By JOHN BOSCHINI
Real Madrid entered the fifth matchday of UEFA Champions League already having qualified for the knockout rounds, so a more subdued performance from the Spanish giants wouldn't have been a complete surprise. That's not quite what happened, though,.
Real Madrid scored a record four times in the first 20 minutes on its way to a 6-2 drubbing of Dinamo Zagreb, and Jose Mourhino's men remain the only team with a perfect record in group play with one match to go.
Karim Benzema, Jose Maria Callejon and Gonzalo Higuain scored to put Real Madrid up 3-0 by the ninth minute. Mesut Ozil slotted home a right-footed shot from the center of the penalty area to make it 4-0 in the 20th minute to add to the rout.
Callejon and Benzema completed their braces in the second half with well-taken shots. Dinamo Zagreb rescued some semblance of pride when Fatos Beciraj and Ivan Tomecack scored goals in the final 10 minutes to mark the first goals conceded in the Champions League by Real Madrid, which boasts an astounding +14 goal differential.
In other Champions League action on Tuesday:
MANCHESTER UNITED 2, BENFICA 2
Things weren't nearly so rosy at Old Trafford, as Manchester United failed once again to impress in the Champions League and slumped to a draw with Benfica. Phil Jones bungled the ball into his own net for the Portugese opener in just the third minute, but surprise starter Dimitar Berbatov equalized on the half-hour mark.
The Red Devils went ahead in the 59th minute through Darren Fletcher's goal, but the lead lasted less than a minute when Pablo Aimar brought Benfica level. The visitors were the more dominant side later in the game but couldn't find the victory on a night when United sorely missed striker Wayne Rooney.
Manchester United and Benfica remain level atop Group C, but both lead FC Basel by only a point heading into the final day of group play during which Basel plays United.
NAPOLI 2, MANCHESTER CITY 1
Napoli rode a raucous home crowd to a thrilling victory over Manchester City to put the English side in danger of missing out on the knockout stage. Edinson Cavani put the home side up twice with goals in the 16th and 49th minutes. Sandwiched between those goals was an equalizer by Italian international Mario Balotelli for City before halftime. With the result, Napoli needs only to win at Villarreal to book passage into the knockout stages while City needs help from the Spanish side and a result against group winner Bayern Munich.
BAYERN MUNICH 3, VILLARREAL 1
Bayern Munich continued their domination of Group A by clinching first place with a comfortable 3-1 win over bottom-dwellers Villarreal. Franck Ribery scored twice, while Mario Gomez added a third. Jonathan De Guzman was the lone goal-scorer for the Yellow Submarine, who are still without a point in this year's European campaign.
INTER MILAN 1, TRABZONSPOR 1
Inter Milan was less than convincing but did enough to wrap up Group B with a game to spare. Ricardo Alvarez Puig scored early for Inter, but Halil Altintop drew the Turkish side level. Trabzonspor remains in second place and in control of its own destiny.
LILLE 2, CSKA MOSCOW 0
A Vasili Berezutsky own goal gave Lille the lead just after the break, and Moussa Snow added an insurance tally 15 minutes later to give the French side a much-needed victory. Lille still sits at the bottom of Group B but is within striking distance approaching the final day. Both Lille and CSKA are level on five points, trailing second-place Trabzonspor by a point.
FC BASEL 3, OTELUL GALATI 2
FC Basel kept their hopes of qualification into the knockout rounds alive with a sound victory. Fabian Frei, Alexander Frei and Marco Streller put Basel up 3-0 before halftime. Late goals from Gabriel Giurgiu and Liviu Antal made it interesting but ended up as little more than consolation.
LYON 0, AJAX AMSTERDAM 0
Ajax are all but through to the knockout rounds after a hard-fought draw in France. With a +7 goal differential and a three-point lead on Lyon for second place behind Real Madrid, it would take a couple of shocking results on the final matchday for the Dutch side to miss out on the knockout stage.
What did you think of today's games? Impressed with Real Madrid? Do you think Manchester will have two clubs in the knockout rounds?
Share your thoughts below.