Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rome Not At Risk Of Losing CL Final

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Uefa deny there is a chance that Rome's Olympic stadium will lose the right to host the Champions League final because of fan trouble in the recent Roma-Chelsea match.


Uefa have denied that Rome is at risk of losing the right to host next May's Champions League final. There were rumours that the Stadio Olimpico would no longer be allowed to host the event after crowd trouble and alleged insufficient organisation at the recent Champions League match against Chelsea.

Investigations have been opened about the use of fireworks and obstruction by spectators during the November 4 game, but that doesn't mean there is any danger that the final will be assigned to another stadium.

"I don't know who spread these ridiculous rumours," said Uefa spokesman William Gaillard.

FIGC director Demetrio Albertini also says there is no chance Roma won't be hosting the showpiece.

"Security will be examined and everything will be prepared in every detail to make this the best final ever," the former Milan midfielder said.

Certainly hosting this match will be a chance for Italian football to show that fan disorders are not as big a problem as some people think, so losing the right to host the final at this point in time would be a big blow.

Platini rejects EU regulator plan

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Uefa president Michel Platini has rejected calls for an EU-appointed 'super-regulator' to oversee sport.

Platini said he is against government intervention in sport but wants more transparency in how football is run, particularly where debt is concerned.

European ministers are in Biarritz to discuss the new plans, which have also met opposition from the Premier League.

"I don't want to interfere in the league of every country," Platini told the BBC.

European sports ministers are discussing proposals put forward by the French presidency of the European Union, that would see domestic governing bodies lose control over financial regulation, transfer policy and the training of young players.

Platini admitted the finances of certain clubs could be in better condition, but added: "I don't want to interfere in the Ukraine, Spanish, Italian, French, or English league competitions

We will try to find a good solution to say how we can have more transparency and more regulatory in the competition."

Following recent criticism of Premier League clubs concerning the influx of foreign owners and players, Platini denied the downfall of top-flight English football was on his agenda.

"I am not an enemy. There are no secret meetings with me and the French authorities," he added.

"If I see Mr Sarkozy [French President], it is only for the specifics on the autonomy of the sport.

"I am the president of 53 football associations and I try to do my best for European football in legal matters."

Marseille facing missile charge

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Marseille have been charged by Uefa for the Anfield missile-throwing incident involving Marseille fans and Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard.

Gerrard was waiting to take a corner in the first half of Wednesday's Champions League 1-0 win and was hit by an object - believed to be a cigarette lighter.

It follows a similar incident when two the teams met in September for which Marseille have been fined £12,644 for.

The French club will attend a disciplinary hearing on 11 December.

Marseille had already been charged with failing to control spectators after missiles were thrown from the stands in the match at the Velodrome, which Liverpool won 2-1.

In the latest incident Gerrard was unhurt and was praised by Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez for not retaliating.

"He is a good professional. Steven did well not to react," said Benitez.

The Reds boss added: "It is good that Uefa have acted. But the problem is that it is just one person out of thousands who decides to do something like that, so how can you control it? It is not easy to stop these things.

"It is difficult to control everyone, if someone wants to do something like this then it is hard to stop.

"You can fine the club and look for solutions afterwards, but you cannot control everything."

Gerrard headed the winner - his 30th European goal and fifth in this season's competition - in the first half to send his team through to the final 16 of the Champions League.

Earlier this month, Chelsea striker Didier Drogba was given a three-match domestic ban by the Football Association for throwing a coin back into the crowd when the Premier League leaders lost in the Carling Cup to Burnley.

Molinaro strengthens Juventus ties

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Cristian Molinaro has signed a two-year contract extension with Juventus, tying the left-back to the Bianconeri until 2013.

Dreams realised
The 25-year-old, whose previous deal was due to expire in 2011, has been a regular feature in the Turin club's defence this term, playing in ten Serie A matches and making four appearances to help Juventus secure their progress from UEFA Champions League Group H. "I am very happy with the agreement," said the former Salernitana Sport and AC Siena player. "It means that I have won the faith of the club. Being at Juventus has fulfilled so many dreams, such as playing at high levels and in the Champions League."

Success comes at a price for Liverpool pair

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Fernando Torres and Fábio Aurélio are likely to miss Liverpool FC's final UEFA Champions League Group D game at PSV Eindhoven, with both being ruled out for about a fortnight with injuries sustained on Wednesday night.

Official statement
Liverpool confirmed their place in the first knockout round of Europe's blue-riband competition with a 1-0 win against Olympique de Marseille on Wednesday, but Torres and Aurélio were injured in the process. A club statement read: "Fernando has a strain in his right hamstring and will be out of action for between two and three weeks. Fábio has a calf strain in his left leg and will be out for two weeks." The Merseysiders visit the Netherlands on 9 December to face bottom-placed PSV. The injured pair have each made three group-stage appearances this season, with neither the Brazilian full-back nor the Spain striker having scored

Benzema to miss Bayern showdown

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Olympique Lyonnais striker Karim Benzema will be unavailable for at least a fortnight after pulling a muscle in his right thigh, ruling him out of Lyon's final Group F game against FC Bayern München at Stade de Gerland on 10 December.

Short break
Benzema picked up the injury while on international duty with France last week and though coach Claude Puel deemed him fit enough to start in the 2-1 win against ACF Fiorentina on Tuesday, he has since stated the 20-year-old will be sidelined for "at least two weeks". Benzema scored Lyon's second goal in Florence, his fourth of the campaign, as the French champions qualified for the last 16 for the sixth season in succession. They will win the group should they defeat Bayern or hold them to a goalless draw on Matchday 6. Puel will also be without captain Juninho and central defender Cris for the section decider as both are suspended after being booked against the Viola. While Benzema sits out Saturday's Ligue 1 home game with Valenciennes FC, Argentinian forward César Delgado and Brazilian midfielder Fábio Santos are available for selection after injury.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Five-Star Barcelona Pleases Guardiola

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Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was delighted with his team’s stunning performance against Sporting Clube de Portugal overnight and he singled out one player for special mention.

Despite having already secured qualification to the knockout stages of the Champions League, Barcelona did not sacrifice their all-out attacking football philosophy as they romped to a sumptuous 2-5 win over Sporting Clube last night.

It was a performance that delighted coach, Pep Guardiola as the victory all but ensured the Blaugrana advanced to the last 16 as Group C winners.

“It’s a great feeling to have secured first place, just as it was when we earned qualification in our previous game,” Guardiola said during the post-match conference.

“The pitch was very tough and it made it difficult for us because it slowed down the game.

“But we had a good first half and we tried to play at a very high tempo. The second half was a bit bizarre but after we made it 2-4, we were able to calm down again,” he added.

The 37 year old then praised his fringe players who were given a rare chance to shine: “Those who have not been playing much did a wonderful job and I am very satisfied with their performance.

“(Gerard) Piqué was almost perfect. He performed really well and I’m happy for him. He’s still young and he still has a lot to learn because sometimes he tends to relax,” explained Guardiola, who concluded by congratulating Sporting for their first ever qualification to the Champions League knockout round.

Scolari: I'd Better Return To Brazil If Chelsea Don't Qualify

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Big Phil has put his job on the line after the Blues failed to secure their passage from the CL group stages last night

Chelsea could only manage a 1-1 draw in their Champions League clash against Girondins Bordeaux, as a late header from ex-Liverpool flop Alou Diarra cancelled out Nicolas Anelka's opener.

The result saw the Blues slip to second in the Group A standings, meaning they must claim at least a point against CFR Cluj on Matchday 6 to book their place in the last 16.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, the London club's manager, was furious that his side couldn't do the job in France, and admitted he could leave Stamford Bridge if they slip up against the Romanian minnows.

"We need to win against Cluj at home," the Brazilian said in the Daily Mail. "If I think my team didn't have the quality to beat them at home it would be better for me to go home to Brazil and stay there.

"We've missed the chance to qualify twice now. We need to think about this, not just now and next week. We have to think why.

"With these players, Chelsea have a 75 per cent chance of winning the game at home against Cluj. In my view we are not first in the group. When we began the Champions League I didn't think about second place, I thought I had the players to win the group. Now we need to think only about qualification."

Chelsea will be without Frank Lampard for that vital encounter, as the England midfielder was sent off against Bordeaux after receiving two yellow cards.

Inter progress despite Panathinaikos loss

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FC Internazionale Milano reached the knockout phase of the UEFA Champions League despite losing at home to Panathinaikos FC to José Sarriegi's second-half strike.

