Sporting Clube de Portugal made a glorious return to UEFA Champions League action on Matchday 1 with a merited 1-0 victory over FC Internazionale Milano thanks to Marco Caneira's stunning second-half volley.
The defender capped a stirring performance by scoring the first goal in four meetings between these sides at the José Alvalade stadium. Against the Serie A giants, Sporting won the midfield battle and ended up superior in numbers too after Patrick Vieira's 68th-minute red card.
Although Inter never appeared totally ruffled, the first half did provide evidence that Sporting coach Paulo Bento had done his homework and that his players understood their task. And if the play occasionally broke up into shows of frustration, the hosts displayed the necessary hunger, tempo and confidence throughout. That meant that until the last five minutes, when Adriano had a firm shot and a header on target, the visitors could not settle to any kind of passing game.
From the first moments, when Liedson cheekily flicked the ball between Maicon's legs, home spirits soared. For half an hour there was a bombardment of Francesco Toldo's penalty box. Indeed, only an exquisite sliding tackle from Walter Samuel in the seventh minute prevented Sporting taking a deserved lead. Inter's Argentinian defender made contact with the ball in the area to curtail the powerful run of Yannick Djaló, after which the back spin forced the ball to roll, accidentally, against his hand. The home crowd roared for a penalty, but referee Alain Hamer, who had kept pace with the play, was perfectly placed to deny them.
End to end
The intense nature of the contest was marked by a spate of bookings - for Liedson, Iván Córdoba, João Moutinho and Toldo – but the quality of the football never let up. One sweeping movement pushed Sporting from deep in their half to the Inter goalmouth: Miguel Veloso picking up possession and releasing Leandro Romagnoli to play a one-two with Moutinho before bursting into a 50/50 challenge with Toldo which the goalkeeper won. Adriano might then have scored when he cut inside his fellow Brazilian international Anderson Polga and let fly with his left foot, yet, fittingly, the half ended with Sporting testing Toldo via Nani's fizzing low drive.
After the restart, Inter began to feed the ball more consistently to Adriano and managed to gain more of a foothold in the match, yet the advantage still went to the home side – and in spectacular fashion. Sporting had threatened the breakthrough when Nani, Liedson and Djaló combined from a starting position on the left touchline, in a move that ended with the third-mentioned player curling an effort just past Toldo's right-hand post.
They got it three minutes later when Marco Caneira, the overlapping right-back, chested down a 60-metre pass from Tonel and pushed his way past Maicon before crashing a volley over Toldo, whose fingertip only touched the ball higher into the net. Disaster subsequently followed misfortune for the Nerazzurri as Patrick Vieira mistimed a jump for a header, crashed into substitute Alecsandro and was sent off for his second yellow card.