UEFA Champions League recap: Barça, Chelsea, Dortmund claim groups; Arsenal through; Juve out
Group B: Galatasaray (Turkey) 1, Juventus (Italy) 0
Consider the situation Juventus were in: Held over for an extra day after yesterday’s ice-out. While Galatasaray players went home, slept in their own beds, work up to their normal routines, Juve spent a day essentially held against their will. I want to make it seem like they were held hostage in Istanbul, but they certainly didn’t plan on being in Turkey come Wednesday morning. It’s not difficult to image a little discontent in the squad ahead of today’s match.
Thus, it’s understandable Juventus weren’t at their best, with their Champions League campaign coming to an end after Wesley Sneijder’s late goal at Turk Telekom Arena. If anything, today highlighted the failures of match days one through five, where a win and three draws left Juventus needing a result in Istanbul to advance.
Had the Old Lady performed better before Tuesday’s ice-out, they wouldn’t have left themselves subjected to Mother Nature’s whims. As is, they’re in Europa League.
Group E: Chelsea 1 (England), Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 0
The performance was more impressive than the scoreline, with Chelsea rarely allowing Mark Schwarzer to be threatened by the group’s cellar dwellers. With Demba Ba converting one of Chelsea’s 10 corner kicks in the first 27 minutes, the Blues locked up Group E, their fourth win in six games completing an uneasy group stage.
Group E: Schalke (Germany) 2, Basel (Switzerland) 0
How do you undermine a group stage campaign where your team took six points from Chelsea? By going winless in your other four games, a performance Basel confirmed with their loss today in Gelsenkirchen.
Goals from Julian Draxler (50') and Joel Matip (57') had the Miners up two before the hour, with Basel reduced to 10 men in the after Ivan Ivanov was judged to have denied a goal scoring chance. With the red, Basel paved their path to Europa League while Schalke were on to another knockout round.
Group F: Napoli (Italy) 2, Arsenal (England) 0
The Gunners would have won their group with a draw but were guaranteed a spot in the knockout round if they stayed within two, so even after José Callejon’s 93rd minute goal built on Gonzalo Higuaín’s 73rd minute opener, Arsenal had enough to go through. The only question remaining: Whether Napoli or Borussia Dortmund would join them, a quandary that was answered in Marseille.
Group F: Marseille (France) 1, Borussia Dortmund (Germany) 2
Robert Lewandowski’s goal four minutes in hinted BVB’s attack would have enough to overcome the plague of injuries suffered at the back. Souleymane Diawara’s 14th minute equalizer said otherwise, though when Dimitri Payet volunteered for his second yellow card in three minutes with a theatrical dive in the box, l’OM opened the door for last year’s finalists to claim first place.
Marseille, however, held out for 53 minutes before Kevin Großkreutz, one-timing a ball from Erik Durm just beyond the penalty area, beat Steve Mandanda for the game-winning goal. With one kick, BVB had gone from Europa League to group winners, sending Marseille to their sixth loss in as many group stage games.
Group G: Austria Wien (Austria) 4, Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) 1
In a result nobody saw coming (particularly after Alexander Kerzhakov had Zenit up after 35 minutes), Austria romped to their first ever Champions League victory, their four-goal onslaught denying the Russians’ chance to lock up second place in Group G. Two from Phliipp Hosiner were complemented by goals form Tomás Jun and Roman Kienast, leaving Zenit’s knockout round hopes at the mercy of Atlético-Porto.
Group G: Atlético Madrid (Spain) 2, Porto (Portugal) 0
Two hit posts and a missed penalty saw Porto into halftime down 2-0, Raúl García and Diego Costa giving Atleti a lead despite having nothing to play for. Though the visitors would control the game through the final whistle, accumulating 70 perfect of the possession along the way, they were only able to put three shots on Daniel Aranzubia, the backup’s clean sheet sending the Dragons to Europa League (and Zenit through).
Group H: Barcelona (Spain) 6, Celtic (Scotland) 1Well, that got out of hand. From our recap:
If the purchase of Neymar was supposed to alleviate Barcelona’s dependence on Lionel Messi, the 21-year-old phenom finally put that plan into effect on Wednesday. Scoring three times and setting up a fourth, Neymar found his way onto a UEFA Champions League scoresheet for the first time in six games ...
It was a refreshingly dominant performance for a Barcelona team that’d lost two of its last three games, their only victory coming against a lower division club in Spain’s Copa del Rey ...
In the process, they showed why the team need not be so wary of their star’s absence. Whereas a spring injury to Messi derailed Barça’s 2012-13 Champions League campaign, this year they have insurance. If this is the Neymar was can expect going forward -- one that’s shaken free of his transition phase to embrace his potential -- Barcelona may ready to be more than Messi and friends.
[MORE: Neymar’s first three Champions League goals see Barcelona to 6-1 win, top of Group H]
Group H: Milan (Italy) 0, Ajax (Netherlands) 0
Riccardo Montolivo’s early red card set up a battle of old stereotypes. Could the Italian team, reduced to 10 and given license to defend, hold out for 90 minutes? And would the Dutch side, alleviated of doing that staid, defensive dirty work, break down their opponents and advance to the knockout round?
Well, you see the final score. The numbers? Ajax held 71 percent of the ball. They out-shot Milan 25-5 but only got five attempts on target, stats that tell you all you need to know about this game.
Once Montolivo went off (22nd minute), Milan held on for dear life, a life they’ll take into the knockout round.