Vital victory
The Greek visitors, who survived a frantic spell of late Inter pressure unscathed, also lived to fight another day having moved into second place in Group B, after Sarriegi turned in from close range following a corner. The win put Panathinaikos a point behind the Italian champions and was accompanied by a 2-2 draw between Anorthosis Famagusta FC and Werder Bremen. Panathinaikos must now avoid defeat at home to Anorthosis in a fortnight to join Inter in the first knockout round.

Defence first
Inter found it hard work to get going, not least because Panathinaikos were happy to defend in numbers. The hosts' first attack broke down when Zlatan Ibrahimović raced on to a searching pass and looked up to see seven white shirts crowding out Adriano in Mario Galinović's area. Although set up in a cautious 5-1-3-1 formation Panathinaikos did threaten on the break, particularly from set-pieces. Gabriel's shot required a block from Marco Materazzi following the Greens' first corner and, from their second, Simão headed over having pounced on another failed clearance. Panathinaikos slowly began passing the ball around to effect and Gilberto shot disappointingly wide after combining well with the lively Gabriel.

Visiting support
With the 5,000 travelling supporters outsinging the home fans, Ibrahimović was also enduring a quiet evening, even if he almost put his side ahead on the half-hour when he reached Esteban Cambiasso's clipped pass ahead of the advancing goalkeeper. Unfortunately for the Nerazzurri faithful behind the Curva Nord, his lob at full stretch landed on the roof of the net. Frustrated at their lack of incision, the Nerazzurri resorted to shooting from range but Sulley Muntari, Ibrahimović and Luís Figo missed the target and Adriano's angled attempt from the left found the side-netting.

Sarriegi shock
At the break José Mourinho introduced Ricardo Quaresma in an attempt to inject some width and guile into his team's play, but it was his compatriot Figo, a surprise inclusion after two months out with a foot injury, who looked most like providing the midfield craft. For all their possession, Inter could find no way though and were made to pay for their profligacy on 69 minutes when they went behind to another set-play. Giannis Goumas met Gabriel's corner with a powerful header which came back off the foot of the post, and Sarriegi was on hand to slot in from close range. Suddenly the onus was on Inter to push on even though, with Anorthosis winning, the Serie A leaders still stood to go through.

Late pressure
The hosts began to pour forward, throwing numerous crosses into the penalty area which neither Ibrahimović or substitute Julio Cruz could convert at full stretch. With five minutes left the away supporters erupted in delight as it was relayed that Bremen had made it 2-2 in Cyprus, a result that spared Henk Ten Cate's side from elimination and let Inter off the hook. Panathinaikos still had to endure a nervy finale as Julio Cruz's header was saved by Galinović and a last-gasp volley from the same player flew over, yet held on for a crucial three points.

Gudjohnsen talks up Barça prowess

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After overwhelming Sporting Clube de Portugal, Eidur Gudjohnsen thinks FC Barcelona's scintillating form will be sending shivers through their rivals ahead of next month's draw for the first knockout round.

Impressive
Gudjohnsen was part of another impressive performance by the Catalans as they scored five times away from home for the second time in this season's competition to clinch top spot in Group C. Both Barcelona and their hosts had already qualified for the next phase, but Gudjohnsen said it never occurred to Pep Guardiola's team to take it easy. "You have to take every game very seriously," the Iceland forward said. "Just to keep form going, and to keep confidence high. I think it was quite important, as there will be a lot of teams now hoping to avoid us in the draw." The 30-year-old added that such performances could only help Barcelona in their quest to reclaim the Liga title from Real Madrid CF. "Now we can put the Champions League to one side and concentrate on a run of important league games," he said.

Coach key
Team-mate Seydou Keita added that the confidence coursing through the side is such they almost expect a feast of goals every time they take to the field. "It's happening a lot at the moment," said the Mali international, having seen his side secure two big domestic wins recently in addition to their 5-0 defeat of FC Basel 1893 on Matchday 3. The midfielder was quick to praise Guardiola's contribution to their success: "The coach is playing a very important part. He knows that different types of people and players are needed to make a good team. Everyone in the squad has the quality to play, and that's important." The 28-year-old thinks the attacking instincts of his new team-mates have helped him rediscover his touch following a summer move from Sevilla FC. "When I'm managing to score regularly it gives me even more confidence going forward," he said.

'Better than us'
Sporting left-back Leandro Grimi was philosophical in defeat, conceding that Barça "were just better than us". "They're the best team in the world at the moment," said the Argentinian, part of a backline which has conceded only six goals in nine league games this season. "We are usually well-organised in defence, but they gave us a lot of problems," he said. Grimi reserved special praise for his compatriot Lionel Messi, the scorer of Barcelona's third goal and cause of many a headache for the home defence. "He's the best in the world, a long way ahead of everybody else," said the 23-year-old. Better even than Cristiano Ronaldo? "For me, yes. It could be because he's Argentinian of course – because of that, he's like an idol to me."

Jadson stunned by Shakhtar success

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Jadson was left almost speechless after his hat-trick helped FC Shakhtar Donetsk to a 5-0 win against FC Basel 1893 on Wednesday and clinched the Ukrainian champions a place in the last 32 of the UEFA Cup.

'Crisis over'
"What can I say? I'm just happy," the Brazilian playmaker told uefa.com following Shakhtar's biggest-ever win in European club competition, which secured them third place in Group C. "We dedicate this win to our supporters and the president, who kept faith in us even in the most difficult times," said Shakhtar captain Darijo Srna, whose team have won their last four Premier League fixtures after a sluggish start to their title defence. "Perhaps we have made up for all our misfortune this season. I think our crisis is over as today's success, together with the wins against FC Dynamo Kyiv and FC Lviv in the Ukrainian Premier League, means our confidence is back."

'Not afraid'
Jadson's compatriot Willian and homegrown striker Yevgen Seleznov were also on target as Shakhtar defeated the Swiss champions for the second time this campaign following their 2-1 success in Basel on Matchday 1. Srna is now looking forward to his team's final group match against section winners FC Barcelona. "We are not afraid of them," he said. "If Basel were able to earn a draw at Camp Nou, then we can count on achieving even more."

Pyatov praise
Goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov, who kept a clean sheet for the fourth consecutive game in all competitions, praised the collective spirit and concentration of his team-mates. "In the second half, we carried out our plan to the letter," said the Ukrainian international. "It was great to see the way my colleagues turned nearly every chance into goals. I think we are improving game by game, and we've now begun to show the sort of quality football that our supporters expect from us."

Turning point
Despite the one-sided appearance of the scoreline, Basel's players believed fortune played a key role in ending their interest in European club competition this season. "I think Shakhtar and Basel are on the same level, but today our rivals got the luck," said Switzerland forward Eren Derdiyok. "We had a chance to restore parity at the beginning of the second half, but instead conceded more goals." Fellow Swiss international Valentin Stocker, whose shot was blocked on the line early in the second period, felt the same way, but added: "Nevertheless, I have to pay tribute to Shakhtar for their compact and aggressive football."

Thrilled Gilberto calls for cool heads

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Panathinaikos FC midfielder Gilberto was delighted with the surprise away defeat of FC Internazionale Milano on Wednesday night which kept the Greek club's European ambitions alive, lifting them into second place in Group B and within sight of the knockout rounds. "It's up to us now," said the Brazilian. "We just need to keep our heads."

Gutsy display
Henk ten Cate's men were without an away win in the UEFA Champions League for almost five years before overcoming Werder Bremen earlier this month, and resumed winning ways on foreign fields at the next attempt by claiming the scalp of group leaders Inter thanks to José Sarriegi's solitary strike. The visitors were under pressure for long spells but only really looked in danger of conceding a goal in the final few frantic minutes when the Nerazzurri, who qualified despite the 1-0 reverse, pushed forward in numbers.

'Massive win'
"It's a massive win for us," said Gilberto, a finalist with Arsenal FC in 2006. "It's always hard to play against Inter, especially here at the San Siro, but we did well in defensive areas and we scored from a corner to get the result. We did really well to defend so well because Inter have so many talented individuals and they are also very strong as a team but we did a very difficult job in the proper way."

'Up to us'
Remarkable as their achievement was, Panathinaikos were three minutes away from being eliminated until Hugo Almeida scored for Werder Bremen at Anorthosis Famagusta FC to secure a 2-2 draw. Gilberto, though, had been unaware of Bremen's comeback from a two-goal deficit in Cyprus, which breathed life into his side's ambitions of reaching the last 16. "I didn't know what was going on in the other match," he told uefa.com. "I only realised the score at the final whistle, but things have worked out really well for us with our win and the result in the other game. Now it just depends on what we do in our next game. It's up to us now. We just need to keep our heads.

