Champions League Round-up: From Dani to Danny

Damn Zenit. Especially Dani, a ridiculously talented player whose inability to distinguish between the back of the net, posts and crossbars has sunk my outside tip for the 2009 UEFA Champions League.

He and his team-mates squandered opportunities with a recklessness that even the late, great John Belushi might have found over the top.

Group A

Crisis what crisis? The media hysteria that surrounds football has now created a situation where Chelsea are only two successive draws away from a "crisis."

What rubbish. If they beat Cluj at home, as Bordeaux did, the Blues qualify. And if Bordeaux draw in Rome – and Chelsea lose to the Transylvanians – Big Phil’s boys still go through courtesy of their head-to-head record against the Girondins.

Scolari wasn’t the biggest loser in Bordeaux. That must surely be the genius at Milan who decided Yoann Gourcuff could head offski. Bordeaux could buy the silky visionary for just £12.5m this summer.

Gourcuff runs rings round Chelsea's back-line in Bordeaux  

Group B

In The Times, Gabriele Marcotti was inspired by Gianluca Vialli’s suggestion that Jose Mourinho is a Nietzschean superman. So if it’s true that whatever doesn’t kill the Special One makes him stronger, he’ll be all the better for the 1-0 defeat by Panathinaikos.

On the other hand, the bloke that came up with this kill-you-stronger theory was Ernest Hemingway. And he shot himself.

Anorthosis have to beat Pana in Athens to make the last 16 which may, for all their heroics, be a victory too far.

Group C

A record win for Shakhtar marks Basel’s second 5-0 defeat in Group C and earns the Ukrainians a UEFA Cup slot. Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu suggested the direction of his team’s attacks had “puzzled the big and slightly slow Basel players.” Catty. But true.

Paulo Bento, the Sporting coach, was frank about his team’s shortcomings against Barca. Not aggressive enough, dawdling too deep with the ball, and poor in the first half. Although it was 5-2, this was no rout. When Sporting fought back to 3-2, even Pep Guardiola looked worried.

History is against Barca. The last four teams to win this competition in a year ending in nine have all had red in their shirts. And the only other team – Real – wore white. Sorry Pep.

Messi pops in Barca's third in 5-2 win at Sporting 

Group D

This is an intriguing one. Liverpool and Atletico have both qualified. Their head-to-head record is identical but Atletico’s goal difference is one greater than Liverpool’s. If the two sides finish on the same points, goal difference and goals scored, Liverpool will top the group because they have the better UEFA co-efficient.

Group E

Caca made Aalborg’s night. Celtic were unlucky but they were also, after they went 1-0 up, not very good.

And, to their credit, Gary Caldwell and Gordon Strachan effectively admitted as much. By the way, that’s Caca the Brazilian who scored out of nowhere against Celtic – not Citizens Against Crap Advertising, an Ohio pressure group.

Scottish clubs have performed so badly in Europe this season that fitba may lose the automatic European place awarded to the Scottish Cup runners-up when they lose to a team that has already qualified.

The best player in the fourth successive 0-0 between Villarreal and Manchester United was Yellow Submarine keeper Diego Lopez, who made two stunning saves. I expect United, at home to Aalborg next, to finish top.

Late Caldwell own goal ensures Celtic's away misery goes on 

Group F

Claude Puel’s 'Operations Champions League' is back on.

To top the group, Lyon need a 0-0 draw in the Stade Gerland. Gutted for Fiorentina because Cesare Prandelli is such a lovely bloke and they have played better than their meagre points tally would suggest. Sporting director Pantaleo Corvino says the Viola may sell players in January.

Good to see Bayern stabilising under Klinsmann. As the legendary Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger points out in Tor!, his seminal history of German football, the German game stagnated in the late 1990s when Berti Vogts didn’t have the guts to challenge the past in general and the sweeper system in particular.

Klinsmann – and his former deputy Joachim Low, now running the national side – are trying to change fussball, eliminating the win at all costs mentality that disfigured the game when Jupp Derwall was national coach and not relying as heavily on the traditional German virtues: solid defence and team spirit.

Change will take time but the alternative – the cynicism of the 1990s – is far worse.

Group G

In the first 35 minutes of their home game against Porto, Fenerbahce produced their best football of the season. No, I haven’t gone mad, that’s what their coach Luis Aragones reckons. He then added: “In football, if you don’t take your chances and the other side do, you will lose.” Luis the philosopher prince!

Porto, who did play their best football of the season, could have had four. The Dragons need to beat Arsenal in Portugal to go top and with the Gunners’ season already having more highs and lows than Amy Winehouse, anything can happen.

Lisandro Lopez double sends Fenerbahce packing 

Group H

Zenit have proved Aragones’ point and now return to the UEFA Cup. Juventus have sailed through what looked like a tough group and only need a point at home to BATE to finish top.

Man of the matchday in the tournament this week was probably Gourcuff. Mind you, PSV striker Danny Koevermans scored again, as the Dutch lost to Atletico. PSV have only managed four goals and Koevermans has scored all of them. Some record.

Any PSV fans who are feeling a bit down might enjoy this.

The Farmers crop up about two-thirds of the way through.

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