Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United qualified for the knockout phase of this season’s Champions League by topping their respective groups following Tuesday night’s results writes Ger McCarthy.
Harry Redknapp’s free-scoring Tottenham Hotspur secured a point and the top spot in Group A following a thrilling 3-3 draw away to FC Twente in the De Grolsch Veste Stadium on Matchday 6. A horrific mix up from the Twente goalkeeper Sander Boschker who completely miss-kicked a back pass put Spurs 1-0 ahead as early as the 12th minute. The home side had little to play for but levelled when Denny Landzaat converted a re-taken penalty 10 minutes later to setup a barnstorming second half. Jermain Defoe fired Spurs back in front 2 minutes into the second period but right-back Rosales equalised with a header shortly afterwards. Defoe capped a fine individual performance with his second of the night after Wilson Palacios’ initial effort was parried. Twente were not to be denied however and Nacer Chadli walloped a glorious 25 yard free-kick into the top corner f the net to earn the Dutch side a 3-3 draw following a pulsating encounter.
Inter Milan’s hopes of leap-frogging Tottenham into first place in Group A were brushed aside by a terrific Werder Bremen performance in the Weserstadion on Tuesday night. Goals from Sebastian Prödl, Marko Arnautović and Claudio Pizarro secured an impressive 3-0 win for the Bundesliga outfit against a lack-lustre Inter who fielded a weakened team due to injuries and suspensions. The result was never going to be enough to secure a Europa League spot but the German side bowed out of this year’s Champions League in style.
Tottenham Hotspur go into the hat for the second phase draw on December 17th as Group A winners and will avoid the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Rafa Benitez’s Inter Milan finish as runners-up and as a result will face a tricky second round tie in the defence of the Champions League trophy they annexed last season. Twente’s point at home to Tottenham was enough to earn the Dutch side a place in the Europa League round of 32.
Schalke 04 qualified for the knockout phase of this season’s Champions League as winners of Group B following a hard fought 2-1 win over Benfica. Former Real Madrid star Raul setup José Manuel Jurado for the opener after 19 minutes on a rain-sodden pitch. Benedikt Höwedes made it 2-0 with a straightforward finish after Benfica failed to adequately deal with a second half corner from the visitors. Luisão pulled one back for Benfica late on but wasn’t sufficient to prevent Schalke04 registering a first ever European win in Portugal.
There was good news for Benfica later on that evening however with Lyon’s 2-2 draw at home to Hapoel Tel Aviv securing the Portuguese side a place in the Europa League. Lyon had a goal ruled out for offside and another goal bound effort hacked off the line before Lisandro’s 62nd minute opener brought the Stade Gerland crowd to their feet. Hapoel entered the Matchday 6 encounter with a slim chance of claiming a Europa League spot and duly took the lead in a devastating 7 minute spell with Ben Sahar and Eran Zahavi netting. Zahavi’s effort was worth the admission price alone with the Hapoel striker producing a wonderful overhead kick to push Tel Aviv 2-1 ahead. It proved to be a heartbreaking evening for the visitors when Alexandre Lacazette netted late on and a cracking game finished 2-2.
Schalke 04 progressed to the knockout phase of the Champions League as Group B winners with Lyon finishing runners-up. Benfica will enter Europa League competition as the third placed finisher from what proved to be a highly competitive Group B.
Both Manchester United and Valencia were already assured a place in the knockout phase prior to their final Group C encounter at Old Trafford last night. United secured top spot following a 1-1 draw but failed to keep a 6th consecutive clean sheet (which would have been a new record) following Pablo Hernandez’s opener in the 32nd minute. Anderson netted a second half equaliser to make sure United progressed as Group C winners even though Wayne Rooney’s spectacular long range effort that came crashing back of the crossbar might have secured a 2-1 win.
Rangers had already qualified for the Europa League round of 32 before the Scottish Champions took the field away to Bursaspor in last night’s Group C encounter in Turkey. Kenny Miller fired Rangers 1-0 in front thanks to a vicious left foot effort after 19 minutes. Bursaspor had little to play for but managed a late equaliser through rising star Sercan Yıldırım which secured the Turkish side’s first ever Champions League point.
Manchester United complete the opening stage of their Champions League odyssey as Group C winners followed by Valencia who will also go in the hat for the second round draw on December 17th. Rangers qualify for the latter stages of the Europa League by finishing third in Group C.
Newcomers Andreu Fontàs and Víctor Vázque scored both goals in Barcelona’s 2-0 victory at home to Rubin Kazan on the final night of Group D action in the Camp Nou. The Catalans completed a memorable week by securing top spot in Group D amassing 14 points from a possible 18. Despite the defeat Kazan could at least console themselves with the fact they secured Europa League qualification as FC Copenhagen defeated Panathinaikos 3-1 on Tuesday evening. Copenhagen became the first ever Danish side to make it through to the second round of the Champions League thanks to strikes from Martin Vingaard, Jesper Grønkjær and a Djibril Cissé own goal. An injury time effort from Kante proved scant consolation for the Greek side who bowed out of European football before the New Year.
Barcelona go through as Group D winners with FC Copenhagen the pride of Denmark after securing the runners-up spot. Rubin Kazan can console themselves with a Europa League spot having failed to finish in the top two.
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.