PARIS: Barcelona's contrasting fortunes this season continued on Tuesday as they beat the previous Champions League record for successive victories downing Inter Milan 3-0 in their Group A match for their 11th triumph in a row.
Barca's victory lifted them above AC Milan's record of 10 set back in 1992-93 and need to beat Inter next week to overhaul Ajax's all-time European competition record of 11 set in the Cup Winners Cup campaigns of 1986-87 and 87-88.
It was a red letter night for one of their former manager's Bobby Robson as he celebrated his 70th birthday with a 3-1 victory away at last season's demoralised finalists Bayer Leverkusen in the other Group A clash.
The Germans caretaker manager Thomas Horster finished with a decidedly different expression on his face than Barca counterpart Radomir Antic's in their respective maiden matches of the present campaign.
Barcelona, whose league form has been mediocre at best, lead the group by three points from Inter – whose Uruguayan international striker Alvaro Recoba will be missing the return fixture after being sent off – while Newcastle have three and Bayer none.
There was a look of thunder on a former manager of Barca's bitter rivals Real Madrid as Fabio Capello's Roma side suffered another blow to their hopes of reaching the last eight going down to a freak 1-0 defeat at home to Valencia.
Like Leverkusen Roma have no points after three matches and with Valencia joining Arsenal and Ajax – who drew 1-1 in London – on five points in Group B, Capello's learning of German may come in handy sooner than he thought.
Goals from Javier Saviola, Philip Cocu and Patrick Kluivert made it a milestone night at the Nou Camp against an Italian side that was reduced to ten men with the 80th minute sending off of Recoba for stamping on defender Carlos Puyol.
Argentine striker Saviola had a superb game, opening the scoring early and playing a large part in the other two with Kluivert's the 20th Champions League goal of his career bringing him second equal in the all-time list but still 10 off leader Raul.
A double from Nigerian-born Shola Ameobi and one from Democratic Republic of Congo international striker Lomana LuaLua – who were playing instead of the suspended Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy – gave Newcastle and Robson a memorable victory.
Bayer's misfit of a record signing Brazilian striker Franca briefly gave them hope when he reduced the lead to 2-1.
Robson admitted the three points had handed his side a lifeline, though Newcastle managed to make the second phase despite losing their first three in the first stage.
“I think if we had lost it tonight then we would have been out of it,” said the former England handler.
“However now without being boastful about it if we pick up another three points at home to Bayer next week then we are in with a real chance with the big two to come.
“This is the only birthday present I really wanted,” added Robson, whose victory on Tuesday will surely rank alongside his 54th birthday when England went to Spain and won 4-2 with Gary Lineker scoring all the goals.
A resilient Ajax side held Arsenal landing a blow for the English champions' drive for a place in the last eight of the Champions League.
A fifth-minute strike by Sylvain Wiltord was cancelled out by Nigel de Jong's equaliser 12 minutes later and despite long periods of intense pressure the Gunners were unable to claim a winner that would have put them in pole position to advance to the knock-out phase of the competition.
Ajax boss Ronald Koeman believed that if Ajax attacked as well as they defended they might well go one better against Arsenal next week, particularly if South African youngster Steven Pienaar neutralised Patrick Vieira again.
“If we play in defence like we did tonight then we have a chance in that match but we will have to play better than we did tonight when we are in possession,” Koeman said.
“I enjoyed watching Pienaar tonight,” Koeman said.
“For his age (20) he is playing fantastically and he really was our best player.”
John Carew's bizarre goal 12 minutes from time settled a tight contest between Valencia and Roma.
The Norwegian striker picked up a pass out on the right wing and delivered what appeared to be a cross into Roma's penalty area.
But the ball sailed towards goal, catching Ivan Pelizzoli hopelessly out of position, and crept in at the near post, to the dismay of the Roma goalkeeper.
Capello said the manner of defeat was typical of Roma's season.
“Once again a piece of bad luck has cost us the match,” he said.
“We didn't deserve to end up empty-handed. We were very much in it until Carew scored.”
However Capello's opposite number Rafael Benitez saw things differently.
Without a hint of a smile, Benitez said he thought Carew was going for goal when he scored the late winner.
“He's a striker and when he gets a sight of goal, he shoots,” he said. – AFP