UEFA Champions League 2012-13: Highlighting Key First-Phase Finales

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UEFA Champions League 2012-13: Highlighting Key First-Phase Finales
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The UEFA Champions League group stage is coming to a close this December, and that means that Tuesday and Wednesday will provide many clubs with their last shot to secure a berth in the thrilling knockout phase. 

Group A is up for grabs on Tuesday, while a pair of Group E matches on Wednesday will decide whether reigning Champions League titleholders Chelsea advance to the knockout stage to continue the defense of their championship.

Here we highlight a trio of key, must-see first phase finales this week.

December 4: Paris Saint-Germain vs. FC Porto (Group A) - 2:45 p.m. ET

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Tuesday's clash between Group A leaders FC Porto and Paris Saint-Germain will determine which club wins the group. 

Porto currently leads Group A with 13 points through five matches, but could fall to runner-up status with an away defeat to PSG. A draw, however, would send Porto through to the knockout phase as group winners. Porto edged PSG 1-0 in the first meeting in early October, scoring late to earn three big points in Portugal.

I look for both teams to struggle offensively once again, but the edge has to go to PSG playing in front of their cheering supporters. 

Either way, with both teams sure to advance to the next stage, it's just a matter of which side will move on to play the Group B runner-up (Arsenal at the moment) and which side will take on the Group B winner (Schalke at the moment) in the knockout phase. 

December 5: Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Juventus (Group E) - 2:45 p.m. ET

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Group E action will kick off on Wednesday, and will be highlighted by a matchup of the group's top two clubs, Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus. Donetsk currently leads the group with 10 points, but can fall to group runner-up with a loss. 

Meanwhile, Juventus (on nine points) can win the group outright with an away victory, or secure a runner-up spot with a draw. 

This match holds added importance considering that Chelsea's Champions League future depends on it. The Blues need a win of their own and a Donetsk win to finish second in the group and escape to the knockout phase. 

Juventus and Donetsk drew in their first match in Italy, so don't expect much separation when they square off on Wednesday in Ukraine. 

December 5: Chelsea vs. FC Nordsjælland (Group E) - 2:45 p.m. ET

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

As already mentioned, the defending UEFA Champions League winners are in serous danger of being knocked out before the start of 2013. If Chelsea can't get three points against Group E bottom dweller FC Nordsjælland, then they'll be finished. 

The good news for the Blues is that they'll be playing at Stamford Bridge in front of their supporters. Plus, Chelsea blanked Nordsjælland 4-0 in Denmark in the two clubs' first meeting a few weeks back.

What makes this match all the more intense, though, is the fact that the Donetsk-Juventus match will be happening simultaneously. At the end of 90-plus minutes, the Blues will have to hope that they and Donetsk have both won. 

If not, they are doomed and there will be a new champion in 2012-13.

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