From record-breaking goals to eye-catching upsets, the first three rounds of UEFA Champions League group stage fixtures have thrown up intrigue aplenty. UEFA.com takes stock at the halfway mark.
It took just 25 seconds for the 2011/12 edition to burst into life. AC Milan forward Pato was the man who set the ball rolling, bursting through the FC Barcelona defence before calmly slotting under goalkeeper Víctor Valdés. Such poise marked not only a fine inauguration for the new season, but also two notable milestones: the fifth fastest effort in the competition's history and the first time the defending champions had conceded the opening goal of the following campaign.
Ryan Giggs is a man for whom the word evergreen barely does justice. Already the oldest scorer in UEFA Champions League history at the start of the season, the Manchester United FC midfielder extended his record with the equaliser against SL Benfica on matchday one. At the ripe old age of 37 years and 289 days, the Welshman's thunderous strike also made him the first player to score in 16 separate UEFA Champions League campaigns.
Not among the more fancied sides in the group stage, PFC CSKA Moskva have nevertheless climbed steadily to second in Group B thanks, largely, to the goals of striker Seydou Doumbia. Two in the Premier-Liga team's opener earned a 2-2 draw at LOSC Lille Métropole, with another double last week helping Leonid Slutski's men win 3-0 against Trabzonspor AŞ. Doumbia heads the scoring charts having become the seventh player in the UEFA Champions League to register at least four times in the first three games.
That triumph over Trabzonspor was CSKA's biggest UEFA Champions League victory. They were forced to share the matchday three limelight with Chelsea FC, however, with the Premier League outfit defeating KRC Genk 5-0 to equal their largest winning margin in the UEFA Champions League.
While it is hardly surprising to see the likes of FC Internazionale Milano, Real Madrid CF and Milan leading their sections, the sight of APOEL FC atop Group G does come as something of a shock. Participating in Europe's premier club competition for only the second time, having emerged from the second qualifying round, the Cypriot champions have negotiated their opening three fixtures undefeated.
It has been a case of contrasting fortunes for the five group stage debutants. Trabzonspor made a spectacular start by beating 2010 winners Inter but have since picked up a solitary point to sit third in Group B. SSC Napoli, meanwhile, are second in Group A, a point clear of fellow newcomers Manchester City FC, having drawn 1-1 away to last season's FA Cup winners. FC Viktoria Plzeň, pitted alongside Milan and Barcelona no less, have just a point; FC Oţelul Galaţi are yet to get off the mark.
Second behind nine-goal Barça in the scoring stakes, Madrid have been even more impressive at the back. José Mourinho has once more fashioned an unyielding defence which remains the only one still to be breached in the group stage – a feat never achieved across all six fixtures. Lesser lights Genk and GNK Dinamo Zagreb, meanwhile, are on course to match a more unwanted record, having not yet found the target – something only two teams have failed to do in a group stage.
In scintillating domestic form, Wayne Rooney became the first player to hit nine goals in the opening five games of the season in the Premier League era. He went on to reach a significant European landmark on matchday three, with the first of his two penalties against Oţelul taking him to 25 UEFA Champions League efforts – more than any other English player has achieved in the competition.
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