With five places in the last-16 of the competition still to be decided, Wednesday's conclusion to the Champions League group stages was suitably dramatic.
Many eyes were on Group F—where Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli were all vying for two spots in the next round—but there were enticing fixtures elsewhere, with AC Milan and Ajax in a winner-takes-all battle for second in their group, and Schalke and Basel in a similarly pitched battle for progression from Group E.
For the results of all those contests, and the rest of Matchday Six, click on.
Kevin Grosskreutz's late strike sent Borussia Dortmund into the last-16 of the Champions League in dramatic circumstances on Wednesday, with the eventual 2-1 win enough to see Jurgen Klopp's side also win the group.
Dortmund looked to be on course to grab the win they needed to progress when Robert Lewandowski lifted his strike over Steve Mandanda after just two minutes, but the visitors were pegged back soon afterwards through Souleymane Diawara.
With results elsewhere going against them, the deadlock left Dortmund in third—and heading for the Europa League. But Grosskreutz's late strike—hit as he slipped on the edge of the box, creeping inside Mandanda's near post—lifted last year's finalists to the top of Group F and a place in the last-16.
Marseille, meanwhile, became the 15th side in competition history to finish the group stages without accruing a single point.
With Dortmund winning in France, Napoli's 2-0 win over Arsenal was not enough to prevent them slipping out of the competition, as the Premier League side went through instead by a solitary goal.
With second-half strikes from Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon giving Napoli the victory on the night and ensuring three teams finished on 12 points in the final standings, Rafa Benitez's men went out by virtue of having the worse goal difference in the "mini-league" of the three sides.
An extra goal from the home side would have changed that dynamic, but a third goal was not forthcoming as the Gunners just about escaped.
Nevertheless, they were bumped down to second in the final reckoning—handing them a much harder last-16 draw. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Paris St-Germain, Atletico Madrid or Bayern Munich await.
Afterwards, Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker said:
Chelsea duly clinched the top spot in Group E with a comfortable, if somewhat uninspiring, 1-0 victory over Steaua Bucharest.
Demba Ba got the game's only goal after just 10 minutes—although replays suggested defender Daniel Georgievski got the final touch at the far post—as Chelsea cruised somewhat to the three points.
With Schalke winning elsewhere, that ensured Jose Mourinho's side finished top, potentially handing them an easier last-16 draw.
Indeed, perhaps the most interesting moment came before kick-off—as 41-year-old goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer became the oldest player ever to make his Champions League debut.
Blues captain John Terry noted, "
Refereeing decisions were at the heart of the post-match analysis as Schalke progressed to the knockout stages of the competition at the expense of Basel with a 2-0 win in Germany.
Goals from Julian Draxler and Joel Matip sealed the all-important three points—although Matip's appeared somewhat fortuitous; with as many as four Schalke players offside after Basel sprung an offside trap from a free-kick. But the linesman did not flag it, and Schalke celebrated.
Basel's task had been made all the harder by Igor Ivanov's 34th minute sending off following a tangle with Adam Szalai, with Draxler ensuring his side made the most of that numerical advantage shortly after half-time with a far-post finish.
Basel will play in the Europa League after finishing third in the group.
Afterwards, Basel boss Murat Yakin said:
Neymar scored his first goal in the Champions League as Barcelona demolished Celtic 6-1 at the Nou Camp on Wednesday.
The Brazilian starlet went on to score a hat-trick—the fourth fastest in the competition's history—as he became the first-ever player to score three goals in both a Champions League and Copa Libertadores match.
Gerard Pique, Pedro and Cristian Tello got the other goals, as Georgios Samaras scored a late consolation goal for the Scottish side, who already knew they were going out of the group.
Barcelona, meanwhile, finished top of Group H with 13 points.
AC Milan squeezed into the knockout stages of the Champions League after holding on for a 0-0 draw against Ajax in the San Siro.
Down to 10 men inside the first half after Riccardo Montolivo was sent off for a late challenge on Christian Poulsen, Milan produced a dogged rearguard action to survive with the draw that ensured they took second in Group H.
Ajax dominated the possession and play but perhaps paid the price for a lack of guile and invention in the final third, as they were unable to produce many clear-cut opportunities.
Atletico Madrid completed their domination of Group G with a comfortable 2-0 win over Porto, ending the Portuguese side's hopes of progressing to the next phase.
Raul Garcia's rasping effort from an acute angle inside the first 15 minutes set Atletico on their way, with Porto's resolve seeming to crumble after Josue's 28th penalty was well-saved.
Diego Costa then continued his recent goalscoring run shortly before half-time, clinching the win—albeit slightly against the run of play—as Atletico finished the group stage with 16 points from a possible 18.
With Porto losing in the Spanish capital, Zenit St Petersburg reached the knockout stages of the competition despite a heavy defeat to Austria Wien.
Wien won 4-1 on the night despite Zenit taking an early lead through Alexander Kerzhakov, as Philipp Hosiner (twice), Tomas Jun and Roman Kienast secured the Austrian side's first win of the group stage.
They finished on five points—just one behind Zenit—but nevertheless will not play in the Europa League due to Porto's better head-to-head record.
|Austria Wien||Zenit St. Petersburg|
The draw for the last-16 is on Monday, Dec. 16. A group winner will be drawn with a group runner-up, but two teams from the same previous group—or the same nation—cannot be drawn together.
Group winners: Manchester United, Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona.
Runners-up: Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiakos, Manchester City, Schalke, Arsenal, Zenit, AC Milan.