Schalke goes top with 1-1 draw at Montpellier
MONTPELLIER, France (AP) -Schalke clinched top spot in Group B of the Champions League ahead of struggling Arsenal on Tuesday after withstanding strong pressure in the second half to earn a 1-1 draw at French champion Montpellier.
Arsenal's 2-1 loss at Greek side Olympiakos ensured Schalke finished two points clear of the 2006 finalists.
"Of course we are happy to have finished the group ahead of Arsenal, as they are one of the big teams in the Champions League,'' Schalke center half Christophe Metzelder said. "Real Madrid would be a fantastic opponent in the next stage. "
Center back Benedikt Hoewedes put the visitors ahead in the 56th minute with a diving header after Metzelder had nodded Lewis Holtby's free kick back across goal.
Montpellier equalized three minutes later when striker Emanuel Herrera scored at the second attempt after his header had been saved by goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand.
"I'm proud of my players. Tonight I saw what I wanted to see from my team. I'm not disappointed, but I think we deserved to win it,'' Montpellier coach Rene Girard said. "We saw what the Champions League is about. I hope there is a next time.''
Hildebrand made two excellent saves to deny Herrera as Montpellier, which is a lowly 13th in the French league, pushed forward in the closing stages.
"I think we played very well. We had the better opportunities in the first half and in the second half it was an up-and-down game,'' Schalke coach Huub Stevens said. "Montpellier certainly had the chance to win the game, but Timo kept us in it on a number of occasions.''
Although Montpellier finished bottom of Group B with two points, the positive sign was that it held the German club in both games.
"Both matches against Schalke were of a good standard,'' Girard said. "The regrets we can have are the two (defeats) against Olympiakos.''
Making a rare start, Herrera was in fine form and pounced on Anthony Mounier's cross to bring Montpellier back into the game.
Either side of his goal, the Argentine forward had an effort athletically cleared off the line by Japan right back Atsuto Uchida and then went close with a curling effort in the 64th that flashed past the post as Montpellier got on top.
"Sometimes we're very demanding of him,'' Girard said. "He could have won the game on his own tonight. It's encouraging for the rest of the season. "
Schalke twice looked dangerous in the closing stages of the first half.
Midielder Julian Draxler beat his marker down the left and his fine pass picked out Ciprian Marica lurking in the penalty box, but goalkeeper Jonathan Ligali dived at his feet to thwart the Romania forward.
Holtby then burst forward, swapped passes with Marica, but his dangerous cross failed to find a teammate.
Ligali had earlier made two timely interventions, stopping a pass from reaching Marica and rushing off his line to prevent Draxler from scoring. The lively Herrera's snapshot was Montpellier's best effort of the first half.