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November 24, 2009

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Barca, Liverpool, Bayern in danger of early exit

BARCELONA, Liverpool and Bayern Munich -- European champions 12 times between them -- are all in danger of an early exit from the competition this week.

Defending champion Barcelona faces former striker Samuel Eto'o in its tie against Inter Milan where defeat, combined with a win for Russia's Rubin Kazan over Dynamo Kiev, would see it go out.

Five-time champion Liverpool has a relatively straightforward match away to table-propping Hungarians Debrecen but its fate is largely out of its hands as it will be eliminated if Fiorentina beats already-qualified Olympique Lyon at home.

Similarly, Bayern Munich hosts pointless Maccabi Haifa knowing that, even if it wins as expected, it will go out if Juventus overcomes a Girondins Bordeaux side which is also through to the last 16.

In other games, Arsenal should join Lyon, Bordeaux, Chelsea, Porto, Manchester United and Sevilla in the last 16 while AC Milan and Real Madrid also have good chances of making sure of their places.

Inter's visit to Barcelona tonight in Group F provides the highlight of the week.

The Italians top the group with six points after their last-gasp win in Dynamo Kiev two weeks ago, one ahead of Rubin Kazan and Barcelona with the Ukrainians a further point behind.

Pep Guardiola's team is rushing to get Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi back to fitness for the potentially decisive encounter.

Argentina forward Messi picked up a thigh muscle injury in Saturday's 1-1 La Liga draw at Athletic Bilbao and Ibrahimovic missed the game, also dogged by a thigh problem. Defender Eric Abidal and midfielder Yaya Toure have been struck by the H1N1 virus.

Bayern Munich has yet to win a home game in Group A and, although it should have little trouble breaking its duck against Maccabi tomorrow, it may prove too late.

Third with four points from as many games, Bayern is four behind Juventus and will be eliminated if the Italians win away to a Girondins team which has nothing to play for apart from its reputation.

With Bayern seventh in the Bundesliga, failure would heap further pressure on coach Louis van Gaal.

Liverpool is already without key striker Fernando Torres for today's trip to Hungary.

Failure to win will condemn Liverpool to an early exit as would a Fiorentina victory against Lyon.

Group C leader AC Milan will qualify for the last 16 if it beats Olympique Marseille at home tomorrow.


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