Barcelona booked their passage to the Champions League last 16 for the first time in three seasons as Joao Felix’s second-half goal secured a 2-1 comeback win at home to Porto.

The former Atletico Madrid and Chelsea forward netted just before the hour mark after being set up by Joao Cancelo to seal the win and ensure it would not be a third consecutive group stage exit for Xavi’s side, despite having been given an early scare by the Portuguese side.

It was former Real Madrid stalwart Pepe who scored the goal for Porto that looked like it would set Barca up for a nervous final matchday in two weeks’ time, at 40 years old breaking his own record as the oldest ever goalscorer in the competition.

The lead lasted barely two minutes and it was ex-Manchester City player Cancelo who levelled in spectacular fashion.

Pedri swept a pass out wide to Cancelo advancing down the left but there was plenty still for the Portugal international to do as he carried the ball into the box and unleashed a superb right-footed effort that flew into the far corner.

Felix then got forward after the break to finish from Cancelo’s pass and secure a priceless win.

Shakhtar Donetsk’s earlier victory against Royal Antwerp had meant that Barca and Porto went into their match locked together on nine points with the Ukrainian champions, but Felix’s winner means Xavi’s side can relax in their final match against Antwerp whilst the other two teams play off for the right to join them in the last 16.

Barca earlier announced that teenage midfielder Gavi had undergone a “successful” operation on his torn anterior cruciate ligament, which is expected to rule him out for the rest of the season and the European Championship next summer.

Veteran centre-back Pepe has agreed to prolong his playing career at Porto, signing a new contract with the Portuguese giants at the age of 40.

Pepe is approaching the end of his 23rd season in senior football, the past five of those spent with Porto in what represents his second spell at the Estadio do Dragao.

The 133-cap Portugal defender has no plans to retire just yet, having put pen to paper on a 12-month extension with Porto to stay at the club until the end of next season.

"I'm very nervous because it's a contract that means a lot to me," Pepe, who has played 28 times this season, told Porto's official website. 

"As a player and person, I usually say I'm very honest. I'm 40 years old but I owe a lot to Porto and I don't want to defraud the president or the people at the club.

"I want to thank everyone at the club for making me better every day as a player, a person and a father."

Pepe has won 12 trophies across his two stints with Porto, including four Primeira Liga titles.

He also won the Champions League and LaLiga three times each during a 10-year spell with Real Madrid, as well as winning Euro 2016 and the 2018-19 Nations League with Portugal.

Cristiano Ronaldo is too expensive for any Portuguese club to buy, according to Porto president Pinto da Costa.

Ronaldo had his Manchester United contract terminated last month after he criticised the Red Devils' hierarchy – including manager Erik ten Hag – in a controversial interview with Piers Morgan.

The Portugal captain created more headlines at the World Cup, where he was dropped to the bench for his country’s 6-1 win over Switzerland in the last 16, as well as their quarter-final defeat against Morocco.

The 37-year-old, who is using Real Madrid's facilities to train, has been linked with a move to Saudi Pro League outfit Al Nassr and the club where he started his career Sporting CP.

However, Da Costa thinks it is unlikely the five-time Ballon d’Or winner will return to Portugal due to his wage demands.

"It's up to him and the clubs interested, but in Portugal, nobody has the capacity to give him what he earns and still wants to earn," he said. "And he deserves that."

 

The Porto chief also confirmed that veteran defender Pepe is welcome to stay at the club as long as he is fit enough to play.

The former Real Madrid defender turns 40 in February, but shows no signs of slowing down.

He has played seven times for Porto this season and started four of Portugal's five games at Qatar 2022.

Asked if a contract renewal will be available for Pepe, Da Costa said: "As long as he can play and I think he will play for another five or six years."

Pepe says Cristiano Ronaldo is "fine" after his emotional response to Portugal's shock defeat to Morocco in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.

Ronaldo was left out of the starting line-up by head coach Fernando Santos for the second straight game after his angry reaction to being substituted against South Korea in the final group match.

Youssef En-Nesyri scored a towering header to give Morocco the lead, and despite Ronaldo's introduction shortly after half-time, Portugal were unable to find an equaliser as they were dumped out of the tournament. 

The loss elicited an emotional reaction from Ronaldo as the five-time Ballon d'Or winner left the field in tears, before a social media post on Sunday saw him accept his "most ambitious dream" of winning a World Cup with Portugal was over.

While Ronaldo held off from making a definitive call on his international future, Pepe feels the forward should be appreciated for his efforts in a Portugal shirt whatever he decides to do.

