With the likes of Neymar, Fernando Llorente and Marquinhos all in line for a first taste of the UEFA Champions League this week, UEFA.com looks back at some debuts to remember in the competition. From hat-trick heroes and fresh-faced prodigies to scorers of remarkable goals, players have built their reputation on their tournament bows – something a host of newcomers will hope to achieve on matchday one.
Tony Watt, Celtic FC 2-1 FC Barcelona (2012/13)
Emotions were running high inside Celtic Park when Tito Vilanova's Barcelona arrived in the group stage, with the Bhoys having celebrated their 125th anniversary the day before. A club whose proud heritage was forged in European competition were given another moment to remember by the 18-year-old Watt. After earning an unlikely first-half lead, Celtic were holding on when the young forward was introduced on 72 minutes, with Barça having struck the woodwork twice. However, just 11 minutes into his competition debut Watt latched onto a long clearance, outsprinted the defence and slotted in to guarantee a famous win for Neil Lennon's side.
Gennaro Bracigliano, FC Internazionale Milano 2-1 Olympique de Marseille (2011/12)
The goalkeeper must have thought his moment in the UEFA Champions League limelight would never arrive, after warming the bench as Steve Mandanda's deputy through OM's run to the round of 16 and this meeting with Inter. It is said good things come to those who wait, though, and Bracigliano waited until the 95th minute of the second leg in Milan to make his bow – but still had enough time to make himself an OM hero. Bracigliano joined the fray when Mandanda was dismissed in conceding a penalty and, though the spot kick was converted, he pulled off a string of outstanding saves in the final mad minute that followed. His heroics ensured his team progressed on away goals and also that he would never be forgotten by the Marseille faithful.
Juan Culio, AS Roma 1-2 CFR 1907 Cluj (2008/09)
Little was known of the Romanian champions when they entered the competition for the first time, and even less was expected. But coach Maurizio Trombetta used their relative anonymity to their advantage as they made the daunting trip to Serie A runners-up Roma – on a night Culio would make his own. Things were going as anticipated when Christian Panucci put the Giallorossi ahead on 17 minutes, yet the Argentinian midfielder turned the contest on its head by fizzing in an equaliser shortly afterwards, before volleying the winner just after the break. The victory proved the high point of the club's campaign as they failed to record another success. Thanks to Culio, however, they will remember fondly their first taste of the UEFA Champions League.
Thomas Müller, FC Bayern München 7-1 Sporting Clube de Portugal (2008/09)
"Bayern have a Müller again," sang the newspaper headline the morning after the 19-year-old capped his club's huge round of 16 victory with a late goal, harking back to Bayern's glory days when the prolific Gerd Müller won three successive European titles. Thomas may never match the weight of goals scored by Gerd, but he could yet surpass his forerunner's trophy haul in the competition. He certainly started with a bang. Though the tie was well and truly over by the time the angular Müller appeared, he showed what was to come by displaying energy in abundance and a striker's instinct to poke home in the 90th minute. That same instinct was seen again in a losing cause in the 2011/12 final, while his tireless workrate was a key component of the victorious 2012/13 campaign.
Roberto Soldado, Real Madrid CF 2-1 Olympiacos FC (2005/06)
Dream debuts do not come much more 'fairy tale' than the Spanish international's. Still to make an appearance in any competition for the team he joined as a 14-year-old, Soldado had watched from the bench as Madrid lost their group-stage opener 3-0 at Olympique Lyonnais, and it seemed the Merengues would remain winless as they were being held at home by the Greek champions. Cue Soldado, who stepped out before a packed Santiago Bernabéu in the 79th minute and four minutes from time connected with a David Beckham cross to head at goal before following in to mop up the rebound. It was the striker's only European goal for Madrid before departing, but one to remember nonetheless.
Karim Benzema, Olympique Lyonnais 2-1 Rosenborg BK (2005/06)
Karim Benzema began life in the UEFA Champions League as he intended to go on, scoring just 33 minutes into his first outing as a 17-year-old. After the forward impressed in helping France win the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in summer 2004, coach Gérard Houllier had taken notice, warning his OL squad: "Mind him, he will unseat you." The youngster proved his boss right, more than making his mark when thrown into Lyon's final Group F game – shooting narrowly wide before rifling into the net. Benzema was denied three more times by Rosenborg keeper Espen Johnsen before being substituted in the 90th minute to a rousing reception – the first of many he would receive at Stade de Gerland.
Wayne Rooney, Manchester United FC 6-2 Fenerbahçe SK (2004/05)
A prodigious talent who had already made his name with Everton FC and then England at UEFA EURO 2004, the 18-year-old Rooney became the world's most expensive teenager when signing for United in September 2004. Yet there was no evidence of any added pressure when he strode out in red for the first time against the Turkish champions, announcing himself to Europe with a stunning hat-trick. The hosts were already one up when the England forward was sent clear to blast his first past Rüştü Reçber, before drilling in another from range and curling in a peach of a free-kick. European football was to see a lot more of Rooney.
Giourkas Seitaridis, Panathinaikos FC 1-1 Manchester United FC (2000/01)
Given his wealth of knowledge and experience on the European scene, it would need something out of the ordinary to surprise Sir Alex Ferguson. Which was exactly what Giourkas Seitaridis provided for Panathinaikos. "Who is this Giourkas?" Sir Alex reportedly asked when seeing the 19-year-old new recruit from PAS Giannina FC on the Greens' team sheet – he would soon find out. On 25 minutes a Goran Vlaović free-kick was cleared to the waiting Seitaridis who controlled before driving past Fabien Barthez from 25 metres, causing the OAKA Spiros Louis Stadium to erupt. Paul Scholes would rescue a draw for the 1998/99 champions, though nothing could overshadow Seitaridis's exploits.
Faustino Asprilla, Newcastle United 3-2 FC Barcelona (1997/98)
The opposition did not come any bigger for Newcastle on their UEFA Champions League bow, but a majestic performance from maverick forward Asprilla gave them a night to remember. Despite lifting the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and UEFA Cup with Parma FC, the Colombian had never graced the UEFA Champions League before – yet he arrived in style with a glorious hat-trick. After rifling Kenny Daglish's men in front from the penalty spot (winning the spot kick himself), Asprilla thumped two headers past Ruud Hesp to put Newcastle 3-0 up within 49 minutes. While Barcelona pulled two back, nothing could steal Asprilla's thunder on a memorable night inside St James' Park.
Bernd Hobsch, SV Werder Bremen 5-2 FC Dinamo Minsk (1993/94)
It was a rapid rise from the German second tier to the UEFA Champions League for the forward, though he seemingly made the transition without breaking sweat. After his 15 goals for second-division VfB Leipzig in 1992/93 earned a transfer to Bremen, a further seven strikes helped his new side lift the Bundesliga title – bringing with it UEFA Champions League football. Just 26 minutes into his debut he opened the scoring against the Belarusian visitors, notching a second six minutes later. The striker then set up Wynton Rufer before sealing his hat-trick on the hour. If Bremen failed to get past the group stage, Hobsch added two more that campaign, his feats earning a first and only Germany cap later that season.
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