Friday, October 31, 2008

Madrid dispel De la Red concerns

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Real Madrid CF have announced that midfielder Rubén de la Red is out of danger after the player collapsed on the pitch during his team's 3-2 Copa del Rey defeat by second-tier Real Unión Club on Thursday night.

On-field fright
The Spanish international was jogging out of the opposition area when he fainted in the 13th minute of the last-32 meeting. De la Red regained consciousness but was substituted and taken to the Hospital Comarcal in Irun, where he spent the night as a precaution. Club doctors say the 23-year-old blacked out due to a drop in blood pressure caused by overexertion. Real Unión will take a one-goal advantage to the Santiago Bernabéu in a fortnight's time thanks to first leg goals from Juan Domínguez (2) and Iñaqui Goikoetxea. Gonzalo Higuían and Javier Saviola were Madrid's scorers.

Blanc's flame burns bright at Bordeaux

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Dreamer. The word crops up often in the speech of Laurent Blanc, if only as shorthand for everything he claims not to be. Despite leading FC Girondins de Bordeaux into the UEFA Champions League in his first season as coach last term, the former French international defender prefers to trade in cold, hard footballing realities rather than terrace fantasies of what his team can achieve.

Successful start
After missing out on a number of coaching jobs through inexperience, Blanc was finally given a chance to prove his worth at the Stade Chaban-Delmas in June 2007. It looked a gamble on the part of the Garonne outfit, but the 1998 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2000™ winner promptly led the side to runners-up spot in Ligue 1, taking eventual seven-time champions Olympique Lyonnais right to the wire for the first time in years. That opened the door to Europe's premier club competition, as well as raising expectations Blanc constantly strives to keep in check.

CFR test
"In terms of the UEFA Champions League, we know very well that we don't have the resources to win it," he said. "We're not dreamers, but we're still going to do all we can to get through the group stage. That's going to be a major difficulty because we got two big clubs in the draw in Chelsea [FC] and [AS] Roma. My hope is that we'll still be alive up until the last game, but even that will be very hard." It seems a little more plausible after Blanc's men overcame CFR 1907 Cluj 1-0 on Matchday 3, although they still lie bottom in Group A and require a positive result from their trip to the second-placed Romanian side on Tuesday.

No shame
Les Marine et Blanc have at least come a long way since their chastening 4-0 opening-day loss at Stamford Bridge. Blanc wishes his players had been more aggressive in London but feels they face harsh odds in such élite company. "I don't think it's shameful for a team like Bordeaux to lose 4-0 to Chelsea," he explained. "To compete against the big clubs in Europe, we need more experience, as a team and on an individual level, and, I'm afraid, more money – if you don't have those two things, it's very hard to compete."

Past mentors
That hard-headed approach makes even Manchester United FC manager Sir Alex Ferguson appear a fresh-faced romantic, the Scotsman being one of several former mentors the ex-United, FC Barcelona, FC Internazionale Milano and Olympique de Marseille centre-back could now seek advice from. "I see him more than I call him," Blanc said of Sir Alex. "I saw him at UEFA [headquarters] for a coaches' meeting [pre-season] and he said that anything's possible, which is what a lot of managers think."

Unfinished business
Sir Alex nonetheless gave Blanc his initial taste of the competition in the twilight of his playing career, memories of which suddenly rouse the Ales native. "The Champions League was a big dream because when I first experienced it at Manchester United I was already 34 or 35," he said, using the D word with a positive spin for once. "When I played in it at that age, I realised I'd made a big mistake in not playing in it before. So, for me, it's a very interesting part of my progress and motivation to measure myself against the best in Europe." There is unfinished business, one might even say a hunger stirred by that late introduction which no amount of cautious talk can disguise. Indeed, as one of the world's finest defenders in his pomp, perhaps no one should be surprised to hear Blanc affect a defensive stance now. He is in his element.

Man Utd sponsor deal for Hublot

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Manchester United has signed a new multi-million pound sponsorship deal with Swiss watch manufacturers Hublot.

Hublot, which provided the timing at Euro 2008, has paid a reported £4m for a three-year partnership deal with the Champions League holders.

It joins Saudi Telecom, Budweiser, and Seoul Metropolitan Government as sponsors who have committed themselves to Manchester United this season.

The Swiss firm will now have its brand name around Old Trafford stadium.

United's shirt sponsor AIG has recently been, in effect, nationalised by the US Federal Reserve.

AIG required an $85bn (£52bn) loan last month from the US central bank in order to avoid financial collapse in the face of the global credit crisis.

At the time, United refused to comment on whether AIG's plight endangered any sponsorship money it might be owed by the giant US insurer.

After signing the Hublot deal, Man Utd chief executive David Gill said: "We are delighted to welcome such a prestigious partner as Hublot to the Manchester United family."

Jean-Claude Biver, chief executive of Hublot, said it was "an extraordinary partnership for Hublot".

Hublot was founded in 1980 by Carlo Crocco. As part of the sponsorship deal, the luxury watchmaker is to produce a Red Devil watch, with a 45-minute counter - the time of a half of play in football.

Bojan prepared to work for Barcelona berth

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With FC Barcelona attracting attention from all quarters due to Josep Guardiola's 'revolution' at the club, last season's sensation Bojan Krkić is taking something of a back seat.

Double strike
Bojan caused a stir with his prolific record in the youth ranks. Having been joint-top scorer at the 2006 UEFA European Under-17 Championship for Spain aged just 15, a year later he struck the winning goal in the final. By then Frank Rijkaard had already included him in his first-team squad, and in 2007/08 the Dutchman made Bojan the youngest Barcelona player to appear in the UEFA Champions League. He also became their youngest goalscorer in a Liga match and his ten strikes 14 starts endeared him further to the Camp Nou crowd.

Substitute role
However, since Guardiola succeeded Rijkaard in the summer, the forward has been eclipsed by other starlets including Sergi Busquets, Pedro Rodríguez and Víctor Sánchez. Bojan is yet to start a Liga game, coming off the bench seven times. "As his coach, I haven't seen an opportunity for him to start a game yet," Guardiola said earlier this month. "The only problem he has is that it's me who decides who plays but, look, he's been involved in nearly every game this season."

Basel comeback
Guardiola did give Bojan a start on UEFA Champions League Matchday 3 at FC Basel 1893, and the 18-year-old responded with a fine performance that included two goals in a 5-0 win. "I'm happy I was in the starting lineup," Bojan said. "I tried to enjoy it as much as possible and scoring two goals was a big help. We gained an important victory and would seem to have almost qualified. We must now try to win [at home to Basel on Tuesday] and also the games that come after that; that's our goal."

No frustration
Given his senior Spain debut against Armenia last month, Bojan is not frustrated that, just for the moment, his stellar rise has been checked. "Step by step I'm getting my opportunities and what's important for me is to be prepared to show my best whenever possible," Bojan said. "Little by little I need to gain the trust of the coach and prove I can play at the same level as my team-mates."

Growing
Along with earning Guardiola's trust, Bojan is also demonstrating his reliability to produce the goods when needed. A wonderfully struck 52nd- minute goal gave his team a first-leg win in the Copa del Rey round of 32 encounter with Benidorm CD on Tuesday. Bojan later mentioned that, despite his reported shyness in the dressing room, he is growing with every game. "I'm continuing in a calm manner to gain confidence," he said. "We've earned [our tenth consecutive] victory here and of course I'm thrilled with my goal." For now, Bojan seems quite happy to blend in with others who came through the Barcelona ranks, including Víctor Valdés, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi and his close friend Gerard Piqué.

Mutu to play on despite knee strain

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ACF Fiorentina have denied reports suggesting Adrian Mutu needs a knee operation after the striker was rested for Wednesday's scoreless draw against FC Internazionale Milano, although the Viola have confirmed that the Romanian international requires "about four weeks to completely recover from his injury".

No operation
Mutu scored 17 Serie A goals last term, but has registered just three so far this season as he continues to struggle with a knee complaint. Rather than going under the knife, however, the 29-year-old will continue a tailored rehabilitation programme which does not involve surgery, according to club doctor Paolo Manetti. He said: "Cesare Prandelli will decide whether or not to field him on a case-by-case basis over the next month."

Duo return
Mutu may therefore be used in Fiorentina's two UEFA Champions League games in November – home ties against FC Bayern München on Wednesday and Olympique Lyonnais three weeks later – while being rested for selected domestic matches. Coach Prandelli said: "I don't know if he'll be available for our league fixture on Sunday [at AC Siena]. We also have to think about the Bayern match which is very important." The Italian side are third in Group F on two points, five behind the German champions. Meanwhile, Juan Manuel Vargas and Massimo Gobbi are available again after shaking off minor injuries which kept them out of the Inter game.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Milan set for talks over Beckham

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AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani revealed he is set to hold talks over David Beckham's possible loan move from LA Galaxy in January.

