Barcelona beats Porto to return to knockout stage
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Two former Benfica players teamed up against Porto to help put Barcelona back in the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Portuguese duo João Félix and João Cancelo each scored a goal as Barcelona defeated Porto 2-1 on Tuesday to secure its return to the knockout rounds after two consecutive group-stage eliminations.
“I'm very happy for team and for the club,” Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández said. “We needed to be back in the round of 16 of the Champions League after what happened in the last two seasons.”
It will be the first time since Lionel Messi left the club that Barcelona will be playing again in the knockout stage of Europe's top club competition.
Barcelona reached 12 points, three more than both Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk, which defeated Antwerp 1-0 earlier Tuesday.
A draw or a loss could have left Barcelona in danger of yet another early elimination.
“This was a final for us and we won it, which was the most important thing,” Cancelo said. “We put this club back in the round of 16, which is where it deserves to be.”
Porto needs a draw at home against Shakhtar in the final group match to advance.
“It’s a shame because we deserved more than defeat, but mistakes are costly,” veteran Porto defender Pepe said.
The visitors opened the scoring with a shot by Pepê in the 30th, but Barcelona rallied with Cancelo scoring two minutes later and Félix in the 57th off an assist by Cancelo.
Porto had a few good opportunities to even the match but couldn't capitalize on them.
“We went for the equalizer, we wanted it badly, we felt we could do it at any time,” Porto coach Sérgio Conceição said. "But it was a good game. We lacked that little bit to come away with a point today.”
Félix had not scored since Barcelona's 5-0 win against Antwerp in September.
“He needed to score again, it was important for him," Xavi said.
Barcelona was without starting goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen because of a back issue. Iñaki Peña started, with 17-year-old U.S.-born goalkeeper Diego Kochen, a product of the club’s youth academy, making the squad as a reserve.
Peña made a couple of good saves to secure the win as Porto pressed forward near the end of the match at the Olimpic Lluis Companys Stadium.
“Iñaki was tremendous today,” Xavi said. “He played with great personality.”
Barcelona had not been playing well recently and was coming off a stretch that included a 1-0 loss to Shakhtar in its last Champions League game, and a 1-1 draw at Rayo Vallecano in its previous Spanish league match.
“We played a very good game, especially in the second half,” Xavi said.
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