Champions League Winners, Losers and Suspicions

Plenty of drama, disappointments and surprised filled the final group stage night of the 2011-2012 Champions League with a tad of conspiracy in mind. Real Madrid did beat Ajax 3-0 in Amsterdam, but the Dutch had two goals disallowed, wrongfully, while Lyon, who needed to win by four goals came from 0-1 behind to beat a 10-man Dinamo Zagreb 1-7 in a tad suspicious fashion.

We’ve already had Eastern European gambling sharks involved in match fixing in Germany, so who knows, but lets give the poor linseman at the Amsterdam Arena the benefit of the doubt and just say he sucks at his job, and nothing worse.

The Zagreb case… well, the Croatian side have been rather awful in the group stage, finishing with 0 points and 3-22 aggregate scoreline. I won’t say there wasn’t something fishy about how both games went down, but again, lets give them the benefit of the doubt and just say they were terrible. Head coach Krunoslav Jurcic was sacked after the match.

The biggest losers of the night, although far from tragic due to their identity and position in European football were Manchester United. Alex Ferguson’s approach to the Champions League matches was probably his downfall, at least earlier on in the season. Last night? A snowball forming that couldn’t be stopped. United have many flaws which were exposed again and again by Benfica and Basel over the last few months.

Manchester City actually won last night, but paid the price for their first year in the tournament. That sounds like making excuses for City, the richest team in the world, but that was the plain truth. There’s some sort of mental gap between European night and domestic nights. Despite the desire to become one of the leading clubs in Europe, winning the Premier League is far more important to Roberto Mancini this season.

Napoli, also having their debut season in the Champions League, are a different story, a good one. Their instability in the Serie A is forgotten during mid-week matches. It seems like all the energy and focus is channeled into European nights. Villareal’s season is just sad.

The group stage is still rather boring, but at least Michel Platini got his wishes come true. Two champions who might not have made it into the group stage if not for his alterations with the qualifying stage made it through to the knockout stage. If Basel have already tasted Champions League football, APOEL Nicosia came out of nowhere in a not so flashy but very difficult group, leaving Porto of the knockout stage.