Liverpool FC's dramatic defeat of Olympiacos CFP last night meant they joined Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC and Manchester United FC in qualifying for the first knockout round. England has had four Champions League places for three years now but never before have they all made it this far and - with a regulation forbidding teams from the same country to be paired in the last 16 - there will be genuine hope of going one better than in 2001 when three Premiership sides reached the quarter-finals.
Last season's final 16 included four teams from Spain but this season only FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF have made it through the group stage, following the demise of RC Deportivo La Coruña and Valencia CF. Deportivo failed to score a single goal in six group matches and will enter the new year without Champions League football for the first time since 2000.
Primera División clubs have performed strongly in the Champions League in recent years. Madrid won the trophy in 1998, 2000 and 2002, while Valencia were finalists in 2000 and 2001. In addition, Spain provided three quarter-finalists in 2002, along with a memorable all-Spanish semi-final between Madrid and Barcelona, and there were three Spanish sides again in the last eight in 2003.
In addition to four English and two Spanish sides, there will be three from both Italy (AC Milan, Juventus FC, FC Internazionale Milano) and Germany (FC Bayern München, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Werder Bremen). For both countries this is an improvement on last season where each had two representatives in the last 16 and it is a notable achievement for the Bundesliga sides as not since 1997/98 have three German teams made it out of a group stage.
Warning for winners
The remaining places go to clubs from France (AS Monaco FC, Olympique Lyonnais), the Netherlands (PSV Eindhoven) and Portugal (FC Porto). Both French clubs won their groups, as did the three Italian clubs and Arsenal and Chelsea from England. However, the group winners should note that in the runners-up bowl in next week's draw will be the top four teams in the all-time Champions League rankings - as they stood before this season - namely Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona and Bayern.
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