After leading 1-0 from the first leg, Schalke had to have had some confidence going into Madrid for the second leg. A strong performance from Atletico saw them thump the German team 4-0 to advance to the group stage for the first time since 1996-97. I had picked Atletico as my ‘dark-horse’ team in the Champions League this season and I have to admit that my faith wavered a bit after their sub-par display in the first leg.
Sergio Aguero, just back from winning gold at the Olympics with Argentina, stepped up to get things rolling for Atletico scoring on 22 minutes and leveling the tie on aggregate. Second-half goals from Diego Forlan, Luis Garcia and Maxi Rodriguez pushed the Rojiblancos through on a 4-1 aggregate.
Atletico took their foot off the accelerator after Forlan scored and Schalke did have chances to grab an away goal but failed to do so. Atletico were content to hit Schalke on counter-attacks and Garcia’s goal on 82 minutes put the game to rest. Christian Pander was sent off late for a professional foul on Simao. Maxi Rodriguez stepped up to fire home the ensuing penalty kick to make the final 4-0. A little deceiving but an all-around strong performance for the Rojiblancos that should give them confidence going into the domestic season. They face off against Málaga in the season opener at home this weekend.
The club announced the loan signing of Ever Banega from Valencia. The 20-year-old midfielder was a teammate of Aguero’s at the Beijing Olympics where Argentina won the gold. Banega will reportedly cost the Madrid outfit £1 million which could increase depending on appearances.
As for Schalke, their boss Fred Rutten conceded that his side simply did not play well enough to win. He told reporters: “We had more of the ball in the second half and even had one or to opportunities. But we were punished and it all happened so quickly. We began the game well, but then had a period where we made too many errors.”
One of the best stories this season is that three teams are making their Champions League group stage debut after surviving the qualifying rounds. Danish champions Aalborg, Cypriots Anorthosis Famagusta and Belarus surprise package BATE Borisov will add some new flavour to the fixtures this season.
Elsewhere, after struggling to get going in the first match, Arsenal romped to a 6-0 overall rout of Dutch side Twente Enschede, coached by former England manager Steve McClaren. Goals from Samir Nasri, William Gallas, Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner pushed the fixture beyond any doubt. Twente were always going to be hard-pressed to progress against a side of such quality but had probably hoped to keep the scoreline a tad more respectable.
One of Arsenal’s domestic league rivals, Liverpool, barely eeked into the group stage after surviving a difficult tie with Standard Liege. The Reds needed extra time and a goal from Dirk Kuyt, who marked his 100th appearance for the club, to see off the Belgian champs. Standard Liege will now enter the UEFA Cup first round.
The draw for the group stage will take place later today and I will update you on the results as soon as I have a chance to post.
The complete list of scorelines from the third round is listed below:
Fiorentina 2-0 Slavia
Sparta 1-3 Panathinaikos
Juventus 5-1 Artmedia
Barcelona 4-1 Wisla Krakow
Spartak Moscow 2-8 Dynamo Kyiv
Levski 1-2 BATE
Shakhtar 5-1 Dinamo Zagreb
Anorthosis 3-1 Olympiacos
AaB 4-0 Kaunas
Galatasaray 2-3 Steaua
Brann 1-3 Marseille
Schalke 1-4 Atlético
Twente 0-6 Arsenal
Partizan 3-4 Fenerbahce
Standard 0-1 Liverpool
Guimaraes 1-2 Basel
I was 10 of 15 in predictions in this round and had I picked with my head instead of being a fanboy, I would have gone 12 or 13 out of 15 instead. I was totally floored by how easily Dynamo Kyiv swept aside Spartak Moscow and I had thought that Galatasaray would advance other than that most of the fixtures ended up going the way I suspected they might.