Thu, Dec 07, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Barcelona, Roma make history

FOOTNOTESRoma made it to the knockout phase for the first time in its current format, while Barca avoided becoming the first defending champions to exit at the group stages

AFP , PARIS AND LONDON

Chelsea's Ukrainian striker Andryi Shevchenko, left, vies for the ball with Levski Sofia defender Elin Tupozakov during their Champions League Group A match at Stamford Bridge in west London on Tuesday.

PHOTO: AFP

Champions LeagueBarcelona and AS Roma made their own entries into the history books of the Champions League on Tuesday, although it was the defending champions who penned the most interesting reading.

Frank Rijkaard's Spanish giants calmed the nerves of their anxious fans with a 2-0 victory over Werder Bremen at the Nou Camp which secured entry to the last 16 after a second place finish in Group A behind winners Chelsea.

Roma, missing its talismanic skipper Francesco Totti, beat Group D winners Valencia 1-0 at home to finish second in their group and enter the knockout phase for the first time in its current format.

However, Barcelona's win, for Champions League posterity, had a little more significance: It meant they avoided becoming the first defending champions to exit the competition at the group stages.

Galatasaray's 3-2 defeat of Liverpool in Istanbul was also remarkable, but so was Robbie Fowler's two goals in a match in which the Reds had little to lose having already secured top spot in Group C ahead of PSV Eindhoven.

Reds manager Rafael Benitez fielded a makeshift team, but said it had been difficult to motivate his troops.

"If you know you have already qualified and then concede two early goals, it is difficult to get back into the game because it is not like a final or playing for three points," he said. "We simply paid for too many mistakes."

At Barcelona, where Rijkaard's side faced an embarrassing dilemma, it took only 13 minutes for the script to begin to take shape.

Ronaldinho, rested for Barca's 1-1 draw with Levante on Saturday, set the tone for the rest of the evening when he stepped up to take a free kick after being fouled by Pierre Wome.

The Brazilian majestically fooled the defending wall with a strike from the edge of the area which rolled under their feet as they jumped in anticipation of a high, curling effort.

Five minutes later Icelandic striker Gudjohnsen slotted home a close range effort, and, despite both teams missing chances Barcelona held on to preserve an unbeaten home record in the competition going back to 2003, when they slid out to Juventus.

Andriy Shevchenko ensured that Chelsea finished top of Champions League Group A as his clinical strike set up a 2-0 win against Levski Sofia on Tuesday.

Shevchenko has endured a miserable time since his club record ?30 million (US$59.4 million) move from Italian giants AC Milan in the pre-season, but he was back to something approaching his best against the Bulgarian champions at Stamford Bridge.

The Ukraine forward opened the scoring in the first half before Shaun Wright-Phillips came off the bench to notch his first competitive goal for the Blues in the closing stages. The London team's victory means they ended their qualifying group ahead of holders Barcelona, Werder Bremen and Levski and have a chance of a slightly easier draw in the second round.

Now Chelsea fancy their chances of winning a first Champions League crown to go with their English Premiership trophies.

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