The Malta Independent 21 October 2019, Monday

UEFA Champions League: Ronaldo wins again at Old Trafford as Juve beats United 1-0

Associated Press Tuesday, 23 October 2018, 23:18 Last update: about 13 months ago

Cristiano Ronaldo made another winning return to Old Trafford as Juventus beat his former club Manchester United 1-0 on Tuesday for a third straight victory in the Champions League.

Unlike the last time he was at the stadium — for Real Madrid in 2013 — Ronaldo didn't score but he was involved in the only goal, sending in a cross from the right wing that was eventually swept home by Paulo Dybala in the 17th minute.

Dangerous going forward and typically obdurate at the back, Juventus delivered a powerful performance that kept the team unbeaten this season and strengthened its status as one of the serious contenders for the Champions League — a competition it hasn't won since 1996.

With Ronaldo leading its attack, this might be its best chance in years to end the drought. Juventus has a maximum nine points in Group H after previous wins against Valencia and Young Boys, and is already five points ahead of second-place United.

Ronaldo was introduced as the "magnificent seven" when he came to Old Trafford with Madrid for a last-16 match in 2013. He was given a standing ovation by United fans that night and ended up scoring the winning goal to eliminate his former club from the Champions League.

Five years later, Ronaldo, who has been accused of rape in the United States, wasn't given the big build-up by the stadium announcer as the team lineup was read out but his name was cheered loudly by home supporters. And a few minutes into the game, a fan came onto the playing surface from the Stretford End stand and got to within a few meters of Ronaldo at the other end of the field before being stopped by slow-reacting security.

As he lay on the ground, he stretched his arms toward Ronaldo, almost pleadingly.

Then, soon after the final whistle was blown, two fans also got onto the field in an attempt to reach Ronaldo as he walked toward the tunnel. They were also stopped by security but Ronaldo ended up taking a selfie with them.

Ronaldo was always going to be the focal point of this game but the attention grew even more after Kathryn Mayorga filed a civil lawsuit last month in Nevada claiming the Portuguese star raped her in his Las Vegas hotel room in 2009. Police also reopened an investigation into the allegation at her request. Ronaldo's attorney, Peter S. Christiansen, issued a statement on Oct. 10 denying wrongdoing by his client.

On the field, the five-time world player of the year's flicks, tricks and power were all on display as he switched from the left flank to a central position.

However, Dybala was arguably the most impressive of Juventus' attackers and the Argentina international grabbed the winner.

Ronaldo delivered a cross from the right wing, United defender Chris Smalling got in front of Juan Cuadrado at the near post to block the ball but it fell to Dybala, who converted from the edge of six-yard box.

Juventus toyed at times with United, which took a while to get going — having already arrived at the stadium later than planned because the team bus carrying the players got stuck in traffic around Old Trafford. The same thing happened before United's last home group game, against Valencia, but this time kickoff didn't need to be delayed.

Ronaldo had a free kick late in the first half batted away by United goalkeeper David De Gea, who then tipped over a fiercely struck shot from the Portugal forward soon after halftime.

United rallied in the final half hour, and Paul Pogba saw a curling shot hit the post before bouncing off goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to safety.


Dzeko matches Messi with 5th Champions League goal of season

Edin Dzeko's recent scoring rate in the Champions League has put him on par with Lionel Messi.

Dzeko's brace in Roma's 3-0 win over CSKA Moscow on Tuesday gave the Bosnia and Herzegovina striker five goals this season to draw level with Barcelona's Messi atop the competition's scoring chart.

Moreover, Dzeko has scored 10 in his last eight matches stretching back to Roma's semifinal run last season.

Dzeko's two-goal performance follows his hat trick against Viktoria Plzen earlier this month.

Messi will miss Barcelona's match against Inter Milan on Wednesday with a broken right forearm.

"This is the best competition to score in," said Dzeko, who has two goals in eight Serie A matches this season. "Now we'll try to win in Moscow, but we certainly can't lose there."

Roma moved atop Group G with six points, ahead of Real Madrid on goal difference.

CSKA, which host Roma in the next round, is next with four points while Plzen is last with one.

