5 things to know about Group G of Champions League
MADRID (AP) — Atletico Madrid’s high-flying start to the season will be rewarded with a spot in the next stage of the Champions League if the team beats Austria Vienna on Wednesday.
Atletico is challenging Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Spanish league, and a victory at home against Austria Vienna will assure advancement in the Champions League.
In the other Group G match, FC Porto travels to Zenit St-Petersburg with both clubs in dire need of a victory.
Atletico is unbeaten in the group with nine points, followed by Zenit with four points, Porto with three and Austria Vienna with one.
Here are 5 things to know ahead of Wednesday’s matches:
Much of Atletico’s impressive start to the season has been generated by striker Diego Costa, who leads Spain with 13 goals.
So while Costa’s play is generating much attention, it has also helped rejuvenate David Villa’s contributions in attack.
Spain’s all-time leading scorer has netted six times, including four in his last three games, but he is still looking for his first goal in Europe’s top club competition.
“The team is playing well, we’re solid,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said after Sunday’s convincing 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao. “We’re enjoying this moment with much joy and excitement and to be where we are fills us with pride.”
Atletico can set a club record for consecutive victories in elite European play with a fourth straight win, breaking the mark set during the 1958-59 season.
Costa, Villa and midfielder Koke have garnered most of the headlines when it comes to Atletico’s strong start thanks in part to their goals and creative combinations in attack.
But they have also been instrumental in fortifying Atletico’s defense, which has allowed only 11 goals in 17 games.
“Our defensive work is so important to getting us where we are,” Simeone said. “It starts with our strikers creating pressure. Our defensive work comes down to a team effort and that is happening because of the great work high up the field. That is helping us gain confidence in defense, and that is very important for us.”
Playing at the Vicente Calderon will make Austria Vienna’s bid to score for the first time in group play even more difficult. So coach Nenad Bjelica shook up the team and overlooked regulars Markus Suttner, Tomas Jun and leading scorer Philipp Hosiner.
It paid off as Roman Kienast scored a hat trick for the defending champions in the 3-0 win at Wiener Neustadt.
“These three goals speak for him, also for the future,” said Bjelica, indicating Kienast will play on Wednesday.
Kienast also came off the bench to score Austria Vienna’s decisive goal in the playoff against Dinamo Zagreb in August.
Only two teams have ever gone through the group stage without scoring: Deportivo La Coruna (2004-05) and Maccabi Haifa (2009-10).
Bjelica is banned from the bench after earning a red card in the 3-0 loss to Atletico in the last round, when he criticized the referee.
FC Porto heads to Russia looking to get its season back on track after a recent dip in form.
After two straight home losses, the Portuguese champions dropped two points in the domestic league with a 1-1 draw at Belenenses.
Porto has suddenly become tame in attack and ragged in midfield with only two goals scored in the group, where standout striker Jackson Martinez has lost his spark.
That has cranked up the pressure on coach Paulo Fonseca in his first season in charge of the two-time European champions.
Russian leader Zenit couldn’t have chosen a worse time to start stumbling, domestically.
An eight-game winning streak in the league came to an end Saturday with a 1-1 draw at home to Amkar Perm, which follows an embarrassing 2-0 loss in the Russia Cup to third-tier club FC Tyumen.
At least Zenit can count on a strong domestic record against Portuguese opposition in St. Petersburg, including a 3-1 win over Porto 3-1 in the 2011-12.
Aleksandr Kerzhakov scored a late winner to secure Zenit a 1-0 away win over 10-man Porto in the last round.
“It will be a decisive and a very special game for us,” Zenit striker Hulk said. “Porto is a strong opponent but we will be concentrated and will play only to win tomorrow, though a draw will also be a suitable result for us.”
Associated Press writers Eric Willemsen in Vieena, Barry Hatton in Lisbon and Leonid Chizhov in Moscow contributed to this report.
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