'Winning mentality'
"The Anorthosis match will be like a final because we will both be fighting to qualify for the next stage, but I'm sure we'll finish the job at home. We'll have to play intelligently because they have also got quality and we must make sure we keep our winning mentality. After two wins we are very confident, but we need to keep our wits. Against Inter we showed that we have enough quality to reach the next round, and now we must keep things simple and keep doing our jobs. If we play like we did tonight I'm sure we'll go through."

'Memorable night'
Giorgos Karagounis also reveled in the win against the side he left three years ago, and whose supporters applauded him off when he was substituted in the second half. "It was a memorable night, that's for sure," said the midfielder. "If the crowd here clap you off after all the great champions they've seen play here, it's wonderful for me. I don't think it was an unjust victory, it was fully deserved. We played without fear and achieved a great feat – it means so much to us."

Set-piece leveller upsets Scolari

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Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari was unhappy with the goal Chelsea conceded in the 1-1 draw at Bordeaux, which prevented them clinching a spot in the last 16.

Chelsea must beat Cluj in their last group game to be sure of qualifying.

Scolari said: "It is a bad goal - the first time since I coach Chelsea that we conceded a goal from a corner.

"We were strong in attack and it should have been an easy game after we scored. We gave up the goal and I am not satisfied with it."

Chelsea now sit one point behind Roma in Group A, who leapfrogged them with a win over Cluj.

But Scolari is confident that Chelsea will go through, even though they will be without Frank Lampard in their last group game after the midfielder was sent off against Bordeaux.

"The qualification is in our hands," he added. "Now we need to win the last game.

"We need to beat Cluj at home. But if I thought the team did not have the quality to beat Cluj at home, then I had better go back to Brazil.

"The red card for Lampard means he is one player I will miss for the next game.

"But I think we still have a 75% chance to beat Cluj at home. But maybe we will not (finish) first in the group."

Bordeaux manager Laurent Blanc was delighted that his side managed to score against Chelsea from a set-piece, which also ensures they are still in with a chance of qualifying from the group.

The French side are one point behind Chelsea, and two behind leaders Roma.

"I am very satisfied with the players and their performance and the players can be too," said Blanc.

"I know it's the first goal Chelsea have conceded from a corner and we have been working on set-pieces so I am happy about that.

"Our game plan was to reduce the space and pressure them but that's the best game we've played against a team as good as Chelsea.

"Everyone thought Chelsea and Roma were the favourites to go through but now there's a third team and they're called Bordeaux."

Anfield incident probed by Uefa

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A missile-throwing incident involving Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard and Marseille fans at Anfield on Wednesday evening is to be investigated by Uefa.

Gerrard was hit by an object - believed to be a cigarette lighter - as he waited to take a corner in the first half of their 1-0 Champions League win.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez confirmed his captain was unhurt and praised him for not retaliating.

"He is a good professional. Steven did well not to react," said Benitez.

A Liverpool spokesman added: "Uefa's delegate is aware of what happened and it is now in his hands."

Gerrard headed the winner - his 30th European goal and fifth in this season's competition - in the first half to send his team through to the final 16 of the Champions League.

Uefa's spokesman at the game added: "The incident will be included in both the match delegate's report and the referee's report."

Earlier this month, Chelsea striker Didier Drogba was given a three-match domestic ban by the Football Association for throwing a coin back into the crowd when the Premier League leaders lost in the Carling Cup to Burnley.

Wednesday's Champions League review

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GROUP A

Chelsea drew in Bordeaux and know that a win over lowly Cluj at Stamford Bridge in the final round of games will secure qualification.

However, a draw will be enough for the Blues unless Bordeaux win at Roma.

Chelsea created next to nothing for an hour in France but Nicolas Anelka put the Blues ahead with a precise finish after Frank Lampard, who was later sent-off, played him clean through the middle.

Bordeaux equalised from a corner when the Blues failed to pick up Alou Diarra, who headed in off the post.

Cluj started well but wasted two good chances and soon found themselves behind against Roma, who will definitely qualify with a draw in their final group game.

Goalkeeper Eduard Stancioiu was beaten to a long ball forward by Simone Perrotta, who crossed for Matteo Brighito tap the ball into an empty net.

Franceso Totti doubled Roma's lead with a free-kick but Yssouf Kone pulled a goal back with a close-range header after Doni parried a shot from Alvaro Pereira.

Brighi struck his second after collecting a pass from Rodrigo Taddei before slotting past Stancioiu from 12 yards.

GROUP B

There will be a dramatic final day in Group B, with only Werder Bremen out of the running.

The German side drew with Anorthosis Famagusta, who went ahead when Nikos Nikolaou volleyed home from a corner.

The Cypriot side doubled their lead through Savio before Brazilian Diego pulled a goal back from the penalty spot and Hugo Almeida equalised close to full-time.

Inter Milan lost to Panathinaikos at the San Siro, with Jose Sarriegi scoring the only goal of the game.

Inter lead the group with eight points, one above Panathinaikos and two clear of Anorthosis.

Bremen, who have four points, could pull level with Panathinakos if they beat Inter in their final group game but they would fail to qualify on a head-to-head comparison.

A draw for Panathinakos against Anorthosis will see them qualify, while Inter progress despite their defeat as Wednesday's results mean no two teams can overhaul them.

GROUP C

Barcelona defeated Sporting Lisbon in a match between the two teams that have already qualified from their group.

Lionel Messi delivered a cross from the right for Thierry Henry to open the scoring from close range.

Gerard Pique doubled the Spanish team's advantage after Sporting failed to clear a cross that took a deflection off Eidur Gudjohnsen.

Messi extended Barca's lead after the break before a spell of three goals in as many minutes.

Miguel Veloso scored a free-kick and Liedson made it 3-2 before Marco Caneira put the ball into his own net to end any hopes of a spectacular fightback.

Bojan Krkic completed the scoring from the penalty spot after 73 minutes after he had been fouled by Rui Patricio, who saw red for his challenge.

Shakhtar Donetsk thrashed Basle to secure third place - and a Uefa Cup spot - in atrocious conditions in Ukraine.

Brazilian Jadson scored after 32 minutes with a shot outside the box. William doubled their lead after cutting in from the left before Jadson struck again, converting Darijo Srna's cross.

And Jadson completed his hat-trick after a return pass from William before Yevhen Seleznov made it 5-0.

GROUP D

Liverpool secured qualification to the knockout stage with victory over Marseille.

Steven Gerrard struck with a header from Xabi Alonso's cross for the only goal of the game.

Shocking defending helped Atletico Madrid defeat PSV Eindhoven at an empty Vicente Calderon after Uefa ruled the game had to be played behind closed doors following crowd trouble earlier in the competition.

The Dutch team had several opportunities to clear a cross from the right but having failed to do so, Simao smashed the ball home from six yards.

PSV then failed to clear a corner and the ball dropped to an unmarked Maxi Rodriquez, who struck from 10 yards.

Ateltico were themselves guilty of failing to clear their lines from a corner after the break and Danny Koevermans stabbed the ball home but they held on for victory and with it secured qualification.

Marseille and PSV both have three points and go into the final round of games battling for third spot.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Atlético v PSV

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26 November 2008 20:45 (CET) - Vicente Calderón - Madrid - Spain

PSV down but not out, warns Heitinga

Club Atlético de Madrid defender John Heitinga warned that PSV Eindhoven will "be fighting to remain in Europe" when the Group D game between the teams kicks off in the Spanish capital on Wednesday.

'Top team'
Heitinga is no stranger to the Eredivisie side having spent seven seasons with PSV's rivals AFC Ajax before moving to Atlético, so he is aware of the danger Huub Stevens' men pose. "PSV are a top Dutch team," the 25-year-old said. "Maybe they have a little less quality now than in previous years, but this is the Champions League and they are here by right. Playing in this competition will lift them, that's why all games at this level are very difficult."

Big effort
The Dutch international was in the Atlético lineup when the clubs met on Matchday 1 and, as he prepares for his 16th appearance in Europe's élite tournament, nothing would please him more than a repeat of that 3-0 triumph in Eindhoven. "The important thing for us is to qualify, that's all we're concentrating on," Heitinga said. "We have to try to seal our place in the next round as soon as possible, and we'll be working flat out to achieve that. We're going to be fully focused and we know we have to get on with the task despite the fact there will be no fans inside the stadium."

