KO stage bound PSG, Atletico finish group stage with impressive wins
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lucas set each other up for goals as Paris Saint-Germain beat Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 in their final Champions League group game on Tuesday.
With Real Madrid having already secured first place in Group A and PSG guaranteed second spot, there was nothing at stake for home fans on a chilly night at Parc des Princes.
Those who attended endured a frustrating first half, but Lucas took his chance well almost an hour in with a clean strike into the left corner.
Lucas then headed a long ball down into Ibrahimovic’s path, and he finished with an equally crisp shot near the end to make him PSG’s all-time leading scorer in Europe with 17.
He had an eventful night, clearing one Shakhtar header off the line in the second half, and almost scoring an own goal late in the first only for goalkeeper Kevin Trapp to react in time.
Shakhtar, which finished third to qualify for the Europa League, had chances but its star midfielder Alex Teixeira was unusually wasteful in front of goal.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc kept regulars Thiago Silva, forward Edinson Cavani, and winger Angel di Maria on the bench.
Shakhtar has been in good scoring form, with 34 in the past eight matches, and coach Mircea Lucescu’s side almost caught PSG napping after five minutes.
Left back Ismaily found space down the flank but striker Eduardo somehow skewered wide with the goal gaping.
The next to miss was Teixeira, whose nine goals in six games made him a big threat, but he failed to control a ball that landed invitingly at his feet near the penalty spot.
In between those chances, Shakhtar goalkeeper Anton Kanibolotskiy rushed his clearance, and the ball landed at Ibrahimovic’s feet on the left of the penalty area. But his quick lob sailed over.
Ibrahimovic threw his arms up in annoyance shortly before halftime when Lucas got free down the right but then played the ball behind him.
The imposing forward turned provider on PSG’s next attack, teeing up right back Gregory van der Wiel, who drilled a shot just wide of the left post.
Shakhtar should have punished PSG’s profligacy, but Teixeira left his shooting boots behind at the airport, scooping well over from eight meters out.
It was a costly miss as Lucas struck soon after.
Di Maria added some much-needed urgency when he came on and played in Ibrahimovic with a clever pass, but he poked wide with only the goalie to beat.
Astonishingly, that miss drew jeers from some sections of the crowd — despite Ibrahimovic being the club’s all-time leading scorer with 120 goals.
But the fans were indebted to him at both ends, as he headed Yaroslav Rakitskiy’s header off the line when Shakhtar pushed for an equalizer.
Benfica 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid striker Luciano Vietto scored one goal after setting up the opener to lead a 2-1 win at Benfica that leapfrogged them over their Portuguese host and won their Champions League group on Tuesday.
Playing at the same stadium where it lost the 2014 final, Diego Simeone’s side avenged a 2-1 loss to Benfica from earlier this season and topped Group C by three points.
Vietto passed for midfielder Saul Niguez to convert Atletico’s aggressive start into a goal after half an hour, before he added a strike of his own early in the second half.
Benfica substitute Kostas Mitroglou halved the difference in the 75th.
Atletico extended its winning streak to seven matches and its unbeaten run to 13 games in all competitions.
"My guys are making an extraordinary effort to win and win and win," said Simeone, whose Atletico is also second to Barcelona in the Spanish league. "We are taking away an important victory for what’s to come."
Benfica, which like Atletico was already qualified for the round of 16, went through second in the group.
Galatasaray was held to 1-1 at home by Astana in the other Group C match. The Turkish side finished third and will join the Europa League.
Atletico started strong with Niguez, who has moved into Simeone’s starting 11 in place of the injured Tiago Mendes, leading the way.
Niguez forced Benfica goalkeeper Julio Cesar to palm away a long-distance strike in the 21st.
Julio Cesar was needed to push over Gabi Fernandez’s effort shortly after, but he could do nothing to keep out Niguez’s left-footed strike when Vietto received a pass from Antoine Griezmann and passed back for his unmarked teammate inside the area.
Atletico was so dominant in the first half that former Benfica goalkeeper Jan Oblak didn’t have to make a save, and Benfica halftime substitute Mitroglou tried, moments after going on, to spark the hosts with a shot that missed.
But Vietto soon quashed any thoughts of a comeback when he made a run to the far post, where Yannick Carrasco picked him out from the left flank where he had been left all alone by Benfica’s defense. Vietto redirected the low cross past Julio Cesar to secure the win.
Mitroglou scored when he received a ball from former Atletico forward Raul Jimenez, held off Diego Godin and fired in a shot off the post.
Galatasaray 1-1 Astana
Galatasaray clinched a spot in the Europa League by drawing with Astana 1-1 in the Champions League on Tuesday.
The Turkish team finished third in Group C with five points, one more than its Kazakh opponent.
After a scoreless first half, a completely unmarked Patrick Twumasi put the visitors ahead with a confident side-foot strike at the far post but Galatasaray, only two minutes later, equalized through Selcuk Inan, whose clever pass split the Astana defense. Burak Yilmaz couldn’t score from close range but the ball came back to the Galatasaray captain who scored low from inside the area.
Galatasaray had to fight for its point, with coach Mustafa Denizli calling it "the hardest 90 minutes of my career."
Group winner Atletico Madrid and Benfica advanced to the round of 16.