In a meeting of Milan Borjan’s Red Star and Alphonso Davies’s Bayern Munich, it gave a chance for a first-ever Canadian matchup in the Champions League. Instead, it was not meant to be, as Bayern won comfortably without the help of Davies, who was an unused substitute on the evening.
German champions Bayern Munich took on Serbian Champions Red Star Belgrade on Wednesday, kicking off Group B action in the UEFA Champions League. For Canadian football fans, it was an intriguing matchup, as National team counterparts Alphonso Davies and Milan Borjan play for Bayern Munich and Red Star respectively, giving the potential for a first-ever Canadian faceoff in the Champions League.
For Canadians, that first meeting will have to wait, however, with Bayern comfortably beating Red Star 3-0 with Davies on the bench, besting Borjan 3 times to take an early lead atop the group. With Bayern taking a 2-0 lead in the 80th minute, it opened the possibility of a late Davies cameo, but Bayern manager Niko Kovac instead turned to veteran Thomas Muller, who rewarded the faith of his manager with a 91st-minute goal.
Borjan had a strong night in goal for the Serbian side, making 8 saves in the losing effort. He got things started early, denying Phillipe Coutinho early, but he was unable to do much on Kingsley Coman’s 35th-minute header, as the French International nodded home a pinpoint cross from Ivan Perisic. With Red Star’s defence leaving plenty of space in behind their line on the cross, Coman was left to comfortably jump and make perfect contact with the ball, putting Red Star behind after what was a strong first 35 minutes for them despite Bayern’s territorial dominance.
Borjan then kept his team in the game after that goal, making 2 strong saves on Lewandowski, before punching away a Corentin Tolisso curled strike to end the half. He continued his strong play into the second half, denying Perisic early on, before making a great stop on Robert Lewandowski in the 57th minute to keep Red Star within striking distance.
But he was unable to keep Bayern from scoring their second, as their endless red wave of attacks finally resulted in them doubling their score. It was a calamitous mistake from Red Star, as defender Marko Gobeljic softly poked the ball towards Borjan, giving the Canadian no chance to react as Lewandowski anticipated the pass and slotted home easily.
And after Muller came on in the 83rd minute, he would soon add Bayern’s third, as Red Star’s defence fell asleep for the third time on the night, this time on a free-kick. Muller did well to run through the middle on the central set-piece from Thiago Alcantara, and the Spaniard found him, as no one picked up the run from the German. All alone in front of Borjan, he made no mistake with his chance, volleying home first-time.
It spelled the end of a frustrating night for Borjan, who finished with a team-high 7.6 rating on whoscored, the 5th highest rating on the pitch overall. He was a commanding presence in the Red Star box, claiming balls and controlling his area, as he put a confident performance in a tough environment.
With 8 saves, he got back right to where he left off last season, and was unlucky to concede the three he did on the night. If Red Star can tighten up their defence, and Borjan continues to hold strong, they will certainly believe they can move onto the next round, especially given Tottenham’s opening day draw with Olympiacos. But given the nature of the competition, they’ll have to be at their very best to even dream of that happening, as these teams all have shown that they belong to be among European’s best.
And for Canadian fans, they’ll want to keep a careful eye on this group, as Davies and Borjan hope to find minutes in the next few games, before maybe even sharing the field when these teams meet later this year on November 26th. In the meantime, they’ll be plenty more of Canadian content on Thursday, as Atiba Hutchinson’s Besiktas, Scott Arfield’s Rangers and Jonathan David’s Gent all kick off their respective Europa League campaigns.
Photo courtesy of Canada Soccer’s Martin Bayzl