Madrid beat Plzen 2-1 in Tuesday's other group match.

Dzeko also set up Roma's third goal from Cengiz Under with a headed pass.

Before the match, at least 20 people — mostly CSKA fans — were injured when an escalator in the Rome metro broke. Videos showed the escalator accelerating suddenly, and people riding down on it collapsing one onto another.

Firefighters said seven people were in serious condition.

Also, one CSKA fan was slashed with a knife during clashes between opposing fans outside the Stadio Olimpico, the ANSA news agency reported.

Toward the end of the match, CSKA fans threw flares onto the running track surrounding the field.

Dzeko tapped in his first goal following an exchange between Lorenzo Pellegrini and Stephan El Shaarawy. In all, there were 29 passes in the buildup to the goal, the most in the Champions League since Lucas Digne scored for Barcelona against Celtic a year ago — when there were also 29 passes.

Dzeko's second was again set up by Pellegrini and El Shaarawy, whose pass kept Dzeko onside for a shot into the far corner.

After the break, Dzeko rose to meet a pass from Alessandro Florenzi and nodded it toward Under, who blasted it in.


City sweeps aside Shakhtar 3-0 in Champions League

Manchester City took a step closer to qualifying from its Champions League group Tuesday with a dominant 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk.

Last season the Ukrainian team ended a 29-game unbeaten run for City, but it never came close to another win Tuesday. David Silva and Aymeric Laporte's goals had Pep Guardiola's team 2-0 up by halftime, before Bernardo Silva snuffed out Shakhtar's hopes of a comeback in the 71st.

City has won six of the seven games it's played since losing 2-1 to Lyon in its last Champions League outing. Thanks to Lyon's 3-2 win over Hoffenheim in Tuesday's other game, City stays second in Group F at the halfway mark, one point behind Lyon and four ahead of third-place Shakhtar.

After several near misses from various City players, Silva put the visitors 1-0 up in the 30th minute when Gabriel Jesus' shot took a deflection and looped into the air before landing perfectly for Silva to hit past Andriy Pyatov in Shakhtar's goal.

Five minutes later it was 2-0 as Laporte scored his first Champions League goal. The French defender was left with an easy header at a corner as two Shakhtar players rushed to close down John Stones.

Bernardo Silva was on the field for less than two minutes before finishing off a City counterattack with a shot from outside the area which went in off the post.


Lopetegui remains under pressure as Madrid edges Plzen 2-1

Real Madrid beat Viktoria Plzen 2-1 in the group stage of the Champions League on Tuesday in a narrow victory that did little to ease the pressure on embattled coach Julen Lopetegui.

Karim Benzema and Marcelo scored a goal in each half for Madrid as the three-time defending European champions ended a five-match winless streak in all competitions, but Lopetegui's team struggled at times at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

The new coach will have another chance to quieten his critics — maybe his last — in the "clasico" against Barcelona at Camp Nou Stadium in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Madrid has six points in Group G after three matches. Roma, which defeated CSKA Moscow 3-0 at home in the other group match, also has six points.

Madrid had lost four of its last five matches, including a 1-0 defeat at CSKA Moscow.

Benzema opened the scoring with an 11th-minute header and Marcelo added to the lead from inside the area in the 55th after a neat back-heel pass by Gareth Bale.

The visitors, who had some good scoring chances in the first half, pulled one closer with a 79th-minute goal by Patrik Hrosovsky.


Mazraoui's late strike gives Ajax 1-0 win over Benfica

Right back Noussair Mazraoui scored an injury-time winner Tuesday as Ajax beat Benfica 1-0 to remain unbeaten in Champions League Group E.

Goalkeepers Andre Onana and Odisseas Vlachodimos both made key saves as the game appeared headed for a goalless stalemate.

But Vlachodimos stood no chance as Mazraoui's shot in the 92nd minute was deflected into the net by Alex Grimaldo from Ajax's final attack of the match.

The win left Ajax at the top of the group, level with Bayern Munich which beat AEK Athens 2-0 earlier in the evening.

Both teams showed attacking intent at the Johan Cruyff Arena, but Benfica's quick and aggressive midfield largely canceled out Ajax's more measured passing game.

