Late drama the theme on opening night
Barcelona’s UEFA Champions League campaign got off to an inauspicious start, as they conceded a last-gasp equaliser to draw 2-2 with an experienced AC Milan side. Elsewhere, the two Premier League-Bundesliga clashes saw Chelsea emerge 2-0 winners from their duel with Bayer Leverkusen and Arsenal secure a precious point in Dortmund.
Just 17 goals were scored during the first matchday, an average of just over two goals per game.
The big game
Barcelona-AC Milan, Group H
Goals: Pedro 36, David Villa 50 (Barcelona); Pato 1, Thiago Silva 90+2 (AC Milan)
Milan came close to pulling off the result of the night at the Camp Nou. The Italians got off to the perfect start, Pato catching the Catalan defence off guard by running at them and explosively accelerating through on goal. One-on-one with Victor Valdes, the Brazilian made no mistake, slotting the ball through the Spanish goalkeeper’s legs in a composed fashion, with just 25 seconds showing on the clock. Barcelona, and their central defensive pairing of Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets in particular, appeared rattled for a while, incapable of dealing with Pato’s dangerous incursions.
Barça coach Guardiola then changed things around, moving to three at the back, which led to the European champions gradually gaining a foothold in the match. An equaliser was clearly on the cards, and that it was created almost singlehandedly by Lionel Messi came as no surprise. The skilful Argentinian burst into the left-hand side of the box, drawing three Milanese defenders away from goal in the process. He then sent in a low far-post cross that was dispatched decisively into the net by the unmarked Pedro.
After Messi hit the post with a free-kick and then saw a shot brilliantly saved by Christian Abbiati, it was the turn of David Villa to show his skills, giving his side the lead with a marvellous bending free-kick. The match appeared to be over as a contest, with the Italians posing very little threat in the second half. But they dug deep to force a draw in the final seconds of the game, when Thiago Silva powerfully headed home Clarence Seedorf’s corner.
The other games
In a hotly contested and lively Group E encounter, Chelsea finally broke down Bayer Leverkusen’s resistance after 67 minutes, central defender David Luiz finishing off a move he had started by expertly curling a lay-off from Fernando Torres low into the net. In injury time, Torres took his assist count to two, setting up fellow Spaniard Juan Mata for the Blues’ second. Leverkusen’s Michael Ballack, a former Stamford Bridge favourite, was given a standing ovation by the home fans as he was substituted in the second half. In the section’s other match, Genk drew 0-0 with Valencia. Despite dominating the match, the Spanish outfit failed to find a way past a stubborn Belgian defence.
For 88 minutes, Arsenal drew on all their European experience to take control of their match at Borussia Dortmund. Robin van Persie’s first-half goal looked to have earned the Gunners all three points, but Ivan Perisic struck a fabulous volley to give the hosts a share of the spoils. Things could have got worse for Arsenal too, had Wojciech Szczesny not pulled off a fabulous reflex save in injury time. Marseille, meanwhile, made the perfect start to their Champions League campaign by earning a 1-0 win at Olympiacos. Lucho Gonzalez grabbed the all-important goal, turning home a Jeremy Morel cross to earn the side from the southern French coast their first win of the season.
Porto edged past Shakhtar Donetsk to take pole position in a group that appears wide open. The Ukrainian visitors took the lead, Luiz Adriano profiting from an error by Porto goalkeeper Helton to fire home. Hulk had earlier missed a penalty for the home side, but made up for his error by scoring a sublime free-kick to draw Porto level. James Rodriguez then combined with Kleber and the latter hit the winner. Shakhtar were down to ten men by that point, and finished the match with nine on a night to forget for the Ukrainians. APOEL Nicosia pulled off arguably the performance of the night by downing Zenit St-Petersburg 2-1. The underdogs came from a goal down, with Gustavo Manduca and Ailton Almeida finding the net to make history for the Cypriots.
Outsiders Viktoria Plzen and Bate Borisov played out an interesting 1-1 draw in which both teams dominated proceedings at different stages of the match.
Porto’s Givanildo Vieira de Souza, better known as Hulk, was the top goalscorer in Portugal with 33 goals in all competitions last season. He had an up-and-down evening against Shakhtar Donetsk, striking the post with a penalty early in the first half, but shrugging off this disappointment to net a superb long-range free-kick 20 minutes later.
Goal of the night
Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Arsenal (Robin van Persie 42)
Robin van Persie pounced on a wayward pass by Sebastian Kehl and deflected the ball in the direction of Theo Walcott, before quickly pulling himself up off the ground and making a run deep into opposition territory. With a slide rule pass, Walcott fed the ball back to the Dutchman, who outpaced the German defence and slotted calmly past Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller for the opener.
7 – The number of UEFA Champions League matches that Viktoria Plzen have now played without tasting defeat. One of this year’s lesser-known participants, the Czech champions remained unbeaten during three qualifying rounds, eliminating Norwegian giants Rosenborg along the way, and kicked off the group stage by drawing with Bate Borisov.
Have your say
Can APOEL Nicosia qualify for the knockout stages?