Dortmund clinches knockout berth, Real Madrid stumbles in Champions League
- Borussia Dortmund is through to the Champions League knockout stage and has a golden chance to go through as a top seed and earn an advantageous round-of-16 pairing.
Borussia Dortmund joined the four clubs who punched their tickets to the Champions League knockout stage Tuesday, with its nervy 1-0 win over Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday, capping an end to a wild Matchday Four of the Champions League.
Dortmund has sole possession of first place thanks to its win and Real Madrid's uncharacteristic stumble at Legia Warsaw, which was forced to play in front of no fans yet again as punishment for their unruliness. Real blew a 2-0 lead, then battled back from 3-2 to draw 3-3.
Dortmund, which had Adrian Ramos score while starting in place of the curiously omitted Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, joins Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich and PSG in the round of 16, clinching its place with a pair of games to spare.
Other clubs had the opportunity to go through as well but missed out. Leicester City failed to win for the first time in four group matches, but it still has yet to concede a goal in the Champions League after a 0-0 draw at FC Copenhagen. The same Leicester team that has conceded 16 times in 10 Premier League games held off the hosts thanks to Kasper Schmeichel's 90th-minute diving save of Andreas Cornelius.
The Foxes remain in first place in Group G, nursing a three-point lead over Porto, which was a 1-0 winner over Club Brugge. Leicester can punch its knockout ticket later this month when taking on the Belgian side at home.
Juventus was another side that missed out on a chance to go through Wednesday, settling for a 1-1 draw against Lyon. Gonzalo Higuain's first-half penalty appeared to be enough for the Old Lady, but Corentin Tolisso's 84th-minute equalizer kept Lyon alive mathematically and prevented Juventus and Sevilla from going through. Sevilla was an impressive 4-0 winner over Dinamo Zagreb and seized first place in Group H.
Elsewhere, Monaco routed CSKA Moscow 3-0 behind Radamel Falcao's double and remained in first place in Group E, two points clear of Bayer Leverkusen. The German side continued its rebound and had its first non-draw of the competition, riding Kevin Kampl's second-half goal to a 1-0 win over goal-starved Tottenham at Wembley Stadium, where the boo birds had their say upon the final whistle.
Here's what stood out the most from the conclusion of Champions League Matchday Four:
Player of the day: Radamel Falcao, Monaco
Falcao has turned the clocks back–or is merely fit, at last, and at a place where he feels comfortable–and it's showing for Monaco, which eased by CSKA Moscow. Once considered an upper-echelon goal scorer and one of the world's most feared strikers, Falcao became a punch line at Manchester United and Chelsea, but he snapped a six-year gap between Champions League goals with his brace.
His goals were not necessarily spectacular, but they showed an adept player comfortable in front of the goal. His second, which involved a composed turn and finish in the center of the box, was the pick of the bunch. Is El Tigre back, for good?
Goal of the day: Gareth Bale, Real Madrid
You didn't think Gareth Bale would be taking it easy after signing a new long-term contract at Real Madrid, did you? It took the new $22 million man less than a minute to open the scoring in an empty stadium against Legia Warsaw, with him directing a left-footed rocket of a volley into the upper right-hand corner. It was a ball hit with confidence and utmost skill. Unfortunately for Bale, it was a footnote on the night.
Real stunner with Real implications in Poland
If nobody is there to witness Real Madrid stumbling against Legia Warsaw, does it count? It certainly does in the standings! Trailing 2-0 to the defending champions and playing in front of no supporters, the Polish side scored three straight goals and appeared headed for a three-point haul, only for Matteo Kovacic to seize that hope and shatter it with an equalizer two minutes after the go-ahead goal.
It's a shame that nobody was able to witness Bale's opening golazo in person, and when Karim Benzema followed in the 35th minute, it appeared to be another rout-in-the-making for Real. But credit to Legia Warsaw for scoring a trio of great goals and fighting back before ultimately wilting and settling for the point.
No matter, the single result could wind up changing the course of the Champions League. With Real Madrid in second in the group, it needs Dortmund to slip up at home against Legia Warsaw (unlikely) or it needs to beat Dortmund outright at the Bernabeu (more realistic) in order to finish atop the table. If it doesn't, it opens itself up to a tough draw and a harder road to defending its title. What should have been a cakewalk suddenly became a banana skin for Zinedine Zidane's charges.
Pulisic gears up for USA-Mexico
Starting for a third time in four Champions League matches, 18-year-old American Christian Pulisic nearly had himself a heck of a first half in Dortmund's win. He had a clear penalty not given when Uruguayan center back Sebastian Coates tripped him in the area in the fourth minute at Signal Iduna Park. A half an hour later, he hit the crossbar on a beautiful 34th-minute combination with Mario Gotze, working a give-and-go before redirecting Gotze's cross off the woodwork.
Pulisic faded some as the game went on, flubbing an opportunity while leading a counterattack, but he went the full 90 minutes and helped Dortmund kill off the win and a valuable three points. Between playing in the cauldron that is the Dortmund-Schalke rivalry and on the Champions League stage in a matter of days, Pulisic (presumably) taking the field in Columbus a week from Friday for USA-Mexico should not be that wildly overwhelming of an experience after his high-intensity preparation.
Put Sevilla's Europa League four-peat on hold
For the first time since 2013, it looks like there will be a new Europa League champion. That's because Sevilla is highly unlikely to be dropping down to the second-tier competition again after all but securing its place in the knockout stage of the Champions League. Jorge Sampaoli's side routed Dinamo Zagreb and is six points (and +5 in goal differential) clear of third-place Lyon with two matches to play.
It's not a done deal yet, of course. Falling to Juventus and at Lyon in succession and failing to go through on goal differential is certainly possible. But all signs point to Sampaoli leading Sevilla to the next step in its progression toward joining the European elite and competing in the Champions League's last 16.