Juve through as brilliant Ronaldo assist sets up Valencia win
Juventus clinched a place in the Champions League knockout stages when a brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo assist set up Mario Mandzukic to give them a 1-0 win over Valencia on Tuesday.
The Serie A champions had struggled to break down Valencia's defence until Joao Cancelo slipped the ball to Ronaldo in the Valencia area in the 59th minute of the Group H clash.
Ronaldo wrong-footed Gabriel Paulista with some fancy footwork, giving him space to roll a low cross across the face of goal for Mandzukic to turn in from two metres.
Juventus top the section with 12 points from five games while Valencia, third with five points, were eliminated after second-placed Manchester United beat Young Boys 1-0.
"Valencia have the best defence in La Liga and it's not easy to score against them," said Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri.
"We got caught on the break a couple of times, we need to be more lucid when we go looking for the second goal," he said, repeating a criticism that he routinely levels against his team.
Needing a draw to qualify, Juventus took few risks and the first half produced only one shot on target for each side.
Ronaldo tested Neto with an early shot which the Brazilian dealt with easily while Juve goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny made a brilliant save under the bar to keep out Mouctar Diakhaby's header on the stroke of halftime.
Ronaldo, sent off in the first meeting between the teams in the group, tried again with a low free kick after the break but again Neto dealt with it comfortably.
Diakhaby had the ball in the Juventus net two minutes after Ronaldo's goal but the Frenchman had used his arm to deflect in a free kick and it was chalked off.
Paulo Dybala had a shot turned over by Neto and Mandzukic was close again from another inspired Ronaldo assist, the Portuguese this time controlling the ball on his chest and hooking it back in one move, as Juve cruised home.
"Our team is nine-tenths the same as last season but we have improved the speed of our passing and our execution, and Ronaldo gives us more self-confidence," added Allegri.
Bayern demolish Benfica 5-1 to reach knockouts
Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski scored two goals each as the German champions demolished Benfica 5-1 on Tuesday to reach the Champions League last 16 and lift some of the pressure off boss Niko Kovac.
Kovac is likely to cling on to his job for at least a few more days after Bayern secured victory with their best performance so far this season.
The embattled coach's future has been in doubt for some time with Bayern sitting in fifth place in the Bundesliga, but Robben's double strike in the first half quickly lifted the gloom at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday.
The 34-year-old Dutch winger, in his 10th and possibly last season at Bayern, put the hosts when he cut inside to curl in a shot with his left foot in the 13th minute following a superb solo run down the right wing.
It was a trademarked finish, with which he has terrorised goalkeepers for more than 15 years, and he repeated the trick in the 30th minute to give the hosts a 2-0 lead.
Forward Lewandowski grabbed his 50th Champions League goal with a header that went in off the post to give Bayern, who twice wasted a two-goal lead to draw 3-3 with promoted Fortuna Duesseldorf on Saturday, a comfortable halftime advantage.
The Bavarians conceded a goal through Gedson Fernandes a minute after the restart but there would be no meltdown for Bayern this time.
Lewandowski, who became only the seventh player to reach the 50-goal mark in the competition, restored their cushion with another glancing header and Franck Ribery slotted in from eight metres to make it 5-1 in the 76th.
Bayern are Group E leaders on 13 points, but will have to wait until the last matchday on Dec. 12 at Ajax Amsterdam to see who finishes top, with the Dutch side two points behind, in second place, after a 2-0 win at AEK Athens.
Real Madrid and Roma reach last 16 as CSKA lose at home
Holders Real Madrid and AS Roma reached the Champions League knockout stages before kicking a ball on Tuesday after CSKA Moscow lost 2-1 after suffering a late collapse at home to Viktoria Plzen in Group G.
Real’s win thanks to second-half goals from Gareth Bale and Lucas Vazquez means the European champions are guaranteed to top the group due to a better head-to-head over the hosts.
Like Real, Roma had already clinched a place in the knockout stages with one game to spare thanks to Viktoria Plzen’s 2-1 win at CSKA Moscow in the early kick-off, which leaves Eusebio di Francesco’s side five points clear of third place.
Real and Roma went into the game locked on nine points but having both suffered shock domestic league defeats at the weekend, the Italians losing 1-0 at lowly Udinese while Madrid suffered a stunning 3-0 reverse away to mid-table Eibar.
CSKA had to win to have any chance of reeling in the top two, who both have nine points and meet later on Tuesday in Rome, and took the lead after 10 minutes with a Nikola Vasic penalty after Lukas Hedja had tripped Georgi Shchennikov.
The Russian defender then conceded a penalty at the other end just before halftime for a foul on Radim Reznik. However, Russia’s World Cup goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev dived to his right to save Roman Prochazka’s weak effort.
Prochazka made up for that miss by beating Akinfeev with a miscued finish into the top right corner 10 minutes after the break before Hedja got redemption of his own by heading in a cross from Patrik Hrosovsky to complete Plzen’s comeback.
CSKA’s first defeat by Czech opposition at home meant that Plzen join them on four points in the group, intensifying the battle for third place and a Europa League spot.