Jones seals progress for depleted Liverpool with win over Ajax
Teenager Curtis Jones grabbed a 58th-minute winner as an injury-hit Liverpool qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League with a 1-0 win over Ajax Amsterdam at Anfield on Tuesday.
The victory ensured top spot in Group D for Juergen Klopp's side with 12 points after rivals Atalanta were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Midtjylland.
Ajax, with seven points, are a point adrift of second-placed Atalanta and need victory over the Italians in their final group game to reach the last 16.
As well as Jones, Klopp had another youngster to thank for their win as Ireland Under-21 goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher produced a vital save in the final stages of his Champions League debut.
Kelleher had been drafted in after first choice Alisson Becker became the latest addition to Liverpool's lengthy injury list with a scan revealing a hamstring strain.
With Neco Williams in at right back and Jones in midfield there was a youthful feel to Liverpool, with experienced alternatives in short supply.
Jones rattled a shot against the post in the sixth minute after being set-up by Mohamed Salah but Ajax fought their way into the game with former Everton midfielder Davy Klaassen proving influential.
Kelleher was called into action in the 32nd minute as he tipped over a blast from Noussair Mazraoui.
After the break, Klaassen missed a decent chance, heading wide at the near post, and the Dutch side should have gone ahead when David Neres struck the post after Kelleher had pushed out a Mazraoui effort.
Then came the decisive moment -- Ajax keeper Andre Onana badly misjudged a cross from Williams and allowed the ball to float over his head where the 19-year-old Jones did well to guide it home at the back post.
Kelleher completed a memorable debut when he pulled off a vital save in the final minutes to keep out a header from Ajax's veteran substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar
"It was an amazing one for me, to make my debut in a Champions League game was massive and we got the win and qualified. A great night," said the Irish keeper.
"That's what I'm there for, I work every day in training to make sure I am ready and I was able to make a good few saves."
Atletico must wait as Mueller snatches draw for Bayern
Atletico Madrid face a nerve-wracking final game to ensure they reach the Champions League knockout stage after they could only draw 1-1 at home to a much-changed Bayern Munich side on Tuesday following a late penalty from Thomas Mueller.
Atleti looked on course for a comfortable victory which would have sealed a place in the last 16 when Joao Felix put them in front in the 26th minute, appearing at the near post to knock in a cross from Marcos Llorente.
But Diego Simeone's side were unable to add to their lead against holders Bayern, who rested most of their first-team regulars after qualifying as group winners last week.
Atletico were made to pay for their conservatism when substitute Mueller beat goalkeeper Jan Oblak from the spot in the 86th minute after being felled by defender Felipe.
A third consecutive draw left Atletico second in Group A with six points and to qualify they must avoid defeat in their final game at RB Salzburg, who are third with four points.
"We are feeling angry and frustrated because we have drawn because of a penalty and we leave here with an awful taste in our mouths," said Atletico winger Llorente. "Bayern are a great team but we did more than enough to win."
Simeone made a defensive substitute just before conceding the penalty in removing Angel Correa for Hector Herrera and surprisingly took off scorer Felix and in-form winger Yannick Carrasco right after Mueller converted from the spot.
They were not far from re-taking the lead as defender Mario Hermoso narrowly missed the target with a late header while they also came close with a last-ditch corner deep in added time.
Bayern, whose record run of 15 consecutive Champions League victories was halted, top the group with 13 points, while Lokomotiv Moscow, who lost 3-1 at home to Salzburg in the group's early game, are bottom with three.
Lukaku double in 3-2 win at Glabdach keeps Inter hopes alive
Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku scored twice in the second half to secure a 3-2 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach on Tuesday and keep their hopes of reaching the knockout stage alive with Group B still wide open with one round of games left.
The Belgium international has proved a lifesaver for Inter, having also scored twice, including a last-minute equaliser, in their 2-2 draw with the Germans in Italy on the first matchday.
