IT was a night where one English team won 6-1 and crashed out of the Champions League, yet their rivals lost 1-0 at home and still progressed in the competition.
That was the scenario last night as Chelsea thrashed FC Nordsjaelland at Stamford Bridge but were consigned to the Europa League after Juventus won at Shakhtar Donetsk to top Group E
While at Old Trafford, Manchester United slipped to a 1-0 defeat to Romanian champions CFR Cluj thanks to Luis Alberto’s magnificent second-half strike, yet still topped their group and are in the hat for the December 20 draw for the last 16.
It was too little, too late for Rafael Benitez as he finally notched a win at Chelsea but was powerless to stop them becoming the first Champions League holders to crash out of the competition before Christmas.
The fact Fernando Torres ended his goal drought in what was an expected romp against FC Nordsjaelland was also scant consolation for Benitez and the European champions.
Torres even scored twice after David Luiz put Chelsea ahead from the spot at the end of a crazy spell of three penalties for handball in seven minutes that saw both Nicolai Stokholm and Eden Hazard miss.
Joshua John did make it 2-1 but Gary Cahill, Juan Mata and substitute Oscar ensured the holders at least bowed out with their biggest ever Champions League victory and ended their six-match winless streak, three of which were overseen by Benitez.
Chelsea duo Petr Cech and Gary Cahill were left to blame results against Juventus as the reason for the Blues’ exit.
“We knew that it could happen,” Cech said. “We knew that if Donetsk didn’t win then we would be out. Unfortunately that is the reality.
“We did what we could. We had a good performance and scored six goals.”
Chelsea’s fate had rested in the hands of Shakhtar after a stuttering campaign that saw the Blues lose at Juventus as well in Ukraine.
Cech, however, believes the opening day 2-2 home draw with the Italian champions was the most damaging result, when his side squandered a 2-0 lead. “You have results where we lost away to Donetsk and Juventus but I think the main difference was the draw against Juve at home,” said Cech, who saved a penalty when the game was still goalless.
“We were 2-0 up and then ended 2-2. If you drop too many points in the group then you can’t go through.”
Cahill echoed the thoughts of his goalkeeper, saying: “The two results against Juve were damaging for us.
“I’ve just said that with 10 points sometimes you through but that was not to be in our group. We had to do more than that.”
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson could have no complaints about the wonder goal that saw his side go down 1-0 to CFR Cluj in their final group game.
Ferguson branded United’s defending “comical” after their 4-3 victory over Reading at the weekend, but could not fault his players for Luis Alberto’s magnificent strike.
“It was a wonder goal that beat us,” he said. “We didn’t deserve that, we had a lot of good chances but I’ve got no complaints.
“We put a young side out, we did well at times on a pitch that was a bit dead, it had frost on it, so I’m satisfied we put a decent performance in.”
Ferguson made 10 changes from the Reading match, with only Wayne Rooney retaining his place, as he had one eye firmly fixed on Sunday’s derby clash with Manchester City.
“A lot of them got some experience tonight,” Ferguson added. “Young (Nick) Powell did well, 18 years of age, and Phil Jones, it was an excellent game for him tonight – only his second game in about nine months – so I’m very pleased with that part of it.
“We qualified early (from the group stages) and after that we’ve experimented a little and given some players a game, given some youngsters experience that will hold them in good stead.
“We go into the next stage as winners but we could face Shakhtar Donetsk, AC Milan, Porto, there are some big names in there.
“We’ve qualified comfortably, no question of that, but the real tournament starts in February.”
With the result not bothering Ferguson too much, the only real negative was an injury to Tom Cleverly, who left with a calf problem. “We’ll have to see what he’s like,” Ferguson said.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon hailed a “monumental achievement” by his side after they reached the knockout stages of the Champions League last night.
The Hoops beat Spartak Moscow 2-1 at Parkhead to qualify from Group G after Benfica could only draw 0-0 at Barcelona. “It means a hell of a lot to the club,” Lennon said. “It is a monumental achievement on our behalf.
“For the whole club to be at the big table in the new year is a phenomenal effort. To get 10 points is a phenomenal effort.
“I thought we did not play well in the first half, got a break with the goal and then we were slack for their goal. But second half we were a lot better, created good chances; we had to go for it and thankfully it came through for us.”
Asked if last night was the high point of his career, Lennon added: “Yeah, this is the premier event, the toughest of the tough. No-one gave us a prayer going into this group.”
Gary Hooper, who opened the scoring in the first half before Kris Commons’s last winner from the penalty spot, added: “It’s a dream come true. The performance was great and we defended better in the second half.”
Asked how far Celtic can go in the competition, Hooper added: “You never know. At home we can beat anyone – we showed that against Barca and tonight.”
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