LONDON: Manchester City overcame an early scare to get their Champions League defence off to a solid start on Tuesday but nine-man Celtic endured a rough night in Rotterdam.
Barcelona cruised past Royal Antwerp and Kylian Mbappe helped Paris St Germain to an opening win on a breathless beginning to the group stage of Europe’s top club competition.
As the group stage began without either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time since 2002-03, a 16-year-old almost scored on his competition debut for Barca.
Lamine Yamal struck the side netting, then saw an effort saved by Antwerp goalkeeper Jean Butez after coming on as a substitute in Barca’s 5-0 win over the Belgian team.
Newcastle United returned to the high table of European football for the first time in two decades with a battling goalless draw against AC Milan at the San Siro while the wildest celebrations of the night came in Rome, where Lazio goalkeeper Ivan Provedel headed in the team’s equaliser in the fifth minute of injury time to earn a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid.
In Manchester, Pep Guardiola’s City were stunned when Red Star’s Mirko Ivanic played Ghana winger Osman Bukari through to score in first-half injury time. The linesman raised his flag, but a VAR check confirmed Bukari was onside, setting off celebrations among the 3,000 traveling supporters.
But Julian Alvarez continued his sparkling early season form by levelling just two minutes after the break, finishing from a narrow angle after going past Red Star goalkeeper Omri Glazer.
The Argentine then got some help from Glazer as he flapped at Alvarez’s free-kick to allow the ball to fly into the far corner.
Rodri rounded off a 3-1 win with a composed finish 17 minutes from time.
“If we scored two goals early in the beginning it would’ve been completely different,” said Guardiola, who was frustrated at his side’s finishing.
“Having 22 [first-half] shots on goal means you are playing really good. It has to be the responsibility of the people in front to score the goals.” City are next away to RB Leipzig, who share top place in Group ‘G’ after a 3-1 win at Swiss champions Young Boys.
Mohamed Simaken earned the distinction of scoring the first goal of the group stages with the 2023/24 competition only three minutes old.
The French-born defender’s header put Leipzig into a lightning lead in Berne but Elia levelled for the Swiss hosts before Xaver Schlager and Benjamin Sesko wrapped up the win.
Antwerp endured a chastening evening in Barcelona, where Jelle Bataille’s own goal in the 22nd minute came after Joao Felix had already scored and set up Robert Lewandowski for another.
There was no respite for the visitors, with Gavi adding another in the second half before Felix grabbed his second as Barca flexed their muscles to show their determination to be considered among Europe’s elite once again.
After consecutive humiliating group stage eliminations Barcelona are desperate to go deep in this season’s competition, last winning it eight years ago.
Barca’s victory followed a 5-0 thrashing of Real Betis on Saturday, leading coach Xavi Hernandez to say: “I think these last two games are the best level we have shown with me as coach -- it’s the path to follow.”
Porto defeated Ukrainian champion Shakhtar Donetsk 3-1 away in the other Group ‘H’ game. Shakhtar are playing their home games in Hamburg, Germany because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
At Parc des Princes, PSG may have lost Neymar and Messi over the summer but they held on to Mbappe who set them up for a 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund.
The French champions went ahead four minutes after the break when Mbappe scored a spot-kick awarded for a Niklas Suele handball.
Achraf Hakimi added a memorable second, and PSG could have won the Group ‘F’ encounter by a far more handsome margin in the end.
“It was an almost perfect evening,” purred new coach Luis Enrique.
PSG’s next date is at Newcastle, whose manager Eddie Howe was proud of his side’s dogged return to the competition against seven-time European kings Milan.
Howe was the happier of the two managers after taking a point from the clash at the San Siro as his team were mostly on the back foot against last season’s losing semi-finalists.
“Definitely pride in result and the performance and the mentality shown,” Howe told reporters.
GOALKEEPER HAS LAST WORD
Atletico coach Diego Simeone was booked for protesting on his return to the Stadio Olimpico and Lazio, the club he won four trophies with as a player.
Young Atletico midfielder Pablo Barrios put the visitors ahead in a heated Group ‘E’ game, but the biggest drama came at the end, when Provedel left his area to add support in attack and managed to score with a header to Luis Alberto’s cross.
Provedel didn’t know where to run as the stadium erupted around him.
Over in Rotterdam a “bitterly disappointed” Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was left to rue the “inexperience” of two players sent off in their 2-0 loss to Feyenoord but said the Scottish champions had proved they could be competitive.
Midway through the second half defender Gustaf Lagerbielke was shown a second yellow card after pulling back Brazilian striker Igor Paixao in the box.
He was barely down the tunnel when substitute Odin Thiago Holm also saw red for a studs up late challenge.
“Unfortunately for us, we got the two players sent off and it’s a difficult level 11 v 11, but 11 v nine is really difficult,” said Rodgers who was heartened by the “spirit and mentality” of the nine men left on the pitch.
Feyenoord had two goals ruled out by VAR for offside and saw a penalty saved. Calvin Stengs broke the deadlock in first half injury time but the home team had to wait till the 76th minute for Iran midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh to get the second goal.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2023