Juventus sneak top spot


Juventus progressed to the Champions League knockout stages as group winners after their comfortable 1-0 victory over Malmo on Wednesday, coupled with Chelsea’s draw at Zenit St Petersburg.

A much-changed Juventus, already assured of their place in the knockout stages, raced into an 18th-minute lead when Moise Kean headed his first Champions League goal from an inch-perfect Federico Bernardeschi cross.

With Malmo guaranteed to finish bottom of the group, the Swedes had little incentive to push for a leveller and Juve closed out the win without ever being seriously troubled.

The Italian side’s fifth win from six group games looked to be in vain as England’s Chelsea led 3-2 in Russia in stoppage time, but a last-gasp Zenit equaliser meant Juve finished two points clear at the top of the group.

Chelsea blow top spot

Champions League holders Chelsea blew the chance to top their group as they were held to a 3-3 draw against Zenit St Petersburg at the Gazprom Arena on Wednesday.

The result sees Thomas Tuchel’s side finish second in their group, two points behind group winners Juventus, who Sweden’s Malmo 1-0 in the other game.

Chelsea were dominant early on, taking a lead after just 90 seconds when Timo Werner tapped the ball in from a yard out following a Ross Barkley corner.

But Zenit fought their way back into the game, with a spell of pressure on the European Champions ending in two goals in quick succession.

Claudinho took advantage of being unmarked on the post to nod in an equaliser on 38 minutes before Sardar Azmoun added a second just three minutes later following a Malcolm through ball that put him one on one with Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Tuchel’s side improved after the break, drawing the game level once again on 62 minutes after Lukaku jumped on a Werner cross to score his first Chelsea goal since the last time he played Zenit in September.

Werner then put the visitors back ahead with five minutes to go, blasting a shot past Mikhail Kerzhakov – with a 3-2 victory enough to secure the top spot.

However, a stunning injury-time half-volley from substitute Magomed Ozdoev saw Zenit draw level once again and dropped Chelsea down to the second place.

Benfica win and advance

Roman Yaremchuk and Gilberto scored as Benfica defeated Dynamo Kyiv 2-0 at home on Wednesday to qualify for the Champions League last 16 after pipping Barcelona to second place in Group E.

Ukraine international Yaremchuk struck on 16 minutes at the Estadio da Luz and Gilberto added a second shortly after to send the Portuguese club through to the knockout phase for the first time in five years.

Benfica trailed Barca by two points going into the final round after winning just one of five games but climbed above the struggling Spanish giants who were beaten 3-0 away by group winners Bayern Munich.

Barcelona are out of the Champions League

Bayern Munich beat Barcelona 3-0 to send the LaLiga side out of the Champions League knockout rounds and into the Europa League on Wednesday at the Allianz Arena.

First-half goals from Thomas Muller and Leroy Sane set Bayern on their way, with the result put well out of reach for Barca with Jamal Musiala’s strike just past the hour mark sealing a perfect record in Group E for the Bavarians.

Benfica beat Dynamo Kyiv in the other group match of the day to ensure new Barca coach Xavi Hernandez’s team would miss out on the UCL round of 16 for the first time since 2004-05 during Lionel Messi’s first season with the club.

Barca, who made not a single chance in the second half and scored just twice in six group games, have lost their last two matches in all competitions following Xavi’s first defeat in charge of the side against Real Betis on Saturday.

“Bayern were better, superior,” Xavi said.

“This is the harsh reality we have to face. I have told players that this is a turning point. Today a new era begins and we have to take Barca where it deserves which is not the Europa League.”

“I am frustrated because this is our reality. We start from scratch and we have to get Barca back to fighting for the Champions League. I now feel responsible. Now we have to go out and win the Europa League.”

Despite having secured the top spot in the group, Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann fielded his strongest possible team, refusing to rest top players after they beat Borussia Dortmund 3-2 in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

The German champions had been struggling defensively, keeping just one clean sheet in their last eight matches prior to Wednesday.

Jordi Alba tested Bayern keeper Manuel Neuer with a long-range effort in the seventh minute and Ousmane Dembele fired over the bar as the Spaniards initially pressed high. But that was all that was to come from the Barca attack for the rest of the game as the Germans gradually took control.

