United save Nation's blushes in Europe

It’s been a poor week for Britain’s Champions League sides, though an entertaining match at the Nou Camp could have resulted in one of the greatest shocks in football history. Celtic had so far put in some strong and impressive displays in Europe, but to take anything away at Barcelona would surely be a pipedream for Neil Lennon’s side?


Barca typically dominated possession throughout the full 90 minutes, but it was Celtic who took a surprise lead in the 18th minute, when Greek international Georgios Samaras headed in a Charlie Mulgrew free-kick. Just moments before half-time however and the home side equalised, Andreas Iniesta finishing off a well-worked move between himself, Xavi and Lionel Messi.


Celtic’s performance was one of grit, determination and great levels of concentration. Barca turned on the heat in the second half, with Messi and Alexis Sanchez forcing superb saves from goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who once again staked a claim to challenge Joe Hart for England’s number 1 shirt. A gutsy performance ultimately wasn’t enough though, when Barca defender Jordi Alba latched onto the end of an Adriano cross in the 94th minute to break the hearts of the Glaswegian fans.


Whilst Celtic were unlucky to lose 2-1 on Tuesday, the same cannot be said of reigning European champions Chelsea, who succumbed to a loss of the same score line away to Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. The home team controlled the match, and took the lead in just the third minute, when Alex Teixeira fired them into the lead.


Shakhtar doubled their advantage in the second half, when Belgian star Eden Hazard gave the ball away to Adriano, who found Fernandinho for the second goal. Whilst Chelsea were able to pull one back through Brazilian youngster Oscar, they were forced to rely on Peter Cech to provide a string of stunning saves throughout the game to keep in sight of the Ukrainian champions.


Manchester United were able to salvage some national pride on Tuesday night however, as they overturned a 2-0 deficit against Braga of Portugal to win 3-2 at Old Trafford. Braga captain Alan scored the opener after just two minutes, and he added his second in the 20th when Eder twisted his way past Michael Carrick – in place of Rio Ferdinand, who was left out by Sir Alex Ferguson following his refusal to support the Kick It Out campaign last weekend – to set up his skipper.


United began their comeback just five minutes later though, when Shinji Kagawa’s cross met the head of Javier Hernandez. The home side then equalised in the second half, when Johnny Evans recovered from a miskicked strike following a corner to slot the ball home at the second time of asking. The Reds completed their comeback in the 75th minute, when Hernandez added another goal to his tally again through a header – this time set up by Tom Cleverley’s excellent cross from the right wing.


With the red half of Manchester still celebrating, the blue half succumbed to a damning defeat in the Dutch capital. City faced Ajax at the Amsterdam Arena on Wednesday night in what was billed as their most winnable game of the group stages. Mancini’s plan seemed to be working in the first half too, when Micah Richard’s terrific pass split the Ajax defence to find James Milner, who set up Samir Nasri for the first goal of the match.


The game soon turned sour for the English champions though, when Siem De Jong’s excellent one-two with van Rhijn led to a fine equaliser at the death of the first half. Ajax continued their dominance in the second period, when defender Niklas Moisander headed the Dutch side into the lead. Christian Erikson added a third for the Eredivisie champions in the 68th minute when his deflected shot sent Joe Hart the wrong way. City had chances to level, but an impressive performance from Ajax ‘keeper Kenneth Vermeer kept out late chances from Edin Dzeko, leaving City’s chances of qualification looking bleak for a second successive season.


Wednesday’s action also included a lacklustre Arsenal side, taking on an impressive Schalke outfit at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal assistant manager Steve Bould blamed fatigue for a poor display, which saw the Gunners only have three shots on goal.


After a forgettable first half, the game came alive in the second, when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar fired in a poacher’s effort in the 76th minute, giving the away side the lead. The advantage for the Germans was then doubled ten minutes later when Jefferson Farfan’s pin-point cross found Dutch winger Ibrahim Afellay, on loan from Barcelona, who slotted the ball in the net.


Elsewhere on Matchday 3, Serie A champions Juventus could only manage a 1-1 draw away to Danish side Nordsjaelland, whilst last year’s runners-up Bayern Munich produced a solid 1-0 away win at Lille courtesy of a Thomas Müller penalty. German champions Borussia Dortmund pulled off a shock by beating La Liga holders Real Madrid 2-1, Lewandowski and Schmelzer giving the home side a win, with Cristiano Ronaldo providing the consolation for Los Blancos.


Dinamo Zagreb lost 2-0 at home to Paris Saint Germain, with goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jeremy Menez providing the rich French team a valuable win, whilst FC Porto defeated Dynamo Kiev 3-2. Montpellier lost 2-1 to Greek side Olympiakos at home, whilst AC Milan continued their miserable start to the season away at Malaga, who won 1-0. Zenit St Petersburg overcame Belgian side Anderlecht 1-0, Belarus’ BATE Borisov suffered a 3-0 defeat at home to Valencia thanks to a Roberto Soldado hat-trick, Spartak Moscow defeated Benfica 2-1 and Turkish giants Galatasaray drew with Romanian side CFR Cluj-Napoca 1-1.


Author: Stephen Topping

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