Only a few spots in the round of 16 have been decided in Groups A-D of the UEFA Champions League, as at least one spot in each group will come down to Matchday 6.
Both spots are still undecided in Group A, where just a month ago, the outlook was bleak for Liverpool, after a 2-1 loss to Besiktas put them needing three wins in a row to go through. But, there’s now only one more hurdle for Rafa’s Reds, after a 4-1 triumph over group leaders Porto on Tuesday night.
After an emotional protest in favor of Rafa Benitez in the wake of his verbal battle with the club’s owners prior to the match, it was time for the players to hold up their end. Fernando Torres put Liverpool up with less than 20 minutes gone, but the joy would last less than 15 minutes as Porto’s Lisandro Lopez, the hero of their win over Marseille in Matchday 4, equalized in the 33rd. The match stayed level until the final quarter of the game, when the home side woke up and blew the group leaders away. Torres put home his second on 78 to give Liverpool a valuable lead, and the result was emphatically put beyond doubt with goals from Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard, the latter scoring from the penalty spot.
After struggling in front of goal for their first three Champions League matches, Liverpool have caught fire domestically and continentally, tallying 17 goals in their last four matches.
But, it’s still much, much too early to celebrate, as all four sides in the group have a chance to qualify for the round of 16 going into the final matchday, with Besiktas also still in the running after Bobo’s last-minute strike handing the Turkish side a 2-1 win over Marseille.
Despite their defeat, Porto are still on top of the group with eight points, and will qualify for the round of 16 if they pick up at least a point at home against Besiktas in two weeks.
Liverpool and Marseille. who both have seven points, will face off in France with a spot in the round of 16 on the line. Both clubs are on seven points, but a draw would benefit only Marseille, as they would advance based on the head-to-head tiebreaker. It’s pretty simple for Liverpool – a win puts them through, anything less, and they’re in the UEFA Cup, at best.
As for Besiktas, they’ll need to pull off a victory in Portugal in order to qualify for the knockout round, but numbers don’t favor that occurrence, as Besiktas has seen defeat in both of their away matches.
In Group B, Chelsea sealed their spot in the round of 16 and the top spot in the group with a 4-0 drubbing of Rosenborg in Norway on Wednesday.
The second spot will come down to Rosenborg and Schalke, who kept their hopes alive with a goalless draw against Valencia, who are now eliminated from contention for the knockout round.
The Norwegians still lie second in the group with seven points, two ahead of the Bundesliga side. Their run in the Champions League will be extended if they manage to avoid defeat in Gelsenkirchen, where victory will be the sole objective for the home side.
Valencia, who are at the bottom of Group B with four points, could still wind up in the UEFA Cup, but will at least need to get a positive result from their trip to London and hope Rosenborg can take all three points from Schalke.
In Group C, everything is up in the air after Wednesday’s results.
Werder Bremen needed a victory against Real Madrid to keep their round of 16 hopes alive, and they just did that, picking up a 3-2 home win over the group leaders.
In the other match in the group, Olympiakos took a huge leap towards the knockout round with a crucial 2-1 win over Lazio. Darko Kovacevic’s 64th minute strike was the difference, and it knocked his former side out of the running for a place in the last 16.
Real and Olympiakos are still best placed to qualify, as they top the group with eight points. After their win, Werder have six points, while it’s lonely for Lazio at the bottom, as the Romans have only five points.
Real need only a point from their home tie with Lazio in order to seal their place in the next round, with a victory assuring top spot. Olympiakos must do the same in order to move on as well when they host Werder, whereas the Germans are in a must-win situation in order to reach in the round of 16.
The Greek side will be looking to erase some bad memories as they try to move on to the knockout round. The last time they were this close was in 2004/05, when they lost a 1-0 halftime lead at Liverpool in Matchday 6 and missed out, while the Reds went on to be crowned kings of Europe.
IF they can take care of the business at hand, it could benefit Lazio, but only if Lazio can pull off a result at the Bernabeu, as that combination of results could put them into the group’s UEFA Cup slot. An Olympiakos win would make things much more doable for Lazio, as they would only need a draw to beat Werder out for the UEFA Cup berth based on the long list of tiebreakers.
Finally, in Group D, AC Milan booked their place in the last 16 with a 1-1 draw against Benfica. Right now, Celtic are in position to take the other spot, after Massimo Donati’s injury-time winner handed the Scottish champions a 2-1 victory over Shakhtar Donetsk.
AC Milan top the group with 10 points, while Celtic have nine, Shakhtar six, and Benfica four. The Ukrainian side could still make the knockout round if they can triumph at home against Benfica and Celtic loses in Milan. Top spot in the group will be on the line in that clash, where Milan need a point to finish on top.
[This is where I made a bit of a mistake in the initial entry, but I shall correct myself – If Celtic and Shakhtar end up level on points, Shakhtar would advance. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head points, where the home sides took three points in their head-to-head matchups. After that, goal difference in the head-to-head matches, not overall goal difference, determines who advances, and Shakhtar would have the edge based on their +1 advantage.]
Benfica could still wind up in the UEFA Cup if they can pick up all three points in Ukraine, which would push them into that third spot.
So, to sum everything up in case you’ve scanned to the bottom of the page, if you’re a fan of any of the sides facing uncertainty heading into Matchday 6, try to keep your nails growing for the next couple of weeks, because you’ll be needing something to bite down on, and the girlfriend might not appreciate it being her until after the match is over.