Lukaku fired home for a 2-1 lead in the 64th minute at Borussia Park and tapped in his second goal nine minutes later to make it 3-1, with Inter now needing a win in their last group match against Shakhtar Donetsk to have any chance of advancing.
"You need to be a great group (of players), otherwise you don't come here and win against this Borussia side in great form," said Inter coach Antonio Conte.
"We had a great performance, we fully deserved to win. We just could avoid some risks at the end but we are still alive and this is what counts the most."
Gladbach are top on eight points, one ahead of Shakhtar and Real Madrid after the Ukrainians earlier beat the visiting Spaniards 2-0. Inter are bottom on five. All four teams will battle to reach the last 16 on the final matchday.
Inter were rewarded for their strong start with Matteo Darmian slotting the ball through the legs of goalkeeper Yann Sommer in the 17th minute.
The Germans found their footing after half an hour and, despite frantic shouts of "calma, calma" from Inter coach Antonio Conte echoing across the empty stadium, the Italians lost their grip on the game.
Alassane Plea headed home the equaliser in first-half stoppage time but as the hosts edged closer to a second goal after the break, Lukaku struck with a powerful shot across the area into the far corner.
He then completed a quick move with an easy tap in.
Moenchengladbach were not done yet and Plea cut the deficit in the 76th while eight minutes later the Frenchman had an effort disallowed by VAR for an offside in the area.
"We'd have liked to get points from this game. We didn't manage that and we're very disappointed," said Gladbach coach Marco Rose, who was furious over the offside decision.
Asked what he had told the referee in an agitated manner at the end of the game, Rose replied: "Merry Christmas."
Shakhtar stun Real Madrid again to leave Spaniards on the brink
Real Madrid’s Champions League hopes are hanging in the balance after they lost 2-0 at Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday, leaving them third in Group B with one round of games remaining.
The 13-times European champions went behind in the 57th minute when Shakhtar substitute Dentinho capitalised on a lapse in concentration by Raphael Varane to score in an empty Olympic Stadium, where Madrid won their last Champions League in 2018.
Israeli forward Manor Solomon then wrapped up the home side’s shock win over the Spaniards in the 82nd with a solo run on the counter and finish into the bottom corner.
Dentinho came on in the first half to replace striker Junior Moraes, who was injured after being hauled down by Varane in a bid to prevent the forward racing towards goal unchallenged.
Shakhtar, who beat Madrid 3-2 away in October, are second in Group B on seven points, level with Zinedine Zidane’s side but above them due to their superior head-to-head record.
It looked as though Madrid’s fate would be out of their hands heading into next week but Inter Milan handed them a lifeline by beating leaders Borussia Moenchengladbach 3-2.
Real host Gladbach next week in their final game knowing victory would secure qualification from their group for a 24th consecutive season.
They would also go through with a draw as long as Inter beat Shakhtar at home.
The defeat followed Saturday’s 2-1 reverse to Alaves in La Liga but Zidane vowed to fight on, dismissing suggestions he could resign as he did in May 2018 after lifting a third straight Champions League crown.
“I’m optimistic. This is a difficult moment but we need to show our character now and stand tall,” he said.
“What happened today is a real shame because we did not deserve it but we have to win our next game. We’re going to believe in ourselves and we’re going to fight, you can be sure about that,” he added at the post-match news conference.
The Spanish champions pulled off a 2-0 win at Inter in their last European game while the Ukrainians were hammered 4-0 away to Gladbach, though Zidane’s side were brought back to earth with Saturday’s shock home loss to Alaves.
Real were missing record signing Eden Hazard after another injury to the Belgian and were still without captain Sergio Ramos, though they were boosted by the return of Karim Benzema.
They looked the better side before the interval and nearly scored an early goal when Marco Asensio hit the post from a tight angle, but the second half belonged to Shakhtar who savoured another upset win over the kings of European football.
Shakhtar’s Solomon said: “It’s been a great match and great result for us. Six points in two games against Real is a dream come true. Now we have a good chance to qualify for the knockout stage but we have a very tough game with Inter ahead of us.”