Nervous win for Inter
Holders Inter Milan earned their coach a reprieve to lead a group of seven teams through to the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday, a night lit up by Lionel Messi's customary finesse and Wayne Rooney's goalscoring return.
While Inter secured a nervous 1-0 win at home to Twente Enschede, a result that will come as a huge relief to Rafa Benitez, and Manchester United were grateful for Rooney's late penalty for a 1-0 victory at Rangers, Barcelona showed effortless command in beating Panathinaikos 3-0.
The last three Champions League winners were joined by Valencia, Tottenham Hotspur, Olympique Lyon and Schalke 04 in securing their places in the next round, meaning there is just one remaining place up for grabs in groups A-D.
Valencia tore Bursaspor apart 6-1 to go through along with United, Tottenham made light work of Werder Bremen in a 3-0 win at White Hart Lane in Inter's group and Schalke beat Olympique Lyon by the same scoreline, sending both sides through.
AC Milan and Olympique Marseille secured their qualification on Tuesday to join Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Real Madrid, who had already made certain of their places.
With one round of matches to go, 12 of the 16 teams for the next round are now known, with most of the tournament heavyweights already having done enough.
Image: Inter Milan's Cambiasso celebrates with team-mate after scoring against Twente during their match at the San Siro
Messi lights up the sky
Messi's Barcelona were easily the most impressive of that elite group on Wednesday, although coach Pep Guardiola was at pains to play down the performance.
"I do not think my team is unstoppable," he told reporters.
"We are happy to have won the group. We will see how we are organised come February," he added.
Pedro put the 2009 winners ahead with a fine finish across the goalkeeper from a Dani Alves through ball before second-half goals from Lionel Messi, who netted for the 10th game in succession for club and country, ensured that the team would remain top of Group D with 11 points.
Pedro completed the scoring with another excellent finish to give Barcelona the sort of smooth qualification they wanted ahead of Monday's league clash with arch-rivals Real Madrid.
Neither 2008 winners Manchester United nor holders Inter Milan could match them for fluency.
Image: Barcelona's Lionel Messi is challenged by Panathinaikos' defenders during their match in Athens
Rooney finds spot of cheer
Wayne Rooney showed his mental strength remains fully intact -- if not his fitness and touch -- as he coolly slotted home a late penalty to take Manchester United into the Champions League knockout phase.
Wednesday's 1-0 win over a Rangers team hoping for a repeat of their surprise goalless draw at Old Trafford and playing with a similarly defensive approach, will be quickly forgotten.
Only Kenny Miller threatened to upset United dominance with a header which dropped narrowly wide of Edwin van der Sar's post.
Rooney, however, will be relieved that his first start since September following an ankle problem went off without mishap and was capped by a crucial spot kick after 87 minutes in Group C.
Image: Wayne Rooney celebrates after scoring against Rangers
'He's rusty, he's needing games'
Certainly Alex Ferguson was happy to focus on a positive from his key player who has endured a torrid few months by any standards including media stories of marital infidelity followed by a bizarre episode in which he threatened to quit the club only to pocket a new five-year deal instead.
The United manager, a former Rangers centre forward himself, said: "He's never been short of courage and it was a fantastic penalty, a very good penalty.
"He needs games and the way we're going to do it is by keeping him on the pitch for 90 minutes and that will continue now as we try to get him to his level.
"He's rusty, he's needing games, that's obvious but it's a start for him," he added.
Image: Manchester United's Wayne Rooney controls the ball during his match in Glasgow
Rubin edge past Copenhagen to keep hopes alive
Rubin Kazan beat FC Copenhagen 1-0 on Wednesday to keep alive their slim hopes of reaching the knockout round.
Rubin captain Christian Noboa fired the home side in front with virtually the last kick of the first half when he converted a penalty in added time after English referee Martin Atkinson had penalised the visitors for a handball.
It was only the second goal scored by the Russians in their five group matches. Ecuador international Noboa converted a spot kick in a 1-1 home draw with Barcelona in September.
Despite the defeat the Danish champions, who finished bottom of the group on their only previous Champions League appearance three years ago, remain on track to advance to the round of 16 for the first time along with Group D leaders Barcelona.
Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken blamed the defeat on the penalty.
"We defended very well and the penalty was just stupid. We have several good chances in the second half and deserved at least a point from this game," he told a news conference.
Image: Rubin Kazan's Christian Noboa scores from a penalty during their match against FC Copenhagen
Hapoel end Benfica's hopes of last 16 place
Benfica's hopes of qualifying for the last 16 were ended by Hapoel Tel Aviv who secured their first ever Champions League win with a 3-0 victory over the Portuguese side on Wednesday.
Schalke 04's 3-0 win over Olympique Lyon in the other Group B tie means Benfica cannot reach the knockout stage.
Hapoel coach Eli Guttman said it was an "evening of pride" for his club after they secured victory with two goals by Eran Zahavi and another from Douglas da Silva.
The hosts had far less possession but maintained their resolve and found the finishing touches, which Benfica clearly lacked.
In answer to a question if before the match he thought Hapoel could beat Benfica 3-0, Guttman said: "Never ... if you had told me this before the match I would say you are drunk, but football is football, everything is possible and we showed it today."
"It was the players' way to give their "wonderful crowd what they deserved to see," he added.
Image: Hapoel Tel Aviv's Shechter fights for the ball with Benfica's Salvio during their match in Tel Aviv