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Seville wins Champions League opener

Sevilla tops Group G after Matchday 1 with a hard-working 2-0 victory over Romanian UEFA Champions League debutants Unirea Urziceni.

The Spanish club ultimately had to rely on Brazilian flair to find a way through a resistant Unirea side as Luis Fabiano, with a fine drive in first-half stoppage time, and then Renato, via a 70th-minute goalmouth header, assured their team of the three points. For Unirea coach Dan Petrescu there was the satisfaction that his charges’ intense effort had made them tough to beat, but no points and a burden of four bookings.

The initial pattern may have been as predictable as it was frustrating for the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán crowd. Unirea left only Marius Ioan Bilasco up front and often the striker, joint-top scorer in their championship-winning season, dropped deep to make a six-man midfield. However, Sevilla coach Manuel Jiménez had anticipated the type of task his team faced and both wingers, Jesús Navas and Diego Capel, pushed so far up that the hosts often probed in a 4-2-4 formation. Despite Dan Petrescu’s side working with first-class organisation and athleticism, as well as collecting three cautions for foul play, Sevilla began to exert control. Sorin Frunză conceded possession in midfield, enabling Renato to surge forward and hit a fine shot which Ersin Mehmedović deflected wide.

Capel was having a particularly energetic night down the left and his incisive crosses allowed Frédéric Kanouté and Fabiano to impose themselves. Tiberiu Bălan let the pressure get to him and fouled Fabiano. Sevilla’s in-form No10 cracked a 25-metre free-kick towards Giedrius Arlauskis’s top right-hand corner but the Lithuanian international goalkeeper excelled himself in tipping it over. Two tremendous blocks by overworked centre-half George Galamaz, from Kanouté on the half-hour and then Fabiano, also prevented Unirea from being blown away.

The deadlock lasted until moments before the interval when Brazilian international Fabiano added to his weekend double against Real Zaragoza. If Renato’s run down the left dragged Unirea defenders with him, his ensuing cut-back to the edge of the box paid even greater dividends as Fabiano swept the ball clinically past Arlauskis. After the break Sevilla upped the tempo and Capel wasted a Fabiano assist, blasting high over, before Galamaz was booked for a crude challenge on the flying left-footer.

Capel departed the scene soon after, being replaced by Diego Perotti, and Kanouté followed as Álvaro Negredo made his UEFA Champions League debut for his new club. Jiménez’s attempts to force the pace and tie up a tense game nearly came to quick fruition when former Real Madrid CF striker Negredo tested Arlauskis. The No1, though, earned some luck as the ball ballooned up from his save and dipped just past the goal frame. Even so, the substitutions finally worked as Perotti delivered a corner which Fabiano nodded on and Renato headed in to calm nerves.