Champs League groups wrap up with 4 spots to fill

With Europe’s major powers already through to the Champions League knockout stages, there are only four spots left to fill following this week’s final group matches.
Rubin Kazan is at already qualified Barcelona needing to better FC Copenhagen’s result against Panathinaikos to edge the Danish side to the Group D runner-up spot, while AS Roma will be guaranteed progress from Group E if it avoids defeat at lowly Cluj.

That leaves only Group H with both spots open, although Shakhtar Donetsk and Arsenal each need only to avoid defeat to freeze out third-place Braga.

Elsewhere, Inter Milan is at Werder Bremen but needs Tottenham to slip up at FC Twente to have any chance of winning Group A and secure a more favorable draw for the next round.

Newcomer Tottenham leads defending champion Inter courtesy of a superior head-to-head record and the Italian side’s morale took another hit Friday with a 3-1 Serie A loss to Lazio. That was Inter’s fourth domestic defeat, the same as it took in winning last season’s title.

“We’ve all got to give more effort,” Inter captain Javier Zanetti said. “Lately we’ve been missing half our squad and that’s not easy. But we still have the desire to win, we’ve just got to believe in ourselves and stay confident.”

Inter heads to Bremen for one of Tuesday’s eight matches without goalkeeper Julio Cesar, fullback Maicon, midfielder Coutinho and defender Walter Samuel — the latter out for the season with a knee injury.

But striker Diego Milito appears set to return from his latest leg muscle problem and defender Cristian Chivu is also just about ready play again. Midfielder Dejan Stankovic should also be fine to face Bremen, which is sure to finish last whatever it does, after limping off in the first half against Lazio match with a sore thigh.

Tottenham needs only to match Inter’s result to win its first ever Champions League group. Spurs, fifth in the Premier League and unbeaten in six matches, could bring key defender Michael Dawson back into its lineup for the first time in more than three months after he recovered from knee ligament damage.

Schalke and Lyon are sure to advance from Group B but both could have tough matches Tuesday since their opponents are chasing third place and a spot in the second-tier Europa League.

Schalke is at Benfica, while Lyon tries to overturn its one-point deficit against visiting Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Last-place Hapoel needs to win in Lyon to have any chance of staying in European competition, but is in form after a 5-1 Israeli Premier League victory over Hapoel Petah Tikva and a 3-0 win against Benfica in its previous Champions League outing.

“This is the most difficult game of the campaign. It won’t be easy to play there,” Hapoel coach Eli Gutman said. “We have prepared the best we can. Of course we want to qualify for the Europa League, but that does not only depends on us.”

Manchester United and Valencia go head-to-head at Old Trafford to decide which of them will top Group C, with United’s players well rested after a frozen pitch caused their Saturday match against Blackpool to be postponed.

Valencia followed a 1-0 defeat by United in Spain with a 1-1 draw at Rangers, but surged back into contention with a 6-1 win over Bursaspor 6-1 and a 3-0 win over Rangers.

“We are going to Manchester looking for the win and the top spot,” said striker Roberto Soldado, who has scored five goals in the tournament. “In the Champions League, I am having the good fortune to score goals, which is fundamental for a striker. I hope this streak continues in the next game.”

But Valencia lost 2-0 in the Spanish league to Real Madrid on Saturday.

Rubin Kazan will be looking for a repeat of last season’s shock 2-1 win at Camp Nou when it takes on Group D winner Barcelona. But the Spanish champion is in great form, having won eight straight in Spain including last week’s 5-0 victory over Real Madrid.

Barcelona striker Lionel Messi has six goals in the Champions League, one fewer than leader Samuel Eto’o of Inter Milan.

With Copenhagen and Rubin Kazan also playing Tuesday, the final three berths will be decided Wednesday.

Arsenal lost 2-0 at Braga in the last round of matches but is the tournament’s joint leading scorer with local rival Tottenham and warmed up for Wednesday’s meeting with Partizan Belgrade by taking the Premier League lead.

Samir Nasri scored both goals in a 2-1 win over Fulham to take his total for the season to 11 in all competitions and the France midfielder could be key against Partizan.

“He had a game that at the start was only based on coming to the ball and now he has more variation in his game,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “His game is improving and of course he is more efficient.

“Many people questioned me when I took him here, but he is showing that he has exceptional talent and I think there is more to come from him.”

Defender Laurent Koscielny went off in the 33rd minute Saturday and may not play because of a concussion.

Arsenal trails leader Shakhtar Donestsk by three points but its superior head-to-head record with Braga means that even a draw would be enough to put it through, providing Shakhtar does not lose to the Portuguese side. Victory would guarantee progress, with Braga needing a big win in Ukraine to advance.

Bayern Munich, last season’s losing finalist, has already clinched the Group E top spot ahead of its game with Basel. The Swiss side needs to win in Germany and hope Roma is beaten by Cluj.

Chelsea and Marseille are certain to advance from Group F in that order, with Real Madrid and AC Milan similarly secure in Group G.

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