The group stage of the European Champions League came to its conclusion on Wednesday with some interesting results and outcomes.
English League leaders, Arsenal, progressed into the last 16 despite losing in Rome while Chelsea edged Steaua Bucharest to claim their group’s top spot.
At the Camp Nou, Neymar heeded to Gerardo Martino’s call by standing out against Celtic in the absence of Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas as his hat-trick rubbed salt on the ‘Hoops’s’ injury.
AC Milan reached the next round of Europe’s elite competition on a night marred by crowd trouble.
Group E (Chelsea, Schalke)
Prior to Wednesday’s visit of Romanaian champions, Steaua Bucharest, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho had earlier stressed the need for finishing first and avoid the top dogs in next Monday’s second round draw.
So it turned out as Senegalese export Demba Ba bundled home from far post an Oscar flick-on to seal a straightforward victory at Stamford Bridge.
Schalke leapfrogged Basel into second, after Julian Draxler and Joel Matip scored in the space of seven second-half minutes. Ten-man Basel only needed a draw to scale the group hurdle but couldn’t impress in Gelsenkirchen.
Group F (Dortmund, Arsenal)
The group many loved to tag ‘Group of Death’ culminated in an interesting fashion after some end-to-end 90 minutes of football in Italy and France.
Aside from Marseille, who couldn’t earn a solitary point in six games, all teams finished on 12 points as Dortmund assumed pole position, thanks to a late away victory at the Stade Velodrome.
The Gunners impressed in the first-half in Naples but came right off the pace in the second-half.
Arsene Wenger’s missed target last summer, Gonzalo Higuain, gave Napoli the lead before Mikael Arteta was sent off for picking up two yellow cards. Though replay showed there was minimal contact.
Jose Callejon scored a second for the hosts in injury time, Dortmund’s 2-1 win at Marseille eliminated Rafael Benitez’s men who now plays in the Europa League.
Napoli were on course to qualify for the last 16 when Higuain gave them the lead but Kevin Grosskreutz’s winner for Dortmund three minutes from time in Marseille turned the table around with the last season’s runners-up going top.
Robert Lewandowski beat the offside trap to open the scoring, but Marseille, who had Dimitri Payet sent off after he picked up a second yellow card for diving, equalised when Souleymane Diawara headed in a rebound.
Group G (Atletico Madrid, Zenit St Petersburg)
Zenit St Petersburg progressed into the round of 16 despite losing 4-1 to Austria Vienna. Group winners, Atletico Madrid, which featured a host of its second string players, saw off FC Porto 2-0 to allow the Russians progress.
Zenit finished with 6 points, 10 points behind Atletico Madrid and a point ahead of the Portuguese and Austria Viena.
Raul Garcia and Diego Costa’s first-half strikes ended Porto’s hopes of qualifying.
Group H (Barcelona, AC Milan)
Neymar scored a hat-trick as Barcelona taught Celtic a very harsh lesson at the Camp Nou.
After a near-perfect display from the Catalan’s, who were also without the likes of Messi, Fabregas and goalkeeper Victor Valdes, coach Neil Lennon’s team fell to a 6-1 loss- equaling their heaviest European loss.
Gerard Pique opened scoring before Pedro and Neymar added two more for the Baulgranas.
Neymar scored two more before the hour mark to complete his hat-trick and then Christian Tello completed scoring for the hosts.
Georgios Samaras’s late headed goal served as consolation for Celtic, who were already guaranteed of finishing the group, last on the standing.
At the San Siro, Milan reached the last 16 at the expense of Ajax after both side played out a goalless draw.
Prior to the stalemate, one Ajax supporter was rushed to the hospital after being stabbed during street fights, another suffered serious injury after being stabbed in the stomach.
Milan qualified alongside Barcelona even after having Riccardo Montolivo sent off in the first-half.
They finished a point ahead of Ajax and four points behind the group winners.
The Dutch side failed to make the best of their numerical advantage and now settles for a place in the Europa League.