Breaking News

Clásico comes just in time for Madrid

With FC Barcelona preparing to host Real Madrid CF in Sunday's clásico, Graham Hunter and Paul Bryan share their thoughts on how the two great rivals are shaping up for the contest.

View from Barcelona: Graham Hunter
This is one of the occasions which, specifically, helped Tito Vilanova to be hired for the FC Barcelona job. An alumnus of the Camp Nou talent school, he has been living this clásico fixture for the better part of his life – as a fan, a junior player on the Barça books and then as assistant to Josep Guardiola while the club ran up a series of famous victories against Real Madrid CF.

A contest which can draw the breath from your body, send the adrenalin thundering through the veins and induce erratic behavior will hold no tremors for Vilanova.

Naturally, a great deal of the Camp Nou focus will be on Carles Puyol's unavailability, the possibility that Gerard Piqué’s ankle will not allow him to return in time and the fact that Andrés Iniesta, too, is just back after an enforced absence.

However, over the years during which they have been close friends, Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas has consistently said that if he were allowed to pluck a single player out of the Barça side before a clásico, it would always be Xavi Hernández. The midfield maestro has been on top form this season, loves rising to the occasion and will be the nerve centre of the home side's performance if they are to win and establish a daunting 11-point gap in early October. If the champions can smother his creativity, then perhaps they can register a second consecutive Liga win at the CampNou.

View from Madrid: Paul Bryan
For a very brief period at the end of August, José Mourinho must have radiated with satisfaction as he watched Madrid stun Barcelona with a ferocious attacking display that at first sight seemed to signal a regime change at the top of Spanish football.

Thrown a lifeline at the end of their Spanish Super Cup first-leg defeat away to the Blaugrana, the Liga champions roared back at the opening of the return. They took a 2-0 lead and looked as hungry as their opponents had that famous night at the Camp Nou two years ago when Mourinho suffered his most chastening experience as a coach.

Yet where Barcelona were relentless in chalking up a 5-0 win in November 2010, the Merengues – despite winning the Supercopa – sunk into a shell that left their coach frustrated. Winning a 32nd Liga title in May with record hauls of 100 points and 121 goals was supposed to be just the beginning. Incredibly, though, Spain's most successful club find themselves already trailing their rivals by eight points after just six games this term.

Confidence is steadily growing again thanks to a four-match winning run, but the general consensus is that any successful title defence requires the champions to extend that sequence to five.


Clásico stats
Wins: Barcelona – 87, Madrid – 88, draws – 46
Most appearances: Xavi Hernández (34, Barcelona), Raúl González (37, Madrid)
Top scorers: Lionel Messi (15, Barcelona), Alfredo Di Stéfano (18, Madrid)

Last ten meetings
Madrid 2-1 Barcelona (Spanish Super Cup)
Barcelona 3-2 Madrid (Spanish Super Cup)
Barcelona 1-2 Madrid (Spanish Liga)
Barcelona 2-2 Madrid (Copa del Rey)
Madrid 1-2 Barcelona (Copa del Rey)
Madrid 1-3 Barcelona (Spanish Liga)
Barcelona 3-2 Madrid (Spanish Super Cup)
Madrid 2-2 Barcelona (Spanish Super Cup)
Barcelona 1-1 Madrid (UEFA Champions League)
Madrid 0-2 Barcelona (UEFA Champions League)

BATE, Barcelona, United perfect, Celtic smile

After beating FC Bayern München 3-1, FC BATE Borisov have six points like FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC, while Celtic FC ended their 21-game wait for a group stage away win.

FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC both picked up second UEFA Champions League group stage wins on Tuesday – as did FC BATE Borisov.

Having won 3-1 at LOSC Lille a fortnight ago to secure their first group victory in 13 attempts, BATE brilliantly followed up by defeating FC Bayern München 3-1 in Minsk. That leaves them three points clear in Group F of both Bayern and BATE's next opponents Valencia CF, who overcame LOSC 2-0.

United also hold an early three-point lead in Group H but had to come from behind to prevail 2-1 at CFR 1907 Cluj courtesy of two Robin van Persie goals. Joining CFR on three points are SC Braga, who prevailed 2-0 at Galatasaray AŞ in the first UEFA Champions League game at the Turkish side's new stadium.

Also welcoming this competition for the first time was the Juventus Stadium, and the away side also acquitted themselves well there, with FC Shakhtar Donetsk drawing 1-1. Level on four points with Shakhtar at the Group E summit are holders Chelsea FC, comfortable 4-0 victors at FC Nordsjælland in Copenhagen, the debutants' second group defeat.

Barcelona may have had Sergio Busquets sent off and Carles Puyol injured yet they still triumphed 2-0 at SL Benfica and have maximum Group G points. Two behind them in second place are Celtic FC, who ended their 21-game wait for a group stage away victory with a dramatic 3-2 success at ten-man FC Spartak Moskva, thanks to Giorgos Samaras's 90th-minute header. Unusually, there were five away wins in tonight's eight fixtures.

Juventus forced to share spoils with Shakhtar

The Bianconeri failed to win the first European match at their new home as Alex Teixeira's opener earned the visitors a Group E point.

FC Shakhtar Donetsk were unfortunate not to leave Turin with three points as the first European match at the Juventus Stadium finished 1-1.

Having overturned a 2-0 deficit to earn a draw at Chelsea FC on matchday one, Juventus fell behind again on 23 minutes when Alex Teixeira gave Shakhtar a deserved lead. The Bianconeri levelled within two minutes, Leonardo Bonucci finishing superbly, but were hanging on late in the game as Shakhtar joined Chelsea – 4-0 winners at FC Nordsjælland – on four points at the Group E summit.

