Barcelona and AC Milan booked their places in the knockout phase, APOEL continued their fairytale European odyssey in Europe’s premier football competition and Premier League sides Arsenal and Chelsea had to settle for draws on Matchday Four of the Champions League.
Chelsea travelled to Belgium on Tuesday night to take on Genk with the Premier League side looking to book a place in the last sixteen. Andres Villas-Boas’ side broke the deadlock in the 26th minute with a well worked goal when Ramires combined with Fernando Torres to fire home from close range. Raul Meireles rattled the Genk crossbar with a long range effort and the home side breathed a huge sigh of relief when the ball rebounded away to safety.
Chelsea wasted a glorious chance to wrap up the points when David Luiz failed to convert a penalty late in the first half. Laszlo Kotleles pulled off a terrific save to deny the Chelsea centre-back from 12 yards and the hosts made the Pensioners pay with a second half equaliser. Good work from De Bruyne down the left wing resulted in the ball being moved to substitute Jelle Vossen who finished with a neat first time effort. The leveller was no more than Genk deserved for a much improved second half display although the Belgians were fortunate to hold out for a 1-1 draw when Frank Lampard failed to connect with a low centre from 3 yards out and then the Belgians were forced to hack a late Florent Malouda off the line. It finished one all on a night John Terry was left on the bench with news breaking of a Police investigation into alleged racist remarks made by the England international at a recent domestic encounter with QPR.
Valencia reignited their flagging Champions League campaign with a welcome victory at the Mestalla over Bayer Leverkusen. The game was barely 30 seconds old when the home side’s striker Jonas capitalised on some awful German defending and found the net from the edge of the area. Bayer goalkeeper Bernd Leno hacked an attempted clearance straight into the path of the Valencia striker who finished coolly to push the home side 1-0 in front.
The Bundesliga outfit were level on the half hour when a Michael Ballack cross found Stefan Kiessling who guided a header into the net. Valencia retook the lead just past the hour mark when Roberto Soldado executed a terrific back heel to make it 2-1 from close range. Leverksuen had a legitimate goal incorrectly ruled out following an offside decision after 69 minutes and Valencia capitalised to secure a much needed win with a late strike from Rami in the 75th minute.
Group E – Matchday Five: Bayer Leverkusen vs. Chelsea and Valencia vs. Genk
Arsenal drew a blank at home to Marseille on a frustrating night at the Emirates Stadium following a 0-0 draw. The euphoria of the Gunners’ previous 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge wasn’t enough to inspire Arsene Wenger’s side to an expected win and in truth the visiting Ligue 1 team could well have snatched it before full time were it not for some wayward finishing.
Arsenal had loud claims for a penalty waved away in an opening half that saw Aaron Ramsey waste two decent chances to break the deadlock. Marseille created plenty of opportunities themselves in a frenetic start to the tie but failed to breach the Arsenal defence despite some erratic goalkeeping at times from Szczesny. Valbuena and Ayew’s influence began to grow at the beginning of the second period prompting Arsene Wenger to spring the in-form Robin Van Persie from the substitute’s bench. The Dutchman raced through in the 77th minute but his chipped effort was safely gathered by a grateful Mandanda.
Marseille finished the stronger and Ayew flicked a header wide from 10 yards when well placed. The French side held on for a merited 0-0 draw and are well placed to make the knockout phase while Arsenal remain top of the group table with Borussia Dortmund set to visit the Emirates on Matchday Five.
The Germans recorded their first Champions League victory of the 2011-12 campaign on Tuesday night but were pushed all the way by a dogged Olympiacos at a packed BVB Stadion. The home side began at a high tempo and their good work paid dividends after 7 minutes when Kevin Grosskreutz walloped an unstoppable effort into the net from 25 yards out.
The visiting Greek club redoubled their efforts to get back in the tie and Kevin Mirallas brought the best out of Roman Weidenfeller with a stinging drive. Olympiacos continued to press and created a series of chances either side of the interval that they failed to convert thanks to some determined Dortmund defending and wayward finishing.
Robert Lewandowski went close late on for the hosts but his effort scraped the upright when well positioned after a quick counter-attack. There was no further scoring and Dortmund will travel to London on Matchday Five looking for a second consecutive Champions League win in an effort to make the knockout phase.
Group F – Matchday Five: Arsenal vs. Borussia Dortmund and Marseille vs. Olympiacos.
APOEL Nicosia is just a single point away from becoming the first ever Cypriot side to make the last sixteen of the Champions League following another tremendous display on Tuesday night.
FC Porto were the visitors to the GSP Stadium in front of a full house and found themselves 1-0 down shortly before the break when Ailton scored his second goal of the campaign after converting a penalty kick to send the home crowd into wild celebrations. The home side looked set for another famous European win until a minute from the end when Porto’s star striker Hulk also scored from the penalty spot to seemingly earn his side a precious point.
There was a final twist however when Manduca ghosted in at the far post to finish from close range and earn APOEL a 2-1 win. The crowd erupted at the final whistle shortly afterwards to salute their side that are on the brink of making history and qualifying for the knockout phase of the competition.
Zenit St. Petersburg moved into second place in Group G thanks to a hard fought 1-0 win at home to Shakhtar Donetsk at the Petrovski Stadion. Shakhtar goalkeeper Olexandr Rybka was in excellent form throughout and looked set to earn the visitors a point with a marvellous display. Donetsk’s goalkeeper was finally beaten in first half injury time however when Nicolas Lombaerts planted a header into the net to put Zenit within touching distance of the next round.
Group G – Matchday Five: Zenit St. Petersburg vs. APOEL Nicosia and Shakhtar Donetsk vs. FC Porto.
Barcelona qualified for the knockout phase of the Champions League with Lionel Messi inspiring the Catalans to a 4-0 win away to Viktoria Plezn in the Eden Stadium in Prague. The home side wasted a couple of chances to take the lead before a penalty decision in the 24th minute saw the referee award a spot kick after Messi was fouled in the area. The diminutive Argentinean coolly rolled the ball into the net and Plezn’s hopes of making a comeback were dashed with the dismissal of Cisovsky for the penalty offence.
Barcelona doubled their lead in first half injury time when Messi played a one-two with Adriano on the edge of the penalty area before firing home the 201st goal of his club career. Cesc Fabregas headed home at the far post after 74 minutes to end the tie as a contest but there was still time for Messi to complete a hat-trick and solidify Barcelona’s place in the next round of the competition.
The second Group H game to be completed on Matchday Four saw AC Milan travel to Bulgaria to face BATE Borisov with the Italians looking to extend their 100% record. The Dinamo Stadium was packed to capacity but silenced after 22 minutes when Zlatan Ibrahimovic finished off a fine cross from Robinho to make it three goals in as many Champions League games for the giant Swedish striker.
Milan looked to be in control until the 55th minute when Abate brought down Kontsevoi and Renan Bressan converted the resulting penalty to make it 1-1. Both sides had chances to win it late on but had to settle for a share of the spoils following an entertaining encounter.
That away point proved sufficient to earn AC Milan a berth in the knockout phase and the Italians will host Barcelona on Matchday Five in a straight shootout to decide who is seeded for the round of last sixteen draw.
Group H – Matchday Five: AC Milan vs. Barcelona and BATE Borisov vs. Plezn
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