The Malta Independent 17 December 2018, Monday

UEFA Champions League: Christian Eriksen the hero as Spurs keep their hopes alive

Associated Press Wednesday, 28 November 2018, 23:22 Last update: about 17 days ago

Christian Eriksen kept Tottenham's Champions League campaign alive by coming off the bench to clinch a 1-0 win over Inter Milan on Wednesday, leaving the progress of both teams uncertain heading into the final round in Group B.

Until Eriksen's 70th-minute entry at Wembley Stadium, Tottenham was being thwarted by an ultra-defensive Inter side that only needed a draw to advance to the Round of 16 and eliminate the London club.

But Eriksen made an immediate contribution by setting Jan Vertonghen up for a close-range header that drifted wide and then finding the target himself in the 80th minute. The hard work was done by Moussa Sissoko, driving down the right flank and cutting past Inter players before squaring to Dele Alli. The ball was quickly laid off to Eriksen who lifted it over goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.

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The victory lifted Tottenham over Inter into the second qualification place behind Barcelona due to its away goal scored in the 2-1 loss in Italy in September. Tottenham completes Group B next month at Barcelona, which can rest players at the Camp Nou given its unassailable six-point lead.

The Spanish champions beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1 on Wednesday, ensuring the Dutch side will remain last and miss out on even the consolation of dropping into the Europa League from a third-place finish.

 

Lionel Messi leads Barcelona to 2-1 win over PSV Eindhoven

Lionel Messi scored one goal and set up another as Barcelona beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1 Wednesday to secure top spot in Champions League Group B with one match left to play.

Barcelona was already qualified for the next round before kicking off at PSV Stadium and was uncharacteristically scrappy at times until a moment of Messi magic finally gave his team the lead in the 61st minute.

The Argentina star scored his 106th Champions League goal after a trademark dribble took him past a group of PSV defenders and gave him time to unleash a powerful shot past Jeroen Zoet.

In the group's other match, Tottenham beat Inter Milan 1-0 at Wembley and those teams will fight for second place in the last round. Tottenham faces Barcelona in its last group match while Inter hosts PSV.

Messi has now scored 10 goals in five Champions League matches against Dutch opponents, including his hat trick against PSV in their Group B opener this season.

He also turned supplier for Barcelona's second, taking a free kick that Gerard Pique deflected past Zoet.

PSV effectively countered Barcelona's threat for much of the first half and was unlucky not to go into the break at least one goal in front after twice hitting the frame of the goal.

Gaston Pereiro hit the post after 16 minutes and Luuk de Jong saw his looping header rebound off the crossbar shortly before halftime.

Captain Luuk de Jong grabbed a consolation goal for the home fans with an 83rd-minute header to set up a frenetic late assault, but despite pouring forward PSV could not find an equalizer.

 

Porto defeats Schalke 3-1 to win its Champions League group

Porto extended its winning streak by defeating Schalke 3-1 on Wednesday to secure first place in Group D of the Champions League.

The Portuguese champions picked up their ninth straight win with goals by Eder Militao and Jesus Corona three minutes apart early in the second half at Estadio do Dragao. Moussa Marega finished off the victory in stoppage time, shortly after Schalke pulled a goal back with a penalty converted by Nabil Bentaleb.

Both teams had already advanced to the knockout stage, but first place was still up for grabs. The victory kept Porto unbeaten and gave the team a five-point gap to Schalke ahead of the final round of matches in December.

Earlier Wednesday, Galatasaray's hopes of advancing ended with a 2-0 loss at Lokomotiv Moscow. Galatasaray is one point in front of the Russian club in the fight for third place and a spot in the knockout stage of the Europa League.

Porto leads the Portuguese league and has won 12 of its last 13 matches in all competitions, with the only setback a 1-0 loss against rival Benfica. Other than that, the team has won every match since a 1-1 draw at Schalke in the Champions League in September.

Militao opened the scoring with a header in the 52nd minute and Corona added to the lead with a shot from inside the area three minutes later.

Schalke, which struggled to get near the goal of Porto goalkeeper Iker Casillas, scored with an 89th-minute penalty converted by Bentaleb after a handball by Porto's Oliver Torres.

Marega restored a two-goal lead from inside the box in injury time, not long after he had a goal disallowed for offside.

 

Napoli beats Red Star 3-1 but will have to wait to progress

Dries Mertens scored twice as Napoli comfortably saw off Red Star Belgrade 3-1 on Wednesday, but the Italian side will have to wait to book its place in the Champions League knockout stage.

Marek Hamsik netted Napoli's other goal, while Ben Nabouhane pulled a late goal back for Red Star. However, Carlo Ancelotti's side still needs a point against Liverpool in the final round of group fixtures to guarantee advancement after Paris Saint-Germain beat the English 2-1 in the other Group C match.

Napoli tops the group with nine points, one more than PSG and three more than Liverpool.

Red Star beat Liverpool at home in the previous round of games and also drew with Napoli in the first meeting between the two sides. But its away form has been dismal, having lost 6-1 at PSG and 4-0 in England.

Napoli almost took the lead in the fifth minute but visiting goalkeeper Milan Borjan did well to parry Mertens' backheel flick from close range.

The hosts did go in front six minutes later when a corner was flicked on for Hamsik to volley in his first goal of the season.

Red Star came close to equalizing in the 23rd minute but Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina — who had received treatment in the opening minutes for a knee injury — pushed away Veljko Simic's fairly tame effort.