Galliani said on Thursday: "Beckham's lawyers will be in Milan today. We will begin negotiations.

"I do not know if we will have a positive outcome or not but I hope and I believe that we will."

Beckham, 33, wants to stay fit in the MLS close-season but would return to the US in March for the new campaign.

The former England captain had been a target of Milan before, in January 2007, but opted instead to move to Los Angeles from Real Madrid.

Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti has given the blessing for the midfielder to join up with his squad, and provide more competition for places.

Earlier this week LA Galaxy announced they have postponed their December tour of Australia because of Beckham's impending move to Italy.

LA Galaxy had been due to face the Queensland Roar on 11 December in Brisbane but will rearrange the fixture for a later date, yet to be confirmed.

"We were not in a position to absolutely guarantee David Beckham's availability," Galaxy's business operations president Tom Payne said.

"To avoid disappointment for the fans it was decided to postpone this game."

However, the Galaxy will still play a 6 December fixture against an Oceania All Star team in Auckland, New Zealand.

Beckham scored against Sydney FC last November, when the Galaxy previously toured Australia.

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder is hoping that a move to Milan will boost his chances of selection in the national squad.

Ljungberg makes switch to Seattle

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Freddie Ljungberg has become the latest big-name player to move to Major League Soccer after signing to play for the Seattle Sounders.

The 31-year-old former Arsenal and Sweden star has made a two-year commitment to the MLS newcomers in a deal reported to be worth $5m a year.

He had been without a club since leaving West Ham by mutual consent over the summer.

"I'm really happy to be here, I feel so welcomed by everybody," he said.

Ljungberg made the decision to join the MLS despite friends telling him to stay in Europe.

"I'm coming here because I want to play football and I see this as a great experience and I want to make it a better league and develop it," he added.

"I felt if I was going to do this as a sincere thing, I should go now. I shouldn't go in three years when I'm past my peak.

"I wanted a new experience and I think it will be good for me."

Sounders co-owner and Hollywood director Joe Roth compared the signing of Ljungberg to the deal that took David Beckham to the LA Galaxy in the summer of 2007.

"I would say in terms of significance to the league, he is certainly one of the two significant European players to come so far," Roth said.

The Sounders are backed by Roth and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, as well as a number of minority owners including comedian Drew Carey.

Seattle will join MLS next season as the league's 15th team and they have already sold more than 17,000 season tickets.

Ljungberg joins former Tottenham and Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Kasey Keller - a Seattle native - as well as midfielder Sanna Nyassi and striker Sebastien Le Toux as the only players on the club's roster at present.

They will acquire more players when an expansion draft is held on 26 November.

Tevez still has future - Ferguson

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Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson insists Carlos Tevez is still a key player for the club after handing the striker his first start in a month.

Tevez, 24, has suffered since £31m Dimitar Berbatov arrived but partnered him in Wednesday's win over West Ham.

"He has not started as many games as he would like but he is just as important to us as the guys who have hogged the headlines of late," said Ferguson.

"I stressed to him last week that our faith in him remains absolute."

The Argentine is still effectively on loan at United, having arrived on a two-year-deal from West Ham in 2007, but says he hopes to agree terms on a permanent contract at Old Trafford before the end of the season.

However, his future at United has been brought into question recently following the arrival of Berbatov from Spurs, along with the superb form of England striker Wayne Rooney but Ferguson is adamant he still has a major role to play.

"He remains a top player in the eyes of myself, the players and our supporters," he said.

"But three players will not fit into two positions and my job is to balance the team.

"Carlos worked really hard in the first half but I felt in the second he was feeling the effects of playing his first game for so long."

Speaking after the 2-0 win over West Ham, in which Tevez performed impressively, Ferguson also paid tribute to Berbatov.

The languid Bulgarian forward produced a superb piece of skill to take the ball past West Ham defender James Collins on his way to creating the game's second goal for Cristiano Ronaldo.

"Dimitar's play for the second goal was absolutely magnificent," added Ferguson.

"You would pay a lot of money to watch that. He has such fantastic control and balance. It truly was marvellous."

Retired Micheľ takes Shakhtar role

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Ľuboš Micheľ, who refereed the 2008 UEFA Champions League final but had to retire last week because of injury, has joined Ukrainian titleholders FC Shakhtar Donetsk as head of their international competitions department.

'Unexpected'
The 40-year-old Slovakian called time on his refereeing career after succumbing to an achilles injury, and in his new role will be responsible for all organisational aspects of international competitions in which Shakhtar participate – from the UEFA Champions League to youth tournaments. Micheľ, who besides his native language speaks English, German, Russian and Polish, said: "The invitation from Donetsk was quite unexpected, but I accepted the offer as I want to stay in football."

Career
Micheľ began refereeing in 1987, made his top-flight debut in 1993, and graduated to FIFA level in 1994. A UEFA Champions League match official since 1998, Micheľ took charge of the 2008 final between Manchester United FC and Chelsea FC in Moscow, five years after overseeing the 2003 UEFA Cup decider involving FC Porto and Celtic FC in Seville – making him the first official since Pierluigi Collina to referee both major club finals. Micheľ also officiated at two UEFA European Championships and FIFA World Cups. Shakhtar are currently competing in UEFA Champions League Group C, with three points from three games ahead of their 4 November visit to Sporting Clube de Portugal.

Klinsmann urges Bayern to push on

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Having given them a rare Sunday off, FC Bayern München coach Jürgen Klinsmann has urged his resurgent team to show their "desire to go to the limit" in every match as they look to qualify for the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League and continue their ascent up the Bundesliga.

'Big ask'
Bayern's form has been steady rather than spectacular since the 44-year-old replaced Ottmar Hitzfeld in the summer, although back-to-back domestic victories against Karlsruher SC and VfL Wolfsburg either side of a 3-0 defeat of ACF Fiorentina have brought the feel-good factor back to the Fußball Arena München. "We wanted [Sunday] to be a treat for a job well done. Up to now, and partially because of our bumpy pre-season, we've not had many days off," Klinsmann told fcbayern.de before tonight's game at Eintracht Frankfurt. "In terms of fitness, we're where we want to be. The decisive factor over the coming weeks will be our desire to go to the limit every time, always giving 100 per cent. It's a big ask for the players to pull out all the stops every three or four days, but that's why we're at Bayern and that's why we'll succeed."

'Right mental attitude'
The champions are seventh after climbing six places on Saturday, and they plan to be looking down on the rest when the first half of the season concludes on 14 December. "We're gradually making up ground," continued Klinsmann. "We're hoping to take the next step in Frankfurt. Our goal is to get back to the very top as soon as possible. We're expecting a very, very tough match in a seething cauldron. I can imagine Frankfurt focusing mainly on defence, so we'll have to go there with the right mental attitude, and be prepared to go to the limit. We're there or thereabouts now, and we have to keep it up to get where we want to be in the table."

No1 in Europe
Bayern are exactly where they want to be in Europe, unbeaten and top of Group F with seven points from three games ahead of next Wednesday's rematch with Fiorentina. A victory in Florence could send them into the last 16 with two matches to play. The Bavarians have conceded just once in ties against FC Steaua Bucureşti, Olympique Lyonnais and Fiorentina – a sign, perhaps, that goalkeeper Michael Rensing is "heading in the right direction" after replacing the retired Oliver Kahn as Bayern's No1. "The odd mistake is part of the maturing process," said the 24-year-old's coach. "What he has to do at the moment is earn the respect of his team-mates, especially the defenders, of course. He'll only do that with consistently excellent displays." Another in Frankfurt will continue both his and Bayern's rise.

Pjanić propelled out of Lyon reckoning

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Olympique Lyonnais will be without Bosnia-Herzegovina midfielder Miralem Pjanić for a number of weeks after he suffered a fracture to his right fibula during Wednesday's 2-0 Ligue 1 win at FC Sochaux-Montbéliard.

Red card
The 18-year-old was hurt in a challenge with Sochaux's Stéphane Dalmat soon after coming on as a substitute, and while Dalmat was dismissed for a foul, Pjanić was forced off the field with what proved to be a fracture. Pjanić is certain to miss the UEFA Champions League Matchday 4 visit of FC Steaua Bucureşti on 5 November and must be considered doubtful for his club's remaining Group F fixtures. The four-times international, who joined Lyon from relegated FC Metz in the summer, was making his seventh Ligue 1 appearance for the French champions.

Better news
However, Lyon coach Claude Puel has had better news concerning Juninho Pernambucano and Ederson, who are fit again after minor knocks and should be available for Sunday's home game against Le Mans UC 72, along with goalkeeper Hugo Lloris who has overcome a bout of flu. Lyon are second in Group F with five points from three outings.

Chelsea confirm Carvalho absence

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Portuguese international centre-back Ricardo Carvalho could miss Chelsea FC's next two UEFA Champions League fixtures after pulling a hamstring during Wednesday's 3-0 Premier League victory at Hull City AFC.

