woensdag 24 oktober 2012

Champions League Report

Manchester United 3-2 Braga:
Chicharito double completes magnificent turnaround
The Red Devils continued their bad habit of conceding early, Alan with two first-half strikes, but the Mexican forward inspired a recovery to maintain momentum in Group H

UEFA Champions League :   Javier Hernandez ,  Manchester United and Braga

A Chicharito-inspired Manchester United recovered from an early sucker-punch to beat Braga 3-2 in their Champions League clash at Old Trafford, extending their lead at the top of Group H to five clear points.

Alan scored in the second and 20th minutes to rock the Red Devils but the Mexican's double, either side of a Jonny Evans equaliser, rescued all three points.

Sir Alex Ferguson followed through on his pre-match talk of implementing a diamond, Wayne Rooney captaining the side from its forward point and Michael Carrick beating Scott Wootton to a start at centre-back.

The makeshift nature of the defence showed, however, when Alan profited from badly disorganised marking to rise and head home within just two minutes from Hugo Viana's cross.

The visitors had arrived fearless and they doubled their lead on 20 minutes, this time exploiting Carrick. Eder skinned the England man on the left touchline and darted inside to cut a pass back into the box, where Alan stabbed home for his second.

Braga's two-goal cushion lasted all of five minutes and it was thanks to a smart piece of refereeing that United got their riposte. Serbian official Milorad Mazic indicated an advantage when Robin van Persie was fouled on the left flank but Shinji Kagawa picked up the loose ball and dinked a cross for Chicharito, who was onside at the far post to head into the net.

Both teams pushed for more, Van Persie firing wide with his right foot at one end before Alan nearly exploited more uneasy defending by volleying just past the post. Kagawa's movement saw him break past the back line but, just as he rolled it to the unmarked Chicharito, the Japanese was harshly flagged for offside.

Needing to seize control of an open contest after half-time, United had to replace the injured Kagawa with Nani, flattening their diamond formation accordingly. Possession did indeed come more easily but penetration slightly less so as the Braga rearguard held their own.

The breakthrough came from a poorly cleared corner, however, which fell to Evans. The defender scuffed his first attempt but it bobbled back to him and a scruffy finish was enough to beat Beto and send the game level.

Buoyed, United pushed for more and, after setting Nani up for a saved stinger, the excellent Chicharito got further reward for a superb performance. The Mexican powerfully headed home from a pinpoint delivery by Tom Cleverley, another bright spark in the turnaround.

Braga had looked deflated ever since Evans' euqaliser and never really threatened to get back into proceedings, even when David de Gea's risky pass to Cleverley opened things up. Ruben Amorim's first touch deserted him, however, and the opportunity fell flat. In the end, Sir Alex's men were comfortable in their victory.

Barcelona 2-1 Celtic
Heartbreak for Hoops after Alba wins it late
A disciplined defensive performance from the visitors saw them keep the Catalan giants largely at bay but they were denied a historic draw in stoppage time at Camp Nou

UEFA Champions League :   Giorgos Samaras; Mikael Lustig; Efe, FC Barcelona v Celtic FC

Barcelona overcame a spirited display from Celtic to secure a 2-1 victory courtesy of a stoppage-time winner in their Champions League group stage clash on Tuesday evening.

The Scottish champions took a surprise lead in the first half, with Javier Mascherano heading past his own goalkeeper after a superb delivery from Charlie Mulgrew wide on the right.

The hosts levelled the scores shortly before the break, though, when after an intricate move involving Xavi and Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta stabbed the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.

And, with the game nearing its conclusion, Jordi Alba was on hand to break Celtic hearts by prodding home at the far post after beating his man for pace on the outside and latching onto an Adriano ball in the box.

Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova rang the changes for the game, bringing in young centre-back Marc Bartra for the suspended Sergio Busquets, while David Villa, Cesc Fabregas, Martin Montoya and Cristian Tello dropped out of the starting eleven to be replaced by Xavi, Adriano, Pedro and Alexis Sanchez.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon made four changes for the game, with Mikael Lustig, Emilio Izaguirre, Scott Brown and Georgios Samaras coming into the side for Adam Matthews, Tony Watt, Lassad Nouioui and Beram Kayal.

