Liverpool end the European journey of AC Milan


Liverpool beat AC Milan 2-1 in the Champions League on Tuesday night at the San Siro to send the Serie A side out of European competition for the remainder of the season.

Fikayo Tomori opened the scoring for the home side in the right before the 30-minute mark when he side-footed a shot home after Liverpool keeper Alisson palmed a corner kick right into his path in front of the net to give Milan a huge first goal.

Liverpool struck back soon after when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot was saved but spilt into the path of Mohamed Salah, who finished with aplomb to level the score ahead of the break.

Divock Origi put Liverpool ahead shortly after the restart when a poor giveaway from the Milan defence sprang Sadio Mane into the area and his shot was blocked in the direction of the Belgian, who powered a header past Mike Maignan to make it 2-1.

Jurgen Klopp’s side remained perfect in UCL group play with six wins from six matches, while Milan finished bottom of the Group B table, with Porto finishing third and headed to the Europa League.

It was also the first time in Liverpool’s history that they had chalked up a sixth consecutive victory in the competition.

“What the boys did tonight, I could not be more proud,” Klopp said.

“The performance was outstanding. Having 21 shots, so many situations where we played outstandingly well and defended passionately and well organized.”

With top spot wrapped up before kickoff, Liverpool made eight changes, handing Origi a rare start after his heroics against Wolves.

“We chose that lineup because we wanted to win the game. We needed fresh legs,”  Klopp explained.

“We needed the desire to play this game which is difficult in this hectic schedule to always be on fire for the next game.”

San Siro erupted after Takumi Minamino missed clearance from a corner in the 29th minute, forcing Alisson to parry the ball into Tomori’s path for a simple finish.

But just as the home crowd started to believe in an improbable final-day climb into the top two, Salah struck.

Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot was beaten away by goalkeeper Mike Maignan, but the Egyptian reacted quickly to fire home.

Salah became the first Liverpool player to score 20 or more goals in five consecutive seasons since Ian Rush, who did so for six campaigns in a row between 1981 and 1987.

Tomori was then punished when he gave the ball away to Sadio Mane after the break and although the winger’s shot was well blocked by Maignan, Origi headed in the rebound.

It was the Belgium international’s first goal in the Champions League since he scored the second in a 2-0 win in the 2019 final against Tottenham Hotspur.

The Rossoneri played with more purpose in the second half but could not find an equaliser, Franck Kessie squandering their best chance when he was denied one-on-one by Alisson.

“We wanted to give joy to our fans but we didn’t manage it,” a disappointed Milan coach Stefano Pioli said.

“We have learnt a lot in these six matches.”

Perfect record for Ajax

Sebastien Haller kept up his scoring streak to help Ajax Amsterdam end the Champions League group stage with a 100% record as they beat Sporting CP 4-2 at the Johan Cruyff Arena on Tuesday.

Haller became only the second player after Cristiano Ronaldo in 2017-18 to score in each game of the six-match group phase as he tucked away an eighth-minute penalty to take his tally in this year’s competition to 10.

Sporting equalised through Nuno Santos in the 22nd minute but Brazilian Antony restored the Dutch side’s lead just before halftime after a horror defensive error by the visitors.

David Neres extended Ajax’s advantage after 58 minutes and four minutes later Steven Berghuis added the fourth, but Sporting got a 78th-minute consolation with Bruno Tabata’s thunderous side-footed shot off the underside of the crossbar.

Ajax topped Group C with a maximum of 18 points while the Portuguese champions, who had already been confirmed runners-up, finished with nine, using the last group match to give several young players a first run-out in European competition.

The match was played behind closed doors because of Dutch government restrictions imposed following a surge in COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands.

Sheriff salvage draw at Shakhtar

Sheriff Tiraspol ended their Champions League campaign by avoiding a fourth successive defeat when Boban Nikolov’s last-gasp strike earned them a 1-1 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk in Group D on Tuesday.

The Moldovan side started the group phase with two shock victories and although they could not continue that form in Europe’s premier club competition, they have at least booked a spot in the Europa League last 32.

They looked to be heading towards another loss after Fernando’s opening goal three minutes before halftime, only for Nikolov to salvage a point three minutes into stoppage time with a shot from close range.

Sheriff finished third in Group D with seven points, eight behind Real Madrid and three adrift of Inter Milan, with Shakhtar bottom on two points.

Atletico Madrid reach the knockouts after a tense match against FC Porto

Atletico Madrid snatched a place in the Champions League last 16 as they won 3-1 at FC Porto on Tuesday in a tense and ill-tempered game as both sides finished with 10 men.

Antoine Griezmann put Atletico in front against the run of play in the 56th minute, bundling the ball into the net following a corner after the hosts had missed a glut of clear chances on either side of the break.

