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Champions League Fallout: 5 Biggest Shocks from Group Stage

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistDecember 5, 2012

Champions League Fallout: 5 Biggest Shocks from Group Stage

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    After six matchdays filled with excitement and incident, the UEFA Champions League group stage has finally come to a close, with 16 teams having made it through to the knockout stages—and not all of them were expected.

    Eight teams are set to face the consolation prize of Europa League football in the new year after finishing third in their group and eight other sides will have no more continental football this season at all.

    The group stage matches provided viewers with the usual bouts of quality and goals, but also a fair few shocks and surprises along the way.

    Here are the top five shocks from the final standings of the group stage of the competition.

Success: Malaga

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    Spanish side Malaga are the first surprise success, not perhaps in terms of the quality of their squad and the players available to them, but because this was their first attempt at the Champions League.

    They passed the test with flying colours, topping Group C without having suffered a single defeat along the way.

    Champions League veterans AC Milan provided the biggest test, though they are depleted themselves this year, while Zenit St. Petersburg and Anderlecht also made for interesting matchups.

    Malaga won three and drew three of their six games and will avoid the likes of Juventus, Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund after topping the group.

    Quite aside from the financial rewards for the club, the sporting achievement has been quite a remarkable one.

Knockout: Manchester City

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    Malaga's effort of topping the group at the first attempt is highlighted at how well they've done by Manchester City's continual struggles in Europe.

    Two successive failures to get out of the group stage in the Champions League has been a bitter disappointment to the champions of England.

    True, they were handed a fiercely tough draw with the league title holders in Holland, Germany and Spain to play against—but a record of zero wins from six fixtures speaks volumes for their lack of ability to cope.

    Quite simply, City were way below the quality expected of a team that has cost hundreds of millions of pounds to put together.

    Roberto Mancini has, or should have, plenty of credit stored up through his FA Cup and Premier League wins, but his bosses were no doubt expecting far better in the Champions League this term.

Success: Shakhtar Donetsk

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    Much like Malaga, Shakhtar Donetsk certainly had the players and the quality to give themselves a chance of getting through the group stage of the Champions League, but actually going out and doing it, especially in a fairly tough group, can be a different matter altogether.

    Shakhtar have an immensely talented forward third, no doubt about it, though certain doubts remain at the other end.

    Nonetheless, they managed to qualify by virtue of a better head-to-head record over Chelsea, having scored twice at Stamford Bridge in a 3-2 defeat and conceded only once at home, winning 2-1.

    Only once in the past six seasons have Shakhtar managed to get out of the group as they reached the quarterfinals in 2010-11. This year's squad will have hopes of at least emulating that season's achievements.

Knockout: Chelsea

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    It's not often that a team is disappointed by winning 6-1, but that's what happened to Chelsea as victory in their final Champions League group match was confirmed to be in vain.

    Juventus finished top of Group E and, as we've seen, Shakhtar went through in second—leaving the reigning champions of the tournament exiting at the group stage for the first time.

    Chelsea will compete in the Europa League after the new year.

    There's not too much to add here, as holders Chelsea would have been expected to progress. Given the head-to-head results have led to their exit from the competition, the blame has to fall squarely at the feet of the players and previous management.

    Was Roman justified, then, to fire Roberto Di Matteo?

Success: Celtic

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    Perhaps it should be an unwritten rule that anybody who manages to beat Barcelona should go through anyway, but Celtic have taken until the very final minutes of the group stages to confirm their place in the knockout rounds.

    A late winner from the penalty spot against Spartak Moscow in the final game was needed to send the Glasgow side through in second place from Group G.

    Home form is so often key to progression through the group stage and a further victory over Barcelona, as well as a 0-0 draw with Benfica, proved crucial to Celtic, who have certainly done fantastically well to make it through.

    They will be rank outsiders to go any further at all and will need to secure a positive result in the first leg at home to likely have a chance of reaching the quarterfinals, but staying involved in the competition past the group stage would have been their target and they deserve the accolades for succeeding in that regard.

     

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