PARIS, September 16 – Angel Di Maria and Edinson Cavani were on target as Paris Saint-Germain began their Champions League campaign with an ultimately comfortable 2-0 win against Malmo at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday.
Di Maria scored less than four minutes into his Champions League debut as a PSG player to set the French champions on their way, but they missed a succession of opportunities before finally extending their advantage when Cavani headed home in the 61st minute.
With Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk also in Group A, Paris needed a strong start against the Swedish champions as they target not just qualification for the knockout rounds but an improvement on their runs to the quarter-finals in each of the last three campaigns.
But while they got the points, it was not a vintage display by Laurent Blanc’s side with Zlatan Ibrahimovic wasteful in front of goal and later being substituted against his hometown team and the club with whom he started his illustrious career back in 1999.
“It’s not easy to win at home or away in the Champions League, so to win 2-0, cause our opponents problems and look comfortable at the back is a good start even if there are certain things we will need to perfect as the season goes on,” said Blanc.
“It augurs well. We wanted to win and we did, although I regret that we did not score one or two goals more.”
Ibrahimovic returned after injury in one of three changes to the Paris team that had been held to a 2-2 draw at home by Bordeaux in Ligue 1 at the weekend, but he was upstaged in the fourth minute by Di Maria.
The Argentina winger was labelled as the man to take PSG to the next level in Europe when he was signed from Manchester United last month, and he indicated why as he ran onto Marco Verratti’s pass in behind the Malmo defence before angling a beautiful finish past Johan Wiland and into the far corner of the net.
However, if anyone then expected PSG to romp to a big victory, they were to be disappointed.
Malmo, who beat Celtic in a play-off to reach this stage, lined up with nine full internationals on the field at kick-off and, with a five-man defence and two deep in midfield, were stuffy opponents.
But, save for a Nikola Djurdjic shot that slid just wide of Kevin Trapp’s far post in the 34th minute, they offered little in attack.
– Ibrahimovic misfires –
Instead, PSG let themselves down at times with some wasteful passing and poor finishing, not least from Ibrahimovic, who failed to convert no fewer than five attempts in the first half alone and was then let down by his touch having been put in by Cavani just after the restart.
Nevertheless, he proved much more adept when it came to setting up his colleagues, and it was from an Ibrahimovic pass that Di Maria sent in a curling shot which was tipped around the post by Wiland on 52 minutes.
The second goal finally arrived just after the hour mark thanks to Cavani, the Uruguayan heading home his sixth of the season after Ibrahimovic had flicked on a left-wing cross from Maxwell.
That ended any ideas that Malmo had of coming back into the game, and only a superb stop by Wiland from point-blank range to deny David Luiz kept the final score down before substitute Ezequiel Lavezzi had a goal disallowed right at the death.
Malmo coach Age Hareide later admitted PSG were a class above his side, the Norwegian saying: “Our last Champions League game was in December last year.
“Since then we have only played in the Swedish league which is not the same level. The qualifiers are not enough.
“Hats off to Paris. It was a magnificent match from them.”