Drogba takes Chelsea into Champions League last 16

By ROB HARRIS AP Sports Writer LONDON (AP) -- With Chelsea's Champions League progress secured with a ruthless victory over Valencia, Andre Villas-Boas had the confidence -- after weeks of pent-up frustration -- to take on his critics. The manager declared that his players had delivered a "slap in the face" to their detractors with a 3-0 win over Valencia on Tuesday that sent Chelsea through to the knockout round as the Group E winner. "(There) is a continuous persecution of Chelsea, an aggressiveness towards one club," Villas-Boas said. "But today you have to accept it was a brilliant win." Woeful away form had left a place among Europe's elite in jeopardy, but Chelsea rediscovered its attacking flair just when it mattered most. Didier Drogba netted after just three minutes, set up Ramires' 22nd-minute goal and then rounded off the victory in the second half. "We finished top of the group against all odds," said Villas-Boas, who was hired in the offseason following a four-trophy haul last year at FC Porto. "There has been a lot of criticism of our players and they gave everyone a slap in the face." The victory knocked Bayer Leverkusen off top spot, with the German club clinching second place with a 1-1 draw at Racing Genk. The drama of the night came at Borussia Dortmund, with Marseille scoring twice in the closing minutes to win 3-2 and advance as Group F runner-up. "Football is magnificent when you win," Marseille coach Didier Deschamps said. "You have to believe until the end. What we did was exceptional." Olympiakos was denied second place in Group F despite beating group winner Arsenal 3-1. Zenit St. Petersburg reached the last 16 with Group G winner APOEL at the expense of FC Porto after drawing 0-0 in Portugal. The final knockout phase places will be determined when the group stage concludes on Wednesday, with Manchester rivals United and City the highest-profile clubs with qualification on the line. Chelsea, though, can relax -- for now -- and focus on catching United and City in the Premier League from fourth. For the ninth successive season, the Blues are in the knockout phase of the competition owner Roman Abramovich desperately wants to win. Any nerves the Russian oligarch had about his team's prospects were eased inside three minutes at Stamford Bridge with a goal -- Chelsea's fastest in the competition -- that set the tone for a night of dominance. Daniel Sturridge, who has displaced record-signing Fernando Torres from the side, switched the ball from the right to left flank. Former Valencia winger Juan Mata then squared to Drogba, who turned Antonio Barragan and fired beyond goalkeeper Diego Alves. The lead was doubled when Drogba picked up possession inside his own half and charged forward before sending the ball through to Ramires, who swept past Victor Ruiz before striking into the net. Drogba's 36th Champions League goal came in the 76th, racing onto Mata's through ball and slotting a low finish into the corner. "I'm improving since the last few games," Drogba said. "I've managed to have more time on the pitch and it's helping me a lot." Bayer Leverkusen dropped to second in the group, requiring Eren Derdiyok's late equalizer to cancel out Jelle Vossen's 30th-minute volley for Genk, which had already been eliminated. In Dortmund, Marseille looked consigned to a spot in the Europa League in February before staging the late and unlikely comeback. Dortmund was 2-0 up inside 32 minutes after goals from Jakub Blaszczykowski and Mats Hummels, but Loic Remy headed one back for Marseille just before half time. But it wasn't until the 85th that Andre Ayew equalized and substitute Mathieu Valbuena then grabbed a winner two minutes later. That denied Olympiakos the chance to remain in the competition despite Rafik Djebbour, David Fuster and Francois Modesto clinching a memorable 3-1 win over Arsenal, whose goal came from Yossi Benayoun's volley. In Group G, two-time European champion Porto needed a win to advance, but will have to settle with a spot in the Europa League it won under Villas-Boas last season. Zenit rarely ventured up the pitch at Porto, drawing thanks to a solid defensive display. APOEL won't care that its five-match unbeaten run in Group G is over, with the 2-0 loss to Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 meaningless, having already qualified for the knockout round for the first time. Group H had already been settled with Barcelona and AC Milan advancing. But holder Barcelona was able to show the depth of talent in its squad as a second-string team without Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta easily disposed of BATE Borisov. A 4-0 victory extended Barcelona's unbeaten run at home in the competition to 13 matches, with 19-year-old midfielder Sergi Roberto opening the scoring and 20-year-old defender Martin Montoya adding another on the hour. Pedro Rodriguez completed the rout with goals in the 63rd and from the penalty spot in the 89th. Early second-half goals from Brazilian forwards Pato and Robinho put AC Milan 2-0 up against Plzen but David Bystron and Michal Duris salvaged a 2-2 draw.


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