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Shakhtar Donetsk become this year's most surprising group winner, though at the beginning of the day, the Ukrainian champions needed only a point to clinch Group H. They got three, giving them 15 points and first place, holding off Arsenal, who now face the prospect of being drawn against Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in the Round of 16.
The day's other undecided spot in the knock-out stage went to Roma, whose victory in Romania over CFR Cluj puts them into the last 16. As it turned out, the Gialliorossi would have been safe regardless, with Bayern Munich easily defeating FC Basel.
Here's a wrap-up of Wednesday's UEFA Champions League action:
Bayern Munich got two goals from Franck Ribery and another from Anotoly Timoshuyck in what was a meaningless match for them. The 3-0 win moved Bayern to 15 points while relegating Basel to Europa League, though the Swiss champions can take comfort knowing advancing never a possibility. Though CFR Cluj got a late goal from Lacina Traoré to get a 1-1 result from Roma, the single point would have sent the Italians through. Roma advances on 10 points. Basel finishes third with six.
Marseille ruined Didier Drogba's homecoming, getting a late goal from Brandão to post a 1-0 victory over visiting Chelsea. The win prevents the Blues from becoming the first team to go through group stage perfect.
Spartak Moscow, in a match delayed after four minutes when referees pulled players from the pitch, a response to flares being thrown onto the field, have a 2-1 lead in Zilina. The Slovakian champions opened the scoring three minutes into the second half through Tomas Majtan, but goals from Alex and Ibson gave Spartak's response within 15 minutes.
Neither match mattered, though. Chelsea had clinched first after round five, with Marseille having sealed the second knock-out round spot. Spartak goes to Europa League, while Zilina will join Partizan in failing to register a point in their season's group phase.
Real Madrid started only three regulars, but thanks to a hat-trick from Karim Benzema and one from Cristiano Ronaldo, Los Blancos cruised to a 4-0 win over visiting Auxerre. The win assured Ligue 1's runners up finish fourth, though Ajax's result in Milan did the same.
There Ajax got goals from Demy de Zeeuw and Toby Alderweireld to post a 2-0 victory over Milan. The win sends Ajax to Europa League with four points distance on Auxerre. Milan finishes second.
Late goals from Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri build on Robin van Persie's first half tally and rendered Cléo's second half equalizer meaningless. Arsenal's 3-1 win at the Emirates pushes the Gunners into the second round, though thanks to Shakhtar's result in Donetsk, Arsene Wenger's men go through as group runners up.
That's because the Ukranian champions got goals from Razvan Rat and Luiz Adriano to post a 2-0 victory over visiting Braga. Shakhtar finishes with 15 points, there only blemish coming at the Emirates, while Braga are relegated to Europa League despite their nine points.
Real Madrid 3-0 Auxerre
Four minutes into the second half at the Santiago Bernabeu, Cristiano Ronaldo put a right footed shot into the upper ninety, beating Olivier Sorin to give Los Blancos a 2-0 lead. Ronaldo have assisted on Karim Benzema's first half goal, but on the end of a ball from left back Marcelo, the Portuguese got himself on the scoresheet.
In the 74th minute, Karim Benzema put himself on a hat trick, powering a left-footed shot past Sorin, giving Madrid a 3-0 lead. Benzema settled a ball chipped to him behind the Auxerre line, and from 15 yards out (to the left of goal) beat Sorin far post, even after the keeper had gotten a had to the shot.
Milan 0-2 Ajax
Ajax has scored two early goals in the second half. The first saw a right-footed blast from Demy de Zeeuw give Ajax a beat from chaos, the midfielder running on to a bouncing ball at the edge of the Milan area. In the 66th minute, Toby Alderweirweld put his right foot onto a lay-off from Luis Suarez, blasting a ball high into the Milan net for Ajax's second goal.
Call it a freak goal, but it may be Arsenal's first step today Europa League. Partizan's Cléo, taking a pass from Almami Moreira, saw his shot deflect off defender Sebastien Squillaci and past Lukasz Fabianski, pulling the Serbian champions even at the Emirates after 52 minutes.