The hosts should have taken the lead as early as the second minute when a cute pass in behind the back four from Messi saw Sanchez miss a one-on-one chance, dinking his effort just past the left-hand post.

It was the unfancied visitors who took a shock lead in the 17th minute, though, when Mulgrew's viciously whipped free-kick from the right wing left Mascherano red-faced as he nodded into his own net under pressure from Samaras.

After finding themselves frustrated for the majority of the half, struggling to break down a stubborn Celtic defence, Barcelona drew level right on the stroke of half-time through Iniesta, who latched onto a magnificent through ball from Xavi to poke the ball past the onrushing Forster.

With Barcelona pushing for the lead, it took a world-class save from Forster to deny Messi who looked odds on to tap home from an offside position just six yards from goal after some good work by both Sanchez and Pedro.

Moments later, another high-quality save kept out a Messi header from point-blank range after a delicately clipped ball over the top from Xavi.

With the clock ticking down and Efe Ambrose and Kelvin Wilson excellent at the heart of the back four, Celtic got a deserved stroke of luck as Villa struck the post with an angled drive from within the box.

But the Bhoys' resolve was broken in the 93rd minute when Adriano's cross allowed Alba to steal in ahead of his marker and poke home.

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1 Chelsea
Holders humbled by Alex Teixeira & Fernandinho strikes
The Brazilian duo netted early in each half as the Ukrainian champions deservedly extended their 11-month unbeaten home record at the expense of the lacklustre holders

UEFA Champions League:  Alex Teixeira,  FC Shakhtar Donetsk v Chelsea FC

Alex Teixeira and Fernandinho got the goals as a hugely impressive Shakhtar side dealt Chelsea’s Champions League qualification hopes a blow with a deserved victory in Donetsk.

The Brazilian duo did the damage with a goal early in each half as the Ukrainian champions asserted themselves at the top of Group E and extended their 11-month unbeaten record at the Donbass Arena.

Oscar netted a late consolation but, for Chelsea, the path to the knockout stages now looks far more perilous - despite Juventus helpfully drawing their ninth continental match in a row against Nordsjaelland - after failing what was always likely to be a stern test of their renewed European aspirations.

Roberto Di Matteo made two changes to the Chelsea side which saw off Tottenham on Saturday. John Terry captained the team for the first time since accepting his FA punishment for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, while Frank Lampard was recalled to the midfield in place of Eden Hazard.

Shakhtar, meanwhile, were unchanged from the side which came close to inflicting a shock defeat on Juventus last time out, with the creative trio of former Blues target Willian, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Teixeira supplying Luiz Adriano up front.

The Ukrainians began with the confidence of a side unbeaten at home for almost a year, and took the lead three minutes in when Adriano’s attempted shot struck Terry and broke for Teixeira, who calmly stroked the ball low beyond a helpless Petr Cech.

Chelsea steadied the ship but Shakhtar continued to look the more incisive, and, on 16 minutes, Willian jinked inside Ramires and ripped a shot over Cech’s crossbar.

Things got worse for the European champions with the early withdrawal of Lampard through injury, and soon after the lively Willian tested Cech again with a curling drive.

The Blues goalkeeper made further good saves to deny Mkhitaryan and Tomas Hubschmann as the half drew to a close, and in truth the visitors were fortunate to reach the break only one goal behind.

Chelsea tried to rally at the start of the second half but soon found themselves in big trouble again, however, when Hazard gave the ball away cheaply on the halfway line and Adriano fed Fernandinho, who fired in from the angle.

Left with a mountain to climb, Di Matteo’s men pushed on, but were repeatedly frustrated by disciplined Shakhtar defending which limited them to hopeful shots from range.

Daniel Sturridge replaced the ineffective Fernando Torres with 20 minutes left, and the England man made an immediate impact, cleverly playing in Hazard to force a solid stop from an otherwise criminally underworked Andriy Pyatov.

