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November 5, 2009

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Drogba brace puts Chelsea through

DIDIER Drogba scored twice on his return from a three-match European suspension as Chelsea drew 2-2 at Atletico Madrid to seal its place in the knockout round of the Champions League on Tuesday.

It was joined in the last 16 by Manchester United, Porto and Girondins Bordeaux, while four-time European champion Bayern Munich is on the brink of elimination after losing at home to the French champions.

Maccabi Haifa, Besiktas, APOEL Nicosia and Atletico were all eliminated, but could yet finish third in their respective groups and go into the Europa League.

There was high drama in almost every one of Tuesday's eight matches with a flood of late goals and a superb 1-1 draw between European giants AC Milan and Real Madrid.

The Group C clash between those famous rivals, who have won the European Cup 16 times between them, was somewhat overshadowed with neither side able to advance.

The draw left both on seven points from four matches, just one ahead of Olympique Marseille which crushed FC Zurich 6-1.

The most dramatic recovery came at Old Trafford where Manchester United scored twice in the last 10 minutes to force a 3-3 draw with CSKA Moscow, stretch its unbeaten home Champions League record to 23 matches, and earn a place in the last 16.

But individual honors belonged to Chelsea's Ivorian striker Drogba, back in Europe for the first time since being banned by UEFA for his antics against referee Tom Henning Ovrebo when it was eliminated by Barcelona in the semifinals last season.

Then, Drogba lost his head as Chelsea missed out on a return to the final after a late goal and he got a three-match ban.

Having missed Chelsea's three Group D wins, Drogba returned to the side and scored two excellent goals - the first after 82 minutes cancelled out Sergio Aguero's 66th minute volley and the second put his side 2-1 ahead in the dying minutes.

Although Aguero scored again to give Atletico a draw, Drogba had a night to remember against Spanish opposition for the right reasons.

Asked if he was in the form of his life now, Drogba told Sky Sports: "I think so. A few years ago I was playing with the same confidence. It's always easier when you're playing free of injury."

The winner

Chelsea, with 10 points from four games, advanced from Group D with Porto, which won 1-0 at APOEL Nicosia with Falcao scoring the winner six minutes from time.

Manchester United, seeking to reach the final for the third successive season, sealed a place in the last 16 the hard way.

It needed two late goals - from Paul Scholes and a deflected Antonio Valencia effort off the head of Georgy Shchennikov - to force a draw with CSKA Moscow in Group B after trailing 1-3 with less than 10 minutes to play.

The Russians, playing under coach Leonid Slutsky for only the second time following the departure of Spanish coach Juande Ramos last week, raced into a 3-1 lead with goals from Alan Dzagoyev, Milos Krasic and Vasily Berezutsky after 47 minutes. But United, which had scored through Michael Owen after 29 minutes, grabbed a point after relentless late pressure eventually paid off.


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