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Sanches stars for Bayern against old club Benfica and Ajax cruise to Champions League opening win

Earlier Shakhtar Donetsk rallied to rescue a late draw against Hoffenheim.

Updated Sep 19th 2018, 10:39 PM

RENATO SANCHES RECEIVED a standing ovation from Benfica fans after he scored against his old club to inspire Bayern Munich to a 2-0 win in their opening Champions League fixture tonight.

Portugal: SL Benfica v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Renato Sanches celebrates with his Bayern Munich team-mates. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Sanches, who has endured a torrid few years since leaving Benfica for Munich as an 18-year-old in the summer of 2016, capped a fine performance in Lisbon with the first goal of his Bayern career.

“I’m so happy to have had a night like this in Lisbon, and I want to thank the Benfica fans,” Sanches told Sky. “It was a very special moment for me and I enjoyed it a lot.”

The young Portuguese’s second-half goal crowned a perfect Champions League debut in the dugout for Bayern coach Niko Kovac. Bayern took the lead after just ten minutes.

Franck Ribery’s cross found Robert Lewandowski in the box, and the Polish striker whipped the ball into the bottom corner.

Imago 20180919 Robert Lewandowski fired home the opening goal of the game for Bayern Munich. Source: Imago/PA Images

Ribery and James Rodriguez both snatched at chances to make it 2-0, but Benfica slowly found their way back into the game, and Eduardo Salvio forced a sharp save from Manuel Neuer just before the half hour mark.

In what remained a remarkably open first half, Arjen Robben missed a fine opportunity to double Bayern’s lead on the counter-attack, firing his shot straight at Benfica goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos.

Having been booked earlier in the half, Joshua Kimmich breathed a sigh of relief just before half-time when the Bayern right-back appeared to knock over Franco Cervi from behind, but the referee waved away the penalty appeals.

The second half belonged to Sanches, who burst out of the blocks after the break.

Having denied Benfica with a brilliant tackle at one end, the Bayern midfielder then found the net at the other.

Flicking the ball out wide to Robben, Sanches then found space in the box and gratefully bundled in James’s cross at the far post to make it 2-0.

Nicolas Tagliafico was the unlikely hero as Ajax earlier got their Champions League Group E campaign off to a winning start with a 3-0 victory over AEK Athens.


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Netherlands Soccer Champions League Two goals tonight at the Johan Cruyff Arena for Nicolas Tagliafico. Source: Peter Dejong

The Eredivisie side were stifled before the break by a resilient AEK outfit, who had the best chance of the first half through Andre Simoes.

But Erik ten Hag’s men were quick out of the blocks after the interval, defender and highly infrequent goalscorer Tagliafico making the breakthrough 51 seconds into the half.

AEK could offer little in response and their spirits were broken when substitute Donny van de Beek volleyed in to double Ajax’s lead, with Tagliafico then enjoying a huge slice of fortune when his off-balance strike flew into the net in stoppage time. 

Elsewhere, substitute Maycon scored an 81st-minute equaliser as Shakhtar Donetsk rallied to secure a 2-2 draw against Hoffenheim in a see-saw Group F opener.

Defender Havard Nordtveit appeared set to be the unlikely hero as Hoffenheim – making their debut in the Champions League group stages – twice held the lead at the Metalist Stadium.

Florian Grillitsch gave Julian Nagelsmann’s side an early advantage but his neat finish was cancelled out by Ismaily, who cut inside Nordtveit far too easily on Shakhtar’s left before beating Oliver Baumann.

However, the former West Ham defender made amends at the other end of the pitch, flipping the script as he popped up at a corner to nod home what looked set to be the winner.

Shakhtar struggled to break open Hoffenheim in the second half until Maycon picked his spot from distance, firing a left-footed shot from outside the penalty area beyond goalkeeper Oliver Baumann.

The hosts came close to grabbing a late winner – Marlos seeing a goal-bound effort blocked by Taras Stepanenko, with Shakhtar’s loud appeals for handball rejected – but the Bundesliga club just about held firm during a frenetic finish to pick up a point on the road.

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