But this was a rare moment of invention from a Chelsea attack uncharacteristically devoid of imagination, and it was Shakhtar who continued to look more dangerous on the counter.

Mkhitaryan and Hubschmann both went close to adding insult to injury before the Blues gave themselves hope of a miraculous comeback on 87 minutes, as Branislav Ivanovic surged to the byline and crossed low for Oscar to tap home.

But it proved to be false hope, and Shakhtar ran out worthy winners.

Spartak Moscow 2-1 Benfica
Jardel own goal puts Russians back into Group G contention
Unai Emery's men bounced back from successive 3-2 defeats to Barcelona and Celtic by claiming three points which lifts them above their Portuguese rivals in the standings

 Rafael Carioca

Spartak Moscow kept their hope of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League alive by deservedly edging out Benfica 2-1 in a crunch Group G clash at the Luzhniki Stadium on Tuesday evening.

The hosts broke the deadlock with less than three minutes played, Rafael Carioca finishing off a wonderful breakaway from deep inside their own half, but their Portuguese opponents levelled matters courtesy of a near-post header from Lima half an hour later.

However, Jardel, under pressure from Ari, put through his own goal shortly before the interval and Spartak held on to their slender advantage in the face of incessant late pressure from Benfica to register their first points of their Champions League campaign.

Spartak, who had blown 2-1 leads in their opening two games against Barcelona and Celtic, made a storming start and could easily have been ahead inside a minute, with Ari picking out Diniyar Bilyaletdinov unmarked in the area only for Artur to parry the former Everton man’s towering header away to safety. 

Still, the home fans would not have to wait much long to see their side go ahead. Bilyaletdinov pounced on a loose pass from Nemanja Matic in Spartak territory and surged forward before moving the ball onto Jurado. The on-loan Schalke attacker held it up superbly, waiting until the last possible second before slipping the supporting Rafael Carioca in on goal. The Brazilian demonstrated just as much poise and composure in drawing out Artur before coolly prodding the ball past his compatriot.

It should have been 2-0 just over 20 minutes later but Ari volleyed against the bar after being picked out at the back post by a terrific cross from Jano Ananidze. Almost inevitably, the striker’s profligacy was punished almost immediately, Lima heading home an equally inviting delivery, this time from Salvio from wide on the right after Spartak had failed to fully clear a Benfica corner.

The momentum appeared now very much with the visitors but, credit to Spartak, they first reclaimed the initiative, and then the lead when Jardel bundled a dangerous cross from Evgeni Makeev into his own net, after the latter had been released into space by a defence-splitting pass from his captain, Dmitri Kombarov.

Spartak began the second half as promisingly and menacingly as they had the first and nearly doubled their advantage on 55 minutes but Ari failed to get enough purchase on Ananidze’s low ball across the six-yard box and the former AZ forwad’s back-heeled effort was easily saved by Artur.

It was Benfica, though, who should have struck next, with the otherwise impressive Makeev gifting Salvio the opportunity to equalise by making a mess of an attempted header back to his goalkeeper. However, luckily for the Spartak right-back, the Argentine fired wide with the goal at his mercy.

Despite dominating territory and possession in the final quarter, winless Benfica would not go so close again to snatching a point, meaning they drop to the bottom of the group and must now triumph in their return clash with Spartak in Lisbon to retain any chance of reaching the last 16.

FC Nordsjaelland 1-1 Juventus
Beckmann free kick earns Danes famous draw
The Danes stunned the Bianconeri by taking the lead shortly after the interval with a sublime set-piece and then, after Mirko Vucinic's equaliser, somehow held on for a point

Pirlo in Nordsjaelland-Juventus (Champions League)

Juventus' hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League are hanging by a thread after being held to a 1-1 draw by Group E minnows FC Nordsjaelland at Parken Stadium on Tuesday night.

However, it could have been even worse for the Bianconeri, who fell behind to a stunning free-kick goal from Mikkel Beckmann early in the second half. Indeed, there were just under 10 minutes remaining when the Italian champions finally drew level, through substitute Mirko Vucinic.

