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October 23, 2009

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Pato-led Milan steals a Real shocker

THE Champions League's two most successful teams resembled a pair of punch-drunk prize-fighters as AC Milan spoiled a big night for Raul by pulling off a surprise 3-2 victory at the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.

While nine-time winner Real and seven-time champion Milan was trading novice mistakes, including the howler that let in Raul to equal Gerd Mueller's European goalscoring record, the other tournament heavyweights were looking coolly efficient.

Manchester United made light of a plastic pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium, the scene of its 2008 final triumph, to make it maximum points from three Group B matches with a 1-0 win over CSKA Moscow - Antonio Valencia swooping late for the only goal.

Chelsea extended its perfect record in Group D by swatting aside Atletico Madrid 4-0, Salomon Kalou putting a terrible early miss behind him to score the first two, and Juventus revived its Group A hopes with a 1-0 win over Maccabi Haifa.

Tuesday's matches had featured a string of last-gasp goals and shock results and there was more of the same in Group C in Madrid, where an AC Milan side struggling in eighth place in Serie A handed Real an embarrassing defeat.

Real's Santiago Bernabeu stadium is hosting this season's final and after the club spent 250 million euros on players before the current campaign coach Manuel Pellegrini is under huge pressure to secure a golden ticket for the Madrid party.

Real, missing the most expensive of those recruits in Cristiano Ronaldo, looked set for its third win when Raul pounced on Dida's mistake to make it 1-0 and equal Mueller's record of 66 goals in the main European club competitions.

The game turned when Andrea Pirlo embarrassed Iker Casillas at his near post in the 62nd minute, and the Real keeper, normally among the most reliable of performers, gifted Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato Milan's second four minutes later.

Royston Drenthe equalized for Real but with two minutes remaining Pato arrived at the back post to volley the winner.

"We played an incredible second half," said Milan coach Leonardo. "Even though they got back to 2-2 I never thought we would lose."

Milan and Real have six points apiece in Group C, with Olympique Marseille and Zurich both on three after the French side won its game 1-0 in Switzerland, thanks to a second-half goal from Argentina defender Gabriel Heinze.

Manchester United is sitting pretty in Group B with maximum points, followed by VfL Wolfsburg on four after it shared a goalless home draw with Besiktas. CSKA Moscow has three points and Besiktas one.

United was missing senior players such as Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs but you would hardly have known it.

"As I expected, the artificial turf was not a problem for us," Alex Ferguson said. "I said before the game that if you're a good footballer you concentrate on the ball."


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