A scintillating Muller run down the left caught Barca napping but his cutback came just too late for Robert Lewandowski who failed to tap in from a meter.

The roles were reversed with Lewandowski chipping the ball into the box and Muller heading in his 50th Champions League goal in the 34th minute, becoming only the eighth player in Champions League history to reach that mark.

Bayern scored again before the break with a Sane missile from 25 metres out. Barcelona, who needed a win to advance, failed to offer much in the second half before Musiala’s 62nd-minute tap-in sealed their exit.

Manchester United advance to the next round

A much-changed Manchester United side produced a lacklustre display to draw 1-1 against Young Boys in their final Champions League Group F match at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

With United guaranteed top spot in the group, new manager Ralf Rangnick made 11 changes from his first match in charge on Sunday, with Amad Diallo and Anthony Elanga making their Champions League debuts for the club.

Young Boys knew victory would give them a chance of finishing third in the group and qualifying for the Europa League, but it was Manchester United who started brighter and took the lead in superb fashion on nine minutes through Mason Greenwood as he caught Luke Shaw’s cross with a bicycle kick.

However, United missed a host of chances to double their lead and were made to pay three minutes before half-time as Fabian Rieder leapt onto Donny van de Beek’s poor pass to hit a stunning effort past goalkeeper Dean Henderson from the edge of the box.

Young Boys grew with the goal and were almost ahead just moments later as United failed to re-find their rhythm after conceding.

The visitors continued to look the more likely to find the winner after the break with Quentin Maceiras firing wide when he should have done better, while Elanga forced a good save from Young Boys goalkeeper Guillaume Faivre.

Rangnick also gave a United debuts to goalkeeper Tom Heaton – 11 years after first leaving the club – Zidane Iqbal and Charlie Savage in the second half.

The other match in this group, between Atalanta and Villarreal, was postponed due to heavy snow.

Lille get past Wolfsburg and would play in the knockouts

Lille reached the knockout stage of the Champions League for the second time when they claimed an emphatic 3-1 win at Wolfsburg and top spot in Group G on Wednesday.

The French champions needed a draw to advance but they played with the ambition to end up with 11 points from six games, one ahead of FC Salzburg with goals by Burak Yilmaz, Jonathan David and Angel.

Wolfsburg, who scored a consolation goal through Renato Steffen, finished bottom of the group on five points and are eliminated from all European competitions.

The German side barely threatened while Lille, who have had a see-saw Ligue 1 season, made the most of their chances in front of barely 6,000 fans.

Historic win for RB Salzburg

Noah Okafor scored the only goal of the game as FC Salzburg claimed a 1-0 victory over 10-man Sevilla at the Red Bull Arena on Wednesday to progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in their history.

Salzburg finish as runners-up in Group G with 10 points from their six matches, one behind pool winners Lille. Sevilla end in third place and will play in the Europa League play-off round.

The first half had little goalmouth action but the game burst into life after the break as Salzburg were helped by a second yellow card for Sevilla’s key midfielder Joan Jordan on 65 minutes.

The match was played behind closed doors without fans due to heightened COVID-19 restrictions in Austria, so the hosts were unable to celebrate their historic achievement with their supporters.

It took 35 minutes of cagey football for the first shot on target as Ivan Rakitic warmed the palms of Salzburg goalkeeper Philipp Kohn.

It was the only occasion where either keeper was worked in the first half, though Sevilla defender Jules Kounde headed wide from a corner with the best chance of the opening period.

Sevilla should have been ahead minutes after the break when Munir El Haddadi had a free header six yards from goal but saw his effort come back of the crossbar.

It was a big chance the visitors would rue missing as Salzburg went up the other end and scored with an excellent team goal.

They finally managed to string passes together and Karim Adeyemi was worked into space on the left. His low cross into the box was turned in by Swiss forward Okafor.

Sevilla’s night got worse on 65 minutes when Jordan received a deserved second booking for pulling back the pacey Adeyemi and they were left to find two goals with 10 men.

Salzburg were able to comfortably hold out to the end, with Rakitic’s first-half shot the only one Sevilla, who are second in Spain’s LaLiga, could muster on target.


Courtesy: ESPN, Reuters and Times of Malta


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