Champions League – Matchday 5 Review (Wednesday)

by Ger McCarthy

Arsenal roared into the last sixteen of the Champions League with a victory over Borussia Dortmund but on the same evening fellow Premier League side Chelsea lost to their Bundesliga opponents in Germany. APOEL Nicosia made history and Barcelona reminded everyone why they remain favourites to lift the most coveted trophy in European football.

Group E

Valencia proved too strong for a Genk side without a win in this season’s Champions League at the Mestalla thanks to a powerful first half display which yielded four goals without reply. Brazilian striker Jonas opened the scoring with a thumping header from a Tino Costa centre after 10 minutes and then ace striker Soldado doubled the home side’s lead 3 minutes later with a slide-rule finish.

Genk made a game of it for a period until the Belgians fell 3-0 behind just after the half hour when Jonas released Soldado for his second of the evening. The Valencia Captain – rumoured to be a transfer target of Liverpool – completed a sublime first half hat-trick on 40 minutes after connecting with a Pablo Hernandez cross to send the Spanish side in 4-0 ahead at the interval.

The Primera Liga outfit piled on the misery for a Genk side powerless to prevent the incessant attacks with two additional strikes before the 70th minute. Pablo Hernandez curled a delicious effort in off the upright from 20 yards out before substitute Adruiz held off a couple a defenders before stroking home to make it 6-0. Costa added a seventh in the 80th minute with a thumping drive to complete a miserable night and record European Champions League defeat for Genk.

Chelsea suffered a disastrous 2-1 loss away to Bayer Leverkusen in Germany and on current form are in real danger of missing out on the knockout phase of the Champions League. Didier Drogba went close to opening the scoring in the first 10 minutes put pulled his shot wide of the target when well placed.

Leverkusen looked up for the challenge and former Chelsea player (also wearing a protective mask) Michael Ballack drove his side forward at every opportunity making for an entertaining first half. Ballack went closest to opening the scoring on the half hour when the Leverkusen midfielder directed his header off the Chelsea upright from a Castro corner. The visitors’ response saw Sturridge release Didier Drogba who rounded Leno before scuffing his shot wide of the target.

Chelsea opened the scoring 3 minutes after the restart when Drogba collected another Sturridge through ball and rounded a defender before firing home a cracking goal. The game became stretched with both sides testing one another goalkeepers’ as counter-attack followed counter-attack but with a quarter of an hour to Bayer Leverkusen looked like they were exiting the Champions League.

The introduction of Swiss international Eren Derdiyok had the desired effect as the Leverkusen substitute headed home a Sidney Sam cross come shot to bring parity to the score. The tie looked to be heading for a 1-1 draw until Manuel Friedrich headed home from a corner deep into injury time to secure a dramatic win.

The scenario for Matchday Six is now straightforward for Leverkusen as the Bundesliga side will win the group with an away victory in Genk. Valencia and Chelsea’s clash at Stamford Bridge is straight shootout as victory for either side will guarantee a place in the last sixteen.

Results: Group E – Matchday Five: Valencia 7 Genk 0, Bayer Leverkusen 2 Chelsea 1

Next Up: Group E – Matchday Six: Chelsea vs. Valencia at Stamford Bridge and Genk vs. Bayer Leverkusen at the KRC Genk Arena

Group F

Robin Van Persie underlined his star quality and importance to Arsenal with a brace of goals to see off Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at the Emirates and claim a berth in the last sixteen of the competition. The Germans travelled to London needing a victory to keep their flagging Champions League hopes alive and settled quickly with striker Lewandowski attempting a couple of long range efforts that had the Arsenal defence scrambling to clear.

Theo Walcott responded with a run that took him beyond the Germans back four but goalkeeper Weidenfeller thwarted the England international with a sliding save. The first half concluded without a goal and both defences cancelling one another out before the second period exploded into life with the opening goal of the evening. Alex Song managed to dribble past three Dortmund defenders and his cross was met by the head of Van Persie who guided the ball into the net for a 1-0 lead.

Borussia were unable to respond and Arsenal’s quick counter-attacking tactic resulted in the Bundesliga side resorting to long balls in an effort to get back in the tie. Arsenal looked the more likely to score next and doubled their lead with 5 minutes to go when Van Persie connected with a Mikel Arteta corner and stab home from close range. Dortmund netted a late consolation through Japanese international Kagawa but it proved too little, too late and Arsenal qualified for the second round courtesy of a 2-1 win.

