Sporting were beaten 3-1 by José Mourinho's Chelsea in London tonight, which combined with Schalke's 1-0 victory at Maribor means the Lisbon club failed in their quest to qualify for the knockout stage of the Champions League for what would have been only the second time in their history.
FC Porto ended a highly positive group stage campaign with a 1-1 draw at home to Shakhtar Donetsk thanks to a tremendous late equaliser from Aboubakar to remain unbeaten in this season's competition.
Benfica sent out a 2nd-string team at home to Bayer Leverkusen yesterday, and ironically put in perhaps their best performance in Group C, drawing 0-0 and missing some glaring chances to beat the Germans.
Chelsea 3-1 Sporting
(match report by Richard Cole at Stamford Bridge)
Marco Silva was without 3 first team regulars; the suspended Cédric Soares and the injured Nani and Jefferson. With Miguel Lopes not registered for UEFA competition youngster Ricardo Esgaio started at right-back. Jonathan Silva was the natural replacement for Jefferson and Sporting went with a front three of André Carrillo, Diego Capel and Islam Slimani.
To his credit José Mourinho did not field a team of youngsters, clearly not wanting to lose at home to Sporting. Diego Costa, Cesc Fàbregas and Nemanja Matic all started.
On a night when Sporting knew their fate was in their own hands they could not have made a more self-destructive start. A nervous Ricardo Esgaio needlessly fouled the advancing Filipe Luís inside the box. Cesc Fàbregas stepped up to take the penalty and the Spaniard coolly sent Rui Patrício the wrong way.
Chelsea made it two after just 15 minutes when André Schürrle's sharp turn and shot beat Rui Patrício. The German was obviously keen to make up for his poor finishing at the Alvalade in the first game.
Despite that Sporting managed to settle soon after although defensive frailties threatened to open the visitors up at the back. Going into the break Chelsea were 2-0 up but meanwhile in Maribor, Schalke had failed to find a goal.
It took just four minutes after the interval for Sporting to pull a goal back. Great play by Carrillo down the right led to a cross that Chelsea could not clear. Left-back Jonathan Silva struck his shot well on his weaker right foot to beat Cech and hit the net.
Sporting could not make the most of cutting the deficit to a single goal. First, Rui Patrício was needed to prevent Mohamed Salah from getting Chelsea's third, but the Portugal goalkeeper could do nothing when the unmarked Jon Obi Mikel scored from practically on the goal-line after a Chelsea set piece.
Things got worse for Sporting as William Carvalho picked up another yellow card for a foul on Fàbregas meaning he will miss Sporting's next European game. And even worse news was to come for Marco Silva's side as whilst he was bringing on Fredy Montero and Carlos Mané for Carvalho and the ineffectual Diego Capel, Schalke took took the lead in Maribor.
Both sides had more chances to score, Slimani forcing a diving save out of Cech and Adrien's goal-bound shot brilliantly charged down by Cahill, but the upshot is Marco Silva's men will now be playing Europa League football in 2015.
No doubt Sporting will look back at the Schalke and Maribor games away from home and wonder what might have been, but they ultimately will surely take heart from their Champions League campaign.
Chelsea: Petr Cech; César Azpilicueta; Gary Cahill, Kurt Zouma, Filipe Luís; John Obi Mikel, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fàbregas (Ruben Loftus-Cheek, 83;); Mohamed Salah (Loïc Rémy, 71'), André Schürrle (Ramires, 74'), Diego Costa
Sporting: Rui Patrício; Ricardo Esgaio, Maurício, Paulo Oliveira, Jonathan Silva; William Carvalho (Fredy Montero, 60'), Adrien Silva, João Mário (André Martins, 69'); André Carrillo, Diego Capel (Carlos Mané, 60'); Islam Slimani
[1-0] Fàbregas (pen), 8'
[2-0] Schürrle, 16'
[2-1] Jonathan Silva, 50'
[3-1] John Obi Mikel, 57'
Porto and Benfica end with home draws
FC Porto and Benfica faced a tricky decision on how to approach their final group games. For both clubs the result could not change their standing in the group, and even more significant, the eternal rivals no doubt already had with one eye on Sunday's clássico at the Estádio do Dragão, when they go head to head to fight for first place in the Primeira Liga.
Given the backdrop, it was no surprise that Porto's game against Shakhtar Donetsk was a low-key affair (Shakhtar also would remain in the runners-up spot regardless of the result). It was the Ukrainians who took the lead in the second half, Stepanenko heading into the net.
A much-changed Porto - without the likes of Fabiano, Danilo, Brahimi, Tello and Jackson Martínez - kept their unbeaten run in the competition intact thanks to a thunderous 20-yard strike by Aboubakar in the 87th minute.
Porto thus become the only Portuguese side to make it through to the knockout stage of the competition. On Monday they will learn which of the following seven opponents they will play in the last 16: Juventus, Basel, Bayer Leverkusen, Arsenal, Manchester City, PSG or Schalke 04.
Benfica coach Jorge Jesus took an even more radical stance than his Porto counterpart Julen Lopetegui when it came to resting players ahead of Sunday's big game. Of the eleven starters against Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday night in the Portuguese capital, only André Almeida and Lima are likely to feature at the Dragão.
Nevertheless, Benfica put in a positive display, especially in the first half when Lima missed two gilt-edged chances to score, both set up by the marauding Ola John. As well as the Dutch winger, centre-back Lisandro Lopez and midfielder Cristante put in impressive shifts, while Nélson Oliveira and João Teixeira also gave promising cameos as late substitutes.
Benfica could not find a way through the German defence, however, and end their campaign last in the group on five points having scored just two goals in their six games. Coach Jorge Jesus admitted after the match that "Benfica have the capacity to do much better."