PARIS (AFP) – Chelsea made the wrong sort of history on Wednesday as they became the first holders to exit the Champions League at the group stage despite winning their final group game.
Their 6-1 thumping of Danish minnows Nordsjaelland – their biggest Champions League win, having previously twice won 5-0 – proved pointless as Juventus won 1-0 and inflicted a rare home defeat on Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk.
Chelsea’s despair was in contrast to the joy in Glasgow as Celtic reached the Last 16 with a 2-1 home win over Spartak Moscow and become the first Scottish side to garner 10 points from the group stage.
Benfica failed to match their result – if they had done they would have gone through on head-to-head meetings – drawing 0-0 away at tabletoppers Barcelona, who had a scare when Lionel Messi went off on a stretcher.
However, fears of a long-term injury were allayed as it was revealed he had bruised his left knee, keeping alive his hopes of overhauling Gerd Mueller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year as he is just one short.
Galatasaray secured the 16th and last place as they came from behind to beat Braga 2-1 in Portugal making Cluj’s stunning 1-0 defeat of Manchester United at Old Trafford academic because of a better head-to-head record with the Romanian side.
While United had already sealed top spot, it was not a memorable way for manager Alex Ferguson to celebrate being in charge of United for the 200th time in the Champions League.
Chelsea’s victory gave interim coach Rafael Benitez – who has received a less than warm reception by the Chelsea fans since he replaced Roberto di Matteo – his first win in four games at the Stamford Bridge helm.
“The other game was out of our hands, so we couldn’t do anything about it,” said Benitez, who will not have enjoyed seeing some Chelsea fans holding up posters of another former Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, imploring him to return.
“I said before that we just had to do our job. As a manager, you have to be really pleased with the performance of your team.
“People ask about the Europa League. Every competition is important for us. We will try to challenge and win where we can.”
Juventus progressed thanks to an own goal by Olexandr Kucher, although they also spurned several chances of their own and left assistant coach Angelo Alessio a happy man.
“We are really happy with this victory, to have reached the next round and to have finished top of our group,” he said.
Celtic looked to be heading into the Europa League until Kris Commons slotted home a penalty 10 minutes from time to restore Celtic’s one-goal advantage.
With Spartak’s veteran Swedish international Kim Kallstrom sent off soon afterwards, for an horrific foul on Commons, on his 50th Champions League appearance, the Scottish champions held on to reach the last 16.
“I’m very proud of the players – they’ve performed a miracle,” said Celtic manager Neil Lennon, who was leading the Hoops for the first time in the competition, said.
“No one gave us a prayer coming into this group and we have qualified and deservedly so. I felt in the second half we had control of the game and deserved to win.”
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus, who has had to rebuild his side after losing key players in the summer, took missing out on the knockout stages on the chin and instead praised his players for giving Barcelona a real scare.
“We didn’t manage to win, but we put up an excellent performance,” he said.