UCL: Barcelona, Atletico Madrid win their groups; Arsenal, PSG go to final day
- Barcelona and Atletico Madrid will be on the advantageous end of the Champions League knockout stage draw, but Bayern Munich isn't as fortunate.
Atletico Madrid and Barcelona ensured they will top their Champions League groups with wins on the latter half of Matchday Five, while Manchester City also secured its place in the knockout stage with a 1-1 draw away to Borussia Monchengladbach. Bayern Munich will join Pep Guardiola's side in the lower half of the round-of-16 draw after a shocking 3-2 loss in Russia to Rostov, while Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain drew 2-2 to leave the order of finish atop Group A open until the last day.
Atletico remains the only side with a perfect Champions League record after beating PSV Eindhoven 2-0. A rapid transition led to Kevin Gameiro putting Atletico ahead after 55 minutes and Antoine Griezmann added a second 11 minutes later to secure the three points. Rostov’s victory over Bayern was the Russian club's first win ever in the group stage. Dmitri Poloz scored on a penalty kick, and Christian Noboa's wonderful free kick in the second half secured the win.
Barcelona secured the top spot in Group C with a 2-0 win over Celtic. Lionel Messi ran on to Neymar’s lofted pass and lashed the ball in off the post after 24 minutes and added a second form the penalty spot after 56 minutes to make quick work of the Scottish power.
In Monchengladbach, Raffael, who missed a penalty against Man City last season, lashed in the opener after 24 minutes, but David Silva poked in Kevin De Bruyne’s cross to level before halftime. Gladbach captain Lars Stindl was sent off seven minutes into the second half, collecting a second yellow for blocking Nicolas Otamendi. Twelve minutes later Fernandinho was also sent off, collecting a second yellow card for a slight tug on Tobias Strobl and the teams wound up level on goals and players.
PSG has the edge in the race to top Group A, given it has the away-goals advantage in the head-to-head meetings with its Premier League foe. Edinson Cavani turned in Blaise Matuidi’s cross after 18 minutes as PSG bossed the early stages, only for Olivier Giroud to convert a penalty in first-half injury time. A Marco Verratti own goal gave Arsenal the lead on the hour mark, but a Lucas Moura header glanced in off Alex Iwobi to make it 2-2 after 77 minutes.
Lower down in Group A, Ludogorets and Basel drew 0-0 in the fight for Europa League qualification. Both sides have two points but the Buglarian champion has the head-to-head edge on away goals and the inside track.
Group B is still impossibly tight after Besiktas came from 3-0 down to draw against Benfica 3-3 and Napoli was held 0-0 at home by Dynamo Kyiv. Napoli and Benfica top the group with eight points and will meet in Portugal in two weeks, with Besiktas a point behind knowing a win over Dynamo will take it through.
Here's what else stood out from the day in the Champions League:
Player of the day: Sardar Azmoun, Rostov
Azmoun, at 21, is nicknamed the Iranian Messi. The son of an Iranian volleyball great, he has played for his country at that sport and is an accomplished rider, owning nine horses. But football is clearly his forte. His pace, directness and skill were a constant threat to Bayern and his goal to level the score was brilliantly taken, as he took Poloz’s pass, turned inside Jerome Boateng–dumping him on his backside just as the Argentinian Messi did two years ago–and finished calmly.
Goal of the day: Lionel Messi vs. Celtic
Barcelona’s opener against Celtic was a classic of its type. It began with a languid exchange of passes, sweeping from one side of the pitch to the other, and then came a sudden injection of pace as Neymar lofted a delicious pass into a crowded box for Messi, who thumped it in low at the near post–a goal that looked simple, but was crafted of beautifully interlocking parts.
Aurier's auspicious absence
Hanging over Arsenal’s game against Paris Saint-Germain was the absence of Serge Aurier. The Ivorian fullback had his application for a visa rejected on the grounds that he was convicted of assault in September–although he is appealing against that verdict. The decision has few, if any, precedents. Were he an EU citizen, Aurier would not need a visa and would be able to travel freely through signatories to the Schengen Agreement as soon as he has been admitted to France.
The issue appears to be the fact that his conviction was for a violent offense, but even if it is technically correct, it seems the sort of detail that might have been overlooked in the context of a footballer who will be in the country for only two days–and probably would have been in the more liberal climate that prevailed before Theresa May’s premiership.
The game itself finished 2-2, and PSG is in the driver's seat to win the group, but not without this odd sideplot.
Bayern wobbles in Russia, settles for second
There have been concerns for some time now about Bayern’s lack of intensity this season, but they have come into sharp focus in the past week. First there was the defeat to Borussia Dortmund, and today came a defeat away to Rostov that means it will finish second in its group.
Douglas Costa slammed in the opener after 35 minutes but Azmoun capitalized to level in first-half injury-time. Boateng then tripped the Iranian to concede a penalty that Poloz converted four minutes into the second half. Juan Bernat seized on Franck Ribery’s pass to level the scored three minutes later, but with 67 minutes played, Noboa delivered on his free kick to make it 3-2 and give Rostov its first win in the Champions League–and one that will go down in club lore.
Besiktas's impressive comeback
At halftime at the Vodafone Arena, Besiktas trailed Benfica 3-0 and seemed certain to be on its way out of the Champions League (pending Napoli’s game against Dynamo Kyiv). Goncalo Guedes had rounded the keeper to give Benfica the lead, Nelsinho lashed in a second from 30 yards and Ljubomir Fejsa added a third following some penalty-area pinball just after the half-hour mark.
Cenk Tosun began the comeback after 58 minutes with a spectacular falling volley. Ricardo Quaresma made it 3-2 with seven minutes remaining and Vincent Aboubakar gleefully smashed in the equalizer from close range in the last minute. From certain death comes new life for the Turkish side, with one game remaining and everything in the competition on the line.