Real Madrid and Manchester City qualified for the Champions League knockout rounds with victories over Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla respectively on Tuesday.
And there was relief at Old Trafford as Manchester United ended a 404-minute wait for a goal to beat CSKA Moscow 1-0.
A fortuitous goal from Nacho proved decisive for 10-time champions Real to win 1-0, despite being outplayed for the majority of the first half of their Group A game at the Santiago Bernabeu.
“We managed to struggle through in the first half and in the second we had some good counter chances,” Real coach Rafael Benitez said. “The return of [injured] players will help us in the next phase.”
PSG were on top throughout the first period, but Adrien Rabiot’s volley cannoned back off the foot of the post and Edinson Cavani squandered a great chance when left with just goalkeeper Keylor Navas to beat. When Toni Kroos let fly from distance just after the half hour, the ball spooned up off Thiago Silva and fell to Nacho — who had only come on for injured leftback Marcelo two minutes earlier — inside the area.
PSG goalkeeper Kevin Trapp initially came for the looping ball, but as he backtracked from no-man’s land, Nacho’s casual side-foot spun wickedly on the bounce and dropped inside the far post.
Little happened in the second half, but Angel Di Maria did hit the bar late on with a free-kick, although the French champions could not find the goal their play deserved.
Real qualified from Group A thanks to Shakhtar Donetsk romping to a 4-0 win over Malmo, a result which means a win for PSG in either of their last two matches will ensure they join Real in the last 16.
City banished memories of their recent Champions League struggles as a confident 3-1 win in Seville qualified them for the last 16 with two games to spare in Group D.
Borussia Moenchengladbach’s failure to beat Juventus in Germany, where the sides played out a 1-1 draw, meant City, who now top the group, have made it to the knockout stages for only the third time.
However, manager Manuel Pellegrini still wants more.
“It is important to be qualified two games before, but we want to qualify first in the group,” he said.
Raheem Sterling set them on their way with a goal after eight minutes, while Fernandinho doubled the advantage three minutes later.
Frenchman Benoit Tremoulinas gave the Spanish hosts hope, but Wilfried Bony’s crisp low finish nine minutes from the break effectively killed the contest, giving City a third straight Group D victory.
In Germany, Fabian Johnson gave Borussia the lead on 18 minutes, but Stephan Lichtsteiner marked his return from minor heart surgery with the equalizer a minute before the break to restore parity.
Juve held on for the final 35 minutes with 10 men after Hernanes was dismissed for a late tackle on Alvaro Dominguez, meaning the Italians need only two more points to go through.
City’s neighbors United labored for long periods against CSKA at Old Trafford before a late Wayne Rooney header snatched a 1-0 win that puts the Red Devils in control of Group B.
PSV Eindhoven’s 2-0 win at home to Wolfsburg means United lead those two by a point but a victory over the Dutch outfit at Old Trafford in three weeks’ time will book their place in the last 16.
Rooney’s goal saw him equal Denis Law in second on United’s all-time scorers’ list with 237 goals.
“Denis Law is a legend at this club and to equal his goal-scoring record is a huge honor for me,” Rooney said.
United came into the game on the back of three successive 0-0 draws with manager Louis van Gaal’s tactics increasingly coming in for criticism.
Just before Rooney scored, goalkeeper David De Gea, a virtual spectator throughout, had to come to his side’s rescue after Ahmed Musa’s perfectly-weighted ball sent Seydou Doumbia racing clear.
De Gea made a brilliant one-handed save to deny the Ivory Coast forward before the back-tracking Chris Smalling slid in to crucially clear the follow-up off the line.
Almost immediately, Untied went up the other end, carved CSKA open and Rooney headed in Jesse Lingard’s cross unmarked from seven yards.
Benfica are close to qualifying from Group C after beating Galatasaray 2-1 in Lisbon, while Atletico Madrid were held 0-0 by Astana in Kazakhstan, although the Spaniards are second and three points ahead of Gala.
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