Fellow replacement Nicklas Bendtner had a chance to be a hero on home soil but he headed wide late on and Juve were forced to settle for their third successive draw in this season's Champions League - and their ninth in total in European competition.

The Bianconeri had gone into the game in Copenhagen knowing that nothing less than a victory would suffice if they were to retain any real chance of progressing as winners of Group E - or perhaps even progressing at all.

Still, while the visitors, and Andrea Pirlo in particular, were undoubtedly intent on taking control of the game early on, FCN were in no mood to be pushed around and enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening exchanges. 

Indeed, with Kasper Lorentzen, Joshua John and Andreas Laudrup all impressing in support of lone frontman Beckmann, the tournament debutants carried an undeniable attacking threat. They could even have taken the lead on the half hour when John latched onto a kick-out from Jesper Hansen and looked to flick the ball past the onrushing Gianluigi Buffon only to see the goalkeeper rather fortuitously block with the side of his chest - when it could so easily have been his flailing left arm. 

However, it was Juve, with Pirlo predictably pulling the strings, who looked the more likely scorers in a tight opening 45 minutes. With one superbly-executed, first-time pass in behind the FCN defence, Pirlo put Sebastian Giovinco in on goal only for the diminutive forward to be muscled off the ball by the impressive Jores Okore. 

It was undoubtedly Giovinco who was carrying the Bianconeri’s most potent attacking threat but after seeing a smart volley saved by Jesper Hansen on 28 minutes, the former Parma man squandered a terrific chance to break the deadlock moments later after being played through by Paolo De Ceglie. Giovinco rounded the advancing Hansen with ease but allowed the acute angle to get the better of him and fired into the side netting.

The diminutive forward also tested Hansen with stinging drives either side of half-time, first after sending the scrambling FCN defence one way and then the other, and then after latching onto a fine knock-on by strike partner Alessandro Matri.

The opening goal, therefore, came as a real bolt from the blue - and Juventus only had themselves to blame, some sloppy play in midfield eventually leading to De Ceglie putting his own defence under pressure with a poor pass before an unsettled Giorgio Chiellini needlessly barged Laudrup out of the way on the edge of the area.

Beckmann, whose shooting up until this point had been tame at best, stepped up to take the resulting free kick and calmly curled the ball up and over the wall and into the top-right corner, sparking raucous celebrations from the 'home' side's supporters.

Juventus, unsurprisingly, redoubled their efforts in a bid to drag themselves back into the game and Giovinco, after rising wonderfully to meet another fine De Ceglie delivery, was only denied a long overdue goal by the most amazing one-handed save from Hansen.

The Italian champions continued to press, sending Bendtner and Vucinic on to bolster their attacking ranks. In the end, it was the latter who made the breakthrough, volleying home a fine cross from Mauricio Isla from wide on the right-hand side with just under 10 minutes remaining.

Bendtner, though, could have really kickstarted his Juventus career on 87 minutes but he headed another inviting cross from De Ceglie well wide after arriving late into the area. In truth, though, it was probably only just that FCN held on to claim the greatest result in their 21-year history.

Lille 0-1 Bayern Munich
Muller goal gets Bavarians' Champions League campaign back on track
The visitors recovered from their shock loss to BATE Borisov a fortnight ago and grabbed their second European victory of the season against the tame Dogues

Champions League : Salomon Kalou vs Thomas Muller (Lille vs Bayern Munich)

Bayern Munich claimed a narrow 1-0 victory over Lille in France to get their Champions League campaign back on track.

The Bavarians were in control for much of the match without ever really getting out of first gear, and Thomas Muller's 19th-minute penalty proved to be enough on the night.

The hosts looked vulnerable from the outset, and truth be told, Jupp Heynckes' side should have been goal up within a minute of the kick-off. 

Philipp Lahm picked out Thomas Muller pefectly with a right-wing cross, but the Germany intenrational's control failed him when he was completely unmarked. Had he taken a more measured first touch, he would have surely found the target from a matter of yards.

