The fine dividing line between success and failure in football was clearly demonstrated in this week’s Champions League matches, more especially in Group F. This set of four teams had always been earmarked as the ‘Group of Death’, and the outcome was not finalised until the last few minutes of the deciding matches.
Arsenal were in pole position after five matches and led the group by three points. Napoli needed to beat the Gunners by a three goal margin to overhaul them in the table but could still qualify with a victory should Borussia Dortmund fail to win in Marseille.
Napoli won their match 2-0 with Jose Callejon’s added time goal arriving too late to allow the Italian team to pursue a crucial third and decisive strike. However, the win proved to be inadequate after the ensuing events on the French south coast.
Manager Jurgen Klopp has been beset by a series of unfortunate injuries in recent weeks at Borussia Dortmund having lost several of his more experienced defenders for lengthy periods. Two recent home defeats in Bundesliga by Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen have considerably weakened their title ambitions and the recent home loss to Arsenal in Group F raised questions as to the ability of the German team to progress from the group. Last season’s finalists were suddenly looking vulnerable.
In France, an early Robert Lewandowski goal failed to settle nerves as Marseille replied within 10 minutes. Yet when Dimitri Payet was dismissed just after the half hour mark, it appeared that Dortmund were in the ascendency and it would be only a matter of time before they clinched the victory to ensure their qualification.
They had to wait until the 87th minute for a scrambled goal by Kevin Grosskreutz before clinching both the win and group title. Grosskreutz hasn’t scored a Bundesliga or Champions League goal this term but for Jurgen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund, their season still remains alive and they may be able to regroup for the next stages of the competition early next year.
Elsewhere in the Champions League, Juventus were surprisingly eliminated in wintry conditions in Turkey when Wesley Sneijder scored the only goal for Galatasaray with five minutes remaining. The result dealt a further blow to Italian hopes in the competition with only AC Milan progressing to the knock-out stage after an unconvincing 0-0 home draw with group rivals Ajax.
The Champions League now takes a break until mid-February with the draw for the round of 16 matches scheduled for December 16th. It can be assumed that further drama can be guaranteed.