Champions League: The alternative group stage awards

The Champions League has been put to bed for another three months after the conclusion of the group stage.

A chaotic and controversial opening phase of the tournament drew to a close on Wednesday, leaving us without Champions League action until the middle of February. Sad face.

With that in mind, Sportsmail thought we should give out alternative awards for some of the most memorable moments across the six barmy matchdays. 

For most of those who have made the list, it might be time to look away…

Marseille’s complete BRAINFADE

You’d think knowing what you needed to remain in European competition would be the bare minimum going into a final group stage game. 

Chancel Mbemba Admitted Marseille Did Not Know What They Needed To End In The Europa League

Chancel Mbemba admitted Marseille did not know what they needed to end in the Europa League

Marseille Boss Igor Tudor Was Furious With His Side As They Chased A Late Winner Against Spurs

Marseille boss Igor Tudor was furious with his side as they chased a late winner against Spurs

You’d also think a manager wouldn’t need to be on the pitch to relay such basic instructions.

Apparently not for Marseille. Defender Chancel Mbemba admitted after his side’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur that they did not know they would secure the consolation prize of Europa League football with a draw and blamed a ‘lack of communication’. Baffling, right?

Equally bizarre was the sight of manager Igor Tudor being at least five yards onto the pitch in the dying stages of the match that was to be their last in Europe for another season. 

Sikan’s Shakhtar shocker

For what is supposed to be the best club competition on the planet, the group stage had its fair share of howlers in front of goal.

Darwin Nunez and Alfredo Morelos were among the outside contenders for the worst miss award but the clear winner is Shakhtar Donetsk’s Danylo Sikan.

It Looked More Difficult For Shakhtar Donetsk'S Danylo Sikan To Miss Against Celtic

It looked more difficult for Shakhtar Donetsk’s Danylo Sikan to miss against Celtic

Sikan had the chance to roll the ball into an empty net and give his side a 2-1 lead at Celtic but somehow contrived to fail with the goal at his mercy.

He took a poor touch which got away from him and went out of play. On a plate would not do the chance justice.

It would prove a costly error from the Ukrainian forward as, had he scored, Shakhtar may have made it out of their group and into the knockouts. Instead, the Europa League awaits.

Chaos, controversy and Carrasco

A penalty awarded after the game had finished, a rebound from the missed spot-kick hitting the woodwork and glorious celebrations from the defending team – the finale to Atletico Madrid versus Bayer Leverkusen will certainly live long in the memory.

Atletico were out of the Champions League until the penalty was controversially given for handball after the full-time whistle had been blown. They were still out once it had been taken. 

Yannick Carasco had the chance to keep Atletico’s hopes of qualification alive in the 98th minute of a bonkers contest at Civitas Metropolitano but fluffed his lines as Lukas Hradecky saved his meek effort.

Saul Niguez’s headed follow-up then smashed the crossbar before the ball was cleared off the line at the third attempt, sparking wild scenes of jubilation from the Leverkusen defenders. Sheer and utter madness.

Atletico Madrid Missed A Penalty Awarded After The Final Whistle In Their Draw With Leverkusen

Atletico Madrid missed a penalty awarded after the final whistle in their draw with Leverkusen

One red balloon, one bizarre celebration 

We thought we had seen it all when it came to celebrations. We’ve had masks pulled out of socks, wonderfully-choreographed dances and even players eating or drinking items handed to them from the crowd.

Step forward Christopher Nkunku to add himself into the pantheon of bizarre showings of delight after scoring a goal – and claim our best celebration award in the process.

Nkunku netted an early opener for RB Leipzig in their game against Shakhtar and proceeded to pull a balloon from his sock and inflate it – why wouldn’t you? – before holding it between his teeth as it fluttered in the wind.

Apparently, it was a tribute to his two-year-old son, which is a nice touch.  

