By Patrick Hart
The Spanish newspapers assumed the cheerleading duties this week after the UEFA Champions League second group stage ended on a positive note for three Primera División sides.
Valencia CF achieved the outstanding result of Matchday 12, their 2-1 victory against Arsenal FC at Mestalla taking the national champions into the quarter-finals as Group B winners. Rafael Benítez's team duly took the plaudits in today's press. "Carew sees Valencia through in epic match," AS wrote, while Marca also acclaimed the Norwegian goalscorer, saying that "Carew lit the final firework" on the last night of the city's festival of fire, the Fallas.
Barcelona FC were already assured a last-eight place as Group A winners, but underlined their European supremacy with a 2-0 victory at Newcastle United FC - their eleventh in 12 group games this campaign. According to Sport newspaper, the Camp Nou club are the "No1 in Europe".
Hot and cold
European champions Real Madrid will dispute that after they too reached the knockout stage with a hard-earned 1-0 success at FC Lokomotiv Moskva in Group C. Despite freezing temperatures in Moscow, Madrid "were sweating", said Marca, until "Ronaldo used his head at the best moment".
Italy also completed a triumvirate of quarter-finalists, as Internazionale FC beat Bayer 04 Leverkusen to take second place in Group A. The Gazzetta dello Sport hailed "the discovery of a great African talent" after a goal from 18-year-old Nigerian Obafemi Martins set up the visitors' 2-0 success. "Martins was the protagonist," it said. "His ability to run with the ball was fantastic."
Inter joined AC Milan and Juventus FC in Friday's draw. "Three teams in the quarter-finals," the Gazzetta remarked, "only Germany in 1998, England in 2001, and Spain on four occasions have achieved this."
While Milan had long been confirmed as top dogs in Group C, Juventus owed their position as runners-up behind Manchester United FC in Group D to a better head-to-head record against FC Basel and RC Deportivo La Coruña. "The Italian champions lost [2-1] against Basel," Tuttosport wrote, "but now have the chance to win the Champions League again after seven years."
AS Roma were unable to make it a quartet of Italian sides, as AFC Ajax claimed the second spot behind Valencia in Group B by holding the Giallorossi at the Olympic Stadium. De Telegraaf paid tribute to Ronald Koeman's "puppies" who, it said, "showed they are in the best eight teams in Europe". Andy van der Meyde's early strike heralded what the De Volkskrant newspaper called "a night of joy and admiration": "The dark years ended with a brave performance that brings Ajax back to the place they have longed to be."
Elsewhere, the reaction to the week's action was more muted. There was "pride and frustration" for BV Borussia Dortmund in the Süddeutsche Zeitung after their victory at Milan had failed to edge them past Madrid in Group C. "Ten points in the second stage is usually enough for the quarters," the paper noted.
The Guardian blamed Arsenal's home form for their Group B demise, writing: "As Arsenal drew all three home matches in the group, the dread grew that there must be bleak repentance for such profligacy." While the Gazzetta dello Sport levelled a similar accusation at Roma.
Exiting the competition with honour intact were a Newcastle side who, according to the Mirror, had "blazed a reputation around the continent for attacking football". The last word, though, went to another British tabloid, the Sun. Manchester United FC lost at Deportivo but "once again emerged as England's only representatives in the quarter-finals. You could almost hear Alex Ferguson's belly-laugh from here", it said.
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