Final football round all set despite rowdiness

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Final football round all set despite rowdiness

LONDON - Arsenal, Roma and Shakhtar Donetsk completed a heavyweight lineup for the last 16 of the Champions League on Wednesday, shrugging off closing-night nerves as the final round of matches was marred by crowd trouble in Slovakia.

Arsenal flirted with trouble at 1-1 at home to Partizan Belgrade, but a group phase that featured few surprises ended predictably as Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri struck to secure a 3-1 win that saw them squeeze through to the second spot in Group H.

Shakhtar kept Braga at bay before striking twice in the second half for a 2-0 home win that clinched first place ahead of Arsenal, while Roma held on for a drab 1-1 draw at CFR Cluj to qualify behind Bayern Munich in Group F.

The draw for the last 16, to be held on Dec. 17, will feature the might of European club soccer, which may be a worry for Arsenal given that the team’s second-place finish means it could face Barcelona or Real Madrid among the group winners.

Absent from the draw will be Zilina and Spartak Moscow, whose Group F game in Slovakia was held up for 20 minutes when fans launched a firecracker onto the pitch from an end populated by Spartak fans.

Bayern, Chelsea, Olympique Marseille, Real Madrid and AC Milan had already secured their places heading into Wednesday’s final matches.

Chelsea, going through a sticky patch in the Premier League, was beaten 1-0 at Olympique Marseille via a Brandao goal nine minutes from time.

But while the result may provide further concerns for Chelsea Coach Carlo Ancelotti, it had no bearing on Group F.

The English side was already assured of qualifying at the top ahead of its French opponents.

On the other side of the draw, FC Copenhagen claimed the last available place by beating Panathinaikos on Tuesday.

Already qualified for the last 16 from Groups A-D were Tottenham Hotspur, holders Inter Milan, Schalke 04, Olympique Lyon, Manchester United, Valencia and Barcelona.

Arsenal’s victory over Partizan, which finished at the bottom of the group without a point, was surprisingly nervy considering they got a good start with a Robin van Persie penalty.

Cleo’s equalizer rocked them but two neat finishes from Walcott and Nasri meant they survived the sending-off of Bacary Sagna five minutes from time with equanimity.

England’s Premier League will have the strongest presence going forward with four of the 16 teams - three of them from London and sharing the same dream of a “home” final at Wembley next May. Spain and Italy have three qualifiers each, Germany and France two and Ukraine and Denmark one apiece.

The most emphatic winners on the final night of Champions League action before 2011 was Real Madrid, which nailed down a 4-0 win over Auxerre in Group G with a hat-trick from Karim Benzema and a goal from Cristiano Ronaldo.

The result snuffed out Auxerre hopes of a Europa League place.


Reuters
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