Atletico Madrid, who maintained their 100 per cent record with a win over Austria Vienna, and Barcelona, who defeated AC Milan, both advanced from the group stage of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, joining Bayern Munich and Manchester City in the Round of 16.
Elsewhere, last season’s finalists, Borussia Dortmund, were beaten at home by Arsenal, while Porto and Zenit St. Petersburg drew 1-1 in Russia.
The big match
Barcelona 3-1 AC Milan
Goals: Lionel Messi 30 83, Sergio Busquets 40 (Barcelona); Gerard Pique 45 og (AC Milan)
This clash of European giants lived up to its pre-match promises, although the final score was not a true reflection of the large number of high-quality attacks witnessed by fans at Camp Nou.
In the end, Barcelona emerged victorious courtesy of a penalty from Lionel Messi, a header by Sergio Busquets from a Xavi free-kick, and a second strike from the Argentinian, who played a one-two with Cesc Fabregas before notching his team’s third.
There were also a dozen other good chances for Messi and Neymar, who seem increasingly able to find each other without even looking. Gerardo Martino’s Barça may play with a more direct style, but they are at times just as easy on the eye.
Milan, meanwhile, put in arguably their best performance of the season, despite their recent poor form in Serie A. Kaka in particular was outstanding, forcing Gerard Pique to deflect the ball past his own goalkeeper just before half-time.
The Italians caused the Catalans serious problems in the second half, and could well use this creditable display as a springboard to success in their domestic league.
The other games
Basel 1-1 Steaua Bucharest
Chelsea 3-0 Schalke
Chelsea produced a repeat of the scoreline they had recorded in Gelsenkirchen, picking apart a Schalke side guilty of major lapses in defence. Up against opportunistic strikers of the quality of Samuel Eto'o, who nabbed a brace, and Demba Ba, who fired home a fine volley, the Germans discovered that the slightest hesitation at the back could be calamitous.
In the section’s other match, Steaua Bucharest came close to pulling off a crucial victory in Basel, but had their dreams shattered by Giovanni Sio’s injury-time equaliser. The share of the spoils keeps the Swiss champions in the hunt for second place, one point behind Schalke.
Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal
Napoli 3-2 Marseille
Beaten 2-1 in London a fortnight ago, Arsenal gained revenge over Borussia Dortmund with a clinical showing in Germany. The home side appeared tense and tended to hurry their final ball, and it was only towards the end of the match that they found their rhythm.
In the meantime, Arsenal had taken the lead with a brave header from Aaron Ramsey, set up by Olivier Giroud. Borussia pushed strongly, but their poor finishing left them exposed to the Gunners’ lightning-quick counter-attacks.
A resilient Marseille, taking part in their 100th Champions League match, put up more of a struggle than expected against Napoli, taking the lead and then equalising to make it 2-2 halfway through the second period.
The final word would go to the irrepressible and talented Gonzalo Higuain, however, who scored the winner for I Partenopei and further cemented his status as the new hero of Stadio San Paolo.
Arsenal and Napoli now enjoy a three-point lead over Dortmund, who still have to play the Italians at home and travel to Marseille.
Zenit St. Petersburg 1-1 Porto
Atletico Madrid 4-0 Austria Vienna
It was a satisfactory night’s work for Atletico, who beat Austria Vienna to win their fourth game in a row and qualify for the knockout stages. Joao Miranda, Raul Garcia, Filipe Luis and Diego Costa did the damage for Los Colchoneros.
Zenit, meanwhile, were unable to repeat their exploits in Lisbon, where they defeated Porto 1-0, but they remain in charge of their own destiny after a 1-1 draw in St. Petersburg, a result that maintains their one-point lead over Wednesday’s opponents.
It was the Portuguese heavyweights who made the better start, Lucho Gonzalez scoring with an impressive header. The lead did not last long, however, as Hulk, playing against his former team, levelled for the Russians after a misunderstanding between Helton and Alex Sandro.
Hulk, who appeared to cover every blade of grass on the night, was later involved in one of the encounter’s key moments, as his penalty was well saved by Brazilian compatriot Helton.
Ajax 1-0 Celtic
Ajax propelled themselves to within a point of AC Milan courtesy of their win over Celtic, secured by a superb attacking move that was finished off by Danish midfielder Lasse Schone. Milan, Ajax and Celtic can all feasibly still claim second spot in the group.
“I’m getting close to top form,” stated Samuel Eto’o during Chelsea’s pre-match press conference. While he gradually makes his way there, the Cameroonian, who has represented four different teams in Europe’s premier club competition, has already shown that he still poses a serious threat to opposition goalkeepers.
Noticing that Schalke custodian Timo Hildebrand was taking his time relaunching the ball upfield, Eto'o closed him down swiftly and blocked the clearance, deflecting the ball into the empty net.
Then, showing excellent anticipation, he got on the end of a Willian cross to make it 2-0. At 32 years of age, Eto'o looks highly likely to add to the 38th and 39th Champions League goals that he scored on Wednesday evening.
Basel 0-1 Steaua Bucharest (Federico Piovaccari 17)
From well inside his own half, Lukasz Szukala spotted the run of Federico Piovaccari, catching the Basel defence flat-footed. The Italian attacker controlled the ball effortlessly before calmly slamming the ball past Yann Sommer into the top corner of the net, giving Steaua a 1-0 lead in the process.
10 – The number of consecutive times that Barcelona have now qualified for the Round of 16 of the Champions League, drawing level with Arsenal but still lagging behind Real Madrid, who have managed the feat 16 times in a row. Barça began their run during season 2004/05.
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