The UEFA Champions League reached the final stages of the Group round this week with the just the final group positions to be decided. Which teams would make up the final 16 and move on to the dramatic knock stages of the competition, which will resume in February next year? Which teams would top their groups and therefore potential gain an easier draw? Other issues to be decided were which further 8 teams would earn the consolation of a ticket into the UEFA Cup and which remaining 8 teams would finish bottom and say good-bye to all European football this season.
We start our review the answers to these questions on Tuesday night and with the battle to top Group D. The spoils finally went to Liverpool who climbed above Atletico Madrid. Liverpool fielded a slightly under strength side against PSV Eindhoven, resting captain Steven Gerrard and with striker Fernando Torres still not fully fit. Yet the former Champions still managed an impressive 3 – 1 away win despite going a goal down. PSV on the other hand are one of the eight teams that are now totally eliminated from European after finishing bottom of the group.
The opening goal from PSV was scored by Danko Lazovic goal which came from a corner that should never have been given. The ball clearly touched a PSV player last only for the Russian linesman, standing a matter of yards away, to award a corner to the total disbelief of everyone. The decision totally incensed Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, and he was subsequently spoken to by the referee.
Fortunately for Liverpool, the goal did not have a lasting bearing on the game. Ryan Babel brought the score to 1 – 1 with a header in first half injury time. Then in the second half, Liverpool’s Spanish winger Albert Riera, scored with an absolutely brilliant strike from 25 yards. The 5 times champions were in total control and youngster David Ngog sealed the win, with his first senior goal for the club. That all meant that Atletico Madrid had to, at least equal, or better Liverpool’s result to finish top of the group. Unfortunately, they could manage a 0-0 draw away to Marseille. The draw was sufficient for Marseille to claim third position and with it a place in the UEFA Cup.
GROUP D FINAL POSITIONS
1 Liverpool 14 pts
2 Atletico Madrid 12 pts
3 Marseille 4 pts
4 PSV 3 pts
In Group A it was the Italian team Roma who finally claimed the number one position beating French side Borbeaux 2-0. As a result the French side finished bottom of the group and were knocked out of Europe altogether. It was Roma’s Brighi who slotted in a low cross from Perrotta that broke the deadlock just after the hour mark. Then Francesco Totti fired in from the edge of the box to secure the win and top spot.
Meanwhile, Chelsea welcomed back their Ivorian striker Didier Drogba, albeit only as a substitute. Even though they won their game 2- 1, thanks to Drogba’s winning goal, overall Chelsea didn’t look too convincing against the unfancied Rumanian side Cluj.
Scolari’s Chelsea did need to win to secure their passage to the last 16 and it was left to the talismanic Drogba to come off the bench and seal the win with an excellent finish. This win for the Blues means both Spain and England will have four teams in the last 16 of The Champions League. This is the first time two nations have achieved the feat in the same season.
GROUP A FINAL POSITIONS
1 Roma 12 pts
2 Chelsea 11 pts
3 Bordeaux 7 pts
4 CFR Cluj 4 pts
In Group B there was a slightly surprising finishing position for Inter Milan and manager Jose Mourinho. They had to settle for second place behind the Greek side Panathinaikos. The Greeks beat the Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta 1 – 0 whilst German’s Werder Bremen beat Inter Milan 2-1. The result securing Bremen with a place in the UEFA Cup.
It was a dull and dreary first half in Germany but Claudio Pizarro put Bremen ahead then Markus Rosenberg made it 2-0. Inter did pull a goal back through Zlatan Ibrahimovic who started the game on the bench. He curled in a fantastic 25-yard shot but it turned out to be nothing more than a consolation. The result meant Werder Bremen held on to seal a place in the Uefa Cup.
The Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta, who have surprised me a little in this season’s competition, their first, actually came into this final game against Panathinaikos with a chance of progressing to the last 16. Unfortunately, they couldn’t live up to the huge expectation and didn’t even make it through to the UEFA Cup due to Bremen’s win.
