BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Fernando Torres is making an almost 7,000-kilometer trek to the heart of Central Asia in search of an elusive 100th goal for Atletico Madrid.
Atletico chartered a plane for long-distance flights - an Airbus A330 - to make what it says is a record-breaking eight-hour journey for the club in European competition as it travels 6,840 kilometers to face Kazakh side Astana in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Torres has been stuck on goal No. 99 for his boyhood club since scoring against Eibar on Sept. 19. Since then, the former Liverpool and Chelsea striker has gone goalless in eight matches across all competitions.
“One to go. I hope it comes tomorrow because I am eager to score it,” Torres said. “It is proving tough, but that’s football. When I hit 100 I don’t plan to stop.”
The 31-year-old Torres returned to Atletico midway through last season. He immediately helped it eliminate crosstown rival Real Madrid from the Copa del Rey with a pair of goals, but otherwise has had a subdued output in attack.
This season he has scored twice through 12 appearances and has yet to find the net in the Champions League.
Atletico will try to repeat the dominant performance from its 4-0 win over Astana last match and keep hold of the Group C lead, with tougher games against Benfica and Galatasaray ahead.
Benfica is in second place but level on six points with Atletico. The two-time winner hosts Galatasaray, which is in third place with four points. Astana has one point.
Here are some more things to know about Tuesday’s Group C matches:
It may only be November, but already Astana’s qualifying hopes for next year’s Champions League are in the balance, and that could prove a potential distraction against Atletico.
Sunday sees the final day of the Kazakh Premier League, which is played on a calendar-year schedule, and Astana must win against third-placed Aktobe to take the title and Kazakhstan’s sole qualifying spot for the Champions League qualifying stages. A draw could allow Astana’s arch-rival Kairat Almaty to snatch the trophy.
JONAS TO THE RESCUE
After a stuttering start to the domestic season that has left it in fifth place, Benfica made the most of Jonas’s good form to snare its first away win and first away goals in the Portuguese league last weekend.
The Brazilian striker scored the opener and set up another in the 4-0 win at Tondela, making him the league’s top scorer with eight goals in eight games.
With Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou likely unavailable due to an ankle injury, Jonas is expected to line up alongside Mexico’s Raul Jimenez in attack at Lisbon’s Stadium of Light.
Coach Rui Vitoria, who took charge last summer, is aiming to steer Benfica into the knockout round for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
Galatasaray’s 2-1 win over Benfica last match revived its chances of advancing and boosted its players’ confidence by breaking a 10-match winless run in European competition that stretched back for nearly two years.
The Turkish side has gone unbeaten in eight matches in all competition since it lost to Atletico in its opening Champions League match.
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