Right from the start Tuesday night, and to the final whistle, Brazilians struck goals for A.C. Milan. In between, two Spaniards scored for Barcelona, and Lionel Messi performed an illusionist’s trick to outpace and outwit three defenders in a move extraordinary for most men, commonplace for him.
So, Barça began its defense of the Champions League title with a 2-2 draw against the seven-time former champion, Milan.
“What a way to start the tournament,” Milan’s vice president, Adriano Galliani, said in anticipation of the game. “You could call this the derby of the world because, right now, Barcelona are the best team in the world, but we have more titles.” For once, the hyperbole is justified.
Two-thirds of Barcelona’s players helped Spain win the World Cup last year, and the other third came from across the oceans to blend with them.
Milan’s scorers were among nine Brazilians who hit key goals on the first night of competition this season — nine Brazilians and one Argentine on the score sheet that in total amounted to just 17 goals among 16 European clubs.
Galliani is right: this is now a world league that happens to take place in Europe.
Alexandre Pato, Milan’s striker, was so fast out of the blocks that his goal in the Camp Nou was timed at 24 seconds after the kickoff. “Usain Bolt wouldn’t have caught him,” quipped Pep Guardiola, the Barcelona coach.
Bolt, of course, is quicker. But what Pato did, he did with the ball at his feet. The young Brazilian took possession of it inside the center circle, then suddenly accelerated straight for the Barcelona goal.
Sergio Busquets was startled by Pato’s pace, and easily burned off. Éric Abidal is anything but slow, yet he, too, could not get to the long-striding Pato. And by the time goalkeeper Victor Valdés sensed how isolated and unprotected he was, Pato simply and stylishly flicked the ball beneath the keeper as he advanced.
After that, and for long, long spells, Barça did as Barça does. It commanded 75 percent of the play, it passed the ball in mesmeric fashion.
Its equalizer came when Messi darted past one, two, three defenders as if they were waiting for a taxi. Then, with a change of pace, Messi sprinted outside a fourth Milan man, Ignazio Abate, and cut the ball across the goal mouth for Pedro to score from point-blank range.
Barcelona’s second goal was a masterpiece of still art. From 20 yards, David Villa lined up a free kick, hitting the ball with a stunning motion that propelled it up and over the defensive wall of five defenders, inducing the precise degree of spin to make it curl and drop inside the near post beyond the grasp of Christian Abbiati.
That seemed to be that. However, in the last set play moments before the second minute of added time, the Milan defender Thiago Silva rose higher than anyone else to head Clarence Seedorf’s corner kick into the net.
All square, all to play for when they meet again at the San Siro. “Milan already had our maximum respect,” said Valdés. “You can never, ever write them off. They are one of the great European clubs.”
Others who crave a little bit of Milan or Barcelona history include Chelsea. The London team, bankrolled by the Russian Roman Abramovich, labored hard and long, but ultimately decisively, to earn a 2-0 home victory over Bayer Leverkusen.
Its defender David Luiz, like many Brazilian defenders, came forward adventurously to score the opening goal. His low shot craftily curved around the legs of an opponent so that Leverkusen’s 19-year-old goalie, Bernd Leno, had little chance to see, much less intercept, the ball.
Leverkusen, impressively organized for the first hour by the former Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack, deserved better. It had a goal mysteriously disallowed, it brought decent saves out of Chelsea’s Petr Cech, and it could never be said to be outplayed.
Nevertheless, Chelsea scored again, just before the last whistle. The goal maker, for the second time, was Fernando Torres, the taker was Chelsea’s new Spanish creator, Juan Mata.
Torres was bought to score goals but, after just one from him in 23 appearances, he did the next best thing — unselfishly make them for others.