Should this result as well as the one in Donetsk stand, Arsenal would still be into the knock-out rounds, second place finishers should Shakhtar and Braga end scoreless. However, if Braga does find a goal in Ukraine, a draw against Partizan would leave Arsenal in Europa League, finishing with 10 points, two behind both Shakhtar and Portugal's runners up.
Arsenal started this match strong but has sense shown a lack of ambition, seemingly content with or unable to build on Robin van Persie's 30th minute goal. As a result, Cléo's goal has the Belgrade club within sight of their first point of the tournament.
Now in the 67th minute, Arsenal and Partizan are still drawn, 1-1.
Franck Ribery is coming off one of this worst Bundesliga performances of the season, giving people reason to believe he's still injury during this weekend's match at Schalke. Today, Ribery's put those musing behind him, though he owes his teammates a huge thanks for today's brace. Where it was Diego Contento that set-up his first tally, Thomas Müller is the man behind the most recent.
Müller advanced the ball down Bayern's right flank in the 50th minute, moments after Basel had given the ball away in midfield. The München attacker made for the line, cutting into the right side of the box before playing a ball back and to the middle for an oncoming Ribery. The winger right-footed a ball just inside the left post, giving Munich a 3-0 lead.
Now in the 59th minute, Basel seems destined to finish third in Group E, six points behind a Roma side leading in Romanic. Basel had a chance to pass the Italians at kick-off, but without three points in München, the Swiss champions are destined for Europa League.
Bayern Munich is paving Roma's road into the knock-out round, though the Gialliossi are doing fine on their own. Up 1-0 in Cluj, last year's Italy runners up are set to confirm their place in the Champions League's next round, but should they slip in Romania, Bayern's 2-0 lead on visiting Basel should keep Roma in the tournament.
Bayern's first goal came after 34 minutes through Franck Ribery, though it was Diego Contento who deserves a large portion of the credit. The defender chipped a ball along the left sideline to Ribery, who played it toward the byline, to the left of the Basel goal. Contento streaked onto the ball and, after winning a physical battle with a Basel defender, kept the ball in play, finding Ribery after the attack had moved into position in the penalty area.
Ribery's left-footed finish from 12 yards out gave Bayern a 1-0 lead, though the German champions would not rest on the advantage. Two minutes later, Mario Gomez headed down a corner kick, finding Anotoly Timoshuyck in the six yard box. The Ukrainian redirected the ball home, giving Bayern a 2-0 lead after 37 minutes.
Bayern would take that lead into half time, now on track for 15 points in Group E. München had already clinch first place in the group, but with the win, Bayern will relegated Basel to Europa League, confirming their place for the Swiss champions.
Robin van Persie, making his first start since returning from an ankle injury, has put Arsenal in front after 30 minutes. The Dutch attacker was taken down in the area by Partizan's Milan Jovanovic. Van Persie did the honors, beating Vladimir Stojkovic with a left-footed shot to give the Gunners a lead at the half hour mark.
Arsenal has controlled the first half hour, out-shooting Partizan 4-0 while controlling 63 percent of the possession. Van Persie's spot kick, however, was the first time Stojkovic had been tested.
Also of not for Arsenal was the early entrance of Emmanuel Eboué. The Ivorian started on the bench but came on for left back Kieran Gibbs after 24 minutes.
Arsenal needs a win today to confirm a place in the knock-out round. Three points combined with a victory from Sporting Braga at Shakhtar Donetsk will, barring a record-breaking margin of victory for Braga, win Arsenal the group. One point for Shakhtar will keep Arsenal in second place.
Roma forward Marco Boriello had been making himself dangerous throughout the first 20 minutes at CFR Cluj, but in the 21st minute, a Cluj error helped the Giallorossi forward ease his side toward the knock-out stage. Coming into the day one point away from the competition's next round, Roma has taken a 1-0 lead on Romania's CFR Cluj after 21 minutes.
The goal came after some sloppy play from Cluj's defense, with Fábio Simplicio the beneficiary of a giveaway deep in the host's end. The Roma midfielder found Boriello behind the defense, connecting on a through ball that left the forward along on Eduard Stancioiu. One side-footed ball later, Roma had their lead.