Rome trip
The 30-year-old only returned last week from a month on the sidelines with a strained medial collateral ligament in his knee, and now faces "a minimum of three weeks" out after leaving the pitch late on clutching the back of his thigh. Carvalho will definitely sit out Tuesday's trip to AS Roma – when a win could clinch qualification for the knockout stages – and possibly the penultimate Group A game at FC Girondins de Bordeaux on 26 November. The former FC Porto defender will also play no part in Portugal's friendly in Brazil on 19 November.

Cole concern
Joe Cole also injured an ankle at the KC Stadium, and was taken off as a precaution in the 54th minute to prevent further damage. Chelsea "retain hope" that the midfield player will be fit for Saturday's visit of Sunderland AFC, however. Frank Lampard (3), Nicolas Anelka (50) and Florent Malouda (75) scored unanswered goals at Hull as Chelsea put Sunday's home defeat by Liverpool FC behind them to remain three points behind the Premier League leaders with ten rounds played.

Lampard praised
Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari reserved special praise for Lampard's early strike. "It's one of the best goals I've seen in my life," said the 59-year-old. "It is a goal only a player of Frank Lampard's quality can score. He is an intelligent player, all game he played very well, and he is a man who's never tired. I don't see any player who's the same as Lampard. He is fantastic for a coach."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

PSV's Bréchet to miss Marseille trip

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PSV Eindhoven say Jérémie Bréchet "will probably be out for several weeks" after the French central defender picked up an injury during Saturday's 3-2 home defeat by Roda JC.

Scan needed
The 29-year-old was substituted in the first half of the Eredivisie fixture with what appeared to be a pulled hamstring and needs to undergo an MRI scan this week to determine the nature and extent of the injury. Midfield player Nordin Amrabat went off with a groin strain in the same game although PSV have not commented on the 21-year-old's injury. Having beaten Olympique de Marseille on Matchday 3, the Dutch champions travel to France for the Group D return a week on Tuesday.

Muntari blow adds to Mourinho concerns

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Midfielder Sulley Muntari is expected to miss FC Internazionale Milano's visit to Anorthosis Famagusta FC on Matchday 4 of the UEFA Champions League after injuring his right thigh during the goalless draw at home to Genoa CFC on Sunday.

Vieira out
The 24-year-old Ghanaian international was substituted after 55 minutes against Genoa and is unlikely to recover in time for the trip to Cyprus on 4 November. Muntari's absence will be a blow to coach José Mourinho who is already without Patrick Vieira who is suffering from a calf problem. "[Muntari] certainly won't be available on Wednesday [at ACF Fiorentina]," Mourinho said. "We've got a lot of problems in central midfield at the moment." Inter top Group B with seven points from three matches, sitting three points above Anorthosis after beating the Cypriot side 1-0 at San Siro last week.

Ronaldo pledges future to Man Utd

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Cristiano Ronaldo has admitted he made the right decision to reject Real Madrid and said he expects to stay at Manchester United beyond this season.

Last week Real president Ramon Calderon said his interest in Ronaldo is over.

"Now I understand I made the best decision," Ronaldo told Spanish sports paper Marca. "I am with Manchester in body and soul.

"I want to respect the club, my colleagues and the fans and don't want to talk about other teams at present."

The 23-year-old winger, who is under contract at Old Trafford until 2012, was heavily linked with a switch to Spain earlier this year, but Calderon told the BBC that "it is a situation we have to forget".

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"Manchester (United) would not like to lose him - that is the situation," Calderon told Radio Five Live's Sportsweek programme."

"Manchester didn't want to sell over the last three or four months but we don't want to get into trouble with them as they are one of the biggest clubs in the world.

"You can never be sure what will happen in the future but Real Madrid want to have a good relationship with Manchester.

"We do not want disturb them in any way over any possible signing that they are not willing to accept.

"We know it is not easy to sign players from big clubs in the middle of the season.

"I don't think we'll sign anyone unless we have any serious injuries."

The Portuguese international netted 41 goals last season for United and Real coach Bernd Schuster publicly declared his desire to have him at the Bernabeu.

Ronaldo wins world players' award

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Manchester United and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo has been named FifPro World Footballer of the Year, beating 54 other top players on the shortlist.

The honour, voted for by professional footballers from all over the world, was widely expected after Ronaldo scored 42 goals for United last season.

Ronaldo was also named in the FifPro team of the year, alongside his United team-mate Rio Ferdinand.

"To be recognised by my fellow players is amazing," said the 23-year-old.

"I would like to thank my team-mates and coaches and everyone involved at United and the national team, as well as my family and friends for their support."

Liverpool's Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres and Chelsea and England captain John Terry also made the team, along with AC Milan midfielder Kaka and Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

Ronaldo, who was the driving force behind United's Premier League and Champions League double last season, is also a strong contender to win the Fifa World Player of the Year award and the Ballon d'Or

He was linked with a move to Real Madrid during the summer but the winger is looking to put that episode behind him, while revealing United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was the major factor behind his decision to stay.

"Sir Alex has been a big inspiration to me," he said. "He believed in me enough to buy me. I have learned so many things from him and I am continuing to learn because he is a great manager.

"Of course, he was the main factor in keeping me here. But what happened in the summer is finished. Now my head is on the club. My focus is solely on playing well for Manchester United and winning the Premier League and Champions League again."

Ronaldo has three goals to his name this season after missing the start of the campaign through injury, but Ferguson has backed the star to come good.

"I still think he will beat 25," said Ferguson. "It is going to be difficult because he has had a stop-start beginning to the season.

"He had the operation on his ankle so he has missed a few games and he is just getting his rhythm back.

"The number of goals he scored last year was absolutely phenomenal. But I hope he can be equally as good this year in terms of his contribution to the team."

The original 55-man FifPro shortlist included Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabregas.

FifPro is the worldwide representative organisation for professional football players, with more than 57,500 members.


FifPro World XI:

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Spain/Real Madrid)

Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Spain/Real Madrid); John Terry (England/Chelsea); Carles Puyol (Spain/ Barcelona); Rio Ferdinand (England/Manchester United)

Midfielders: Steven Gerrard (England/Liverpool); Xavi (Spain/Barcelona); Kaka (Brazil/AC Milan).

Forwards: Lionel Messi (Argentina/Barcelona); Fernando Torres (Spain/Liverpool); Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal/Manchester United)

Monday, October 27, 2008

EPL review

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Alonso and Liverpool conquer Stamford Bridge

Xabi Alonso's first league goal since September 2007 ended Chelsea FC's 86-match unbeaten home record in the Premier League and sent Liverpool FC three points clear of the Londoners and Hull City AFC at the summit.


Record gone
Alonso's 10th-minute drive from the edge of the penalty area took a deflection off José Bosingwa to wrong-foot goalkeeper Petr Čech and condemn Chelsea to their first loss at Stamford Bridge in the top flight since a 2-1 defeat by London rivals Arsenal FC on 21 February 2004. Aside from losing their long unbeaten record at home, Chelsea also suffered their first league reverse of the season, leaving Rafael Benítez's Liverpool as the only team yet to lose in the Premier League this season.

Cole chance
Content with their early lead, Liverpool opted to sit back, allowing Luiz Felipe Scolari's team to exert a period of sustained pressure on the visitors' goal. However, Liverpool opened up more after the restart and Spanish international midfielder Alonso came close to doubling the Merseyside club's lead when his free-kick struck the base of Čech's left-hand post midway through the second half. Chelsea desperately pressed for an equaliser but could find no way through a resolute Liverpool rearguard, Ashley Cole squandering their best chance when he missed his kick in front of goal following Franco Di Santo's header down late on.

Robinho hat-trick
A Julien Faubert own goal (75) and a late Emmanuel Adebayor strike earned Arsenal FC a 2-0 win at West Ham United FC to move the north-London club into fourth, one place above Aston Villa FC following their 4-0 win at Wigan Athletic FC. Gareth Barry's 22nd-minute penalty started the scoring, with Gabriel Agbonlahor (57), John Carew (62) and Steve Sidwell (90) adding further goals in the second half. Elsewhere, Robinho (14, 47, 72) scored a hat-trick as seventh-placed Manchester City FC beat Stoke City FC 3-0.


Redknapp influence
Meanwhile, Harry Redknapp steered bottom of the table Tottenham Hotspur FC to their first league win of the season less than 24 hours after succeeding Juande Ramos. Goals in either half from Roman Pavlyuchenko (17) and a Darren Bent penalty (76) accounted for Bolton Wanderers FC. Elsewhere, managerless Portsmouth FC drew 1-1 at home with Fulham FC.

Rome looking to stage best final yet

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There could have been few grander settings for the launch of the 2009 UEFA Champions League final logo and design than the near 500-year-old Julius Caesar Hall in Rome's Campodoglio.

