Arsenal became the second British team to qualify for the knockout stages of the Uefa Champions League, defeating current Ligue 1 champions Montpellier 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night in a largely one-sided affair.
The home team made the brighter start. A Mikel Arteta cross in the eleventh minute found the head of centre-half Laurent Koscielny, who hit the cross-bar. Arsenal continued to dominate throughout the second half, and in the 31st minute German attacker Lukas Podolski was quick to steal the ball from Montpellier defender Yanga-M’Biwa (a transfer target for the Gunners) before dribbling around the rest of the French side’s defence, only to shoot wide.
The first half was a quiet one, and the away team rarely threatened – though Younès Belhanda did shoot on the stroke of half time from outside the penalty area which went harmlessly over the bar.
The game sprang to life – at least for Arsène Wenger’s side – early in the second half. Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen’s cross found former Montpellier striker Olivier Giroud’s head, who nodded the ball on to Jack Wilshere to score his first goal since returning from his lengthy injury. Arsenal then doubled their advantage in the 63rd minute, a smart one-two between Podolski and Giroud led to a vicious volley from German international, making it 2-0 to the London side.
Montpellier never got going, and in the 80th minute Giroud missed another chance to score against his former team, his shot well saved by Jourdren. Emmanuel Herrera did have a chance to pull one back for Montpellier at the death, but his long range effort went just wide. Arsenal’s solid performance sealed qualification, joining Manchester United in the next round.
United’s early qualification meant their away trip to Galatasaray on Tuesday night was the perfect opportunity for Sir Alex Ferguson to play his younger squad members – a gamble which never pulled off for the Manchester side, who were second best throughout. Burak Yılmaz missed a host of chances in the first half, whilst United’s best effort fell to youngster Nick Powell on his Champions League debut. The former Crewe Alexandra midfielder met a Tom Cleverley corner to hit the crossbar.
The Turkish side’s breakthrough came in the 54th minute, with Burak Yılmaz’s header from a corner showing Powell how it’s done. The game finished 1-0, with Man United rarely threatening in the second half, and Galatasaray clinching a vital victory for their chances of qualification.
Another team who remain hopeful of qualification are Celtic, who swapped Glasgow for Lisbon on Tuesday night hoping to claim another big win and seal qualification to the knock-out stages against Benfica. The game started badly for the Scottish side though, when defender Adam Matthews failed to make a clearance out wide. Eduardo Salvio stole the ball and found Oscar Cardozo who passed it to Ola John for the opener.
Celtic’s Champions League dream reignited in the 32nd minute however, when a fine Charlie Mulgrew corner found the enigmatic Georgios Samaras unmarked, who headed in the equaliser. The dream was once again being kept alive by goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who continued his impressive form in the competition by saving an Ola John effort with his leg towards the end of the first half.
With the teams level at the halfway point, Benfica pushed for the winner. Adam Matthews made up for his earlier error by coming across to clear a Lima shot off the line, but there was no keeping out Ezequiel Garay’s thunderous volley on the 71st minute, and the former Real Madrid defender put the home side in front again.
Forster was called into action again late in the match, Cardozo forcing the Englishman into a fine save, but it was too late for a Celtic comeback. With Benfica and Celtic both locked on seven points in their group, the Glaswegian side will be hoping to better Benfica’s efforts against Barcelona on Matchday 6 when they take on Spartak Moscow at Parkhead.
Whilst Celtic’s chances of qualification remain hopeful, reigning European champions Chelsea’s seem to be fading away, as the London side succumbed to a 3-0 defeat away to Serie A champions Juventus on Tuesday night, which ultimately cost manager Roberto di Matteo his job.
The Turin side started brightly, with Peter Cech doing well to keep out a Mirko Vučinić header, before Chelsea launched into a counter attack through Oscar – their stand out player on a miserable night for the Blues. Oscar found Eden Hazard (picked in place of the out-of-form Fernando Torres as the main striker), who fluffed his lines.
Cech made another fine save to deny Marchisio, but there was nothing he could do in the 38th minute, when Andrea Pirlo’s shot deflected off the foot of Fabio Quagliarella for the opener. Quagliarella had a chance to double the lead before half time, but his header was cleared off the line by Ashley Cole.
Oscar led the final attack of the half for Chelsea, finding Mata who couldn’t quite find the finish, leaving the English side 1-0 down at half time.
Juventus started the second half well, and Arturo Vidal latched onto Kwadwo Asamoah’s pass from the left to fire in a second goal for the Italian giants. Chelsea failed to recover, and Sebastian Giovinco put the game beyond doubt for Juve in the 91st minute when he took advantage of a rare lapse in concentration from Peter Cech, who had abandoned his net to attempt a tackle on the Italian striker, to score the third for the home team.
The defeat leaves new Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez with a difficult challenge to get into the next round, as the team must beat Nordsjaelland and hope Juventus lose to Shakhtar Donetsk. However, there situation in the competition is better than that of Manchester City’s; whose 1-1 draw with Real Madrid ended their chances of qualification.
A woeful piece of defending from Maicon allowed Karim Benzema to score from a perfect Angel di Maria cross in the tenth minute. Los Blancos had a chance to double their lead just five minutes later, when former Manchester United favourite Cristiano Ronaldo latched onto the end of Xabi Alonso’s fine pass to chip Joe Hart, only for City’s Matija Nastasić to clear the ball off the line.
Manchester City’s first chance came in the 21st minute, when Sergio Agüero’s long range effort was tipped over the bar by Iker Casillas. City then attacked Madrid again in nine minutes later, when a one-two between Maicon and Agüero led to a tame shot wide by the Brazilian wing-back.
City continued to attack in the second half, as they desperately tried to stay in contention for qualification. Agüero found the end of a Maicon cross one metre away from the line, but Casillas was quick to react to it. City finally found their breakthrough when Agüero netted a penalty given away by Alvaro Arbeloa, who earned himself a second yellow card in the process.
However, José Mourinho’s side held on to the draw at the Etihad stadium, crushing City’s European dreams for another season.
Elsewhere on Matchday 5, two Ezequiel Lavezzi strikes earned oil-rich Paris St. Germain three points away to Dynamo Kiev, whilst FC Porto won 3-0 at home to Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb. A single Christian Fuchs goal was enough to earn Schalke 04 victory against Greek champions Olympiakos, whilst AC Milan found their form to overcome Anderlecht in Brussels 3-1 – the pick of the goals coming from Milan’s French centre-half Philippe Mexès, who scored an impressive overhead kick on the edge of the penalty area reminiscent of Zlatan Ibrahimović’s against England last week.
Zenit St. Petersburg drew 2-2 at home to Malaga, Ajax succumbed to a 4-1 defeat at home to Borussia Dortmund and Valencia drew 1-1 with last year’s runners-up Bayern Munich. Barcelona turned on the style away to Spartak Moscow, winning 3-0, whilst BATE Borisov lost 2-0 at home to Lille and CFR Cluj-Napoca defeated Braga 3-1. The most thrilling contest was, surprisingly, FC Nordsjaelland against Shakhtar Donetsk, with the Ukrainian champions winning 5-2 away from home.
Author: Stephen Topping