Snap Judgments: Quick reactions to UEFA Champions League Tuesday

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Coming into the day, only Manchester United had clinched a Round of 16 spot from UEFA Champions League groups E through H. After Tuesday’s action, four more clubs had locked up places in the knockout round, with 2010-11 champions Barcelona joining the Red Devils as group winners.

The other side of that coin: Three teams confirmed they’ll be out of Europe come January, locking up last place spots in their groups.

We’ll spend the rest of the night getting caught up on the action. For now, here are our Snap Judgments.

Group E

Juventus 3-0 Chelsea – There’d be more irony to Chelsea missing the knockout round if a Champions League title didn’t so thoroughly overshadow the Blues’ subsequent slip ups, yet the growing chatter about Roberto Di Matteo’s job (most of which is probably unfounded) will only increase if the defending European champions end up in Europa League. After last year’s first and second place Premier League finishers where relegated to UEFA’s other club tournament, this possibility is more unexpected than shocking.

MORE: Juve rolls over the defending champions.

Nordsjaelland 2-5 Shakhtar Donetsk – Three goals from Luiz Adriano is the footnote to the Brazilian’s foray into amoral pragmatism. After his teammates tried to concede possession to the Danes after a first half drop kick, Adriano collected a long ball, rounded Nordsjaelland’s keeper, and scored into an empty net. When Shakhtar boss Mircea Lucescu tried to get his team to concede an offsetting goal, this players tackled Nordsjaelland’s attacker. Good thing the game wasn’t closer.

Impact – Shakhtar is through to the second round, sitting on 10 points and holding the tiebreaker advantage over Chelsea (seven points, third). Juventus needs a win or draw in Donetsk on matchday six to send Chelsea to Europa.

Group F

Valencia 1-1 Bayern Munich – Antonio Barragan, a reserve defender getting the start at right back, collected two cards in 33 minutes to handcuff Los Che. Valencia did eventually take the lead, Sofiance Feghouli opening the scoring int he 77th minute, but when Thomas Müller responded five minutes later, Bayern got the result they needed. The draw in Spain gives Bayern the tiebreaker, assuring they’ll take Group F with a matchday six win over visiting BATE.

BATE 0-2 Lille – LOSC’s first points of the tournament came on a barely visible field in Borisov, their two goals through the fog within the first 31 minutes allowed Lille to survive Djibril Sidibe’s late sending off. This was the BATE we expected to see at the tournament’s outset when they were picked to finish last in the group. That’s where the Belarussians may finish, now that Lille holds the tiebreaker between the teams.

Impact – Bayern and Valencia sit tied at 10 points on top of the group. Lille, three points behind BATE for third, can still qualify for Europa League with a win over Valencia and a BATE loss.

Group G

Spartak Moscow 0-3 Barcelona – In a tournament where little has been easy for Barcelona, Spartak Moscow gave the Catalans a day off. If Unai Emery’s side took any inspiration from Celtic’s upset of Barça, it didn’t show. The Russians saw themselves out of Europe.

MORE: Drilling down on Barcelona’s Moscow success.

Benfica 2-1 Celtic – In another match where Celtic took playing without the ball to an extreme, Benfica eventually found a winner, Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay sending his team to second place with a 71st minute goal. Benfica outshot Celtic 30-9, though the shots on target numbers (8-5, Benfica) better approximate the teams’ threats.

Impact – Benfica’s win means Barcelona locks up first in their group. It’s fortunate news for the Eagles, who need a matchday six win over Barça to ensure they advance. Celtic needs to out-point Benfica to advance.

Group H

Galatasaray 1-0 Manchester United – The Red Devils started one first-choice player, and Michael Carrick was in defensive, not midfield. Gala found a second half goal through Burak Yilmaz, the least they could have done against a League Cup-quality team.

CFR Cluj 3-1 Sporting Braga – Rui Pedro, a Portuguese forward who’d accumulated 0 Champions League goals before today, scored three times in 33 minutes to keep Cluj within sight of the knockout round. A 45th minute red card to defender Douglão tossed away what little chance Braga had of coming back for a result.

Impact – Galatasaray and Cluj are tied for second with seven points (and no chance to catch Manchester United). Gala holds the tiebreaker and has a December visit to Braga to close out group play. Cluj visits a Manchester United team that’s unlikely to be stronger than the team of second-choice players Alex Ferguson took to Istanbul.

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina squad

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan
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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”

Croatia smashes disheveled Argentina

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
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Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, and Ivan Rakitic have Croatia in the knockout rounds and Argentina on the verge of World Cup disaster.

Croatia scored a trio of second half goals, one aided by a Willy Caballero howler, in a 3-0 win in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday.

Argentina will enter its final match against Nigeria on the outskirts of the knockout rounds regardless of how Nigeria-Iceland ends on Friday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Ivan Perisic forced a big save out of Wily Caballero for an early Croatia corner kick that came to nothing.

Messi had a chance stopped inside of 10 minutes, then started a play that Dejan Lovren blocked for a corner in the 13th.

Enzo Perez missed an open goal off a poor Croatia giveaway in the 30th minute.

There were a pair of fouls not out of place on a red card lowlight reel, one for each team, but neither resulting in a sending off.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Croatia took the lead through Caballero’s gaffe and Rebic’s smash in the 54th.

Argentina nearly answered moments later. After a mazy Messi dribble, Argentina regained possession in the 64th minute, spearheaded by a Gonzalo Higuain run that led to a corner.

Croatia came close to making it 2-0, as Mario Mandzukic couldn’t turn a flick on frame and instead saw it glide into the outside of the goal.

Then Modric put the match to bed as the clock hit 80, an absolute beauty. Another huge defensive mistake allowed Mateo Kovacic to cue up Rakitic for the third.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

WATCH: Caballero blunder punished as Rebic rip puts Argentina on ropes

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Willy Caballero has made one of the bigger blunders in recent World Cup history.

His Argentina side needs at least a point from Thursday’s match-up with Croatia, and the match remained scoreless into halftime.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But 10 minutes after the break, Caballero flubbed a clearance in a big way.

The Argentina goalkeeper then could only watch as Ante Rebic kept his composure to blast a side volley into the goal.

It was a fine finish, to be sure, but not possible without such a terrible gaffe.