Champions League wrap: Celtic steal the limelight by reaching last 16
Champions League wrap: Celtic reach the knockout phase after win over Spartak Moscow. Trevor Murray reports
Celtic defeat Shakhtar
In a tense and exciting match at Parkhead on Wednesday night, Celtic won a hard-fought tie against Spartak Moscow and booked their place in the Champions League last 16 for the first time since 2008. Goals from Gary Hooper and Kris Commons gave the SPL outfit the win they so desperately wanted and the victory they so richly deserved. A speculative long-range pass from Giorgios Samaras wasn’t dealt with by the Spartak defence and the ball bobbled its way into the path of Gary Hooper, who still had a lot of work to do from the edge of the area. But, he made no mistake and dispatched the ball into the back of the net with a powerful strike. Although the Russian side were to grab one back through Ari, but Neil Lennon’s men weren’t disheartened and they never relented in their efforts. As Celtic’s qualification depended on the result of the Barcelona-Benfica clash, there were additional nerves in Glasgow as their destiny seemed out of their hands. However, Samaras won a dubious penalty with minutes remaining and Commons duly converted with nerves of steel. The Hoops still had to endure a nervy five minutes of stoppage time, but they held out and now can look forward to more European football at Parkhead.
Cluj earn surprise victory against United
On Wednesday night, the Romanian club became the first side in three years to win at Old Trafford in the Champions League, but despite their elimination, they still have plenty to cheer about. In the early exchanges, the Red Devils caused themselves more than a few defensive problems by carelessly surrendering possession. If not for some last-gasp slide tackles and great saves from Spaniard, David de Gea, United could have found themselves behind much earlier on. Of course, United had already qualified for the knockout phase, and Sir Alex Ferguson clearly had one eye on the upcoming Manchester derby on Saturday afternoon. Nevertheless, the match was still there to be played and United, in the 56th minute, were mad to pay for their missed chances by Luis Alberto dos Santos. Paul Scholes allowed the attack to develop through a typically, poorly-timed sliding tackle and, bearing down on goal from 25 yards out, the Brazilian unleashed a stunning effort into the top corner. That goal was enough to give Paulo Sergio’s men the three points and a memorable victory for the players and travelling supporters.
Chelsea knock six past Nordsjaelland
Wednesday night’s victory for Chelsea was, in truth, a rather hollow one. While it offered Rafael Benitez his first win as the new interim manager and a chance to gain some momentum, the result also meant elimination from the competition. So in many ways it was bittersweet. Aside from that, it was great entertainment. There were handball decisions, goals and chances a plenty as Fernando Torres, Juan Mata and Oscar all got their names on the score sheet. However, it was the opening 15 minutes that really made for captivating viewing. Two penalties were saved, the first by Petr Cech and the second by Jesper Hansen. Then, David Luiz assumed responsibility to show everyone exactly how to take a spot-kick as he hammered it home with great power and precision. The Europa League now awaits the Blues but in the meantime, a weekend trip to Sunderland will give them a chance to improve their domestic form.
Arsenal denied top spot by Olympiakos
Arsenal continued their recent terrible run of form with another loss, this time at the hands of Greek outfit, Olympiakos. The Gunners looked uninspired and rather drab in their efforts on Tuesday night, almost as if they were merely going through the motions. The Londoners never really sparked into life, despite taking an early lead through Tomas Rosicky towards the end of the first half. Leonardo Jardim’s men got their first goal thanks Giannis Maniatis’ strike which underlined the defensive weaknesses that still permeate Arsene Wenger’s side. Thomas Vermaelen and company simply weren’t good enough to deal with the cross from Djamel Abdoun, and Maniatis smashed his effort home. The second goal from Olympiakos was a moment of pure genius. Only moments after his introduction, Kostas Mitroglou meandered his way past two defenders before cutting in from the left flank to unleash a thunderous effort from outside the 18-yard box. Wojciech Szczęsny didn’t stand a chance. In the end, Arsenal qualified for the last 16, but there are still plenty of improvements to be made if they are to seriously contest this tournament.
City end miserable campaign with another loss
Julian Schieber scored the only goal of the match in the 57th minute to condemn Manchester City to another loss in Europe. The loss, which will give Roberto Mancini’s side little or no confidence ahead of their crunch match with United on Saturday, was a rather fitting end to their campaign. The Citizens didn’t seem inspired at all against the German champions as they rarely threatened in attack or offered any real threat on goal. Not even their slim hope of Europa League football could motivate them to perform on the night and they finished bottom of Group D, with a mere three points from a possible 18.