With one point, Roma will confirm second place in Group E, a quartet already won by Bayern Munich. The German champions host FC Basel today, where a win by the Swiss side coupled with a Roma loss would send FCB into the knock-out phase.
With Group G locked-up, Real Madrid is starting mostly second choice players against visiting Auxerre, with Cristiano Ronaldo one of the first regulars in the team. That hasn't stopped Madrid from taking an early lead against Auxerre, with Ronaldo's cross for Karim Benzema headed home in the 12th minute.
Against an Auxerre defense that had eight players in or around the box, Cristiano Ronaldo put a cross from the left flank into the six yard box. It was a pedestrian ball - the kind you'd expect a defender or the `keeper to easily handle - but after bouncing in the six, the ball found Benzema, who bend down onto the ball to head home from three yards out.
Aside from Ronaldo, the only Real Madrid regulars playing are defender Ricardo Carvalho and left back Marcelo, Amongst the players in the starting XI: Jerzy Dudek, Mahamadou Diarra, Esteban Granero and Pedro León.
Madrid is already assured first place, coming into today's match with 13 points. Auxerre is fighting for a Europe League spot, one point behind third place Ajax, who are at Milan. That match is still scoreless.
The players have been pulled from the pitch in Zilina, where flares thrown onto the pitch and violence in the stands has temporarily suspended today's match between the Slovakian champions and visiting Spartak Moscow. Both squads have returned to the locker room, and while initial speculation has the match resuming, the referee has suspended play just minutes after kick-off.
Neither Spartak nor Zilina have anything to play for today in terms of positioning in Group F. Spartak can pull even with Marseille on points, but second place is out of reach for l'OM owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. Zilina, having yet to record a point in group play, have been relegated to fourth place.
This is Zilina's first appearance in Champions League and only their third home game. In their last home match, Marseille set a competition record by posting a 7-0 away win.
Now, only four minutes into today's match, Zilina's fans are denying their team a chance at redemption.
It's the last day of UEFA Champions League group stage, and no, it doesn't seem like it just started. That's the common refrain, right? It went so fast. No, this group stage did not. The monotonous predictability of the big clubs combined with no dark horse coming true made this phase eye roll-worthy.
Yesterday we were left to marvel at the wrapping on Benfica-Schalke and Copenhagen's history making qualification (Tottenham's shootout in Enschede was a welcome reprieve). Today the hallow packages are in Ukraine and, if you're really desperate for drama, Munich, Cluj, Milan and Madrid.
Second place in Group E is up for grabs, though Basel needs a win at Bayern coupled with a Roma loss in Cluj. Group G's Europa League spot is still in doubt, but Auxerre would have need a result at the Bernabeu to make it interesting. At least Group H - the savior that is Group H - gives us legitimate drama.
But these are all relative concerns. Hold this tournament enough times and results will eventually fall such that the sixth round will be terrible. We're not quite there, but we're close enough to consider silver linings. Today's day of soccer is still going to be better than your run of the mill weekend league action. Marseille-Chelsea doesn't mean anything ... except for the fact that it's Marseille and freakin' Chelsea! Ajax at Milan? How many times do you see that? (Answer: Twice, Richard. It's group play. Round-robin. Duh.)
I confess, I'm spoiled. I feel like each Champions League day should be magic. If I'm let down, it's because today is more David Copperfield than Harry Houdini.
And yes, that was intended as a selling point. Let's move on:
All matches start a 2:45 p.m. Eastern time. Thank the WIkipedia community for the tables.
|Group E ||Pld||W||D||L||GF||GA||GD||Pts|
Matches: Bayern Munich versus Basel; CFR Cluj versus Roma
The last (and only time) Roma was at Cluj, the rare Matteo Brighi brace guided the Giallorossi to a 3-1 win, reversing a shock home loss earlier in group phase. Today, Roma need only a point to advance to the knockout round, and with this Cluj team having nothing to play for and arguably (if slightly and relatively) weaker than their team two years ago, Basel has little reason for hope.
