Higuain lifts wasteful Real to 2-0 win over Ajax
Gonzalo Higuain netted a neat volley to save dominant Real Madrid's blushes, helping the La Liga giants to a 2-0 victory over Ajax Amsterdam in Champions League Group G on Wednesday.
Real, starting their bid for a 10th European title with new coach Jose Mourinho at the helm, fluffed a slew of chances at a sultry Bernabeu. Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina winger Angel Di Maria were especially wasteful.
Di Maria's international teammate Higuain was initially credited with the opening goal in the 31st minute but UEFA later ruled it had gone in off defender Vurnon Anita (www.uefa.com).
Ajax, the four-times winners, hardly threatened the home goal, although Urby Emanuelson hit the crossbar with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Higuain made the game safe in the 73rd minute when he volleyed home from close range after excellent work from Mesut Ozil.
Mourinho's players were under pressure to entertain their demanding fans after a couple of lacklustre displays in the Spanish league and a sparkling 5-1 win for arch rivals Barcelona against Panathinaikos on Tuesday.
However, a series of brilliant stops from Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and some wayward shooting deprived the supporters of goal fest they wanted.
Record signing Ronaldo was the target of impatient whistling from some sectors of the crowd after some of his shots flew well wide and he somehow let the ball through his legs with the goal at his mercy in the 89th minute.
New fan favourite Mesut Ozil again impressed in the creative midfield role vacated by the injured Kaka and the German international, bought from Werder Bremen in the close season, was given a standing ovation when he was replaced late on.
Higuain acknowledged that Real were less than sparkling. "We can play better. We need a bit more luck with the chances we create," he told local television after the match.
"We carved a lot of openings and the scoreline could have been much higher in our favour. But we are pleased. It's still early in the season and we have a lot to put right but we have started well."
Image: Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain celebrates after scoring his second goal against Ajax on Wednesday
Bayern overcome dogged Roma
Bayern Munich were rewarded for their persistence with two goals in the final 11 minutes that secured a 2-0 victory over defensive-minded AS Roma in their Champions League Group E opener on Wednesday.
Last season's Champions League runners-up, who have only scored twice in three league games so far this season, squandered a half dozen chances but stayed patient against a toothless Italian side that paid the price for their defensive approach.
"We let the ball run and allowed little against a defensive team but after 70 minutes they just ran out of steam," said Bayern coach Louis van Gaal.
"So when a team like Roma stays behind the ball with 10 men then we need time to break this team and that is exactly what we did," he said.
Thomas Mueller broke the deadlock in the 79th minute with a well-taken shot from the right and substitute Miroslav Klose doubled the lead when he snuck in to connect with a Holger Badstuber freekick.
Without injured Arjen Robben and suspended Franck Ribery, Bayern were made to work hard in the first half as the Italians stifled their attacks by getting men behind the ball.
But the Germans, who had been dominating possession, turned up the pressure in the second half and went close through Toni Kroos and Mueller.
Bayern coach Louis van Gaal brought on strikers Klose and Mario Gomez after 67 minutes to add punch and the move paid off.
Roma keeper Julio Sergio made a series of spectacular saves to keep his team in the game but could do nothing when Mueller cleverly whipped a shot from the edge of the box onto the far post and into the net for a deserved lead. Klose had earlier headed against the post.
"We did it with patience," said midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. "We wore them down and got them ready for the second half when we created the chances. They were getting more and more tired."
Klose secured the points seven minutes from time, flicking in from close range after Roma's Marco Boriello was denied by Bayern keeper Joerg Butt from close range in the Italians' only real chance of the game.
"We are largely satisfied with our performance tonight though the result does not accurately reflect the game," said Roma coach Claudio Ranieri. "We did have our chances but Bayern converted the ones they got."
Image: Bayern Munich's Thomas Mueller (kneeling) celebrates with teammates after scoring against AS Roma
Inspirational Fabregas helps Arsenal shatter Braga
Even if Braga had shifted the huge rock face that looms over their stadium in northern Portugal and dumped it at the Emirates, Cesc Fabregas would still have found a way to goal on Wednesday.
Arsenal's Spanish midfielder produced a mesmerising performance in a 6-0 Group H victory to open their Champions League campaign, beginning the rout with a penalty, striking again after the halftime and laying on chances galore.
Braga, nicknamed the Arsenalistas, beat Celtic and Sevilla to take their place alongside Europe's elite but the Portuguese were shattered before halftime as Fabregas conducted a show of firepower that will have resonated across the continent.
Andrei Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh helped themselves to goals and substitute Carlos Vela joined the party with a brace as Arsenal, without the injured Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie, threatened their 7-0 record home win in Europe.
