Favourites have the final say
© AFP

The UEFA Champions League group stage drew to a close on Wednesday, with three more clubs booking their passage to the knockout phase. The last 16 roster is now complete and features English aspirants Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur; Spanish trio Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia; Italian hopefuls Inter Milan, AC Milan and Roma; Bayern Munich and Schalke from Germany; French contenders Lyon and Marseille; Danish champions Copenhagen; and Ukrainian giants Shakhtar Donetsk.

This is the fifth time the Premier League’s full contingent of four teams has advanced. Only Spain has also sent a quartet of clubs through from the group stage, doing so on just two occasions.

The draw for the Round of 16 will take place on Friday 17 December at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, with Sir Bobby Charlton assisting proceedings.

Match of the day
Arsenal 3-1 Partizan Belgrade
Goals: Robin van Persie 30 pen, Theo Walcott 73, Samir Nasri 77 (Arsenal); Cleo 52 (Partizan)
Despite riding high on the domestic front, Arsenal have stuttered in Europe of late and went into Wednesday’s final Group H engagement on the back of two consecutive defeats. The Gunners were made to work hard to confirm their qualification as runners-up and were still on level terms as late as the 73rd minute due to their somewhat fragile defence. Robin van Persie’s penalty on the half-hour ought to have eased nerves, but just after the break it was Partizan who looked most dangerous. The visitors were even able to notch only their second goal in six games and suddenly Arsene Wenger’s men found themselves on the precipice, with Braga needing just a solitary goal at Shakhtar to leap into second spot. The individual talents of Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri ultimately made the difference, but Arsenal’s defence was shaken again towards the end when right-back Bacary Sagna was dismissed for a professional foul. As runners-up, Arsenal will have to contest the second leg of their last-16 tie away from home.

The other matches
Without ever having to locate top gear, Bayern Munich ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at home against Basel to lock down first place in Group E. Franck Ribery and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk did most of the damage with a pair of goals in two first-half minutes, and those strikes ended a spell of dominance from the visitors which lasted the opening half an hour. Basel went for broke from the first whistle but will have to console themselves with a UEFA Europa League place, while, for Bayern, Ribery suggested he is returning to form by going on to round off the scoring. That result took the pressure off Roma in the race for second, but the Serie A outfit nonetheless signed off with a 1-1 draw away against Cluj, taking the lead via a counter-attacking goal from Marco Borriello before Lacina Traore equalised two minutes from time.

Marseille won the bragging rights, if little more, in a 1-0 victory over Group F winners Chelsea that represented a first defeat in this year’s competition for Carlo Ancelotti’s troops. Brandao struck the only goal of the game for section runners-up Marseille and his effort was just reward for the hungrier and more enterprising of the two teams, who had already connected with the crossbar through Mathieu Valbuena in the opening period. Elsewhere, third-placed Spartak Moscow were trailing at one point away against Zilina before eking out a 2-1 success thanks to a goal and an assist from Alex.

In Group G, Ajax bade farewell to the tournament with an eye-catching 2-0 triumph at AC Milan in Frank de Boer’s first match in charge as coach, after 129 on the pitch as a player. Causing I Rossoneri all sorts of problems, the Dutch side racked up 23 shots to their hosts’ 12 as they displayed a willingness to try their luck from distance. Milan may already have been assured of finishing second, but the powerful and precise strikes from Demy de Zeeuw and Toby Alderweireld that decided the encounter suggested this young Ajax team can regret not taking more of their chances earlier in the campaign. They are nonetheless headed for the Europa League, with Auxerre consigned to fourth place after they succumbed 4-0 at Real Madrid. Karim Benzema helped himself to a hat-trick as he set out to prove his quality, and coach Jose Mourinho cannot have helped but be impressed, especially by his lobbed finish from a tight angle for his third. The France striker also had the honour of notching Real’s 300th Champions League goal, 15 years after Ivan Zamorano registered the first.

Braga battled to keep their chances alive right up until the end in Group H but were undone in the final 12 minutes at Shakhtar as Razvan Rat and Luiz Adriano helped the home side to a 2-1 victory. The Pitmen thus became the first Ukrainian club to survive the group stage since Dynamo Kiev in 1999/2000.

The stat
3
– The number of teams that came through their six group games unbeaten (Barcelona, Manchester United and Real Madrid). Only nine other sides have done likewise in the history of the competition and six of those went on to lift the trophy.

Goal of the day
Real Madrid 2-0 Auxerre, Cristiano Ronaldo 49
After being released by Alvaro Arbeloa near the halfway line, Marcelo was able to surge unimpeded deep into Auxerre territory with the ball at his feet. Bearing down on the edge of the area, he picked out Cristiano Ronaldo on the right and his Portuguese team-mate took a touch before blasting a shot high into the net for his 22nd goal in 18 games in all competitions.

What’s next?
The first-leg matches in the Round of 16 will be played over four separate matchdays next February (on 15 and 16 February, and 22 and 23 February), with the second legs taking place the following month (on 8 and 9 March, and 15 and 16 March).

Have your say
Is the trophy destined for an English or Spanish side, or can another team claim the biggest prize in club football?