The Malta Independent 16 January 2019, Wednesday

UEFA Champions League: Man City advance, Real Madrid take 1st in group courtesy of Roma's mistakes

Associated Press Wednesday, 28 November 2018, 00:04 Last update: about 3 months ago

Manchester City twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at Lyon and secure a place in the knockout stage of the Champions League on Tuesday.

Sergio Aguero earned the point City needed to guarantee a top-two finish with a game to spare in Group F, heading in a corner from Riyad Mahrez in the 83rd minute — just after Maxwel Cornet regained the lead for Lyon with his second goal of an end-to-end game.

Having joined Memphis Depay in virtually missing an open goal in the first half, Cornet had given Lyon the lead in the 55th with a dipping shot into the corner from just outside the area. Aymeric Laporte equalized in the 62nd minute, also with a header from a set-piece.

ADVERTISEMENT

City leads the group on 10 points, three clear of second-place Lyon. The French side travels to Shakhtar Donetsk, which is two points further back in third, in two weeks with both teams still in with a chance of qualifying.

 

Real Madrid takes 1st in group courtesy of Roma's mistakes

A series of colossal errors by Roma handed Real Madrid a 2-0 victory Tuesday and first place in Group G of the Champions League.

Roma winger Cengiz Under sent the ball over the bar from point-blank range with goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois already down on the ground in first-half added time and two defensive blunders led to Gareth Bale's goal immediately after the break.

Lucas Vazquez then added another for Madrid against a demoralized Roma.

Both three-time defending champion Madrid and last season's semifinalist Roma had secured spots in the last 16 before kickoff, as Viktoria Plzen won 2-1 at CSKA Moscow in the other group match earlier to send them through.

Madrid, which is assured of winning the group, leads with 12 points, Roma has nine, and Plzen and CSKA four each.

The victory offered some welcome relief for new Madrid manager Santiago Solari, who was facing pressure following a 3-0 loss at Eibar in the Spanish league in his first match since being given the job permanently.

Solari was asked if Madrid, a record 13-time European champion, remained the favorite to win the competition.

"That's always the case, due to our history over the last 115 years," Solari said. "Real Madrid is the favorite until another squad wins more."

Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco, meanwhile, remains at risk after a loss at relegation-threatened Udinese at the weekend and with a home match against Inter Milan following the Madrid defeat.

"We were missing many important players and we put out a very young team tonight but we went out with a positive attitude," Di Francesco said. "But every time we concede a goal we completely fall apart. That's the thing that makes me angriest, because it's something we had discussed."

Roma dominated the first half but wasted a series of excellent chances, none greater than Under's opportunity which practically came on a silver platter from Nicolo Zaniolo's cross.

The error left the 21-year-old Under holding his head in frustration and the Turkey international had to be consoled by Alessandro Florenzi, who was Roma's captain in absence of the injured Daniele De Rossi.

"In the first half, we were superior to Real Madrid — a side that won the Champions League three straight years. But if you are superior and don't take advantage of your chances, you're going to lose," Roma defender Kostas Manolas said.

Roma also protested for a penalty early on when Dani Carvajal appeared to handle the ball at the edge of the area. But the referee signaled to play on.

Roma sorely missed injured striker Edin Dzeko, who along with Lionel Messi is the joint top scorer in the Champions League with five goals.

With Roma fans at the filled Stadio Olimpico still fuming over Under's miss, the frustration turned to rage when Madrid scored on its first chance of the second half.

A poor clearance by Roma goalkeeper Robin Olsen was headed back by Roma defender Federico Fazio directly to Bale, who scored easily.

Then near the hour mark, Vazquez tapped in after a headed pass from Bale.

Before the match, retired captain Francesco Totti was inducted into Roma's hall of fame during a ceremony that retired Madrid greats Raul and Roberto Carlos also took part in.

 

Smashing! Fellaini goal prompts bizarre Mourinho celebration

Marouane Fellaini scored an injury-time winner to send Manchester United into the knockout stage of the Champions League — and prompt a bizarre touchline celebration from manager Jose Mourinho.

After Fellaini sent a shot on the turn into the bottom corner to secure a 1-0 win over Young Boys at Old Trafford on Tuesday, Mourinho let out a guttural roar as he picked up a basket of water bottles and threw them forcefully to the ground in his technical area.

Mourinho gave Fellaini a big hug as the Belgium midfielder walked off the field after the game. Fellaini might split opinion among fans — United tends to use a direct, long-ball approach when he is in the team — but he remains a firm favorite of his coach and a go-to player for his teammates in the latter stages of matches.

