Historic Cypriots lead qualified trio
Arsenal, Bayer Leverkusen and Cypriot surprise packages APOEL Nicosia secured spots in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday, joining already-qualified outfits Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Benfica, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Barcelona.
The identity of the remaining seven teams in the draw for the next round will be decided by the results of the sixth and final matchday on 6 and 7 December.
The big game
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Chelsea
Goals: Eren Derdiyok 73, Manuel Friedrich 90+1 (Leverkusen); Didier Drogba 48 (Chelsea)
In a Group E match that took time to truly come to life, an on-song Michael Ballack, unrecognisable with his protective headgear and mask, turned back the years to put in a commanding display, in what was his 100th European appearance. It was Chelsea who drew first blood, however, as Didier Drogba demonstrated his full array of skills to control, swivel and fire the ball into the corner of the German net. The goal only served to bring the home side to life, and halfway through the second half, substitute Eren Derdiyok headed in a fine Sidney Sam cross for the equaliser. The outcome of the match remained in the balance until the final seconds, when Manuel Friedrich’s powerful header found a way past Petr Cech, who had already pulled off numerous stunning saves during the match. Bayer’s Round of 16 berth is now assured, while Chelsea and Valencia will face off in the teams’ final fixture to decide who joins the Germans.
The other games
Valencia 7-0 Genk
It was a night that Valencia fans will remember fondly, as their heroes put Genk to the sword in merciless fashion, dominating and outpacing their opponents all over the pitch. The Belgian champions appeared powerless to prevent the deluge of goals, with Valencia captain Roberto Soldado in particularly ruthless form. Los Che’s comprehensive win means that the two Spanish sides playing at home in the tournament this week have scored a grand total of 13 goals in two days.
Marseille 0-1 Olympiacos
Arsenal 2-1 Borussia Dortmund
A Robin van Persie-inspired Arsenal progressed from the group phase courtesy of another double from their Dutch goal machine, which proved sufficient to see off a battling Dortmund team who were unfortunate to lose two key components of their line-up – midfielders Sven Bender and Mario Gotze – through injury early in the game.
Marseille, meanwhile, have goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to thank for saving them from an even heavier defeat than the single-goal defeat they suffered on the night. The French international managed to keep Olympiacos’ attackers at bay for long periods before finally succumbing to a well-placed Ioannis Fetfatzidis volley eight minutes from time. The final matchday sees L’OM travel to Dortmund, who will be anxious to avoid a repeat of the 3-0 defeat they were handed in France last time around, while the Greeks welcome the Gunners.
Zenit St Petersburg 0-0 APOEL Nicosia
Shakhtar Donetsk 0-2 Porto
APOEL Nicosia became the first Cypriot team to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League by securing a hard-fought and precious point against Zenit St Petersburg in Russia. The home side dominated for the majority of the match, but could not find a way past a rear guard that has only conceded 4 goals in the group stage thus far, despite an electric performance from Portuguese forward Danny.
In the section’s other match, Porto eventually overcame Shakhtar in Donetsk, thanks in large part to their powerful Brazilian front man Hulk, who notched a well-taken opener eleven minutes from time. Defender Razvan Rat put through his own net in stoppage time to seal the Portuguese side’s victory. The second qualifying slot in the group will now be decided in a fortnight’s time, when Porto host Zenit.
Bate Borisov 0-1 Viktoria Plzen
AC Milan 2-3 Barcelona
With both teams having already qualified for the next round, first place was in play in this memorable encounter between two teams who did not allow the lesser stakes to affect the quality of the match. Barcelona, boasting a Lionel Messi at the peak of his powers once again, took the lead through AC Milan midfielder Marc van Bommel, who inadvertently knocked a Seydou Keita cross into his own net. Milan fought back through a skilful strike from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who appeared determined to get the better of his former employers. On the half-hour mark, Messi restored Barça’s lead from the penalty spot at the second attempt, following a foul on Xavi. The Italian side came back again, Kevin-Prince Boateng showing fine skill to first backheel the ball past Eric Abidal and then impressively slam the ball home at the near post. Xavi would have the final say, however, taking a wonderful through ball from Messi and sidefooting it past Christian Abbiati to claim victory for the Catalans.
Elsewhere, Viktoria Plzen picked up their first-ever group-stage win by beating Bate Borisov in Belarus by a solitary Marek Bakos goal, and put themselves in the driver’s seat to qualify for the UEFA Europa League in the process.
Goal of the night
Valencia 2-0 Genk, Roberto Soldado 13
Jonas, who had already given Valencia the lead three minutes before, picked up the ball in the middle of the park, strode forward and whipped over a long and accurate crossfield pass for Roberto Soldado. The Valencia striker, scorer of a brace against Real Madrid on Saturday, deftly cut inside defender Khaleem Hyland before placing a firm shot past Laszlo Koteles in the Belgian goal.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose autobiography release had attracted some negative publicity in the run-up to the clash with Barcelona, did his talking on the pitch on Wednesday by scoring a fine goal for AC Milan, showing plenty of finesse to expertly slip the ball under goalkeeper Victor Valdes, following a delightful pass from Clarence Seedorf. The Dutchman, who saw an enormous amount of the ball, has now either scored or set up nine of the past 18 goals for I Rossoneri in the Champions League.
11 – The total number of different nationalities present in Arsenal’s starting line-up against Dortmund, in which Theo Walcott was the only English representative. This statistical curiosity has occurred twice before: in 2003, for Ajax against AC Milan, and in 2005, for Liverpool against Bayer Leverkusen.
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