtic’s performance on Wednesday, they will advance to the next stage due to their better head-to-head record.

Tue 4 December, 2012
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