GROUP B FINAL POSITIONS
1 Panathinaikos 10 pts
2 Inter Milan 8 pts
3 Werder Bremen 7 pts
4 Anorthosis 6 pts
The final standings in Group C had already been finalised before kick off on Tuesday evening. It was therefore no great surprise that, in front of a rather empty Camp Nou, first-placed Barcelona fielded a somewhat weakened side. The decision saw Barca lose their 20-match unbeaten run by losing 2 – 3 to Shakhtar Donetsk, who end up in the UEFA Cup.
Swiss team Basle ended a miserable European campaign with a solitary point after they were defeated 1-0 at Sporting Lisbon. Sporting, who won thanks to Yannick Djalo’s first-half goal, finished second in the group behind Barcelona on 12 points.
GROUP C FINAL POSITIONS
1 Barcelona 13 pts
2 Sporting Lisbon 12 pts
3 Shakhtar Donetsk 9 pts
4 Basle 1 pt
On Wednesday evening, Group E saw Manchester United, rather surprisingly, held to a 2-2 draw by Aalborg at Old Trafford. However, it didn’t stop the current champions from finishing top of their group as Celtic managed secure their first victory in this season’s competition by beating Villareal 2 – 0 at Park Head.
Utd’s Argentine striker Carlos Tevez opened the scoring after just three minutes and Aalborg must have feared the worst but to their credit, they equalised when Michael Jakobsen headed home. Even better was to come however as Jeppe Curth’s header right on the stroke of half-time gave Aalborg, what can only be described as a shock lead. It was England striker Wayne Rooney who saved Man Utd’s blushes when he produced a trademark powerful finish.
Villarreal had of course been hoping against the odds that Man United would somehow slip up against Aalberg so they could finish top of the group, however they failed to deliver their end of the bargain losing their game as Gordon Strachan’s Celtic finally produced a win in this season’s campaign. Unfortunately, the win was too little to late for the Glasgow side who are now out of Europe altogether. No disrespect to Aalberg but I wouldn’t have put any money on them finishing anywhere else other than bottom of the group when the draw was made back in the summer.
GROUP E FINAL POSITIONS
1 Man Utd 10 pts
2 Villarreal 9 pts
3 Aalborg 6 pts
4 Celtic 5 pts
The German giants Bayern Munich finished Group F in first place after a good 3-2 away win at French champions Lyon. The result means Lyon had to content with finishing second.
German forward Miroslav Klose put Bayern in front before Luca Toni set up Ribery for their second. Ribery then turned provider for Klose as Lyon fell apart. Lyon fought back though with Govou pulling a goal back Karim Benzema added a second. But they could draw level and Bayern clung onto their victory. In the group’s other game Alberto Gilardino headed in the only goal to give Fiorentina victory over Steaua Bucharest and with it a place in the Uefa Cup. Steaua on the other hand finished the group rock bottom ending their campaign with a solitary point.
Gilardino headed into the far right side of the net after a corner from Juan Manuel Vargas before Steaua were reduced to 10 men when Pawel Golanski was sent off in the 72nd minute for a second yellow card.
GROUP F FINAL POSITIONS
1Bayern Munich 14 pts
2 Lyon 11 pts
3 Fiorentina 6 pts
4 Steaua Bucharest 1 pt
It was a bad night for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal as they failed to achieve the draw they needed to see them finish top of their group. Wenger, as he quite often does, sent out a young side but they offered little resistance and were outplayed by Porto, who went on to win the game 2-0 and with it leapfrogged over the Gunners to top the group.
Porto’s goals come from Bruno Alves who headed the 2004 champions into the lead before Lisandro Lopez doubled the lead with a cool finish. In the group’s other game, Roman Eremenko scored a first-half goal that gave Dynamo Kiev a 1-0 win over Turkish side Fenerbahce and with it saw them claim the last remaining place in the Uefa Cup.
The midfielder collected Artem Milevskiy’s reverse pass from the left and struck a precise left-footed shot that went between the legs of the goalkeeper.
GROUP G FINAL POSITIONS
1 Porto 12 pts
2 Arsenal 11 pts
3 Dynamo Kiev 8 pts
4 Fenerbahce 2 pts
The final 16 teams have been decided for this season’s UEFA Champions League. The draw for the knock out stages takes place on the 19th December and they way the group standings have panned out, it is bound to throw up some really intriguing ties to look forward to.
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