Ronaldo, Messi, Salah bring the thrills for Champions League Matchday 3

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 42 game-winning goals in the Champions League.

We’re now officially halfway through the 2021-22 UEFA Champions League group stage, and it has to be said the world’s top club competition has provided countless spectacular moments and memorable stories.

Matchday 3 was no exception. From Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah hitting their usual heights of greatness, to the younger generation of stars breaking out, this week’s action was breathless from beginning to end.

Here are some of the highlights from Matchday 3.

Fans were reminded on Wednesday why Manchester United paid a large transfer fee this summer for an aging Cristiano Ronaldo.

Down 2-0 inside the first 30 minutes to Atalanta at Old Trafford, the Red Devils appeared to be dead and buried, and would finish the day at the bottom of the Group F table, with their hopes of advancing to the knockout round severely damaged. But the English outfit clawed its way back into the match against the Italians, and sealed a memorable come-from-behind win via Ronaldo’s towering header off a Luke Shaw cross in the 81st minute.

This is what Ronaldo does – he saves matches, and he rescues points. The Portuguese star has now scored 42 game-winning goals in the Champions League, more than any other player in the history of the competition. Instead of facing a mountain to climb in their last three games, Man United’s stunning victory allowed them to jump into first place and will now operate from a greater position of strength at the start of the second half of the group stage.

It takes a certain amount of bravery to do what Lionel Messi did on Tuesday at the Parc des Princes. Outplayed for long stretches and trailing 2-1 to RB Leipzig, Paris-Saint Germain fought its way back into the match and tied things up when Messi scored in the 74th minute.

Seven minutes later, PSG was awarded a penalty kick and had a chance to take the lead. Instead of hammering home his attempt, Messi converted a "Panenka" – the name given to the cheeky chip shot made famous by former Czech player Antonín Panenka – to complete PSG’s comeback win, and score two or more goals in a Champions League game for the 34th time in his career.

Not to be outdone, Mohammed Salah bagged a brace in Liverpool’s thrilling 3-2 win away to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday. In doing so, the Egyptian international became the first player in Liverpool’s 129-year history to score in nine consecutive games in all competitions. In total, Salah has 12 goals in 11 matches this season, and is a big reason Liverpool tops Group B with nine points with a perfect 3-0 record, and has a comfortable lead over Atletico and FC Porto (tied for second on four points).

Canada’s Cyle Larin scored a gorgeous header for Besiktas off a corner kick in the 24th minute against Sporting Lisbon on Tuesday.

Ultimately, it meant little as the Turkish side suffered a 4-1 home loss, but Larin, a 26-year-old from Brampton, Ont., became just the fifth Canadian to score in the history of the Champions League. His Besiktas teammate Atiba Hutchinson, a fellow Brampton native, was the last to do it with Danish side FC Copenhagen, in 2006-07.

Jonathan David wasn’t able to have the same kind of influence as Larin. The 21-year-old forward from Ottawa started and played 82 minutes at home for Lille in a 0-0 draw against Sevilla on Wednesday. But the Canadian was left isolated up front and was limited to just 12 touches on the ball in an overall forgettable night for the French club.

Alphonso Davies didn’t play in Bayern Munich’s 4-0 road win over Benfica on Wednesday. The dynamic wingback, who scored a fantastic goal for Canada last week in a World Cup qualifier against Panama, suffered a hamstring injury in a Bundesliga match over the weekend.

Veteran players Messi, Salah and Ronaldo dominated the headlines on Matchday 3, but somewhat overlooked were the amazing performances put in by some of the game’s brightest, young prospects.

Vinicius Junior, a 21-year-old Brazilian, scored twice and set up another goal in Real Madrid's 5-0 road win at Shakhtar Donetsk. Junior’s second goal in the 56th minute was pure highlight-reel material, as he received the ball outside the box, and then effortlessly weaved his way through five defenders before scoring from a tight angle to make it 3-0.

Phil Foden, also 21, didn’t score in Manchester City's 5-1 win at Club Brugge. But the English midfielder was the main creative force in the Blues’ attack, and it was his sublime pass from deep over top of Brugge’s defence that led to Joao Cancelo’s opening goal.

Foden’s teammate Cole Palmer, 19, made his Champions League debut when he was subbed on for Kevin de Bruyne in the 64th minute. Just three minutes later, the English teenager found the back of the net, scoring with a shot from just outside the penalty area off a setup from Raheem Sterling.

Another pair of 19-year-olds also made their mark on Wednesday. At 17 years and 76 days, Gavi became the second youngest FC Barcelona player to start a Champions League match, as the blaugrana earned a 1-0 win over Dynamo Kiev at the Camp Nou. Meanwhile, Villarreal’s Yeremi Pino became the youngest player to score on his birthday in Champions League history, helping the Yellow Submarine to a 4-1 road win over Swiss side Young Boys.

Would it surprise you to learn that Sebastian Haller tops the scoring charts so far?

The Ivory Coast international scored again in Ajax’s 4-0 thrashing of visitors Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, taking his overall tally to six goals in this year’s competition. Haller, 27, also collected two assists on the night, which means he’s been involved in eight goals in total during this Champions League campaign.

Haller is only the second player ever to score six goals in his first three Champions League matches. The first? Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Braut Haaland, who pulled off the feat as a 19-year-old while playing for Red Bull Salzburg during the 2019-20 season.

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for a number of media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. To check out TFC Republic, click here.

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