Spanish duo Barcelona and Atletico Madrid became the latest sides to qualify for the Champions League last 16 as Arsenal gained revenge on Borussia Dortmund with a fine win in Germany.
Arsene Wenger’s team took a huge step towards the next phase with a hard-fought 1-0 win in Dortmund on Thursday morning (AEDT).
The Premier League side gained revenge for a 2-1 defeat when the sides met in London last month, soaking up plenty pressure and snatching a winner when in-form Aaron Ramsey scored his 11th of the season just after the hour mark.
“We were very good defensively and we were also very patient. It was a great away performance,” said Ramsey.
Arsenal are level on nine points with Napoli at the top of Group F – with Dortmund three adrift – after the Italians came from behind to beat Marseille 3-2.
In Group E, Chelsea moved three points clear on top thanks to a 3-0 win over Schalke at Stamford Bridge, Samuel Eto’o bagging a brace before Demba Ba put the seal on the victory.
Schalke remain in second spot after Basel were held by Steaua Bucharest, but Chelsea are well placed now to win the group.
Barcelona made it through to the knockout stage for the 10th consecutive season as they beat AC Milan 3-1 at the Camp Nou in Group H in what was the eighth meeting of the clubs in just over two years.
Lionel Messi – who had been criticised in some quarters for not scoring in three games since the 1-1 draw in Milan last month – scored twice for the Catalans, converting a first-half penalty and then combining with Cesc Fabregas to net a superb goal late on.
In between, Sergio Busquets also scored for the hosts while Gerard Pique turned a Kaka cross into his own net to give Milan hope.
The result, combined with Ajax’s 1-0 home win against Celtic, means Barcelona are five points clear at the top of the section and cannot now be denied a place in the top two with two games to come.
Meanwhile, Atletico are through to the knockout stages for the first time since 2008/09 after making it four wins out of four in Group G to guarantee top spot.
Diego Simeone’s side outclassed Austria Vienna, winning 4-0 at the Vicente Calderon with Miranda, Raul Garcia and Filipe Luis scoring in the first half before Diego Costa scored his 16th of the season late on.
“Now we can relax a little more in the two games we have left against two good sides,” Simeone said.
Behind Atletico, Zenit St Petersburg held on to second place by coming from behind to draw 1-1 with 2004 European champions Porto in Russia, Hulk scoring against his former side to cancel out Lucho Gonzalez’s opener.
Atletico and Barcelona join Manchester City and defending champions Bayern Munich in qualifying for the last 16 with two group games remaining.