It was a memorable final UEFA Champions League matchday for Royal Antwerp FC as last season’s Belgian champions earned their first-ever Champions League win with a dramatic stoppage-time goal against the current La Liga holders. Both teams came into this match with nothing to lose, as the home team knew nothing could change their elimination from European football, and the away team knew they had secured passage into the knockout stage and had qualified for the top spot with a previous 2-1 win against Porto. Thus, it became a battle for who wanted it more, with Royal Antwerp FC securing a famous victory against Barcelona.
Stoppage Time Dramatics Brought Royal Antwerp FC Glory
It was dreamland for Royal Antwerp FC since the start as they secured an early lead through teenager Arthur Vermeeren inside two minutes as he capitalised on some sloppy Barcelona passing inside their own half and fired the ball past Peña into the roof of the net. Their joy was cut short after half an hour as Barcelona equalised through Ferran Torres with the same mistake that cost them their own goal as Royal Antwerp FC gave up possession inside their own half, which allowed Barca to counter and score.
Although Royal Antwerp FC and Barcelona went into their half-time changing rooms level, you may feel the atmosphere slowly building inside the stadium that something extraordinary would occur in the second half. And it did, as Royal Antwerp FC led again through former Spurs striker Vincent Janssen minutes after VAR overturned a red card decision towards Sergi Roberto. The Dutch striker capitalised again on some sloppy Barca defending and peeled off towards the back post before dispatching his shot past the Spanish goalkeeper.
However, fate seemed to deal a harsh fate towards Royal Antwerp FC in stoppage time when Marc Guiu equalised once more for Barca as the young 17-year-old midfielder got on the end of a precise İlkay Gündoğan free-kick and powered his header past Jean Butez. Fortunately, lady luck was still on their side as the hosts scored immediately after kick-off as George Ilenikhena, another 17-year-old, composed himself in a 1v1 situation and slotted the ball past Peña to earn a memorable and historic victory for Royal Antwerp FC
Crashing out in style with an easy win against our dogs😉 pic.twitter.com/0IFUuWF2zH
— Royal Antwerp FC (@official_racf) December 13, 2023
Xavi Earned an Unwanted Achievement After Royal Antwerp FC Defeat
Misery compounded onto Xavi besides the defeat to Royal Antwerp FC as the Barcelona gaffer became the quickest Spanish manager in Barca’s history to hit the most Champions League defeats for Barcelona in the fastest time. For context, he has now six defeats in 14 games, at a worse rate than Luis Enrique (6 in 33) and Pep Guardiola (6 in 52 games).
In his press conference, Xavi did not hide his frustration with his team’s performance, unlike their defeat to Girona on the weekend. “I’m worried, of course. That’s normal. The team is uncomfortable right now. We’re on a bad run with two negative results in a row. We can be self-critical. It’s time to improve. Our rivals make chances and threaten, and we have to do more of that ourselves. It is costing us.”
As for what the defeats mean to their expectations towards the knockout stage, Xavi replied: “We have achieved our objective by winning the group. We won away to our toughest rivals, Porto, but we must recuperate the good sensations we had earlier in the group. We need to break this dynamic. We are in the draw on Monday as group winners. It’ll be interesting to see who we draw, but it’s time to look at ourselves as much as who we’ll play the next round.”
Xavi has become the Spanish coach with the most defeats in Barcelona’s #UCL history:
— Get Spanish Football News (@GSpanishFN) December 13, 2023
Barcelona’s Chances for European Glory Looked Bleak
While many would dismiss Barcelona’s loss to Girona as a one-off, as Leicester also beat everyone in their title-winning season, this defeat today to Royal Antwerp FC sets a grave tone for Barca moving forward in the UEFA Champions League knockout stage.
For example, in their current form, it is hard not to favour second-seeded teams such as Napoli, Inter Milan, PSG, Leipzig and even F.C. Copenhagen, who survived the group with Bayern, Manchester United and Galatasaray. With an out-of-sorts Robert Lewandowski, a shaky defensive core and several key players out to injury, it does not bode well for Barcelona ahead of Monday’s draw. However, fortunately for Barcelona, they won’t face Bayern in the next round.
For timely football updates, follow AsiaSport for daily recaptures of news across football pitches globally, with high-definition highlights provided with a single click.