Nothing to Brag(a) About. What is it with Manchester United offering teams head starts in Champions League games? Time and again, they approach their home games at Old Trafford with a generosity akin to a golfer giving his opponent a stroke advantage on every hole. Sure enough, United found themselves two goals down after 20 minutes to Portugese side Braga on Tuesday, as veteran Brazilian striker Alan gave the Red Devils a mountain to climb (in fact, it was the eighth time out of 12 games this season in which United have trailed). The back four were shaky, with manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to rest stalwarts Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra seeming more foolish by the minute. And foolish is the apt term to describe how make-shift centre-half Michael Carrick was made to look on the second goal. But then again, who are we to question Sir Alex, who has presided over more comebacks than Frank Sinatra. His Mexican striker Javier Hernandez scored with headers either side of a scrambled Jonny Evans equalizer to complete the fightback. It was the first time Utd. has recovered from a 0-2 deficit in the Champions League since the epic 1999 semi-final second leg against Juventus. They went on to lift the trophy that year (they also won the domestic league and FA Cup to give them the treble) so Fergie will be hoping for similar success this season.
Leaving It Late. But if Man Utd. has designs on the Champions League, you’d imagine that all paths have to go through favorites Barcelona, who most recently won the trophy by defeating Utd. 3-1 in 2011. The Barca players and fans must have been anticipating a walk in the (Camp Nou) park to chalk up a 100th win in the competition by dispatching Scottish champions Celtic. But the Scots have proved nobody’s mugs thus far, and entered Tuesday’s game unbeaten in the group.
Incredibly, much like Braga, they found themselves with a precious goal within 20 minutes as Barca’s Javier Mascherano diverted Charlie Mulgrew’s free-kick into his own net to give Celtic a shock lead (but much like Utd., Barca have had their defensive difficulties this campaign, conceding the first goal on no less than seven occassions). Even before going in front, Celtic had goalkeeper Fraser Forster to thank for keeping out Marc Bartra’s header. He also saved Adriano Correia’s effort and saw attempts from Bartra and Lionel Messi whistle wide while his team hung on to their precious advantage. But he was unable to stop Xavi and Andres Iniesta combining as Iniesta leveled on the stroke of half time. While Celtic had a glorious opportunity to regain the lead seven minutes into the second half – Victor Wanyama couldn’t convert Mulgrew’s pinpoint corner – it then became the Forster show. A string of miraculous saves denied the great Messi, as well as Iniesta, and when substitute David Villa hit the post with time running out, it appeared that one of the finest nights in Celtic’s proud history was upon us. But Jordi Alba found himself unmarked to poach a winner in injury time from just a yard out and break Scottish hearts in the process. But Celtic can take pride from their performance and will be keen to get something out of the return fixture on November 7.
(MORE: TIME’s Cover Story on Messi)
Woe No. Some of Europe‘s biggest sides came a cropper on Wednesday night. Spanish champions Real Madrid slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Borussia Dortmund though it should be pointed out that Dortumund are arguably the best club side in Germany and were some experts’ pre-season dark horses to go far in the Champions League this season. Dortmund’s star striker, Polish player Robert Lewandowski, put them 1-0 up in the first half but — guess who? — Cristiano Ronaldo leveled the score just two minutes later. Remarkably, CR7 has scored 12 of Real Madrid’s 24 goals in the Champions League in 2012.
But staggering statistic aside, it was the Germans who notched a winner through Marcel Schmelzer. And while Dortmund could celebrate a famous victory, the two English sides in action Wednesday weren’t so fortunate. Arsenal were favored to see off their German opposition in the form of Schalke but late strikes from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ibrahim Affelay did for the Gunners. And English Premier League champions Manchester City went down 3-1 at Ajax despite taking a first half lead courtesy of former Arsenal midfielder Samri Nasri. Crucially for the Dutch side, Siem de Jong equalized on the stroke of half-time and second half goals from Niklas Moisander and Christian Eriksen have rooted City to the bottom of group D with Ajax chasing down Real Madrid for the second qualifying spot behind current leaders Dortmund. As for Ajax, it marked their first win against English opposition since 1980.