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Six things we learned from the Champions League


Manchester United’s Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (L) vies with Basel’s Colombian defender Eder Balanta during the UEFA Champions League Group A football match between FC Basel and Manchester United at Saint Jakob-Park Stadium on November 22, 2017 in Basel. / AFP PHOTO / PATRICK HERTZOG

The penultimate round of Champions League group-stage matches saw the likes of holders Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea qualify for the last 16.

Here are six other things we learned from the games on Tuesday and Wednesday:

Basel: Premier League giant slayers
Basel have a rich history of dumping English giants out of the Champions League, and although their 1-0 win in Switzerland didn’t knock Manchester United out of the competition, it kept Basel second above CSKA Moscow. Famously, the Swiss outfit qualified for the last 16 at the expense of United in 2011/12 with a 2-1 victory at St Jakob-Park. Basel put Liverpool out in the 2002/03 group stage with a pair of draws, including in the final game, and also ended the Reds’ hopes with a 1-1 Anfield draw three years ago. Michael Lang’s 89th-minute winner did the damage this time, but Jose Mourinho’s men only need to avoid a seven-goal loss against CSKA Moscow next month to qualify.


Atletico not done yet
A place in the last 16 still looks unlikely for Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, but the La Liga side showed their mettle with a 2-0 win over Roma at the Wanda Metropolitano. Antoine Griezmann, who had been widely criticised after scoring only three goals in 14 appearances this season, produced a moment of magic. In the must-win encounter, the Frenchman crashed a flying bicycle kick past Roma keeper Alisson from Angel Correa’s cross, before Kevin Gameiro added a late second.

Atletico, who have been runners-up twice in the past four seasons, still need to win at Chelsea and hope Roma fail to beat Azeris Qarabag at the Stadio Olimpico to snatch a place in the knockout stage ahead of the Italians.

PSG can fight back
Tournament favourites Paris Saint-Germain fell behind for the first time in this season’s competition in the opening minute against Celtic, but responded superbly to race into a 4-1 half-time lead, before closing out a thumping 7-1 victory. Neymar scored twice as he took his tally to 13 goals for the club, while Edinson Cavani has now scored 21 this term after also grabbing a brace.

Far tougher tests will come for PSG, starting with their match at Bayern Munich in a fortnight’s time, when they only have to avoid a four-goal defeat to seal top spot in Group B.

Liverpool have holes to fill
Liverpool’s soft underbelly resurfaced on Tuesday as the five-time champions threw away a three-goal lead to draw 3-3 at Sevilla, leaving them still needing to draw their last Group E game against Spartak Moscow to qualify.

The match brought back memories of Liverpool’s 3-1 loss to Sevilla in the 2016 Europa League final, when Liverpool left-back Alberto Moreno also inadvertently inspired a comeback for his former club. On Tuesday, the Spaniard was at fault for both of Wissam Ben Yedder’s goals. Questions will be raised over the continued absence of close-season signing Andy Robertson.


Kane proves his class again
Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane went into his team’s game at Borussia Dortmund without a goal since October 22 after struggling with injury. But, despite not looking fully fit, the 24-year-old still provided a moment of quality to equalise for Spurs at Signal Iduna Park and set Mauricio Pochettino’s men on their way to a 2-1 win that wrapped up top spot in Group H ahead of holders Real Madrid. Kane has now scored six goals in just five Champions League games this season, after his sharp turn and finish from the edge of the area.

Delight for Besiktas
Turkish champions Besiktas finally reached the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time since the competition was reformatted in 1992. Last season the Istanbul outfit would have gone through with a win in their final group game against already-eliminated Dynamo Kiev, but were thrashed 6-0. This season, aided by close-season addition Pepe at centre-back, Besiktas have cruised through a tough Group G containing the likes of Monaco and Porto, and wrapped up top spot with a 1-1 draw against the Portuguese team in front of a raucous home crowd.

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