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  • Liverpool left nothing to chance in routing Spartak Moscow 7-0 to top its group, while the remaining three places in the knockout stage were claimed by Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk and Sevilla in bringing an end to the group phase of the competition.
By Jonathan Wilson
December 06, 2017

Liverpool, Sevilla, Shakhtar and Porto all confirmed their places in the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday night, in the last round of games in the group stage, while Dortmund qualified for the Europa League, despite a defeat away to Real Madrid to end the opening phase without a win.

Napoli was the day's big casualty. It needed to win and hope Shakhtar lost to go through, and it seemed on course when Piotr Zielinksi put the Serie A power into a fourth-minute lead. But Nicolai Jorgensen had headed Feyenoord level before halftime, and Jerry St. Juste headed an injury-time winner.

It didn't wind up mattering, because Shakhtar won anyway. Manchester City had a perfect record in the group, but goals from Bernard and Ismaily helped Paulo Fonseca’s side to a 2-1 win.

Spartak Moscow's challenge at Anfield was effectively finished within 19 minutes as Liverpool raced into a 3-0 lead en route to a 7-0 masterclass. Philippe Coutinho ended up with a hat trick and Sadio Mane had two goals of his own as Liverpool ease to first in the group. Sevilla finished second after a 1-1 draw at Maribor.

Porto made sure of its place in the last 16 with a 5-2 win over Monaco, with Vincent Aboubakar scoring twice in a game in which both sides went down to 10 men. Felipe and Rachid Gezzal were sent off after aiming slaps at each other eight minutes before halftime. RB Leipzig finished third after a 2-1 defeat at home to the group-winners Besiktas.

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Elsewhere, Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player to score in all six of his side's group games as Real Madrid beat Borussia Dortmund 3-2.

Peter Bosz’s troubled side was still confirmed as a third-place finisher after Tottenham beat APOEL 3-0, with Fernando Llorente and George-Kevin N’Koudou both scoring their first goals for the club, sandwiching a fine effort from Son Heung-min.

Here are three thoughts on the close to the Champions League group stage:

LIVERPOOL LEAVES NO DOUBT

For the eighth time in its last nine games, Liverpool scored three or more goals. Jurgen Klopp's side won eight of those games, the only exception being the 3-3 draw at Sevilla when it squandered a 3-0 halftime lead. Liverpool was 3-0 up at halftime Wednesday, but the interest in the second half was not whether there would be a fightback but whether Liverpool could beat its first-half tally in the second. Spartak needed to win to go through, which perhaps led to a bafflingly open approach. With space to attack, Liverpool’s front four took ruthless advantage.

Four minutes had gone when Georgy Dzhikiya dragged down Mohamed Salah as a cross sailed across the box. It was perhaps a soft penalty and certainly a needless one to concede. Liverpool had missed its last three spot kicks, but Philippe Coutinho converted, the first penalty scored by the home side at Anfield in 2017. Coutinho added a second on the quarter-hour mark after some slick interplay on the break. Roberto Firmino notched a third four minutes later.

Sadio Mane volleyed in James Milner’s cross just after halftime and a deflected Coutinho shot completed his hat trick to make it 5-0 in the 50th minute. Salah and  substitute Daniel Sturridge combined to tee up Mane for a sixth, and sharp footwork led to Salah lashing in the seventh.

Doubts remain about Liverpool’s defending for sides that can break through the press, but its attacking prowess is enough to unsettle any opponent. Liverpool racked up 23 goals in the group stage this season, a new record for English sides, and five more than it had in total when winning the competition in 2004-05.

With its advancement, all five Premier League sides–Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham–are through to the next round, with all but Chelsea going through as group winners.

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PRESSURE MOUNTS FOR BOSZ

Bosz’s tenure at Borussia Dortmund looks increasingly doomed. The club's collapse after taking 16 points form its first six games of the season has been startling. Bosz, who left Ajax for Dortmund in the summer, reportedly remains popular in the dressing room, but confidence is so low now it’s hard to see how he can survive much longer. Dortmund's only win in its last 12 games was in the German Cup against third-flight Magdeburg.

Bosz became the first manager to keep clean sheets in each of his first five games in the Bundesliga, but any semblance of defensive solidity has long since disappeared. Borja Mayoral dinked Madrid into an eighth-minute lead, and then Ronaldo, creating half a yard of space with a move to his right, whipped a shot into the top corner to complete his sweep of scoring in every group match. Despite the recent criticism he's been fielding, he was the top scorer of the group stage with eight goals.

At that, though, Madrid became complacent, wasting a series of chances and allowed Dortmund back into the game. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck two minutes before halftime and then again four minutes with a clever chipped finish while Real Madrid's defense waited for an offside call that never came to level the score at 2-2.

That shocked Real Madrid into life, and it found a winner through Lucas Vazquez’s sliced volley.

Dortmund will still compete in a knockout stage in Europe on a lower rung, but will Bosz be managing the club there?

SURPRISING SHAKHTAR OUTLASTS NAPOLI

When Napoli beat Shakhtar Donetsk 3-0 a couple of weeks ago to close to within three points of the Ukrainian champions with a better head-to-head record, the script seemed written. If Napoli were to win at winless Feyenoord while Shakhtar lost at home to Manchester City, Maurizio Sarri’s side would be through. But against a much-changed Man City, Shaktar was superb. First Bernard, from the far left of the box, curled a brilliant finish into the top corner, then a precise ball over the top from Marlos found Ismaily, who nudged the ball past the onrushing Ederson and rolled the ball into the empty net. Sergio Aguero’s late penalty cut the deficit, but it was no matter.

Full credit to Shakhtar for navigating through a difficult group to reach the next stage.

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