They all owed a debt to the inspirational Fabregas, however, as the 23-year-old turned in a performance to rival that of Barcelona's Lionel Messi the previous night.
The Arsenal skipper did not look like a player tempted to give up on manager Arsene Wenger's slowly evolving project and head back to the Nou Camp where he began his career.
Arsenal's five-year trophy drought is used as a stick to beat Wenger and given as a reason Fabregas should leave but he believes the Spaniard can achieve all he wants at Arsenal.
"I never said he didn't have his heart here," Wenger said, when asked about Fabregas's flirtation with a move back to Barcelona. "He has moved to another dimension.
"People forget he is 23 which is when some players are just starting. He is a fantastic influence on the team and for the young players like (Jack) Wilshere to play alongside him is a fantastic opportunity for them to learn."
Fabregas was simply too good for Braga whose defending was anything but rock-like on a torrid Champions League debut.
He should have iced his evening with a hat-trick in the dying minutes but even then he showed real class, squaring for Vela to tap in with the goal gaping.
"I like the way he gave the ball to Vela because that's the perfect attitude of a leader," Wenger said. "He loves this club. People doubted it but I never did. He enjoys the way we play so what could he want more to be happy?"
Fabregas began the rout in the ninth minute, clipping a penalty past unfortunate Braga keeper Felipe after Chamakh had been felled as he raced on to the Spaniard's astute pass.
The World Cup winner's mazy dribble and pass after 30 minutes allowed Arshavin to double the lead and four minutes later the match was effectively over as another bout of five-a-side football left Braga dizzy and Wilshere's flick was converted by Chamakh.
There was no respite in the second half for a Braga side containing six Brazilians and two players wearing 88 and 99 on the back of their black shirts.
After 53 minutes Fabregas displayed his aerial prowess, heading in Arshavin's cross before Vela, who replaced the impressive Chamakh, lifted the fifth goal over Felipe.
Fabregas tormented Braga to the end but with a hat-trick there for the taking, he coolly slipped a pass to Vela to complete a perfect night for Arsenal.
"We played the game we wanted to play, a high pace, top technical quality, a great attitude and collective spirit," Wenger said.
"You don't need replays tonight to see that we can be very creative and very fast. We beat a good team tonight who knocked out Sevilla in the last round."
Image: Arsenal's Marouane Chamakh (right) celebrates with Jack Wilshire after scoring against Braga
Chelsea start campaign in style
Seven years ago when Chelsea began the Roman Abramovic era at Zilina the Russian would hardly have expected Wednesday's 4-1 victory there to be another "first step" towards the Champions League title.
Abramovich's millions have transformed Chelsea from a promising Premier League team into trophy-laden aristocrats but until they lift Europe's ultimate club prize he will be forever frustrated.
Wednesday's captain John Terry was the only survivor from the team who triumphed 2-0 in a Champions League qualifying match in August 2003 and the gulf in class and resources on show that night has become a chasm.
The Londoners, who have won their first four league games and scored 17 goals in the process, looked completely untroubled as they cruised to a 3-0 halftime lead with two goals by Nicolas Anelka and one for Michael Essien.
Daniel Sturridge added the fourth three minutes after the restart with Tomas Oravec nabbing a consolation when Chelsea's attention was already wandering to their weekend appointment with Blackpool.
However, for Abramovich, and last season's league and FA Cup double-winning coach Carlo Ancelotti, the focus will remain like a laser on the Champions League final at Wembley in May.
This is Abramovich's eighth assault on the competition and having reached the semi-final four times in the last six, losing in the final in 2008, no other silverware will do.
Chelsea look well equipped to go all the way and Ancelotti used Wednesday's match to give some squad members a taste of the first team.
With striker Didier Drogba suspended, midfielder Frank Lampard and defender Ashley Cole rested, Chelsea still had more than enough firepower to continue their free-scoring start to the season.
Essien sidefooted the opener after 13 minutes, Florent Malouda chipped a nice pass into the path of Anelka for the second after 24 and four minutes later he tapped in the rebound after Terry headed a corner against the bar.
Three minutes after the restart the impressive Yossi Benayoun sent Sturridge through for his first European goal.
Zilina had looked completely outclassed but gave the 11,000 crowd something for their money - ticket prices having been hiked by 700 percent - when Oravec almost burst a blood vessel to get a toe to what was looking like an Alex own goal.
Spartak Moscow and Olympique Marseille will prove Group F tests but Ancelotti, who threw on youngsters Patrick Van Aanholt Josh McEachran and Gael Kakuta during the second half, recognised a professional job well done.
