Galatasaray, Schalke, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Zenit St. Petersburg and AC Milan secured the final berths up for grabs in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday.
The complete line-up consists of four clubs from Germany (Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke), four from England (Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City), three from Spain (Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid), and one from France (Paris Saint-Germain), Greece (Olympiacos), Italy (AC Milan), Russia (Zenit St. Petersburg) and Turkey (Galatasaray).
Rather surprisingly, Portugal, which lost both of its surviving teams during the group stage, will not be represented in the knockout stages.
The draw for the Round of 16 is scheduled for Monday 16 December at UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon (Switzerland).
The big match
Napoli 2-0 Arsenal *
Goals: Gonzalo Higuain 74, Jose Callejon 90
*Cheered to the rafters by the raucous Stadio San Paolo faithful, Napoli went looking for the victory they craved with commitment and passion, an approach that inevitably left them exposed to the counter-attacks of an Arsenal side that failed to take advantage of their chances.
The match only truly came to life with a quarter of an hour to go, as Gonzalo Higuain, following a textbook one-two with Jose Callejon, beat Wojciech Szczesny with a well-placed strike. One minute later, Mikel Arteta was ordered off, further complicating matters for the Gunners.
The Neapolitans continued to press, edging closer to the three-goal triumph they required via an eye-catching 90th-minute lob from Callejon. The referee’s whistle signalled the end of their dream, however, and simultaneously generated huge sighs of relief among the Arsenal fans, who have not been accustomed to watching their heroes outclassed in such a way this season.
The other games
Galatasaray 1-0 Juventus
Abandoned yesterday due to a violent hailstorm, the match between Galatasaray and Juventus started up again on Wednesday on a muddy, almost unplayable pitch. Given the conditions, it was no surprise that an individual piece of skill decided the contest, with five minutes left to play.
It was Wesley Sneijder who picked up the ball from a Didier Drogba knock-down, before bursting into the box and firing across Gianluigi Buffon into the opposite corner of the net for the game’s only goal. The Turks therefore take their place in the next round, while La Vecchia Signora will doubtless regret the four points they let slip through their grasp at home.
Schalke 2-0 Basel
Chelsea 1-0 Steaua Bucharest
For a good half-an-hour, Basel looked lively and capable of creating an upset. However, following the red card shown to Ivan Ivanov, the nature of the encounter changed significantly.
Schalke began to exert considerable pressure on the Swiss rearguard, which finally caved in during the second half, as goals from Julian Draxler and Joel Matip saw the Gelsenkirchen side advance at the visitors’ expense.
Chelsea, meanwhile, did just enough to see off Steaua, Demba Ba’s close-range effort proving sufficient for the Blues to claim top spot in the section.
Marseille 1-2 Borussia Dortmund
Mathematically eliminated with three minutes to go, last year’s losing finalists snatched a hard-fought ticket for the knockout phase through Kevin Grosskreutz, who found the back of the Marseille net despite slipping as he was in the act of shooting.
L'OM, reduced to ten men from the 34th minute onwards following the sending-off of Dimitri Payet, had stoutly defended what appeared to be their first point of the campaign up to that point, after Souleymane Diawara had replied to Robert Lewandowski’s smartly taken opener.
Austria Vienna 4-1 Zenit St. Petersburg
Atletico Madrid 2-0 Porto
Atletico continued their remarkable season, building up a 2-0 lead as early as the 37th minute courtesy of goals from Raul Garcia and Diego Costa.
Porto, however, could certainly not be accused of sitting back and accepting their fate, as they conspired to hit the woodwork four times and miss a penalty. This combination of bad luck and poor finishing eventually saw them exit the competition, while Los Colchoneros marched on.
Zenith booked their slot in the Round of 16 despite putting in their worst performance of the group stage. Leading 1-0 from a goal by Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who benefitted from some handy set-up work by Hulk, the Russians then appeared to lose the plot completely, conceding four goals to a Vienna side that had only notched one in five matches up to that point.
AC Milan 0-0 Ajax
Barcelona 6-1 Celtic
Milan have goalkeeper Christian Abbiati to thank for their presence in the subsequent round, as it was his man-of-the-match display that kept Ajax’s incessant attacks at bay throughout the game.
At Camp Nou, in spite of the lack of numerous first-team stars, including Lionel Messi, Barcelona passed their way around Celtic with ease, with Neymar, who scored a fine hat-trick and was involved in practically every dangerous incursion into Scottish territory, in particularly scintillating form.
Gerard Pique, Pedro, and Cristian Tello also scored on the night for Barça, who hope to welcome Messi back in January.
The imposingChristian Abbiati, 36 years of age, who boasts four caps for Italy and made his Serie A debut for Milan on 17 January 1999, proved on Wednesday evening that he still has a lot to offer the Lombardy club. Reliable and dominant as ever, Abbiati made numerous top-notch saves to deny Ajax and ensure I Rossoneri’s back line remained intact.
* The goal*
Barcelona 4-0 Celtic (Neymar 48)
With a skilful backheel, Neymar found Xavi, who returned the ball into his path instantly. Skipping past a Celtic defender, the Brazilian wunderkind ghosted into the box and unleashed a powerful left-foot shot beyond the beleaguered Fraser Forster.
10 – The number of matches that Galatasaray have now gone unbeaten against Italian sides, of which they have won seven and drawn three.
* Have your say*
Which team made the strongest impression during the group phase?