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Antwerp bid farewell to UCL in style, defeat Barcelona to finish group stages

Vincent Janssen Antwerp Andreas Christensen Barcelona Vincent Janssen Andreas Christensen - The Canadian Press

ANTWERP, Belgium (AP) — Last-place Antwerp bid farewell to the Champions League in style with a 3-2 win over Barcelona on Wednesday after 17-year-old forward George Ilenikhena scored in second-half stoppage time.

Antwerp had lost its five previous matches and was going to finish last in Group H regardless of the result. Barcelona had already qualified for the knockout stage before kickoff and finished top of the group despite the loss.

With nothing left to play for, Antwerp attacked from the start in a game full of twists and turns.

The hosts immediately imposed high pressing, creating their first chance in the opening minute and breaking the deadlock in the second with a goal from 18-year-old Arthur Vermeeren.

Ferran Torres leveled for the Spanish champions before Antwerp forward Vincent Janssen made it 2-1 in the second half. Marc Guiu silenced the home fans in added time from a set piece at the packed Bosuilstadion but despair quickly made way for frenetic celebrations as Ilenikhena restored Antwerp's lead a minute later.

Barcelona made seven changes to the side that lost 4-2 at home to Girona in the Spanish league at the weekend. Barcelona coach Xavi still fielded a very competitive team, with Robert Lewandowski starting up front alongside up-and-coming Lamine Yamal on the right, and Torres on the other wing.

“It was a difficult and tough match," Xavi said. "They played aggressively and were good defensively. We didn’t play that well. We were not comfortable. But the first goal was to be in the round of 16 and there we are. We look forward to the draw (on Monday).”

Vermeeren put the hosts in front after Barcelona goalkeeper Inaki Pena passed the ball to Oriol Romeu, who could not control it properly. Vermeeren gained possession and followed up with a shot into the right side of the net.

Antwerp kept attacking and controlled proceedings until Barcelona made the most of one of its rare chances on the counter to level in the 35th minute. Torres was perfectly set up in the box by Yamal’s excellent through ball and slotted home past Jean Butez.

Both teams kept the same intensity after the interval.

Janssen had a goal canceled for an offside position before Yamal hit the crossbar in an enthralling start to the second half.

Antwerp kept pushing hard and Janssen was finally able to add his name to the scoresheet in the 56th after Alhassan Yussuf stole the ball from Romeu

Xavi made three changes, sending in Ilkay Gundogan, Pedri and Joao Cancelo for the last 30 minutes. Antwerp defended its lead well until Guiu headed home Gundogan’s free kick before Ilenikhena had the last word.

Second-place Porto beat Shakhtar Donetsk 5-3 in the other group game to advance with Barcelona.

Shakhtar finished third with nine points, six more than Antwerp.


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