"We started very well in the first half, we played fantastic football, the second half was different," he said.
"I know sometimes there are difficult times, the opponent can come back in the game, but if I have to judge the performance I am very happy because it's not easy to win 4-1 away in the Champions League.
"The key was Anelka, he played a fantastic game. He created space, he had opportunities. Sometimes we use him more wide, sometimes he plays in the middle but he shows the same skills."
Zilina coach Pavel Hapal accepted that the gulf in class was too wide. "Chelsea showed their strength and we did not match this. There were good combinations, we had chances, but the disparity was there," he said.
"It was about players' speed, combination, strength this was the reason (we lost). It is a good lesson for us, we can see where soccer is heading but on the other hand I'm not satisfied."
Image: Zilina's Babatounde Bello (left) and Chelsea's John Obi Mikel vie for possession during their match on Wednesday
Ibrahimovic nets as Milan register 2-0 win
Zlatan Ibrahimovic looked lost for 66 minutes of his AC Milan home debut but his European luck might just be changing after he scored both goals in the 2-0 Champions League win over Auxerre on Wednesday.
"I'm working hard and you are starting to see the results," the Swede, who missed a penalty in Saturday's 2-0 Serie A defeat at Cesena, told Sky television. "It was a wonderful night."
The gangly yet skilful striker has always flattered to deceive on the biggest stage, his switch from Inter Milan to Barcelona last year being symptomatic of his ill-fortune as his old club then went on to break their Champions League hoodoo.
He waltzed back into the San Siro like he had never been away, Milan fans far too used to signing ex-Inter players to even think of giving him anything other than a great welcome.
Their cheers soon turned to worried frowns, though, as Milan put in a woeful first-half performance in their Group G opener with Ibrahimovic hardly having a touch partly through his lack of movement and partly because of a dearth of service.
Auxerre, third last term but yet to win in Ligue 1 this season, had the best chances before the break with Adama Coulibaly heading against the bar and Steeven Langil wasting a great opportunity when Milan were completely outnumbered.
"With their counter-attack it went in our favour," new Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri told a news conference after the Rossoneri's first home European win in almost two years.
"Second half they dropped off and we played better. Ibra had a great second half because he played more with the team."
Allegri, making his Champions League debut like counterpart Jean Fernandez, stood in his technical area with arms folded in the first period but his halftime team talk worked.
Kevin Prince Boateng, who bizarrely signed on loan for Milan last month having been bought by Genoa from Portsmouth the same day, came on as a first-half substitute for injured captain Massimo Ambrosini and soon began to make his presence felt.
Milan have been crying out for a midfielder who can break into the box for years and the Ghana World Cup player obliged by storming into the area to flick on Ronaldinho's 66th minute cross and allow Ibrahimovic to prod home at the near post.
Brazilian Ronaldinho, also anonymous in the first half, was provider yet again three minutes later when he burst up field and played in Ibrahimovic for a cool finish into the far corner.
Milan's new hero held his arms out wide in a familiar goalscoring pose, a clothes horse for the fast-approaching team mates who clung to him in ecstasy.
Auxerre were too much in awe of their San Siro surroundings like their fans taking photographs of the famous stadium before kick off and if they had shown more belief they could have won.
"It's difficult to swallow," Fernandez said.
"The frustration is that towards the end of the first half we had great chances to score. There was just a little lack of experience when we had men over."
Image: AC Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring against Auxerre
Srna goal gives Shakhtar 1-0 win over Partizan
Croatia defender Darijo Srna curled in a superb free kick from 25 metres to give Shakhtar Donetsk a 1-0 win over Partizan Belgrade in their Champions League Group H opener on Wednesday.
Srna shook off an ankle knock in the first half and handed Ukraine's champions the win over their stubborn Serbian rivals, whose congested midfield and desperate defending kept the 2009 UEFA Cup winners at bay until the 71st minute.
Shakhtar's Brazilian strikers Luiz Adriano and Jadson were denied several times by superb goalkeeping from Vladimir Stojkovic, but he then made a costly error which allowed Srna to break the deadlock.
The Serbia keeper parried long range efforts from Willian and Douglas Costa either side of a double close-range save from Adriano and Oleksiy Gai in the first half.
He thwarted the onrushing Jadson and tipped away an Adriano header shortly after the interval but then drifted too far to his left for Srna's free kick, which whizzed past him at the near post.
"It was difficult to play against a team so quick and individually more skillful. We played as well as we could and were a bit unlucky with the goal," Partizan coach Aleksandar Stanojevic told Serbian television.
