Real Madrid avenge shock Sheriff defeat

 

Real Madrid secured a place in the last 16 of the Champions League after they cruised to a comfortable 3-0 at Sheriff Tiraspol on Wednesday.

Real took their revenge against the Moldovan side, who pulled off a shock 2-1 win in the reverse fixture in September, with goals from defender David Alaba, midfielder Toni Kroos and striker Karim Benzema enough to claim the victory.

Alaba scored his first Champions League goal in six years to put the visitors ahead in the 30th minute before Kroos doubled their lead with the last kick of the first half.

Benzema added the extra in the 55th minute to secure the win for the Spaniards and solidify their place at the top of Group D.

“We played a good game, a serious game from the start,” Real manager Carlo Ancelotti said.

“They pushed at first but we controlled them and then we controlled the ball, we carry on with a good dynamic, we keep moving forward.”

“I said at the start of the season, this team can compete. Things are going well, we’re showing a lot of quality in various sectors and various players. Today the team played seriously, played good football.”

Kroos, who was named UEFA’s Man of the Match for his impressive goal and impactful performance, was praised by Ancelotti after the game.

“If Kroos is well, the coach is calmer!” he said.

“He controls the ball like nobody else. In recent games he’s scored goals too, he’s doing well.”

Sheriff goalkeeper Georgios Athanasiadis pulled off several stunning saves throughout the match to keep the scoreline to three, but the loss sees the Champions League debutants drop into the Europa League.

Real were dominant throughout the game, looking confident from the whistle.

Benzema appeared to put the visitors ahead in the ninth minute after he took advantage of a weak save from Athanasiadis and slotted the rebound into the net, but he was immediately ruled offside.

The deadlock was eventually broken in the 30th-minute, Alaba putting the visitors ahead after his free-kick attempt was deflected into the net.

Kroos then doubled Madrid’s lead on the stroke of half-time, the ball fizzing off the underside of the bar over the line.

After a strong run of play from the Spaniards, Benzema added a third on the 55th minute from outside the box after being set up by Ferland Mendy.

The Moldovan side could not find a consolation; despite coming close to pulling one back from Adama Traore’s strike, but Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois covered it well.

Star-studded PSG lose

Striker Gabriel Jesus scored a late winner as Manchester City came from behind to beat Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 in the Champions League on Wednesday, with both sides advancing through to the last 16 of the competition.

Kylian Mbappe continued his impressive form in front of goal when opened the scoring at the Etihad Stadium on 50 minutes, but goals from winger Raheem Sterling and Jesus were enough to claim a comeback victory for City, who secured top spot in Group A with one match to play.

Despite Wednesday’s result, PSG have secured a place in the knockout rounds after Club Brugge suffered a heavy loss to the already-eliminated RB Leipzig.

City, who were without Kevin De Bruyne due the midfielder testing positive for COVID-19, enjoyed the better of the chances in the first half. PSG defender Presnel Kimpembe came to his side’s rescue early on, clearing the ball off the line from a Rodri header at the back post. The hosts went close again just after the half-hour mark when Ilkay Gundogan hit the woodwork after the ball dropped to him on the edge of the box.

PSG broke the deadlock early in the second half as Mbappe sat unmarked at the far post when he received a superb cutback from Lionel Messi, slotting it home between the legs of goalkeeper Ederson.

However, Pep Guardiola’s side hit back soon after. Sterling poked in an equalizer at the far post on 62 minutes following a period of sustained pressure.

“It is a good lesson. When you are losing you have to continue. We knew a draw was a good result for us, but we won,” said Guardiola.

“Always I believe with their forwards, the further they are from our goal the safer we are. Look at the action of Neymar when he missed the shot. They found that from nothing. We have to defend as a team. I thought we were brilliant today,” he added.

Neymar went close to grabbing a winner shortly after when he missed the target from inside the 18-yard box, but it was Jesus that turned hero on Wednesday, using one touch to score from a delicate Bernardo Silva layoff as City avenged their 2-0 defeat in the reverse fixture in Paris earlier in the competition.

