Oct 20, 2009

Upsets rule the day in UEFA Champions League

In one of the most shocking UEFA Champions League matchdays in recent memory, no fewer than four of Soccer Source's Top 25 clubs were upset or had to settle for draws. The biggest, undoubtedly, was No. 1 Barcelona's fall from grace in a stunning 2-1 home loss to No. 23 Rubin Kazan. Few soccer fans had even heard of the Russian upstarts before the group stage draw, and the club appeared destined to fade from memory just as quickly when it lost at Dynamo Kiev on the first matchday. A 1-1 draw at home with Inter Milan a fortnight ago made some of us--the Soccer Source ranking committee included--take note, but it is safe to say nobody expected this in a million years.

Kazan's victory was punctuated by a superb goal in the opening minutes of the match. The goal, a rocket from about 30 yards by Alexandr Ryazantsev, was so unexpected it even caught the video cameras off guard (scroll to 2:35 of this video. I haven't seen any better angles yet). Barca leveled the game in the second half before the guests got the winner in the 73rd minute. Ryazantsev, whose first name is sometimes spelled Alexander in Western press, is a 23-year old Russian midfielder who appears to have come out of FK Moscow's youth system.

Yet Kazan's victory was by no means the only shocking result on the day. Indeed, it wasn't even the only one in its group! In the other Group F match, No. 13 Dynamo Kiev twice led No. 4 Inter Milan at the San Siro before settling for a 2-2 draw. Amazingly, Barca still lead the group (on goal difference, but still) as one of three teams on four points. Inter are last, on three points. The two megalith clubs may end up advancing to the knockout stage, but the Eastern Europeans have already made the group far more interesting than anybody could have anticipated.

If there was one big loser on the day it was Liverpool, who lost not only their home match to Olympique Lyon, but also Steven Gerrard to injury. The midfielder is expected to miss this weekend's match against Manchester United, an encounter that may very well be Rafa Benitez' last chance to save his job. Liverpool are already in dire straights in Group E, trailing second-placed Fiorentina by three full points after La Viola won their game at Debreceni. No wonder Benitez is already saying Reds must win their last three group stage games to qualify for the knockout round. Liverpool have been in holes before since the Spaniard took charge, but probably none this deep.

It was not a good day for British clubs. Arsenal managed just a draw at AZ Alkmaar and Glasgow Rangers were overrun by Unirea Urziceni (talk about clubs nobody has ever heard of!) 4-1 at Ibrox. Rangers are dead last in Group G, with one solitary point from three matches. Walter Smith's side have even less of a chance as reaching the knockout stage than Liverpool. The Daily Mail is calling it one of the lowest points of Smith's career. Not knowing much about Smith or Rangers, I can't really comment about that. But Rangers are definitely a major disappointment in probably the weakest CL group.

No comments:

Post a Comment