Motivating factor
A victory would take group leaders Atlético through, as would a draw should second-placed Liverpool FC avoid defeat at home to Olympique de Marseille. Heitinga, who has made eight Liga starts and three more in the UEFA Champions League this term, underlined the importance of knowing that the team will be competing in Europe after Christmas. "It's a huge boost for you to know that when you come through the winter, you will continue to play in continental competition. That's the motivation for us and also for PSV. They would like to stay in the Champions League, but if they can't do that then they know they have to fight for a place in the UEFA Cup."

Fàbregas looking forward with Arsenal

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Arsenal FC's new captain, Cesc Fàbregas, admitted that Tuesday night's morale-boosting 1-0 victory over FC Dynamo Kyiv was "very important" for the north London club as they look to put recent disappointments behind them.

Winning start
Substitute Nicklas Bendtner ensured a winning start to Fàbregas' captaincy with the 87th-minute strike that booked Arsenal's passage to the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League from Group G. Having lost their previous two Premier League games – and seen William Gallas stripped of the armband after his public criticism of team-mates – Fàbregas said the win over Dynamo was vital for the confidence of everyone at Arsenal.

'A good game'
"It is important – you always want to start in a positive way, not just for [himself as captain] but also for the confidence of the team, of the fans, of everyone," the Spanish midfielder said. "We showed a good game today, we knew they would come to defend and they did just that. We tried to play the football we like to play and I think we did well. It was important that we kept a clean sheet and as long as it remained 0-0 we knew we could create and score goals in the last few minutes of the game, which is what we did."

Domestic focus
Fàbregas, who launched the long ball from which Bendtner struck, added that Arsenal now had the opportunity to focus on improving their domestic form, with European progress secured with a game to spare. "It was very important. We can relax a little bit now and concentrate on the Premier League," said Fàbregas, whose team visit English pacesetters Chelsea FC on Sunday, aiming to narrow the ten-point gap between the sides. "It is important for the title race to win. We have to go there and try to win and if we beat them we can get some points back so it would be a really good step forward."

'Do my best'
The 21-year-old added that wearing the captain's armband had not distracted him from his normal game: "I tried to be the same as usual – to do the same things and do my best on the pitch." Yet hard as he and his colleagues tried, Arsenal struggled to find their usual fluency against Dynamo in an occasionally disjointed performance. In mitigation, they were missing nine first-teamers and featured a midfield which, Fàbregas aside, had just 18 UEFA Champions League appearances between them. By the time the knockout stages start in February, though, the Spain playmaker hopes Arsenal – quarter-finalists last season and runners-up in 2006 – will be in better shape to make further progress. "It is vital for us to go through in this competition because after what happened last year and three years ago we want to get as far as we can and win, of course," he said.

Internazionale v Panathinaikos

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26 November 2008 20:45 (CET) - Stadio Giuseppe Meazza - Milan - Italy

Mourinho cautions Inter against hubris

In the wake of Saturday's superb victory at home to Juventus, FC Internazionale Milano coach José Mourinho fears his side could come back to earth with a bump as they return to the San Siro against Panathinaikos FC. "It's not Panathinaikos I'm afraid of," he said. "It's us."

Wary
Inter regained the Serie A summit with an impressive 1-0 defeat of Juve, Sulley Muntari's goal being enough to edge a match his team dominated throughout. It means the UEFA Champions League Group B leaders have still lost only once in all competitions this term, yet Mourinho has not forgotten the poor run of form that followed last month's 4-0 win at AS Roma.

‘Starting point'
"Our slump started after we played well against Roma," explained Mourinho. "Three days ago we had our best match of the season against Juventus and there is a real risk of going backwards again. That's football. Experience tells me that we must forget the Juve win. Panathinaikos must be our starting point. If we win we are through as group winners, if we draw we are also through, but we mustn't forget that if we lose we're in a lot of trouble."

Motivation
In fact, were Anorthosis Famagusta FC and Werder Bremen to draw the other game in the group, Inter would advance even in defeat, but Mourinho's message is clear: "It's not Panathinaikos I'm afraid of, it's us. I'm not scared to say that we're a better team. We come from a different reality to theirs. The Greek league is not as good as Serie A and Inter want to win the Champions League – Panathinaikos do not. But great motivation can work miracles and a lack of motivation can create nightmares."

Chivu injured
Cristian Chivu is out with a knee injury, an affliction which also accounts for Panathinaikos defender Bryce Moon while forward Cleyton has a foot problem. Inter old boy Giorgos Karagounis and Gilberto return after being rested in Saturday's 3-0 thrashing of struggling Thrasivoulos Fylis, in which summer signing Antonis Petropoulos marked his first start for the Greens with two goals. He only played because Vangelis Mantzios was sidelined by a thigh complaint, and Mantzios will be available against Inter.

Duck broken
Panathinaikos are intent on causing another shock after surprising Werder Bremen three weeks ago with their first away win in the competition in five years. That 3-0 victory lifted them into third place, four points behind Inter, and Panathinaikos coach Henk Ten Cate is determined to get one over the Italian outfit after Inter's 2-0 Matchday 1 triumph in Athens – a result he described as "lucky".

'Missed chances'
"I'm expecting the match to be like the one in Athens, only with a different outcome," said the Dutchman. "We were unlucky because we played better than Inter. We hit the bar and missed several chances. They had three opportunities and scored two, while we had six and scored none. But statistics don't win football matches, goals do. So we will go out there and fight like crazy for 90 minutes to get the right result." A loss would end his club's hopes of a knockout-stage place if Anorthosis beat Bremen.

Sporting v Barcelona

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26 November 2008 20:45 (CET) - José Alvalade - Lisbon - Portugal

Sporting aim to steal top spot from Barça


Sporting Clube de Portugal coach Paulo Bento is adamant that there will be no let-up against FC Barcelona despite the Lions having already qualified for the UEFA Champions League knockout phase for the first time in their history.

Two through
By beating FC Shakhtar Donetsk on Matchday 4, Sporting secured their progress into the last 16 of the competition alongside Barcelona. The bonus for Bento's team was the Blaugrana's draw with FC Basel 1893 on the same night, which means that a home win at the Estádio José Alvalade on Wednesday would take them above the Spanish Liga leaders and into first place in Group C.

Top spot
"It's important to finish first, because it's always better than coming second," Bento said. "There's less pressure as we've already achieved our first objective, but we have a responsibility in this game as we do in every game. The aim is always to win. Of course this match comes between two important league fixtures, but we are used to having an eye on the next game. Above all, we want to show once again that we are contenders in the Champions League."

Fans' reward
The 39-year-old has problems in defence, where Abel and Tonel are out and Pedro Silva is doubtful, but it is Sporting's attack which is causing more concern as they have scored just five times in their last seven Portuguese Liga outings. This drought has hardly hindered the Lisbon side in the UEFA Champions League, however, and Bento points out that "we've scored in all our European matches so far". Suitably heartened, he promises his team will attempt to reward the club's fans for their support with a grand occasion on Wednesday. "I expect us to put on a show, to thank our fans and to get pole position in the group," he said.

Priority
Bento's counterpart Josep Guardiola is in no mood to cede ground, though, knowing that a victory will clinch first place and top seeding in the 19 December draw. "We intend to put in a good performance and we intend to win, obviously," he said. Despite a daunting schedule of domestic encounters awaiting his charges, with successive games against title rivals Sevilla FC, Valencia CF and Real Madrid CF, Guardiola insists that Sporting should not be taken lightly. "We're not worrying too much about the upcoming matches," he said. "It's my duty to try and make us win every game, and this is no different."

Aiming high
The former Barcelona captain, who helped bring the European Champion Clubs' Cup to Camp Nou as a player in 1991/92, added that the memory of last term's semi-final defeat by eventual winners Manchester United FC was all the motivation his squad needed for any UEFA Champions League tie. "There's always an extremely high level in this competition, and I respect Sporting a lot – Paulo Bento is a very good coach," he said. "We want to go further in the competition than we did last year, and as we got to the semi-finals, that means the final."

Win steadies ship, states Wenger

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Arsene Wenger says the Champions League win over Dynamo Kiev that sent Arsenal into the knockout stages was what the club needed after the recent turmoil.

This month the Gunners have lost three Premier League games and William Gallas was stripped of the captaincy after publicly criticising his team-mates.

