LONDON: The world’s best player Lionel Messi lit up the opening night of the Champions League for Barcelona although holders Inter Milan and Manchester United endured less than sparkling starts on Tuesday.
The Argentine, like last season, treated Europe’s blue riband club competition as his personal playground, scoring two classy goals before missing a penalty as Barca recovered from an early shock to thrash visiting Panathinaikos 5-1 in Group D.
Inter took the lead but then had to come from behind to draw 2-2 at Dutch debutants Twente Enschede in Group A with the Italians losing forward Goran Pandev to a knee injury.
A much-changed Manchester United could find no way past obdurate Scottish visitors Rangers in Group C, drawing 0-0 in a game overshadowed by a serious ankle injury to Antonio Valencia.
Barcelona hit five past Panathinaikos
The impish Messi bagged eight goals in the competition last season and judging by his display at the Nou Camp against an overwhelmed Greek side he will be aiming for double figures again, as Barca set about trying to reclaim the trophy.
Messi would have celebrated a hat-trick but for the second-half penalty save and he also rattled the goal frame before halftime as he resumed normal service after failing to hit the target at the World Cup finals.
“He is the best player in the world by some distance from the rest,” said Barca coach Pep Guardiola. “It hurts him to miss and he has this amateur spirit of always wanting to play.”
Messi took his tally for the season to six goals in five games by first equalising with a well-taken finish and then adding a third after off-season signing David Villa had made it 2-1.
Panathinaikos goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas denied Messi a hat-trick with a penalty save in the 54th minute but Pedro and Dani Alves piled on the agony for the visitors from Greece as the irresistible Catalans who emphatically made up for their shock defeat by promoted Hercules in La Liga at the weekend.
“Things worked out well and it’s always nice to start the Champions League with a victory,” Pedro said. “We knew we had to win.”
Dame N’Doye’s late winner handed FC Copenhagen a 1-0 victory against Russian champions Rubin Kazan in the other Group D match.
Holders fail to make splash in 2-2 draw
Inter forward Diego Milito was not far behind fellow Argentine Messi in the Champions League goal charts last season but scored at the wrong end as they began the defence of their crown under new manager Rafael Benitez in jittery fashion.
Milito’s own goal briefly left Inter 2-1 behind at Twente after Wesley Sneijder had given the Italians an early lead.
Sneijder, who starred for the Netherlands at the World Cup, tapped in a rebound to open the scoring after Twente goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov failed to hold on to Diego Milito’s shot.
Theo Janssen equalized for Twente with a curling free kick in the 20th minute before Milito’s own goal put the Dutch side ahead 10 minutes later.
Samuel Eto’o, who scored the winner against Udinese over the weekend, found the target again with a low 25-yard drive to rescue Inter, who are struggling for form in the early part of the campaign after winning an unprecedented treble — Champions League, Serie A and Italian Cup — last season.
“In the first half we deserved nothing. We opened the scoring but after that we faced serious problems,” former Liverpool coach Benitez, who faces a colossal task filling the shoes of Jose Mourinho, told reporters.
“A draw against Inter is a good result for us,” said Twente coach Michel Preud’homme. “We could have won the match.”
The other game in Group A also ended 2-2, Tottenham Hotspur wasting a two-goal lead against Bundesliga side Werder Bremen on their first appearance in the European Cup since 1962.
Tottenham went 2-0 up inside 20 minutes after a Petri Pasanen own goal and a Peter Crouch header, but the hosts hit back through Hugo Almeida and drew level early in the second period when Marko Marin fired in a low drive.
“That first 42 minutes or so was the best you could ever see us play,” said Tottenham coach Harry Redknapp.
“We passed the ball and opened them up time and time again. But then we conceded a bad goal, which suddenly bought them back into the game.”
United held in stalemate
Manchester United struggled to find insipration in their goalless draw with Rangers and Valencia’s misfortune capped a poor night for manager Alex Ferguson, whose decision to make 10 changes to the side that drew with Everton on Saturday misfired.
Wayne Rooney did return after being left out at the weekend as he deals with marital problems but the England striker, like his team mates, huffed and puffed against the massed ranks of Rangers’ eight-man defence without making a serious dent.
United midfielder Darron Gibson came closest to breaking the deadlock with a raft of long-range efforts.
“Rangers set their stall out to defend and play on the counter-attack, and you have to respect that,” said United coach Sir Alex Ferguson.
“They came knowing what they wanted to do and they did it well. Our final ball wasn’t good enough to get three points.”
Winger Valencia fell to the turf after a seemingly innocuous tackle in the 63rd minute and manager Alex Ferguson told Sky Sports he feared the Ecuadorean had broken his ankle.
“He seemed to dig his toe in the turf. Unfortunately, it’s a bad one,” Ferguson said.
Turkish side Bursaspor were given a baptism of fire against Valencia, losing 4-0 at home in Group C’s other game.
Tino Costa opened the scoring for Valencia in the 16th minute with a 35-yard shot and striker Aduriz dived to head in the second. Pablo Hernandez and Roberto Soldado added more goals in the second half for the Spanish team.
Landmark Luisao gives Benfica winning start
In Group B, Benfica and Olympique Lyon started with victories, neither of them particularly convincing.
Benfica beat Israeli competition debutants Hapoel Tel-Aviv 2-0 in Lisbon, with Brazil centre-back Luisao netting the 5,000th goal in Champions League history.
Michel Bastos scored an opportunist 21st-minute lob as last season’s semifinalist Lyon won 1-0 against 10-man Schalke.
Schalke centre half Benedikt Hoewedes was sent off 13 minutes later for a high tackle on Lyon forward Jimmy Briand.