VfL Wolfsburg enjoyed a UEFA Champions League debut to remember as a Grafite hat-trick gave the Bundesliga titleholders an impressive victory against PFC CSKA Moskva.
The Brazilian received a deserved standing ovation on his 89th-minute exit from the VfL Wolfsburg Arena after a clinical display against the Russian visitors, whose ambitions of a positive start to Group B were badly dented by two Grafite goals in six minutes late in the first half. The bustling forward then completed his hat-trick – and Wolfsburg's win – three minutes from time to end the hopes of a CSKA side for whom Alan Dzagoev's 76th-minute goal was the silver lining on a cloudy evening in Germany.
Wolfsburg coach Armin Veh had urged his side not to play in awe of their opponents or the occasion, and he would have been heartened by a determined opening. The home team were presented with an early sight of goal when Sergey Ignashevich slipped on the edge of the area, but Christian Gentner's well-struck shot found only the legs of Igor Akinfeev before the Wolfsburg midfielder blasted the follow-up into the bank of home fans behind the goal. With the tireless Josué underpinning Wolfsburg, there was little sign of the fragility that had led them to concede ten goals in their last three league games, and CSKA were rarely seen as an attacking force.
However, despite being in charge for only five days, Juande Ramos has already instilled a prodigious work ethic in his men, which meant Wolfsburg's attacking trio of Edin Džeko, Obafemi Martins and Grafite – starting together for the first time – were stifled for long periods. However, in Zvjezdan Misimović, Wolfsburg have a player with tremendous vision, as the Bosnia-Herzegovina international demonstrated to devastating effect nine minutes from the break. Grafite raced on to a perfectly-weighted pass and beat Akinfeev with the confidence borne of being last season's Bundesliga top scorer.
Two for Grafite
If the opening goal was the fruit of an instant of inspiration, then Wolfsburg's second soon after was the consequence of a moment of madness. With Akinfeev poised to collect Martins's lofted cross, Deividas Šemberas needlessly tugged Grafite's shirt. The Brazilian striker rose from the turf to dispatch the resulting spot-kick with unerring aplomb.
CSKA emerged from the break in more enterprising mood, but for all their endeavour failed to force Wolfsburg goalkeeper Diego Benaglio into a significant save with lone striker Guilherme finding imposing home centre-backs Andrea Barzagli and Alexander Madlung immovable objects. Only once did the duo falter, and both Dzagoev and substitute Nika Piliev came desperately close to turning in Miloš Krasić's teasing cross, before Dzagoev found space to direct a header narrowly wide.
The visitors got the reward their improved showing deserved when a delightful reverse pass from Guilherme released Dzagoev and the midfielder convincingly beat Benaglio. With the visitors searching for an equaliser Wolfsburg also had their chances as the game opened up in the closing stages, only a fingertip save from Akinfeev denying Misimović before Grafite beat the Russian international again to complete a memorable evening for the UEFA Champions League newcomers.