When the Champions League draw was made Group ‘F’ always looked like being too close to call and it will duly go right down to the wire with French aristocrats Paris St Germain still in control of their destiny, but only just.
Manager Luis Enrique was breathing a massive sigh of relief on Tuesday as Kylian Mbappe struck home a penalty in the eighth minute of stoppage time to earn a 1-1 draw at home to Newcastle United who had been on the brink of a memorable double.
The visitors were desperately defending the lead given to them by Swedish striker Alexander Isak midway through the first half but suffered heartbreak when Tino Livramento was harshly-adjudged to have handled as an Ousmane Dembele pass bounced off his chest and against his elbow.
Mbappe netted from the spot to earn a point which left PSG in second spot with seven points, three behind already-qualified Borussia Dortmund who they face in their final group match.
Dortmund secured their spot in the last-16 with a 3-1 win at AC Milan and PSG, who have reached the last-16 at least for the last 11 seasons, know that only a win in Dortmund will guarantee a last-16 place.
But such is the complexity of a high-octane group they could also lose and still progress.
Newcastle must beat seven-time European champions Milan in their last game and hope PSG do not win if they are to grab second spot, while Milan could also still reach the last-16 with a victory at St James’ Park.
“The most important thing is to focus on ourselves. If we win, we’re going to finish first, but even if we lose, we can go through to the next phase,” Luis Enrique, whose side lost 4-1 away to Newcastle, said. “It’s so complicated, but I hope we can make it easier by winning against Dortmund.”
Newcastle were crestfallen as they trudged off the Parc des Princes pitch but manager Eddie Howe was not too downhearted and said his side will go into the home clash against Milan with high hopes of reaching the last 16 on their long-awaited return to the competition.
“I’m feeling very flat, but very proud of the players and their commitment levels,” said Howe to TNT Sports. “We’re still in it. That’s another thing we can’t forget. We could easily have come here and have not been in the competition anymore. We still believe. As much as it’s a huge, deflating feeling — it could be another story in our season.”
Semi-finalists last season, Milan are staring early elimination in the face after their defeat at the San Siro.
Marco Reus gave Dortmund an early lead from the spot after Olivier Giroud had a penalty of his own saved for Milan. Although Samuel Chukwueze levelled at the end of the first half, goals from Jamie Bynoe-Gittens and substitute Karim Adeyemi gave the visitors the win they needed to book their spot in the last 16 with a match to spare.
“We’ll give everything at Newcastle and try to win the game... I’d say we have about a two-to-three percent chance of qualifying,” admitted disappointed Milan midfielder Yacine Adli. “We’ll do everything we can and hope that Dortmund get a positive result.”
Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Lazio also advanced alongside Dortmund while Manchester City bounced back from 2-0 down to beat RB Leipzig with both teams already qualified.
Atletico booked their place with a sumptuous volley from defender Mario Hermoso and two own goals firing them to a thrilling 3-1 win over Dutch champions Feyenoord.
“I am very happy for the players. Today, we knew how difficult our opponent would be,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone to Movistar.
That left Atletico with 11 points in Group ‘E’ ahead of 10-point Lazio, who had a tense wait after playing earlier and needing a Feyenoord defeat to confirm their place.
Veteran Italian striker Ciro Immobile shot the Italian side into the last-16 in a 2-0 win over eliminated Celtic in Rome, leaving Feyenoord to join the Europa League.
In Group ‘H’, Barca came from behind to beat Porto 2-1 as Portuguese duo Joao Cancelo and Joao Felix both netted to turn the game on its head after Brazilian winger Pepe opened for Porto.
“It was a final and we won it ... we’ve put the club in the last-16, which is where it deserves to be,” Cancelo told Movistar.
The Spanish champions now have 12 points while Porto are locked on nine alongside Shakhtar Donetsk, who beat Antwerp 1-0 in Hamburg.
Phil Foden inspired a second-half comeback as Pep Guardiola’s City assured themselves top spot in Group ‘G’.
The reigning champions were staring defeat in the face after a first-half double from Lois Openda but Foden scored one goal and helped to create two more to turn the match around.
Erling Haaland got City’s first goal nine minutes into the second half, with Foden drawing them level before Julian Alvarez won it with three minutes left.
“We had to be relaxed as possible and we reacted really well,” Guardiola said. “We are first in the group and I am very satisfied for the reaction at the end. The team runs and fights and has spirit.”
Also in the same group, Young Boys put themselves in pole position to go into the Europa League after beating Red Star Belgrade 2-0.