Bayer Leverkusen opened their Champions League campaign with a stunning 3-0 victory over Real Madrid on Wednesday. Bayern Munich also started in winning style but Bundesliga champions Werder Bremen were beaten in Milan.
Dimitar Berbatov (left) completed the 3-0 win against the galacticos
Germany's Champions League teams got their campaigns underway on Wednesday night with the distant but glittering prize of Europe's most coveted club trophy and title of European Champion the ultimate goal. The opening group games however were more about getting the first points on the board and boosting their chances of advancing from the mini-league format into the knock-out stages and eventually stepping out on the Istanbul turf for the final on May 25.
Bayer Leverkusen took a giant stride to that knock-out stage by pulling off the result of the night by exacting revenge on Spanish giants Real Madrid for their 2002 final defeat by beating Zidane and Co. 3-0 at the BayArena. The sluggish galactic were far from the out-of-this-world team of old as goals from Jacek Krzynowek, Franca and Dimitar Berbatov brought Real crashing down to earth.
Despite their awesome reputation, Real Madrid have a terrible record in Germany having won only once in 19 visits. They rarely looked in good enough shape to change this record in the Group B game on Wednesday and appeared the juxtaposition of Leverkusen's rampaging confidence despite the presence on the pitch of all their top players.
The victory over the nine times European champions broke a seven-game losing streak in the competition for Leverkusen, including four defeats and a draw in their five previous Champions League meetings with Real, and they smashed that statistic in style.
Rapid second half goals kill off Real
Poland midfielder Krzynowek put them ahead with a powerful shot from 25 meters after 39 minutes. Then Brazilian striker Franca (photo) doubled their lead from the edge of the penalty area five minutes into the second half and Bulgaria striker Berbatov completed the victory from close range five minutes later.
Leverkusen's Bundesliga star outshone the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Ronaldo who were all substituted after looking shadows of their usual selves while recent signing Michael Owen kept the bench warm all night. The Spanish giants had no reply to Leverkusen's quick start to the second half and only rallied themselves towards the end but by then the game was over.
Bayern secure narrow win in Tel Aviv
Munich's Roy Makaay.
Bayern Munich began their Group C campaign with a winning start with Dutchman Roy Makaay on target for the only goal against Maccabi Haifa in Tel Aviv. The Bayern striker made no mistake with a second-half penalty that spoilt the festive occasion in the Israeli capital where fans chose to celebrate the first Champions League match played in Israel rather than stay home and celebrate the start of the Jewish New Year.
Bayern coach Felix Magath could well be excused for breathing a huge sigh of relief after Wednesday's 1-0 win. The embattled Magath, who watched his players fight hard against the Israeli debutants, said the victory was a stepping stone on which his team could build for the season.
"I'm pleased with the result and hope we can build on this. I wasn't happy with the first half performance as we were very pressured but the inclusion of Sebastian Schweinsteiger in the second half made a big difference and it got us the penalty."
Maccabi coach Nir Klinger said he was very happy with the overall performance of his players, although he was disappointed with the way in which his team had lost the match.
"Bayern were under great pressure when the score was goalless but after we conceded the penalty we lost our intensity," Klinger said. "Our young side played well. I'm proud of them but we should have made it harder for Bayern and we let them off the hook. It was a bad mistake by John (Pantsil) to give away the penalty, it was not typical of his play," he added.
The Maccabi coach said people should not have expected miracles from his team even though Bayern were not on top form. "People thought we'd be playing weak opponents but it was Bayern. We gave them too much respect early on," Klinger said.
Bremen undone by Brazilian's brilliance
German champions Werder Bremen began their quest for European glory on Tuesday night and would have been watching their countrymen's exploits with envy after being steamrollered by a magnificent individual display by Inter Milan striker Adriano in their 2-0 defeat in the San Siro stadium, which left coach Thomas Schaaf wondering how the Brazilian can be stopped after he struck both goals.
Bremen's coach Thomas Schaaf found Adriano unstoppable.
“Inter deserved to win and were always dangerous when Adriano got into a one-on-one situation," Schaaf (photo) told reporters after the game. "He is incredibly strong and it is very difficult to mark him. It is almost impossible to keep him quiet for 90 minutes.”
Werder were forced to play with 10 men from only the fifth minute after French defender Valerien Ismael was sent off for a “professional foul” inside the area on Adriano in the Group G match. Although Christian Vieri missed that spot kick, Adriano was brought down for another penalty which he himself converted in the 34th minute and then the Brazilian blasted home Inter’s second a minute from the end of the game.
“After the sending off it was always going to be difficult for us but I was really pleased with the way the players reacted and stuck at their task,” Schaaf told the post-match news conference.
UEFA Cup gets underway on Thursday
More German teams head into European competition on Thursday with the first round, first leg of the UEFA Cup. Beleaguered, and now coach-less, Schalke 04 entertain FK Metalurgs of Latvia, VfL Bochum take on Standard Liege in Belgium and VfB Stuttgart travel to Hungary to play Ujpesti. Second division Aachen are rewarded for their DFB Cup final appearance at the end of last season with a European clash with Iceland's FH Hafnarfjördur.