Europe's big guns celebrate wins
It proved a night to rejoice for Europe’s leading sides in the UEFA Champions League as Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona and AC Milan all brought the third instalment of group-stage games to a close with valuable wins.
While the big guns celebrated victory, there were positives too for Cypriot minnows APOEL Nicosia, who held on to top spot in Group G with a draw away against Porto.
They and their fellow hopefuls will look to advance their cause as Europe’s leading club competition continues on 1 and 2 November.
The big game
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Valencia
Goals: Andre Schurrle 52, Sidney Sam 56 (Leverkusen); Jonas 24 (Valencia)
With the home side struggling to settle or generate much forward momentum, Valencia enjoyed the best of the opening exchanges, not least when Roberto Soldado fired against the base of the post. The La Liga outfit were rampant and Soldado soon returned to fashion the opening goal when his cross was volleyed in by Jonas between a pair of defenders. It was no more than the visitors deserved, but the whole complexion of the game changed after the interval, firstly when the threatening Andre Schurrle thumped the ball past Diego Alves from the left, and then, when Sidney Sam latched on to a Michael Ballack pass to do the same from a tight angle on the right four minutes later. Stunned, Valencia quickly roused themselves and dug deep to force an equaliser, their efforts making for a spectacular end to the game marked by chances at both ends. Soldado was particularly impressive for the Liga hopefuls, but they failed to salvage a draw and now find themselves four points behind Leverkusen ahead of the return meeting in Spain in two weeks’ time.
The other games
Chelsea 5-0 Genk
Fernando Torres’s return to form came at the worst time for Genk as the Belgian champions found their defence overrun at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea racked up four goals before the interval and took their foot off the pedal in the second half, knowing the three points were enough to take them top of the section.
Olympique Marseille 0-1 Arsenal
Olympiacos 3-1 Borussia Dortmund
Aaron Ramsey’s stoppage-time goal changed everything in Marseille, where the Gunners came away with maximum points from a tight affair that could have swung in either direction. Gervinho’s touch on Johan Djourou’s late cross left Ramsey in space to apply the finishing touch and the Welsh international made it three defeats for France’s three representatives this week. As a result, Arsenal climb to the top of the pile, with Olympiacos back in the race following their win against a Borussia Dortmund side struggling to live up to last season’s highs.
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2 Zenit St-Petersburg
Porto 1-1 APOEL Nicosia
It was a case of onwards and upwards for APOEL as the Cypriot aspirants picked up a point in Portugal to consolidate their hold on first place. Hulk fired the Dragons into an early lead courtesy of his 13th-minute free-kick, but APOEL refused to be overwhelmed and drew level six minutes later as another Brazilian, Ailton, registered a fine individual effort. After that, the hosts toiled in vain to find a way through their opponents’ rearguard.
Elsewhere in the section, Shakhtar and Zenit played out a thrilling encounter that brought a multitude of chances at both ends, the Russian contenders enjoying the lions’ share only to be frustrated by the in-form Olexandr Rybka in the Shakhtar goal. In fact, it was Zenit who twice had to pull themselves back into the game, but as the final whistle blew it was Shakhtar who left the pitch happier with the result.
AC Milan 2-0 BATE Borisov
Barcelona 2-0 Viktoria Plzen
The European champions enjoyed another comfortable assignment in Europe as they pinged the ball around with their usual ease on the way to victory against their Czech visitors. Lionel Messi wowed yet again with several moments of magic and he played a vital role in the opening goal, playing a pair of one-twos with Andres Iniesta before his team-mate clipped the ball past a defender with his right and volleyed in with his left. For the second goal, Messi found his route to goal barred by a defender before David Villa picked up the pieces to blast in.
At the San Siro, meanwhile, the experimental partnership between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Antonio Cassano looks to be bearing fruit, while serving up plenty of entertainment for the fans in the stands. BATE keeper Aleksandr Gutor did what he could to keep I Rossoneri at bay, but he was powerless to keep out thundering efforts from Ibrahimovic and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Fernando Torres has rediscovered his goalscoring touch on the European stage at last. Uncharacteristically quiet since signing for Chelsea, the Spanish striker pounced on out-of-sorts Belgian champions Genk to notch a pair of goals, his first coming from a curled effort which fizzed inside the far post and the second the result of a superbly angled header. It was his first double in the Champions League since 28 November 2007, when his goals helped Liverpool get the better of Porto.
Goal of the night
Olympiacos 2-1 Borussia Dortmund (Rafik Djebbour 40)
Collecting a throw-in, Kevin Mirallas raced clear down the right before cutting the ball back into the area, where Algerian forward Rafik Djebbour bamboozled Mats Hummels with a superb touch and made room for himself to aim a shot high into the far corner of the net. As the ball crossed the line, Djebbour became the second Algerian player to score in the Champions League, two years after his compatriot Madjid Bougherra hit the target for Rangers.
25 - The number of goals racked up in Europe’s leading club competition by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who opened the scoring for AC Milan against BATE. The powerful Swedish international has reached his tally despite turning out for a handful of clubs down the years, rattling in six for Ajax, Inter and Milan, three for Juventus and four for Barcelona.
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