“We have a lot of players who can help the team,” Jesus said.

“Everyone wants to give good balls to other players. Nobody is selfish.”

PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino has been subject to interest from Manchester United over the vacant manager’s role, sources have told ESPN, but he focused on his PSG side in his postmatch interview, saying he was pleased to advance to the next stages of the competition.

“The important thing is to qualify,” he told BT sport.

“We beat City in Parc des Princes, we lost here. The difference is the draw against Leipzig and [that is] why we finish second.”

“After 0-0 in the first half, we score and I think we were calm as we were controlling it really well. You have to give credit to Manchester City, they are a very good team.”

Asked again afterward about the Manchester United speculation, Pochettino added, “The players know very well our situation … They know their situation. We are living in a business where rumors are there.”

Flawless Ajax

Sebastien Haller continued his Champions League scoring spree with two second-half goals as Ajax Amsterdam came from behind to beat Besiktas 2-1 on Wednesday and clinch top spot in Group C.

Haller came off the bench at the start of the second half and netted goals in the 54th and 69th minutes as Ajax overturned a half-time deficit to keep up their 100% run in the group.

The 27-year-old Haller has nine goals in five games in the group stage, tied with Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich in this season’s Champions League scoring charts.

Besiktas, who have lost all five of their group matches, went ahead after Ajax defender Noussair Mazraoui handled the ball and Rachid Ghezzal tucked away a 22nd-minute penalty kick.

But Ajax did not take long to impose their supremacy and equalised after a long pass out of defence from Lisandro Martinez set Nicolas Tagliafico away down the left-wing and his square ball provided an easy conversion for Haller.

Ajax’s winner came from Dusan Tadic’s free-kick, initially falling to Martinez who miss-hit his shot but Haller stuck out a lanky leg to steer the ball home.

Haller had the ball in the net in stoppage time but his teammate David Neres was offside to deny him a hat trick.

Ajax, who rested several regulars in Wednesday’s game, can complete a full house of wins when they conclude the group campaign at home to Portuguese side Sporting on Dec. 7.

AC Milan keep their Champions League hopes alive

A stunning header from Junior Messias in the dying minutes handed AC Milan a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid and kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the last-16 in the Champions League on Wednesday.

The goal also highlights Messias’ remarkable career journey that has gone from delivering fridges to scoring on his Champions League debut when the Brazilian came off the bench to net the winner.

The 30-year-old, who joined the Rossoneri from Crotone in the off-season, scored with his first attempt as a Milan player on his third appearance, and his first in Europe’s elite competition.

“I dedicate it to my family and friends in Brazil. But especially to those who have believed in me and who had the faith to bring me to Milan. I have had a different path to others, so I dedicate this goal to them,” Messias told Amazon Prime.

Messias moved to Italy from Brazil in 2011 and initially juggled amateur football with a job delivering fridges, before slowly climbing up the football ladder.

In 2015, he joined Casale in the fifth tier of Italian football, then rising through Serie D, C and B in subsequent years before finally making his Serie A debut last season with Crotone aged 29.

“This is the most important thing that has happened to me so far,” he said.

“But humility has to be a constant. You can’t beat yourself up about criticism or get over-excited about compliments. You need to have the right balance.”

“It was a tough game, a tight game, with a lot of effort from the teams, trying to get an advantage in the small details. They took the chance they had, we couldn’t take ours with Matheus Cunha, and the game got away from us,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said.

Wednesday’s result means the race to see who will join group winners Liverpool in the next round will go down to the wire. FC Porto, who are on five points, as well as Milan and Atletico, who are tied on four points, will have to wait until the final round of fixtures to decide who will finish second and hence progress to the last 16.

Milan will host Liverpool while Atletico will travel to Porto on Dec. 7 for the final Group B fixtures.

On a freezing night in Madrid, a packed crowd at the Metropolitano Stadium failed to spur on Atletico, who struggled to make any kind of impact against a Milan side who showed urgency and aggression in a must-win situation.

Brazilian Messias broke the deadlock in the 87th minute with a spectacular header after latching on to a perfect cross from Franck Kessie.