Without Fellaini's goal, United would have faced a tricky trip to Valencia on the final match day in a bid to seal qualification.

Instead, the English club advanced from Group H along with Juventus, which stayed in first place thanks to a 1-0 win over Valencia.

And Mourinho certainly enjoyed it.

"For some of my lovers," he said, "I just want to say for the ones that like statistics: 14 seasons in the Champions League, 14 times qualify through the group phases.

"The season I didn't play Champions League, I won the Europa League"

This, however, was another underwhelming display against a team United swatted aside in a 3-0 win in Switzerland at the start of group play.

Indeed, United needed a superb reflex save from goalkeeper David De Gea, who clawed away Ulisses Garcia's deflected shot, to keep the home side level heading into the final 20 minutes.

"It looks a phenomenal save," Mourinho said, "a save the best goalkeeper in the world does, and gives his team the possibility to win the match."

Mourinho talked up the significance and difficulty of this match against the runaway leader of the Swiss league, yet decided to drop his two most-expensive signings — Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba, worth a combined $210 million — in something of a statement following a lackluster 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday.

Marcus Rashford started as the lone striker in place of Lukaku, and caused Young Boys constant problems in the first half with his pace and movement. The 21-year-old Rashford lacked an end product, though, with one of his three good chances seeing him lift a finish over the crossbar when played clean through.

Mourinho, who has been publicly critical of his young players in recent days, responded by turning his back to the field, crossing his arms and shaking his head.

Young Boys was dangerous on the counterattack and really took the game to United in the second half, with Garcia's chance coming amid its best spell of the game.

 

Bayern routs Benfica 5-1 to advance in Champions League

Bayern Munich secured its place in the knockout stage of the Champions League with a 5-1 rout of Benfica on Tuesday, easing the pressure on coach Niko Kovac.

Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski both scored twice for the home side, ensuring Bayern qualified for the round of 16 with a game to spare in Group E.

Ajax earlier advanced from the group with a 2-0 win at AEK Athens. Bayern leads the group with 13 points, two ahead of Ajax, which cannot be overtaken by third-place Benfica. Ajax hosts Bayern to decide the group winner on Dec. 12.

Kovac was in danger of losing his job following Bayern's 3-3 draw at home to relegation-threatened Fortuna Duesseldorf on Saturday. While Bayern is nine points adrift in the Bundesliga, it is faring better in the Champions League, despite a 1-1 draw with Ajax in Munich on Oct. 2.

"I was really happy, also for him," Robben said in support of Kovac. "He belongs among us."

Robben got the hosts off to a great start against Benfica when he beat three defenders and eluded another before letting fly inside the far corner with his left boot in the 13th minute.

The Dutch winger grabbed his second on the half-hour mark, again with his left foot, six minutes before Joshua Kimmich sent in a corner for Lewandowski to get off the mark.

Halftime substitute Gedson made an immediate impact after coming on when he dinked the ball over Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, but Lewandowski answered five minutes later with a goal almost identical to his first: a header to Kimmich's corner.

Franck Ribery, who had been fortune to escape a second yellow card for a flailing arm into Andre Almeida's face, wrapped up the win in the 76th.

"They were important for us, for the team," Robben said of his goals. "I'm not only playing for myself. It was important after the bitter disappointment of Saturday to stand up again."

 

Taison keeps Shakhtar Donetsk alive in Champions League

Brazilian midfielder Taison scored in the 92nd minute to give Shakhtar Donetsk a 3-2 win at Hoffenheim on Tuesday, keeping alive the Ukrainian team's hopes of reaching the Champions League knockout stage.

Taison set up compatriot Ismaily in the 14th minute and then scored himself in the 15th to give Shakhtar an early 2-0 lead.

But Andrej Kramaric pulled one back for Hoffenheim two minutes later and Steven Zuber equalized five minutes before the break.

The hosts went down to 10 men when forward Adam Szalai earned two yellow cards in quick succession around the hour mark.

Both sides went close - Zuber hit the crossbar and Taison hit the post - before the Shakhtar captain won it in injury time with his second goal. Ismaily set the goal up this time as Taison fired inside the bottom left corner.

The late win means Shakhtar faces Lyon with second place in Group F at stake on Dec. 12.

Lyon drew 2-2 at home with group leader Manchester City, which advanced to the last 16.

City has 10 points, Lyon seven and Shakhtar five ahead of the last games. Hoffenheim, with three points, cannot advance in its first Champions League campaign.