"Ronaldo is fine," Pepe told reporters after arriving back in Lisbon. "He's our Portuguese flag. He reaches all parts of the world.

"He gave us his contribution when he was called. We have to thank him and all his team-mates who did their best to be available for the coach."

Despite Portugal head coach Fernando Santos' contract running until 2024, it is rumoured he may step down after this World Cup disappointment.

Asked about Santos' future, Pepe explained: "I'm a player, I don't have to talk about it. I'm not going to go down that path.

"Unfortunately, we didn't achieve the goal we wanted. We tried to give everything to honour our country.

"It's football. There are these things. We have to learn from what happened so that the future is better for us."

Portugal's next match is against Liechtenstein in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier on March 23.

Pepe has slammed referee Facundo Tello following Portugal's World Cup exit, claiming "it is unacceptable for an Argentine to referee the game."

Fernando Santos' side bowed out in the quarter-finals after becoming Morocco's latest victims; Youssef En-Nesyri's first-half header enough to seal a 1-0 win at Al Thumama Stadium.

The Atlas Lions, who have also beaten Belgium and Spain in Qatar, are the first African nation to reach the World Cup semi-finals, though Pepe was left enraged by the performance of Argentine referee Tello.

This comes less than 24 hours after Lionel Messi heavily criticised Spanish official Antonio Mateu Lahoz following Argentina's shoot-out victory over the Netherlands.

"It is unacceptable for an Argentine to referee the game. I am very sad," he said in quotes reported by O Jogo. 

"There were 90 minutes in which they always wanted to stop our game with little fouls - the referee did not give a yellow card, did not call attention. 

"After yesterday, with Messi talking, an Argentinian comes and whistles. In the second half, nothing was played, there were only eight [additional] minutes. 

"We were always on top. They were lucky enough to score a goal. We worked well and did a lot to win the game."

However, Santos refused to blame Portugal's elimination on Tello, insisting the official did not have a negative influence on his nation's display.

"He could have called fouls in a few plays, but generally speaking, I do not think so," the head coach said during his post-match press conference.

"I think we could have done more, and we failed to do so. I don't think we should blame the referee, it does not make sense. There were a few plays, but honestly, I do not think that's the way to see it."

Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton are reportedly keeping a close eye on Lille striker Jonathan David when he heads to the World Cup later this month to represent Canada.

David, 22, is enjoying a breakout season in Ligue 1, netting nine goals in 14 games as he begins to fulfil the potential that saw him become the most expensive Canadian transfer in history when he was purchased for €30million from Gent as a 20-year-old.

In a recent interview with Sky Sports News he made it clear he envisions his future being somewhere other than France, and with a strong performance at the World Cup, he could get his wish as soon as January.

 

TOP STORY – PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS KEEPING AN EYE ON CANADA STAR

In that Sky Sports News interview, David said "every player wants to play for a massive club in their life – I think if I had the chance to do it, I'll go for it for sure".

That is becoming more of a reality every day, according to a report from GiveMeSport, which names Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton as interested parties, while saying Manchester United could throw their hat in the ring if they like what they see in Qatar.

His price tag is expected to exceed €40m as a starting point, but that figure could skyrocket if he catches the eye in Qatar.

Another report from 90min adds that Arsenal are prepared to spend in the January window as they pursue their first Premier League title since 2003, potentially putting them in the box seat.

 

ROUND-UP

– According to Portuguese publication A Bola, Chelsea and Arsenal are interested in signing 25-year-old Porto winger Pepe, who has a €75m release clause in his contract.

– Sky Italy is reporting Chelsea's odds of landing Rafael Leao have improved as his contract negotiations with Milan make little progress.

Manchester United have made Borussia Dortmund's 19-year-old England midfielder Jude Bellingham their top target, and expect him to cost €150m, per Sky Germany.

– Meanwhile, Marca report Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group will sign Bellingham for €100m as a "parting gift" before selling the club.

– According to Sport Bild, 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund prospect Youssoufa Moukoko is holding off on signing a new contract that will pay him €5m per year due to interest being shown from Barcelona.

Antoine Griezmann stepped off the bench to guide Atletico Madrid to a remarkable 2-1 win over 10-man Porto in the Champions League, in a match that featured three stoppage-time goals.

Atleti and Porto played out a goalless draw when they met on the opening matchday of last season's Champions League, and a repeat looked likely for the duration of normal time on Wednesday.

