By Jon Radcliffe,
Record winners Real Madrid were one of four sides to secure progression to the Champions League round of 16 on Wednesday, while Paris Saint-Germain defeated Istanbul Basaksehir 5-1 in their rescheduled clash from the previous day after a racist incident.
Karim Benzema scored twice for the 13-time European champions in a 2-0 victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach. The win saw Real top Group B, while Moenchengladbach also went through as runners-up after Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk could only draw 0-0.
Luis Muriel’s late strike in a 1-0 win over Ajax saw Atalanta advance from Group D, while Atletico Madrid had strikes from Mario Hermoso and Yannick Carrasco to thank for their 2-0 triumph against Red Bull Salzburg that also secured their progression.
PSG’s clash against Basaksehir had been abandoned on Tuesday after the latter’s assistant referee Pierre Webo was allegedly racially abused by fourth official Sebastian Coltescu 13 minutes in.
With a new set officials in place as the match resumed at 0-0, and all players and the referee taking a knee, Neymar netted a hat-trick and Kylian Mbappe scored twice. Mehmet Topal managed the only reply for Basaksehir.
Elsewhere, Liverpool drew 1-1 with Midtjylland, Manchester City beat Marseille 3-0 and holders Bayern Munich and Porto won 2-0 against Lokomotiv Moscow and Olympiacos respectively.
Benzema netted two headers in the first-half to put Madrid in command. Moenchengladbach, who came into the clash top of the group, struggled to deal with their opponents, and could have been further behind had Rodrygo, Lucas Vazquez and Benzema hit the back of the net instead of the woodwork.
The result ended up pleasing both sides, though.
“We’re over the moon. These are incredible emotions that can’t be described”, said midfielder Christoph Kramer after Gladbach reached the last 16 for the first time since 1977.
“It’s not often you’re hoping for a game to end 0-0 and added time seemed to go on forever. Tonight we didn’t stand a chance. In the group we’ve sold ourselves so well and can be proud of ourselves,” he added in reference to the game in Milan.
Despite only needing a point against Ajax, Atalanta grabbed the win in Amsterdam. Ajax failed to put their opponents under any real pressure other than forcing Pierluigi Gollini into a big save from Davy Klaassen, and their job was made harder when Ryan Gravenberch was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Then, Muriel rounded Andre Onana to tap into an empty net. They will finish as runners-up behind Liverpool.
In the Reds’ match against Midtjylland, Mohamed Salah scored within 60 seconds to become their top goalscorer in Champions League history with 22 strikes. Alexander Scholz levelled from the penalty spot.
“Reaching the round of 16 again is an extraordinary achievement”, said Atalanta manager Gian Piero Gasperini.
“This season even more than last year, because Liverpool and Ajax are two traditionally huge teams.”
Hermoso guided past Cican Stankovic to put Atletico ahead, and Carrasco doubled the lead in the 86th minute as Salzburg opened up. Diego Simeone’s men finished second in Group A behind Bayern, who prevailed after goals from Niklas Suele and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.
Neymar curled in a lovely effort to put PSG ahead against Basaksehir, who had Webo back on the bench despite him being sent off the previous evening. The Brazil international then gave last season’s finalists a two-goal buffer before Mbappe slotted away a penalty to end a run of nine matches without a goal in the Champions League.
Neymar completed his hat-trick after the break, and although Topal reduced the deficit, Mbappe was on hand to restore the four-goal winning margin.
PSG were already through after RB Leipzig defeated Manchester United 3-2, but this victory earned them top spot in Group H.
Discussing the scenes from Tuesday evening, Mbappe told Telefoot, “Of course I’m proud of what has been done. A lot has been said, but in reality there is nothing better than actions.
“We never want to go through this again. We are all human beings, and that was intolerable. People are fed up and something had to be done.”
Ferran Torres, Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling gave City the win, while Otavio and Mateus Uribe did the job for Porto against Olympiacos, who had Ruben Semedo sent off following two yellow cards.
The full line-up for the last 16 to be drawn on Monday is Real, Atletico, Sevilla and Barcelona for Spain; Munich, Gladbach, Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund for Germany; Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea for England; Atalanta, Juventus and Lazio for Italy; plus PSG and Porto.