CL PIX: Real Madrid crush Ajax; Arsenal labour to win
A rampant Cristiano Ronaldo scored his second hat-trick in four days and Karim Benzema netted a spectacular overhead kick to fire Real Madrid to a crushing 4-1 win at Ajax Amsterdam in Champions League Group D on Wednesday.
Chasing a 10th European title that has eluded them since 2002, Jose Mourinho's side opened a 2-0 lead against a disappointing Ajax with a goal either side of the break but gave the Dutch champions hope with some sloppy defending before Ronaldo struck twice in two minutes late on to kill the game.
It was the Portuguese forward's first Champions League treble and lifted him to 42 goals in 82 matches in Europe's elite club competition.
With Sunday's La Liga Clasico at Barcelona looming, it also gave him the edge in his personal scoring duel with Barca's equally prolific forward Lionel Messi.
Ronaldo, the last player to be named World Player of the Year before Messi won the last three awards, has 12 in all competitions compared with 10 for the Argentine.
"It was a very complete game on our part and it's very important for the next match to boost confidence," Ronaldo said in an interview with Spanish television.
"Scoring three goals is important for me and I am very happy," he added, clutching another match ball to add to his growing collection. Ronaldo also netted a hat-trick in La Liga against Deportivo Coruna on Sunday.
"These collections are always very important for me but the most important thing is the team," he said.
The victory consolidated Real's lead at the top of Group D with six points from two matches.
Borussia Dortmund, whom Real visit on October 24, have four points after Wednesday's 1-1 draw at Manchester City, with City on one point in third and Ajax on zero in fourth.Mourinho sprung several surprises in his starting lineup at the Amsterdam arena, deploying little-used Brazil playmaker Kaka instead of Mesut Ozil and Luka Modric.
Image: Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (right) and Karim Benzema celebrate a goal during their Champions League match against Ajax Amsterdam on Wednesday
Photographs: Robin van Lonkhuijsen/United Photos/Reuters
'Six points gives us a bit of calm'
In only his second appearance this season, Kaka tormented the home defence, linking up well with Ronaldo and Benzema.
Real dominated the first period but wasted a host of chances before Ronaldo pounced on a loose ball to score from close range in the 42nd minute.
A toothless and sloppy Ajax, coached by former Netherlands international Frank De Boer, looked a shadow of the side that has won four European titles and hardly threatened Casillas's goal before the break.
Real doubled their lead thanks to Benzema's stunner three minutes into the second period.
Kaka floated an inviting cross from the right and the France striker leaped acrobatically to send a crashing volley past Ajax goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer.
Real's vulnerability at set pieces gave Ajax a lifeline in the 56th minute when Niklas Moisander stole in at the far post at a corner and nodded under Iker Casillas.
However, Ronaldo then curled in his second and Real's third from distance in the 79th minute and clipped a delightful shot over Vermeer to make it 4-1 in the 81st.
"We lost control of the game a bit when Ajax scored and the match became a little dangerous but after the third goal we started to dominate again," Mourinho told Spanish TV.
"The team won and is fulfilling its objectives in a group which is no joke and if you drop points you'll be in trouble," added the Portuguese.
"Six points gives us a bit of calm, not complete calm but a bit of calm."
De Boer said he was "very disappointed" with his players in the first half and admitted they did not deserve a point despite having come close to levelling at 2-2 when substitute Daniel Hoesen blasted over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
"You have to display you own philosophy but if you fail to pass the ball from A to B you can't beat Madrid and also you can't give them a hard time," De Boer said.
"There was space for us to play our game but we failed to find it," added De Boer, who played at Barca when Mourinho was an assistant there in 1999-2000.Real and Ajax were meeting in the group stage for the third successive season, with the Spaniards winning home and away in 2010 and 2011.
Image: Ricardo Van Rhijn of Ajax and Marcelo of Real battle for the ball during their Champions League match on Wednesday
Photographs: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Arsenal stagger to win over Olympiakos
A third Champions League group stage home win over Greek club Olympiakos in four seasons looked routine for Arsenal in the final reckoning but they were given a fright before grafting to a 3-1 victory on Wednesday.
Goals from Gervinho, Lukas Podolski and a stoppage time effort from substitute Aaron Ramsey put a glossy sheen on a performance that for 45 minutes would have had banished coach Arsene Wenger gnashing his teeth in the stands.
The two clubs have become regular rivals in the competition in recent years, with Arsenal comfortable at home and Olympiakos enjoying superiority on home soil.
That symmetry looked about to change in Group B on Wednesday, however, as a strangely subdued Arsenal offered the Greeks every encouragement to put to bed the reputation that they are poor travellers in Europe.
