Chelsea, Marseille and Zenit St Petersburg booked their places in the knockout stage of the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday. A night of high drama saw the trio join Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Benfica, Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Arsenal, APOEL Nicosia, Barcelona and AC Milan in the draw for the next round.
Somewhat surprisingly, Porto, Valencia and Borussia Dortmund failed to progress, while APOEL Nicosia completed an amazing group-stage campaign by topping their section. The final four places in the last 16 will be decided on Wednesday.
The draw for the subsequent round will take place on 16 December, while the first legs are scheduled for 14 and 15 February.
The big game
Chelsea 3-0 Valencia
Goals: Didier Drogba 3, 76, Ramires 22
Those in attendance at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night will have been left in no doubt as to the identity of the man of the match. Scorer of a top-quality brace, and provider of a telling pass for his team’s second goal, Didier Drogba appeared to cover every blade of grass against Valencia, putting in a performance that was as impressive as it was timely, given his ongoing contract negotiations. The Ivoirian forward was involved in all of the Blues’ best chances, propelling his team-mates to victory in a must-win encounter. In the first proper attack of a game that had started at lightening pace, Daniel Sturridge sent over a deep cross to Juan Mata, who controlled the ball before passing to Drogba. The African skilfully created space for himself before firing a powerful left-foot shot into the corner of the net. In the 22nd minute, the former Marseille striker burst into Valencia’s half and played a through ball to Ramires, who bustled his way past defender Victor Ruiz to score. The masterclass drew to a close in the 76th minute when, after being fed well by Mata, Drogba poked the ball past goalkeeper Diego Alves. A couple of minutes later, the on-song front man received a deserved standing ovation as he was replaced by Fernando Torres. Chelsea finish top, and have now progressed past the group stage for nine seasons in a row.
The other games
Genk 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Having already secured their place in the next round, Bayer Leverkusen made do with a draw in Belgium, Eren Derdiyok’s second-half goal saving the Germans from an unlikely defeat at the hands of Genk. The result would prove insufficient to hold on to top spot in the pool, however.
Borussia Dortmund 2-3 Marseille
Olympiacos 3-1 Arsenal
In an intense, suspenseful Group F finale, Olympiacos, despite recording an impressive win over an under-strength Arsenal side, were denied a slot in the Round of 16 by an incredible last-gasp turnaround in Dortmund, where Marseille fought back from two goals down to emerge victorious 3-2. The German champions appeared to have the match under control, building up a convincing 2-0 lead with half-time approaching. However, in first-half stoppage time, Morgan Amalfitano’s deep back-post cross found the head of Loic Remy, who made no mistake. After the break, the French outfit began to put significant pressure on the Dortmund rearguard, but they had to wait until five minutes from the end before finding an equaliser, Andre Ayew heading home Amalfitano’s corner. Immediately after that, L’OM conjured up a sensational third, as Mathieu Valbuena kept up his habit of scoring key Champions League goals by bagging a stunning winner. Borussia are only the second reigning Bundesliga champions to exit at the group stage, following on from Stuttgart in 2007.
Porto 0-0 Zenit St Petersburg
APOEL Nicosia 0-2 Shakhtar Donetsk
Despite dominating practically the entire match, Porto were once again let down by their inability to take chances presented to them. The draw sees Zenit maintain their slender one-point advantage and advance from the group, while the Portuguese outfit must content themselves with a place in the UEFA Europa League. In Nicosia, APOEL fell to their first defeat of the campaign against Shakhtar Donetsk, but finished top of the section nonetheless.
Barcelona 4-0 BATE Borisov
Viktoria Plzen 2-2 AC Milan
Everything had already been settled in Group H, and Barcelona took advantage of this fact to blood several youngsters during their encounter with BATE Borisov. A double from Pedro ensured that fans of the Catalan side were nevertheless entertained, and provided a welcome boost ahead of the team’s important clash with Real Madrid this weekend. AC Milan, meanwhile, seemed to be on course for a comfortable victory in Plzen, with Pato contributing one of their goals, until the Czechs came to life in the final seconds of the game, first pulling one back in the last minute of normal time, then equalising through Michal Duris in the third minute of injury time.
Since arriving at Olympiacos in January of 2011, Rafik Djebbour’s play has taken on a whole new dimension, delivering 17 goals in 25 matches for the Greek heavyweights. At the age of 27, the Algerian attacker, a product of Auxerre’s renowned youth system, appears to be entering his prime. This was demonstrated by his clinical opening goal, where he took advantage of a mix-up between Sebastien Squillaci and Johan Djourou to manoeuvre the ball around Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and slip it into the back of the unguarded net. This strike sees him overtake Madjid Bougherra as the tournament’s all-time top Algerian scorer.
Goal of the night
Borussia Dortmund 2-3 Marseille, Mathieu Valbuena 87
With the match tied at 2-2 and Marseille staring elimination in the face, Mathieu Valbuena picked up the ball on the left-hand side of the box in the 87th minute. Demonstrating impressive dribbling skills, he left two defenders trailing in his wake before hitting a fine curling drive into the top corner of the net, qualifying his side for the knockout stage in the process.
41 – The number of consecutive matches that Barcelona have now gone without defeat at Camp Nou, recording 35 wins and six draws in all competitions. The Catalan giants, who seem to break new ground with every week that passes, have also scored at least one goal in each of their last 28 European outings, beating West Ham’s long-standing record of 27, set between 1964 and 1980. Barcelona’s squad for Tuesday’s match included sixteen players who have emerged from their youth academy, and who boast an average age of 23 years and 93 days.
Have your say
Which team’s group stage results have surprised you the most?