Two goals from Didier Drogba steered Chelsea to an emphatic 3-0 victory over Valencia and top spot in Group E at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday as they moved into the Champions League knockout phase for the ninth consecutive season.
An inspired performance by Drogba and a goal from midfielder Ramires gave the Londoners the points they needed to advance and allowed coach Andre Villas-Boas the opportunity to hit back at the critics who suggested his position could be in jeopardy if Chelsea had been eliminated.
Defeat or a score draw would have consigned Chelsea to third place below Valencia but already-qualified Bayer Leverkusen's 1-1 draw away to Racing Genk meant they finished top with 11 points ahead of Leverkusen (10), Valencia (8) and Genk (3).
“It has been over the top,” Villas-Boas, whose side have fallen outside the top four in the Premier League and who face leaders Manchester City next week, told reporters of the recent scrutiny of his side’s dip in form.
“It is unfortunate for you guys (the media) because you have to report on a brilliant win for Chelsea.”
Baby Barca shine in bate rout
Already-qualified Barcelona showed they have plenty of exciting talent bursting through the ranks when a team of youngsters lit up the Nou Camp in a 4-0 drubbing of basement side BATE Borisov in Champions League Group H on Tuesday.
The holders had comfortably reached the last 16 as group winners last month and coach Pep Guardiola blooded a slew of recent youth-team graduates in a starting lineup in which the 10 outfield players had an average age of 21.4.
Teenage midfielder Sergi Roberto opened the scoring against the Belarussian champions in the 35th minute when he stroked a loose ball low past goalkeeper Aleksandar Gutor.
Fullback Martin Montoya powered a shot high into the net for a 60th-minute second before Pedro scored the third three minutes later with an audacious flick and then converted a penalty two minutes from time after a foul on winger Isaac Cuenca.
Heartbreak for Olympiakos
Olympiakos Piraeus went from ecstasy to utter despair after their 3-1 win over Arsenal looked to be sending them into the last 16 only for Olympique Marseille to pip the Greeks at the death.
Marseille’s two late goals in a 3-2 victory at Borussia Dortmund in the other final Group F game meant Didier Deschamps’ team qualified for February's first knockout round and Olympiakos had to settle for third place and the Europa League.
The Greeks ended the group stage on nine points, just one behind the French. Arsenal had secured top spot and progression before Tuesday’s game."We’re out of the Champions League but we’re proud of the way we played today," said Olympiakos coach Ernesto Valverde.