Location
A stone's throw from the Colosseum, the hall conceived by Michelangelo was a fitting venue for the unveiling of the 2009 final logo before scores of reporters, photographers and cameramen. At the focal point of the design is the UEFA Champions League trophy, sitting above a laurel wreath and below the words 'Hail the Champions'. The walls of the world-famous gladiatorial arena frame the trophy and the overwhelming colour is burgundy. "It is about harmonising the symbols of victory of ancient times with those of today," said UEFA competitions director Giorgio Marchetti, "and what better setting for our modern trophy than Rome."

Beautiful game
Italian Football Federation vice-president Demetrio Albertini, who lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup three times as an AC Milan player, said: "Coming to the world's most beautiful city, we want to stage the most beautiful Champions League final so far. There is an embarrassment of riches in this city for travelling fans and we are prioritising security so that children and families will have no doubts about coming along to make up the crowd.

Home hopes
"Ultimately, though, the final is about the clubs and the players," Albertini added, "and I want to say good luck to the four Italian clubs – FC Internazionale Milano, AS Roma, Juventus and ACF Fiorentina. We hope to see them in the final."

Rome's role
Showing the kind of hospitality that supporters visiting the city can expect by offering the use of a hall normally reserved for council business, Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno described next year's 27 May showpiece as more that just a sporting occasion. "This is a great honour for the city to host such an event," Alemanno said. "It is a social event and we want to show the world what this great city can do. It is a way of cultivating our football but also of showing that our people, organisations and institutions can overcome any difficulties that may present themselves."

Founding fathers
Before the final takes place, the UEFA Champions Festival – a five-day celebration of football to be staged in the heart of the city – will form part of the build-up, while the launch of ticket sales is planned for 16 February, 100 days before the big game. In addition, the cup handover ceremony is scheduled for 21 April, a day known as 'Il Natale di Roma' which celebrates the foundation of Rome by twins Romulus and Remus in 753 BC.

Italian renaissance
Serie A teams have featured on the last two occasions the final was held in the Italian capital: Juventus defeating AFC Ajax in 1996, 12 years after Liverpool overcame Roma, with both finals being decided on penalties. Italian FA president Giancarlo Abete also hoped there would be Italian involvement on 27 May. "English clubs have dominated of late with two sides in last season's final, but it would be nice if at least one of our teams made it as has happened in the past," Abete said. "The key thing is to deliver a good event. UEFA has believed in us and we will deliver. It is fitting the match will be played at the Stadio Olimpico which bears the hallmarks of the Colosseum."

Facelift
Raffaele Pagnozzi, general secretary of the Italian Olympic Committee, promised that the stadium, whose capacity for the final will be 73,000, would be at its best: "There has been investment and the place will look just as good as the city."

Munteanu takes Steaua baton from Lăcătuş

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FC Steaua Bucureşti have appointed Dorinel Munteanu as their head coach on a two-year contract.

Change of leadership
The 40-year-old former Romanian international midfielder replaces Marius Lăcătuş who resigned last Wednesday in the wake of Steaua's 5-3 home defeat by Olympique Lyonnais in the UEFA Champions League. Munteanu left his job at second division CFM Universitatea Cluj on Saturday, having been in charge for four months only. His coaching experience also includes spells with CFR 1907 Cluj, FC 2005 SA Arges and SC Vaslui.

Record holder
Lăcătuş had guided Steaua to second place last season but they are currently fourth in the Liga 1 table and bottom of UEFA Champions League Group F – where they have one point from three games. Munteanu is Romania's record cap holder, having played 134 times for his country. He appeared at the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cups as well as at EURO 96™ and UEFA EURO 2000™. During a long playing career, he represented FC Inter Sibiu, FC Dinamo 1948 Bucureşti and Steaua – winning the league title in 2004/05 – in addition to spells abroad with Belgium's Cercle Brugge KSV, and 1. FC Köln and VfL Wolfsburg in Germany. In summer 2005 he was appointed CFR coach and immediately reached the UEFA Intertoto Cup final in his first campaign, the club's European debut.

Beckham is best says Roberto Carlos

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No mean practitioner himself, Roberto Carlos has told that his former team-mate David Beckham – whom AC Milan are keen to bring back to Europe on loan from Los Angeles Galaxy – is the best free-kick taker he has ever seen.

Expert delivery
In an exclusive interview with the UEFA Training Ground, the former Brazil left-back, who played alongside Beckham at Real Madrid CF between 2003 and 2007, spoke of the dilemma caused by the presence of two set-piece specialists whenever the team won a free-kick in opposition territory.

A thing of beauty
"It depended on the position of the ball and the distance," the 35-year-old Fenerbahçe SK defender said. "I would shoot it along the short side of the wall or over it, he would shoot wide of the wall or over it. I would stand on one side and Beckham on the other, but I wanted to see Beckham take the free-kick because it's beautiful how he hits the ball."

Exclusive club
Roberto Carlos, who also talks Training Ground users through the art of delivering free-kicks, is one of ten players to have made 100 or more UEFA Champions League appearances – his 117 outings being surpassed only by Real Madrid striker Raúl González. Ever-present in Fenerbahçe's European campaign this season, he won the continent's premier club trophy three times during an eleven-year spell in Spain.

Zidane supreme
Now in his second term at Fenerbahçe, he was part of Madrid's Galáctico side that included Beckham, Ronaldo, Zinédine Zidane and Luís Figo. One of that quartet, in particular, stood out for Roberto Carlos. "Beckham was an enormous example as a person and as a footballer. But, truly, the player who most impressed me for his quality, his calmness, his ability and his intelligence, it can only be Zidane," said the former SE Palmeiras and FC Internazionale Milano man.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Berbatov double leaves Celtic on the brink of Champions League elimination

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Berbatov
Dimitar Berbatov helped himself to a poacher's double as Manchester United cruised to a 3-0 win over Celtic that leaves the Scottish champions on the verge of Champions League elimination.

Wayne Rooney's ninth goal in seven matches for club and country completed what was an almost embarrassingly comfortable victory for the defending champions.

The knock that forced Cristiano Ronaldo off ten minutes from the end ensured it was not an altogether positive evening for United but Sir Alex Ferguson's side now know a victory in Glasgow in a fortnight's time will be enough to put them through to the knockout stages with two matches to spare.

For Celtic, with just one point from their opening three matches, the chances of survival now look slim after what was their tenth consecutive away defeat in the competition.

Celtic boss Gordon Strachan, who described Rooney as "unplayable" in his current form, admitted his side had been well beaten.

"Berbatov's two goals were offside but I am not going to sit here and scream about them," he said. "I am a football man and I know when I am beaten, well beaten, so does my team."

Ferguson said the win was evidence of the added dimension that Berbatov has brought to his team. "It was fantastic, a marvellous performance again," the Scot said of the Bulgarian's display.

"He is bringing that composure to the final third of the field. Hopefully the combination is developing with not only Wayne but also Carlos (Tevez)."

Ferguson's pre-match suggestion that Ronaldo was in need of a rest did not prevent him from naming the Portugal winger in a starting XI that also featured his international teammate, Nani.

With Scott McDonald their only fit first-team forward, Celtic had little option but to opt for a policy of containment with the Australian deployed as a lone striker ahead of a five-man midfield.

The ease with which Ronaldo, Berbatov and Rooney were able to escape their markers in the opening exchanges suggested the Scottish champions would struggle to execute their chosen tactics however, and United might have claimed a second-minute lead had an unmarked Anderson connected with Nani's inviting cross from the right.

Yet for all the artistry on display in front of him, it was the United goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar, who had the first saves to make.

Having turned away Aidan McGeady's low drive from the edge of the area, the Dutchman produced an even better effort to touch Gary Caldwell's first-time effort over the bar.

In between those two incidents there was an indicator of Rooney's current confidence in the acrobatic volley with which he met a Nani cross, only a block from Glenn Loovens denying him a spectacular goal.

Ronaldo was left equally frustrated when his 28th-minute strike whistled inches wide of Artur Boruc's left-hand post, but within two minutes United went ahead from a corner on the right.

Caldwell failed to clear Nani's delivery decisively and, after O'Shea had prodded the ball back into the six-yard box, Berbatov produced a deft flick with his back to goal to beat Boruc from a position that may have been fractionally offside.

That was the cue for United to turn the screw and Celtic's Polish goalkeeper did well to gather Rooney's 30-yard drive at full length.

United did have further reason to be grateful to van der Sar when O'Shea sliced a Nakamura freekick towards his own net, but the defending champions should have doubled their lead in first-half stoppage time.

Darren Fletcher looked composed as he gathered Rooney's chip and sidestepped Mark Wilson but his strike, which ended high into the stands, was anything but.

