Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich became the first three clubs to qualify for the knockout phase of the Champions League following Wednesday night’s action writes Ger McCarthy.
A fourth consecutive victory has qualified Bayern Munich for the last sixteen of this season’s Champions League. Mario Gomez netted a hat-trick and Thomas Muller completed the scoring in a straightforward 4 – 0 victory over CFR Cluj in Romania. The German side forgot their domestic troubles (Munich are currently mid-table in the Bundesliga) to see of a spirited Cluj outfit and maintain their impressive 100% record in this season’s competition. A point from either of their two remaining games will seal top spot for the draw for the last sixteen. The Romanians still have an outside chance of grabbing second spot in the group but will need to improve significantly to have any chance of progressing.
Roma recorded a much needed 3-2 win in the St. Jakob Park Stadium in Switzerland at the expense of FC Basel to solidify second place in Group E. The Italians recovered from their shock 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Swiss side on Matchday 3 and were 2-0 up at the interval thanks to a Jeremy Menez strike and converted Francesco Totti penalty. An Alexander Frei header offered Basel hope until substitute Greco restored Roma’s two goal advantage. A late Shaqiri goal proved only a consolation and Roma held on for their second win in the Group
Roma welcome Bayern Munich to the Stadio Olimpico knowing the visitors only require a single point to cement top spot in the Group. The outcome of Basel and Cluj’s in Switzerland clash will be pivotal to both side’s aspiration of grabbing the runners-up berth in Group E.
Chelsea cruised into the second phase of the Champions League following a routine 4-1 victory at home to Spartak Moscow in Stamford Bridge. A disappointing first half finished goalless until Nicolas Anelka broke the deadlock with a terrific strike to continue his hot streak in Europe. The returning Didier Drogba won and then converted a penalty to double Chelsea’slead before a defender Ivanovic bagged a late brace to secure a fourth consecutive victory for Carlo Ancellotti’s side. Bazhenov pulled one back for Spartak who face a tough battle for the runners-up spot in Group F following Marseille’s big win.
The French side travelled to Slovakia and recorded a resounding 7-0 thumping of MSK Zilina to move joint-second with the Muscovites in Group F. Marseille’s biggest ever European victory came courtesy of a Gignac hat-trick plus additional strikes from Heinze, Remy, and a second half double from Lucho Gonzalez. A fourth loss on the trot all but eliminates Zilina from European competition for the season.
Marseille travel to the Luzhniki Stadium on Matchday5 for crucial showdown with Spartak which may decide who grabs the second qualification spot from Group F. Chelsea entertain winless MSK Zilina at Stamford Bridge having already secured qualification to the knockout phase.
A 97th minute strike from Pedro Leon secured Real Madrid’s passage into the next phase of the Champions League following a 2-2 draw with AC Milan in the San Siro. Real have still to register a victory of any kind in the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium even though Jose Mourinho’s side had much the better of the first half capped off by Higuain’s 45th minute opener. AC Milan looked utterly rudderless until the introduction of Filippo Inzaghi for the ineffectual Ronaldinho. The record Italian scorer bagged a quick-fire brace of goals although his second effort looked about five yards offside. Madrid were staring down the barrel of their first defeat in 14 matches until substitute Pedro Leon pounced deep into injury time to grab a last gasp equaliser and that strike proved enough to send Madrid into the next phase of the competition.
Elsewhere in Group G English Referee Mark Clattenburg was at the centre of another controversial decision as he allowed play to go despite a clear handball which allowed Auxerre’s Steven Langil to net the winner at home to Ajax. Sammartino’s 9th minute opener shocked the visiting Dutch side who regrouped to equalise 70 minutes later through a Alderweireld effort. The game looked to be heading for a draw until Langil raced clear of an Ajax defence awaiting a decision from the referee to earn the French side a crucial three points.
Real Madrid travels to the Amsterdam Arena on Matchday 5 having already qualified for the knockout phase of the tournament. Ajax currently lay a point behind second placed Milan and need to get something out of the game to maintain their push for qualification. On the same evening Auxerre welcome the Italians to the Stade Abbe-Deschamps knowing an unlikely victory would elevate the Ligue 1 side above their opponents.
Arsenal lost their unbeaten Champions League record following a 2-1 defeat away to Shaktar Donetsk in the Donbass Arena in Donetsk. A breakaway goal from Theo Walcott handed the Gunners a1th minute lead but Shaktar rebounded from their previous humiliation at the Emirates to deservedly gain a 2-1 victory. Dmytro Chygrynskiy’s deflected header brought the home side level before former-Arsenal striker Eduardo sealed a famous win with a first time finish on the stroke of half time. The result leaves Donetsk level on points with the North London outfit with just two games left in the group.
Portuguese side Braga remained in contention for a place in the second round thanks to a narrow 1-0 victory away to Partizan Belgrade. A 35th minute header from Moises was enough to earn Braga all three points and condemn Partizan to their fourth defeat in as many Champions League games.
Arsenal are in Portugal on Matchday 5 to take on Braga while fellow Group H leaders Shaktar Donetsk travel to Belgrade to face the winless Partizan.
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.