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English Premiership

English clubs make winning starts

PARIS, September 16 – 2008 Champions League winners Manchester United and the team they beat in that final Chelsea got off to slender but winning starts on Tuesday in their opening Champions League group matches.JOHNNY_EVANS_United – outclassed by Barcelona in last season’s final – edged Besiktas 1-0 in the fiery cauldron of the Turkish side’s stadium in Istanbul, thanks to a second-half goal by veteran Paul Scholes.

Chelsea – whose owner Roman Abramovich is counting on his umpteenth choice of manager Carlo Ancelotti to deliver him the Champions League – also won 1-0, a Nicolas Anelka goal enough to gain them the three points, at home to 2004 champions FC Porto.

United hardly played at their best but United boss Sir Alex Ferguson declared himself satisfied with a job well done.

"Over the years, Paul Scholes has got a lot of goals like that for us and it is a very important goal for us," he said.

"It is a fantastic atmosphere here and that’s a test of your concentration and your nerve, so this is a good result for us."

Ancelotti too was more pleased to have taken the three points – especially as he had to do without suspended star striker Didier Drogba – rather than the laboured style in which they won.

"It is impossible to play well in all the games. Sometimes we can win with other characteristics," said Ancelotti, a two-time winning Champions League coach.

"It is good for us to win and also to have difficulties because we can learn from it."

Italian clubs experienced mixed fortunes against their two French opponents.

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Ancelotti’s former club AC Milan gained a slightly fortunate 2-1 victory away in Marseille, the team who beat them in the 1993 final and coached by one of the players that night Didier Deschamps.

Milan’s 36-year-old veteran Filippo Inzaghi grabbed a double to take his total in the competition to 44 and rejoin Real Madrid’s Raul as all-time leading scorer in European competitions with 67.

AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani enthused at the performance after an indifferent start to their Serie A campaign.

"’Pippo’ (Inzaghi) is extraordinary, his second goal was incredible, I can’t see any other way to describe it. (Clarence) Seedorf played a great game too. When we people from Milan here the Champions League music we change. To explain that you’d need a psychiatrist!"

Juventus, formerly coached by Deschamps, were held 1-1 in Turin by French champions Bordeaux, Czech international Jaroslav Plasil cancelling out Italian international Vincenzo Iaquinta’s goal.

German duo VfL Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich got their campaigns off on a victorious note with the former – surprise champions last season – relying on a hat-trick from Grafite in their 3-1 victory over CSKA Moscow while Bayern won 3-0 in Israel over Maccabi Haifa.

Grafite, last season’s leading scorer in the Bundesliga, could hardly believe his good fortune on his Champions League debut.

"It’s a great, unbelievable feeling to score a hat-trick on your Champions League debut," beamed the Brazilian.

"I have to thank my team-mates for providing me with the opportunity, but it has been a great night for the club."

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The two Madrid clubs enjoyed differing fortunes as the expensively-assembled Real eased into a 3-0 lead over FC Zurich only to take their foot off the pedal and see the lead reduced to 3-2 before Cristiano Ronaldo added his second of the match to make it 4-2 and Guti added another for good measure to see them win 5-2.

Veteran Guti confessed that ‘the meringues’ would have to improve markedly if they are to be present at the final next May in their own Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

"Perhaps we thought it was over at 3-0 but it wasn’t," said Guti.

"We have to avoid that happening again if we want to go far in this competition."

City rivals Atletico were totally toothless and were held 0-0 at home by unheralded Cypriot club Apoel Nicosia.

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