PARIS: Manchester United became the third club to reach the Champions League knockout stages after coming from behind to beat Braga 3-1 and ensure they also top their group on Wednesday night.
However, it was the side that beat them to being Britain’s first ever winner of the European Cup, Celtic, that stole the glory as they recorded a deserved 2-1 home win over four-time champions Barcelona just a day after the hosts celebrated their 125th birthday.
Another British winner of European club football’s premier competition - defending champions Chelsea - kept their hopes alive of avoiding the humiliation of becoming the first champions to go out at the group stage with a last gasp 3-2 home win over talented Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk.
However, while they top the group on goal difference from Shakhtar their fate probably hangs on their trip to Italian champions Juventus in a fortnight as their hosts are just a point behind them having demolished Nordsjaelland 4-0 in Turin.
The biggest winners of the night were last season’s beaten finalists Bayern Munich who humiliated hapless French side Lille 6-1 with Peruvian striker Claudio Pizarro scoring a hat-trick in the first-half. Bayern are battling it out on the same points as Valencia, who also enjoyed an easy night at home beating early pacesetters BATE Borisov 4-2. The Belarus side trail the top two by just three points but appear to have gone off the boil.
United were second best for most of their match with Braga but having resumed after a second-half power cut they scored three times in the last 10 minutes to give the scoreline a rather unfair look about it but still a place in the last 16.
That above all was a relief to Alex Ferguson and his players after they missed out on the knpockout stages last season.
“I think we were all disappointed (we didn’t progress from the group stage last year),” said veteran Ryan Giggs.
“It was not good enough and we knew we had to do something about it and we have. Long may it continue.”
Celtic had been unfortunate to lose 2-1 to Barcelona a fortnight ago having taken the lead but they did not make the same mistake on Wednesday more than holding their own after an early goal by the outstanding Victor Wanyama.
They sealed the points through a superbly-taken late second from 18-year-old Tony Watt - Lionel Messi grabbed a stoppage time consolation goal - prompting wild celebrations.
“I said when I took the job that I wanted to bring the thunder back to the club and I have never heard anything like that at the end of the match,” said manager Neil Lennon.
“This is simply unbelievable. The club has been the in doldrums. This is not the pinnacle, there is more to come from this team, but the progression is great. It gives us a great chance of qualifying.”
His Barcelona counterpart Tito Vilanova was gracious in defeat.
“Congratulations to Celtic and their fans. The credit is theirs,” Vilanova said.
“It was an amazing show. If we had scored first it would have been a more open match. We hit the post twice but their goalkeeper did very well.”
Chelsea showed terrific grit to seal their victory in the fourth minute of stoppage time through Victor Moses, his first goal in the competition, but their opponents deserved a share of the spoils.
“We’ve got a crucial three points. It was crucial for us to win this tough home game,” said Di Matteo.
“They are a very good side. Now it’s probably going to go down to the last kick of the last game in this group.”
Juventus will provide equally tough opposition for di Matteo’s side later in the month and the Italian side’s assistant coach Angelo Alessio admitted it would be crucial as to which of them progressed.
“We must beat Chelsea at home in the next game if we are to earn our place in the next round,” said Alessio.
“We wanted to go out there with the right degree of intensity and the lads got it right for this type of performance.”