Atletico’s lead was threatened when Yannick Carrasco was sent off in the 67th minute for raising his hands to Otavio as tempers raged following a foul but Porto’s numerical advantage lasted only a few moments as Wendell and Agustin Marchesin were both sent off in the span of five minutes.

Substitute Angel Correa clinched the win for Atletico with a cool finish on the counter-attack in the 90th minute, while Porto then earned a consolation penalty which Sergio Oliveira converted with the final kick of the game.

Diego Simeone’s Atleti side began the game bottom of Group B but ended it second on seven points, Porto coming third with five and qualifying for the Europa League.

“I’m happy, proud of my players,” Simeone said.

“They showed personality, experience, they knew how to suffer, with the difficulties we faced. We were missing three centre-backs out of four but there are players who haven’t played many minutes who are important.”

“We had one of the most complicated groups. I thought we’d get points against everyone, but we couldn’t against Liverpool. We got more points than Milan and Porto. We need to improve, but this is the way.”

“It’s a great day. We’ll remember it as a classic Champions League game against a great team. The game had everything.”

Liverpool finished top with 18 points after winning 2-1 at AC Milan, who finished bottom with four.

Atleti had suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at home to Mallorca in La Liga at the weekend and were missing their top three central defenders in Jose Gimenez, Stefan Savic and Felipe, forcing midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia and right-back Sime Vrsaljko to play in the heart of defence.

Things got off to an ominous start when striker Luis Suarez was forced off injured in the 13th minute but, as so often in recent years, Atletico came out fighting.

“We knew exactly what was at stake but we’re Atletico Madrid, we do things the hard way and it tastes much better like this,” said defender Mario Hermoso.

Atleti created their first real chance when Carrasco carved his way through the defence but Marcos Llorente fired his ricocheted cross against the feet of goalkeeper Diogo Costa.

Porto dominated the rest of the first half and Atletico keeper Jan Oblak produced an outstanding save to deny Luis Diaz, while Llorente threw himself across goal to prevent Mehdi Taremi reaching the loose ball.

Taremi missed two clear chances early in the second half, blazing over the bar and then being denied by the feet of Oblak, before Griezmann gave Atleti an unlikely lead with a scrappy goal. Porto barely recovered from the shock of going behind and Marchesin was sent off from the stands as both sides struggled to control their tempers.

“It’s been an incredible night,” said Oblak.

“I’m sure many people didn’t believe in us but it’s in matches like these where we show what a team we really are.”

Borussia Dortmund gun down Besiktas

Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus and Erling Haaland each scored twice in a 5-0 win over Besiktas in their final Champions League Group C game on Tuesday, with the Germans already confirmed in third place but bouncing back from a Bundesliga loss to Bayern Munich.

Reus scored with a first-half stoppage time penalty and added another with a superb solo effort while Haaland headed in two more goals after coming on as a substitute, as Dortmund ended the campaign on a high and will continue in the Europa League.

Ajax Amsterdam and Sporting advanced to the Round of 16 while Besiktas finished in last place after losing all six of their group games.

The hosts, who had lost 3-2 to Bayern Munich in the domestic league on Saturday, took the lead with their first chance as Jude Bellingham, commanding in his midfield role, fed Dutchman Donyell Malen who slotted the ball under goalkeeper Ersin Destanoglu on the half-hour mark.

England international Bellingham had earlier been fined 40,000 euros by the German Football Association (DFB) for critical comments about referee Felix Zwayer following their loss to Bayern.

Dortmund, with top striker Haaland starting on the bench, doubled their lead with a Reus penalty after Besiktas’ Welington was sent off for a foul on Mo Dahoud in the box.

The Dortmund captain then gave his team a three-goal cushion after rounding three players to wrongfoot Destanoglu with a clever shot before Haaland headed in their fourth in the 68th, five minutes after coming on.

The Norwegian wrapped up their win with another close-range header in the 81st.

Real Madrid beat Inter

Toni Kroos and Marco Asensio scored as Real Madrid beat Inter Milan 2-0 at the Bernabeu on Tuesday to finish confirm the top spot in Champions League group D.

Kroos put Madrid ahead in the first half with a fizzing left-footed strike and substitute Asensio added a second late on – after Inter’s Nicolo Barella had been sent off — to make it five wins out of six in Europe so far this season.

Carlo Ancelotti’s side ends the group stage on 15 points, five ahead of second-placed Inter, with both in the draw for the round of 16 on Monday.

“We did well in this first phase of the competition,” Ancelotti said.

“Now we have to focus on La Liga and in February we’ll see what we can do in this competition.”

