Julian Alvarez scored twice as Manchester City beat Red Star Belgrade 3-1 on Tuesday to get its Champions League title defense off to a winning start.
The Argentina forward sparked a second-half comeback from Pep Guardiola’s team in the Group G game after Osman Bukari had fired the visitors into a shock lead at Etihad Stadium.
Rodri, whose goal against Inter Milan in last season’s final saw City crowned European champions for the first time, added a third late on.
City is aiming to become only the second club to successfully retain the trophy in the Champions League era. Real Madrid is the only team to win back-to-back titles having completed a three-peat from 2016-18.
City is expected to go deep into the competition again this season after reaching two finals in the last three seasons.
But it was provided with a reminder of the dangers that lie ahead in European football’s elite competition when going behind to Bukari’s strike against the run of play.
City had dominated the first half, forcing Belgrade goalkeeper Omri Glazer into a number of saves and also hitting the woodwork.
Rodri, Alvarez, Nathan Ake and Phil Foden were all denied as the home side repeatedly cut through Belgrade’s defense, while Erling Haaland’s header come back off the bar.
It felt like a matter of time before the deadlock was broken, but the opening goal came from an unexpected source.
As Belgrade’s main outlet on the break, Bukari had failed to trouble City’s defense until bursting through on goal in the 45th. With Ederson to beat, he was clinical as he swept a shot past the Brazilian ‘keeper to stun the home fans and spark wild celebrations from his own supporters.
Those cheers were cut short when the offside flag was raised, but there was a second eruption when VAR overruled the on-field decision.
City had not lost at home in the Champions League since 2018 and was on the back of a 26-game unbeaten run at Etihad Stadium in the competition — a record for an English team.
That record has now been extended to 27 games as City found its cutting edge after the break, with Alvarez leveling two minutes after half time.
The forward combined with Haaland in the box and then showed quick feet as he took the ball around Glazer and finished from a narrow angle.
He fired City in front on the hour when his free kick was allowed to curl all the way into the top corner after Glazer failed to connect with an attempted punched clearance.
Rodri added a third in the 73rd after carrying the ball into the box and curling a low shot into the bottom corner.
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