Safe passage for Bayern, Inter, Benfica
Former European champions Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Benfica secured the results they needed to check into the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League, where they join the already qualified Real Madrid, AC Milan and Barcelona. In the process the Germans and Italians, the 2010 finalists, clinched first place in their respective sections.
Manchester City were the big losers on an evening when 28 goals were scored in the eight games, the Premier League leaders going down 2-1 at Napoli to relinquish their grip on second place with just one game remaining.
The big game
Manchester United 2-2 Benfica
Goals: Dimitar Berbatov 30, Darren Fletcher 59 (Manchester United); Phil Jones 3 og, Pablo Aimar 61 (Benfica)
This meeting between the section’s two unbeaten teams began in dramatic fashion when Phil Jones turned in Nico Gaitan's cross on the visitors' first foray forward. Struggling to recover from the blow, the United rearguard creaked under the pressure exerted by the Benfica front line, expertly supplied with possession by the artful Nico Gaitan and Pablo Aimar. Yet, as the minutes passed the English giants came back into the game, and pulled level when Dimitar Berbatov, standing in for Wayne Rooney, glanced home a fine cross by Nani, the only Portuguese player on the pitch. Played in by a well-timed Patrice Evra centre, Scotland captain Darren Fletcher kept his cool to prod the home side in front, reward for their high-tempo pressing game. Their lead was short-lived, though, Pablo Aimar thumping in from close range after United keeper David de Gea had failed to clear his lines properly. And though the chances continued to flow at both ends, there was no further scoring, leaving the Portuguese to celebrate their progress to the next round and United to sweat on their final-day trip to Basel.
The other games
Bayern Munich 3-1 Villarreal
Napoli 2-1 Manchester City
Franck Ribery stole the show as Bayern cantered into the knockout phase, the French ace scoring twice and displaying all his attacking prowess. Surging into a 2-0 lead after 23 minutes, the Bavarians then eased off the accelerator, allowing Jonathan de Guzman to cut the deficit with a fine volley before Ribery restored their two-goal advantage midway through the second half.
Napoli brought City’s nine-game winning streak to a grinding halt on a typically passionate night at the San Paolo, one that brought back memories of Diego Maradona’s glory nights. Taking the lead when Edinson Cavani got the merest of touches on an inswinging corner, the Italians were pegged back when Mario Balotelli tapped home after a defensive error. The Uruguayan striker settled the issue with a classy finish just after the restart, rounding off a move also involving Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marco Dossena. In holding off City’s late onslaught and with a final game at pointless Villarreal to come, Napoli have given themselves an excellent chance of going through, while Roberto Mancini’s men will be pondering their failure to make sure of second place.
CSKA Moscow 0-2 Lille
Trabzonspor 1-1 Inter Milan
Lille’s first ever win on Russian soil meant Inter went through without even kicking a ball, though the Italians will be disappointed not to have avenged their shock home defeat to the Turkish side on Matchday 1. The draw was enough to move Trabzonspor into second, a position they will seek to defend in next month's visit to the French champions, who lie a solitary point behind them.
Otelul Galati 2-3 Basel
Basel’s ultimately nervy win in Romania kept them in with a chance of overhauling second-placed Manchester United. All will be decided on the final matchday, when the Swiss host Sir Alex Ferguson's side in a game they must win.
Real Madrid 6-2 Dynamo Zagreb
Lyon 0-0 Ajax
There were only 83 seconds on the clock when Karim Benzema put Real Madrid ahead, their fastest ever goal in the competition. More landmarks tumbled shortly afterwards as the Spaniards put their Croatian guests to the sword in ruthless fashion. In taking a 3-0 lead after nine minutes, Madrid eclipsed the previous competition best of three goals inside the opening 11 minutes, held by Stuttgart, and then became the first club in Champions League history to bag four goals inside the opening 20 minutes. To their credit, Zagreb kept fighting, and earned some reward with two late consolation goals.
Lyon’s chances of joining the nine-time champions in the next round were severely dented by their failure to break down Ajax, who remain three points clear of the French club and boast a far superior goal difference.
A goalscorer when the two sides met earlier in the group, Edinson Cavani once again proved too hot for the Manchester City defence to handle. In hitting a match-winning brace, the second of his goals coming when he coolly cushioned a half-volley into the back of the net, El Matador took his Napoli account to an impressive 42 goals in 54 appearances since his arrival in 2010. Part of the reason for that bulging haul is the understanding he has struck up with Argentinian sidekick Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Goal of the night
Real Madrid 3-0 Dynamo Zagreb, Gonzalo Higuain 9
The hosts were already two goals to the good when Gonzalo Higuain was set free down the right side of the box by Lassana Diarra. Leaving his marker sliding on his back as he spun back from the by-line, the Argentinian then made light of the narrow angle by nonchalantly dinking the ball over the advancing Ivan Kelava.
7 - The number of goals Basel’s unrelated namesakes Fabian and Alexander Frei have scored in Group C, all but two of the Swiss team’s tally. The duo were both on the scoresheet in Romania and will out to augment their accounts when Manchester United come visiting in December.
Have your say
Will it be United, Benfica or Basel who come out on top in Group C?