In spite of their 1-0 loss to Basel, Chelsea became the fifth team to advance to the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, joining already-qualified Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.
The final round of fixtures – scheduled for the second week in December – for the teams involved in this first instalment of Matchday 5 now has an intriguing look about it, with Schalke-Basel (Group E), Napoli-Arsenal (Group F), Atletico-Porto (Group G) and AC Milan-Ajax (Group H) likely to be of particular interest to fans watching across Europe.
The big match
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Napoli
Goals: Marco Reus 10 pen, Jakub Blaszczykowski 60, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 78 (Dortmund); Lorenzo Insigne 71 (Napoli)
Played out in front of a boisterous crowd, and featuring a high level of physical commitment on both sides, this fast-paced Group F encounter more than lived up to expectations.
Despite not always sticking to their gameplan, Borussia managed to open the scoring through a Marco Reus penalty, following a foul by Federico Fernandez on Robert Lewandowski.
With neither defence – aside from the goalkeepers – looking all that solid, the result appeared to be up for grabs, as Jose Callejon proved by striking a shot off the base of the post. The Germans finally put some distance between themselves and I Partenopei on the hour mark, Jakub Blaszczykowski calmly adding the finishing touch to a fine counter-attack down the left.
Far from hanging their heads, the Italians then pulled one back via Lorenzo Insigne, who had come off the bench just four minutes beforehand. The match subsequently swung to and fro as the final result hung in the balance, before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sealed the points for the home side, superbly clipping the ball over the on-rushing ’keeper for a goal that could cost Napoli dearly should they finish on the same points as Dortmund.
The other games
Steaua Bucharest 0-0 Schalke
Basel 1-0 Chelsea
Chelsea had an off night in Switzerland, but can console themselves with the fact that they have now mathematically qualified for the knockout stage. Already beaten 2-1 at home by Basel, the Blues dominated the clash without ever properly pushing for a winner. That proved to be a dangerous game, as Fabian Schar’s long ball found Mohamed Salah, who adeptly chipped it over the otherwise excellent Petr Cech.
Elsewhere, Schalke were held to a draw in Bucharest by Steaua, which means that the team that emerges victorious from the Schalke-Basel duel in Gelsenkirchen on Matchday 6 will book their place in the Round of 16.
Arsenal 2-0 Marseille
Arsenal secured a comfortable victory over a Marseille side that had nothing left to play for. A brace from Jack Wilshere, first set up by Bacary Sagna and then by Mesut Ozil, enabled the Gunners to consolidate their position at the top of the section with 12 points. The Londoners must now negotiate a tricky-looking challenge in Naples on their next outing.
Porto 1-1 Austria Vienna
Zenit St. Petersburg 1-1 Atletico Madrid
Vulnerable at home in the Champions League this campaign (two defeats and one draw), Porto no longer have their destiny in their own hands. Having trailed to Austria Vienna’s first-ever goal in the tournament for almost 40 minutes, the Portuguese side, despite exerting constant pressure, could only conjure up an equaliser courtesy of Jackson Martinez.
In order to claim second spot in the group, the former European champions will now have to pull off a win away to unbeaten Atletico, all the while hoping that Zenit slip up in Vienna.
Earlier in the day, in extremely cold conditions (-6 degrees Celsius at kick-off), the Russians rescued a point versus Los Colchoneros after Toby Alderweireld looped a header past the flailing Thibaut Courtois for a bizarre own goal.
Atletico, already qualified and fielding an experimental line-up, had previously taken the lead through Adrian, who ran onto Raul Garcia’s defence-splitting pass before slotting the ball home.
Celtic 0-3 AC Milan
Ajax 2-1 Barcelona
Milan’s big-match experience overcame Celtic’s energy and intensity in Glasgow, on a night when the home side were guilty of poor defending and wayward finishing. Kaka, Cristian Zapata and Mario Balotelli did the damage, consigning their opponents to last place in Group H in the process.
Ajax, meanwhile, kept pace with Milan from afar by recording a memorable triumph over Barcelona. A terrific first-half display saw the Amsterdam club build up a 2-0 lead via Thulani Serero’s first Champions League goal and a Danny Hoesen strike, following a handling error from Jose Manuel Pinto.
Joel Veltman’s red card at the start of the second period, which led to a penalty for Barça that was duly converted by Xavi, changed the flow of the game, but Frank de Boer’s charges held on to set up a winner-takes-all clash in Milan in a fortnight’s time.
Arsenal 1-0 Marseille (Jack Wilshere 1)
Practically straight from the kick-off, Bacary Sagna fed Jack Wilshere down the right flank. The England international drove into the box, cut inside Lucas Mendez and curled the ball past Steve Mandanda to register the fastest goal of this current Champions League season.
Celtic’s fans will doubtless be happy to see the back of Kaka for another year. Scorer of a further goal on Tuesday, the Brazilian playmaker had already notched an extra-time winner against the Glasgow outfit in the return leg of the teams’ Round-of-16 encounter during the 2006/07 Champions League campaign.
The following year, he also found the net in a 2-1 group-stage reverse at Celtic Park.
2 – The number of defeats suffered by Barcelona in 25 Champions League group matches.
Have your say
Which two teams will qualify from Group F?