Madrid cruise, Benfica denied
© AFP

Real Madrid continued their perfect run of results in UEFA Champions League Group D on Wednesday night to join Tuesday’s qualifiers AC Milan and Barcelona in sealing a spot in the last 16 after just four rounds of action.

Group A leaders Bayern Munich appear well placed to add themselves to that list after they took a massive step towards the knockout phase with an enthralling 3-2 defeat of Napoli. Their joy contrasted with Benfica’s frustration, meanwhile, as the Portuguese contenders were held 1-1 at home by Basel, a result which allowed Manchester United to sidle up alongside them at the Group C summit.

Overall, no fewer than 20 goals found the back of the net in the evening’s eight matches.

The big game
Bayern Munich 3-2 Napoli
Goals: Mario Gomez 17, 23, 42 (Bayern Munich); Federico Fernandez 45, 79 (Napoli)
Hosts Bayern served up a performance of contrasts at the Allianz Arena, racing into a 3-0 lead in the first 42 minutes before feeling the strain as Napoli built up pressure after the break. The Bundesliga giants began the encounter with startling dynamism and looked dangerous whenever they went forward, with Philipp Lahm, Franck Ribery and Toni Kroos each creating chances that Mario Gomez was able to finish with aplomb. The striker’s hat-trick goal was his 17th at this level, making him Bayern’s most prolific player in this competition ahead of Michael Ballack (16), and it looked to have put his side out of reach, even when Federico Fernandez reduced the deficit before the break. Everything changed after Bastian Schweinsteiger was forced off with a shoulder injury, however, and Napoli poured forward in pursuit of an unlikely comeback. Both teams had a player sent off as the tension levels rose, before Fernandez added a second for the visitors with an excellent header into the far corner. That made for an intense final ten minutes, which was rounded off by Gomez trying his luck from 70 metres out in the closing seconds.

The other games
Group A
Villarreal 0-3 Manchester City
The Yellow Submarine sprang a leak at El Madrigal as Manchester City consigned them to a fourth consecutive defeat in Group A. The Premier League outfit were simply too strong and appear to be increasingly finding their feet among Europe’s elite. Samir Nasri impressed in a match that featured a Yaya Toure double and a goal for Mario Balotelli, and overall Roberto Mancini’s men looked to be enjoying themselves as they eased to victory. Second place in the section is now likely to be settled when City visit Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo on 22 November.

Group B
Trabzonspor 0-0 CSKA Moscow
Inter Milan 2-1 Lille
Experience told at the San Siro as French champions Lille lost for the second time in two weeks against Inter Milan, Walter Samuel heading in a powerful opener unmarked before Diego Milito capped off a fine surge forward by Javier Zanetti. Despite struggling in Serie A, the Italian club are thoroughly enjoying their European sorties and stretched their lead over Trabzonspor and CSKA Moscow to four points, the two rivals for second place having drawn 0-0 in an open and hard-fought encounter.

Group C
Benfica 1-1 Basel
Manchester United 2-0 Otelul Galati
Given the best of starts by Antonio Valencia, Manchester United quickly appeared content to defend their advantage against their Romanian opponents. It was only in the last few seconds that they put the result beyond doubt, in fact, Wayne Rooney seeing his late effort deflected in by Cristian Sarghi.

Over in Portugal, meanwhile, Benfica missed a fine opportunity to secure qualification. Comfortably on top against Basel in the first half, they were then guilty of letting their focus slip as the Swiss side levelled courtesy of a superbly worked team goal, Benjamin Huggel side-footing in a cross from Australian midfielder Scott Chipperfield. United and Benfica now top the group on eight points apiece, but, three points back, Basel could yet have their say.

Group D
Lyon 0-2 Real Madrid
Ajax 4-0 Dinamo Zagreb
Real Madrid look to have cast off the spell Lyon held them in once and for all after a pair of Cristiano Ronaldo goals – one a free-kick, the other a penalty – gave them a deserved victory on French soil. That confirmed Madrid’s ticket to the last 16, while their clean sheet means that FIFA World Cup™ winner Iker Casillas is the only goalkeeper in the competition yet to be beaten after four games.

Elsewhere in the group, Ajax made light work of a Dinamo Zagreb side still waiting for their first goal and point in this year’s tournament. The Eredivisie hopefuls were a class above and now lie three points ahead of Lyon, with the duo set to lock horns in a crucial game at the Stade de Gerland on 22 November before Ajax round off their campaign at home against Madrid.

The player
Danish international Christian Eriksen pulled off the most magical moment of the evening to set up Gregory van der Wiel for Ajax’s opening blow in Amsterdam. Noticing his team-mate make a run towards the area, the 19-year-old drifted wide to the right and took out two defenders with a brilliant back-heeled pass, which left Van der Wiel with time and space to aim a vicious shot high into the net.

Goal of the night
Benfica 1-1 Basel: Rodrigo Moreno Machado 4
Maximiliano Pereira’s long throw from the right touchline was headed back and forth by a player from either side before Nicolas Gaitan leapt highest to nod the ball out left to Rodrigo Moreno Machado. Letting it bounce this time, but only just, the young Brazilian forward prodded a wonderful half-volley across Yann Sommer’s goal and into the top corner.

The stat
900
– The number of goals Real Madrid have scored in European competition. Ronaldo brought up the landmark with his 31st in the European Cup, 56 years after Los Merengues’ first was registered by Miguel Munoz against Servette on 8 September 1955. Raul Gonzalez nonetheless remains the club’s leading scorer in the continent’s most prestigious tournament, having plundered 67 during his time at the Santiago Bernabeu, while Barcelona still lead the way in the UEFA competition scoring charts thanks to their 917 goals.

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