That miss was rendered insignificant five minutes into the second half when Boruc palmed one of Ronaldo's dipping freekicks back into the centre of his goalmouth instead of helping around the post. Berbatov eagerly accepted the invitation to claim his fifth United goal with a tap-in.

It should have been 3-0 minutes later, when Rooney had what television replays suggested was a legitimate goal ruled out for offside.

Another opportunity went begging when, with the goal unguarded following Boruc's rash dive at the feet of Berbatov, Rooney clipped a half-volley over the bar.

Substitute Carlos Tevez also went close before Rooney finally found the net by collecting the Argentinian's pass and drilling a low drive into the bottom corner from 18 yards out.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Adriano sends Inter clear of the pack

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FC Internazionale Milano went three points clear at the Group B summit after overcoming Anorthosis Famagusta FC thanks to Adriano's second UEFA Champions League goal of the campaign.

Decisive header
Adriano had scored a timely goal to seal Inter's 2-0 opening-night triumph against Panathinaikos FC and repeated the feat against a determined Anorthosis side. Just when it seemed the Cypriot outfit had managed to weather the first-half storm, Adriano struck, his header proving enough to earn a narrow win as the Nerazzurri's class told.

Sweeping move
José Mourinho had urged his team to avoid complacency against one of the competition's dark horses this season, and heeding those words the hosts immediately sought to assert their authority. They could have gone ahead as early as the fourth minute when Maicon nodded over after goalkeeper Arian Beqaj had flapped at a Dejan Stanković corner, and the latter flashed a low effort just wide from range soon after. The Inter threat was much broader, however, and on ten minutes a sweeping move down the right worked space for a Maicon cross that neatly controlled by Mancini, who teed up Sulley Muntari for a shot which Beqaj saved superbly.

Breakthrough
Anorthosis did give Francesco Toldo an early taste of the action when he was forced to repel Traianos Dellas's fierce free-kick, but most of the play was at the other end. Stanković, Esteban Cambiasso and Adriano were weaving neat patterns with swift, one-touch football; Adriano almost capped the deft approach work with a goal when his thumping strike swerved just wide. It was a rare chance, yet just as Temuri Ketsbaia's well-drilled defence looked to have reached half-time unbreached they fell behind. Zlatan Ibrahimović switched the play to the left flank with a sweeping pass to Maicon, who brought the ball down and sent over a measured in-swinger for Adriano to rise and head in from five metres.

Katsavakis chance
It was a big setback for the visitors, yet they almost had the perfect riposte a minute after the restart; however, the stretching, unmarked Nicos Katsavakis could not direct Jeffrey Leiwakabessy's curling free-kick on target. Inter retaliated in kind. Muntari sent Mancini's centre high and wide, although the Italian titleholders lacked the rhythm of the first half, their passes now going astray. Shots too: Ibrahimović should have doubled the advantage when Adriano sent him clear on 68 minutes but he poked his effort wide.

Points secure
Anorthosis were still in the match but struggled to escape the confines of their own half. Sávio instigated one rare sortie which Siniša Dobrašinović wasted, dithering too long and inviting the block, while Vincent Laban's attempted lob from 40 metres was ambitious at best. The more likely threat came from set-pieces and Toldo had to be alert to reach Sávio's cross ahead of Lukasz Sosin with ten minutes left. An equaliser would have been harsh on Inter, even if they did fail to sparkle. Ibrahimović saw another shot saved late on, while Quaresma miscontrolled with the goal gaping. Victory was already theirs, however.

Simão the great leveller for Atlético

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A late equaliser from Simão denied Liverpool FC a third successive UEFA Champions League victory and earned Club Atlético de Madrid a point which kept the Spanish side joint top of Group D.

Perfect starts
Both teams had won their first two fixtures yet the visitors began the brighter and took an early advantage when Robbie Keane raced clear of the home defence to score his second goal of the season. It looked like that solitary strike would be enough for the five-time European champions to take a firm grip on the section, but Javier Aguirre's side stuck to their task and finally gained their reward with seven minutes left, Simão finding the bottom corner of the net with a low shot.

Young additions
Aguirre had suggested there would be changes to the team beaten by Real Madrid CF at the weekend and he kept his word, with Sergio Agüero dropping to the bench and teenagers Ignacio Camacho and Álvaro Domínguez being given competition debuts in midfield and at centre-back respectively. The youngsters made a nervy start as Liverpool launched several high balls into the box, although it was one of Atlético's more experienced campaigners who was caught out on six minutes – Andrea Dossena left Luis García standing on the left but failed to pick out a team-mate when well-placed.

Keane opener
Camacho might have done better from Simão's free-kick as Atlético attempted to get a foothold in a game that the Premier League club were controlling. Instead, Liverpool made their initial territorial dominance pay in the 14th minute as Keane doubled his goal tally for the Reds. Steven Gerrard's through pass sprung the home defence and the Irishman slid a low shot past Leo Franco. Thereafter both sides were restricted to efforts from distance, with Giourkas Seitaridis firing too high for Atlético and Albert Riera and Xabi Alonso trying their luck as well, before one of Atlético's starlets made his presence felt as half-time approached. Camacho's ball from the left picked out Diego Forlán, yet the striker could only direct his attempt wide of the target.

Simão denied
With Atlético seeking a spark, Agüero was brought into the fray at half-time although the Argentinian took time to adjust to the pace of the contest. It was Liverpool who menaced the opposition defence first, as Yossi Benayoun had a goal ruled out for offside. Seitaridis did likewise at the other end, before Atlético came closer still with their very next attack – Pepe Reina having to dive full length to touch Simão's shot against his left-hand post. Franco flicked wide Alonso's strike, yet the hosts continued to threaten and a Seitaridis set-piece from the left could have caused problems had Jamie Carragher not headed away the danger.

Late reward
Just when it seemed Liverpool would hold on to their slender lead, however, Carragher failed to deal with a long ball forward and Forlán gathered possession before finding Simão, whose well-directed drive left Reina with no chance. There might have been more joy for the Liga outfit had the Liverpool keeper not tipped away a Miguel strike, although Ryan Babel's diving header past the post emphasised how either team could have won, or lost, an entertaining match.

Terry header ends Roma resistance

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Chelsea FC strengthened their hold on Group A when a header from John Terry 13 minutes from time finally broke the resistance of an AS Roma side who had battled hard and intelligently to keep the Blues at bay.

Improvement
Terry rose to guide in Frank Lampard's corner just when it seemed Chelsea might have to settle for a point. There were precious few clear-cut chances in the game, with the visitors closing down the spaces and defending well every time the ball came in from the flanks. Roma remain on three points – four behind Chelsea ahead of the return fixture in a fortnight – but will take comfort from a performance that was a considerable improvement after a run of poor results in Serie A.

Flicks and tricks
Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari had predicted that spectators would be treated to a "beautiful" match and the early stages bore that out as both teams passed the ball around with purpose and accuracy, every player eager to get involved. Francesco Totti was prominent for the Giallorossi with his control and eye-catching flicks while there was further evidence of the close rapport enjoyed by Lampard and Deco and the threat it poses to the opposition. Lampard, loitering in that area just behind the attack where he has plundered so many goals, brought down a bouncing ball and put a volley on target though it barely caused Doni to stretch.

Solid defence
Almost immediately Totti had a shooting chance at the other end but from distance he watched it slip tamely wide. Roma coach Luciano Spalletti had demanded a 'roll your sleeves up' work ethic following Sunday's 4-0 defeat by FC Internazionale Milano, and his side were responding, with the defensive axis of Philippe Mexès and Christian Panucci appearing particularly solid. After 20 minutes Mirko Vučinić found Totti and then made a forward run into the danger zone, the return pass from the Roma captain only narrowly missing its target. For Chelsea, John Mikel Obi's strong surge was stopped illegally by Mexès. Deco rolled the free-kick to Lampard and a searing shot scraped the frame of the goal on its way into the crowd.

Belletti on
Scolari took off Florent Malouda at the interval with Juliano Belletti coming on, yet still his team failed to penetrate a stubborn visiting rearguard with Roma making life difficult with the bodies they put behind the ball. Belletti had scored with a thunderous long-range strike at the weekend and the home fans were imploring him to try his luck again. The Brazilian did so but the attempt travelled harmlessly wide. When Lampard launched a set-piece from the right, the opening goal appeared imminent as Salomon Kalou was allowed a free header, but Doni did well to repel it and Roma breathed a sigh of relief. The keeper could do nothing to keep out the winner, though, as Terry leapt to glance Lampard's left-wing corner into the net and move Chelsea ever closer to the last 16.

Basel overwhelmed by five-star Barça

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FC Basel 1893 wore the red and blue but there was no mistaking FC Barcelona at St. Jakob-Park, the Blaugrana totally outclassing their Group C rivals to record a 5-0 win and march ever closer to the UEFA Champions League knockout stage.

