Group A: Spanish Blues

THE ANIMOSITY and mutual antagonism that has characterised the encounters between Chelsea and Barcelona over the past two seasons once again threatened to boil over during the latest confrontation at the Nou Camp.

Ahead of the potentially vital clash, Chelsea manager José Mourinho labelled his former striker Eidur Gudjohnsen a “diver”, while injured Barca striker, Samuel Eto’o, claimed the opposition changing room was full of “sons of bitches” starving new boy Andriy Shevchenko of service. The hostilities on the pitch took a more physical nature, referee Stefano Farina issuing a total of 10 cautions.

The fact that the Blues entered the arena in an all-white strip, looking for all the world like the home side’s arch enemies Real Madrid, did not help diffuse the situation. Still, in between the pushing, shoving, tripping, elbowing and arguing, supporters were treated to brief glimpses of real class.

Barely three minutes into the game, Deco put the Spanish champions ahead with a spectacular strike, only to be outdone by Frank Lampard. The England striker somehow managed to find the top corner of the goal from a virtual dead angle on the byline. The lambasted Gudjohnsen then finished off a Ronaldinho move with aplomb before a dramatic late Didier Drogba effort produced the final 2-2 score-line.

Coupled with Werder Bremen’s 3-0 canter in Sofia, Barcelona now find themselves two points adrift in third, while Chelsea are as good as through to the last 16. Bremen host Chelsea next on November 22, but in all likelihood the German club’s trip to Spain on December 5 will be all-decisive for Barcelona’s future in this season’s competition.

Group B: Sporting chance

Sporting Lisbon, riled by derisory remarks made by Bayern Munich’s manager and goalkeeper ahead of their second encounter with the German champions in as many weeks, proved by far the better side on the night. In the event the goalless draw sufficed to see Munich through into the next round, while Sporting retain a fighting chance to pip Inter Milan, 1-0 winners in Moscow, for second place. The two sides go head-to-head in Italy in two weeks time.

Group C: Mersey beat

Liverpool continued to defy their patchy domestic form with a convincing 3-0 win over Bordeaux that made sure of a place among the last 16 with two games to spare. Luís García starred in the first unchanged line-up for the Reds in 99 games, opening the scoring with a powerful volley from the edge of the box. The diminutive Spaniard made it two and 3-0 on the night shortly after Steven Gerrard had doubled Liverpool’s score in the 71st minute.

PSV Eindhoven also guaranteed their passage from the same group with an emphatic 2-0 home success over Galatasaray.   

Group D: Score draws

Fernando Morientes and Ayala scored the goals for Valencia that secured a 2-2 draw and early qualification for the next stage against Shakhtar Donetsk. Most likely to join the Spaniards are AS Rome, despite being held 1-1 at home by Olympiacos.

Group E: French champagne

Karim Benzema, the latest teenage talent from Lyon’s youth academy, struck the goal that downed Dynamo Kiev to impressively see the French champions through to the next stage. Gerrard Houllier’s team has four wins from as many games while scoring nine goals without reply. They are joined by Real Madrid, who benefited from a Steaua Bucharest own goal to accumulate the necessary points.

Group F: Eagles soar

Celtic experienced anything but a night to remember in Lisbon, as Benfica gained revenge for their earlier defeat in Glasgow.

Scotland defender Gary Caldwell in particular suffered a nightmare of a game, heading into his own net before gifting Nuno Gomes a second with a crass defensive error. Russian striker, Andrey Karyaka, rounded off a resounding victory for the Portuguese team by adding a third in the 76th minute.

Celtic now remain only two points clear of Benfica in second, behind table toppers Manchester United, who were surprisingly beaten in Copenhagen. Marcus Allback scored the only goal on a freezing night in the Danish capital, leaving United still in need of points from their remaining fixtures against Celtic and Benfica.

Group G: Gunners spiked

Arsenal should have racked up a cricket score against CSKA Moscow, but somehow failed to put the ball into the net. Van Persie, Henry, Fabregas and Rosicky all conjured up misses when it looked easier to score, turning a potential avalanche into an unlikely goalless draw.

At the same time, Porto travelled to Hamburg and played the German team off the park, the anything but flattering 3-1 victory throwing the group wide open. CSKA lead on eight points, one ahead of both their English and Portuguese rivals on seven.

Arsenal must now win at least one of their two remaining games at home against Hamburg or away to Porto, preferably both, to ensure their continued presence in the competition. Porto will have to beat Moscow in Russia to have a chance of securing their place.  

Group H: Milan marauders

Brazilian star, Kaka, scored a hat-trick as AC Milan eased into the last 16 with a 4-1 win over whipping boys Anderlecht. Second place in the group is still up for grabs following AEK Athens’ 1-0 home win over closest rivals Lille, who still enjoy a one-point advantage. The French club had to make do with only 10 men for the best part of the game in the Greek capital following the 22nd-minute expulsion of their Greek defender Tavlaridis.

Hostilities will be resumed on November 21/ 22 with the final round scheduled for the first week of December.