Madrid, Sep 20 (AP/UNB) — Real Madrid showed it can still compete in the Champions League even without Cristiano Ronaldo.
In its first Champions League match without the star forward in nearly a decade, Madrid easily dominated Roma to open its campaign with a comfortable 3-0 home win on Wednesday.
Francisco "Isco" Alarcon, Gareth Bale and Mariano Diaz took care of the scoring in Ronaldo's absence, securing the victory for the three-time defending champions.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo, who joined Juventus in the offseason after leading Madrid to four European titles, played his first Champions League game with the Italian club in Group H on Wednesday and was sent off with a straight red card in the first half.
"Real Madrid will always be Real Madrid, no matter who leaves," said Bale, who has scored 10 goals in his last 10 matches with the Spanish club. "We keep on trying to win, keep on trying to score goals."
It was a disappointing opener for Roma, which is coming off a semifinal appearance last season.
"We have to improve," Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco said through a translator. "We need more quality and we need more personality."
In the other Group G match, Czech club Viktoria Plzen and CSKA Moscow drew 2-2 in Plzen.
Madrid dominated from the start and created most of the scoring chances throughout the game at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. Roma goalkeeper Robin Olsen, replacing Alisson Becker after the Brazilian moved to Liverpool in the offseason, put on an outstanding display to keep the Spanish hosts from scoring more goals.
But there was nothing Olsen could do on Isco's free kick just before halftime. The Swedish goalkeeper watched as the ball was expertly curled over the wall and went in the far corner.
"The team played a great match in all aspects," Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui said. "We created countless chances and we clearly deserved to win."
Bale almost increased Madrid's lead with a close-range shot that struck the crossbar early in the second half but the Wales forward did make it 2-0 in the 58th with a well-placed low shot after a superb through ball from Luka Modric.
The third goal came in stoppage time with a nicely struck shot from outside the area by Diaz, who had replaced Bale in the 73rd. Diaz was given Ronaldo's No. 7 jersey after rejoining the club in the offseason.
Bale was the only player from Wednesday's lineup who hadn't started for Madrid in the Champions League final nearly four months ago in Ukraine. His place was taken by Ronaldo at the time.
In addition to Ronaldo's departure, coach Zinedine Zidane quit and was replaced by former Spain manager Julen Lopetegui.
It was the first time that Lopetegui didn't opt to play with Marco Asensio up front along with Bale and Karim Benzema, although Isco was often near the attackers when Madrid held possession. Lopetegui also kept Keylor Navas in goal despite the recent arrival of Thibaut Courtois, voted the World Cup's best goalkeeper with Belgium.
It was a special night for 19-year-old Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo, who made his professional debut only two months after being signed by Roma. Zaniolo recently helped Italy's under-19 team reach the European Championship final.
Roma has high expectations in the Champions League after making it to the last four last season, when it lost to Liverpool after having eliminated Barcelona in the quarterfinals.
Madrid next faces CSKA Moscow in Russia on Oct. 2, when Roma hosts Viktoria Plzen.
Valencia, Sep 20 (AP/UNB) — Cristiano Ronaldo was supposed to be the missing piece in Juventus' bid to win the Champions League.
But his first match in the competition for his new club lasted less than half an hour on Wednesday as he was sent off after appearing to pull at an opponent's hair.
Juventus still went on to win 2-0 at Valencia, thanks to two penalties.
It was Ronaldo's first red card in 154 Champions League games, and the decision means he could miss a return to Old Trafford when Juventus plays Manchester United next month if gets at least a two-match ban.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri insisted it shouldn't have been a red card, and lamented the fact that video technology has yet to be introduced into the Champions League, as it has been in Serie A. VAR was also used at the World Cup in Russia this year.
"I'll only say that in this sort of occasion VAR would help," Allegri said. "It's disappointing because now we'll lose him for a few games and instead if there had been VAR it would have been seen that it wasn't a sending-off offense."
Ronaldo was dismissed in the 29th minute after tangling with Jeison Murillo. After Murillo went down inside the area, the Portugal forward gestured for his opponent to get up, then put his hand on the Valencia defender's head and appeared to tug his hair. Referee Felix Brych showed Ronaldo a straight red card after discussing with his assistant behind the goal.