Thereafter, the Bavarians began to take control, and Franck Ribery was looking lively, forcing untried youngster Djibril Sidibe into a string of clumsy fouls, only for Bayern's set piece taker to fail to deliver.

And, they almost paid for it. Despite Lucas Digne frequently allowing Muller and Lahm too much room on the wings, he was excellent going forward, and on one dart down the left, he found Tulio De Melo, who could only head wide under pressure from Dante.

Soon enough, though, Bayern's dominance paid off. Lahm took advantage of a drop in concentration from Digne, darted into the box, and fell, slightly softly, under a challenge from the full-back. Muller stepped up, and calmly passed the ball into the back of the net from the spot.

The match then continued in much the same manner that it had been previously. Bayern were almost unchallenged in possession, stroking the ball around harmlessly in the centre of the park without any real penetration.

Digne, eager to make up for his mistake in giving away the penalty made another charge down the wing and sent in a fantastic cross that narrowly evaded the heads of Nolan Roux and De Melo, before Marvin Martin screwed a long-range volley wide from distance with Manuel Neuer out of position.

However, all things told, Lille did not do enough to warrant an equaliser before the break, allowing Bayern to take their slender lead into the break, despite a meagre performance.

After the restart, the hosts returned with more vigour, pressing Bayern more in midfield, but spare a pop shot from Florent Balmont which was blocked by Dante's head, they were no closer to grabbing an equaliser.

At the other end, an excellent block from Sidibe forced Xherdan Shaqiri's volley well over the bar, while a Muller cross caused mayhem among the static Lille defence, who eventually managed to clear their lines with Mario Mandzukic lurking.

Shaqiri then had credible appeals for a penalty turned down after a left-wing cross struck Franck Beria on the arm from close range, while Bastian Schweinsteiger failed to play in Lahm, who had won the ball brilliantly just outside the box and attempted a give-and-go with his team-mate.

Muller missed a golden opportunity to kill off the game 14 minutes from time, trying to sweep home a Lahm cross with his right foot when he could have had a tap-in with his left.

And, within seconds, they were almost made to pay for their error. Ryan Mendes, fresh from the bench, was gifted possession by Dante inside the Bayern box, but saw his effort blocked by Schweinsteiger. 

He recovered the ball and dinked in a cross, but Lahm stood firm and stopped his attacker from getting control.

Perhaps rattled by the Lille resurgence, Heynckes brought Luiz Gustavo on for Kroos, and although the hosts continued to press, Bayern had done just about enough.

Lille now sit six points behind all their fellow Group F sides. Heynckes' side, meanwhile, can take a huge step towards progression when they host les Dogues in a fortnight's time.

BATE Borisov 0-3 Valencia
Soldado hat-trick earns superb away victory
The prolific attacker was simply unstoppable in Belarus as he single-handedly helped his side to a crucial away win

Yegor Filipenko, Roberto Soldado, BATE, Valencia

Valencia have recorded a 3-0 win over BATE Borisov in Tuesday evening's Champions League Group F encounter in Minsk.

The Spanish side did not have an easy evening against the Borisov outfit before the break, but Roberto Soldado's converted penalty in the dying seconds of the first half helped them on their way, before again Soldado made it two after the interval. The Spain international got his hat-trick in the 69th minute following a fine finish.

The away side started the match the better team of the two and came close to opening the scoring after only five minutes of play. Fernando Gago reached Soldado with a superb pass, but the 27-year-old's powerful strike was kept out by Andrey Gorbunov.

Soldado again caused the BATE defence all kinds of trouble shortly after when he nutmegged Egor Filipenko before setting up Andres Guardado. However, the Mexican winger's shot was too weak to trouble Gorbunov.

BATE then took over the initiative and created a number of dangerous situations, with Vitali Rodionov in particular threatening.

The striker hesitated just too long after being set up by Aliaksandr Hleb, allowing Ricardo Costa to make a last-ditch clearance, while Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves only just intercepted a low cross from the left before Rodionov could tap home from close range. Meanwhile, Alves was not too impressed with the striker's header after Maksim Bordachev's excellent cross.

