Portugese stalemate: Wayne Rooney and company were fortunate to leave Estadio da Luz with a point against Benfica. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
The Manchester powers were held to draws tonight as Matchday 1 of the Champions League came to a close. Anders Lindegaard and Ryan Giggs saved a point for United in a disjointed 1-1 draw at Benfica, while City had Aleksandr Kolarov to thank for a 1-1 comeback against a dangerous, Edinson Cavani-led Napoli.
But the result of the day – and the upset of the round – was at the San Siro. Turkish side Trabzonspor notched a famous victory, toppling Inter Milan 1-0 thanks to a goal from defender Ondrej Celutska. It was a humbling loss for an Inter side that won the Champions League only two years ago and a remarkable win for the visitors who were actually eliminated – by Benfica – in qualifying only to become the replacement for Fenerbahce when the Turkish Federation banned its champions.
Elsewhere, Bayern rolled past Villarreal 2-0 in Spain to signal their intent, while Real Madrid got a gritty 1-0 win in Zagreb despite having Marcelo sent off. Ajax and Lyon played to a lifeless 0-0 draw while minnows Basel pipped fellow outsiders Otelul Galati, 2-1. And finally, CSKA Moskva was the comeback king of the night, thanks to the late heroics of Seydou Doumbia that stunnned Lille to a 2-2 draw.
New depths for Inter’s start
Let’s start in Italy, where famously slow-starting Inter Milan look to be a team in deep trouble. Their fans will argue that for long stretches they did everything but score, but the reality is that this is a team that is showing its age and was well-played by a Turkish team that wouldn’t even be here had Fenerbahce not been barred for match-fixing. No matter how you slice it, this result is a humiliating.
Inter entered the game at loose ends after a dismal 4-3 loss to Palermo on the weekend that saw manager Gian Piero Gasperini harshly criticized for fielding a three-man back line. Gasperini dutifully switched to a flat-back four tonight, but that did little to spark Inter’s guile or thrust, and it didn’t keep the ball out of the net in the end either.
Giampaolo Pazzinni and Mauro Zarate were the most active for Inter, forcing Tolga Zengin into a series of saves. As time wore on, Trabzonspor grew in confidence while Inter, even with the introduction of Diego Milito, failed to catch fire. Then, disaster struck. Celutska collected a free ball in the box and glided the game winner past Inter Milan goalkeeper Julio Cesar, after winger Halil Altintop smacked a ball off a corner kick that hit the crossbar.
Gasperini will be under severe pressure and may well be the first Serie A boss sacked this season. Inter were exposed as a one-dimensional side tonight, and the fact that they lost Samuel Eto’o to Russian unknowns Anzhi — then signed a cup-tied Diego Forlan — makes matters that much worse. It’s going to be a long night in Milan.
Red Devils survive Eagles assault
Benfica threw everything they had at Manchester United in the opening 45 minutes and then ran out of gas. The Portuguese will probably be happy with a share of the points in the Estadio da Luz, despite this being a game they might have easily won.
With Oscar Cardozo, Axel Witsel and Nico Gaitain constant thorns in the side of the United defense, Benfica called the tune for nearly 35 minutes and took the lead on the 24th minute, when Cardozo soundly beat Jonny Evans to a cross from Gaitan and slammed home the opening goal.
United, perhaps with an eye on their big match Sunday against Chelsea, made eight changes to the side that pounded five past Bolton last weekend. Missing from the start were Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Phil Jones, Nani, Ashley Young and Anderson; while Rio Ferdinand rested back home, De Gea was dropped to the bench, and Tom Cleverley was ruled out due to injury. The changes showed as United looked out of sorts for much of the first half and a far sight slower.
It took a bit of magic from Manchester United’s most reliable midfielder to get level three minutes before the interval. Giggs found space in the inside right channel, ghosted left past two defenders and perhaps surprised everyone with his 22-yard shot that ripped into the net.
The second half was much more pleasant for United, but the Red Devils were unable to make their territorial edge pay off in goals. In fact, they might well have been flying back to Old Trafford without a point had it not been for a couple of superb Lindegaard saves before a woeful miss in the final minutes from Benfica’s, Nolito. The former Barcelona prospect pounded his fist on the turf, prone after shooting past the post when it would have been just as easy to score on the other side.