 

Plzen beats CSKA in Champions League as Roma, Real qualify

Viktoria Plzen came from a goal down to beat CSKA Moscow 2-1 on Tuesday, a result which ensures Real Madrid and Roma both qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League.

Nikola Vlasic gave CSKA the lead with a penalty in the 10th minute, but Plzen hit back in the second half to move above CSKA to third in Group G. The loss ended CSKA's faint hopes of qualifying, while Plzen was already out of the battle for the top two places.

Plzen's Roman Prochazka saw his 44th-minute penalty saved by Igor Akinfeev but made up for missing that chance by blasting the ball into the top-right corner to level the game at 1-1 in the 56th.

Plzen goalkeeper Ales Hruska kept his team level with a fine save from Arnor Sigurdsson before Lukas Hejda scored the winning goal after a corner.

It was the Czech champion's first win in the Champions League since beating CSKA 2-1 in 2013. The Russian team must now avoid defeat away to Madrid on Dec. 12 to have any chance of taking back third place from Plzen and securing a place in the Europa League.

Madrid beat Roma 2-0 later Tuesday to secure first place in Group G.

 

Juventus beats Valencia 1-0 to progress to round of 16

Cristiano Ronaldo set up Mario Mandzukic for the winning goal as Juventus secured a spot in Champions League knockout stage with a 1-0 win over Valencia on Tuesday.

Ronaldo got away from his marker with some quick footwork before rolling the ball across for Mario Mandzukic to tap into the net in the 59th minute.

Juventus only needed a point to progress but the Bianconeri were keen to get back on track following a surprise home loss against Manchester United in the last round of group matches.

Ronaldo had scored his first Champions League goal for Juventus in that game and looked eager for more against Valencia, having been sent off against the Spanish team when the two sides met in September — in a match Juventus went on to win 2-0 despite its numerical disadvantage.

The Portugal star had two chances in the opening three minutes but sent one effort wide of the left post and the other straight at former Juventus goalkeeper Neto.

Ronaldo had another good chance midway through the first half following good interlinking play between Paulo Dybala and Alex Sandro but again fired wide.

Valencia was mainly camped out in its own half, defending in numbers, but had the best chance of the first half when Mouctar Diakhaby headed a corner toward goal only for Wojciech Szczesny to pull off a stunning save at point-blank range.

Juventus finally broke the deadlock in the 59th minute. Valencia defender Gabriel knew precisely what Ronaldo was about to do but was powerless to prevent him and let out a roar of frustration after the goal.

Valencia thought it had equalized immediately but Diakhaby used his hand to punch the ball into the back of the net and was instead shown a yellow card.

Juventus almost doubled its lead but Neto managed to fingertip Dybala's effort over the bar.

Valencia's hopes of qualifying ended when Marouane Fellaini scored in stoppage time to send Manchester United to a 1-0 win over Young Boys and secure second spot in Group H.

 

Ajax rejoins Champions League elite with 2-0 win at AEK

Dusan Tadic scored twice in the second half Tuesday to take Ajax to the last 16 in the Champions League for the first time in 12 years with a 2-0 win over 10-man AEK Athens, in a match marred by fan violence in and around the stadium.

The Serb defender scored from the penalty spot in the 68th minute after Marko Livaja received a second yellow card for handling the ball. He struck again four minutes later, tapping in an unselfish pass from substitute Klaas Jan Huntelaar.

AEK had managed to keep Ajax at bay thanks to the unyielding center-back duo of Dmytro Chygrynskiy and Marios Oikonomou, but struggled after losing Livaja.

AEK fell to its fifth straight loss in the competition. The host's best chance came four minutes before the end of the match when a powerful shot on target from Lucas Boye forced an athletic save from Andre Onana.

The game was preceded by violence inside Athens' Olympic Stadium and in parts of central Athens, mostly involving Greek fans who clashed with local rivals and riot police. Moments before the match started, riot police charged into the stands to break up AEK fans who hurled flares and smoke canisters. Police reported no injuries or arrests, although images seemed to show one fiery explosion going off near a section of supporters.

Four-time European champion Ajax returned to the Champions League group stage this season for the first time in four years. The team's 19-year-old captain, Matthijs de Ligt, was only 6 the last time Ajax made it out of the group stage.

"That was so long ago, so it's really tremendous for this to be happening again," he said. "We were happy to make it to the Champions League, but sometimes we surprise ourselves and exceed our own expectations."

The center-back said Ajax is now hoping to overtake Bayern Munich at the top of Group E.

"It would be great for us to come out of the winter break in the top spot," he said. "Now that's what we will fight for."

  • don't miss