Half-a-dozen teams appeared in the group stage for the first time and experienced vastly differing fortunes – from Tottenham Hotspur FC pipping holders FC Internazionale Milano to top spot in Group A to MŠK Žilina conceding 19 goals and notching nul points in Group F. Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC and Bursaspor also finished bottom of their sections, while FC Twente and SC Braga salvaged the consolation of UEFA Europa League berths – the latter having posted a creditable nine points. "Congratulations to the players," said Braga coach Domingos Paciência. "We're proud of what we've done in our debut season."
End-to-end stuff: Tottenham Hotspur FC
For sheer entertainment value, surely no team have served up a more captivating spectacle than Tottenham. The newcomers came within two goals of matching Manchester United FC's competition-record 20 group stage efforts – and achieved a landmark of their own as the first side to strike at least twice in all six outings. Their defending played a part too with 11 goals conceded – including four at San Siro, where they trailed Inter 4-0 before a Gareth Bale hat-trick almost engineered an incredible turnaround. The Welsh dynamo was central to much of what Spurs did well and used this elevated stage to announce his talent.
Generation game: Charis Mavrias & Sander Boschker
You are never too young or too old to lace your boots for this competition as two players separated by 24 years proved. Charis Mavrias had barely been born when Celestine Babayaro set the youngest player benchmark of the UEFA Champions League era at 16 years and 87 days in November 1994. However, 16 years later midfielder Mavrias became the second most junior by 155 days during Panathinaikos FC's goalless stalemate with FC Rubin Kazan. As for Sander Boschker, the FC Twente goalkeeper missed out on the title of oldest debutant by 61 days when he contested his team's 3-3 draw with Tottenham aged 40 and 48 days. Unfortunately his big day was marked with an own goal from team-mate Peter Wisgerhof.
Fantasy footballer: Samuel Eto'o
After helping Internazionale lift the trophy in a more conservative role than he was used to last season, Eto'o has been unleashed on opposition defences to destructive effect this term. Enjoying pole position in the scoring charts thanks to his seven group stage efforts – including a hat-trick against SV Werder Bremen – the former FC Barcelona forward can likewise pride himself on being the top player so far in the UEFA Champions League Fantasy Football game. Bale, Mario Gomez, Karim Benzema and André-Pierre Gignac have also boosted their fantasy points tallies by plundering three goals in a single fixture.
Stunner: Eran Zahavi v Olympique Lyonnais
Hapoel Tel-Aviv will depart the competition with plenty of memories but none more vivid than Zahavi's acrobatic overhead kick in Tuesday's 2-2 draw away to Lyon. Salim Toama chipped the ball into the middle from the left and, seeing it drift behind and away from him, Zahavi swivelled and leapt into the air before turning it into the far corner with a sweet touch from his right boot. "We scored a goal I'm certain will rank as one of the best in the Champions League," said Hapoel coach Eli Gutman, referring to the Matchday 6 Play of the Day contender. "Eran Zahavi, who else?"
European specialists: FC Schalke 04
Schalke fans have had trouble finding their bearings this term with their side one spot above the Bundesliga relegation zone and yet majestic whenever European nights roll around. The Gelsenkirchen outfit are still taking time to gel after a major summer overhaul, although their 2-0 win against FC Bayern München last weekend suggests their domestic fortunes could be falling in line with the form that earned first place in Group B above Lyon and SL Benfica. "At the start of the season we had some problems, but we are slowly shaking those off," explained coach Felix Magath after his charges secured the No1 slot with a 2-1 triumph in Lisbon.
Trophy defence: FC Internazionale Milano
It is 21 seasons since AC Milan became the last club to defend their European title and so far Inter have laboured to emulate their city rivals. The Nerazzurri finished as runners-up behind UEFA Champions League debutants Tottenham, collecting just one point on their travels – and suffering a 3-0 loss at Werder Bremen that equalled their worst away setbacks at this level. Even so, they indubitably have the know-how to prosper in the spring: defender Javier Zanetti became the competition's oldest scorer at 37 years and 71 days when he struck in the 4-3 victory over Spurs. The mark was broken the following matchday, however, as Filippo Inzaghi – aged 37 years and 86 days – struck twice for AC Milan against Real Madrid CF to take his European haul to 70 goals.
Thrills and spills
As that San Siro classic showed, the group stage can always be relied upon for a helping of epic encounters. That was certainly the feeling around the Stadio Olimpico on Matchday 5 when AS Roma came from 2-0 down at half-time to beat FC Bayern München 3-2 and move within reach of a knockout stage berth, Francesco Totti clinching the points from the penalty spot with six minutes left. Elsewhere, Lyon replicated Tottenham in their 4-3 loss at Benfica; Pedro León sent Real Madrid CF through with a last-gasp equaliser in a 2-2 draw at Milan; and FC København claimed a memorable 1-1 home stalemate with Barcelona.
Breakthrough: FC København
FCK will be one of 16 sides eager to learn their fate in next Friday's draw – assuming they have recovered from their celebrations. "Tomorrow we have our team Christmas party so maybe tonight we'll just have a couple of beers, but I don't think anyone will be able to sleep for the next couple of hours," said captain William Kvist after they rubber-stamped their progress. The Danish club have never advanced this far before, putting them in the same boat as FC Shakhtar Donetsk, while inaugural UEFA Champions League winners Marseille have not graced this stage since 1999/2000. Madrid are old hands, in contrast, having negotiated their group successfully for a 14th season running.
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