Ronaldo looked baffled and kept professing his innocence and was clearly distraught as he left the pitch in tears, still shaking his head.
"He was upset and he needs time to calm down," Allegri said. "He needs to rise above it and focus on Sunday, even if these things leave a bitter taste in the mouth."
Even Valencia coach Marcelino Garcia attempted to comfort Ronaldo as he walked off the pitch.
"I didn't see the contact, I was affected by his tears. He was saying he didn't do anything," Marcelino said. "I spoke with him but I won't say what I told him."
Juventus has won Europe's premier club competition twice but the last time was in 1996. It has lost five finals since then and hoped that signing Ronaldo, who has won the competition five times, it could go one step further.
The Bianconeri have won the Serie A title for the last seven seasons — and the league and Italian Cup double for the past four — but have struggled to transfer that domestic supremacy to the European stage, although they have reached the final twice in the past four editions.
Despite playing more than an hour with 10 men at Valencia, Juventus eased to victory.
Mario Mandzukic and Sami Khedira had already missed glaring opportunities before Ronaldo's dismissal and, after a shaky few minutes following the red card, Juventus got back into its stride and took the lead on the stroke of halftime.
Joao Cancelo hit the crossbar and was then fouled by Daniel Parejo as he tried to get on the rebound.
Miralem Pjanic struck the penalty into the bottom right corner and did the same six minutes after the break when Brych awarded Juventus another spot kick after Murillo brought down Leonardo Bonucci.
Despite the numerical advantage, Valencia posed little threat going forward but almost grabbed a consolation in stoppage time when it was given a penalty of its own. But Wojciech Szczesny parried Parejo's spot kick, which was awarded after Daniele Rugani was adjudged to have elbowed Gabriel Paulista.
Manchester, Sep 20 (AP/UNB) — If Manchester City wants to finally win a first Champions League title, it will have to start taking the competition a bit more seriously — on and off the field.
Surrounded by swathes of empty seats in the Etihad Stadium, City's players were humbled 2-1 by Lyon in a sloppy and apathetic display at the start of their European campaign Wednesday.
Banned from the touchline and unable to communicate with the bench, City manager Pep Guardiola did fill one seat in the stands and he saw his Premier League champions easily picked apart by the French visitors and not pressing with the usual intensity.
"We felt under threat every time we lost the ball and sometimes that brings the confidence a little bit lower," said City assistant manager Mikel Arteta, who was in charge on the bench in Guardiola's absence.
Errors by midfielder Fernandinho led to both Lyon goals, typifying how careless City was against a team that finished third in the French league last season and was even held to a draw at the weekend by 10-man Caen.
When a pass by the Brazilian midfielder was intercepted around the halfway line, Lyon charged forward. Nabil Fekir sent in a cross from the left that evaded Fabian Delph's swinging legs, allowing Maxwel Cornet to slot it home in the 26th minute. Delph held his head in his hands as the consequences of his mistake became clear.
City's troubles deepened when Fernandinho was caught in possession again. Memphis Depay set Fekir on a run and the forward doubled Lyon's lead in the 43rd by striking from the edge of the penalty area through the legs of John Stones.
"When we were in possession he helped our team to get up the pitch and was also fouled quite a bit as well," Lyon coach Bruno Genesio said. "He led us."
In the offseason it appeared Lyon would lose Fekir to Liverpool until talks over a 60 million euro ($70 million) transfer broke down.
"Nabil showed our captain is back," Genesio said. "I know that I can count on him absolutely."
It was clear how much City was missing the vision and composure on the ball of midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who is sidelined until November with a right knee injury.
Perhaps the only reason for City to feel aggrieved in the first half was Gabriel Jesus being denied a penalty when he was tripped by former Manchester United defender Rafael da Silva just before Depay scored.
"To concede two goals like we did is very frustrating," Stones said. "We came in at halftime a bit deflated I think. But we picked ourselves up and we came out second half fighting and played a better second half."
But the improvement wasn't sufficient.
City pulled one back in the 67th when Bernardo Silva scored from substitute Leroy Sane's cutback. But the attacking threat was too patchy from a City side that won the Premier League with a record 100 points only four months ago, and are widely seen as one of the big favorites in this season's Champions League.