When Kostas Mitroglou sent a graceful header past Vito Mannone to give Olympiakos a deserved equaliser on the strike of halftime the vociferous visiting fans even dared to dream that their side would go on and win in England for the first time.
Podolski's 56th-minute effort, his second Champions League goal for Arsenal after he scored in the 2-1 victory in Montpellier two weeks ago, changed all that, knocking the stuffing out of the Greeks who reverted to their role of obliging guests whose record away to English opposition now reads played 11, lost 11.
Arsenal, without really hitting the heights in their opening two games, now have a maximum six points to top the group, while Olympiakos must recover from two defeats if they are to reach the last 16 for only the third time in 11 attempts.
"They made it really tough for us and defended really well," Steve Bould, standing in for Wenger who is serving a three-game UEFA touchline ban," said of a performance that epitomised the football cliche 'a win is a win'.
"We started off not bad, but then looked nervous. The result from the weekend drained us a little, we lost a little bit of confidence, but overall it is a fantastic result.""The other game (in the group) was a draw but it's early days, we've still got an awful lot of work to do," assistant manager Bould added.
Image: Arsenal's Lukas Podolski (left) celebrates after scoring against Olympiakos Piraeus during their Champions League match on Wednesday
Photographs: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
Machado threatened Arsenal's defence once too often
The victory margin disguised a patchy performance from Arsenal and Wenger's call for a quick response from the loss to Chelsea the previous weekend, his team's first of the season, appeared to have gone unheeded by the players as they were outshone by a creative Olympiakos side in the first half.
Quicker to the ball and more imaginative in possession, the Greek club grew in confidence with Portuguese Paulo Machado at the heart of their best moments.
He served notice of his ability to deliver dangerous balls into the area after 30 minutes when he cut back an inviting pass for the hard-working Mitroglou whose first time shot lacked the power to beat the diving Mannone.
Former Malaga playmaker Santi Cazorla was Arsenal's main threat, the Spaniard forcing a fingertip save from Balazs Megyeri with a wickedly curling free kick, but there was precious little else to excite a home crowd enjoying a 15th successive season in the competition.
Arsenal were guilty of squandering possession on the rain-soaked Emirates carpet and Olympiakos should have gone ahead when Machado lofted a half-volley over the bar from a superb cross from skipper Giannis Maniatis.
That miss was punished in the 42nd minute when Podolski whipped a low cross into the area and when the ball broke to the in-form Gervinho the Ivorian sent a skidding shot beyond the reach of Megyeri.
Olympiakos's response was decisive though and three minutes later Leandro Greco whipped in a cross from the left flank that was met with a textbook glancing header by Mitroglou, the ball flashing into the net past Mannone.
Wenger, who will also be barred from the dugout in the first of back-to-back games against Schalke, would have been far happier with the second-half performance.
The hosts were far more energetic and Podolski settled the nerves after 56 minutes when Olympiakos found themselves hemmed into their own area and Gervinho's cross was neatly dispatched by the German goal-poacher.
Olympiakos only offered a sporadic threat after that and Arsenal could have built on their lead before Ramsey's delicate late dink after coming on for Podolski wrapped it up.
Image: Arsenal goalkeeper Vito Mannone (left) dives as Olympiakos Piraeus' Kostas Mitroglou (not pictured) scores during their Champions League match on Wednesday
Photographs: Eddie Keogh /Reuters
Balotelli saves Man City the blushes against Dortmund
Manchester City were given a lesson in high-tempo football by Borussia Dortmund but a brilliant goalkeeping display by Joe Hart and a last-minute penalty from Mario Balotelli salvaged a 1-1 draw in Champions League Group B on Wednesday.
Balotelli converted a 90th-minute spot kick to earn City a lifeline in the competition against an impressive Dortmund side who dominated for large periods and were only prevented from winning the match comfortably by the brilliance of Hart.
The England keeper was beaten in the second-half by Marco Reus but produced a string of top-draw saves that kept Dortmund from scoring a few goals that would have rendered Balotelli's late penalty little more than a consolation.
As it was, the Italian placed the ball on the spot following a handball from defender Neven Subotic and, despite the best efforts of Dortmund keeper Roman Weidenfeller to put him off, stuttered in his run up and stroked the ball low into the net.
Had City lost they would have been pointless from the opening two games and facing a mountain to climb to qualify for the knock-out round.
"We didn't play well. We didn't deserve to take this point but in the end it could be important," City manager Roberto Mancini told Sky Sports.
"Borussia Dortmund played better than us and at this moment they are a better side. We need to run and fight for every ball.
"It's not enough to have just a good quality. I knew before the game it was going to be difficult as Dortmund have more experience in the Champions League than us."