Which is not to say Basel won't get a win at the Allianz. Bayern has been so inconsistent that a poor performance in a meaningless match is well within the realm of possibility. Basel has been consistently decent throughout the tournament and almost got a result against Bayern in the reverse fixture.
Bayern will be without Holger Badstuber, Arjen Robben and Ivica Olic, none of whom will feature before the calendar turns, while Benjamin Huggel and Scott Chipperfield are misses for Basel. Tomsa Coasta and Gabriel Muresan are out for Cluj, and Roma will be without David Pizzarro, Simone Perotta and John Arne Riise.
|Group F ||Pld||W||D||L||GF||GA||GD||Pts|
Matches: Marseille versus Chelsea, Zilina versus Spartak Moscow
The only thing left to play for is Zilina's pride. With Bursaspor getting a point against Rangers yesterday, the Slovakian champions join Group H's Partizan as the only clubs that could finish group stage without a result. Partizan's finishing on zero, no doubt. They're at Arsenal, and Arsenal can still win their group. Zilina, however, is hosting a Spartak side who just finished their regular season and is locked into Europa League.
The story behind Chelsea's visit to Marseille is the return of Didier Drogba, though we'll have to see how much he'll play. Even considering sundry knocks, it's unfathomable that he won't get a run-out, as both he and Marseille's fans have been looking forward to this fixture ever since the groups were drawn. The Ivorian spent one year at l'OM (2003-04), scoring 32 goals in all-competitions and leaving such a deep impression that two summers ago, when it looked like Drogba might leave Chelsea, Marseille's supporters started a collection hoping to raise enough money to bring Drogba back.
Unconfirmed reports had Manchester United and Arsenal contributing to the cause. United's check bounced.
Side but important note: With a win, Chelsea will become the first club to go through group stage with a perfect record. As Vanessa Bayer's Miley Cyrus would say, "That's ... pretty cool."
|Group G ||Pld||W||D||L||GF||GA||GD||Pts|
Matches: Real Madrid versus Auxerre, Milan versus Ajax
José Mourinho is suspended, as are Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos. I don't know if you heard, but there was a small incident last round in Amsterdam. Between those absences and Real Madrid having affirmed their place at the top of the group, an Auxerre team that gave Los Blancos trouble in France could take a result out of the Bernabeu. With the Merengues needing every point they can get in La Liga, you can understand if they're looking toward this weekend's trip to Zaragoza.
Ajax may have a harder time of it, particularly if facing former Amsterdammer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, though Milan boss Massimiliano Allegri has already said he intends to make changes. Given some of the talents that have been on Milan's bench (Ronaldinho, for example), Milan would still have too much for an Ajax team who, having said goodbye to coach Martin Jol earlier this week, are in a mrisis (that's a mild crisis, so you know). Ajax has only won one of their last five.
|Group H ||Pld||W||D||L||GF||GA||GD||Pts|
Matches: Arsenal versus Partizan, Shakhtar Donetsk versus Braga
Arsenal has the typical injury list - Abou Diaby, Cesc Fàbregas, Thomas Vermaelen - but may give Robin van Persie more time than the nominal starter, more often sub (of late) has been seeing. Regardless, Arsenal should walk in this match, giving themselves a chance to reclaim first place.
For Gooners with hopes of doing so, keep in mind that Shakhtar has already beaten Braga in Portugal, and while Domingos Paceinca's team seems to have put early stage troubles behind them, Sporting is still a side that's lost to Baira-Mar, Vitória Guimaraes and Unirea de Leiria in their last five matches. Even without Fernandinho, still recovering from a broken leg, Shakhtar looks highly likely to get at least one point.
If they get it, they go through in first place. Arsenal can only take first if they win and Shakhtar loses, That would force a three-way tie which likely gives them first, Shaktar second while sending Braga to Europa League. Because Braga's goal difference took a beating with their 6-0 loss at the Emirates, the three-way tie scenario forces them to win big in Donetsk if they're to have a chance to move on.
|CFR Cluj||Roma||2-1, Roma|
|Zilina||Spartak Moscow||2-0, Zilina|
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