A total of 16 clubs will go into the last round of UEFA Champions League group-stage action still dreaming of reaching the knockout phase, with seven places up for grabs on Tuesday and Wednesday.
That dream is already reality for some, of course, and the likes of Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Arsenal and Barcelona will sign off having secured first place in their groups, while Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen, APOEL Nicosia and AC Milan have also booked their passage to the last 16.
Tension and drama are nonetheless assured across the continent, with plenty to play for in the vast majority of sections and runners-up spot still open to three sides in Groups B and F.
Match of the day
Chelsea-Valencia, Group E, Stamford Bridge, London
The stakes could scarcely be higher in west London, where one of these two heavyweights is destined for elimination and demotion to the UEFA Europa League. The winner of this crucial match is certain of advancing to the round of 16, while a score draw would send Valencia through on goal difference or away goals, depending on the scoreline. Should the match end 0-0, Chelsea will progress on away goals thanks to their 1-1 draw in Spain, providing Leverkusen do not succumb away against Genk.
The Premier League outfit can take comfort from their past meetings with Valencia, having won two and drawn three of five, although their two previous encounters at Stamford Bridge both ended in stalemates (1-1 and 0-0). The Blues can also pride themselves on a 12-match unbeaten run against Spanish opposition, and they have made a regular habit of graduating from the group stage in the last eight seasons. Los Che are unlikely to be intimidated, though, not least since they boast in-form striker Roberto Soldado, who has plundered 12 goals in his last 15 Champions League outings, including five this term.
The other matches
Tuesday 6 December
Already certain of their place in the next round, Leverkusen will be looking for victory in Belgium to cement top spot in a fiercely competitive section.
Arsenal may be through, but suspense is likely to reign in both games with the three other sides in the pool still hopeful of joining them. Marseille will reach the promised land if they triumph away against Dortmund, or if they draw and Olympiacos fail to beat the Gunners. Should the match in Greece finish in a stalemate, the French side can even afford to lose by up to two goals, as long as they also find the net.
Olympiacos will continue their adventure if they win and L'OM are unable to prevail in Germany, and a stalemate would suffice for Ernesto Valverde’s men providing the Bundesliga champions win 2-0 or by three or four goals.
Dortmund’s dreams of qualification depend on big victories, with a margin of four goals required if Olympiacos lose to Arsenal and at least five needed if the Greek club post a draw.
Porto-Zenit St Petersburg
APOEL Nicosia-Shakhtar Donetsk
Sure of their place in history as the first Cypriot side to survive the group stage, APOEL will entertain Shakhtar looking to sew up top spot. For their part, Porto need to defeat Zenit to keep their bid alive, while their Russian visitors can make do with a draw. A stern test indeed, but the Portuguese contenders can take confidence from their recent home record, having won five and drawn one of their last six outings at the Estadio do Dragao.
Viktoria Plzen-AC Milan
Everything has been more or less settled in this section, with Barcelona uncatchable at the summit ahead of AC Milan and likely to have one eye on their upcoming Clásico contest with Real Madrid.
Wednesday 7 December
Manchester City-Bayern Munich
Bayern have already made top spot their own and Villarreal cannot lift themselves off the foot of the table, but otherwise question marks abound. Manchester City have lost control of their own destiny and must defeat the Bundesliga leaders while hoping Villarreal can avoid a sixth straight reverse when they host Napoli. City may be cruising in the Premier League, where they lie five points clear of neighbour and rivals Manchester United, but they have struggled on the European stage, lacking the experience that has helped Bayern qualify for the 14th time in their last 15 Champions League campaigns.
Inter Milan-CSKA Moscow
In contrast to City, Inter have found the going tough in Serie A while impressing in Europe, and they will head into their final game safely installed in pole position. Their three section rivals are anxious to advance behind them, with Lille obliged to beat Trabzonspor if they are to finish runners-up. The Turkish aspirants will go through if they emerge victorious and they can also settle for a draw, providing CSKA do not overcome Inter. If CSKA prevail at the San Siro and the match in France ends level, the Russian club will squeeze through.
Having wrapped up qualification last time out, Benfica will be keen to cement first place by recording a second win against Romanian side Otelul Galati. All eyes are likely to be on the match in Switzerland, however, where Sir Alex Ferguson’s United are in danger of elimination against the side that secured a thrilling 3-3 draw at Old Trafford. Basel have to win to progress at their opponents’ expense, while the Red Devils can scrape through with a draw.
Five straight wins have left Madrid comfortably clear of their competitors and second place will either be grabbed by Ajax or Lyon. Beaten 4-0 by Los Merengues at the same stage of the competition last term, Ajax can settle for a draw or even a slender defeat given their clear advantage in goal-difference terms (+3 to Lyon’s -4). The French club are hoping to reach the last 16 for the ninth year in succession but need to sweep aside Dinamo by a sizeable margin and hope Ajax slump to a heavy loss against their Liga visitors.
Player to watch
Manchester United would be wise to pay extra attention to Basel namesakes Alexander and Fabian Frei, the prolific pair having notched seven of the Swiss outfit’s nine goals in the Champions League this term. At 32, Alexander is a proven talent and can look back proudly on 42 strikes in his 84 games for Switzerland before international retirement, and he has established an almost fraternal understanding with 22-year-old Fabian, who has notched three goals in Europe this season.
4 – The number of clubs who have won all six of their group games down the years: AC Milan (1993), Paris Saint-Germain (1995), Spartak Moscow (1996) and Barcelona (2003). Real Madrid are the only side capable of matching their achievement this season, though they may be reluctant to join that select band as none of those four teams went on to lift the trophy.
What they said
"At the moment, Robin van Persie doesn’t have to look for goals – they come to him. He’s always in the right place at the right time because he understands the game very well,” Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager.
Have your say
How many English clubs will qualify for the last 16?