Barcelona was twice dragged back from the precipice of a humiliating Champions League elimination by Robert Lewandowski’s late goals on Wednesday. An instant classic at Camp Nou saw Barcelona draw 3-3 with Inter Milan and barely cling to a slim hope of advancing to the round of 16.

Atlético Madrid is also on the brink after failing to score for a third straight game. No such worries for Bayern Munich and unheralded Club Brugge who each advanced to the knockout stage with two rounds to spare as leaders of groups where Spanish powers are slumping in third place.

Free-scoring Napoli also progressed with a 4-2 win over Ajax to kick off a stunning evening in the Champions League that delivered 36 goals in eight games. Mohamed Salah set a competition record with a hat trick in 6 minutes, 12 seconds — as a substitute midway through the second half — in Liverpool’s 7-1 blitz at Rangers.

Though it may just have been a stay of execution for Barcelona, the five-time European champion was grateful to be alive after a thrilling final few minutes against Inter. Barcelona trailed 2-1 in the 82nd minute and was going out until Lewandowski’s shot was deflected into the Inter net.

The Italians led again in the 89th, when Robin Gosens finished a fast break, but Lewandowski rose again two minutes into stoppage time to head another leveler. There was still time for Inter to waste chances to win, Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen to make two more saves, and Inter coach Simone Inzaghi to be shown a red card.

Still, Inter now holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Barcelona and will join Bayern advancing from Group C by beating over-matched Viktoria Plzeň in two weeks’ time. Bayern had a four-goal lead after just 35 minutes at Plzeň but let its perfect defensive record slip in the second half of a 4-2 win.

Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet ran his clean sheet streak to four games in a 0-0 draw at Atlético, to move four points clear of Porto and six clear of Atlético with the head-to-head tiebreaker. Porto’s 3-0 win at Bayer Leverkusen included two penalties scored by Iran striker Mehdi Taremi.

Tottenham leads Group D for the first time after beating Eintracht Frankfurt 3-2, with first goals from Son Heung-min either side of a Harry Kane penalty. Kane also missed a late penalty. Marseille rose to second place by winning 2-0 against Sporting Lisbon, which finished the game with nine men after two red cards.

Barcelona’s fall

Barcelona never failed to advance to the Champions League knockout round in the 17 years Lionel Messi was on the team. Without him, back-to-back failures beckon in two weeks’ time with a game to spare.

Barcelona will be eliminated if it loses at home to Lewandowski’s former club Bayern on October 26. Even a win will not be enough if Inter win either of their last two games.

(with PTI inputs)

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By Dipak

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