"It was what we need, reassurance, and will give us that," said boss Wenger.

"We left it late. It was more a steady than spectacular performance but it was important to win the game."

Nicklas Bendtner's 87th-minute goal gave the Gunners a 1-0 win against Kiev on Tuesday and afterwards Wenger paid particular tribute to Gallas for his contribution.

"William's focus was great. He wanted to do well and was completely committed," he stated.

"Our fans also know he was a committed captain and responded well to him."

Wenger had dropped Gallas for Saturday's 3-0 Premier League defeat by Manchester City as part of the 31-year-old's punishment for speaking out about his team-mates.

However, the Arsenal boss told French television channel Canal+ that he believed Gallas had been the victim of a "witch-hunt".

He said of his decision to strip Gallas of the captaincy and give it to Cesc Fabregas: "It was based neither on the man himself nor his quality as a player but more on his blunder.

"He didn't intend to be malicious but it put his team under enormous pressure. He will remain himself and it can free him as a player if there is less pressure.

It was a witch-hunt and everything that he did, even when it was good, was bad. In these conditions, the player had no chance."

Wenger was also delighted with the performance of Fabregas.

"He was very good for me. Focused for 90 minutes in the game, worked hard defensively and offensively," he added.

"It was not easy in midfield because they closed us down very well. I expected them to drop a little bit in the second half but they didn't."

Dynamo were angry after Bendtner's late winner, feeling there was confusion over whether it was a drop ball or a free-kick that allowed Fabregas to set up the goal - and also claiming the striker handled the ball.

But Wenger insisted: "It was a great goal. It is not handball. Watch it on the replay. He did not take it with his arm like they complained.

"A fantastic ball first from Fabregas, good control and a fine finish. I'm very happy for Bendtner. He was a bit disturbed recently with a lack of confidence but that will help give him confidence."

Rooney makes apology for diving

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Sir Alex Ferguson says Wayne Rooney apologised to him and opponents Villarreal for diving in Manchester United's 0-0 Champions League draw.

The Spanish team's players were angry after the striker went down in the box, despite no contact with the defender.

"He apologised to me and said he didn't mean to do that," said boss Ferguson.

"I think he's been watching (Villarreal forward) Robert Pires too much. At least he apologised to their players. You'd never see Pires do that."

Ferguson also said he believes that teams are fouling United's Cristiano Ronaldo so often referees think the winger is diving.

A goalless draw was enough to put United into the knockout stages of the tournament.

Their opponents ended the game with 10 men after Joan Capdevila saw red for a foul on Ronaldo and afterwards Ferguson stated: "The systematic fouling on him, that's what's now happening.

"It's a tactic. Eventually the referee thinks he's diving all the time."

Ronaldo had been a doubt for the match after limping out of Saturday's goalless draw at Aston Villa but Ferguson said he was satisfied with the level of protection provided by referee Roberto Rosetti in Spain.

"The referee was very fair and strict with both teams," added Ferguson.

"Capdevila may not have got that red card in England so there is a different interpretation of the physical aspect of the game in European matches."

Stud marks were visible above Ronaldo's knee following the challenge by the Villarreal defender and the United manager thought the referee had made the correct decision with the dismissal.

"When you see the tackle again, it was very high," commented Ferguson. "When you go as high as that you risk a red card.

"There were three tackles on Cristiano and I think the referee has quite rightly booked the players and then dished out a red card."

United and Villarreal have now contested four successive goalless draws in the Champions League.

"It is amazing in these four games we have not had a goal," said the Scot.

"I do not know how that is because we are an attacking side and Villarreal have a great record themselves.

"I thought we carried a bigger threat than them. We had better opportunities in the match but we are satisfied we are into the next stage.

"That's what we wanted to achieve. We have an advantage over Villarreal now.

"We have a home game against Aalborg and they have to go to Celtic so hopefully we can win the group."

Liverpool v Marseille

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Uefa Champions League, Group D: Liverpool v Marseille
Venue: Anfield Date: Wednesday 26 November Kick-off: 1945 GMT

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is expected to play in Wednesday's Champions League tie against Marseille.

He has recovered from the groin injury which forced him to miss Saturday's 0-0 draw with Fulham, but boss Rafa Benitez may not play him for 90 minutes.

Striker Fernando Torres is available for action after returning last week from a hamstring problem.

A Liverpool win over the team that beat them 1-0 at Anfield last season would secure a place in the knockout stages.

Liverpool have only long-term injured duo Philipp Degen and Martin Skrtel on the sidelines while Xabi Alonso, a substitute on Saturday, is expected to return.

Benitez takes charge of his 66th European tie in charge of Liverpool, taking him past the club's previous record of 65, held by legendary Scottish manager Bill Shankly.

"I'm very proud to be in this position," said Benitez. "Hopefully I'll be in charge of Liverpool for another 65 or 66 games in Europe.

"I'm really pleased because it's a really good achievement for anyone, but especially when you talk about a top club like Liverpool.

"It means as well that the team is doing well in Europe."

Benitez is hoping that the Gerrard-Torres partnership, which produced more than 50 goals last season, will fire his side into the next round.

Injuries to both players have prevented the combination hitting top form this season but Benitez believes it will not be long before they click again.

"Last season it was clear to see that the understanding between Torres and Gerrard was really good and there have been signs this year that it is getting better," said Benitez.

"As a manager I don't like to single out players but Gerrard and Torres have scored something like 54 goals between them since they began playing together, so it is clear that they are both very important to us."

Liverpool will face former winger Boudewijn Zenden, who scored a last-minute equaliser for Marseille in their 2-2 draw with Lille on Sunday.

"You are always worried when you play Liverpool," admitted the Dutchman.

"They are a team in the top two in England. It'll be very difficult, but we are not afraid."

Liverpool (from): Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Aurelio, Benayoun, Babel, Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano, Lucas, Torres, Kuyt, Keane, Riera, Cavalieri, El Zhar, Dossena, Spearing.

Bordeaux v Chelsea

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Uefa Champions League, Group A
Venue: Stade Chaban Delmas, Bordeaux Date: Wednesday 26 November
Kick-off: 1945 GMT

Chelsea striker Didier Drogba is able to play because his suspension for throwing a coin into the crowd only applies to domestic football.

Michael Ballack is also available but fellow midfielder Deco is suspended from the match in France.

Deco was sent off during Chelsea's last Champions League outing as they lost 3-1 away at Roma.

Brazilian defender Alex has travelled with the rest of the squad after he recovered from a groin strain.

However, Ricardo Carvalho (knee), Michael Essien (knee), Juliano Belletti (ankle) and Franco di Santo (hamstring) are all on Chelsea's injury list and will not feature.

Despite that defeat in Rome Chelsea still top Group A by one point, while the Blues beat Bordeaux 4-0 at Stamford Bridge in the first meeting between the sides in the competition.

And manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has underlined the importance of a repeat performance on Wednesday night which will see Chelsea qualify for the knockout stages with a game to spare.

"We need to qualify either on Wednesday or against Cluj and reach the second round," he said.

"We had a chance against Roma and now we have a second chance. Myself and the players cannot wait for more chances and tomorrow (Wednesday) is the day.

"What I know about Bordeaux is that they have very good players and the result in the first match was not a normal result.

"I know they are in fifth or sixth in France and they didn't start the competition very well but they have played well since and we respect this team and more. They have six points and we have only seven so there is no difference."

Bordeaux's first-choice goalkeeper Ulrich Rame is a late withdrawal with a hamstring injury, which means 25-year-old Matthieu Valverde is likely to deputise.

The Girondins come in to the game following back-to-back Champions League victories over CFR Cluj, but have never beaten an English team at home in Europe.

Chelsea (from): Cech, Cudicini, Hilario, Ferreira, Bosingwa, Terry, Alex, Ivanovic, A Cole, Bridge, Lampard, Ballack, Obi, Kalou, Malouda, Drogba, Anelka, Stoch, J Cole.

Tuesday's Champions League review

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GROUP E

Manchester United and Villarreal both progressed after an unspectacular goalless draw in Spain on Tuesday.

Cristiano Ronaldo's first half strike was brilliantly saved onto the bar by Diego Lopez and Wayne Rooney's cross was deflected towards the goal but cleared by Joan Capdevila.

Then with six minutes remaining Capdevila was sent off for a high tackle on Ronaldo.
There will be no more European football for Celtic this season after an agonising 2-1 loss to AaB Aalborg.

