Tuesday September 13th and Wednesday September 14th:
Matchday One rarely excites and in the final analysis matters even less. Most teams are getting the rust out of their systems and have either played too few games or are still fitting in the summer recruits. Still it's the kick-off for the most televised and hardest football tournament in the World. Global Soccer's crown jewel - the UEFA Champions' League.
32 teams, eight groups, double round robin home and away, six games each.
We recap the action by breaking down the results by type, style and function.
Chelsea 2 - 0 Bayer Leverkusen
- The West London Club rarely lose at home in the Champions League with just four such defeats in their entire history. Chelsea winning at home in the group stages is one of fall football's most consistent truisms.
Porto 2 - 1 Shakhtar Donetsk
- Despite the monotonous menace that Porto bring to the continent, it was still a pleasant surprise to see them ease past an improving and dangerous Shakhtar, who have beaten Benfica, Roma and yes, Barcelona on their travels in the past four years.
Dinamo Zagreb 0 - 1 Real Madrid
- It's one of Jose Mourinho's stocks in trade to nick an away goal and prevent the opposition from scoring altogether. Against pedigreed but limited opponents, the only surprise was the close scoreline.
The Vindicated I Told You So
Manchester City 1 - 1 Napoli
- Despite their money City are CL virgins who need games and experience to get up to speed. Moreover, Napoli are far from being mugs and with a Serie A challenge in their sights, possess ambition far greater than they are credited for.
Inter 0 - 1 Trabzonspor
- What makes the Turkish club's win, from the unlikely source of Odrej Celustka, even more unbelievable, is the knowledge that 'Spor are only here because Fenerbahce were thrown out. Go figure.
Barcelona 2 - 2 Milan
- The defending champions and former champions served up a thrilling end to end battle with goals and highlight reels, replete with a surge and finish, a mazy dribble and a last minute headed equalizer. Boom !
Lille 2 - 2 CSKA Moscow
- What the tournament is all about, matching good teams from several thousand miles apart, in solid, even competition. While CSKA will be happier with the point and arguably the performance, their first hour was spent getting a lesson from the French Champions.
Ajax 0 - 0 Olympique Lyon
- Goals are the name of the game and with just five shots combined, the goalless draw was the day's best bet. Forget the furious second half pressure that some reports talk about, this game was always going to finish all square.
Genk 0 - 0 Valencia
- Calm and somewhat encouraging result for the Belgian League Champions who were returning to the group stages after nine seasons. Typical result for Valencia however whose continental pedigree is built on results like these.
Villarreal 0 - 2 Bayern Munich
- Already favourites to win the group of death, beating the experienced and skilful Spanish side in their own backyard of El Madrigal is a great achievement on its own. Bayern have racked up 16 goals in their five league games before this, Villarreal have conceded seven in their two. It showed.
Olympiakos 0 - 1 Marseille
- Travelling to Athens for a football match is often a tricky affair, even when Greece was stable. However, winning there is impressive and crucial as it gives the French side an early leg up in a tricky group.
Apoel 2 - 1 Zenit
- Despite home field advantage the team from the Cypriot capital of Nicosia was not supposed to give the Russian double winners and league leaders much trouble. Massive win.
Basel 2 - 1 Otelul Galati
- Alexander Frei still lives, as he doubled his brother Fabian Frei's tally in seeing off the Romanian League Champions - the third such team in recent years not from Bucharest. And before you sneer, know that Steaua Bucharest won the European Cup in 1986.
Viktoria Plzen 1 - 1 BATE
- Czech Champions holding one of last season's Europa League surprises to a draw is not just a decent result but one of the rare occasions that TV rights include footage of a match between clubs from those two countries. if the money men had their way, games like this would be cut out altogether.
The Decent but Overplayed
Borussia Dortmund 1 - 1 Arsenal
- Plucky is what both sides can consider this result, in the most optimistic sense although the visitors from London will be slightly happier. Similar teams, with convergent styles, it was a mugging till a late wonder goal made things even.
Benfica 1 - 1 Manchester United
- The Portuguese giants have plenty of continental history and a decent raft of current talent, so their humbling, if that, of a rampant United is more expected that newsworthy. Still it's only fall and United will still win this group at a canter.
Things that I'd like to mention:
- The UCL always returns familiar faces. The return of Olaf Mellberg, Ariel Ibagaza, Fran Yeste and Jean Il Makoun to primetime, for Olympiakos, under former Espanyol, Bilbao and Villarreal coach Ernesto Valverde, was a pleasant sight.
- 21 year old French midfielder Sofiane Feghouli made his UCL debut for Valencia after last season on loan at Almeria.
- As good as Juan Mata was, did we just witness the re-ignition of Fernando Torres career?
- .. and was that Kleber Pinheiro announcing himself in Europe ?
- Hulk hit the ball so hard that a friend of mine called me up from across the pond in Spain asking if I had heard that.
|One Brazilian defender who didn't just stay on the field, but scored.|
- What's with defenders getting dismissed on Matchday One? Rod Fanni's, Adrian Salageanu's, Yaroslav Rakitskiy's, Dimitry Chygrynskiy's and Bruno Alves' dismissals could all come back to haunt their clubs in the group stage. Marcelo's walk for Real, somewhat less so.
- In 1996 Remi Garde was deemed an essential purchase by incoming Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Despite an indifferent playing career, he is now coaching in the Champions' League.
- The ironic, yet noteworthy feature of Ryan Giggs' goal at the age of 37, is that 20+ years ago, he was a talented schoolboy on the books at City.
- Last Spring Benoit Pedretti was playing football for a relegation threatened club, this Autumn he is scoring in the Champions' League. Also see Sofiane Feghouli.
- While the rest of Germany's talented younger generation were drawing blanks at Stamford Bridge and in Dortmund, Bayern's Toni Kroos was reminding everyone of his talented 20 year old existence.
- 10 (Count 'em) Brazilians scored goals on Matchday 1. The Apoel Pair of Gustavo Manduca and Ailton Almeida were clearly the lowest profile ones to do so.
- Bayern Munich, Lille, Zenit St. Petersburg, Otelul Galati, Basel, Barcelona and Viktoria Plzen were the only clubs to have a player of their nation score for them. That's just seven out of 32 clubs !
Managerial Old Boys' Club:
- Didier Deschamps, Frank De Boer, Pep Guardiola and Jupp Heynckes have all won the European Cup/Champions League as a players - with the latter two winning it as coaches as well.
- Dinamo Zagreb's manager Krunoslav Juric finished third with Croatia at the 1998 World Cup, losing to Deschamps' France but beating De Boer's Holland along the way.
- Roberto Mancini, then with Sampdoria lost to Guardiola's Barcelona in the 1992 Champions' League final.
Imagine if they met each other in the knockout stages ?