Marseille suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at home to Olympiacos at the Stade Velodrome in the other Group F fixture on Wednesday evening. Substitute Giannis Fetfatzidis netted the only goal of a tight encounter in the 82nd minute with a rasping volley to earn the Greeks a fantastic away win which keeps their hopes of making the second phase alive heading into the final round of Group F games.

Matchday Six in Group F sees already qualified Arsenal travelling to Greece to face an Olympiacos side needing a victory to clinch a second round berth. Should the Greeks fail to defeat the Gunners then a draw will do Marseille away to Dortmund as the Germans would have to win by a huge margin to overtake the Ligue1 side for second place.

Results: Group F – Matchday Five: Arsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 1, Marseille 0 Olympiacos 1

Next Up: Group F – Matchday Six: Olympiacos vs. Arsenal at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium and Borussia Dortmund vs. Marseille at the BVB Stadion Dortmund

Group G

APOEL Nicosia created history on Matchday 5 when a 0-0 draw away to Zenit St. Petersburg secured passage to the knockout phase of the Champions League. It is the first time a Cypriot side has ever made the last sixteen of Europe’s Premier football competition and APOEL were full value for their draw.

Freezing conditions greeted the sides at the Petrovski Stadion with APOEL’s goalkeeper Urko Pardo called upon to make a string of important saves. Zenit dominated possession for long periods but a stubborn APOELback four refused to yield an inch resulting in a frustrating opening half for the hosts which ended scoreless.

Danny was St. Petersburg’s most influential player on the night and created all of Zenit’s best moments with his pin-point passing. The Cypriots pressed further forward in the second half but it was Zenit who continued to create the better openings despite rarely forcing the APOEL goalkeeper Pardo into any serious saves.

Despite a few hair-raising moments late on APOEL Nicosia held on for a fully merited 0-0 draw and that point was enough to ensure a Cypriot side into the last sixteen for the first time in the history of the Champions League.

FC Porto travelled to face Shakhtar Donetsk needing an away victory to have any hope of making the knockout phase. There was little to choose between the two sides – with Donetsk twice hitting the woodwork – until Porto’s ace striker Hulk broke the deadlock with 11 minutes remaining. An unfortunate own goal from Shakhtar’s Rats completed a miserable night for the Donetsk club.

Matchday Six of in group G sees FC Porto hosting Zenit St. Petersburg where the winners will secure passage to the next round. Zenit are a point ahead going into the fixture so a draw would suffice for the Russian club. APOEL hosts Shakhtar Donetsk in the other group fixture with a berth in the last sixteen already secured.

Results: Group G – Matchday Five: Zenit St. Petersburg 0 APOEL Nicosia 0, Shakhtar Donetsk 0 FC Porto 2

Next Up: Group G – Matchday Six: APOEL Nicosia vs. Shakhtar Donetsk in the GSP Stadium and FC Porto vs. Zenit St. Petersburg in the Estadio do Dragao

Group H

FC Barcelona secured top spot in Group H and a place in the last sixteen following a five goal thriller away to AC Milan at the San Siro. The visitors hit the front just before the quarter hour mark when Keita’s cross was turned into his own goal by Mark Van Bommel.

The sides exchanged chances with Messi going close at one end after Robinho has clipped the crossbar for AC Milan minutes earlier. The Italians continued to push forward and a delightful pass from Clarence Seedorf found Zlatan Ibrahimovic who found the net with a first time strike. Lionel Messi restored Barca’s lead from a retaken penalty but Milan responded for a second time through a Kevin Prince Boateng goal after 54 minutes to make it 2-2.

It was left to Lionel Messi to unlock the Milan defence with a precision pass and Xavi Hernandez did the rest with a shot that evaded the grasp of Abbiati to win a sometimes bad tempered but excellent game 3-2 for the Catalans.

BATE Borisov and Plzen squared off in the second Group H encounter on Wednesday evening with the Czech’s recording their maiden victory thanks to a solitary Marek Bakos strike. The victory puts Plzen in the driving seat to finish third behind Barcelona and AC Milan and claim a Europa League berth once the opening phase concludes.

Milan Petrzela’s run and cross found Bakos unmarked six yards out and the Plzen striker didn’t need to be asked twice before slamming the ball home to earn his side a crucial away victory.

Results: Group H – Matchday Five: AC Milan 2 FC Barcelona 3, BATE 0 Plzen 1

Next Up: Group H – Matchday Six: Barcelona vs. BATE at the Camp Nou and Plzen vs. AC Milan at the Stadium Eden.

Follow Ger on Twitter: @offcentrecircle

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