The Scottish side led after Barry Robson cleverly nodded in Mark Wilson's looping cross from the left.

But back came Aalborg who equalised when Caca burst towards the box and blasted a shot from 30 yards which deflected off Stephen McManus and looped over keeper Artur Boruc.

The final blow came with three minutes left as Cary Caldwell unfortunately turned into his own net after a goalmouth scramble to ensure Celtic will not even get the second prize of a Uefa Cup berth.

GROUP F

Two early goals proved enough for Lyon to beat Fiorentina and ensure their progress to the knockout stage, with Karim Benzema setting up Jean Makoun to put the French side ahead before Benzema added a second with a ferocious shot.

Adrian Mutu nodded against the crossbar for Fiorentina and they hit back through Alberto Gilardio's header but the best the Viola can hope for now is third place and a Uefa Cup slot.

Indeed, Cesare Prandelli's side could have lost by an even greater margin at Stadio Artemio Franchi as Juninho rattled the crossbar for Lyon with a stunning free-kick before Ederson repeated the trick with a magnificent volley.

Bayern Munich will join Lyon in the last 16 after they saw off Steau Bucharest with three second-half goals.

The Romanians held out at the Allianz Arena until Miroslav Klose's 57th-minute goal and Luca Toni added a second soon afterwards before Klose notched his second of the night to make sure of his side's victory.

GROUP G


Arsenal and FC Porto are both into the last 16 after they beat Dynamo Kiev and Fenerbahce respectively.

The Gunners scored the only goal of their match against Kiev with just three minutes left when Nicklas Bendtner chested down a Cesc Fabregas free-kick and swept the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

Porto won in impressive style at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium after Lisandro's first-half double put them in control against Fenerbahce.

The Brazilian opened the scoring with an acrobatic volley after Volkan made a hash of a Bruno Alves cross, then doubled his side's lead from close range 20 minutes later despite appearing to handle the ball in the build-up.

Fenerbahce came out strongly after the break and pulled a goal back when a speculative Colin Kazim-Richards shot hit Alves and looped into the net but failed to find a way through for an equaliser.

The Turkish side will have to beat Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine in a fortnight's time to secure third spot and qualify for the Uefa Cup.

GROUP H

Real Madrid joined Juventus in the final 16 after edging their way past BATE Borisov in a lively 1 -0 victory.

Champions League legend Raul settled some early nerves, collecting Royston Drenthe's left-wing cross and smashing a left-foot shot in-off the crossbar.

The Spanish outfit dictated proceedings and Raul came within inches of getting a second after hitting the bar in the second half.

Uefa Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg were eliminated from the Champions League after being held to a goalless draw by already-qualified Juventus.

Juventus defender Olof Mellberg headed against the bar after a Mauro Camoranesi free-kick and then Vincenzo Iaquinta was denied by the post after linking up well with Pavel Nedved and Zdenek Grygera.

Zenit had much of the possession but the Italian defence stood strong. Russia striker Pavel Pogrebnyak hit the post and record signing Danny blazed wide near the end.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wenger Feared Destroying Gallas, Believes Arsenal Legend Dixon

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Former Gunners right-back Lee Dixon has revealed that Arsene Wenger held off stripping William Gallas of the captaincy for fear of destroying him...

Arsene Wenger needed a lot of ammunition before he was able to pull the trigger on stopper William Gallas, whose time wearing the Arsenal armband was tumultuous to say the least.

Many were unsure about the leadership qualities of the fiery Frenchman in the first place, while his ex-Chelsea status perhaps did little to help matters.

The key events that led Wenger to relieving him of his duties included the defender's sit-down protest at Birmingham City last season, his tabloid-friendly partying and, finally, his behind-the-scenes exposé which hinted at inter-squad tensions.

However, former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon, currently a pundit, has revealed that Wenger was loathe to snatch the armband from his countryman, as he didn't want to shatter the confidence of his charge.

Dixson revealed: "I spoke to Arsène [earlier this season], who was thinking to himself, 'If I take the captaincy from him, it could affect him and I might lose him'.

"I had been critical of Gallas as a captain and leader. I replied to [Wenger] that surely Gallas isn't the right man for the job, if he is going to sulk or not do his job on the pitch just because you take something away.

"Arsène said that the position of the club at that particular time meant there wasn't any ­natural person to take over. That's why they were going with Gallas and had to get on with it."

It must be noted, however, that Gallas' performance levels, confidence and on-field leadership appeared much-improved just before his tabloid rant concerning the dressing room.

Now, Wenger has hinted that Gallas, dropped from the squad to face Manchester City at the weekend in a game that ended in an embarrassing 3-0 defeat, could return for the Champions League clash with Dynamo Kiev on Tuesday.

Without the armband, of course.

Del Piero, Amauri And Nedved Rested For Zenit Clash

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Juventus have already qualified for the Champions League knockout stages - and in style. The Bianconeri did the double over nine-time winners Real Madrid, capped by a quite unbelievable 2-0 result in the Spanish capital a fortnight ago.

They now travel to Russia to face Zenit St Petersburg, who they fortunately edged in their opening game, and the aim is to defend their first place in Group H.

However, a second string Juve side may be fielded for the early kick off, 18:30 (CET).

Tuttosport claims Alessandro Del Piero and Amauri will be rested with Vincenzo Iaquinta and Sebastian Giovinco being dragged in to form the attacking partnership up front.

Mauro Camoranesi, who was a substitute against Inter on Saturday, should get the nod tomorrow night.

Pavel Nedved will also be rested with Paolo De Ceglie starting on the left.

Gianluigi Buffon, David Trezeguet, Jonathan Zebina, Dario Knezevic, Christian Poulsen, Hasan Salihamidzic and Albin Ekdal will all stay behind.

Cristiano Zanetti is back and ready to return following injury but it's highly unlikely Ranieri will use him in a game in which there is nothing to play for.

It's a great chance for the second choice players to stake their claim.

Juve were very poor against Inter on the weekend and certain players could find it hard to get back into the team if those starting on Tuesday night take their chance.

Iaquinta And Giovinco Rue Juventus Defeat At Inter

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Bitter rivals met on Saturday night and Juventus were outclassed and outmuscled by José Mourinho’s Inter juggernaut throughout the encounter and were fortunate enough to ship just a single goal.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic squandered at least two glorious chances when one-on-one with goalkeeper Alex Manninger, but one wayward shot eventually turned into an assist for Sulley Muntari to tap into an empty net.

“We are obviously disappointed at this loss to Inter,” Iaquinta is quoted as saying in Calciomercatonews.com

“But we must give them credit, as they had far more shots on goal. Nonetheless, our objectives for the title are unchanged.

“Now we turn our attentions to the Champions League where we want to confirm our first place. However, it won’t be an easy job in Russia, because they will try to win and then face Real Madrid in a make or break tie.”

Claudio Ranieri’s men will pay visit to Zenit St Petersburg tomorrow night and the Atomic Ant is also hopeful the Old Lady can soon redeem themselves.

“We are undoubtedly unhappy at the San Siro defeat,” he noted, “but we now have this European clash to get our minds off it and we go there to claim the full points.”

“As for me, I clearly hope to play, like the rest of my teammates, but I patiently wait for my chance to shine, as I knew what it would be like coming back to Turin.”

Higuaín adds to Madrid headaches

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Real Madrid CF will be without striker Gonzalo Higuaín for their trip to Belarus to take on FC BATE Borisov due to an ankle injury to add to Bernd Schuster's absentees.

Injury list
Higuaín suffered a badly sprained left ankle during his team's 1-0 Liga win against RC Recreativo de Huelva on Saturday and will be unavailable on Tuesday as Madrid seek a victory that will take them through from Group H if FC Zenit St. Petersburg fail to defeat Juventus. The injury to Madrid's top scorer comes as a huge blow to coach Schuster who will also be without fellow forward Ruud van Nistelrooy due to a knee injury as well as midfielder Mahamadou Diarra and defender Fabio Cannavaro with thigh problems, winger Arjen Robben after a calf muscle tear and Rubén de la Red, who is continuing his recovery from an on-field fainting incident. However, Wesley Sneijder is available after his calf injury proved not to be serious.

BATE v Real Madrid

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Belief crucial as BATE await Madrid


Aleksandr Ermakovich wants FC BATE Borisov to believe they are "capable of beating" Real Madrid CF as the Spanish champions come to Minsk for a vital Group H game, with team-mate Gennadi Bliznyuk adding: "We will have our chances."

