BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — In a thrilling match against Porto, two former Benfica players helped Barcelona secure a spot in the knockout stage of the Champions League. Portuguese duo João Félix and João Cancelo each scored a goal, leading Barcelona to a 2-1 victory on Tuesday, marking their 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. 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.
Félix had not scored since Barcelona’s 5-0 win against Antwerp in September, making his goal even more significant.
Barcelona was without the starting goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen due to a back issue. Iñaki Peña started, with 17-year-old U.S.-born goalkeeper Diego Kochen, a product of the club’s youth academy, as a reserve.
Xavi praised Peña’s performance, emphasizing that he played with great personality as he made crucial saves to secure the win.
Barcelona had not been performing well as of late, but Xavi expressed satisfaction with their performance in the match against Porto.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer
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