SPORTS

Barcelona Loses Without Messi, Still Makes Champions League Round Of 16

Barcelona's Neymar, second right, challenges Ajax's Stefano Denswil, first right, during the Group H Champions League soccer match between Ajax and FC Barcelona at the ArenA stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Tuesday Nov. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)

Barcelona's Neymar, second right, challenges Ajax's Stefano Denswil, first right, during the Group H Champions League soccer match between Ajax and FC Barcelona at the ArenA stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Tuesday Nov. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)  (AP2013)

At least Leo Messi’s thigh injury won’t cost Barça a spot in the Champions League Round of 16.

In Group H action yesterday, Barcelona lost to Ajax, 2-1, in Amsterdam and it was really a tale of two halves. Ajax dominated the first half, going up 2-0 on goals by Thulani Serero and Danny Hoesen.

The second half started out well for Barça, with defender Joel Veltman getting red-carded for a tackling a flying Neymar from behind. Xavi put the ensuing penalty solidly in the goal.

Despite relentless pressure the rest of the game - especially from Neymar, who tried to score on everything from bicycle kicks to lobs to going offside – the short-handed Dutch side held on for the win.

With one game left in group play, however, Barça is assured at least a second place finish and a ticket to the knockout phase of the competition. Ajax is in third, three points behind Barcelona and one back of AC Milan, but if they defeat the Italian club in their final game, they will qualify.

In other Champions League action yesterday, Atletico Madrid tied Zenit St. Petersburg, 1-1, maintaining its secure hold on the top spot in Group G.
Chelsea played a spiritless match against FC Basel in Switzerland, losing 1-0 on a lovely goal by Mohamed Salah in the closing minutes of regulation. Even so, the Blues backed into the Round of 16, assuring themselves of at least a second-place finish in Group E.

Arsenal is all but guaranteed to be through after a 2-0 defeat of Marseille at Emirates Stadium. Jack Wilsher scored twice for the Gunners, and the score could have been more lopsided: Mesut Ozil missed a penalty attempt in the 37th minute.

A tie against Napoli on Dec. 11 would guarantee Arsenal’s qualification.

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