Zlatan Ibrahimovic laid to rest any lingering doubts over his form and fitness with an outstanding display in Internazionale's 2-0 win at Panathinaikos in their Champions League Group B opener on Tuesday.
Although the 26-year-old Swedish striker did not find the target, he did force one superb save from home goalkeeper Mario Galinovic, his all-round performance was outstanding and he laid on the goals for Mancini and Adriano. "He didn't score a goal but for me he did a magnificent job. He played an absolutely fantastic pass [for Adriano]," Inter manager Jose Mourinho said.
Ibrahimovic has been struggling with a knee injury and Mourinho raised concerns about the tall striker representing his country in World Cup qualifiers against Albania and Hungary earlier this month. However, his performance in Athens suggests that he is back to his best, combining a physical presence which dominates defenders and a confident, crisp touch that can produce the kind of killer pass that set up Adriano.
Panathinaikos coach Henk Ten Cate had no doubts about why his team lost the match. "I thought we played fairly well. The decisive aspects were experience and quality – especially the individual qualities," he said.
"I think we played against the best striker of the world right now. He was always there. He is fantastic at holding the ball up and giving his midfielders and fellow players time, that's very important. And the way he provided two goals: OK, we made a mistake on the first one but mistakes like this against players like that are deadly."
Romania plans to naturalise Argentine forward Juan Culio after he stunned Roma with two goals that earned unheralded CFR Cluj a 2-1 win in their Champions League group match. "Culio played brilliantly," Romanian Soccer Federation head Mircea Sandu said yesterday. "I've asked [the soccer authorities] to start getting the necessary documents."
Minutes after Tuesday's Group A match in Rome's Olympic Stadium, Culio said he would be "happy to play for Romania". "Of course, I'll accept if the national team's coach [Victor Piturca] needs me," Culio said. Piturca said: "Several foreigners from CFR Cluj might enter into my sights if they get Romanian citizenship, Culio among them of course."
Sandu said the paperwork needed for Culio's citizenship might take too long for the player to be able to help Romania's World Cup campaign after they lost 3-0 at home in their opening qualifier against Lithuania.
Culio's double for Champions League newcomers Cluj earned him praise in the local media. "Coolio!" said the Pro Sport front-page headline. "It was the greatest surprise ever produced by a debutant team in the Champions League," the article claimed.
In Cluj city centre, some 1,000 fans celebrated until the early hours after the unexpected win by a team which was playing in the third division five years ago.
CFR Cluj executive president Iuliu Muresan praised his foreign players, saying they had brought a winning mentality to the side. Last season, Cluj had 23 foreign players in the squad and only six locals.
"CFR Cluj players showed great character after they managed to fight back and beat Roma in front of an unfriendly crowd, which ended up cheering them," Muresan said.
Culio, who worked as a bricklayer in Argentina to support his family for six years from the age of 13, played for Independiente Buenos Aires in 2005-2006. The 24-year-old came to Cluj from Deportes La Serena of Chile in 2007.Reuse content