Platini's Champions League dream coming true

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports

Michel Platini was widely ridiculed when he tried to cut down the dominance of Europe's big leagues by attempting to add some equality to the Champions League.

The UEFA president's plan to increase the number of national champions from smaller countries entering the group stage, at the expense of a third or fourth team from the bigger leagues, was expected to deprive the competition of quality. Instead, Platini's idea has, rather surprisingly, begun to bear fruit.

This week's spate of shocking results proved that there is good soccer to be played by teams from less-exposed nations – and that such clubs can rise to the challenge if given an opportunity against the big boys.

No one really understands the new and convoluted qualifying system, which appears to have been devised in a darkened lab by a team of sleepless number-crunchers with too much time on their hands. Even so, Platini could not have wished for a better outcome or a more resounding endorsement of the system he championed.

Rubin Kazan's stirring win at Barcelona and Unirea Urziceni's trouncing of Rangers highlighted the capability that exists in the Russian and Romanian leagues. FC Zurich's victory at AC Milan in the previous round had a similar effect for Switzerland.

Let us not forget that the Champions League participants are still playing for the European Cup and that this competition began with every national champion having an equal crack at the trophy.

The ethos of the "best playing the best" is critical to the ongoing vibrancy of the Champions League.

But surprise results and Platini's vision are showing that quality does not always come in the form of a recognized name from a high-profile league.

Yahoo! Sports' UEFA Champions League rankings

1. Chelsea: Sketchy in the Premiership, rampant in Europe.

2. Manchester United: Perfect three-from-three so far.

3. Lyon: Full of class and a genuine contender.

4. Arsenal: Quietly easing toward the last 16.

5. Barcelona: Shocking defeat but still loaded with talent.

6. Real Madrid: Defensive worries could cost them.

7. Sevilla: Wreaking havoc in an easy group.

8. AC Milan: Back to form with a spectacular Bernabeu triumph.

Man of the matches

Alexandre Pato. The 20-year-old Brazilian masterminded AC Milan's remarkable victory to pull the Rossoneri out of their slump in spectacular fashion. Pato's superb volley from a Clarence Seedorf cross showed why he is one of the world's finest young players and sealed a memorable result.

Shock of the week

So many upsets to choose from this week, but Rubin Kazan's stunning victory at Barcelona was the pick of the bunch. Gokdeniz Karadeniz sealed the win as the Russian side refused to be awed by its surroundings.

We're happy

Unirea Urziceni. The Romanian side, expected to be one of the weakest teams in this year's competition, stunned Glasgow Rangers with a 4-1 road win and is now two points clear in second place in a weak Group G.

I'm not

Iker Casillas has long been one of soccer's finest goalkeepers, yet he looked woefully out of sorts against Milan. Casillas was out of position for Milan's opening goal, then foolishly rushed out of his area at the wrong moment to allow Pato to strike the second.

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