But after Mehdi Taremi picked up a second yellow card for simulation, Mario Hermoso fired Atleti ahead before handling in his own area, allowing Mateus Uribe to level the scores with a 96th-minute penalty.

There was to be one final twist in the 11th minute of added time, however, as Griezmann reacted quickest from an Atleti corner to cap a remarkable contest with a dramatic winner.

Pepe declared Portugal have the quality to become world champions but admitted he was uncertain about his own prospects of playing at Qatar 2022.

Fernando Santos' team clinched their place at the finals with a 2-0 play-off win over North Macedonia in Porto on Tuesday.

Bruno Fernandes got both of the goals for the Euro 2016 champions, who beat Turkey in their previous play-off match.

It means Cristiano Ronaldo is set to feature at a record-equalling fifth World Cup, though fellow veteran campaigner Pepe is not quite so sure of his place.

While that does not seem likely to be down to coach Santos, with 39-year-old Pepe still a mainstay of his defence, the former Real Madrid centre-back insisted that now his focus is on helping Porto, rather than thinking about the showpiece that starts in November.

"I still don't know, there's still a lot of time," Pepe told reporters.

"Now I have to focus on my club's games. I didn't want to mix things up, but I know that at this age I have to think game by game. Obviously I want to help Portugal.

"I'm very happy to do what I like to do, play football, I try to pass on this desire of mine to enjoy every second and moment in football, because it passes very fast. I am 39, but I still have the same illusion of a kid of 15, 18, 20 years old. I try to make [my team-mates] feel this happiness because we are privileged."

Pepe played a crucial role in Portugal's second goal against North Macedonia, making a fine tackle deep in his own half to start the counter-attack that resulted in Fernandes steering home Diogo Jota's cross.

Portugal were ultimately comfortable winners, having 11 attempts and restricting their opponents to just three going the other way, with none of those hitting the target.

Yet the fact they were even in this play-off in the first place, and could well have been facing European champions Italy if not for North Macedonia's shock win over the Azzurri last week, points to a sense of underachievement.

Pepe, though, feels Portugal have all the tools to succeed in Qatar.

"We have a lot of quality, we know that for this feat we have to work hard and be very strong mentally, be a humble and warrior team, which we were many times in the period in which we won the Euros and the Nations League," he said.

"We have players with a big future, who play in big clubs in Europe. I believe we have the capacity to be world champions, but we'll take it easy, prepare well, so we can be at our level.

"It was an emotional night, the atmosphere in the stadium was fantastic, we felt that positive energy from everyone. I feel privileged to be part of this group, to be able to live this wonderful night.

"It [would be] a huge injustice not to be at the World Cup, the way we work, the way we dedicate ourselves, the criticism we receive. We proved to be a humble team."

Porto will be without captain Pepe for their decisive Champions League showdown with Atletico Madrid on Tuesday after he tested positive for coronavirus.

The Primeira Liga leaders go into their final Group B match at Estadio do Dragao in second place, with Atleti and Milan also in the hunt to qualify for the last 16 behind runaway leaders Liverpool.

Porto will have to do without veteran centre-back Pepe, while Marko Grujic is a doubt due to an ankle injury.

Coach Sergio Conceicao said during a news conference on Monday: "Pepe tested positive for COVID. It's an uncontrollable situation, it's part of society.

"As for Grujic, two days ago in training, with the poor quality of our pitches, he sprained [his ankle] and is in doubt."

Milan and Atleti are just a point behind Porto and Jurgen Klopp will ring the changes for Liverpool's trip to San Siro.

Conceicao believes it should already have been mission accomplished for his side, who must win to make certain of a place in the knockouts.

He said: "In this circumstance, in the last round of the group stage [to be in contention to progress] is something my team deserves praise for, and it would be deserved to be already in the round of 16.

"Any of the teams [Porto, Milan and Atleti] can dream of going through, but we have to focus on what we have to do in the game and win it."

Mateus Uribe (suspended) and Ivan Marcano (foot) are also ruled out, while Francisco Conceicao (hip) and Joao Mario (fatigue) are rated as doubtful. 

Pepe has urged Portugal to show the same hunger for victory against world champions France as they were subjected to against Germany last weekend.

Holders Portugal face the prospect of their Euro 2020 campaign ending at the group stage, with a positive result against Didier Deschamps' world champions on Wednesday their target to guarantee progress, although a narrow defeat could still see them progress as one of the four best third-placed teams.

The good work from an opening 3-0 win over Hungary was undone in a 4-2 defeat to Germany in Munich, when a usually obdurate Portugal defence was repeatedly undone as Joachim Low's 3-4-3 system granted his team numerical superiority in attack.