Equal best
Barcelona's 200th triumph in UEFA club competition, it was also their equal best in this tournament and looked nigh on inevitable as soon as Lionel Messi had struck his 50th goal for the Spanish Liga side with four minutes gone. Sergi Busquets doubled the advantage eleven minutes later before teenager Bojan Krkić added a third. The visitors made an even better start to the second half than to the first, as Bojan scored his second goal and Xavi Hernández notched the team's fifth within three minutes of the restart.

Explosive start
The early murmurs suggested Basel might prove the more ambitious outfit, with coach Christian Gross electing to accommodate both Marco Streller and Eren Derdiyok up front, while counterpart Josep Guardiola left key trio Samuel Eto'o, Andrés Iniesta and Thierry Henry on the bench. Such thinking quickly proved foolish, however, with Messi feeding Daniel Alves on the edge of the area and running on to the Brazilian's delightfully chipped return pass to sidefoot in from almost point-blank range.

Damage increased
Hardly had the Rotblau recovered from that crushing blow than they found themselves two down. Xavi picked out Busquets on the right and the 20-year-old midfielder drove between the legs of Franco Costanzo. If the Basel keeper then denied Xavi's sliding effort, Barça continued to press and registered again when surprise starter Bojan, 18, made space for himself in front of goal and speared a shot low into the left corner.

Chasing shadows
Only a goalline block from another Bojan attempt and a Costanzo stop from Alves's follow-up spared the Swiss champions a four-goal deficit in the first half-hour, though the punishment continued as Gross's shell-shocked troops were left chasing shadows. Bojan blasted off target from an excellent position and Aleksandr Hleb had a low strike turned wide, prompting a relief equally palpable when the whistle finally blew for half-time.

Bojan double
Gross sent on Valentin Stocker for Eduardo Rubio after the break, but within 60 seconds Costanzo was picking the ball out of his net again – Bojan crowning a swift counterattack with a firm finish after being released by Busquets. Two minutes later, Hleb and Messi combined to supply Xavi for his share of the spoils, and if the sight of Henry then coming on for the UEFA EURO 2008™ winner could not have done much for the locals' nerves, they at least got to experience a reprieve when Bojan lobbed narrowly over.

Rare chance
At the other end, Streller finally threatened Víctor Valdés's goal when he beat Carles Puyol and dug out a hopeful shot that was swept clear. That said more about Barça's diminished intensity than anything else, though, and Basel must already be dreading their trip to the Camp Nou on 4 November. Mathematically, they still have a chance of qualifying – but according to that criteria their conquerors may still fail to progress. Those scenarios ought to resolve themselves soon.

Match Day 3 Review - Wednesday

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GROUP A

Bordeaux 1-0 CFR Cluj
Chelsea 1-0 Roma


GROUP B

Inter Milan 1-0 Anorthosis Famagusta
Panathinaikos 2-2 Werder Bremen

GROUP C

Basle 0-5 Barcelona
Shakhtar Donetsk 0-1 Sporting


GROUP D

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Liverpool
PSV 2-0 Marseille

Chelsea triumph after a frustrating night against Roma and Liverpool are held after what looked like it would be a famous night against Atletico. Both sides are still well-placed to reach the knockout stages, however.

Lăcătuş steps aside as Steaua coach

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Marius Lacatus has resigned as coach of FC Steaua Bucuresti in the wake of Tuesday's 5-3 UEFA Champions League home defeat against Olympique Lyonnais, saying: "Unfortunately, I could not bring out better performances."

Angry response
Steaua led 2-0 and 3-2 against Lyon before coming unstuck at the Steaua Stadium. They are bottom of Group F with one point from three games and face away fixtures against French champions Lyon and German counterparts FC Bayern München in their next two ties. Steaua owner George Becali hit out at Lacatus after the game, saying: "I said that I would never sack Lacatus and I will respect my promise, so I will leave him alone until he drowns."

Calm decision
Lacatus, 44, responded by handing in his resignation. "I have decided to quit," he said. "It was a good year, but obviously it could have been better. Unfortunately, I could not bring out better performances. Anyway, it's been an experience and maybe I will learn from the mistakes I made. I am leaving, because I don't see things getting better. It's better for me to leave than for the players to suffer and be under extra pressure."

Shaky form
The former FC Brasov, Steaua, ACF Fiorentina, Real Oviedo and FC National Bucuresti forward was appointed as the club's coach in October 2007 following spells in charge at National, Brasov, FC Otelul Galati and FCM UTA Arad. A European Champion Clubs' Cup and UEFA Super Cup winner with Steaua in 1986, he led his side to a runners-up finish in the Romanian league last season, and resigns with the team third in the table, but without a win in their last three league games. The club have yet to name a replacement coach.

'Hidden dangers' keep Mourinho on guard

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Internazionale v Anorthosis

22 October 2008 20:45 (CET)
Stadio Giuseppe Meazza - Milan


José Mourinho knows that pride comes before a fall and has warned his FC Internazionale Milano side against complacency as they take on Group B surprise package Anorthosis Famagusta FC on Wednesday in the wake of a stunning victory against AS Roma.

Identical record
The Nerazzurri made a huge statement of intent in the Italian capital on Sunday, defeating their title rivals of last season 4-0 to stay two points clear at the Serie A summit. Inter are also setting the pace in their UEFA Champions League section, albeit with an identical record to their Cypriot visitors after both teams beat Panathinaikos FC by a two-goal margin and drew with Werder Bremen. "This match has several hidden dangers," Mourinho said. "You never know how a side will react after playing a wonderful game like we did in Rome. We would not be the first team to slip up after a fantastic display, so we'll have to do everything we can to avoid this."

'Crucial game'
Turning his attention to Anorthosis, the 45-year-old added: "We've studied them and they're a very good team. Temuri Ketsbaia deserves praise because his side are playing very well. They're well-organised and the good results they have achieved so far have been for a good reason. This is a crucial game for us. If we win, we'll have seven points and almost be through – if not, everything will become much more complicated." Although Ketsbaia recognises Mourinho as "one of the best – he's won everything", the Anorthosis boss is more concerned with the players at the Portuguese's disposal. "We're not playing against Mourinho, but against Inter who are one of the best teams in the world at the moment," said the Georgian. "We watched their game in Rome and know how difficult it will be for us, but we're sure we can get a result. Nobody has had it easy against us so far."

Attacking riches
Mourinho did not give anything away regarding his lineup, apart from confirming that Francesco Toldo will replace Júlio César in goal – "Why? Because he's very good, he's experienced, and he can help make sure that his team-mates forget the win in Rome" – and that Adriano, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Ricardo Quaresma, Mancini, Mario Balotelli and Julio Cruz are fit and competing for attacking berths.

Nikolaou doubt
Anorthosis captain Nikos Nikolaou remains doubtful after straining a thigh muscle during Saturday's goalless draw at home to AEP Paphos FC. "We'll see how things go with him in the training session in Milan and take it from there," Ketsbaia said. "This is our toughest game in the group as Inter have a number of players who can decide a match with one piece of brilliance. We'll need to defend well but must also seize whatever chances we have in the game."

Quintet rested
Ketsbaia rested Traianos Dellas, Arian Beqaj, Andreas Constantinou, Georgios Panagi and Lambros Lambrou at the weekend, and is likely to field the same 5-3-1-1 formation that has served the Cypriot titleholders so well in the competition so far. One definite change, however, should see Cédric Bardon deputise for Paulo Costa on the right side of midfield.

Match Day 3 Review

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Man Utd 3-0 Celtic


A stroll for Manchester United in the end, after two controversial goals from Dimitar Berbatov. Villarreal's spectacular win over AaB means they join United at the top of Group E - Celtic will fight it out for third spot with the Danes.

Wayne Rooney continues his hot streak of form by planting a precise low shot into the bottom corner.


Fenerbahce 2-5 Arsenal

A goal-fest in Istanbul sees Arsene Wenger's men extend their lead at the top of Group G after Porto lose at home to Dynamo Kiev. An amazing game for the travelling Gunners fans.

GROUP E

Man Utd 3-0 Celtic
Villarreal 6-3 AaB

GROUP F

Bayern Munich 3-0 Fiorentina
Steaua Bucharest 3-5 Lyon

GROUP G

FC Porto 0-1 Dynamo Kiev
Fenerbahce 2-5 Arsenal

GROUP H

Juventus 2-1 Real Madrid
Zenit St Petersburg 1-1 FC BATE

Beckham to join AC Milan on loan

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David Beckham has agreed to move to AC Milan on loan in January, the Italian club has told BBC Sport.

The England midfielder, 33, plays for Los Angeles Galaxy, whose Major League Soccer season ends this weekend.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani said: "Beckham has chosen Milan. He'll stay here in Milan on loan for a few months.

"Our squad is ultra-competitive and it will remain this way but Beckham is something different and intriguing."