“Inter needed to win. We scored early. It’s normal that they had more possession. We were well-positioned at the back. The other team having possession isn’t a big problem. You don’t win games with possession, you win by scoring goals.”

Madrid kicked off knowing a draw would be enough to top the group. They faced Simone Inzaghi’s in-form Inter who hadn’t lost since October – and were returning for the first time to the venue of their 2010 Champions League final win over Bayern Munich.

The first chance of the match with just two minutes played fell to Vinicius Junior. The Brazil winger shot wide after Luka Modric found him in space on the left.

Inter threatened after that, midfielder Marcelo Brozovic went close twice from distance before Dani Carvajal blocked a goalbound shot from Ivan Perisic.

Kroos opened the scoring in the 17th minute with his second Champions League goal of the season, firing past Samir Handanovic from outside the box before Inter looked to respond, Lautaro Martinez and Perisic both shooting over the bar.

The best chances fell to Madrid, though. Luka Jovic — who had replaced the injured Karim Benzema – found the side netting, and Rodrygo hit the post and skewed a shot wide before halftime.

“Luka Jovic played very well, he helped the team in attack and also when brought out the ball,” Ancelotti said.

“He played well. If Karim isn’t right, he’ll play. We have some days now to see if Karim can recover, I think he can. Casemiro had a knock, but I think he won’t have problems.”

After the break, Barella wasted a promising break, shooting wildly off target, before Casemiro headed over from a corner.

Jovic tested Handanovic from a narrow-angle and Casemiro saw a low shot saved as Madrid continued to create opportunities.

Inzaghi made a triple change – introducing Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and Matias Vecino — before Inter’s hopes of a comeback were hit when they were reduced to ten men – Barella was shown a red card for clashing with Eder Militao.

Asensio scored the second in the 79th minute, curling in off the woodwork from just inside the box, to secure the three points.

PSG win, Messi scores

Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi scored two apiece as Paris Saint-Germain beat Club Brugge 4-1 at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday to complete their Champions League group stage.

Defeat to Manchester City in their penultimate group-stage match meant PSG were guaranteed to finish in second place in Group B, but Brugge needed a win to confirm their place in the Europa League.

Yet it was the hosts who started by far the strongest with Mbappe scoring twice in the first seven minutes.

First, the France international coolly side-footed home from close range to become the youngest player to reach 30 goals in the Champions League, at 22 years and 352 days old, before doubling his tally for the night with a stunning volley from an Angel Di Maria dink over the top.

Messi netted his first of the game on the 38 minutes with a curling effort from the edge of the box, having previously been denied by Brugge goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

Brugge threatened at the start of the second half and were rewarded with a goal Mats Rits reduced the deficit by 68 minutes, but Messi got a fourth for PSG from the penalty spot 14 minutes from time.

“We took this match seriously and we delivered a complete performance,” Mbappe said.

“We can still improve. The bottom line is that we need to manage our weak times better. We have weak times, which are maybe much too weak.”

RB Leipzig book a place in the Europa League by beating Manchester City

RB Leipzig beat Manchester City 2-1 in their final Champions League Group A match at the Red Bull Arena, after goals from Dominik Szoboszlai and Andre Silva.

Pep Guardiola’s side had already qualified for the round of 16 as group winners, while this was Leipzig’s first match since the dismissal of Jesse Marsch. The result puts the German side third in the group, and earns them a place in the Europa League.

A first-half goal from Szoboszlai opened the scoring for Leipzig, before Silva doubled their lead in the 70th minute, drilling the ball in the net following a cross from Emil Forsberg.

Riyad Mahrez got one back for City in the 75th minute, nodding in an Oleksandr Zinchenko cross to keep the side in the game. However, a straight red card for Kyle Walker in the 82nd minute left Guardiola’s side to see out the rest of the game with 10 men.

Szoboszlai opened the scoring in the 23rd minute. An outside-of-the-foot pass from Konrad Laimer saw him go clear, allowing him to easily slot the ball in the net after going round goalkeeper Zack Steffen.

The home side was unlucky to not double their lead just three minutes later after another accurate pass from Laimer found Forsberg, but his first-time shot was covered well by Steffen.

City had a chance to draw level late in the half through Phil Foden, however, his long-range attempt was tipped onto the post by Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.

Guardiola’s side continued to struggle after the break, making uncharacteristic errors in the final third and lacking the cohesion that has been seen in recent games.

Silva added to their frustration in the 70th minute, doubling the home side’s lead following a composed pass from midfielder Forsberg but Mahrez closed the gap just six minutes later, scoring his fifth goal in the competition this term.

However, Walker sealed his side’s fate with seven minutes to go, with referee Sandro Scharer showing him a straight red after fouling Silva from behind.


Courtesy: ESPN and Reuters


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