Mertens doubled Napoli's lead in the 33rd, prodding home Fabian Ruiz's deflected cross from the left.

Napoli's two scorers combined shortly after the break to extend their side's advantage with Mertens running onto Hamsik's ball over the top and lifting it over Borjan and into the top left corner.

However, Napoli got complacent and allowed Red Star to get one back five minutes later. Marko Marin threaded the ball through for Nabouhane to curl into the bottom left corner.

 

Dortmund draws with Brugge to reach Champions League last 16

Borussia Dortmund guaranteed its spot in the Champions League knockout stage after a 0-0 draw with Club Brugge on Wednesday.

The result left Dortmund second in Group A, two points behind Atletico Madrid — which beat Monaco 2-0 earlier to advance — and five ahead of Brugge, which is assured of third place.

Christian Pulisic and Marco Reus missed the best first-half chances for the Bundesliga leader. Pulisic fired straight at goalkeeper Ethan Horvath when he should have scored, while Reus shot just wide with only Horvath to beat after Paco Alcacer sent him though.

Brugge was without wide players Arnaut Groeneveld and Thibault Vlietinck, who had caused problems for Dortmund in their opening match, a 1-0 win for the German side on Sept. 18. Without their injured wingers, the visitors concentrated mostly on defending.

Dortmund displayed more urgency after the break, albeit without creating any chances as good as the first half's.

"It was a tough game, not a good game from us. We had two huge chances in the first half and it got more difficult to find gaps after that. Individually we weren't good. But the main thing was to reach the next round," Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc said.

Emmanuel Dennis went closest for Brugge.

Dortmund visits Monaco and Brugge hosts Atletico in the group's last games on Dec. 11.

 

Galatasaray's Champions League hopes end in Lokomotiv loss

Galatasaray's hopes of reaching the Champions League knockout stage were snuffed out Wednesday after a 2-0 loss to Lokomotiv Moscow.

The Russian champion picked up its first points of the campaign thanks to Grzegorz Krychowiak's deflected shot just before halftime — ruled officially as a Ryan Donk own-goal — and a neat flick over the goalkeeper by Vladislav Ignatyev in the 54th minute. The result ensured Schalke and Porto would qualify even before they played later Wednesday.

Lokomotiv can't qualify in the final round of games, but could overtake Galatasaray for third place in Group D and a spot in the Europa League. That would require Lokomotiv to win away to Schalke on Dec. 11 and for Galatasaray not to beat Porto.

For Galatasaray, the defeat brings a disappointing early end to a campaign which began with a win over Lokomotiv in Turkey.

Turkey's reigning champion dominated possession but was denied by good saves from Lokomotiv goalkeeper Guilherme and some near-misses, such as when Eren Derdiyok blasted a shot narrowly wide.

 

Atletico defeats Monaco 2-0, advances in Champions League

There was no letdown this time. Atletico Madrid is back in the knockout stage of the Champions League.

A year after a disappointing elimination in the group stage of the tournament, Atletico secured its spot in the next round by defeating Monaco 2-0 on Wednesday.

The comfortable victory gave Atletico a three-point lead over Borussia Dortmund, which hosts Club Brugge later Wednesday in the other Group A match. Monaco, which had arrived with no chances of advancing, missed a late penalty as former Atletico forward Radamel Falcao shot wide.

Jorge "Koke" Resurreccion and Antoine Griezmann scored first-half goals for Atletico, which had made it to the knockout phase for four straight years before last season's setback.

"We needed to take this step forward," Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. "Since the start of this Champions League the team has been fully focused as a consequence of what happened last season."

Atletico has been one of the most successful clubs in Europe in recent years, making it to the Champions League final in 2014 and 2016, and winning the Europa league last season.

"After what happened last year, the most important thing for us was to make it to the next round," said Griezmann, who has scored 11 goals in his last 11 Champions League games at home. "Now we have one final match to try to finish first in the group."

Atletico didn't waste time making sure there was no surprise elimination this time, taking the lead two minutes into the match at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

Koke scored Atletico's fastest Champions League goal after his shot from outside the area deflected off the back of defender Benoit Badiashile and fooled Monaco goalkeeper Diego Benaglio.

Griezmann added to the lead in the 24th with a shot from inside the area after nice build-up play by Angel Correa through the left side.

Atletico was in control but Monaco had a chance to get back into the match when it was awarded an 82nd-minute penalty after Youri Tielemans' shot caught the hand of Stefan Savic inside the area, which also led to the defender being sent off with a second yellow card. But Falcao, who had entered the match early in the second half, sent his low shot from the spot wide as Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak dived the other way.

Monaco improved and had a few more chances in the final minutes, but was not able to pull closer.

"We were timid in the first half and conceding so early didn't help us," Henry said. "At halftime we spoke in the dressing room about being more enterprising and attacking more."

Monaco is trying to finish third in the group and secure a spot in the Europa League knockout round. A draw or a win by Club Brugge at Dortmund later Wednesday would end its chances.

The team coached by Thierry Henry is struggling this season, sitting second-to-last in the French league. The former France striker started the match with four teenagers, with veteran Falcao on the bench.

Falcao was honored by Atletico before the match for his successful time at the club.

Atletico had beaten Monaco 2-1 in the first round. The Spanish club will close the group stage at Club Brugge on Dec. 11, while Monaco will host Dortmund.

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