Christopher Nkunku Performs An Iconic - And Touching - Celebration After Scoring For Leipzig

Christopher Nkunku performs an iconic – and touching – celebration after scoring for Leipzig

Maccabi maul Max’s Juve

Maccabi Haifa had not won a Champions League match for 20 years – but in that time they cannot have played many worse sides than Max Allegri’s Juventus.

Omer Atzili scored twice in the first half on a miserable and embarrassing night for the struggling Serie A outfit.

Cue an absolute pile-on in the aftermath of the shock result on social media and in the Italian press, which blasted their display as ‘shameful’. 

Juventus Were Embarrassed On Matchday Two As They Suffered A Shock Defeat To Maccabi Haifa

Juventus were embarrassed on matchday two as they suffered a shock defeat to Maccabi Haifa

Juve’s players – and Allegri himself – would have been best to keep their phones switched off even after they landed back in Italy. The result earns them the coveted (not) worst performance of the group stage award, pipping Liverpool’s Napoli nightmare to the prize.

Conte left red-faced

Say what you want about VAR, but it can provide the odd comedy moment for fans of teams on the wrong end of one of the countless mistakes made by those operating it.

Spurs fans will certainly not have been laughing after Harry Kane’s last-minute goal in their draw with Sporting Lisbon was ruled out for the most marginal of offsides.

Unsurprisingly, boss Antonio Conte was also seething. The Italian had wildly celebrated Kane’s ‘goal’ only for it to be chalked off – and the change in his demeanour in such a short space of time was stark.

Antonio Conte Was Sent Off During Tottenham'S 1-1 Draw With Sporting Lisbon On Wednesday

Antonio Conte was sent off during Tottenham’s 1-1 draw with Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday

Conte earned himself a red card for his troubles, which meant he had to watch on as a mere spectator in their crunch decider away at Marseille on Tuesday. Winning our manager meltdown award probably won’t ease that disappointment, but he can have it anyway.

Bemused Pep’s awkward presser

Journalists have been unfairly and wrongly derided as ‘fans with laptops’ for years, but there are cases where members of the press pack live up to that far too literally.

One such incidence came during Pep Guardiola’s press conference to preview Manchester City’s game with Copenhagen. 

Guardiola had barely sat down when one of those in attendance rushed over to him and asked for a selfie – an absolute no-no in journalism.

Unsurprisingly the City boss was caught off guard and looked bemused as he eventually took the picture after the journalist struggled to work his phone. For that, they get the awkward moment award. 

Pep Guardiola Looks Awkward And Bemused After A Journalist Asked Him For A Selfie

Pep Guardiola looks awkward and bemused after a journalist asked him for a selfie

Emerson not so Royal

When you’re chasing a winning goal in a crucial match, it may be best not to attempt ludicrous no-look passes.

But that is exactly what much-maligned Spurs full-back Emerson Royal tried as his side poured forward in the aforementioned draw with Sporting.

Who knows what he was thinking but Conte, sitting nervously on the bench, looked far from impressed with his defender. 

Royal’s actions were also met with the usual merciless mocking in the harsh world of social media – but the Brazilian is rewarded with our most pointless moment award, so congratulations to him.

…and thanks for coming, Rangers!

Champions League qualification is lauded by clubs all across the land, but for Rangers, making this year’s group stage turned out to be a complete and utter disaster (although, for Gers fans, at least Celtic did not fare much better).

Yet they have not won the alternative award you might think they have.

No, it is not the ‘worst team’ or ‘worst performance’ – instead, Rangers receive the participation trophy.

They ended the group stage as the official worst team to have ever played in the competition as they finished bottom of the group with six defeats and a goal difference of -20. Ouch.

Rangers Are Officially The Worst Team To Ever Play In The Champions League After Their Disastrous Group Stage

Rangers are officially the worst team to ever play in the Champions League after their disastrous group stage

The Scottish Side Were Outclassed By Ajax As They Ended With A Goal Difference Of -20

The Scottish side were outclassed by Ajax as they ended with a goal difference of -20

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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