Champions League: Matchday One Review

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Champions League: Matchday One Review

Romance is back in the Champions League this year. For the last few years it's been all about the big boys of Western, Southern, and Central Europe, but in week one of the 2008-2009 campaign, the East set down its marker for a fightback of Phoenix proportions, with a little help from a few South Americans...

GROUP A

There is only one team to talk about in this group, and sorry Chelsea fans but it's not the dynamic Blues. CFR 1907 Cluj is a name that will not be familiar with most football fans across the globe, until now.

Not content with breaking the 17 year dominance of Bucharest based teams in the brilliantly named Liga 1 Frutti Fresh, this tiny club from Cluj-Napoca (the third biggest city in Romania) sensationally defeated Italian giants Roma on their own patch.

Argentinian Juan Culio did the the damage with two goals (that's him on the right in the picture if you were wondering why you didn't recognise the player!), after veteran Christian Panucci had given Roma a 17th minute lead.

Cluj play Chelsea next at home on October 1st, and the Blues warmed up for the trip in to the unknown with a comfortable 4-0 win over Laurent Blanc's hapless Bordeaux side. By all accounts Chelsea were slightly flattered by that score-line, but it would be a brave man who bet against yet another semi-final appearance at least for Phil Scolari's team.

Chelsea should have no trouble topping this group now, while Cluj have a serious chance of qualification, and I will be cheering them on all the way! (Sorry Roma & Bordeaux fans!)

GROUP B

Anorthosis Famagusta are an old fashioned European name that will be familiar to many, but the Cypriot minnows have surely had few better results in their history than a goalless draw at Champions League regulars Werder Bremen.

The Germans dominated possession as you would expect, but in truth they rarely challenged the committed Anorthosis rearguard, with a paltry five shots on target to show for their 64% of the ball.

The Cypriot's could have even sneaked a win, with three shots on target of their own. I can just imagine what mad manager and former Newcastle player Temuri Ketsbaia's reaction would have been if one of them had gone in. Advertising hoardings beware! Mike Ashley could do a lot worse...

Jose Mourinho knows his way round the Champions League, and most are expecting a better effort from Inter Milan this time round. They got their challenge off to a routine start with a 2-0 win in Greece against Panathinaikos.

Inter should cruise to the group win, but second place looks well up for grabs.

GROUP C

Pep Guardiola has not made the most auspicious start to his management career at Barca, but it was back to business this week as they saw off Sporting at Camp Nou.

Goals from Marquez, Eto (pen), and Xavi did the damage, with Tonel replying for the Portuguese side. Barca have their problems, but rarely stutter in the Champions League group stage.

Shaktar Donestsk have threatened a good Champions League run for a few years now, and the Ukranian giants might be finally ready to reach the knock-out stages. A 2-1 win in Basle was a great start to the campaign, as Basle is no easy trip, just ask Gerard Houillier.

Shaktar started with five Brazillians, with that kind of pedigree it's hardly surprising that they netted a superb free-kick through Fernandinho, with Jadson the other scorer.

Barca should win the group, and I reckon Shaktar can follow them through.

GROUP D

No doubt about the star of matchday one in this group, no, not Stevie G, but Kun Aguero. South Americans peppered the goals charts this week, and the little wizard added two strikes in an excellent 3-0 win in Eindhoven for Atletico Madrid.

Atletico have not been spoken of as contenders by many, mainly because of their lack of European experience in recent years, but with Aguero and Forlan up front, and Simao loading the bullets, they have the firepower to challenge any team on their day.

They should be joined in the knock-out stage by Liverpool, who produced a resillient but flawed performance to win at Stade Velodrome, Marseilles, for the second time in nine months.

Rafa wouldn't have been happy with his teams defending, but with Pepe Reina in this sort of form, who needs defenders? Steven Gerrard did the damage at the other end, with two efforts making it 99 club goals for the midfield dynamo.

GROUP E

Not much to talk about here, two nil-nil draws that barely got the pulse going at all let alone racing. The main talking points concerned weakened teams and calamitous refereeing.

Man Utd and Villarreal both fielded weakened teams (partly influenced by injury and suspension), suggesting that they are both confident of progressing by virtue of beating Celtic and Aalborg, and are not that fussed about top spot.

