UEFA Champions League review
© AFP

Inter Milan, Stuttgart, Olympiacos and reigning champions Barcelona all won on Wednesday evening to complete the line-up for the first knockout round of the UEFA Champions League.

The successful quartet join Arsenal, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Bordeaux, Chelsea, CSKA Moscow, Fiorentina, Lyon, Manchester United, Porto, Real Madrid and Sevilla in the hat for the draw, to be held on 18 December at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.

The big game
Dynamo Kiev 1-2 Barcelona
Goals: Artem Milevsky 2 (Dynamo Kiev); Xavi Hernandez 33, Lionel Messi 86 (Barcelona)

On a chilly evening in Kiev, the title holders were caught cold in every sense of the word when Victor Valdes fumbled Milevsky’s glancing header over the line after only two minutes. Monopolising possession thereafter, the Catalans pushed the defence-minded Ukrainians back into their own half and it was no surprise when Xavi slid home Eric Abidal’s pinpoint centre to level the scores. Barça’s winner came courtesy of majestic Messi free-kick late on.

The surprise
Stuttgart 3-1 Unirea Urziceni
Goals: Ciprian Marica 5, Christian Trasch 8, Pavel Pogrebnyak 11 (Stuttgart); Antonio Semedo 47 (Unirea Urziceni)

Responding to the appointment of Christian Gross as coach following Markus Babbel’s dismissal at the weekend, a rampant Stuttgart side made light of their precarious Bundesliga position to seal the points inside the opening 11 minutes. Romanian forward opened the scoring against his compatriots with a superb header five minutes in before Trasch doubled the Germans’ advantage when he rounded off a sweeping counter-attack. Pogrebnyak’s close-range finish put the home side out of sight in double-quick time and although Semedo pulled one back for the visitors, they will have to content themselves with a place in the UEFA Europa League after a campaign that promised more.

The other games
Fiorentina were indebted to a last-minute Alberto Gilardino strike as they won at Liverpool to finish first in Group E. Fielding a reshuffled side, the struggling Merseysiders had taken the lead through Yossi Benayoun only for Martin Jorgensen to equalise on the hour mark. La Viola’s late show dashed Lyon’s hopes of topping the section. The Frenchmen ran out easy 4-0 winners at home to bottom-placed Debrecen to finish well clear of Liverpool, who move into the UEFA Europa League.

Still in with a chance of qualifying from Group F at the start of the day, Rubin Kazan put on a valiant display at the San Siro and created several good chances early on. Inter made the Russians pay for their profligacy, however, with Samuel Eto’o opening the scoring after half an hour. Mario Balotelli then took a leaf out of Cristiano Ronaldo’s book by sealing the points and second place with a dipping free-kick, leaving the visitors to fight it out in the UEFA Europa League.

While Stuttgart were seeing off Unirea, Sevilla were making sure of top spot in Group G by outclassing Rangers at home. The scoreline failed to reflect the Andalusians’ superiority, with Frederic Kanoute coolly slotting home the only goal of the night from the penalty spot.

Olympiacos bagged second place in Group H when Leonardo de Jesus’s fine finish gave them a 1-0 victory at home to a much-changed Arsenal side, who saw their unbeaten record come to an end. In the other game in the section Standard Liege snatched third place from AZ Alkmaar in dramatic circumstances. Trailing to a Jeremain Lens goal with only seconds left on the clock, the Belgians secured a UEFA Europa League ticket when goalkeeper Sinan Bolat rose unchallenged at a free-kick to nod the ball home.

The stat
100 -
Barcelona linchpin Xavi racked up a century of UEFA Champions League appearances in Kiev on Wednesday and marked the occasion by scoring his 50th goal on Azulgrana duty. The tireless playmaker is also approaching his 500th game for the Spanish and European champions and is just 17 caps short of a century with UEFA EURO 2008 winners Spain.

Goal of the night
Inter Milan 1-0 Rubin Kazan (Samuel Eto'o 30)

Weaving his way down the left flank, Javier Zanetti shook off the attentions of three defenders and cut into the box before slipping the ball to Mario Balotelli. Despite being hemmed in on the touchline, the muscular forward impudently backheeled the ball to the waiting Samuel Eto’o, who rifled home to complete to exquisite Inter move.

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