“That’s football. We have one game left, there’s life, we have to give everything until the end. I believe in the team, we can win in any stadium, and now we have to show that, and we’ll see,” Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann said.

Atletico defender Jose Maria Gimenez owned up to being out of position for Milan’s game-winner.

“We have to accept our mistakes, accept the blame, in the end, I was the defender who was in that zone, I’m the one responsible. So it hurts, it hurts a lot because defensively we’d done quite a good job and that detail makes everything much more difficult for us,” Gimenez said.

As for Messias, Milan coach Stefano Pioli said there is much more to come from the late-blooming star.

“It is a wonderful story, but I think he is only getting started. He has great qualities, and this goal will give him even more belief,” Pioli said.

Inter on the brink of last-16

Edin Dzeko scored twice in the space of six second-half minutes to earn Internazionale a 2-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk at San Siro on Wednesday and send the Italians to the brink of their first Champions League knockout stage appearance in a decade.

The Bosnia international swept home a finish after 61 minutes to give Inter a deserved lead after they had been left frustrated by two disallowed goals and a string of missed opportunities.

Dzeko did not need long to double his tally, heading in an inviting Ivan Perisic cross to mark his 50th goal in European club competitions.

The result sent Simone Inzaghi’s side through to the knockout round after Sheriff Tiraspol lost to Real Madrid later on Wednesday. Inter’s place in the last-16 comes for the first time since 2011-12.

Top honors in Group D will be at stake when Real host Inter on matchday six, with the Milan club needing a win to take the No. 1 spot.

The two sides are familiar with each other, having been in the same Champions League group last season too, and their last three meetings ended in goalless draws.

The Milan crowd may have feared a repeat when some big chances went begging in the first half.

Nicolo Barella fired over from a good position, Perisic had a well-taken strike ruled out for a tight offside in the build-up, and Anatoliy Trubin made three good saves, twice denying Dzeko and once Lautaro Martinez.

Inter have recorded the most first-half shots in the Champions League this season, 62, but have only one goal to show for them.

More frustration followed after the break when Martinez’s volley was disallowed for a push on a defender, but four minutes later Dzeko struck from the edge of the box.

Perisic’s hanging cross to the back post gave the 35-year-old a simple task to nod in his second from close range, but Shakhtar almost brought the game back to life late on when Dodo’s angled effort thumped the post.

Perfect Liverpool

Second-half goals by Thiago Alcantara and Mohamed Salah earned a below-strength Liverpool a 2-0 win over FC Porto to maintain their 100% record in Champions League Group B on Wednesday.

Porto, who started the day second in the group behind already-qualified Liverpool, wasted numerous first-half opportunities and were made to pay a heavy price.

Their record against Liverpool now stands at played 10, drawn three and lost seven.

Liverpool, with the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Jordan Henderson rested, went ahead through Thiago’s stunning low strike in the 52nd minute before Salah made the points safe with a clinical finish in the 70th.

“So many good things happened tonight, players got minutes, rhythm, confidence, nobody got hurt,” Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp said.

“Thiago’s goal… wow!”

Klopp’s side have a maximum of 15 points from their five matches while Porto hung on to second place with five points thanks to Atletico Madrid’s 1-0 home defeat by AC Milan.

Porto host Atletico (four) in their final match in the group with Milan (four) hosting Liverpool.

With top spot already assured it was a night for some of Liverpool’s fringe players to impress, as 19-year-old Tyler Morton made his Champions League debut and Takumi Minamino earned a rare start.

“People might be surprised with Tyler Morton but he did exceptionally well,” Klopp said.

“He is a good player and really pleased for him that he put a performance in like this.”

Yet Liverpool failed in the first half in which Porto were the better side.

The Portuguese champions were close to taking the lead when Mehdi Taremi’s glancing header deflected off Joel Matip and went narrowly wide of Alisson’s post.

Evanilson then had a shot blocked by Ibrahima Konate but Porto’s best chance arrived when Colombian Luis Diaz raced away and squared for Otavio who sliced horribly wide under pressure from Kostas Tsimikas.