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid star, who needs two more appearances to eclipse Bobby Moore as England's most-capped outfield player with 108, is eager to stay in contention for his country during the MLS close season.

However, England coach Fabio Capello has made it clear he will only select players who are active and in form.

Hence, says BBC Radio 5 Live football correspondent Jonathan Legard, Beckham's move to Italy.

"Now he's involved again in the England set-up at the age of 33 under Capello, he's clearly determined to make the most of it and knows that the MLS close season will do nothing for his fitness or sharpness," stated Legard.

"He's not started a competitive international in 16 months and you wonder how shocked he was when Capello made it clear he wasn't going to be considered for the Spain friendly next February."

Former England midfielder Ray Wilkins, who spent almost three seasons with AC Milan in the mid-1980s, told the BBC News Channel that Beckham had made a smart move by heading for the San Siro.

"He's going to an extremely professional club where he will be able to maintain the correct fitness level that it will take to keep his England place," commented Wilkins, who is now assistant coach at Chelsea.

"l am sure Fabio Capello is actually rubbing his hands together hearing this bit of news. David still has a lot to offer for our national side and going to Milan is a very positive and correct step."

Blackburn manager Paul Ince, who had a spell with Milan's city rivals Inter during his playing career, believes Beckham still has plenty to offer on the pitch.

"His quality with the ball is the best I have ever witnessed. He is an inspirational player, he has been great for English football, he's an ambassador and a really good friend.

"It will be interesting to see how he gets on with the language but he can call me for a few tips."

The 2009 Major League Soccer season is set to start in April, so Beckham's loan move will only be short-term

In the meantime, he is expected to play for LA Galaxy - who had previously insisted that Beckham would not be able to move to another club on loan during their close season - in a series of exhibition matches in Australia and New Zealand in December.

He will then join Milan's stellar squad, which includes Brazilians Ronaldinho, Kaka and Alexandre Pato, as well as Italian internationals Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso.

Milan are expected to officially confirm the loan move on Friday but coach Carlo Ancelotti has already made it clear he would welcome Beckham's arrival.

"For me, it will be a pleasure. Beckham is a serious athlete, a great professional," he said. "If he'll be available for us, we'll be very happy."

Beckham would be eligible to play for Milan both domestically in Serie A and in the Uefa Cup

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Brandão believes in Shakhtar ambition

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Now in his seventh season at FC Shakhtar Donetsk, Brazilian striker Brandão feels the club is ready to make the next step and qualify for the UEFA Champions League knockout stage for the first time, a target they could take a giant step towards with a home win over Sporting Clube de Portugal.

Knockout dream
With the two clubs level on three points after two games in Group C, the 28-year-old is aware of the magnitude of the challenge ahead. "We are up against very tough opponents so we expect a hard game," Brandão said, "but this match may be decisive for us – we are dreaming about the Champions League knockout stage. That is why only three points will do." In Shakhtar's Matchday 2 encounter with section leaders FC Barcelona, the home side were on course for victory after carrying a one-goal lead into the game's final five minutes. Lionel Messi then stunned the hosts, scoring twice late on to claim all three points for the visitors. "I'm sure our team will do their best in front of the home fans, and never let the kind of mistakes we saw in the previous match happen again," vowed Brandão.

Maximum concentration
Last season, Brandão was an ever-present in the UEFA Champions League as Shakhtar met another Portuguese club in the group stage, SL Benfica. The Ukrainian champions won away but then lost at home to confirm their last-place finish in the pool, but the forward feels that was a valuable learning experience for the squad. "What we have to do is remember all the lessons we were taught by our previous defeats," he added. "I think we have worked well on our weak points and are now ready to play fully focused until the end of the game."

Experienced campaigner
Now one of the most experienced players in Shakhtar's squad, Brandão played his 50th game in UEFA club competitions against Barça. He is also the club's top goalscorer in European games having struck 15 times on the continental stage. However, only three of those have come in the UEFA Champions League (all at the expense of Celtic FC) and although he insists the team's result is all-important, scoring goals matters to him.

Collective goal
"Goals are important to me but not as much as the results of my team," he said. "No matter who scores it is Shakhtar winning that really counts for me." With countrymen Jadson, Fernandinho and Ilsinho already off the mark for the Donetsk club in this year's edition, Brandão would like nothing more than to take his domestic league form – where he has scored five times in eight matches – into Europe's premier club competition and help his club achieve their collective goal.

Match Day 3 Preview

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Bayern v Fiorentina



21 October 2008 20:45 (CET)
Fußball Arena München - Munich



FC Bayern München coach Jürgen Klinsmann believes his team can cast off their faltering domestic form and maintain their unbeaten start to the UEFA Champions League when they entertain ACF Fiorentina on Tuesday.

Klinsmann's major concern is the fitness of Luca Toni, who was forced off after bruising ribs in the first half on Saturday. "If Luca can play, he will play," said his coach, who can fall back on Lukas Podolski to partner Miroslav Klose if the Italian is unavailable to face his former club. "We're going to treat Fiorentina with respect, but we are going to impose ourselves on the game and not wait for Fiorentina to attack," added Klinsmann, who confirmed that Franck Ribéry has shaken off a shin injury.

Fiorentina have drawn their two Group F fixtures to date, but following some sparkling domestic form – with three wins in as many Serie A matches – they arrive in Bavaria in buoyant mood. "We're up against a team with many great players, but we're going to try and impose our own personality on the game," said Cesare Prandelli. The coach is without flu victim Martin Jørgensen, but is hopeful his decision to rest Adrian Mutu for Saturday's 3-0 defeat of Reggina Calcio will pay dividends.

Should the Romanian fail to recover from a knee injury sustained on international duty, Montenegrin Stevan Jovetić will start on the right side of a three-pronged attack alongside Mario Alberto Santana and the prolific Alberto Gilardino. The former AC Milan striker scored twice at the weekend to take his season's tally to nine in all competitions and bring up 100 goals in Serie A. With key defender Per Krøldrup missing after injuring an ankle in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying, though, Prandelli is preoccupied with his defence


Juventus v Real Madrid

21 October 2008 20:45 (CET)
Stadio Olimpico - Turin



Despite enduring his most turbulent spell since taking charge at Juventus, birthday boy Claudio Ranieri was in confident mood ahead of the visit of Real Madrid CF, insisting his side had "absolutely nothing to lose". The Bianconeri are in the throes of a five-match winless sequence .

Ranieri's cause has not been helped by a crippling injury crisis, which worsened on Saturday when Christian Poulsen (thigh) joined a casualty list including David Trezeguet (knee), Jonathan Zebina (achilles), Cristiano Zanetti, Tiago, Mauro Camoranesi, Vincenzo Iaquinta, Nicola Legrottaglie and Olof Mellberg (all thigh) in the treatment room. There are hopes, though, that the last three will recover in time, while Mohamed Sissoko returns from the suspension that forced him out of the Napoli defeat.

Morale is high in the Merengues camp following their last-gasp victory in Saturday's Madrid derby. Ruud van Nistelrooy's early opener and a stoppage-time penalty from Gonzalo Higuaín sealed a 2-1 success at Club Atlético de Madrid, stretching the side's unbeaten run to eight matches, including the wins against BATE and Zenit.

We know that three points here will be a huge step towards qualifying," said Schuster, who may be deprived of Arjen Robben who has tweaked a thigh muscle. "The onus is on the hosts to get something, which could work in our favour. Their injuries have mounted up of late, but that could be dangerous for us. They are a resourceful side who know how to react to adversity."

Fenerbahce v Arsenal

Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, Istanbul

Kolo Toure has been ruled out of Arsenal's Champions League game at Fenerbahce after injuring his shoulder in Saturday's win over Everton.

Arsenal are also minus captain William Gallas and full-back Bacary Sagna.

Samir Nasri, Nicklas Bendtner and Johan Djourou should recover from knocks in time to make the game in Istanbul.

Fenerbahce, who needed an injury-time winner to beat Turkish strugglers Kocaelispor at the weekend, could be without the injured Gokhan Gonul.

They are likely to with start with Spain striker Daniel Guiza up front on his own and Semih Senturk in a supporting role

Fenerbahce are bottom of Champions League Group G with one point from two matches, leaving manager Luis Aragones, who took over after winning Euro 2008 with Spain, fighting to save his job.

"We are going to play possibly the best team in the group," said the Spaniard. "That is why our fans have to build a good platform for us."

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger knows their task will be made easier if they can silence the Turkish side's fans at Sukru Saracoglu Stadium.

"I have been involved in many games in Turkey. What is important is that you always have on the pitch the potential to quieten the supporters," said the Frenchman.



Man Utd v Celtic


Old Trafford
Tuesday, 21 October Kick-off: 1945 BST


Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo may be rested for Tuesday's Champions League tie against Celtic as he is still recovering from ankle surgery.

Patrice Evra (hamstring) is definitely out so John O'Shea is set to come in.