Image: Roman Weidenfeller of Borussia Dortmund and his teammates protest to referee Pavel Kralovec after he awarded a penalty to Manchester City as Balotelli gestures during their Champions League match on Wednesday
Photographs: Stu Forster/Getty Images
'This point could be important'
"I think that Joe Hart saved us because he did very, very well. I know the problem and I will solve it very quickly. If we don't improve it will be difficult (to qualify) but this point could be important."
A pulsating first half stayed goalless thanks to a string of brilliant saves at both ends.
Dortmund's Weidenfeller was called into action after just 30 seconds to palm away a shot from Samir Nasri and superbly blocked twice from Sergio Aguero when the Argentine was through on goal.
It was Hart, however, who was the busier of the two.
He twice pushed Mario Goetze shots against the woodwork and stood up tall to snuff out the German playmaker when he found himself through on goal after neat interplay around the box.
David Silva somehow volleyed over from two metres at the end of the first half, but after the break it was all Dortmund, who set about City with stylish verve.
The visitors duly broke the deadlock when Reus pounced on a poor cross-field pass from City substitute Jack Rodwell to race clear and finish past Hart on 61 minutes.
It was then down to the England number one to keep his team in the match as he single-handedly kept out everything Dortmund threw at him.
The visitors' cause was not helped when striker Robert Lewandowski shot wide from close range and having passed up several opportunities to put the game out of sight, there was an inevitability about City's leveller when it arrived.
Sergio Aguero struck the ball against the arm of Subotic, referee Pavel Kralovec pointed to the spot and Balotelli, a late substitute, calmly stroked the ball low into the net.
"We've got to be happy with a point," Hart said.
"It could have been 10-all today.
"Mario was not going to miss that. I don't know if it was a penalty. We kept ourselves alive in the group. I thought Borussia Dortmund were a different class tonight."Dortmund are second on four points, two behind leaders Real Madrid, while City are third, one point above bottom side Ajax Amsterdam.
Image: Borussia Dortmund's Marco Reus celebrates after scoring against Manchester City during their Champions League match on Wednesday
Photographs: Phil Noble/Reuters
Depleted Montpellier snatch late draw at Schalke
Souleymane Camara scored a 90th-minute equaliser to snatch a 2-2 draw for 10-man Montpellier at Schalke 04 in their Champions League Group B match on Wednesday and take the French side's first point in the competition.
Camara made the most of poor Schalke defending to score in the final minute and punish the hosts, who had only themselves to blame for not scoring a third goal from a handful of chances.
"We believed until the goal that we could do it," said Camara. "Maybe it was not evident against a very good team tonight. We came here to get something and we are satisfied to be leaving with a point. Now we need to keep working."
Teenager Julian Draxler cancelled out Montpellier's 13th-minute goal by Karim Ait-Fana with a fine goal of his own in the 26th after a pinpoint through ball from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Schalke were awarded a penalty early in the second half, after Draxler broke his arm when Montpellier's Garry Bocaly brought him down. After Bocaly was sent off, and Draxler carried away on a stretcher, Dutch striker Huntelaar had no problem converting it.
Huntelaar, however, will surely be kicking himself for firing wide from five metres late in the game as the hosts squandered several clear scoring chances before Camara sneaked in to level.
"We should have finished off the game with the chances we had," said Schalke coach Huub Stevens. "Our problem was with possession when we did not play out our move. We should not have allowed them to break that often because in this competition you are punished if you do that."
Schalke, Champions League semi-finalists in 2011, are on four points, with Montpellier earning their first point in the group. Arsenal are top on six points after beating Olympiakos 3-1.
Stevens surprisingly left Ibrahim Afellay, on loan from Barcelona, and midfielder Jefferson Farfan on the bench, opting for a 4-4-2 with Finland international Teemu Pukki partnering Huntelaar in attack.
The visitors scored first when Morocco international Ait-Fana curled an unstoppable 17-metre shot past keeper Lars Unnerstall for a surprise lead after a cautious start from both teams.
The goal woke up Schalke and Draxler twice beat his marker to threaten with close-range efforts as Stevens had a heated, brief exchange with Montpellier counterpart Rene Girard on the touchline.
Draxler did better in the 26th as Schalke took command of the game with Huntelaar sending him through with a perfect, defence-splitting ball and the teenager rounded the keeper to level.
Seven minutes after the restart Draxler's game was over when he fractured his left arm. Huntelaar scored from the ensuing penalty kick.
Schalke had to endure whistles from their own fans for taking their foot off the gas after the second goal and several good chances were wasted, including Huntelaar's point-blank effort, as Montpellier poured forward.
Schalke were punished in the end for their loss of focus with Camara's fine shot after Atsuto Uchida had failed to clear the ball.
Image: Montpellier HSC's Souleymane Camara and Joris Marveaux (right) celebrate a goal against Schalke 04 during the Champions League match on Wednesday
Photographs: Ina Fassbender/Reuters