“We probably had the best of the first half, we created three or four chances and defensively we were disciplined,” Porto coach Sergio Conceicao said.

“But then the individual quality of Liverpool players and our lack of offensive effectiveness made the difference. We were not efficient enough tonight.”

“But I always said that the group would be decided in the final game and we can still get to the round of 16.”

Liverpool occasionally changed gear and thought they had gone ahead when Thiago’s pass split the Porto defence and Sadio Mane ran through to score. However, his celebrations on his 50th European game for Liverpool were cut short by a VAR check which showed he had been fractionally offside.

Conceicao was then furious before halftime as Taremi bizarrely opted to try to pick out a teammate when he had the chance to test Alisson.

The chances kept arriving for Porto at the start of the second half with Mateus Uribe’s shot on the turn flashing past the post and they were soon to regret their profligacy.

In the 52nd minute, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s free-kick was headed out and Thiago met a bouncing ball with the sweetest of low strikes with the outside of his right foot from the edge of the area to send a skimming shot past keeper Diogo Costa.

Salah then combined with substitute Henderson before cutting in from the right and beating Costa with a left-foot shot for his sixth goal so far in the group stage.

“It would be good to go through with all wins to take forward into the competition,” Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain said.

“Everyone dreams of playing at the San Siro in the Champions League, away at Milan and that is what we are here to do.”

Sporting CP beat Borussia Dortmund

Sporting CP beat 10-man Borussia Dortmund 3-1 on Wednesday with two goals from Pedro Goncalves to clinch their spot in the Champions League knockout stages and eliminate the Germans from the competition.

Goncalves struck twice in the first half to lead his team to their 10th straight victory in all competitions and nine points in Group C, three ahead of the Germans with a game left and a better head-to-head, after losing 1-0 in Dortmund in September.

Sporting made the most of a disastrous Nico Schulz clearance that sent the ball straight to Goncalves who flicked it past keeper Gregor Kobel after half an hour.

The midfielder, who also scored twice last week in their Portuguese Cup fourth-round win, rifled in from 20 metres nine minutes later to put Sporting firmly in the driving seat.

Dortmund, still without injured striker Erling Haaland, came out fighting after the break, looking for a goal that would keep their qualifying hopes alive, and had an effort ruled offside but lacked precision in their final pass.

Their hopes of a comeback, however, were dashed when Emre Can was sent off in the 75th for a foul on Pedro Porro.

Sporting earned a penalty four minutes later and Porro headed in the rebound after Kobel had saved Goncalves’ spot-kick to deny him a hat-trick.

Dortmund, who scored in stoppage-time through Donyell Malen, were left wondering how a campaign that started with two wins could have brought no points from the next three matches.

The Germans will go into the Europa League as the third-placed team in the group. Ajax Amsterdam clinched top spot with a 2-1 win over bottom side Besiktas, their fifth victory in five matches.

Five-star RB Leipzig

RB Leipzig scored four goals in a rampant first-half performance and added one more after the break for a comprehensive 5-0 victory away at Club Brugge on Wednesday that lifted them off the foot of Champions League Group A.

Leipzig are now in pole position to finish third in the standings and secure a berth in the Europa League, ahead of their Belgian hosts.

Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have secured the top two places in the group and will progress to the last 16 of the Champions League.

Emil Forsberg scored twice, including one from the penalty spot, with Christopher Nkunku and Andre Silva adding the other two for Leipzig in the opening 45 minutes.

Nkunku then got the fifth in stoppage time at the end of the second half.

It was Leipzig’s first win of the group phase despite having to do without coach Jesse Marsch and captain and first-choice goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi, who tested positive for COVID-19 on the eve of the game.

They now have four points along with Brugge but a better head-to-head record over the Belgians.

The Bundesliga outfit must now make sure they at least match, or better, Brugge’s performance in their last group match on Dec. 7 when they host Manchester City, if they are to stay third.

The Belgians will be away at PSG at the same time.

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Courtesy: Reuters and ESPN

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