Champions League: English entrants qualify for Round of 16
UEFA Champions League: English entrants qualify for Round of 16.
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English clubs' decent run in the UEFA Champions League (UCL) continues. The 2017-18 season was heralded by Liverpool who put in their best performance in over a decade by emerging runners-up in the prestigious European tournament. This time around, all four participants have made it through to the Round of 16 stage with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur scraping through by the skin of their teeth.
Jurgen Klopp's Reds had the extremely tough task of preventing an attacking Napoli from scoring a precious away goal to have any chance of qualifying. Liverpool talisman Mohamed Salah provided some succour for the hosts with a first half goal but a goal from the Italian side would have left the Reds with the impossible task of scoring two more with hardly any time of the game left…and the Gli Azzurri almost did it. With minutes left for the game to go, Jose Callejon lobbed the ball over the head of Reds defender Virgil van Dijk to Arkadiusz Milik who only had to do beat goalkeeper Alisson from a couple of yards to send the visitors through and banish Liverpool from the tournament.
The Brazilian custodian rushed out, made himself big and kept the ball out thus recording one of the most heroic and vital saves in the history of the UCL.
Both Liverpool and Napoli finished the Group C in the 2nd and 3rd places with 9 points but it was the inability of the latter to score that vital away goal that undid them.
The other team to qualify comfortably from the cluster was Paris St Germain who finished at the top, blanking out Red Star Belgrade 1-4 in away in Serbia.
The Group B held a similar drama in store with the Barcelona-Tottenham Hotspur match as its centerpiece. Mouricio Pochettino's Spurs faced the unenviable task of beating the Catalan giants in their own backyard, Nou Camp, if they were to keep their European hopes alive in any way. But instead, the London club found themselves down to an early goal from Ousmane Dembele in the 7th minute of play.
The desperate Spurs were a transformed side post interval with both Harry Kane and Son Heung-min going close to scoring before Lucas Moura squared off with the equalizer just 5 minutes before the final whistle. But that wouldn't have been enough. A drama enfolding at the San Siro stadium in Italy saw fortune smiling on the Spurs. Inter Milan, on same points with Tottenham, needed to better the 1-1 result at Nou Camp.
What was assumed to be an easy home contest against table bottom-scrapers PSV Eindhoven, the Italian side's job was made immensely difficult when they went down early to a critical away goal from the Dutch visitors in the 13th minute.
Mauro Icardi's equalizer came in the 73rd minute but the crucial winner never came and the Nerazzurri were sent packing from the 2018-19 UCL. Apart from Tottenham, the apparent qualifier was Barcelona leading the cluster with 14 points.
For Manchester City, it was a walk in the park as they waltzed through into the Round of 16 with 13 points, a clear 5 ahead of next-best Lyon (to whom they had surprisingly lost in one of their earlier Group games).The Citizens ended their Group stage on a convincing note, notching up a 2-1 win at the Etihad stadium over Bundesliga side 1899 Hoffenheim.
Manchester United were the fourth English club to qualify coming second in the Group H cluster with 10 points from their 6 outings. The Red Devils' ended their Group campaign on a sour note, though, losing 1-2 to Valencia away in Spain. The other team to qualify from the Group were Italian champions, Juventus, leading the cluster with 12 points. The Old Lady's Group campaign ended in an embarrassment of sorts when they were humbled 1-2 away in Switzerland by rank minions Young Lions.
Elsewhere reigning Champions Real Madrid qualified, topping the Group G, but not before they were humiliated 0-3 by the ousted CSKA Moscow in front of a stunned Bernabeu audience. 2017-18 semi-finalists Roma were the other side to qualify despite losing 1-2 to Viktoria Plzen in their final Group outing.
Porto is through one of best European campaigns ever, storming into the next stage with 16 points and leading cluster D. The Portuguese club registered the best finish of all teams in the 2018-19 Group stages. Bundesliga outfit Schalke 04 are the other side from the cluster to make it to the Round of 16, mustering 11 points from their 6 outings.
Borussia Dortmund are another to qualify from Group A along with Atletico Madrid, both ending with 13 points but the former having a much better goal difference.
Bundesliga giants, Bayern Munich, didn't have much difficulty in their passage to the Round of 16 garnering 14 points from their Group campaign. A resurgent Ajax were the other side to qualify from Group E while Portuguese side Benfica had to bid adieu.
Last but not the least the UEFA Europa League 2018-19 saw two more London clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea, storming into the Round of 32 topping their respective Groups with 16 points each from their 6 games. While Arsenal finished their Group campaign with a 1-0 win over Azeri club Qarabag at the Emirates stadium, Chelsea missed an opportunity to register a 100 per cent win record when they drew 2-2 with MOL Vidi in faraway Hungary.
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