Ajax 'keeper Onana had to save twice in the opening five minutes to deny Rafa Silva and Haris Seferovic, while Vlachodimos blocked two excellent Ajax chances. He advanced off his line to block an effort by Kasper Dolberg in the 22nd minute and stuck out a right hand to palm away a powerful shot from Donny van de Beek in the 74th.

When Dolberg managed to beat Vlachodimos five minutes before halftime, German Conti hooked the ball off the line. Technology showed the ball almost — but not quite — fully over the line.

But there was no doubt about Mazraoui's emphatic shot from the edge of the penalty area in extra time.


Valencia's struggles continue in draw with Young Boys

Valencia's poor form continued as it clung on to a 1-1 draw against Champions League underdog Young Boys on Tuesday, as the Swiss team celebrated its first point in the competition.

Valencia has won just one of its last nine games, has just two points in the Champions League and hasn't scored more than once in a game since Sept. 2.

Valencia took the lead in the 26th minute when Michy Batshuayi picked up a flicked pass from Carlos Soler, rounded the goalkeeper and scored.

Young Boys' first Champions League goal came from the penalty spot in the 55th after Valencia captain Daniel Parejo brought down Djibril Sow with a sliding tackle. Guillaume Hoarau fired the spot kick low to his right.

Young Boys could have scored a second goal through Christian Fassnacht three minutes later if not for a fine save from Neto.

Only the post saved Valencia from defeat when Sekou Sanogo's 88th-minute header hit the woodwork.

Third-place Valencia is struggling to keep pace in Group H with Juventus and Manchester United, who play later Tuesday. Valencia's poor form also means the team is 14th in the Spanish league with seven goals from nine games. Only Real Betis has scored fewer.

Hoarau's penalty means the only club in the Champions League which hasn't scored a goal is Lokomotiv Moscow, which plays Porto on Wednesday.


Bayern made to work for 2-0 win over AEK

Bayern Munich exploited a brief lapse in AEK Athens' determined defense to score twice in two minutes for a 2-0 win in the Champions League, easing pressure on the Bundesliga champions and coach Niko Kovac.

Shaking off a mistake-prone first half, Javi Martinez and Robert Lewandowski struck in the 61st and 63rd minutes at the Olympic Stadium for Bayern's second victory in Group E, as AEK suffered its third defeat.

"We knew the goals would come. We pressed, tired them out and it worked," Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer said. "After their two goals, their morale suffered and we went on to win. ... We're in a better position but we're still making mistakes."

Bayern stayed on the attack for most of the night but center-backs Dmytro Chygrynskiy and Vasilis Lambropoulos stopped them from creating chances.

While keeping AEK's back line busy, Arjen Robben had produced little threat until his shot helped break the deadlock. It struck a wall of defenders, and Martinez slotted in the rebound.

Lewandowski silenced the 55,000 home fans two minutes later. Standout Serge Gnabry flicked the ball to Rafinha, who set up the Poland striker for the tap-in.

"We had a good first half but we were missing the finish. We insisted in our effort and in the end we prevailed and that's what's important," Robben said. "We took our chances when we could. We needed that win."

Bayern outshot the Greeks 2-1 and held two-third of possession.

Bayern's players have struggled to show their usual domestic dominance this season, and visibly relaxed after the goals. Lewandowski narrowly missed a third in the 67th when goalkeeper Vassilis Barkas scrambled to stop his effort on the goal line.

Germany striker Thomas Mueller played for the last 15 minutes but made little impact

"The players stood up very well to such a great side but after those two goals it was hard to fight back," AEK coach Marios Ouzounidis. "But I'm proud of their performance. They were very professional throughout the game."

AEK won Greece's championship last season after fighting back from bankruptcy and relegation to amateur football in 2013, and appeared delighted to be back in European competition despite Tuesday's result.

"It would be silly to compare ourselves with such a major team, but we were also a little unlucky to concede when we did. The players were a little tired and were late in falling back — so we had a small gap in our reflexes," AEK midfielder Kostas Galanopoulos said.

"But we did play well and now we'll see what we can do."

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