Tuesday night’s action in the Champion League failed to see any of the group leaders qualify for the knockout phase of the competition despite some impressive displays across the continent writes Ger McCarthy.
Garth Bale was the most impressive player on view following an unforgettable night at White Hart Lane when Tottenham Hotspur joined Inter Milan at the top of Group A following a thrilling 3-1 win. The Welsh winger tormented the Italians defence and Brazilian right back Maicon in particular with a stunning individual display culminating in the creation of two of Spurs’ three goals. A well worked move involving Luka Modric and Rafael Van der Vaart saw the Dutch international fire Spurs into a deserved 1-0 interval lead. Inter fought back but a lightening breakaway from Bale saw the Tottenham winger outpace the entire opposing defence before squaring the ball for a simple Peter Crouch tap-in to double the home side’s lead. Samuel Eto’o capped a fine performance with venomous effort to reduce the deficit but another late surge from Bale set up Roman Pavlyuchenko for the third and decisive goal.
Twente Enscehede travelled to Germany and recorded their first win of the Champions League campaign over Werder Bremen to move two points behind joint-leaders Spurs and Inter Milan. Werder were guilty of wasting a succession of chance s before Twente took advantage of the dismissal of Torsten Frings for the home side to grab a late breakaway goal courtesy of a deflected Chadli effort. The Dutch champions made sure of their win with a second and clinching strike just three minute later when De Jong diverted a header into the net to seal a famous win for Michel Preud’homme’s side.
Tottenham Hotspur welcome Werder Bremen to North London on Matchday 5 knowing a victory would seal passage into the knockout phase of the competition. The Germans must take something for the fixture otherwise they face elimination from European competition for another season. Inter host Twente Enscehede on the same evening hoping to bounce back from their loss at White Hart Lane while the Dutch side can leapfrog the Italians with an unlikely victory in the San Siro.
Benfica’s shock 4-3 win over Lyon in Lisbon on Matchday 4 has blown Champions League Group 4 wide open. The Ligue 1 champions were expected to get at least a draw on their away visit which would have all but confirmed their qualification for the knockout phase but a blistering start form the Portuguese outfit saw Benfica race into a 4-0 lead. Alex Kardec broke the deadlock after 20 minutes and then Fabio Coentrao and Javi Garcia handed the hosts a deserved 3-0 interval lead. An unexpected rout looked on the cards when Coentrao bagged his brace just after the hour mark but the concession of a fourth goal finally woke Lyon form their slumber. The French Champions managed an impressive fight back with Gorcuff and Gomis efforts reducing the deficit to 4-2. An injury time goal from Lovren made for a few uncomfortable final moments but Benfica deservedly held on to move within 3 points of Group B leaders Lyon with two rounds of fixture remaining.
Schalke 04 missed the chance to grab pole position in Group B when the Bundesliga side drew a blank in a 0-0 draw away to Hapoel Tel Aviv. Fans in attendance at the Bloomfield Stadium were treated to a terrific individual display form Schalke’s goalkeeper Manuel Neuer whose excellence between the sticks helped the German side earn a point. The result means the Israeli side cannot now qualify from the group although the result marked Tel Aviv’s first point in the 2010-2011 Champions League campaign.
Second meets first in Group B of the Champions League when Schalke 04 host Lyon in Gelsenkirchen on Matchday 5. Victory for the Germans would see them overtake Lyon at the summit of the Group while a point may be enough for Lyon to make it into the second phase of the competition. Benfica are in Israel to take on Hapoel Tel Aviv hoping to record a second win on the trot which would see the Portuguese outfit firmly in the mix for qualification with a home tie against Schalke in the final group match.
Under strength Manchester United’s convincing 3-0 victory away to Bursaspor has put the Old Trafford side in the driving seat to make it into the last sixteen of the competition. Darren Fletcher’s well taken volley fired United into a 1-0 lead following a goalless opening half in Turkey. A fin Gabriel Obertan individual effort doubled United’s advantage after 73 minutes before a late Ali Tandogan own goal sealed a comprehensive 3-0 victory for the visiting Premier League side. This was Bursaspor’s fourth consecutive Champions League defeat condemning the Turkish side to bottom spot in the group while United move three points clear of Valencia at the other end of the table and look odds on to progress to the last sixteen.
Valencia brushed aside Rangers 3-0 at the Mestalla Stadium and opened up a two point gap on the Scottish Premier League side in the race for second place from Group C. Roberto Soldado scored in either half en route to an impressive win for the Spaniards despite Rangers’ Steven Naismith rattling an upright during the opening exchanges. A last minute Costa goal put a gloss on the final score of 3-0 and Valencia are now in pole position to grab the runners-up spot in Group C.
Matchday 5 sees Group C leaders Manchester United travelling to Ibrox looking for a win which would guarantee progression to the next phase as group winners. Rangers simply have to get something from the fixture to have any hope of making the second phase, as Valencia will almost certainly defeat the winless Bursaspor on the same evening.
It is as you were in Group D following the Matchday 4 games as Barcelona travelled to Denmark and drew 1-1 with FC Copenhagen while Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos finished scoreless in Russia. Lionel Messi looked to have set Barcelona on their way at the Parken Stadium with an improvised volley just after the half hour mark until Copenhagen’s Claudemir capitalised on some erratic defending to equalise juts a minute later. The Danish side defended were rewarded for a superb defensive effort with a point that keeps their qualification hopes alive. Pedro smashed a terrific effort off the upright late on but Barca had to be content with a share of the spoils. Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos drew a blank in the other Group D game which helps neither side’s cause of making the last sixteen.
A point for Barcelona in Greece on Matchday 5 will confirm the Catalan’s place in the knockout phase of the tournament while Copenhagen can eliminate Rubin Kazan with an away point in Russia on the same evening.
Ger McCarthy is author of the book entitled ‘Off Centre Circle’ about a lifetime spent playing amateur football in Ireland. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.