Big guns still in the hunt

The 96-match marathon that was the Champions League group stage produced its fair share of sensational games, records and surprises. While a few big names fell by the wayside, most of Europe's top sides can now enjoy a comfortable winter in the knowledge that they will be back to resume battle in the Round of 16 next spring. Read on as looks back at some of the highlights thus far.

The usual suspects
As usual, the English clubs were out in force. England is in fact the only country to see all of its representatives - Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool - progress to the next round. For the last three years, these four teams have regularly made it through the group stages. The sole exception came in 2005-06, when Manchester United suffered an early exit. Interestingly, the failures of the English national team appear to have no adverse affect on the club sides, which provided three of the four semi-finalists last season.

Italy is also well represented, with three of the four Serie A clubs that started the group stages - AC Milan, Inter Milan and AS Roma - all advancing to the last 16. During the last two seasons, Roma, spearheaded by Francesco Totti, have usurped the place normally occupied by Juventus. Meanwhile, the Spanish challenge will be led by the twin giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid, while Sevilla, who have replaced Valencia as the country's third force, will also be there once the competition resumes. Following back-to-back triumphs in the UEFA Cup, the Andalucian club have been in resplendent form after stepping up to Europe's top club competition for the first time.

The six remaining places in the knockout stage are divided equally between teams from six different countries. They include competition regulars such as Lyon and, in the form of Porto and Celtic, a couple of former champions. Nonetheless, the 2007-08 competition has shown conclusively that England, Spain and Italy, where the trophy currently resides, are way ahead of the pack as the dominant forces of European club game.

The home comforts
Home advantage was also a critical factor, in some sections at least. While some qualified sides, such as Olympiakos, were able to ditch their traditional reliance on getting results in their own back yard - with two of the Greeks' three wins coming away to Werder Bremen and Lazio - others remained as dependant on home comforts as ever. Fenerbahce, for example, qualified comfortably from Group G despite failing to win any of their away fixtures, while Celtic took the phenomenon to another level entirely, once again proving a completely different side on the road to the one that has become quite a force in Glasgow.

The Bhoys' record at fortress Celtic Park - just one defeat in their last 31 European fixtures - is certainly worthy of any of the European elite, but equally remarkable is that, in five separate UEFA Champions League campaigns, the Scots have yet to claim a single away victory. Not that it has mattered. For the second successive season, three home wins and three away defeats - without a single goal scored on the road - proved sufficient to take Gordon Strachan's team through to the last 16.

The new boys
Brazillegend Zico has achieved his target of leading Turkish giants Fenerbahce into the last 16 for the first time in their history. The Turks still struggle on their travels, when they don't have the benefit of their passionate home support, and their three group games on the road produced two draws and a defeat. However, their progress to the knockout stage was well-deserved, and they were the only team to beat Inter Milan in the group stage.

Equally worth of congratulations are Olympiakos, who become the first Greek side to reach the last 16 since Panathinaikos in 2001-02.

The absentees
Valencia, finalists on two previous occasions, finished in last place in Group B, after managing just one victory. PSV Eindhoven, semi-finalists in 2005 and regulars in the knockout phase in the last three seasons, will have to content themselves with a place in the UEFA Cup, while Lazio, will not even have that consolation, after finishing bottom of Group C with three defeats to their name.

Other teams that have failed to progress include Shaktar Donetsk, Dynamo Kiev, CSKA Moscow and Steaua Bucharest, who all finished bottom of their groups.

The crazy match
On 6 November 2007 at Anfield, Liverpool destroyed Besiktas 8-0, the biggest score ever recorded in the history of the Champions League. The victory followed a disastrous start to their campaign, which had seen them lose two and draw one of their first three matches. It provided last year's beaten finalists with the wake-up call they needed and they went on to secure qualification for the knockout stage in their last game.

The goal to remember
On 4 December, AC Milan confirmed their dominance in Group D with a commanding display against Celtic. Their 1-0 victory came courtesy of the irrepressible Filipo Inzaghi, who pounced to slot the ball home from Cafu's pinpoint cut-back, after a trademark surge forward by Kaka. Superpippo's goal confirmed him as the most prolific goalscorer in the history of European club competition, his 63 goals putting him one ahead of German legend Gerd Muller. Real Madrid's Spanish forward Raul remains the best scorer in the Champions League with 59 goals.

The numbers
271:the number of goals scored in 96 matches, an average of 2.8 per game. That is better than last year's competition when the group stages produced 240 goals, or an average of 2.5.
18: the number of goals scored by Liverpool, making them the most prolific team in the group stages, with an average of three goals per game.
2: the number of goals scored by Valencia in their six group stage matches.
40: the number of goals scored in Group C, where the most goals were scored; by contrast, Group B proved the group with the most parsimonious defences, producing a total of just 22 goals.
5: the personal tally of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo who topped the goalscoring charts averaging almost a goal per game.
10: number of cards (two reds and eight yellows) produced by the referee during the match between Lazio and Werder Bremen, the most in the competition so far.
400: the number of European Cup matches played by Real Madrid (224 victories, 73 draws and 103 defeats), a competition record.

The qualified teams
Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool (England), AC Milan, Inter Milan, AS Roma (Italy), Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla (Spain), Celtic (Scotland), Olympiakos (Greece), Porto (Portugal), Schalke 04 (Germany), Lyon (France), Fenerbahce (Turkey).