Chapter 17 Do or Die? Wednesday 6th December With one round of the Champions League group games left, the situation was fairly straightforward. If Chelsea were to get at least a draw against Benfica, they would qualify for the knockout stage, although they would have to face a group winner due to Bayern’s better head-to-head record. Of course, for the unicorn who had been in my care for nearly six months now, qualification was vital to keep hopes of the treble - and a reunion with her mother back in Ponyville - alive. “Nervous?” I asked, as we left the flat and began the walk to the stadium. “A little,” she admitted. “We’ll be alright,” I said, as Rainbow Dash fell in alongside us. “Since the Bayern game, we’ve turned a corner. All we need to do is score early and give ourselves some breathing space.” “Welcome to the final group game of the Champions League,” Big Match said. “We’re at Stamford Bridge, for this make-or-break clash between Chelsea and Benfica. Chelsea occupy that all-important second spot in the group, with Benfica needing a win to go through. For Chelsea, a draw would be enough…” “So we’re OK if we draw?” Derpy asked Twilight in the Traveller’s Rest. “Yes,” Twilight replied. “You see, Chelsea are second at the moment, so Benfica need to win or they have to make do with a UEFA Cup spot.” “The stadium is packed out for the final group game,” Kick Off announced, as the two teams took to the field, “And Mourinho has gone with his two best strikers up front. Danny Doyle is on the bench, hoping to make his Champions League debut, but Mourinho has said he does not want to take risks. He’s also said that he won’t be happy with a draw, only a win - and a convincing one at that - will suffice.” Of course, the last three games had fired Chelsea up and they attacked from the start. It took just two minutes for the home side to create a chance, with Arjen Robben’s cross being volleyed over the bar by Drogba. With just over ten minutes gone, Fontana played the ball to Drogba, who got free of the defence. His shot was saved by Quim, but but Fontana pounced on the rebound and steered the ball into the empty net to give Chelsea the early goal Mourinho had demanded. Benfica were being pinned back, and in the fifteenth minute, another cross from Robben was met by the head of Fontana. The Spaniard sent his header goalwards, but Quim tipped it against the bar and it was cleared by Ricardo Rocha. It took until the 20th minute for the Portuguese side to get forward. Katsouranis, who had scored Benfica’s second goal against Chelsea in Lisbon back in September, took the ball down the right and crossed it into the area, only for it to be cleared by Paulo Ferreira. Chelsea then went on the counter, and only a smart save by Quim prevented Drogba from doubling the advantage before the ball was cleared by Nelson. Four minutes later, another attack by Robben down the left saw the Dutch winger send in a cross. Fontana met it with a volley past Quim and into the net to make it 2-0. “Fontana again!” Kick Off exclaimed. “That’s surely it now, Chelsea only needed a draw tonight and they lead by two goals to nil with less than half an hour gone!” Realising that they were now up against it, Benfica began to look to get forward. Just after the half hour mark, Nuno Gomes took the ball through the Chelsea half, only to see his shot tipped behind by Cech. Four minutes later, Gomes got through again, only to fire wide, while Mourinho berated the defence from the Chelsea dugout. A Chelsea attack on the stroke of half time then saw Robben caught offside, before Simao shot wide for Benfica in first half stoppage time. “Well, Chelsea have a commanding lead,” Kick Off said, as the teams left the pitch, “But they can’t afford complacency. A Benfica goal early in the second half could make them very uncomfortable.” Benfica did look to score early in the second half, as they won a free kick two minutes after the break. Nuno Gomes took it, but it was headed clear by Terry. The home side then suffered a potential setback ten minutes later, as Drogba pulled up clutching his hamstring and was replaced by Doyle. The boy wonder, as some were starting to call him, nearly made an instant impact, as on the hour mark he connected with a cross from Wright-Phillips only to shoot over the bar. Four minutes later, he played Fontana in, and Fontana got into the area. His shot was deflected off a defender to Shaun Wright-Phillips, whose shot was saved. The match then went quiet for over 15 minutes, but with eight minutes left, Fontana went on a run through the Benfica half and into the area before being brought down by Luisao for a penalty. Lampard stepped up and smashed the ball into the top corner, sending Quim the wrong way and extinguishing any hope Benfica might have had of qualification. There was still time for Chelsea to come forward again at the end of normal time, with Quim saving a shot from Michael Essien. Still, a 3-0 win was more than enough to make it into the knockout stage. Chelsea 3-0 Benfica (Fontana 11, 26, Lampard pen 82) “So a good victory for Chelsea, in the end, to see them comfortably progress to the round of 16” Big Match said, as the players celebrated in front of the Matthew Harding end. “And although it’s fairly straightforward, here’s how the final group table looks…” UEFA Champions League Group F: Final Table 1 Bayern 14pts 2 Chelsea 11pts 3 Benfica 6pts 4 Celtic 3pts Chelsea had been, incidentally, the only British side to win. Bayern won 3-2 against Celtic to finish the group stage unbeaten, while Arsenal were held to a 0-0 draw in Porto. The previous night, Man Utd had drawn 1-1 with Inter at Old Trafford while Liverpool had lost 1-0 to Galatasaray in Instanbul. “So who will we play in the next round?” Dinky asked, as I put her to bed that night. “Don’t know yet,” I replied. “It’s not like the World Cup, the draw for the Round of 16 is next week and the competition resumes in February.” “Who can we play?” “Let’s see,” I said, “Given that it has to be a group winner, and we can’t face a team from the same country until the quarter finals, or Bayern, because they were in our group, then it’ll be one of” - I counted on my fingers - “Barcelona, Galatasaray, Valencia, Lyon or Milan.” “Not Real Madrid?” “They finished second to Lyon.” There was something on my mind as I went to bed that night. Dinky had been in London for nearly six months now - it would be six months on Saturday - and there’d been no mention of visitation rights. Surely I should have received something by now? I’ll write to whoever the pony was - Autumn, I remembered - tomorrow, I thought, as I nodded off. At any rate, things were potentially looking up. Chelsea were through to the last 16 of the Champions League and had moved up to second in the table within five points of Manchester United. A/N: Between 1999 and 2003, the UEFA Champions League included a second group stage, which was scrapped due to fixture congestion. In the World Cup (and European Championship), the brackets are sorted out when the competition is drawn due to the fact that the tournament lasts a month. The Champions League starts in July and ends in May, allowing for a slower pace. There is one exception to the “no teams from the same country playing each other until the quarter finals” rule - Liverpool were not given “country protection” in 2005 (due to winning the tournament but finishing 5th in the Premier League, and as such having to start from the first qualifying round) and so ended up in the same group as Chelsea. The rule was subsequently changed so that the holders would qualify automatically for the group stage.