| Valencia’s Pablo Aimar jubilates after scoring versus Liverpool in Valencia Tuesday. (AFP)
London: Real Madrid began their assault on an unprecedented 10th European Champions title with a convincing opening night win at AS Roma on Tuesday — just as they did last season.
Real beat Roma 3-0 with Guti scoring twice and Raul once, taking his all-time high scoring record in the Champions League to 35 goals. The victory is a good omen for Real who won 2-1 at Roma on the opening night last season and went on to win the competition eight months later.
Valencia made it a great start for Spain with a 2-0 home win over Liverpool, but Arsenal salvaged a victory for England with a convincing 2-0 win over disappointing German champions Borussia Dortmund at Highbury.
Dutch champions Ajax Amsterdam marked their return to the Champions League after a three-year absence with a 2-1 home win over Olympique Lyon, but Inter Milan’s campaign got off to a stuttering start with a 2-2 draw at Rosenborg Trondheim in Norway.
In the two other matches played AJ Auxerre drew 0-0 with PSV Eindhoven and Genk drew 0-0 with AEK Athens.
Real, playing without their new signing Ronaldo who is not yet fully fit, were almost dismissive of one of the strongest sides in Serie A although it took them almost until the break to go in front in their group C match with Guti scoring after 41 minutes.
Raul doubled their lead after 56 minutes before Guti wrapped up the points with their third after leaving two defenders in his wake. Genk and AEK finished scoreless in the other match in the group.
Real coach Vicente Del Bosque said his side had only performed at their peak for half a game. Real had been under pressure from a determined Roma before taking the lead: “I think that is fair to say it was a game of one half for us. Roma were equal to us before the break and for the first five minutes of the second half as well but then we started to pick it up,” said Del Bosque. “After we scored the first goal we really found our rhythm and started to create a lot more problems for Roma.
“It was a good game and a good win for us and leaves us in a great situation going forward particularly being an away win,” added the Real coach.
Real’s French midfielder Zinedine Zidane, who had a quiet game by his own high standards, also said that it was only after the break that the Spanish side moved into top gear. “Roma did well in the first half and created chances. But we are a strong side,” said a grinning Zidane.
Roma’s Brazilian wing-back Cafu felt the final scoreline had been unfair on his side. He said: “We were the better team in the first half but we could not convert the chances we created. But I really think that there were not three goals difference between us and Real tonight.”
Valencia, European Cup finalists in both 2000 and 2001 and Spanish champions last season for the first time in 31 years, showed poise, control and played superbly to deservedly beat Liverpool 2-0 in Group B. Ruben Baraja wrapped up the game with a superbly worked second goal after 39 minutes following Pablo Aimar’s opening 20th minute strike.
A disappointing night for Liverpool got worse when Dietmar Hamann was sent off for a second yellow card 13 minutes from the end. Liverpool coach Gerard Houllier blamed a collective off-day for his side’s defeat. “We looked shaky in defence, we didn’t look as bright as we have done in midfield and we could have done better up front. Altogether, that’s the end of the game.
For Valencia coach Rafa Benitez, the result was down to his side’s greater efficiency in attack and their ability to frustrate the opposition. “We were very direct when we went forward,” Benitez said. “The first goal was everything we’ve been looking for, with great pace and skill. Liverpool are a great team but we stopped them from showing their strength. That was down to the way we played.”
Basel marked their Champions League debut in the same group with a 2-0 win over Spartak Moscow with both their goals coming in a five minute spell at the beginning of the second half from Hakan Yakin (50) and Julio Rossi (55).
Arsenal had to wait until an excellent Dennis Bergkamp goal after 62 minutes to break through a resilient Dortmund defence at Highbury where they have now won 15 of their last 18 home Champions League matches.
But the Germans were very disappointing in their Group A game and hardly had a shot on target. Their defence was ripped to shreds when Freddie Ljungberg, playing for the first time this season after injury, shot into an empty net to make it 2-0 after 78 minutes. Arsenal had broken from one end of the field to the other in a move timed at just 13 seconds.
Arsene Wenger revelled in his ‘gamble’ on trump card Ljungberg. “It was a small gamble, but Freddie is such a fighter and a winner that I felt he would be okay,” Wenger told reporters after his side taken an early lead in group A. He is an important player for us and it was a bonus for him to come back tonight.”
Auxerre and PSV Eindhoven drew 0-0 in the other match in the group.
The two games in Group D produced seven goals and two sendings off. Inter new boy Hernan Crespo made his mark as Ronaldo’s replacement scoring both his side’s goals after 33 and 78 minutes, while Azar Karadas scored twice for Rosenborg.
Inter coach Hector Cuper said he was impressed by the Argentina striker. “He had the will, he stayed the course,” Cuper said.
While they were ultimately pleased to take a point after trailing 2-1 at one stage, Inter’s performance was marred by the late dismissal of defender Fabio Cannavaro.
Ajax Amsterdam also finished with 10 men — but with three points in the same group. Young Swedish starlet Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored after 11 and 34 minutes to put them in control of the game before Lyon captain Sonny Anderson gave his side some hope with an 84th minute goal.
Ajax had Ghanaian midfielder Abubakari Yakubu sent off for a second yellow five minutes from the end.