United start title defence with a draw

Manchester United began their European Champions League title defence with a damp squib on Wednesday as wily Spaniards Villarreal held them 0-0.

updated: September 18, 2008 17:04 IST
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Manchester United began their European Champions League title defence with a damp squib on Wednesday as wily Spaniards Villarreal held them 0-0 at Old Trafford, while Arsenal and Celtic also drew.

United similarly failed to batter down the same rivals -nicknamed the yellow submarine - home and away three seasons ago - and subsequently saw their group hopes embarrassingly sink without trace.

Celtic took a leaf out of Uinted's book as they could only manage another scoreless showing against Danish minnows Aalborg, coached by Scot Bruce Rioch, at Parkhead.

United fans welcomed back Cristiano Ronaldo into the fold after injury despite his overtures in the direction of Real Madrid for much of the summer - but the Portugal winger was unable to oblige with a match-winning contribution after rising from the bench.

United had won their previous 12 home matches in the tournament going back to Villarreal's last visit - but Ronaldo, who netted 42 times last season including in the final win over Chelsea, and company drew a blank.

Jonny Evans hit the woodwork late on from a Ronaldo cross but United must now ensure they move swiftly on by collecting full points in Denmark in two week's time.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who says ten points should mean passage to the last 16, said he believed the Ronaldo saga was now resolved.

"He now realises what a great club he is at and how loyal and suppportive the fans are to him," said Ferguson, who added of the result: "I've no complaints. On another day we might have scored four or five."

But the experience of 2005, when a loss to Benfica ended United's interest early, will serve as a timely reminder not to count chickens ahead of a double-header with Celtic, who actually beat the English Premiership champions in a group match in 2006 in Glasgow.

United were still aggrieved after Wednesday's action given that television replays suggested they should have had a penalty for Sebastian Eguren's trip on Park Ji-Sung just inside the box.

Aalborg meanwhile frustrated the Celts, who missed a first-half penalty when Barry Robson saw his effort saved.

The visitors' Michael Beauchamp was wrongly red-carded in a case of mistaken identity for a foul on Georgios Samaras, but Aalborg held on for a precious away point.

Arsenal needed a late William Gallas equaliser to salvage a 1-1 draw against Dynamo Kiev in their Group G opener but at least Arsene Wenger's side ended a three-match losing run in Ukraine.

Defeat loomed again after Guinea striker Ismael Bangoura stroked home a second half penalty at the Valeri Lobanovsky Stadium but skipper Gallas struck from close range two minutes from time.

"A point isn't bad but we feel we could do better and could have taken the three points," Gallas said.

Group rivals and two-time champions Porto saw off Turkey's Fenerbahce 3-1 after early goals from Lisandro Lopez, with a fine volley, and Lucho Gonzalez had put the hosts firmly in the driving seat.

In Group F, four-times winners Bayern Munich thanked a solitary goal from Belgian defender Daniel Van Buyten for a valuable 1-0 success away to Steaua Bucharest and French serial domestic champions Lyon thanked a late goal from Karim Benzema as they recovered from 2-0 down to draw with Italy's Fiorentina.

In Group H, two-time champions Juventus returned to the event after a two-season absence with a 1-0 home triumph over UEFA Cup winners Zenit St. Petersburg, Alessandro Del Piero netting a magnificent freekick.

In the same group, nine-times winners Real Madrid cruised past Belarus debutants BATA Borisov 2-0 with Sergio Ramos and Ruud van Nistelrooy on target in either half.

Tuesday's highlights saw Chelsea flatten Bordeaux 4-0 as Roma suffered a shock home loss to Romanian debutants Cluj, Liverpool won for the second straight year in Marseille as rivals Atletico Madrid swamped PSV Eindhoven 3-0 away.

Inter Milan won 2-0 at Panathinaikos and Barcelona saw off Sporting Lisbon 3-1 while Cypriot minnows Anorthosis drew at Werder Bremen.