UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday saw some of Europe’s most famous clubs progress into the knock-out stages of the competition, which is begin in February next year.
It was week 5 of the Group Stages and over in Spain, it has to be said that Manchester United and Villarreal, even though they were two of the teams to progress, produced a pretty boring and uneventful goalless draw. The only good moments came in the first half when a shot by the Portuguese striker Ronaldo produced a great save from Diego Lopez, the Villareal goalkeeper. Lopez deflected the ball onto the bar. Later the Utd’s and England star forward Wayne Rooney produced a cross that was deflected towards the danger area but it came to nothing as the Villareal player Capdevila managed to clear the ball to safety.
The same player, Capdevilla, was also involved in the evening’s most unsavory incident. With just 6 minutes of the game remaining he lunged and produced a rather ugly tackle on another of Man Utd’s star players, Ronaldo. Cadevilla was, quite rightly, given a red card by the referee and he was off to take an early shower.
Unfortunately, it was the end of the road for Glasgow Celtic and Gordon Strachan. Celtic, in the same Group E as Manchester Utd, must have thought they could have gone to Aalborg and got a good result. A win was the only chance Celtic had of staying alive in the competition. However, there will be no more European nights at Celtic’s Park Head stadium this season. There will not even be the consolation of playing in Europe’s second string competition, the UEFA Cup. Celtic will finish last in Group E thanks to a 2 – 1 defeat against the hugely unfancied AaB Aalborg. Not too many people would have put too much money on Celtic finishing last in this group when the draw was first made way back in the summer.
However, the game did start well for Celtic, as they led 1 – 0. But tragedy struck with just minutes remaining as the Celtic player Gary Caldwell could only turn the ball into his own net after a goal mouth scramble. Tears of sadness in the east end of Glasgow, whilst no doubt tears of joy in the city’s west end!
Over to Group F where Lyon, the perennial leaders of their domestic French league, beat the Italians of Fiorentina. Lyon therefore also progress to the last 16 of the competition. Not surprisingly, Lyon will be joined by Bayern Munich in the final stages after they overcame the Romanians of Steau Bucharest at the Allianz Arena. All the big teams are certainly lining line for battle when the Champions League reaches the sudden death stages.
The qualifaction situation is no different in Group G as both Arsenal, losing finalists in 2006 to Barcelona in Paris, and FC Porto, winners in 2004 when their manager was Jose Mourinho before he arrived in the west end of London to manage Chelsea, both made in through to the last 16 with wins over Dynamo Kiev and Fenerbache respectively.
However Arsenal did leave it a little late against Kiev with the winner coming only 3 minutes from the end of the game, scored by Bendtner. That must have come as a huge relief to Arsene Wenger and all connected with Arsenal. Since their excellent win in the Premier League against Man Utd as few weeks ago, which at the time silenced a few critics, it has been nothing but bad news and bad press for Arsenal with more defeats and the William Gallas affair, which resulted in being striped of the captaincy.
Finally on Tuesday evening, two more of Europe’s “Big Guns” made it safely through with the final week of the Group Stages to spare. Both Real Madrid, 9 times winners, and Juventus of Italy confirmed their places in the knock-out stages after Real beat BATE Borisov and Juventus drew 0 – 0 away to Zenit St Petersburg, the current UEFA Cup holders. Unfortunately, the result knocked Zenit out and it now look likely that they will be able to defend the crown they won last season in Manchester against Glasgow Rangers. Although that probably will not be too much of a consolation to them.