The UEFA Champions League Group Stage returned on the evening of Tuesday 13th September 2011, as 16 teams looked to pick up all-important points at the first attempt.
Group H – Barcelona 2-2 AC Milan
Undoubtedly the biggest match on opening day saw Barcelona take on AC Milan at Camp Nou. The Italian side came away with a point following a last-gasp equaliser taking the score to 2-2 away at the holding Champions huge stadium.
Milan got off to the best possible of starts when Pato scored in the opening minute, but Pedro Rodriguez cancelled that strike out on 36 minutes, making the half-time score 1-1.
In the second half, David Villa gave the hosts the lead on 50 minutes, making the score 2-1 to Barcelona. This score looked like giving Barca the three points right up until the second minute of injury time, when Thiago Silva grabbed a share of the points in front of jubilant Milan travelling support.
With only three shots on target – to Barca’s seven – Milan can be considered a little fortunate to come away with a draw, but it is this sort of luck away from home that will likely see them qualify, along with Barcelona, from Group H.
Group H – Plzen 1-1 BATE Borisov
With Barca and Milan drawing, the Group H lead could have been taken by the winner of Plzen and BATE Borisov. However, these two lesser lights of European football – Plzen were in their first ever Champions League tie – played out a 1-1 draw.
Despite their inexperience at this level, Czech champions Plzen sent their home fans into rapture on the stroke of half time, as Marek Bakos put them into the lead 1 minute into first half stoppage time, giving them a 1-0 lead.
In the second period, BATE were soon back on level terms, as Renan Bressan scored a 69th minute equaliser. The score-line remained come the final whistle, following a very evenly contested match, meaning Group H is as it was: all sides level, on 1 point each.
Group E – Chelsea 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen
Chelsea FC got their Group E campaign off to a fine start at home to German side Bayer Leverkusen. Two second half goals gave the Londoners a 2-0 victory at Stamford Bridge.
The curly headed defender, David Luiz got Chelsea off the mark after a slightly nervous 67 minutes, before newcomer Juan Marta added some polish to the Chelsea performance on 90+2 minutes.
A two goal advantage, and lead of Group E was thoroughly deserved, though, for a Chelsea side who had dominated both possession and shot count statistics in the curtain raiser for what looks like another strong European campaign for the 2008 finalists.
Group E – Genk 0-0 Valencia
Belgian side Genk hosted Spanish team, Valencia, and held them to a 0-0 draw, earning a point for either side in this difficult Group E.
Genk will be most thankful to the combined efficiency of their goalkeeper, László Köteles, and the profligacy of Valencia’s attackers in front of goal: the Spaniards wasted a number of good chances in a match they will be questioning, still, just how they failed to pick up all three points.
In this difficult group, failure to get this away victory, despite producing an otherwise solid away performance, could return to haunt Valencia.
Group G – Apoel Nicosia 2-1 Zenit St Petersburg
Cypriot Champions League newcomers experienced a night to remember at home to Zenit St Petersburg as their men went to the top of Group G following an impressive 2-1 victory, following a remarkable second-half turnaround.
A cagey opening 45 minutes saw the sides come in at half-time with scores locked at 0-0, but, with Zenit scoring on 63 minutes through Konstantin Zyryanov it appeared to have been fun while it lasted. The goal, however, lifted the hosts into immediate action: ten minute later, Gustavo Manduca, had them level, before, just two minutes more saw Aílton wheeling away in delight in front of roaring home support.
Nicosia, despite facing an experienced outfit, were worth their win – on 75 minutes made easier by the dismissal of Bruno Alves in the Zenit defence – as they had produced more cutting edge in attack, despite the Russian side having more of the ball in opposing territory.
The three points places Apoel Nicosia at the head of Group G.
Group G – FC Porto 2-1 Shakhtar Donetsk
Nicosia were joined by Europa Champs, FC Porto, who also picked up a 2-1 victory, albeit in similar – if marginally less dramatic – come-from-behind style, against a Shakhtar Donetsk side who finished the match with just nine men following two red cards.
The visitors got off to a great start in Portugal, though, as they picked up the opening goal courtesy of a 12th minute Luis Adriano strike.
Ever Porto’s saviour in front of goal, Hulk hit the woodwork twice – once from the penalty spot – before finally grabbing a successful finish on 28 minutes to level things up, from an incredibly struck free-kick.
On 40 minutes, with Porto making more of an impression on the match following an entertaining opening half, Shakhtar’s task became much more difficult as Yaroslav Rakitskiy was sent from the field with referee Felix Brych showing a straight red card.
In the second period, the teams emerged with the score at 1-1 – not for long, as Porto picked up the lead through a 51st minute Kleber strike, to which Shakhtar coould find no answer, particularly once their task was made all the more difficult by the second yellow card sending off of Dmytro Chygrynskiy. Porto held out for the 2-1 victory which gives them a share of the lead of Group G with Apoel Nicosia.
Group F – Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Arsenal
Group F was immediately christened the “Group of Death” following the 2011/12 Champions League draw in Monaco, so it was perhaps unsurprising that Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund played out a slightly cagey 1-1 draw at Signul Iduna Park.
Arsenal, who have been having a torrid time domestically of late, took the lead through Robin van Persie on 42 minutes, giving them a 1-0 half time lead. The Gunners looked on course to pushing that one goal advantage all the way to three important away points before substitute Ivan Perišić finally put the hosts back on level terms with an 88th minute strike.
The point was the least Dortmund deserved from a match which saw them out-gun their slightly lacklustre rivals from England.
Both sides will hope to improve in their additional matches: Arsenal need more cohesion in possession, while Dortmund will require more killer instinct in the final third.
Group F – Olympiakos 0-1 Marseille
Dortmund and Arsenal’s steady start allowed Marseille to take control of Group F by picking up an important 1-0 away victory at Greek outfit Olympiakos.
A 51st minute Lucho González proved to be the difference in a match which was marginally controlled by the visiting French outfit.
While Marseille take the early Group F lead, there is little evidence to suggest this evenly matched mini-league will turn out to be anything other than the tightest of battles.
UEFA Champions League 2011/12 Results – Tuesday 13 September 2011
- Apoel Nicosia 2-1 Zenit St Petersburg
- Barcelona 2-2 AC Milan
- Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Arsenal
- Chelsea 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen
- FC Porto 2-1 Shakhtar Donetsk
- Genk 0-0 Valencia
- Olympiakos 0-1 Marseille
- Plzen 1-1 BATE Borisov