Football

5 thoughts to chew on from the Champions League

Three down, three to go. Halfway through the group stage of the Champions League, some conclusions are now coming into focus. Bayern Munich still looks like the team to beat; Cristiano Ronaldo remains Real Madrid's top dog despite Gareth Bale's arrival and Barcelona isn't looking quite as fearsome as it was under Pep Guardiola.

Here are 5 other thoughts to chew on from this week's matches:

DEADLY DUO?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, not for the first time, hogged the limelight with four goals against Anderlecht. Rightly so. His third goal was particularly spectacular, a right-footed thunderbolt from well outside the box.

The hat trick took only 19 minutes, which also showed how porous the Anderlecht defense was. Ibrahimovic got his fourth just past the hour.

But take note of the other player who scored Wednesday in the 5-0 win for Paris Saint-Germain: Edinson Cavani. In 14 games, that was the first time both Ibrahimovic and Cavani have found the goal in the same match when playing together.

If that is proof that PSG's 84 million euro ($115 million) strike partnership is now starting to gel, then the rest of Europe should tremble.

RACISM LET

DOWN

The referee should have done more for Yaya Toure, according to Europe's top executive in the international players' union.

Bobby Barnes told a FIFPro congress on Thursday that the officials in Wednesday's Champions League match failed to do enough after Manchester City midfielder complained about racist abuse during his team's 2-1 win at CSKA Moscow.

"The player, having done what was asked of him to notify the referee, quite rightly expected that the referee would go speak with the safety officer, and the (UEFA) protocol agreed is that the safety officer should make a stadium announcement warning the fans that if the chants do not desist that the game will be stopped," Barnes said. "We're very disappointed that a clear agreed protocol which is designed to deal with these situations was not effected."

He also urged UEFA to impose "a meaningful sanction."

"The player is very upset as indeed are other players, not just black players but all players at the club," Barnes said in a story posted on the FIFPro website.

Toure, an Ivory Coast international, said he told match referee Ovidiu Hategan about the chants. He also appealed to UEFA "to do something strong."

KAKA, THE RETURN:

Kaka looked like a player reborn as AC Milan held Barcelona to a 1-1 draw.

The Brazilian set up Robinho's ninth-minute goal, playing a swift one-two with his compatriot, and was a constant thorn in Barcelona's side, with flashes of the verve, skill and footballing intelligence that once ranked him among the world's best.

"Kaka had an extraordinary game and he proved he is a champion," Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri said. "I don't mean just in technical terms, as we all know that, but he worked so hard and even acted as a fullback at times when harassing the Barcelona players."

Particularly impressive was that the 31-year-old Kaka was not fully fit. His return to Milan following a disappointing spell at Real Madrid has been dogged by more injury troubles. He wasn't expected to start against Barcelona on Tuesday but injuries up front forced Allegri to play him. Kaka collected a standing ovation after lasting 70 minutes and was visibly delighted.

Kaka moved from Milan to Spain in 2009. Injuries slowly turned the former world player of the year into a forgotten man at Madrid. His offseason return this year to Milan held the promise of a revival but quickly looked like a wrong move for the Italian club when he was injured again. Kaka announced he wouldn't accept his salary until he was playing again.

If his stellar performance against Barcelona was more than just an ephemeral glimpse of the old Kaka then Milan could go further than expected in the Champions League.

CRISTIANO WOW

NALDO:

It's easy to grow complacent about Cristiano Ronaldo: Ho-hum, he scored yet again. But pause a second and consider this: On average since he joined Real Madrid in 2009, CR7 has guaranteed the Spanish side at least one goal per game. Phenomenal.

Two more in Madrid's 2-1 win over Juventus on Wednesday took his Champions League total this season to seven in three matches and his career total to 57 in 95 Champions League games.

Talk in football of late has been of Franck Ribery deserving the 2013 Ballon d'Or for his role in Bayern Munich's successes last season. But Ronaldo must again be a strong candidate, because of his unrelenting goal-scoring consistency.

The 23-man Ballon d'Or shortlist will be announced next Tuesday.

UMBRELLA, ANYONE?

Squelch. Splash. Splash. Squelch.

Perhaps the only thing to be thankful for in Benfica's 1-1 draw with Olympiakos was that none of the players drowned. Torrential rain in Lisbon turned the field into a paddling pool. On British TV, a commentator had laughter fits at the sight of the ball sticking in puddles, declaring: "That is absolutely ridiculous."

And it was. Credit to Benfica for scrambling in its late equalizer in such unplayable conditions, without the use of a submarine.

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