UEFA: Barça and Real start with wins; Matchday 1 Review
The 2010-11 UEFA Champions League group stages are under way and for FC Barcelona it was business as usual as their 5-1 drubbing of Greek champions Panathinaikos was the most impressive performance on Matchday 1. Defending champions Internazionale FC could only muster a draw whilst Real Madrid opened their campaign with a home win. These games and more are reviewed here in Stoppage Time – International Football Blog.
The new season in Europe’s premier tournament began on Tuesday night and there was no stopping FC Barcelona from getting three points. After suffering a shocking 2-0 home reverse three days earlier against Hércules in La Liga the Catalans went behind after just 20 minutes to Panathinaikos with Sidney Govou opening the scoring to shock the Camp Nou further. The lead, however, lasted just two minutes when Lionel Messi restored parity and from there it was more like watching football’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters as Barça scored four more times with another goal from Messi complimented by strikes from David Villa, Pedro and Daniel Alves. The result stands FC Barcelona in good stead as they prepare to face Russian champions Rubin Kazan on Matchday 2, especially as Rubin suffered a 1-0 defeat away in Denmark as Dame N’Doye scored with three minutes to go for FC København to put them joint top of Group D.
A tough start for Internazionale coach Rafael Benítez got tougher as the defending European champions could only manage a 2-2 draw against Dutch champions FC Twente Enschede. After Wesley Sneijder had given Inter the lead Theo Janssen and a Diego Milito own goal handed the initiative back to Twente and had their fans dreaming of an opening day shock. Samuel Eto’o seems to thrive in this competition though and his equalizing goal four minutes before the break sent the Nerazzurri back into the dressing room relieved at half time. However there were no further goals to be had and Inter could eventually be thankful that the other two teams in Group A also shared the points in Bremen as Werder came from behind to snatch a 2-2 draw with English representatives Tottenham Hotspur.
Another club with high expectations was Manchester United who went into their “Battle of Britain” clash with Scottish champions Glasgow Rangers hoping for a repeat of the 3-0 win they enjoyed when the clubs last met in the UEFA Champions League in 2003-04. This, however, would turn out to be a frustrating night for United as they were unable to break the deadlock against a resolute Rangers defence who were led in fine fashion by veteran centre-half David Weir who seems to defy his forty years by putting in such workmanlike performances on a weekly basis. Credit should be given to Rangers for gaining a point from Old Trafford even if the attention after the match was on Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to make ten changes from the previous game. The main sour point for United was the terrible ankle injury suffered by Antonio Valencia which is expected to keep him out for the rest of the season. In Turkey Bursaspor were hoping to cause a shock in their first UEFA Champions League match against Valencia CF but the two-time finalists would teach the Turkish champions a valuable lesson and put them to the sword with an impressive 4-0 away victory thanks to goals from Alberto Costa, Aritz Aduriz, Pablo Hernández and Soldado.
Group B completed Tuesday night’s action with last season’s semi-finalists Olympique Lyonnais overcoming the challenge of German side Schalke 04 whose coach Felix Magath must be worried after his side’s poor start to the season. Their recent misery was compounded by Michel Bastos’ 21st minute winning goal and a red card shown to defender Benedikt Höwedes before the half-time whistle which pretty much put paid to any chances that Schalke 04 had of coming back in the second half. In the other Group B game in Lisbon Portuguese champions SL Benfica put some poor domestic form behind them and got the better of Israeli champions Hapoel Tel-Aviv with goals from Luisão and Óscar Cardozo to set up a 2-0 win and gain a very useful three points in what may be amongst the most open of groups in this season’s competition.
Wednesday night saw the Group of Death begin with three clubs of such prominent history in this competition featuring in Group G. Real Madrid, AC Milan and Ajax Amsterdam have accumulated no fewer than twenty European Cup/Champions League titles between them so there was no doubting that this group would be keenly observed. Real Madrid, looking to win a tenth title under last season’s winning coach José Mourinho, had Argentinian striking sensation Gonzalo Higuaín to thank for the three points as he scored both goals in Madrid’s 2-0 win over Martin Jol’s side. AC Milan were held at the break by French side AJ Auxerre but Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimović scored twice in three second half minutes to put the game beyond doubt.
English clubs had it good on Wednesday with Arsenal FC and Chelsea FC securing easy wins against SC Braga and MŠK Žilina respectively. Arsenal came up with a performance which rivalled FC Barcelona’s from the night before but it is arguably fair to say that Braga, for all their efforts in knocking Glasgow Celtic and Sevilla FC out of the qualifying rounds, were just a little too inexperienced at this level and it showed at The Emirates Stadium with Cesc Fabregas in a starring role scoring twice in the Gunners’ 6-0 victory. Nicolas Anelka also scored twice for Chelsea FC as they taught Slovakian champions MŠK Žilina a lesson in ruthlessness having the game sewn up by half-time before eventually sealing the deal with a 4-1 scoreline. Both Arsenal FC and Chelsea FC are joint top of their groups with the former sharing the lead with Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk who beat Serbian champions Partizan Belgrade 1-0 in Group H whilst Spartak Moscow share the top spot with the latter in Group F having won for the first time in eleven attempts against French opposition, Olympique Marseille’s César Azpilicueta putting through his own net to allow Spartak a 1-0 win. Finally Group E sees last season’s beaten UEFA Champions League finalists FC Bayern München and Romanian champions CFR Cluj-Napoca sharing the lead after they beat AS Roma (2-0) and FC Basle (2-1) at home respectively.