Winners and Losers from Champions League Week 6
The group stage of the Champions League has come to a close after a host of exciting, unpredictable clashes. Sixteen teams will now advance to the knockout stages, with a few coming as a surprise following a breathless last two days of action.
But who were left smiling as the final whistles blew, and who were left cursing? Here are the biggest winners and losers from Week 6 of the UEFA Champions League.
Winner: Saviola and Olimpiacos
Former Argentina international Javier Saviola has endured a circuitous route around world football since early promise led both Barcelona and Real Madrid to gamble on the diminutive striker.
Respectable spells with both Benfica and Malaga did not help "El Conejo" grab a regular place, and 2013/14 saw him move to Greece to resurrect his career.
Tuesday night's heroics, however, definitely endeared him to the Piraeus club's fanatical support.
Saviola stepped up to score a fantastic double against Anderlecht to seal a 3-1 victory, with the third goal coming from compatriot Alejandro "Chori" Dominguez. The win sent the Greek side into the knockout stages, ironically at the expense of Saviola's former employers Benfica.
Winner: James Milner
James Milner picked the perfect time to hit his first goal in this year's competition.
Manchester City were already through the last 16, but just 12 minutes in, they had fallen behind 2-0 to Bayern Munich. The relentless Germans looked set to qualify with a perfect 18 points.
But Milner had other ideas.
After David Silva and Aleksandr Kolarov had dragged City back into the game, one would have imagined that the visitors would have gone home pleased with a share of the points. The England international, however, stepped up to seal the win with a powerful right-foot finish, ending a run of 10 consecutive Champions League victories for Die Roten.
Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo
We all know that Real Madrid sharpshooter Cristiano Ronaldo knows exactly where the net is. His scoring exploits in the group stages, however, have been impressive even for his own exceptionally high standards.
The Portugal star converted Madrid's second of the night against Copenhagen to mark his ninth in Group B, a record for the competition's round-robin phase. Ronaldo scored in every game he played in, scoring once every 50 minutes on average.
With a total of 20 goals, the Merengue were also the most prolific outfit across the round as a whole.
Barcelona have slipped a little as of late.
The absence of Lionel Messi and Gerardo Martino's first two defeats as coach cast some doubt over the Argentine manager, particularly as those reverses came in consecutive matches against Ajax and Athletic.
Against Celtic, however, the brilliance of Neymar spearheaded a majestic home win. The Brazilian smashed a hat-trick in just 13 minutes to help his side to a 6-1 triumph, in the process recording his first Champions League goals.
Serie A champions by some margin the last two seasons, Juventus are yet to convert that domestic form into Champions League success.
Wednesday afternoon saw their campaign end in disaster with a 1-0 defeat against Galatasaray in a game that had been postponed overnight due to a snowstorm in Istanbul.
The Juve men appeared frozen still. They are banished to the Europa League with a paltry six points (including just one victory) from their six games.
Alongside Juventus, the side directed by Rafa Benitez were the second Italian team to exit the Champions League on Wednesday evening.
But unlike the Turin team, Napoli did so with their heads held high.
A 2-0 victory over Arsenal, with goals coming from Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon, had given the Southern Italians a hope of going through. But their aspirations were cut to shreds in the cruellest of fashions.
Kevin Grosskreutz's 87th-minute goal sealed Borussia Dortmund's place in the next round over Napoli, although the pair (as well as Arsenal) finished level on 12 points. Just one more goal against the Gunners would have sent Benitez's charges through thanks to a better head-to-head record.
Loser: Pellegrini's Mathematics
Some of the gloss from Manchester City's stunning comeback victory was dulled by their failure to grab first place in Group D. The Moss Side club came within one goal of overthrowing Bayern—a fact, moreover, that was lost on manager Manuel Pellegrini.
"I said it was very difficult to win by three goals," said the Chilean, via Ben Burrows of the Mirror, in defending his decision not to bring on striker Sergio Aguero during the second half, when the tide had turned in his team's favour.
In fact, it was a two-goal margin of victory that would have yielded the top spot and a chance to avoid some of Europe's big guns in the knockouts.
Loser: Milan Fans
With just one point separating them in the fight for Group H's second place, tensions could not be higher between Ajax and Milan going into Wednesday's decider.
Unfortunately, the buildup to the clash was marked with deplorable acts of violence.
According to the AFP, three Ajax fans were taken to ahospital, one in serious condition, after being stabbed in the area surrounding the San Siro stadium by rival Milan fans.
Hundreds of police were on duty for the game, which ended with a 0-0 draw that put the Rossoneri into the next round.