BARCELONA • Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez put up a positive front despite Benfica holding his men to a 0-0 draw in the Champions League at the Camp Nou on Tuesday night. The result means the second team to qualify for the round of 16 from Group E behind Bayern Munich will be decided in the final game of the group stage.
Barca are two points ahead of Benfica (five) with one game still to play, but they face a daunting task in the last match when they travel to Germany to take on Bayern, who have a perfect winning record so far after beating Dynamo Kiev 2-1. Benfica host winless Dynamo at home in Lisbon.
Benfica manager Jorge Jesus had said on Monday that "a draw would be worse for Barcelona" and he was true to his word. His team defended stoically, closing down attacks with a solid five-man defensive line, leaving Barcelona in control of the ball much of the time - but far away from their goal.
"We were far superior to Benfica and we played a great game, we only missed the goal," new Barca boss Xavi insisted. "If we had scored, we would be talking about a great game. I'm still optimistic. We have talent and players to make a difference."
The Catalans now have just two goals in five games in the group stage of the competition.
While Xavi appeared to have quickly fixed many issues like the team's intensity, rhythm, ball control and collective effort, scoring remains a problem.
Barca had 61 per cent of the ball but created only a few chances, including a shot across goal from Yusuf Demir, a header from Frenkie de Jong and a volley from Ronald Araujo that went in only to be disallowed as he was offside.
Benfica had their opportunities too, but Barca 'keeper Marc Andre ter Stegen kept out a header from Roman Yaremchuk, while Haris Seferovic failed to score what looked like the winner when through on goal in a stoppage-time counter-attack, infuriating his coach.
"In my 30 years as a coach, I have never seen a player miss a chance like this. Unfortunately, it happened to us," Jesus said.