Europe’s premier club competition is heating up, as this week saw the final round of group matches in this year’s Champions’ League. There was plenty of drama and several crunch games as Europe’s best club sides vied with each other to make the knock-out stages of this illustrious tournament.
Tuesday evening’s game at Stamford Bridge was a straight shoot-out for qualification between Chelsea and Valencia of Spain. Chelsea, struggling domestically of late, faced a Valencia side currently sitting third in La Liga, unfortunately this match didn’t really live up to its billing. Chelsea started brightly, and Valencia never really started at all, losing two goals in the opening quarter of the game to Drogba and Ramires. Valencia never recovered and turned in an utterly abject performance in London. Drogba sealed it for the Blues with his second on 76 minutes. Chelsea join Bayer Leverkusen, who drew 1-1 with Genk, in the last 16.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, Marseille pulled off some heroics coming from 2-1 down to beat Borussia Dortmund 2-3. Two goals in the last ten minutes swung the tie Marseille’s way, the winner a fantastic effort from Valbuena. His late strike ensuring Marseille progress whilst Olympiakos go out, despite defeating, group winners, Arsenal 3-1 in the group’s other fixture. Porto’s failure to beat Zenith St. Petersburg at home allowed the Russians to sneak through in second place behind, surprise package, Apoel Nicosia. The Portuguese needed to win to ensure qualification but couldn’t break Zenith down to get the vital goal. Zenith go through in second place behind the Cypriot champions, who topped the group despite losing 0-2 to Shaktar Donetsk of the Ukraine. AC Milan and Barcelona, already into the last 16 rounded off their group fixtures by drawing with Viktoria Plzen 2-2 and beating BATE Borisov 4-0 respectively.
Wednesday night saw some epic drama and at at least one major upset. Manchester United travelled to Swiss champions, FC Basel, knowing that a draw would’ve been enough to put them safely into the knockout stages. Basel had shown well at Old Trafford, and almost won the game, however most pundits expected United to secure the point they needed in the return fixture. That wasn’t to be the case however, as Basel grabbed an early goal after a collision between Vidic and Smalling followed by a poor clearance from De Gea, Streller with the finish. Manchester United dominated possession but created only one clear cut chance, which Rooney fluffed. In the second half Basel started brightly, however United again began to dominate, Rooney missing another good chance. Basel nicked a second goal with seven minutes to go, Alex Frei with a header after some more poor defending. United scrambled a goal back through Phil Jones with two minutes to go, but it was too little, too late, as they exited the Champions League at the group stage for the first time since 2005. Basel join Benfica, who beat Galati 1-0, in the knock-out stage.
Manchester City also went out of the Champions’ League on Wednesday evening. Despite beating Bayern Munich 2-0 at Eastlands, the richest club in the world will be playing in the Europa League for the remainder of the season, as aresult of Napoli’s 2-0 win at Villareal; Silva and Toure with the goals for City, Inler and Hamsik doing the damage for Napoli. In France, Lille or Trabzonspor of Turkey had a great chance of getting into the last 16, a win for either side would’ve done the job, it wasn’t to be however, as the game finished goalless. The stalemate in Lille opened the door for CSKA Moscow to step through, they left it late but an 87th minute Berezutzky header earned them a 2-1 win over, group winners, Inter in Milan.
Finally, At the Amsterdam arena Ajax suffered terribly against Real Madrid because of two terrible decisions by the match officials. Madrid took the lead through Callejon, Ajax responded really well and had the ball in the net through Lodeiro, only to have the goal wrongly disallowed for offside. Shortly afterwards Ajax again had the ball in the net, this time through Sulejmani, the same linesman again ruled the goal out, again for offside, and again, clearly the wrong decision. To add insult to injury, Higuain duly went up the other end and scored for Madrid, the Spaniards went on to win 3-0, Callejon with his second in injury time, but Ajax were robbed. If that’s not enough, the result of the other game in that group has prompted claims of match fixing. Lyon needed a swing of six goals against Dinamo Zagreb in order to put Ajax out and go through themselves. After taking the lead at the end of the first half, the ten men of Dinamo proceeded to concede seven goals in 50 minutes to lose the match 1-7, four from Gomis, one each from Gonalons, Lopez and Briand, Kovacic for Dinamo. A spectacular collapse and an obvious lack of effort on the part of the Croatians has led many to question the legitimacy of the result. As it stands Madrid and Lyon go through, Ajax dumped into the Europa League.
This article was commissioned by and published on http://www.euro-2012-blog.com/ . First published on 16/12/11.