On the pitch, Ronaldo made a welcome return and was rapturously applauded by the majority when he came on with 30 mins left. A friend of mine was at the match though, and tells me that there was a fair few boos drowned out by the Viva Ronaldo's!, so don't believe that all is forgiven just yet.

Utd arguably could have had two penalties, but those decisions were nothing compared to the horrow show from Italian referee Matteo Simoni Trefoloni at Celtic Park.

Not content with awarding Celtic an (in my view) dubious looking penalty for a foul on Shaun Maloney, which Barry Robson promptly missed, the ref later gave a red card to the wrong player after adjudging a professional foul against Giorgios Samaras.

Now Samaras is so slow I am convinced that an Aalborg defender would have caught him up so it didn't warrant a red anyway, but having made the decision you would back the referee to be able to tell the difference between a blond Dane and a dark haired Aussie, some 20 yards away from the original incident at the time.

How such an error is made at the top-level of football in this day and age of 4 officials armed with microphones and earpieces is truly astounding. Still, it got the hitherto unknown Michael Beauchamp (the Aussie) an interview on Sky Sports, a conspiracy theorist might even blame Richard Keys for the whole shabang.

GROUP F

This one looks likely to be a very tidy group that will go to the wire. Bayern Munich have returned to the big time, and they were made to work very hard for a 1-0 win in Bucharest against Steaua.

Former Manchester City donkey Daniel Van Buyten got the goal, but with him at the back there is no way Bayern can win the competition. He is much safer in the opposition box than his own, which is not a plus for a defender.

While Van Buyten was enhancing his attacking reputation, Jean Alain Boumsong continues to do untold damage to what's left of his defensive one. He produced another error-strewn display as Lyon were made to come back from two down to force a draw at home to Fiorentina.

Gilardino netted twice for the Viola, reminding Europe that he does know where the net is afterall, while Karim Benzema was again on the scoresheet for Lyonnais.

Top marks to the Fiorentina defender that tried to play offside while his mate was play-acting on the touch-line some 20 yards behind him, leading to Lyon's first goal. I am not sure who it was, but he could give Van Buyten and Boumsong a run for their money in the terrible defending stakes.

It is anyone's guess who gets through this tight group, but Bayern will probably be one of them.

GROUP G

Porto are a team who seem to sell some of their best players every year, but never get any worse. They must have some scouting department at that club, Ajax could do with borrowing them to learn how its done.

Fenerbahce were Porto's latest victims, going down 3-1 despite a debut Champions League goal from Dani Guiza. Spanish coach Luis Aragones must have been fuming at the defending from his team, as they tamely allowed Lisandro Lopez and Lucho Gonzalez to strike early.

They must have some kind of production line in South America involving cloning and Eugenics, as they just can't stop scoring goals the world over. Didn't many Nazis make it to South America to escape the just punishment for their horrific crimes? Now that is a conspiracy theory...

Not many South Americans (or Nazis, thankfully) on show in Kiev though, as Arsenal held the resurgent Ukraninans to a draw with a late Gallas equalizer. The Gunners should have won in truth, but still haven't learned that there are no points awarded for artistic merit in football.

You always know when Arsene Wenger is worried about his team, he sits on the bench in a state of apoplepsy usually only seen in the Queen Vic at Christmas time.

Still, Arsenal should make it through here, with Porto likely to join them, but the edgy away trips could bring more of Wenger's inspired histrionics.

GROUP H

You have to feel sorry for BATE Borisov. They make it to the big time for the first (and possibly only) ever time, and get drawn with Real Madrid, Juventus, and the UEFA Cup winners for their efforts.

The Belarussians made a decent fist of it against a Madrid side going through the motions, going down 2-0 with Ruud Van Nistelrooy proving that it's not only those born in South America who are prolific in the goalscoring stakes.

I bet if Ruud ever appeared on Who Do You Think You Are it would be revealed that his great great great great grand parents were a poor Shetland pony and a Brazillian centre-forward.

Alessandro Del Piero is one of those players that I have never fallen in love with, and while the commentators were marvelling at his 40 yard free-kick winner against Zenit St Petersburg, I was still bemused at what the keeper was playing at.

Defeat was harsh on Zenit, for whom alleged Venezuelan born Portuguese striker Danny missed an absolute sitter. Someone needs to check his birth certificate, as he can't possibly be South American born with that kind of finishing.

Zenit will still figure strongly in this group, and I still harbour faint hopes that they could manage to knock Juve out and make it through with Real.

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