Its three out of four for Italy as Juventus, Inter and Roma all qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League, with Fiorentina the only Italian casualty.
There were only three remaining spots for the last 16 going into match-day six, with many of the groups just left to decide order rather than qualification, leaving many teams fielding weakened lineups with their passage already assured.
Jose Mourinho’s Inter were already safely through as they travelled to Bremen needing a win to guarantee top spot. But an under-strength Nerazzurri side were undone in Germany and with Panathanikos winning in the other Group B game – Inter were condemned to second behind the Greek champions.
And it was ex-Chelsea man Claudio Pizarro who came back to haunt his former coach, neatly notching Werder’s first goal on the hour mark after Inter had failed to clear the ball on two occasions before Mesut Ozil’s shot was parried into the path of Pizarro. The Serie A leaders had been lacklustre throughout the match and when Markus Rosenberg doubled the home side’s advantage, the game was as good as over. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been brought on just prior to Bremen’s second goal, in an attempt to turn the game Inter’s way, but the Swede’s late strike was as good as it got for the visitors. Ibra – in red hot form at present – was allowed space to turn and curl in a stunning 25-yard shot that clipped the post on its way in. It’s been an unconvincing campaign from the Nerazzurri thus far, struggling through a comparatively weak group.
Mourinho’s disappointment was further compounded on hearing the result in the other Group B game. Panathanikos’ win over Cypriot side Anorthosis Famagusta saw the Greeks top the group at Inter’s expense. The home side dominated the large periods of the match and despite having to wait until the 69th minute for the opener, there was a feeling of inevitability when former Inter man Giorgios Karagounis collected a cross from the right and rifled a shot underneath the body of substitute goalkeeper Zoltan Nagy. It was enough to seal the win for the hosts but Euro-heartbreak for their opponents as the Cypriot minnows crashed out of European competition altogether with Werder grabbing third place and the ensuing UEFA Cup spot.
Tuesday night also saw Roma in action looking to snatch top spot in Group A. The win at home to Bordeaux was enough to guarantee this and, despite making hard work of it, the Romans eventually overcame their French opponents. After a cagey and disappointing opening half, the home side went up a gear and following good work down the right hand side from Simone Perrotta, his cut back was met by Matteo Brighi to hand Roma the advantage on 61 minutes. And with the game petering out somewhat, Francesco Totti got himself on the score sheet, when sent clear by Jeremy Menez before firing the ball past the helpless Ulrich Rame.
The other Group A match saw Chelsea nervously overcome Romanian minnows Cluj thanks to Didier Drogba’s second half winner. Chelsea needing a point to qualify went ahead through Salomon Kalou’s close range finish before Yssouf Kone’s superb far-post header left the Blues with an anxious last 40 minutes. But Drogba’s excellent control and sharp finish 20 minutes from time sealed Chelsea’s passage despite an unwanted fright.
Wednesday night saw the turn of Juventus who needed just a point at home to BATE to claim top spot. Despite a horrifying penalty miss by Sebastian Giovinco, the Old Lady secured a goalless draw, which was enough to keep them above Real Madrid at the top of the group.
Real Madrid thrashed Zenit St Petersburg at the Bernabeu in what was ex-Spurs’ coach Juande Ramos’ first game in charge of the Spanish giants. Raul’s 65th goal in European competition opened the scoring after a terrible gaffe from Zenit keeper Vyacheslav Malafeev, before Arjen Robben produced a sublime chip when racing in on goal to double Real’s lead. Raul then repeated the trick, when he chipped the on-rushing Malafeev to put the game out of sight.
Group F saw Italy’s only casualty when Fiorentina were sent packing, in what was a very tough group for the Viola. With big hitters Lyon and Bayern Munich alongside them, it was always going to be a tough ask, and it proved to be to much as Fiorentina were left to rue a couple of poor home results. Their fate was already decided before their trip to Romania to face Steaua Bucharest, with Alberto Gilardino’s excellent header securing a UEFA Cup spot as consolation.
In the other Group F game, the already through Lyon and Bayern played out a thrilling match on a cold night in France. Goals from Miroslav Klose (2) and Franck Ribery put Bayern well in control at the break, as the hosts crumbled late in the first half. But the home side came out fighting in the second period as Sydney Govou and French starlet Karim Benzema gave Lyon a path back into the match, but despite having 20 minutes to find the much sought after equaliser, Bayern went home with the points and with it they go through to as Group winners.
And so we look forward to next Friday’s draw, where the three Italian sides will be hoping for kind match-ups as they look to advance further into the competition. It was a disappointing year for the Italian sides last season so all three will be looking to fly the flag for Italy on the road to Rome in the absence of European specialists Milan.