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Barça took ‘big step’ to end 2-year UCL drought

Tooba Shakir 5 months ago 0

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Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández says his side took a “big step forward” after reaching the Champions League knockout rounds for the first time since 2021.

João Cancelo and João Félix strikes helped Barça come from a goal down to beat FC Porto 2-1 at the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday as they booked their place in the round of 16.

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It’s the first time Barça have qualified from the group stage under Xavi after falling short in each of the last two seasons.

“I think this is big step forward for the project,” Xavi said in a news conference after the victory.

“We needed to be back in the knockout stages. This is important for the club after two years [dropping into] the Europa League.

“It’s important for confidence and morale, above all for the players. It means a lot because we are seeing how tough the groups are; certain teams are struggling to progress.

“It also comes after a very good performance against a great side. Porto could go far in this competition, so it’s a day to be very satisfied after ticking off the first objective of the season.”

Pressure had built on Xavi ahead of the match following a run of two wins in five games in all competitions, with the performances in those victories, against Real Sociedad and Alavés, also criticised.

“I would say happy and satisfied — I am not a prisoner,” he added when asked if the win and the subsequent qualification had liberated him from the criticism.

“The feeling is of happiness and of doing things well. We are progressing. But I don’t feel liberated, I feel happy.”

Barça will guarantee top spot in the group if they get a draw in their final game at Antwerp, who have already been knocked out, or if Shakhtar Donetsk fail to beat Porto.

Porto, meanwhile, can join Barça in the last 16 with a draw at home to Shakhtar in two weeks.

The Catalan side will now turn their attention back to LaLiga with games against title rivals Atlético Madrid and Girona over the next two weekends.

However, before then, with Atlético first up at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday, Xavi wants to enjoy the moment.

“You never solve all the problems at Barcelona, but it’s a day to congratulate the team and the club for advancing,” the Barça boss said. “We are in the last 16 after playing well in many phases of the game.

“There are many things to improve, of course. We have to be humble. We have done some things very well; others not so.

“We gave up chances against Porto, but they are a very good team. We created enough chances to win by a bigger margin, but there is still a lot to improve.

“I hope [this can be a turning point]. We found the performance we wanted after the break, dominating the game in second half, so I hope that is the case.”

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