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Hopes hang in the balance

Published: Tuesday 9 December 2003, 5.35CET
The UEFA Champions League hopes of six teams hang on what happens in the final round of group matches around Europe.

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Published: Tuesday 9 December 2003, 5.35CET

Hopes hang in the balance

The UEFA Champions League hopes of six teams hang on what happens in the final round of group matches around Europe.
Nearly three months after the group stage started in September, the UEFA Champions League hopes of six teams hang on what happens over 90 minutes tonight.

Already qualified
The four sections involved in matches tonight can be split into two: the Group E meeting of Manchester United FC and VfB Stuttgart, and FC Porto's visit to Real Madrid CF in Group F, will decide merely which of the sides qualify as group winners. Stuttgart need only avoid defeat at Old Trafford while Porto need a three-goal win in Madrid to top their respective pools.

UEFA Cup places
Meanwhile, at stake between Rangers FC and Panathinaikos FC in Group E, and FK Partizan and Olympique de Marseille in Group F, are places in the UEFA Cup for whichever teams can claim third position in their groups.

All to play for
It is Groups G and H, however, that should provide the real drama. Chelsea FC and AC Milan respectively from the two pools have already qualified for the last 16, but the other three sides in each section still have all to play for.

'New page in history'
Besiktas JK will win Group G from Chelsea if they overcome the Londoners for a second time in the Arena Aufschalke in Gelsenkirchen. Sergen Yalcin, the Besiktas matchwinner at Stamford Bridge, said: "If we win we will open up a proud new page in Besiktas history."

Draw could be enough
Besiktas have seven points, and AC Sparta Praha and S.S. Lazio five apiece. A draw will also be enough for the Turkish champions if Sparta defeat Lazio, as Besiktas have a superior head-to-record against the Czechs. If Besiktas draw and Lazio win, however, the Italians will progress.

Advantage Ajax
In Group H, it is Ajax who presently occupy second place behind Milan, sitting level on six points with RC Celta de Vigo and one point above Club Brugge KV. Ajax will finish runners-up with a victory at Brugge irrespective of the result between Milan and Celta.

Verlinden record
Ajax, quarter-finalists last season, will be up against Brugge goalkeeper Dany Verlinden, who at 40 years, three months and 24 days will become the oldest player to appear in the Champions League.

Last updated: 09/12/03 21.36CET

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