[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE]
It must be nearly Christmas -- the Champions League group phase is finally over. With the qualifiers in Groups E to H already decided a
fortnight ago, Wednesday night's action served only to determine who would be group winners, and the fate of two remaining UEFA Cup slots. Excited? We could hardly bare to watch.
How important is it to win the group? It means your round of 16 two-legged game will be against a second-place team, but as those include Inter Milan, Arsenal, Chelsea and Real Madrid, it hardly
guarantees an easy passage to the quarterfinal. This might explain why a number of coaches with teams competing for top spot fielded less than first-choice lineups. With qualification already
assured, why go flat out for top spot when the advantage is, at best, questionable?
So anyway, here's what happened. Champions League perennials Manchester United won Group E,
despite being held at home by Aalborg in a 2-2 tie, because Villarreal lost, 2-0, at already eliminated Celtic. To hear the commentators on ESPN2, you'd have thought it was the soccer shock of the
century that the Danish champion dared to score not once, but twice, at the hallowed "theater of dreams." Of possible interest -- neither U.S. striker Jozy
nor N.J.-born Giuseppe Rossi
were on the Villarreal roster.
In Group F, Bayern Munich won, 3-2, at Lyon to take the group
after taking a 3-0 halftime lead through two goals from Miroslav Klose
and one from Franck Ribery
. Lyon came back after
the interval through goals from Sidney Govou
and Karim Benzema
. Fiorentina clinched third place and the UEFA Cup slot by
winning 1-0 at Steaua Bucharest on a header from in-form striker Albert Gilardino
, his fourth of the CL campaign to go with his 11 Serie A goals.
In Group G, Porto avenged its 4-0 defeat to Arsenal in September with a 2-0 home victory to overtake the north London team and top the standings. Bruno
and Lisandro Lopez
scored either side of halftime. Kiev edged Fenerbahce 1-0 thanks to a goal from Finnish midfielder Roman Eremenko,
ensuring itself a place in the UEFA Cup round of 32.
Finally, in Group H Juventus clinched top spot in swashbuckling Italian style with a 0-0 draw
at home to Belarusian champion BATE Borisov. Real Madrid won its first game of the Juande Ramos
era with a 3-0 home win over Zenit St. Petersburg, ensuring
that Ramos keeps his job at least until the weekend.
The draw for the round of 16 will take place Dec. 19. The first legs of the home-and-away ties will take place February
24-25, the return games will be two weeks later on March 10-11. RESULTS: Group E
Manchester United 2 (Tevez, Rooney) Aalborg 2 (Jakobsen, Curth).
Celtic 2 (Maloney, McGeady) Villarreal 0. Standings:
Man. United (10 points),
Villarreal (9), Aalborg (6), Celtic (5). Group F
Steaua Bucharest 0 Fiorentina 1 (Gilardino).
Lyon 2 (Govou, Benzema) Bayern
Munich 3 (Klose 2, Ribery). Standings:
Bayern (14 points), Lyon (11), Fiorentina (6), Steaua Bucharest (1). Group G
Dynamo Kiev 1 (Eremenko) Fenerbahce 0.
Porto 2 (Bruno Alves, Lisandro Lopez) Arsenal 0. Standings:
FC Porto (12 points), Arsenal (11), Kiev (8), Fenerbahce (2) Group H
Real Madrid 3 (Raul 2, Robben) Zenit St. Petersburg
Juventus 0 BATE 0. Standings:
Juventus (12 points), Real Madrid (12), Zenit St. Petersburg (5), BATE (3) Round of 16 lineup:
(First-seed group winners) Manchester United, Juventus, Panathinaikos, Porto, Bayern Munich, Roma, Liverpool, Barcelona.
runners-up) Villareal, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Lyon, Sporting Lisbon, Chelsea. Note:
Teams from the same domestic
leagues can not be drawn against each other until the quarterfinal stage.