Barcelona rolls while Inter held up
The shock came at Old Trafford.
Perhaps the best result belongs to Holland’s FC Twente. And two Spanish teams seized the advantage tonight as Valencia and Barcelona roared out to big wins as the Champions League group stages kicked off with Matchday One.
Eight games played out across Europe tonight in the biggest, richest club soccer competition on the planet, with Manchester United and defending champions Inter Milan suffering some nasty shocks. Eight more games kick off tomorrow, and all those games will be broadcast across the Fox family of networks; FoxSoccer.tv and on DirecTV. Please check your local listings for the games available in your area.
On the first night of the new Champions League campaign, Glasgow Rangers reached back into their historic past for a quite unexpected performance in Manchester, holding heavily-favored United to a 0-0 draw that few will have foreseen.
That result piles some small pressure on Manchester United, who were foiled by a defense-oriented Glasgow Rangers side that made the red Devils look very average. United were expected to roll easily past a visiting Scottish team that even the most faithful supporters admit isn't what it used to be. On this night, however, the Ibrox giants got the equation right, with goalkeeper Allan McGregor making big saves and a stout defense keeping United off the board.
Part of United’s woes stemmed from a challenge by Rangers’ Kirk Broadfoot: Antonio Valencia looks tonight to have a broken ankle after what truly looked to be an innocent tackle; so graphic was the break that British TV refused to show the replay.
Valencia’s departure on the stretcher left both teams with ashen faces and little appetite to continue. Nonetheless, Rangers manager Walter Smith will be happy to take the point in what was one of this group’s toughest pairings for the Scots. United have to recover quickly as they face a major Premier League fixture against arch-rivals Liverpool this Sunday.
The other Group C match was a rout, as Valencia pounded debutants Bursaspor in Turkey, with Aritz Aduriz, Tino Costa, Alejandro Dominguez and Roberto Soldado leading them to a 4-0 triumph. Costa scored the first after only 16 minutes, and the Spaniards never looked back.
In the Netherlands, FC Twente shook off an early deficit, rallied behind the work of Theo Janssen and came away with a 2-2 Group A opening night draw against the defending champions from Inter Milan.
Wesley Sneijder put Inter ahead when he collected a rebound in the 13th minute, but there had already been signs that Twente was going to be a handful. When Janssen snapped home a free kick in the 20th minute the Dutch were level and it was a Janssen free kick replay 10 minutes later that set up the go-ahead goal. Inter’s Diego Milito actually scored it, heading into his own net from the resulting corner after a fine Julio Cesar save had denied Janssen's foray. Samuel Eto'o scored a 41st minute goal to bring the holders back to 2-2 but that was as good as it got for Rafa Benitez' Italians.
Although Inter carried much of the play after the interval they had to be content with one point and a share of the spoils in what looks like becoming a very tight Group A.
The other Group A match saw Spurs roar out and then fall back against a resilient Werder Bremen side, 2-2. Both teams will feel low tonight, as both sides could have taken full points from a topsy-turvy encounter that exposed Spurs’ frailties and Bremen’s callowness.
Tottenham, back in the top competition for the first time in 60 years, grabbed a 2-0 lead in 18 minutes, both times thanks to the work of Gareth Bale on the left and Peter Crouch in the center. Crouch headed one in and was the pressuring force that caused Petri Pasanen to put an earlier Bale cross into his own net.
Spurs might have had four, but when Aaron Hunt came on for Phillipp Bargfrede midway through the half Bremen suddenly tightened its right side and began to take over the match. They were gifted a 43rd minute Hugo Almeida goal when two Spurs defenders failed to cover the striker's run to a cross from the left, but there was nothing quirky about Marko Marin's 47th minute shot that flashed home from 24 yards.
Bremen had the better of it from there to the finish, Spurs at times looking disorganized in the back and somewhat fortunate to hold on. Still, when Crouch beat the offside trap he should have scored in the 87th minute and that's the memory many Spurs supporters will no doubt carry home.
Barcelona, meanwhile, strolled past outmatched Panathinaikos, Leo Messi scoring twice in a 5-1 Group D rout that could have been double that tally without flattering the Spanish champions.
Barcelona pounded the Greeks with a non-stop barrage broken only by a fluke goal from French winger Sidney Govou. Lionel Messi scored twice and missed a penalty, while David Villa, Pedro and Dani Alves added the other three to lead the Spanish giants to a comprehensive 5-1 win.
Elsewhere in Group D, Copenhagen nicked a late winner thanks to Dame N’Doye, his header coming off a lazy Martin Vingaard free kick that seemed to hang like a punt. It was the lone bright spot in an otherwise tepid match that saw the Russians enjoy long spells of control, to no effect.
Group B saw two listless games. Lyon made an early Michel Bastos goal stand up for a 1-0 triumph over Schalke 04, which played the last hour with 10 men after Benedikt Höwedes saw red for a shoulder-high tackle.
Benfica defeated Hapoel Tel-Aviv, 2-0 thanks to two from Luisao and Oscar Cardoza. Benfica are off to a miserable start in the Portuguese League, having lost three of their first four games, but will be pleased with tonight result, which was far too easy against an Israeli side many feel is just making up numbers.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League.