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Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010

Arsenal stumbles as Milan, Marseille win

LONDON (AP) AC Milan and Marseille secured spots in the Champions League knockout phase with a game to spare Tuesday as Arsenal's progress was stalled by a surprise loss at Braga.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ronaldinho scored to give Milan a 2-0 victory over Auxerre in Group G, which will be topped by Real Madrid after the nine-time champions routed Ajax 4-0.

Group F was also settled by Marseille beating 10-man Spartak Moscow 3-0 and Chelsea taking top spot by rallying to beat Zilina 2-1.

Arsenal had thrashed Braga 6-0 earlier in Group H but Matheus' late double secured a 2-0 win for the Portuguese side. Shakhtar Donetsk went top with a 3-0 win at Partizan Belgrade.

In Group E, AS Roma beat Bayern Munich 3-2 to take a big step to joining last season's beaten finalists in the next phase.

Milan, the seven-time champions, had only won one of its last four Champions League matches before traveling to Auxerrre. But Ibrahimovic set about improving that dismal run by scoring his 11th goal of the season in the 64th minute.

Clarence Seedorf's cross for Robinho was deflected into the Sweden striker's path on the edge of the penalty area and he struck powerfully into the net. Ronaldinho replaced Ibrahimovic in the 85th and struck with a curled shot at the far post in stoppage time.

"We keep getting stronger," Ibrahimovic said. "It was important to advance with a game to spare so we can rest. At the end I was so tired I couldn't move my head."

Four-time champion Ajax won't be joining Milan in the draw for the knockout phase after Madrid winger Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice to pile the pressure on coach Martin Jol with an emphatic victory.

Karim Benzema fired into the roof of the net from the edge of area to put group winner Madrid ahead in the 36th after Mesut Oezil skillfully laid the ball into his path. Alvaro Arbeloa doubled the Spanish side's advantage with a fierce shot in the 44th.

Arbeloa then set up Ronaldo to make it 3-0 with a close-range shot and the Portugal winger made it 18 goals in 19 games by scoring from the penalty spot in the 80th.

Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos were both sent off late in the game after picking up second yellow cards for time wasting. It means they will miss Madrid's final group game and have a clean slate for the last 16 — but coach Jose Mourinho denied the bookings were deliberate.

Japan eyes history

GUANGZHOU , China (Kyodo) Japan's Under-21 men's soccer team is set to take on the United Arab Emirates in Friday's final aiming to become the first Japanese team ever to claim the title at the Asian Games.

The two teams are coming off hard-fought semifinal wins Wednesday. The young Blue Samurai came from behind to beat four-time Asian Games champion Iran 2-1, thanks to a decisive strike from Fukuoka University forward Kensuke Nagai, the top scorer of the tournament so far with five goals.

The UAE squad, winners of the 2008 Asian Under-19 Championships, earned their first berth to the final after Ahmed Ali Alabry made it 1-0 in the final seconds of extra time against South Korea, who were all-set for a penalty shootout.

Japan's Under-21 team consists of six university students and 14 J. League players with an average of 20 years and 11 months. Ryutsu Keizai University midfielder Kazuya Yamamura and Nagai traveled with Japan's World Cup squad to South Africa as training reserves.

Japan coach Takashi Sekizuka said he was completely satisfied with his players, who only started training together as a team less than two weeks before their opener against China on Nov. 8 but have conceded just one goal in the last six games.

"The players have become extremely tough," Sekizuka said after Wednesday's match. "They have developed as a team, I see growth in each player. I am extremely satisfied with them in that regard."

"Because of the high concentration level of the team we could win against Iran," Sekizuka said, while also pointing out challenges to overcome.

"The players did their best to hold (the Iranian opponents) off but we still need to work on who's taking who and who's covering who otherwise we will again be left with a big hole in the middle of our defense."

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