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Sports

Last Gasp Goals as Stars Fight Off Minnows

The Champions League got off to a dramatic start Wednesday as Barcelona beat Werder Bremen 2-0, while European heavyweights Arsenal, Ajax and Benfica clinched vital late goals.

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Bremen's Borowski, left, fights for the ball with Bracelona's Edmilson

Barcelona's star-studded team grabbed an early lead in Wednesday's Champions League Group C opener against Werder Bremen on German turf with a deflected goal by Deco.

But, Barca was then made to sweat as Bremen battered the star team with relentless attacking. But, deprived of German forward Miroslav Klose through suspension, Bremen saw a succession of chances wasted as Ivan Klasnic and Nelson Valdez gave their best but failed to score.

A penalty kick by Ronaldinho in the second half helped Barcelona drive in the final nail into Bremen's flagging game and romp to victory.

Champions League Group C Werder Bremen gegen FC Barcelona

Nelson Valdez, left, Frank Baumann, centre, and Barcelona's Xavi, right, challenge for the ball

Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard said he was satisfied with the way his side had performed.

"I'm happy," Rijkard said. "If you just count the number of chances you could see it could have been a different result but we scored twice against a very strong team at their ground so of course I'm happy," he said. "We suffered, they played very well but you have to score goals to get a win or come from behind to get a draw."

Bremen coach Thomas Schaaf admitted his team's failings. "They took their chances and we didn't," he said. "We invested a lot in this game, running and fighting for everything, but we come away with nothing," Schaf said. "I would have liked to get something, even just one goal."

Fiery Arsenal Thun showdown

The other group matches played Wednesday saw European soccer heavyweights salvaging points against sides considered minnows of the Champions League.

Arsenal were spared the embarrassment of a 1-1 draw with Swiss side Thun Wednesday.

Thun, who beat Dynamo Kiev and Malmö in the qualifying rounds, proved tenacious when Nelson Ferreira looped in an equaliser two minutes after Arsenal's opening goal, a header by Brazilian midfielder Gilberto Silva after 51 minutes.

Champions League Arsenal

Arsenal's Fredrik Ljungberg, front, collides with FC Thun goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic

The London side was also reduced to 10 men just before the break with a red card shown to striker Robin van Persie for dangerous play.

Arsenal then struggled to find further openings until 36-year-old substitute Dennis Bergkamp lobbed home the winner with his first Champions League goal for three years.

Van Persie's sending-off had Arsenal club manager, Arsene Wenger fuming and ranting after yet another red card for his team.

"He (Polish referee Grzegorz Gilewski) was flying high, he didn't watch the game," the Frenchman raged. "The sending-off was an unpleasant surprise and the wrong decision. It was not Robin's fault. It was an accident. For me, it was never a red card."

Thun boss Urs Schoenenberger was upset at the way Bergkamp robbed them of a precious point at the death.

"I lost a point but if you consider where we played against whom we played, then this would have been the result you expected," Schoenenberger said. "The way we lost is really disappointing, especially as we had one man more and we were holding them 1-1 right to the end. But you can't say that inside we're really torn apart."

Disappointment and relief

Lisbon club Benfica scraped a 1-0 win over unheralded French side Lille also in time added-on through a header from probably the smallest man on the pitch, Fabrizio Miccoli.

While Lille coach Claude Puel bemoaned the lack of concentration from his young team his Benfica counterpart Koeman said that it had been the right result -- as indeed he would do.

"We created more and wanted victory more. This win was logical," the former Dutch international great said.

Champions League Group B Prag gegen Ajax

Martin Petras, left, and Zdenek Pospech, right, both of Sparta, challenge for a ball with Markus Rosenberg, center, of Ajax

There was also to be last-minute disappointment for Czech Republic outfit Sparta Prague as they were held 1-1 at home by Dutch giants Ajax -- a club formerly managed by Benfica's handler Ronald Koeman -- with Wesley Sneijder's stunning effort giving them a point.

Good night for Italian clubs

Italian clubs had a good night as Juventus recorded a 2-1 victory away at Bruges with Daviod Trezeguet scoring his 100th goal for the club moving ever closer to French compatriot Michel Platini's club record of 104.

Though Juve's French hardman midfielder Patrick Vieira too was given his marching orders in the final minute of the Bruges match, Trezeguet was jubiliant. "It's 100 goals," said Trezeguet. "I'm very proud of myself and my team-mates. It's part of the history of this club and it's something exceptional."

Vincenzo Iaquinta scored a hat-trick in Udinese's maiden Champions League match as the unglamorous Italian side recorded a 3-0 home victory over Greek giants Panathinaikos.

The good was balanced by the ugly as fiery England striker Wayne Rooney capped a pretty disastrous last 10 days for England and Manchester United by being sent off for two bookable offences -- the second for dissent at his initial booking -- in United's 0-0 away draw with Spanish side Villarreal.

Champions League Group A Wien gegen Bayern München

Munich's Willy Sagnol and Rapid's Andreas Dober, from left

There were victories too for previous winner Bayern Munich as they prevailed 1-0 against Rapid Vienna.

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