Shakhtar were anything but intimidated in the early stages and went close to the breakthrough in the sixth minute when a clever back-heel by Willian allowed Răzvan Raţ to charge clear on the left. The Romanian international found Henrik Mkhitaryan at the far post with a low cross yet the in-form Armenia forward sent his shot over with just Gianluigi Buffon to beat.

It was the team in orange who were shining brightest, Alex Teixeira giving a glimpse of what was to come by dribbling past four Juventus defenders as if they were cones lined up for a training exercise. Andrea Pirlo responded by slipping Claudio Marchisio in behind the Shakthar defence with a wonderful pass, but the midfielder fired over.

The first UEFA Champions League goal at the Juventus Stadium went to the visitors from Ukraine midway through the half, the lively Willian teeing up Alex Teixeira, who found the roof of the net with a right-footed shot.

The Italian champions replied from the first meaningful attack after the goal as centre-back Bonucci connected with Pirlo's corner and drove the ball just over the head of Raţ, stationed on the near post. Moments before the interval, Bonucci went close to scoring his second in almost identical fashion. This time goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov repelled the danger with his feet.

As the hour approached both sides had opportunities. A Willian shot whistled narrowly past Buffon's left post after a counterattack orchestrated by Yaroslav Rakitskiy and Mkhitaryan, while Alessandro Matri could not turn in a pass from substitute Sebastian Giovinco at close range.

Shakhtar continued to have the better of the play. Srna forced Buffon into a difficult save with a well-taken free-kick before the Italy No1 looked relieved to see Mkhitaryan's shot flash wide. Mircea Lucescu's side continued to work chances until the end, including a Willian effort which hit the bar in added time.

Resolute Braga leave Galatasaray frustrated

Alan confirmed victory for José Peseiro's side in added time after the hosts had penned the Portuguese team back for long periods.

SC Braga responded to defeat on UEFA Champions League matchday one with victory at Galatasaray AŞ, courtesy of goals from Rúben Micael and Alan.

Rúben Micael's 27th-minute strike and Alan's simple finish in added time got the Portuguese side off the mark in Group H, with the Arsenalistas standing firm in the face of prolonged second-half pressure from the Turkish league leaders. Bottom of the section after their second loss, Galatasaray have it all to do ahead of the visit of CFR 1907 Cluj in three weeks. 

A stunning display of choreography behind each goal of the Ali Sami Yen Spor Kompleksi greeted the Galatasaray players as they walked out for the club's first home fixture in this competition since December 2006. Braga had registered 35 efforts on goal in their 2-0 defeat by CFR, more than any other team on matchday one, and they immediately picked up from where they left off as Custódio glanced a free header wide.

That proved to be the exception rather than the rule early on, though, as Cimbom penned their opponents back, Emre Çolak forcing Beto into a low save and Burak Yılmaz clearing the crossbar with a free-kick before heading over the lively Emre's left-wing delivery.

With the exception of Custódio’s header, little had been seen of the visitors as an attacking force until lone striker Éder took it upon himself to bludgeon his way through the Galatasaray defence. With Ruben Amorim quickly making up ground, Éder found his team-mate, whose shot was beaten out by Fernando Muslera into the path of Rúben Micael for a tap-in.

Emboldened by the goal, Braga might have put the result beyond doubt before half-time had it not been for Muslera. The Uruguay goalkeeper bravely thwarted Éder after Dany Nounkeu had failed to cut out Amorim's cross-shot, and then dived to his left to push away Paulo Vinícius's header from the ensuing corner.

With Fatih Terim's team talk still resonating, the hosts started the second period in much the same way they did the first – on the front foot. Burak Yılmaz elicited a smart stop from Beto on the hour and Emre continued to deliver a steady stream of crosses into the penalty area, each centre being met by a Braga head. When one was not intercepted, Beto was well placed to collect Burak's attempt.

Still the assault continued, Umut Bulut the next to threaten when, with his back to goal, he glanced substitute Aydın Yılmaz's chip over the bar. Galatasaray's feeling that it was not going to be their night was heightened further when Beto expertly tipped Aydın's thunderous shot onto the woodwork. Alan, sweeping in Éder's pass, made sure there would be no comeback. 

Red card, penalty undid Sepahan

Jeddah: Sepahan coach Zlatko Kranjcar believes that his side were very much in their quarter-final second leg match against Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia until the dismissal of goalkeeper Reza Mohammadi and the resulting penalty converted by Victor Simoes which saw his side collapse to a 4-1 defeat.

With the tie in the balance after a goalless draw in the first leg in Esfahan, Mohammadi conceded a penalty and received a red card for a foul on Taisir Al Jassim in the 27thminute.

Simoes converted and Amad Al Hosni went on to score twice as Al Ahli ran out convincing winners to set up a semi-final clash against Jeddah rival Al Ittihad.

It marked the second straight year that Iranian league champions Sepahan had gone out in the last eight and Kranjcar felt that the key moment was the penalty incident.

"In the first 30 minutes of the match we had three good chances to score and if we had scored from any of those chances it would have been a different result. But we couldn't score and we paid the price," said the Croatian.

"The penalty and the red card changed the game for us and our performance dropped in the second period as we were playing with 10 men and we had only one man up front. Therefore, Al Ahli converted their chances unlike us."

"In the pre-match press conference I said that the match will be very hard for us and it was indeed hard as Al Ahli put on a good performance and they showed great capabilities."