"We didn't want to play a defensive game but were forced on to our back foot by a more resourceful team and it will be difficult to win points in this group," he said.
He added: "We are looking forward to our next match at home to Arsenal, it will be a mountain to climb but it will also be a great opportunity for our fans to see a top team in action and for our young players to prove their worth."
Partizan, who have won three Serbian league titles in a row and enjoyed a 17-match unbeaten run under Stanojevic in all competitions stretching back to last season, failed to muster a single shot on target in the first half.
The one-way traffic underlined how hard Partizan will have to work to adjust to a different level in Europe's premier club competition, which they also reached in 2003.
Their Brazilian hitman Cleo, who scored eight goals in six qualifying matches to steer them into the group stage, was not allowed even a sniff at goal. Even so, Partizan almost snatched a late draw against the run of play.
Shakhtar keeper Andriy Pyatov made a pair of last-gasp saves to deny midfielders Nemanja Tomic and Sasa Ilic, making amends for an earlier error when Mladen Krstajic's shot was cleared off the line by a defender.
The hosts were inches away from adding a second in injury time when Gai's scorcher from 18 metres hit the inside of the post and rebounded across the face of goal.
Image: Shakhtar Donetsk's Darijo Srna celebrates after scoring against Partizan
Azpilicueta own goal sinks Marseille
A Cesar Azpilicueta own goal gave Spartak Moscow a 1-0 win at Olympique Marseille in their opening Champions League Group F game on Wednesday.
Spain's Azpilicueta, signed from Osasuna for 7.5 million euros, deflected a Dmitri Kombarov cross into his own net with nine minutes let in a dull match at the Stade Velodrome.
French champions Marseille were expected to battle it out with the Russian side for second place in a group also featuring Zilina and English champions Chelsea.
Marseille made a brilliant start with Lucho Gonzalez in a class of his own for a few minutes.
France winger Mathieu Valbuena looked off the pace on the right flank with Andre Ayew, the son of Abedi Pele who had scored two in Marseille's semi-final against Spartak in 1990-91, far from his best on the left.
The home side's best effort came on the stroke of halftime when Benoit Cheyrou had a fine volley parried away by Andriy Dykan.
The visitors, however, gained confidence after the break.
Marseille keeper Steve Mandanda pulled off a cracking save at the hour, stretching his right arm to parry Ibson's header from close range.
Didier Deschamps's team finally upped the pace as France striker Andre-Pierre Gignac replaced Brandao in the 62nd minute.
A transformed Valbuena unleashed a fine volley on the turn only for Dykan to block the diminutive midfielder's attempt.
Valbuena then delivered the perfect cross to Lucho, who somehow missed the target with a weak header.
Spartak eventually found the back of the net on their only second clear chance of the night when Kombarov's deflected cross went between Mandanda's legs.
Two minutes into stoppage time, Gignac fired a powerful 20-metre drive that smashed Dykan's right post before the Marseille players were booed off the pitch by the Velodrome crowd.
Image: Spartak Moscow's Dmitri Kombarov (right) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Olympique Marseille
Cluj win opener two days after firing coach
Cluj beat FC Basel 2-1 in their Champions league Group E opener on Wednesday, despite swapping coaches only 48 hours before kickoff.
Ionut Rada and Lacina Traore put the Romanians on course for three points with goals in the first 12 minutes.
Valentin Stocker pulled one back in first-half stoppage time for the Swiss.
Cluj, in their second Champions League campaign, fired Andrea Mandorlini on Monday after an indifferent start to the season and replaced him with Sorin Cartu.
Both teams won league and cup doubles in their respective countries last season but are rank outsiders in a group which also features Bayern Munich and AS Roma.
The Romanians made a flying start, taking the lead in the ninth minute when defender Rada rose above the Basel defence to head in from a corner.
Three minutes later, lanky Ivorian striker Traore headed the second after Juan Culio chipped the ball back from the byline following a quick counterattack.
After a bright start, Cluj dropped back into defence and the game turned scrappy. With dozens of empty seats and no stand at all behind one of the goals, it felt anything like a match in club soccer's richest and most prestigious tournament.
Cluj goalkeeper Nuno Claro made his first save just after the half hour, turning a Benjamin Huggel header over his crossbar, but was beaten in first-half stoppage time when Stocker scored with a near post header from a corner.
Basel had plenty of possession in the second half although they failed to create many clearcut chances while the Romanians occasionally looked threatening on the break.
Substitute Scott Chipperfield had Basel's best effort when his header was tipped over by Claro.
Image: CFR Cluj's Ionut Rada (top) congratulates teammate Lacina Traore after scoring against FC Basel