Cristiano Ronaldo was supposed to be the missing piece in Juventus’ bid to win the Champions League.
But his first match in the competition for his new club lasted less than half an hour on Wednesday as he was sent off after appearing to pull at an opponent’s hair.
Juventus still went on to win 2-0 at Valencia, thanks to two penalties.
It was Ronaldo’s first red card in 154 Champions League games, and the decision means he could miss a return to Old Trafford when Juventus plays Manchester United next month if gets at least a two-match ban.
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri insisted it shouldn’t have been a red card, and lamented the fact that video technology has yet to be introduced into the Champions League, as it has been in Serie A. VAR was also used at the World Cup in Russia this year.
“I’ll only say that in this sort of occasion VAR would help,” Allegri said. “It’s disappointing because now we’ll lose him for a few games and instead if there had been VAR it would have been seen that it wasn’t a sending-off offense.”
Ronaldo was dismissed in the 29th minute after tangling with Jeison Murillo. After Murillo went down inside the area, the Portugal forward gestured for his opponent to get up, then put his hand on the Valencia defender’s head and appeared to tug his hair. Referee Felix Brych showed Ronaldo a straight red card after discussing with his assistant behind the goal.
Ronaldo looked baffled and kept professing his innocence and was clearly distraught as he left the pitch in tears, still shaking his head.
“He was upset and he needs time to calm down,” Allegri said. “He needs to rise above it and focus on Sunday, even if these things leave a bitter taste in the mouth.”
Even Valencia coach Marcelino Garcia attempted to comfort Ronaldo as he walked off the pitch.
“I didn’t see the contact, I was affected by his tears. He was saying he didn’t do anything,” Marcelino said. “I spoke with him but I won’t say what I told him.”
Juventus has won Europe’s premier club competition twice but the last time was in 1996. It has lost five finals since then and hoped that signing Ronaldo, who has won the competition five times, it could go one step further.
The Bianconeri have won the Serie A title for the last seven seasons _ and the league and Italian Cup double for the past four _ but have struggled to transfer that domestic supremacy to the European stage, although they have reached the final twice in the past four editions.
Despite playing more than an hour with 10 men at Valencia, Juventus eased to victory.
Mario Mandzukic and Sami Khedira had already missed glaring opportunities before Ronaldo’s dismissal and, after a shaky few minutes following the red card, Juventus got back into its stride and took the lead on the stroke of halftime.
Joao Cancelo hit the crossbar and was then fouled by Daniel Parejo as he tried to get on the rebound.
Miralem Pjanic struck the penalty into the bottom right corner and did the same six minutes after the break when Brych awarded Juventus another spot kick after Murillo brought down Leonardo Bonucci.
Despite the numerical advantage, Valencia posed little threat going forward but almost grabbed a consolation in stoppage time when it was given a penalty of its own. But Wojciech Szczesny parried Parejo’s spot kick, which was awarded after Daniele Rugani was adjudged to have elbowed Gabriel Paulista.
Renato Sanches scores on his Benfica return as Bayern wins
Renato Sanches scored his first goal for Bayern Munich on his return to Benfica to give the German club a 2-0 win in their Champions League opener on Wednesday.
Sanches started and finished a well-worked move to net Bayern’s second goal in the 54th minute. He first powered his way through the midfield and passed to Robert Lewandowski on the left. The ball made its way to Franck Ribery and James Rodriguez, who crossed for Sanches to score from close range.
“I’m so happy to come back to Lisbon and to play this game is special for me,” said Sanches, who was applauded by the home supporters after scoring his first goal in a competitive game since January 2016. “I just want to say thank you to the Benfica fans.”
Lewandowski had given the five-time European champions an early lead, converting Bayern’s first real chance after Ribery and David Alaba combined to set him up.
Arjen Robben could have added to the score minutes later but failed to beat Benfica goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos in a one-on-one. He was denied again five minutes before the break, when Vlachodimos deflected the Dutch winger’s effort over the bar.
Eduardo Salvio had the home side’s best chance of the half, but Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer saved his shot.
Sanches, who moved from Benfica to Bayern after the 2016 European Championship, ended his former side’s hopes of an upset and gave Bayern coach Niko Kovac a winning start on his debut in the competition.
The Portuguese midfielder was making his first start for Bayern since returning from a season on loan at Swansea.
“You have to remember he’s a young player that left his country, that left his family,” Kovac said of Sanches’ difficulties in settling in Munich.
Tagliafico scores twice as Ajax beats AEK Athens 3-0
Defender Nicolas Tagliafico scored twice Wednesday as Ajax celebrated its return to Champions League football with an emphatic 3-0 victory over AEK Athens at the recently renamed Johan Cruyff Arena.
After dominating possession but failing to score in the first half, Argentina defender Tagliafico broke the deadlock just after the break and made it 3-0 in the 90th minute with an effort from an acute angle on the left that sailed over AEK goalkeeper Vassilis Barkas and into the goal.
In between, substitute Donny van de Beek doubled Ajax’s lead with a powerful close-range volley in the 77th.
It was four-time European champion Ajax’s first appearance in the Champions League in four years, while AEK was playing in Europe’s top club competition for the first time in more than a decade.
“You can see with this type of evening that Ajax belongs to the Champions League, Ajax needs to be in Champions League,” said stand-in captain Dusan Tadic, one of the players brought to Amsterdam over the summer to add experience to a roster of talented youngsters like Van de Beek and Frenkie de Jong.
Ajax’s dominant second half performance featured the kind of quick passing, fast-moving attacking play that was a trademark of the Amsterdam club’s teams that won the European Cup three times in the 1970s and again in 1995.
“We played a very mature game,” said Ajax coach Erik ten Hag. “Patient but at a high tempo and finding space between the lines. You know you’re not going to create many chances so you have to be sharp at the right moments.”
Indeed, Ajax dominated possession but failed to create a meaningful chance in the first half but that changed inside a minute after the break when a corner fell to David Neres, who scooped the ball into the penalty area where Tagliafico calmly slotted the ball under Barkas.
Van de Beek made it 2-0 by volleying past Barkas after a cross from the right by Dusan Tadic before Tagliafico completed the scoring with his spectacular effort from the left, which he admitted after the match was intended as a cross, rather than a shot.
AEK defended in numbers and looked dangerous on the break in the first half against a makeshift Ajax defense that saw midfielder De Jong replacing injured captain Matthijs de Ligt at center back alongside Daley Blind. But the Greek champion was outplayed after the break and rarely threatened.