Jose Mourinho’s quest for a unique Champions League hat-trick began in style at the Bernabeu on Wednesday as Real Madrid beat Ajax Amsterdam 2-0 on a night of commanding wins for the main contenders.
While Real were giving Ajax a harsh lesson on their return to the European elite, Arsenal began their campaign with a ruthless 6-0 victory over Braga and Chelsea saw off Zilina 4-1 in another gross mismatch.
AC Milan and Bayern Munich had far tougher assignments in their opening games and needed their strikers to come to the second-half rescue.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic capped his Milan home debut with a quickfire double that secured a 2-0 win over Auxerre, while Thomas Mueller and Miroslav Klose struck late to give last season’s beaten finalists a 2-0 victory over AS Roma.
Inter Milan defeated Bayern in the final at the Bernabeu in May, when Mourinho clinched his second Champions League success and promptly accepted a move to Real Madrid.
His target is to deliver the club’s 10th European Cup, and first since 2002, an achievement that would make him the first coach to win the Champions League with three different clubs.
Back in the stadium where he celebrated Inter’s success, Mourinho witnessed an outstanding Group G performance against four-time champions Ajax, who endured an unhappy night on their Champions League return after a five-year absence.
Only Real’s finishing let them down and Mourinho reacted furiously as the chances came and went before an own-goal from Vurnon Anita settled their nerves and a 73rd-minute volley from Gonzalo Higuain wrapped up the win.
“It can happen that in a match when you play badly you score three goals and other times you can do everything on the pitch but score,” said Mourinho, who also led Porto to the trophy. “The goals will come.”
Real’s main Group G rivals are Milan, the seven-times winners who looked to be heading for trouble against Auxerre before Ibrahimovic justified the effusive welcome back to the San Siro he was given by fans.
There is an interesting sub-plot to this edition of the Champions League, with Arsenal and Chelsea among three London teams bidding to reach the final at Wembley, Tottenham Hotspur being the third.
The prospect of becoming the first London club to win the competition, and at a “home” venue, must be a tantalising one and both Arsenal and Chelsea certainly made statements of intent.
Cesc Fabregas and Carlos Vela scored two apiece for Arsenal in their rout of Braga in Group H, where Shakhtar Donetsk beat Partizan Belgrade 1-0 thanks to a superb curling free kick from Darijo Srna.
Braga were so overwhelmed against Arsenal in their Champions League debut that coach Domingos Paciencia said he wished the game could have been called off at halftime.
“We could not have played any worse,” Paciencia told reporters. “I wish we could have finished the game at halftime and even then it still would have been a bad experience.”
Nicolas Anelka was also on target twice as Chelsea strolled to victory in Group F in Slovakia, going 3-0 up in the first half against Zilina before slowing down.
In the other game in that group, Spartak Moscow grabbed a valuable 1-0 win at Olympique Marseille via a late own goal from Cesar Azpilicueta.
“It’s the worst scenario,” Marseille coach, Didier Deschamps, told reporters. “We played Russian roulette and we lost.”
While Bayern, like Ajax four-times champions, were leaving it late against Roma, Group E rivals CFR Cluj did all the hard work early on in a 2-1 win at home to FC Basel.
Ionut Rada and Lacina Traore put the Romanians on course for three points with goals in the first 12 minutes. — Reuters