Midfielder Marc Crosas did not travel with Celtic's squad after suffering an injury in Saturday's win at Inverness, but Andreas Hinkel has made the trip.

Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, Georgios Samaras and Chris Killen are out, but Gary Caldwell is expected to play.

United, meanwhile, can welcome Carlos Tevez and Anderson back from international duty, although Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves are still missing.

Manchester United (from): Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Brown, Neville, Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evans, O'Shea, Ronaldo, Nani, Fletcher, Anderson, Giggs, Gibson, Park, Tevez, Berbatov, Rooney, Manucho.

Celtic (from): Boruc, Caldwell, Wilson, McManus, Loovens, Naylor, McGeady, S Brown, Hinkel, Hartley, Robson, McDonald, Sheridan, Maloney, M Brown, McCourt, Hutchinson, Nakamura, O'Dea.



Steaua - Lyon

21 October 2008 20:45 (CET)
Steaua Stadium - Bucharest


FC Steaua Bucureşti head into Tuesday's meeting with Olympique Lyonnais knowing it is high time they scored in this season's UEFA Champions League group stage.

The root of Steaua's woes is their failure to score, with the side managing only two goals in their last five outings in all competitions. On that front Lăcătuş can at least take comfort in the fact his team have been creating chances: now he needs the likes of António Semedo, Dayro Moreno and Arthuro to take them. "I hope the goals we need come against Lyon," the coach said. "Every player wants to score, but it means making the right choice when they're face to face with the keeper. We've had a lot of chances, but we've not taken them. I think it's a lack of experience at this level – some of the players have never played in the Champions League before and it's not easy. But they're quality players and now they have to start showing it."

Lyon also had their advantage at the Ligue 1 summit cut to a point after drawing 2-2 against LOSC Lille Métropole on Saturday, and though they beat Steaua 3-0 when the clubs met two years ago they are unlikely to be so comfortable this time around. "Steaua are a lot better organised than they were. They're very disciplined and have great technical quality," warned Puel, whose team suffered their first defeat of the season on their return to domestic action after Matchday 2, losing 3-0 at Stade Rennais FC. "I said after the draw [for the group stage] that the four clubs are pretty much on the same level and that's what we're finding now. There are no favourites, but we've come here to win." Unlike Lăcătuş, Puel is having to cope with a growing injury list and John Mensah, Mathieu Bodmer, Fábio Santos and Sidney Govou are all out.

Villarreal - AaB

21 October 2008 20:45 (CET)
El Madrigal - Villarreal

Along with sustained success comes a flood of new challenges and for Villarreal CF coach Manuel Pellegrini that is all part of the fun of riding high in the UEFA Champions League and sitting joint second in the Liga.

Villarreal have injury doubts over Joan Capdevila, Santi Cazorla and Edmílson while Guille Franco should be fit to play. Sebastián Eguren, on the other hand, will miss both this and the return game against AaB in November. For visiting coach Bruce Rioch, at least the stream of injuries are decreasing to a trickle. "We are getting close to a full squad which is a relief," said the former Scottish international midfielder who has Andreas Johansson in contention and Jeppe Curth ready to play on the right. The biggest blow is the absence of Kasper Risgård who scored three times in ushering AaB through the qualifying rounds

Rioch believes that attitude, above all, will determine whether his team, who lie second from bottom in the Superligaen after Saturday's home loss to FC Nordsjælland, can take anything from El Madrigal. "The nature of football is that it's down to us to surprise everyone because this is a fantastic occasion but a really tough challenge," he said. "One has to have belief.

"Every single time I've left a dressing room as player or coach I've believed my side can win or at least get a result. Not many gave us a chance at Parkhead but I knew that night that my players believed." Defender Michael Jakobsen returns after a suspension incurred that evening and Rioch added: "We have learned through recent adversity and I'm looking forward to a great game of football."


Porto - Dynamo Kyiv


21 October 2008 20:45 (CET)
Estádio do Dragão - Porto


Jesualdo Ferreira is confident the pressure of needing to win will inspire his FC Porto side when they take on FC Dynamo Kyiv at the Estádio do Dragão.

Jesualdo, who hopes to be able to include Cristián Rodríguez but will be shorn of injured pair Fucile and Helton, is in his third season at the Dragão and is therefore well-versed in the unique demands of the competition. He is also pragmatic enough not to read too much into one result. "It's much too soon to start doing the maths – Arsenal have only one more point than us, so it's premature to say that Porto and Dynamo are battling for second place behind them," he pointed out. "The Arsenal game will mean nothing when we go into this one. We'll have a better idea of where we after this match."

Much of Dynamo's improvement can be put down to Yuri Semin. The 61-year-old coach was appointed last December just as the Ukrainian outfit were becoming only the eighth team to lose all six group matches, a humbling comedown for a club who were semi-finalists in 1998/99. Semin hopes for a better return than on Dynamo's last trip to Portugal, a 3-0 loss at Sporting Clube de Portugal, but is under no illusions. "Porto are a very strong side and are used to representing Portugal in Europe," he said. "They are well-organised and stick together as a group."

The former FC Lokomotiv Moskva boss, however, is relaxed after Dynamo's unbeaten opening, even if they are still to win in the group. "We have four games left, all of equal importance," he said. It is hardly a surprise that Semin is so sanguine – he won two Russian titles and guided Lokomotiv to the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League in 2003/04, so knows what to expect. "Of course, there are some nerves, this is the Champions League," he said. "But we go into the match with optimism."




Zenit - BATE

21 October 2008 18:30 (CET)
Petrovsky - St Petersburg

With his team having failed so far to transfer their attacking brand of football to the UEFA Champions League, coach Dick Advocaat is urging caution from FC Zenit St. Petersburg as they host Group H's surprise package, FC BATE Borisov

Zenit are still without a point in their debut campaign in Europe's élite club competition after losing their opening two games, against Juventus and Real Madrid CF, and prop up the section after BATE got off the mark with an eye-catching 2-2 draw with the Italian giants last time out. "BATE are quick, very aggressive and have a lot of movement," warned Advocaat. "It's difficult to defend against sides like that and, though I don't think they will be as open as they were against Juventus, we will have to be very sharp and focused."

Kim Dong Jin and Viktor Fayzulin are knocking on the door of the first team, and Advocaat has all but Nicolas Lombaerts at his disposal. BATE counterpart Viktor Goncharenko is similarly blessed, with Aleksandr Ermakovich his only absentee, and the Borisov side arrive in St Petersburg in high spirits after taking another step towards the Belarussian title on Friday. A goalless draw away to nearest rivals FC MTZ-RIPO Minsk leaves the Vysshaya Liga leaders needing just six points from their five remaining matches to reclaim the crown


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Samras worry for Celtic

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Celtic FC have just one tried-and-tested striker fit for their UEFA Champions League double-header against Manchester United FC after confirming that leading scorer Georgios Samaras is to undergo a cartilage operation which could rule him out for seven matches.

'A few knocks'
Samaras, 23, was injured during Greece's 2-1 home FIFA World Cup qualifying defeat by Switzerland on Wednesday and will now go under the knife, denying Gordon Strachan the services of a player who has scored eight goals in as many Scottish Premier League games this season. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink has already been sidelined for a month, leaving Scott McDonald as the manager's only fit forward. "There are definitely a few knocks about the place," said Strachan "We've got to try to find a team who can keep the ball and be a threat at Old Trafford."

Further concerns
Gary Caldwell (ankle) and Marc Crosas (hamstring) also picked up minor injuries during Saturday's 2-1 victory against Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC. Celtic, with one point from two Group E games, travel to Old Trafford on Tuesday before staging the return in Glasgow on 5 November

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Arsenal trio to miss Fenerbahçe trip

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William Gallas, Bacary Sagna and Nicklas Bendtner have all been ruled out of Arsenal FC's UEFA Champions League fixture at Fenerbahçe SK next Tuesday as manager Arsène Wenger counts the "heavy losses" of the international break.

Wenger concern
The London club confirmed this afternoon that Gallas (hamstring) and Sagna (knee) suffered knocks playing for France, while Bendtner (ankle) was injured representing Denmark. The trio will miss the Group G trip to Turkey, while Cesc Fàbregas (broken nose), Robin van Persie (muscle) and Johan Djourou (concussion) are expected to travel despite awaiting tests on their ailments. "Unfortunately we have lost some players over the ten days," said Wenger. "These are heavy losses and we have to compensate [for] them. Fortunately the three of them don't look to be out for a long, long time but they will be out for the weekend game and I think the game on Tuesday."

Diaby return
Midfielder Abou Diaby could be in line for a first appearance of the season against either Everton FC in the Premier League on Saturday or at Fenerbahçe after overcoming a thigh problem. "At least Abou Diaby is back in the squad again," Wenger continued. "Even though he has not played games he will be used, at the least in the squad, because we have lost those three players."

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