With Hoffenheim and Shakhtar Donetsk also in Group F, City appeared to have one of the kinder draws but is now playing catch-up.
Celebrating a decade under Abu Dhabi ownership, which allowed City to assemble a squad for more than $1 billion, the Champions League is the one big prize the club has yet to win.
And now City has become the first English side to lose four consecutive Champions League matches, following defeats in the round of 16 and quarterfinals last season.
The club's fraught relationship with Europe's premier competition was clear again before kickoff.
The Champions League anthem was again booed by the crowd — reflecting to ongoing bitterness over UEFA sanctioning the club for breaching spending rules — and the team often fails to sell out group-stage games. Even owner Sheikh Mansour doesn't make the trip from the United Arab Emirates where he is deputy prime minister.
"I wouldn't like to make excuse," Arteta said. "We had this type of crowd in the Champions League before and we were able to win the game."
Liverpool, Sep 19 (AP/UNB) — Celebrating Liverpool's stoppage-time winner by covering his left eye, Roberto Firmino was finally able to jest about the injury that nearly denied him a chance to face Paris Saint-Germain.
Assurances the scratch on the cornea had cleared up only came hours before kickoff in the Champions League on Tuesday.
"I can open the eye again," Firmino told Juergen Klopp, according to his manager after the 3-2 victory.
Firmino still had to bide his time to play, starting on the bench and watching as Liverpool threw away a two-goal lead. Firmino had been on the pitch 11 minutes by the time Kylian Mbappe equalized for the French champions in the 83rd minute.
But the French World Cup winner's carelessness at the other end allowed Firmino to provide a thrilling climax to a pulsating night at Anfield to open Group C.
Mbappe was dispossessed by James Milner and Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk combined to feed the ball to Firmino. The Brazil forward, who injured his eye against Tottenham on Saturday, now had the vision to find the space to weave through the defense and strike the ball low into the net.
"The day before yesterday there was no chance (he could play) and yesterday it didn't look well," Klopp said. "This morning he came in and said 'I'm fine.'"
It all made for painful viewing for PSG coach Thomas Tuchel in his first Champions League game with the French champions. Conceding in the first minute of stoppage time at the end of an electrifying encounter at Liverpool is just what happened when Tuchel's Borussia Dortmund was beaten 4-3 by Klopp's side in the Europa League quarterfinals in 2016.
"This is what Liverpool do," Tuchel said. "They press you and they make it hard for you in possession."
Four months after the five-time European champions lost last season's final to Real Madrid, Liverpool showed its credentials to challenge for the title again by finding a way to tame Neymar and Mbappe for much of the game.
"He's got to work hard to try to improve," Tuchel said of Mbappe.
Left back Andy Robertson, who repelled Mbappe's forays down the right, also showed his attacking ability by setting up the opener. A cross from Robertson was headed in by Daniel Sturridge 30 minutes into his first Champions League start since playing for Chelsea in 2012.
"We are good at getting in people's faces," Robertson said, "especially at home to make it uncomfortable."
Milner, who was Liverpool's tireless engine in midfield, then stepped up to the penalty spot when Georginio Wijnaldum was tripped by Juan Bern, doubling the lead in the 36th minute.
"We conceded goals in the first half," Tuchel said, "but we never lost our confidence."
That was evident when Thomas Meunier sliced into the net in the 40th minute, and PSG avoided a bigger deficit when Mohamed Salah's goal in the 67th was ruled out for Sturridge sinking his studs into goalkeeper Alphonse Areola in the buildup.
Salah, Liverpool's top scorer last season, had a low-key game and it was his misplaced pass that gifted PSG a chance to equalize. Substitute Julian Draxler took the ball forward and released Neymar, who was challenged by van Dijk as he broke into the area. Mbappe seized on the loose ball and fired into the bottom corner.
"In the second half I think we showed a bit more personality," PSG defender Thiago Silva said. "But in a match like this, where the level is high, you always have to be focused, because the other team can score at any given moment."
As Firmino showed after Liverpool seized on Mbappe's misfortune to make it six wins out of six in all competitions this season.
"We lost a ball that usually we don't lose," Thiago Silva said, "and we were punished for that mistake."