Left wing-back Robin Gosens tormented Portugal right-back Nelson Semedo and contributed an assist and a goal after half-time, as the Selecao became the first defending European champions to concede four goals in a single match at the competition.

However, it was the excitement that Atalanta player Gosens showed when Germany won corners that caught veteran centre-back Pepe's eye.

"Against Germany, I have a very clear picture in my mind. Whenever the left full-back got a corner, they were very happy," Pepe said.

"That shows how much they wanted to beat us. We have to want it as much as Germany did in order to make it through and achieve our goals.

"When we win we all win, when we lose we all lose. That's what makes us a very strong, cohesive group.

"We need to have our lines closer together, we need to support each other. Over the last few years we've shown what Portugal is like, we have good quality players and all work together."

Head coach Fernando Santos echoed Pepe's sentiments, acknowledging his side lacked their usual balance between attack and defence last time out.

"We did a thorough analysis of the game and looked at what we could have done better. I think we all reached a similar type of conclusion," Santos said. "It wasn't our usual type of game, it wasn't the Portuguese style.

"The crucial element in the game is to balance the team, it's not about the best or the worst. Every single team on Earth can be aggressive and supportive of one another.

"We know that France will play like this, We need to fight more, want it more and be more organised than they are.

"If we put our quality out there and they do, then it can swing either way. We need to be very focused and very strong in every area of the pitch and every moment of the game."

Santos pledged not to make wholesale changes, while acknowledging the quick turnaround in games and high temperatures in Budapest have had a sapping effect.

In terms of strategy, the veteran tactician stated it was important to right the wrong of his team's Munich missteps.

"As for changes, I could change every single player – I'm joking, of course! It's not about changing everyone," he added.

"We played four at the back and we were fully aware that we were under-manned. Against lower-ranked teams we can attack with more people and our midfielders play differently than the German midfielders.

"France play up front with three very mobile players. Benzema and Griezmann are very mobile players. In the last third we will have four against three, sometimes we will have four against four.

"We're focused. If we play a very intensive game, with the right kind of focus, play out from the back and make the opponent run, then I think we have a very good chance of winning."

Sergio Conceicao fears Chelsea's shock loss to West Brom could work against Porto heading into the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie.

Chelsea had not lost under Thomas Tuchel before a stunning 5-2 home reverse on Saturday, a result that led to the Blues dropping out of the Premier League's top four.

Defender Thiago Silva was sent off shortly after his side had taken the lead against relegation-threatened opponents, with his dismissal leading to a dramatic collapse that Tuchel admitted in the aftermath was "tough to digest".

Porto, therefore, are wary of a possible backlash from that result in Seville, the venue for both games between the teams due to the travel restrictions in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

"You know that Thiago Silva was sent off in the first half and that the game had a different course," said Conceicao, whose side will be listed as the home team on Wednesday.

"Chelsea until this last game had been extremely competent, they have not lost a game in the Champions League. They are a competent team, and when these defeats happen, it serves as a warning.

"If you want my opinion, I would prefer that they won the last game. These situations make the siren sound and make everyone more alert, more awake to danger, and I honestly don't like these defeats very much."

Rather than read too much into the West Brom game, Conceicao highlighted how Chelsea had impressively overcome Atletico Madrid in the last 16, winning both legs without conceding a goal.

He also referenced his opposite number's penchant for tinkering with tactics to suit each match situation, something he says Tuchel also did during his time in charge at Paris Saint-Germain.

"In the analysis of Chelsea, practically that last game wasn't considered," the former Portugal international said.

"There were other games that they played before that, namely those in the Champions League against Atletico Madrid, but this one [against West Brom] did not enter [our analysis].

"Tuchel is a coach who is capable of changing even if he wins, while in France he did the same at PSG. Play with two men behind the striker or play with two men in front, as in the first round with Atletico. It is up to us to analyse that dynamic.

"I saw the last game they played, but we did not present images to the players of that game."

Porto made it through to the last eight at the expense of Juventus, but veteran centre-back Pepe made clear the players will not dwell on their Turin heroics and instead focus on the task in hand - getting past Chelsea.

"The Juventus match is already in the past. This is the important one now. We must show a lot of passion and humility and work as a team," said the defender, a three-time Champions League winner during his time at Real Madrid.

"We have prepared well. Nothing is certain in football, but I hope we will be the team that our fans expect. We respect Chelsea. It will be difficult, but we want to win this tie."

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