A memorable round for the Italian clubs who took seven points from a possible nine to place themselves in good positions for progression into the knock-out stages.
Inter Milan have had a torrid start to their domestic season. Following a shock loss to Turkish minnows Trabzonspor in Champions League and the dismissal of Provincial manager Gian Piero Gasperini, the European Champions of 2010 earned a hard fought victory against CSKA Moskva away and are now on top of Group B after a 1-0 away victory against French Ligue 1 Champions Lille.
With the loss to Serie A opponents Catania last weekend, it was crucial for the Nerazzurri to get a positive result against Lille and build on European success with the intent to improve morale at home in Italian Serie A.
A crucial Giampaolo Pazzini volley midway through the first half was enough for victory. The away side were significantly buoyed by the return of talismanic midfielder Wesley Sneijder and the Dutch international played a huge role in the goal, by spreading the play wide for Zarate to cross the ball into the box and smash the volley home.
Although the goal settled Inter’s fears and they were hardly stretched for the rest of the first half, Lille turned up the pressure in the second half, but a vintage display from Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar kept the likes of Joe Cole, Benoit Pedretti and Eden Hazard frustrated for the rest of the game.
Inter now top their group by one point after inflicting only the second home defeat on Lille in 32 outings and will now be looking to consolidate their position at the top of the group in the return fixture in two weeks time.
In contrast to Inter, Napoli have had a dream start to their debut campaign in Europe’s premier competition, with a respectable 1-1 draw away to big-spending Manchester City, a professional 2-0 home victory to Spanish side Villareal and now an encouraging 1-1 draw with group favourites Bayern Munchen.
The Partenepoi had club legend Diego Armando Maradona in the stands and brought back memories of the last encounter between the two sides in the 1989 UEFA Cup Semi-Final. But unlike on that day when Maradona led the side to victory, the game could not have got off to a worse possible start as Tony Kroos scoring for the Bavarians within two minutes. The teenager ghosted into the box unmarked and rifled a Jerome Boateng cross into the corner to silence the crowd.
But the Neapolitans weathered the Bavarian storm and fought back bravely; showing character and steel that’s fast becoming a hallmark of the side this season to bring the scores back level before half time. Christian Maggio drilled a low cross in from the right hand side, that Holger Badstuber prodded behind his goalkeeper for an own goal; the first they had conceded in 13 games!
In the second half, Bayern had a fantastic opportunity to go back ahead, after Mario Gomez was awarded a controversial penalty for an alleged handball by Paolo Cannavaro spotted by the new “touchline assistant referee”, but the striker’s attempt was easily saved by Morgan De Sanctis.
Bayern continued to dominate the match and had a series of good chances, but as always, Napoli were dangerous on the counter and almost stole a victory with 10 minutes to go when Edinson Cavani was through on goal. The Uruguayan star showed his slight naivety at the highest level though by indulging himself on the ball in the box for too long which allowed Daniel Van Buyten time to recover.
However the honours were even at the final whistle, leaving Napoli in second place, one point ahead of Roebrto Mancini’s Manchester City and two points behind Bayern. The Neapolitan’s will travel to the formidable Allianz Arena next in what must be the hardest encounter in a group that is seemingly shaping up to go down right to the wire.
On Wednesday night AC Milan entertained Belarusian side BATE Borisov; the last time these two met, the Rossoneri reportedly signed star striker Vitaly Kutusov at Half-time, after his movement and potential impressed captain Paolo Maldini. There was to be nothing of the sort on this occasion though, as Milan ran out comfortable 2-0 winners, with a stunning goal from Kevin Prince-Boateng and a terrible miss from BATE’s top scorer Bressan.
Despite Milan’s underwhelming start to the Serie A season, the European campaign has on the contrary been near spotless; a last gasp header from Thiago Silva earned the seven times champions a 2-2 draw against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, then two efficient victories, with clean sheets against both BATE and Pilzen leave them topping the group.
The home side continued their renaissance with a measured first half performance, that saw Alberto Aquilani’s drive from outside the box smack the root of the post with the keeper rooted the spot as well as a series of other misses, most notably from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The away side really should have punished them, when Mark Van Bommel’s horrendous pass left Bressan one on one with Christian Abbiati, but the goalkeeper guessed the right way and spared Van Bommel’s blushes. Ibrahimovic finally scored though with a thumping half-volley just after the half an hour mark, but despite all the possession and chances Milan failed to capitalize.
In the second half, this led to a mini-comeback from BATE, but Kevin Prince-Boateng secured the points with an absolutely brilliant shot from outside the box. The Ghanaian international killed the ball instantly from a wayward pass in from the right and then let a scorching shot that even Roberto Carlos would have been proud of fly into the roof of the net!
Milan continued to waste several chances and by the end of the match had 28 shots on goal, the second highest amount registered in a single match so far this campaign.
Allegri and Milan would be among the first teams to confirm their position in the last 16 with a win in Belarus when the two sides meet again in two weeks time; and judging by this performance many would not bet against it.