After one of the most surprising UEFA Champions League group stages since the format was tweaked in 2003/04, 11 of the 16 teams left standing were not in last season's knockout phase.
In a historic group stage, Zlatan Ibrahimović became the first player to score for six clubs in the UEFA Champions League, four Spanish sides reached the last 16 for the first time since 2008/09, and Chelsea FC made the wrong kind of history as the first holders not to progress.
Champions Matchday will celebrate the edited highlights of the group stage in our next issue – out across Europe on 16 January 2013 – and we would be intrigued to know what you made of it all. Vote for your best bits on the official UEFA Champions League Facebook page from Thursday and help to shape our coverage. In the meantime, here are my best bits. What are yours? Leave your thoughts at the foot of the page.
Anything Ibrahimović can do, his former AC Milan team-mate Philippe Mexès can do just as well – as he showed against RSC Anderlecht on matchday five. On the edge of the area, the France centre-back brought Riccardo Montolivo's set piece under control with his chest and sent the ball flying into the top corner with a stunning overhead kick. "I gave it a go; it went well but I was a bit lucky," said a modest Mexès. Some way to score his first goal for Milan.
Joe Hart made 33 saves, many of them stupendous, but the stop that stands out in my memory is Christian Abbiati's miraculous effort to deny FC Zenit St Petersburg's Aleksandr Anyukov on matchday two. Anyukov's half-volley from the edge of the box looked destined for the net when Abbiati turned it behind. As the Gazzetta dello Sport pointed out, it would have been easier for the Milan goalkeeper to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
So many new players have shone, it is hard to pick one. Yet few debutants have been as effective as Modou Sougou, CFR 1907 Cluj's skilful, industrious Senegalese international forward, whose five appearances yielded four assists and one goal. If your team are not going to see a lot of the ball, you need players who can make the most of the possession you get – Sougou certainly did that.
It is hard to look beyond Celtic FC's matchday four victory against FC Barcelona in Glasgow. However, the group stage's surprise package were Málaga CF, who sailed into the last 16 thanks in no small part to the performances of Isco and Eliseu.
Real Madrid CF's 3-2 success against Manchester City FC in the Spanish capital on matchday one was a real jaw-dropper, a match in which talent, desire and self-belief drove both sides to attack relentlessly in a manner usually reserved for a basketball court.
Spare a thought for …
CFR. The first Romanian club to win ten points in the group stage and the first Liga 1 team to win at Old Trafford, the Railwaymen made yet more history when Rui Pedro became the first player to hit a hat-trick for a Romanian side in this competition. Under coaches Ioan Andone and later Paulo Sérgio, CFR played some superb counterattacking football and will be one of the names to avoid when the UEFA Europa League resumes.
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