It were the guests who eventually broke the deadlock, though, and it was the inevitable Soldado who added his name to the score-sheet. Marko Simic pulled down the attacker inside the BATE area, leaving the referee no other choice but to award a spot-kick. Soldado stepped up to take it himself, and easily slotted home.

Rodionov once more threatened only minutes into the second half, but Alves again proved to be in fine form. Valencia then broke free on the counter-attack, and Soldado doubled his side's lead with a well-taken volley after a Guardado cross from the left wing. 

Both Guardado and Soldado could have made it three immediately after the 2-0, but the former's attempt was blocked by the goalkeeper, while the latter's shot was cleared off the goal-line.

The BATE defenders were unable to contain Soldado, and the striker seemed to get his hat-trick after he slammed home a rebound from close range. However, the linesman raised his flag and the goal was disallowed for offside. 

Soldado would get his third of the evening only minutes later, though. Tino Costa managed to reach the prolific attacker despite the duo being outnumbered by the BATE defence, and the 27-year-old again showed his class with a calm finish. 

Valencia and BATE have both collected six points from three games, and share top spot with Bayern Munich. Both sides meet again at Mestalla on November 7.

Galatasaray 1-1 CFR Cluj
Yilmaz leveller can't lift Turkish side from bottom of Group H
A late strike from the Turkey international ensured that the Istanbul outfit picked up their first point in European competition this season despite an uninspiring performance

STSL: Burak Yılmaz (Galatasaray)

Galatasaray left it late to secure a 1-1 draw in the Champions League against 10-man CFR Cluj in appalling conditions at the Turk Telekom Arena.

Torrential rain before kick off meant that the fixture was played on a water-logged pitch, though this did not hinder the visitors who took the lead midway through the first half when Dany Nounkeu turned into his own net.

Cluj were reduced to 10 men soon after but Gala were unable to capitalise on their man advantage with Felipe Melo failing to convert from the penalty spot. But with 15 minutes remaining, Burak Yilmaz equalised with his side's first Champions League goal this season, also securing them their maiden point.

Proof that the sodden pitch was going to make for a turbulent match was evident within the opening two minutes. After the hosts gave the ball away, Emmanuel Eboue offered too much space to Camora on the left. He found Rafael Bastos in the area but the forward sliced his effort high and wide of the goal.

To their credit Gala attempted to play good football in the face of the adverse conditions and their first shot of goal came in the 14th minute. Hamit Altintop's 20-yard strike was parried aside by Mario Felgueiras and although Umut Bulut was first to the loose ball, the referee was unconvinced as he fell to the floor inside the box.

But Cluj, maintaining a more direct gameplan, silenced the stadium in the 19th minute. Camora once more found space down the left and he crossed for Pantelis Kapetanos. The striker got a foot on the ball but was fortunate that a wicked deflection off Nounkeu carried the ball into the back of the net.

With 28 minutes played the Istanbul outfit were given a huge boost when Matias Aguirregaray was dismissed for his second booking in the space of three minutes after bringing down Selcuk Inan.

Momentum immediately swung the way of the hosts and after Felgueiras thwarted Altintop, Laszlo Sepsi conceded a penalty for handball with 10 minutes of the first half remaining. Felipe Melo stepped up to take the spot-kick but the keeper guessed right, clawing the ball away and capping a brilliant half.

Six minutes after the restart Gala failed to take the most of yet another gilt-edged chance. The excellent Nordin Amrabat picked out Bulut in space in front of goal but he failed to connect with the ball properly as it skidded off the slick surface.

With the Cluj defence camped back on the edge of their own area, the hosts enjoyed total dominance. But Fatih Terim's men continued to rally and the Romanian resistance was finally broken with 13 minutes remaining. Amrabat's cross found Yilmaz in the area, who had replaced the injured Johan Elmander in the first half, and he beat the keeper to the ball to nod into the net.

Galatasary were unable to go a step further and find the winner meaning they remain bottom of Group H while Cluj rise above Braga and into second.


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