'To believe'
BATE's maiden UEFA Champions League campaign has taught the club that they have nothing to fear, and with two group games left they can still go through. Ermakovich said: "The main thing is to believe that we are capable of playing against them, capable of playing well and capable of beating them." Bliznyuk agreed, saying: "We will have our chances as well and when they come the most important thing is for us to make the most of them."

Madrid absentees
Neither 33-year-old midfielder Ermakovich or striker Bliznyuk, 28, were available for BATE's opening group game, which they lost 2-0 at Madrid. While the latter was serving a suspension, Ermakovich – BATE's most experienced player – missed much of the autumn with a recurring knee problem.

Respectable performance
"I went through hard times watching that game," said the BATE captain, who finally returned to action on 9 November. "We were still group stage debutants. It was very interesting to see how we might get on in the group, and I thought our lads were great. They played very attractively. And I am happy that we have not turned out to be whipping boys in this section."

'Serious opposition'
A 2-2 draw against Juventus and a 1-1 tie at FC Zenit St. Petersburg proved that, in Ermakovich's words, "we could present serious opposition to any of our opponents". He added: "Of course, we could have done more in the games where we were in front [2-0 against Juventus and 1-0 against Zenit], but that's football, and it is still very great to play such opponents not look out of place."

Title hangover
A 2-1 win against FC Torpedo Zhodino on 25 October saw BATE take their third successive league title – the fifth in total – and although they suffered a defeat and two draws in their remaining Belarussian league fixtures, Ermakovich is sure they will be firing on all cylinders against Madrid.

Qualification hopes
Ermakovich said: "We don't need any motivation for Madrid. This is one of the most successful clubs in the world. Everybody knows who Madrid are." Victory would keep BATE's qualifying hopes alive, with the midfielder adding: "If we still have a chance, we have to try to use it. We have to give our all and have no regrets afterwards. We have to focus and play with total commitment."

Crucial areas
Bliznyuk agreed, saying: "We have to show discipline in defence and work the ball through midfield very fast." Cold weather in Belarus may not suit Madrid but the striker knows it will not stop them threatening. "Madrid have very good ball control," he said. "Their passing game is almost perfect. They use short and medium passes a lot and those amazing through-balls into the area."

Tiago's year ends early with twisted knee

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Juventus midfielder Tiago will not play again in 2008 after the Portuguese international twisted his left knee in the early stages of the 1-0 defeat at FC Internazionale Milano on Saturday night.

Scan
On Sunday, Tiago underwent a scan which did not show up ligament damages. According to the Juventus medical staff, the 27-year-old "will resume training in about 30-40 days". After a difficult start to the season Tiago had finally broken into Claudio Ranieri's team, appearing six times in Serie A and once in the UEFA Champions League. Juventus, who will visit FC Zenit St. Petersburg on Tuesday in Group H, have already qualified for the knockout stage. They are third in Serie A.

Aalborg v Celtic

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Uefa Champions League,
Group E: Aalborg v Celtic
Venue: Energi Nord Stadium
Date: Tuesday 25 November Kick-off: 1945 GMT


Celtic midfielder Aiden McGeady has recovered from calf and knee problems to travel for the Champions League visit to Aalborg.

"Aiden has a great chance," said Celtic coach Neil Lennon.

Striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, who has not played since injuring his groin against Hamilton last month, is also included in Gordon Strachan's squad.

Massimo Donati misses out with a broken toe but fellow midfielder Paul Hartley's ankle knock has improved.

Hartley picked up the injury on Scotland duty but was considered fit enough to take a place among the substitutes at St Mirren on Saturday.

Barry Robson played for an hour in the 3-1 win after recovering from a groin strain incurred in a Scotland training session ahead of last week's friendly with Argentina.

"It is a must-win game for us," said former Celtic skipper Lennon. "I think it will be a British style game.

"We are in good form and we want to get that monkey off our back in terms of winning away from home.

"We have plenty of attacking options and players capable of scoring a goal at any time.

"It is frustrating that qualifying is out of our hands but we have to get on and win this game and that is not a certainty by any means."

Villarreal v Man Utd

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Ronaldo may miss Villarreal clash


Uefa Champions League,
Group E: Villarreal v Manchester United
Venue: Estadio El Madrigal
Date: Tuesday 25 November Kick-off: 1945 GMT


Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that Cristiano Ronaldo is a doubt for Tuesday's Champions League game at Villarreal.

United's Portuguese winger limped out of Saturday's 0-0 draw at Aston Villa with a leg injury and Ferguson fears he will not be fit for the trip to Spain.

"His leg is in a mess to be honest with you. He'll be doubtful for Tuesday I'm sure," said Ferguson.

United need a point in Spain to reach the Champions League knockout stages.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Roma's Turning Point Was Against Chelsea - Taddei

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Roma midfielder Rodrigo Taddei is convinced that the prestigious 3-1 win against Chelsea in the Champions League helped them turn around what was turning out to be a disastrous season.

Roma made a disastrous start to the season, falling well off the pace in Serie A but, since beating Chelsea in the Champions League a fortnight ago, their form has improved, and they also defeated Lazio in the derby last weekend.

Taddei believes that the triumph over Chelsea was worth more than just the three points at stake.

"I think that the win against Chelsea changed our season," explained the former Siena player. "We went through a very delicate period, but such wins are really good for morale.

"Rome is a city that loves the extremes: therefore, either everything is going well, or everything is going badly.

"It had already happened some years ago, in my first season with the Giallorossi. In any case, we know that we are strong, even though so far we haven't proven this.

"The win against Lazio in Serie A helped us a lot in this sense."

This weekend Roma travel to Lecce hoping to continue their recent resurgence.

Casillas calls for united front at Madrid

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Goalkeeper Iker Casillas believes "the results will come" as Real Madrid CF look to get back to winning ways against RC Recreativo de Huelva on Saturday before their return to the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

United front
Things have not been easy for followers of Los Merengues recently with their side losing back-to-back UEFA Champions League games against Juventus before going out of the Copa del Rey and, most recently, slipping to their second Liga defeat of the season at Real Valladolid CF. However, Casillas insisted continued hard graft from the whole team will bring future rewards. "Of course we don't like the situation we're currently in," the 27-year-old said. "We have to continue working hard and the results will come. We've had good and bad moments this season. We now have to prove that we are a team despite all the rumours. We have to stand united and continue working as we did last season."

Team mentality
That ethic brought Madrid the Spanish title last term, and another remains firmly in their grasp as they sit five points behind leaders FC Barcelona with eleven matches played. A berth in the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League also looms, and would be achieved next week with a victory at FC BATE Borisov if Juve avoid defeat against FC Zenit St. Petersburg. Thus, Casillas is not ready to push the panic button just yet. "We missed a good chance [to strengthen our position] at home against Juventus but we are still close to advancing," insisted the UEFA EURO 2008™-winning captain. "We still have games to play and anything can happen."

Leader Raúl
If results do not go Madrid's way, a final Group H showdown with Zenit at the Santiago Bernabéu will be needed to decide who joins Juventus in the draw for the next stage. For midfield player Royston Drenthe, there is no doubt who that should be. "We have to get through, that's the most important thing for a club like Real Madrid," said the 21-year-old Dutchman, before pointing out the player he feels can make the difference. "We have a good captain in Raúl [González] - he is always positive. [After the Juventus loss] we didn't shout at each other - we don't do that. Everybody was calm and we discussed what was wrong and what we can do better."

Juve profiting from Manninger revival

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As back-up to Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon, Alexander Manninger knows better than most that it is hard to play second fiddle to one of the game's greats.

Limelight
The Austrian experienced the same phenomenon when he was second choice behind David Seaman at Arsenal FC early in his career, but the 31-year-old is finally enjoying his own spell in the limelight. After Buffon sustained a thigh injury in early October, Manninger stepped into a Juventus side which has since lost just one match and won seven, including back-to-back UEFA Champions League victories against Real Madrid CF. "If he goes on like this I might not get my place back," joked Buffon.

Assured displays
Manninger's assured displays mean Buffon will not be rushed back into the lineup, and with the Italian international unlikely to play again until 2009, Manninger will be the team's last line of defence as they go in search of an eighth straight win against Serie A leaders FC Internazionale Milano on Saturday. "After a poor start, now we are on a little run and it definitely helps morale," Manninger told uefa.com ahead of the 'derby d'Italia'.