PSG is rarely so troubled at home, already sitting five points clear by winning the opening five games of its French title defense. The harder task is wining the Champions League for the first time.
"Maybe today we could have displayed a little bit more aggression," Tuchel said. "Maybe we need to improve in our intensity in some areas of the field."
Paris, Sep 19 (AP/UNB) — If the World Cup had given the impression that Lionel Messi was slipping down soccer's pecking order, the Argentine star made it clear he remains at the top of his game.
Messi scored a record eighth Champions League hat trick on Tuesday in Barcelona's 4-0 win over PSV Eindhoven as Europe's top club competition got underway. Meanwhile, Kylian Mbappe, the teenage star widely viewed as the man capable of dethroning Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in a near future as the best player in the world, endured a frustrating night in a 3-2 loss with Paris Saint-Germain at Liverpool.
The World Cup winner scored a second-half equalizer but then gave the ball away in stoppage time, a costly mistake that paved the way for Roberto Firmino's winner.
Messi once again failed in his bid to lift the World Cup trophy this summer in Russia, where he did not play at his best and Argentina lost to France in the round of 16. But Messi is a different player in the Champions League, a competition he has won four times, and in which he has scored 103 goals.
With his hat trick on Tuesday, he now leads Ronaldo 63-60 in total group-stage goals.
"We were up against Messi, the best in the world," PSV coach Mark van Bommel said.
Ousmane Dembele also scored for Barcelona, which was already 3-0 up when it was reduced to 10 men as defender Samuel Umtiti was sent off with a second yellow card for a hard foul in the 79th. The Group B result extended Barcelona's unbeaten run at home to 27 matches in the Champions League.
In the group's other match, Mauro Icardi volleyed in a superb equalizer for Inter against Tottenham and Matias Vecino headed in the winner in injury time to complete a 2-1 win for the Italian club on its return to Europe's top competition.
At Anfield, Mbappe scored his 11th Champions League goal since he made his debut in the tournament during the 2016-17 season.
His mistake in stoppage time proved costly for his club, though.
After netting PSG's equalizer in the 83rd minute, Mbappe was dispossessed by James Milner in the closing stages of the match, giving Liverpool a chance to mount a final attack. Firmino collected a pass from Virgil van Dijk and fired a low shot into the far corner to seal the Reds' victory.
PSG was down 2-0 after 36 minutes following goals from Daniel Sturridge and Milner but managed to fight back as Thomas Meunier pulled one back before Mbappe leveled. PSG, whose main goal this season is to win the Champions League after repeated failures, next plays Red Star Belgrade, which drew 0-0 with Napoli.
A year after making it to the final, Liverpool showed it might be capable of challenging for the title once again by finding a way to tame Neymar and Mbappe for much of the game.
Christian Pulisic celebrated his 20th birthday by scoring on his return from injury to give Borussia Dortmund a late 1-0 win at Club Brugge in group A.
"It was great to come back after injury to and to be back with the team," said Pulisic, who made his 100th appearance for the club.
The American, who hadn't played since Aug. 26 due to muscular problems, came on with around 20 minutes remaining and scored in the 85th when Matej Mitrovic's attempted clearance rebounded off his shin and looped in over Brugge goalkeeper Karlo Letica.
"It was a bit lucky but I'll take it on my birthday," said Pulisic, who had missed two Bundesliga games for Dortmund and the U.S. friendlies against Brazil and Mexico.
MONACO LOSES AGAIN
In the other Group A game, Monaco was handed yet another home defeat, losing 2-1 to Atletico Madrid.
After losing all three home games in the group stage last season, Leonardo Jardim's side grabbed an early lead against the run of the play with a goal from Champions League debutant Samuel Grandsir. However, Atletico dominated for long spells and struck back before the interval through goals from Diego Costa and Jose Gimenez.
Schalke goalkeeper Ralf Faehrmann saved one penalty but was beaten by another as Porto salvaged a 1-1 draw in their Champions League-opening game on Tuesday. Galatasaray defeated Lokomotiv Moscow 3-0 at home in the other Group D game.
In Germany, Porto keeper Iker Casillas started his 20th Champions League campaign, more than any other player.