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Champions League Recap: Real Rampant While Liverpool Leave It Late

Champions League trophyReal Madrid opened the defence of their Champions League title with a 5-1 mauling of Basel in Group B at the Santiago Bernabeu. Nearly four months on from securing La Decima in Lisbon, the record winners showed glimpses of their brilliant best and, after an own-goal from Marek Suchy got the ball rolling, Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodrguez all found the target in seven first-half minutes. Derlis Gonzalez grabbed one back for Basle but Karim Benzema completed the scoring with ten minutes remaining.

It was almost just like the old days at Anfield as Steven Gerrard scored an added-time winner to get Liverpool’s return to European competition off to a winning start. The Reds captain, so influential on European nights of the past, stroked home a very late spot-kick to give his team a 2-1 win over spirited Ludogorets.

It usually takes something special to upstage Mario Balotelli, who scored the first goal for the club since his £16m summer transfer from AC Milan, but the Bulgarian minnows almost achieved it when substitute Dani Abalo rolled in a 90th-minute equaliser. However, when Javier Manquillo was brought down by goalkeeper Milan Borjan, only signed at the weekend because of suspension and injury to Ludogorets’ first two choices, Gerrard assumed the role for which he has become synonymous.

Italian striker Ciro Immobile scored his first goal for Borussia Dortmund as the German side produced a dominant performance to outclass Arsenal 2-0 in Group D. Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added another early in the second half to help Dortmund to a fully deserved 2-0 win.

Elsewhere in Group D, Galatasaray striker Burak Yilmaz netted a stoppage-time equaliser to deny Anderlecht a first away Champions League win for nine years in a 1-1 draw in Istanbul.

Anderlecht, who have finished bottom in all seven group stage campaigns since they reached the last 16 in 2000/01 – looked to be on course for a hard-earned victory after taking the lead early in the second half through Dennis Praet.

Galatasaray, now under the guidance of former Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, rew stronger during the closing stages and were eventually rewarded when Yilmaz crashed home following a powerful run by Aurelien Chedjou to earn the hosts a share of the points.

The big upset of the night was in Greece where Olympiacos got their campaign off to a winning start as they recorded a 3-2 victory over last season’s finalists Atletico Madrid in the Group A clash. Arthur Masuaku opened the scoring for the hosts and Ibrahim Afellay doubled their lead after 31 minutes before Mario Mandzukic pulled one back for Madrid before half-time. Konstantinos Mitroglou made it 3-1 midway through the second half before Antoine Griezmann struck right at the end for Diego Simeone’s side.

Juventus forward Carlos Tevez ended his Champions League goal drought with both goals in the 2-0 defeat of Malmo. The Italian champions had struggled to make an impact until Tevez ended a 14-match wait for a Champions League goal with his eye-catching strike just before the hour mark in this Group A opener. Tevez then made sure of the victory in the 89th minute, curling home a fantastic free-kick from just outside the penalty area.

Zenit St. Petersburg made the ideal start as two first-half goals set them on their way to a comfortable victory at ten-man Benfica. Hulk opened the scoring as early as the fifth minute and the home side’s hopes of getting back into the contest appeared remote when goalkeeper Artur was dismissed for a professional foul.

Former Benfica midfielder Axel Witsel then doubled Zenit’s lead midway through the half and although the Russian side could not add further misery to their opponents, they ensured they began Group C with an important away victory.

Joao Moutinho’s second-half goal ensured Monaco’s return to the Champions League after a ten-year absence ended in victory against Bayer Leverkusen at the Stade Louis II. Monaco, back in the group stages for the first time since the 2004/05 season, were second best for much of the contest but Moutinho’s 61st-minute goal settled the match after Leverkusen had wasted a number of chances to take the lead.

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