'Perfect performance'
Victory against Inter would see Claudio Ranieri's side draw level with José Mourinho's team and halt the Portuguese coach's proud unbeaten record of 103 home league matches. With their place in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round already assured, the pressure is off ahead of next week's Matchday 5 encounter with FC Zenit St. Petersburg, though Manninger is hoping Juventus can repeat the display in Madrid which sealed their place in the last 16 when they face the Serie A champions. "We defended well, we played well on the counterattack, and made the most of our possession. We closed down well at the back, and that was the key," explained the Austrian No1, who should play against Inter despite a slight back injury which sidelined him for his country's friendly with Turkey on Wednesday. "It was a perfect performance."

Del Piero praise
The chief architect of their 2-0 win in the Spanish capital was Alessandro Del Piero, who scored in each half to earn himself a rare standing ovation from the Santiago Bernabéu crowd. Manninger believes the Turin club's captain could again prove the match-winner in the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza this weekend. "We have really seen how the big players, when they come out, can decide a game," said the former ACF Fiorentina keeper. "Del Piero is just fantastic. He looks normal, but he does things that only he can do, and it's just a pleasure to have him in the team."

Del Piero Better Than Ibrahimovic - Zico

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Brazilian legend Zico believes Juventus captain Alessandro Del Piero is better than Inter hit-man Zlatan Ibrahimovic...

The former team-mates lock horns at San Siro in tonight's derby d'Italia. Expectations are high and great things are expected from both players.

Zico, who played in Serie A for Udinese during the 1980s, still keeps a close eye on all the Calcio action, and the Brazilian believes that Del Piero will shine brighter than Ibra because the Italian is better.

"Del Piero and Ibrahimovic? They are two different players with unique styles," Zico told La Gazzetta Dello Sport.

"Their free kicks are different, like Andrea Pirlo's and Ronaldinho's - two other great set-piece specialists.

"Ibra always blasts the ball hard like he did against Palermo last week.

"Del Piero, on the other hand, is more creative. He has more technique when shooting and he can change the movement of the ball.

"What makes him unique compared to others is the way he strikes the ball towards the goalkeeper without having to find the other side of the goal and he scores. This is a great ability that the Italian has."

Del Piero has scored four sublime free kicks so far this term. Three of those were against Real Madrid, Roma and Zenit.

Inter will need to watch his set-pieces closely. The Juve number 10 scored a stunning free kick at San Siro during the 2005/06 season when Juve won 2-1.

Madrid keep tabs on Cannavaro injury

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Fabio Cannavaro is a doubt for Real Madrid CF's Matchday 5 trip to FC BATE Borisov after straining a thigh muscle in training, with Rubén de la Red also a concern for Bernd Schuster's side ahead of next Tuesday's Group H game.

Warning sign
The 35-year-old Cannavaro – ever-present in the group stage this season – complained of pain in his right leg towards the end of Madrid's final preparatory session for Saturday's Liga visit of RC Recreativo de Huelva. After consulting his medical staff, coach Schuster discounted the Italian international for the Recreativo match, putting a question mark against the defender's availability for the BATE game in Belarus. Midfielder De la Red, meanwhile, is still under observation after fainting in an on-field incident on 30 October. Mahamadou Diarra (thigh) and Arjen Robben (calf) are also nursing injuries, while Ruud van Nistelrooy (knee) is a long-term absentee. However, the Spanish titleholders received better news on Friday with Christoph Metzelder and Pepe returning to training following respective ankle and thigh problems.

Gallas 'stripped' of captain role

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Arsenal defender William Gallas has been stripped of his captaincy role after his public attack on the team, BBC Sport understands.

Gallas, 31, was left out of the squad for Saturday's game against Manchester City with Manuel Almunia named captain.

On Friday, he reported to Arsenal's London Colney complex for training.

Ex-Arsenal defender Lee Dixon backed the club's decision, made after Gallas questioned team-mates' bravery and accused a player of disrupting morale.

"Quite rightly, in my view, Arsene Wenger has acted on it," Dixon told the BBC's Football Focus programme.

"I think in the dressing room they're pleasantly surprised that Wenger has taken some action and not just sat back.

"Yes, if you've had a conversation in the dressing room about what's going on, you can come out and say it. But you can't come out and just slag off players and the team spirit."

Last season the Frenchman's skills as a captain were questioned as the club failed to win a trophy for a third year running.

Gallas joined Arsenal in September 2006 from Chelsea and was given the captain's armband by Wenger in August 2007.

He was heavily criticised following his petulant reaction to last season's draw with Birmingham.

During the match at St Andrew's in February, Gallas kicked an advertising hoarding and stood in the other half of the pitch as James McFadden scored a last-minute penalty.

The two dropped points reduced Arsenal's then lead at the Premier League summit to two points and many believed Gallas' actions undermined Arsenal's title challenge.

They won just two out of 10 subsequent games as their league and Champions League bids came to an end.

Last month he was criticised by Wenger after he was photographed with a cigarette in his mouth leaving a nightclub last month.

"What William Gallas has done is to undermine his manager Arsene Wenger by making these statements to the public," said former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn.

"When Wenger is at training he is a master at observing players. He will know if anything is going on around the training ground and if one or two of the players have fallen out. There is no need for the captain to come out and tell us all."

Following the departures of Mathieu Flamini, Alexander Hleb and Brazilian Gilberto in the summer, Arsenal have struggled for consistency in the Premier League this season.

At home, Wenger's side have been beaten by Hull and Aston Villa and on their travels Arsenal have slipped to defeats at Fulham and Stoke.

After the Stoke defeat Arsene Wenger accused Tony Pulis's side of overly aggressive tactics, condemning Rory Delap and Ryan Shawcross after Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Adebayor were both hurt.

"Wenger will be very, very frustrated. He believes they were very, very close last season to having something special and they just fell away in February," added Winterburn.

"He believes they had a good enough squad to deal this time but they have been inconsistent."

More encouragingly, Arsenal are on course to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League and the club's youngsters have won rave reviews for their displays in the Carling Cup wins over Sheffield United and Wigan.

Walcott ruled out after surgery

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Arsenal winger Theo Walcott has undergone surgery on his dislocated right shoulder and will be sidelined for at least three months.

Walcott, who has a hereditary shoulder problem, suffered the injury in training with the England squad ahead of Wednesday's friendly with Germany.

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger said: "After three months he can play but it takes longer to be completely competitive.

"After this injury it takes a while for a player to use his shoulder again."

Walcott, 19, has suffered from a series of shoulder injuries in his career.

He had his left shoulder pinned in 2007 and had to be stretchered off during Arsenal's recent game with Stoke after he fell on it and suffered spasms as a result.

The operation was carried out by the same surgeon who operated on Walcott in 2007.

The winger had been due to play in England's friendly against Germany in Berlin, a match that Fabio Capello's team won 2-1.

Walcott has been a regular for the Gunners this season and, having seen his team collect just four points from their last four league games, Wenger must do without one of his most potent attacking players.

Last season the Derby midfielder Stephen Pearson was ruled out for a month after suffering the same injury.

But Walcott is not expected to return until 2009 - ruling him out of the remainder of Arsenal's Champions League group campaign as well as at least seven Premier League games.

"During Tuesday's training session Theo Walcott dislocated his right shoulder after falling on the pitch," said an FA statement.

"Arsenal's medical staff were advised of the injury soon after the incident."

Berbatov & Brown out for Man Utd

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Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov has been ruled out for two matches, while defender Wes Brown will miss up to five weeks.

Berbatov was substituted with cramp during Bulgaria's 6-1 defeat by Serbia and has a slight hamstring strain.

Brown, 29, last played in the 1-1 draw against Everton at Goodison Park on 25 October and is recovering from an exploratory ankle operation.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said the news was "really disappointing".

Brown has endured a long list of injury problems. After establishing himself at Old Trafford during the Treble-winning season of 1998-1999 he missed the whole of the following campaign with a cruciate knee injury.

Despite another knee injury, he recovered to make England's World Cup squad in 2002, before breaking an ankle for United playing in the Champions League in the same year.

Brown has gone on to impress Ferguson and earlier this year agreed a new contract to keep him at United until at least 2012.

Ferguson added: "Fortunately we have plenty of cover at right-back, with Gary Neville, Rafael Da Silva and John O'Shea available to come in."

Berbatov will miss Saturday's visit to Aston Villa and Tuesday's Champions League game at Villarreal.

Commenting on his striker's injury, Ferguson said: "It's not a tear. It's a slight strain but with hamstrings you don't take any chances. There's no point in making it worse."

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