Champions League action round-up – Matchday 4 – United and Chelsea qualify, Arsenal on the brink, Liverpool in jeopardy

Two of England’s sides qualified this week for the Last 16 of the Champions League, United stumbling to the mark, Chelsea joining them and Arsenal almost there after impressive performances. Meanwhile, Liverpool and Rangers endured disappointing away draws to leave their respective qualification hopes in real danger.

Manchester United only needed a point to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League and as long as defeat was avoided, the Red Devils would be able to carry on their fantastic unbeaten home record. CSKA Moscow began the game with plenty of intent and after 25 minutes they were ahead. Jonny Evans managed to send Alan Dzagoev wide, but the 19-year-old managed to beat Edwin van der Sar from a difficult angle. Four minutes later, Nani’s flick fell to Michael Owen who beat Igor Akinfeev from close range. However, CSKA took the lead again within two minutes when Tomas Necid’s pass found Milos Krasic who took the ball around van der Sar and scored. Straight after the break, Vasili Berezutsky escaped his marker and headed home at the back post to put the Russians 3-1 up. However, once Paul Scholes’ header narrowed CSKA’s advantage, United’s comeback looked inevitable. And inevitable it was when Antonio Valencia’s strike took a fortunate deflection off Vasili Berezutsky to end the game three apiece.

Chelsea duly followed their Premier League rivals in sealing qualification and just like United, their point did not come easy. After losing 4-0 at Stamford Bridge, Atletico Madrid would have wanted to avoid further embarrassment and on 20 minutes Jose Antonio Reyes’ beautifully curled left-foot strike nearly put the home side ahead. Then, Frank Lampard nearly came close to the opener after he fired just wide. However, Atletico broke the deadlock on 66 minutes after substitute Sergio Aguero’s beautifully struck volley beat Petr Cech. Then, eight minutes before the end, Didier Drogba headed in Florent Malouda’s cross to score the equaliser. The Ivorian then single-handedly put Chelsea in the lead after effortlessly beating two defenders, despite Sergio Asenjo saving his first effort. However, Atletico earned a deserved draw after Aguero’s brilliant free-kick beat Cech at the death.

The Gunners looked to follow Chelsea and United into the Last 16 and they showed their intent right from the off as Robin van Persie fired wide of the mark after a superb Arsenal build-up. The visiting side, AZ, barely had a chance to get into the game when Cesc Fabregas put his side up on 25 minutes. His shot from outside the area managed to beat Sergio Romero at his near post. Andrei Arshavin was instrumental in Arsenal’s second as his through-ball reached Samir Nasri who expertly turned the defender and immaculately finished. The third came shortly after half-time after Arshavin threaded through Fabregas whose superb strike beat Romero. AZ did come close to scoring, if not for an excellent save by Manuel Almunia who pushed Graziano Pelle’s volley onto the crossbar. Eduardo’s back-heel fell to Arshavin who got his third assist of the night, setting up Abou Diaby for Arsenal’s fourth. AZ’s Jeremain Lens managed to beat Almunia with eight minutes to go, but it was merely a consolation.

Liverpool on the other hand needed an away win against Lyon to stand a decent chance of qualification. Fernando Torres began Liverpool’s attacking menace with a shot which was saved by Lyon keeper Hugo Lloris. Dirk Kuyt then came close with an effort which was tipped over the crossbar by the Lyon stopper. Andriy Voronin then had by far the Reds’ best chance to break the deadlock but he fired straight at the Lyon goalkeeper. Liverpool’s sense of urgency became evident as Kuyt’s overhead kick was fortuitously cleared off the line. In the end, Ryan Babel scored an outstanding goal from outside the area to put the Reds a goal up until Lisandro Lopez snatched Lyon’s equaliser in the 89th minute, putting a major dent in Liverpool’s qualification hopes.

Rangers had to at least muster a point away against Romanian champions, Unirea Urziceni to have any chance of qualifying. The Gers nearly got the opening as Kevin Thomson’s powerful free-kick was stopped by Unirea goalkeeper, Giedrius Arlauskis. Steven Naismith’s header lacked power to beat the Lithuanian keeper before Vasile Maftei’s free-kick was expertly parried by Gers keeper, Allan McGregor. In the second half the game slowed down in tempo and Rangers took the lead on 78 minutes when Lee McCulloch unleashed a ferocious shot from outside area. With what looked like a valuable three points, Rangers manager Walter Smith would not have been happy when Marius Onofras scored the equaliser with a spectacular strike into the top corner of the net.

Full results

Tuesday November 3, 2009
Bayern Munich 0-2 Bordeaux
Maccabi Haifa 0-1 Juventus
Besiktas 0-3 Wolfsburg
Milan 1-1 Real Madrid
Marseille 6-1 FC Zurich
Apoel Nicosia 0-1 FC Porto
Atletico Madrid 2-2 CHELSEA

Wednesday November 4, 2009
Fiorentina 5-2 Debrecen
Rubin Kazan 0-0 Barcelona
Dynamo Kiev 1-2 Inter Milan
Unirea Urziceni 1-1 RANGERS
Sevilla 1-1 VfB Stuttgart
Standard Liege 2-0 Olympiakos

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