English giants Chelsea and Manchester United made hard work of it but ended up coming from behind to both qualify for the Champions League knockout stages on Tuesday.
French champions Bordeaux joined them as they earned an impressive victory over Bayern Munich in Munich, while Porto can also look forward to Champions League soccer in the spring after winning at APOEL Nicosia.
However, things look stark for Bayern Munich and their Champions League-winning coach Louis van Gaal as his side trail second-placed Juventus by four points in Group A with two matches remaining.
Chelsea came from 1-0 down to draw 2-2 with Atletico Madrid — Didier Drogba scoring both goals on his return from a three-match Champions League suspension.
“It was a good game but frustrating because we didn’t win it,” Drogba said. “I have played many Champions League games with Chelsea in the past and to be honest I am just happy to be back on the pitch.”
“We have qualified which is great although it would have been nice to do it with a win,” he said.
Manchester United had to come from even further behind as they trailed 3-1 late into the match against CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford before two goals leveled matters at 3-3 and sent them through.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was relieved to have progressed but was left less than happy by the referee’s performance, especially over a penalty that was not awarded for a trip on Darren Fletcher — the Scottish midfielder being booked instead.
“I can’t believe the decision. It’s one of the worst I have seen in my lifetime,” fumed the irascible Scot.
In the other Group B game in Istanbul, Besiktas suffered a 0-3 reverse against Germany’s VfL Wolfsburg.
AC Milan and Real Madrid’s group has become one of the tightest as the two giants fought out a 1-1 draw in Milan, while rivals Marseille thrashed FC Zurich 6-1 to stand just a point behind the duo.
Milan and Real shared the spoils at the San Siro, with both goals coming in the first half.
Karim Benzema got his first goal in seven matches for the visitors before Ronaldinho drew Milan level from the penalty spot.
Milan’s Brazilian coach Leonardo said a draw was probably the right result.
“If we look only at the first half, Real played very well, they had many chances but in the second I was a bit disappointed because we deserved to win,” he said.
Marseille had wrapped things up shortly after half-time as captain Mamadou Niang was on hand to round off a nicely worked move by the French side to make it 3-1 against FC Zurich and then romped away to leave themselves in with a real chance of making the knockout stages.
On a good night for French sides Bordeaux qualified after securing a splendid 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich — French international Yoann Gourcuff netting in the first half and Moroccan international Marouane Chamakh sealing victory late on in the second-half.
Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc was immensely proud of his team’s achievement.
“All in all, I am very satisfied,” said Blanc, who is fast building a reputation as one of the best young coaches in European soccer.
“I think that this evening Bordeaux achieved something special in beating Bayern here in Munich and qualifying for the knockout stages,” he said.
Van Gaal, victorious in this competition with Ajax in 1995, refused to accept that elimination was inevitable.