x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Brilliant Messi inspires Barcelona to start on the right note

Barca win 5-1 against Panathinaikos in the Champions League while Inter Milan, the defending European champions, are held at Twente.

Tottenham's Gareth Bale, right, rides the challenge of Bremen's Philipp Bargfrede during their 2-2 Champions League draw in Germany.
Tottenham's Gareth Bale, right, rides the challenge of Bremen's Philipp Bargfrede during their 2-2 Champions League draw in Germany.

BARCELONA // Lionel Messi scored twice as Barcelona rallied from an early goal to beat Panathinaikos 5-1 at Camp Nou in their opening Champions League group match. Sidney Govou struck for the Greek champions in the 20th minute against the run of play but Messi sprung Barcelona back two minutes later. David Villa put the Spanish champions ahead for good in the 33rd minute after scoring from Sergio Busquets' flick-on. Messi notched his second in the 45th after an exquisite build-up through the middle of the field.

Panathinaikos goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas denied the Argentina forward a hat-trick in the 54th minute after saving a penalty. Pedro Rodriguez scored in the 78th off a rebound from Messi, who then provided the ammunition for Daniel Alves to head home the last in injury-time. In the other Group D fixture, FC Copenhagen left it late to dispatch the Russian club Rubin Kazan 1-0 on home soil. Dame N'Doye headed in the 87th minute winner from a looping Martin Vingaard free-kick. Rubin had plenty of chances of their own to come away from Demark with three points, but squandered half a dozen chances.

The Champions League holders Inter Milan had a nervy start in their title defence with a 2-2 draw at Dutch champions Twente Enschede. The Italian giants took the lead on 13 minutes through the Netherland international Wesley Sneijder who reacted quickest to a blocked Diego Milito shot. Theo Janssen fired in a free-kick to level and then Milito glanced in an own-goal from a corner. However, Samuel Eto'o levelled matters on 41 minutes with a superb equaliser from outside the box.

In the other Group A game, Tottenham Hotspur were quick to adapt to life in Europe's premier club competition but squandered a two-goal lead away at Werder Bremen. Bremen defender Petri Pasanen gifted the English club a 12-minute lead through an own-goal. Six minutes later Peter Crouch doubled their lead with a header. The Germans fought back and reduced the lead two minutes before half-time through Hugo Almeida. Marko Marin completed the comeback two minutes into the second half.

It was a stalemate in the "Battle of Britain" as the Scottish champions Rangers picked up a valuable point against Manchester United at Old Trafford. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson made 10 changes including the troubled England striker Wayne Rooney, but he and United could not find their way past a congested Rangers defence. Ferguson's woe increased after winger Antonio Valencia went off injured with a serious-looking anke injury.

In the other Group C match, Valencia defeated Champions League newcomers Bursaspor 4-0 in Turkey. The Spanish club dominated throughout after Tino Costa put the visitors ahead on 16 minutes. Artiz Aduriz added a second before half-time. Pablo Hernandez added the third on 68 minutes with substitute Roberto Soldado completing the rout eight minutes later. In Group B, a 21st minute lob by the Brazilian international Michel Bastos earned Lyon a 1-0 win at home to Schalke who had Benedikt Hoewedes sent off for a high tackle on Lyon winger Jimmy Briand.

Schalke, despite the numerical disadvantage, had their chances to salvage something from the match but the French keeper Hugo Lloris was on brilliant form. In the other game, Benfica defeated Hapoel Tel Aviv 2-0 in Lisbon. The defender Lusiao put them ahead on 21 minutes with a timely strike just inside the box. Oscar Cardoza tapped in the second on 68 minutes in a match where the Portuguese champions should have added more on their first appearance in the competition in five years.

* Compiled by Stephen Nelmes with agencies