Dortmund, Milan advance in Champions League

In a dramatic climax to one of the tightest groups in Champions

League history, Borussia Dortmund needed an 87th-minute goal at

Marseille to advance at the expense of Napoli which beat

Arsenal.

Dortmund, last season’s beaten finalist, was on the brink of

elimination and missed a series of chances against the 10-man

French side until Kevin Grosskreutz scored to clinch a 2-1 win.

Instead, Dortmund won the group ahead of Arsenal, which lost 2-0

to Napoli as all three teams finished on 12 points and head-to-head

tiebreakers sent the Italians out.

”What a feeling! We were almost out of the competition. This is

great. We deserved it. And I didn’t even hit the ball right,” said

Grosskreutz, who was born and raised in Dortmund.

On a tense day for Italian clubs, AC Milan advanced by clinging

on for a 0-0 draw at home to Ajax after captain Riccardo Montolivo

was sent off in the 22nd minute.

Juventus exited in the afternoon after Wesley Sneijder scored

late for Galatasaray to win 1-0 in atrocious weather and pitch

conditions in Istanbul. The match had resumed after being abandoned

in snow and hail on Tuesday evening.

Barcelona’s progress was smooth and easy as Neymar scored three

in a 6-1 rout of Celtic, ensuring the Spanish champion won Group H

ahead of Milan to be seeded in the draw on Monday.

Schalke beat Basel 2-0 to finish runner-up behind Group E winner

Chelsea, which beat last-placed Steaua Bucharest 1-0.

Germany will have four teams in the last-16 draw for the first

time, and England also has its full quartet remaining. Italy has

only Milan, confirming the recent slump of Serie A clubs in

Europe’s top competition.

Zenit St. Petersburg advanced with the worst record, stuck on

just six points – six fewer than Napoli – after losing 4-1 at

Austria Vienna.

However, third-placed Porto failed to take advantage, having a

penalty saved in its 2-0 loss at Group G winner Atletico

Madrid.

Dortmund’s progress seemed under control when Polish forward

Robert Lewandowski scored in the fourth minute against Marseille,

which lost all its group matches.

Though Souleymane Diawara levelled with a header in the 14th,

Marseille was soon reduced to 10 men when Dimitri Payet was shown a

second yellow card for being adjudged to have dived in the Germans’

penalty area.

Dortmund laid siege to the home goal in the second half but

Lewandowski missed an open goal, putting his shot into side netting

after rounding goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

Marco Reus, who had earlier struck the post, shot over from six

meters (yards) and Lewandowski was denied a penalty claim in the

85th when bundled to the ground by Mandanda.

When Grosskreutz scored, Napoli then led Arsenal through Gonzalo

Higuain’s 73rd-minute goal but needed to win by three goals.

Despite Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta being sent off in the 75th,

Napoli added only a second from Jose Callejon in stoppage time to

complete one of the unluckiest group-stage exits since the

Champions League format was created in 1992.

Milan put up a defensive barricade to fend off Ajax attacks

after Montolivo was shown a straight red card for stamping on

Christian Poulsen.

”It seems to me that anti-football won today,” said Ajax coach

Frank de Boer, who suggested that World Cup final referee Howard

Webb should also have sent off Mario Balotelli in the second

half.

Red cards decisions were a factor at Schalke where Basel needed

only a draw to advance.

Basel defender Ivan Ivanov was sent off in the 31st, two minutes

after Schalke captain Benedikt Howedes had been shown only a yellow

card in a similar situation at the other end.

Schalke led in the 50th when Julian Draxler connected with a

first-time shot from a right-flank cross, and Joel Matip exploited

Basel’s failed offside trap seven minutes later.

Brazil star Neymar had yet to score for Barcelona in the

Champions League until adding a third first-half goal Wednesday,

after strikes from Gerard Pique and Pedro Rodriguez. Cristian Tello

got the sixth before Giorgos Samaras got last-placed Celtic’s

consolation.

Third-placed teams in the groups – including former European

champions Ajax, Juventus and Porto – will transfer to the Europa

League in that competition’s last-32 draw on Monday. Juventus will

host the final in May.

In the Champions League draw, seeded teams cannot play a team

from their own country or the team it already played in the

group.

Seeded teams: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris

Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico

Madrid, Barcelona.

Non-seeded teams: Bayer Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiakos,

Manchester City, Schalke, Arsenal, Zenit St. Petersburg, AC

Milan.