Friday, December 19, 2008

Chivu: Inter Can Handle Tough Champions League Draw

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Christian Chivu seems to have finally got over his knee problems that have kept him on the sidelines since the beginning of November and will be at José Mourinho’s disposal for tomorrow’s Serie A clash with Siena.

The Beneamata aim to end the year on a high and maintain their six-point lead over second-placed Juventus in the league.

“I feel that the Italian title is as important as the Champions League and our squad is as hungry as ever,” the former Roma defender told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“You should come and watch us during the week in order to better understand our secrets: the tackles and the tension in training are the same as during official matches and this is the way to go to build something special.”

Today, the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League will take place and the Nerazzurri risk being paired with a tough side, since they went through in second place.

“I don’t have any preferences,” the 28-year-old admitted, “we will play in February and so many things could change by then, mainly physical and medical conditions.

“Moreover, you need to overcome them all in order to lift the trophy, so we could just as well start facing the big guns now. We have the qualities to beat anyone.”

Key shareholder to leave Arsenal

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Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood insists a major boardroom reshuffle will not alter their policy of trying to keep the club's ownership in-house.

Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, Arsenal's third-largest shareholder, left the board on Wednesday.

Hill-Wood said he was not sure whether Bracewell-Smith would sell her shares.

But if her 15.9% stake was to become available, Uzbekistan metals magnate Alisher Usmanov could pass the 30% mark which would force a takeover bid.

Usmanov already owns 24% through his Red & White Holdings company, having initially bought former vice-chairman David Dein's 14.5% stake in the club.

American sports tycoon Stan Kroenke, who holds a stake of about 12% in the Gunners' parent company, accepted an offer to become a non-executive director on the Arsenal board in September as ties with his Kroenke Sports Enterprises group were strengthened.

If Kroenke were to buy the shares, he would become the club's majority shareholder with a 27.9% stake.

Unlike Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, Arsenal remain under British ownership and have so far resisted attempts by overseas investors to take a controlling share.

Arsenal's board had reached a "lockdown" agreement until April 2009 in which shares would only be sold to "permitted persons" such as family members.

A longer-term agreement until October 2012 required directors to give fellow board members first option on any shares for sale.

But having stood down from the board of both the club and its holding company, Bracewell-Smith, whose family association with Arsenal spans more than 50 years, has been removed from the agreement.

Hill-Wood, though, insisted it remains business as usual at the club, who have Ivan Gazidis starting as their new chief executive on 1 January.

"Lady Nina is no longer representing the club and therefore is released from the lockdown. However it was created to maintain stability in the club and those participants are committed to maintaining the ownership structure as it is," he said.

"I don't know for certain what she wants to do with her shares. I do know that the Bracewell-Smith family have been involved with the club for many, many years and are great supporters.

"We hope that she would remain a shareholder but she has not spoken to me about it lately. She is no longer in the lockdown so she is free to do what she wishes to do.

The philosophy of the club remains the same. Our efforts are directed towards stability and making the club successful. Changes of personnel will not alter the directors' view of how we should proceed in the future."

Hill-Wood added that if the shares were to become available, existing board members - who include director Daniel Fiszman, the largest stakeholder in the club with 24.11% - could buy them to prevent them being bought by external investors.

"The board is very keen to retain control of the club to ensure that its values and traditions are upheld and live on for many years to come," he said.

Long-standing board member Richard Carr also stood down as a director of Arsenal's holding company, although he will remain on the football club's board.

Parejo delighted with Madrid return

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Real Madrid CF's Daniel Parejo has explained that he is "delighted to be returning home" after the club ended the midfielder's loan spell at Queens Park Rangers FC.

Available for selection
The 19-year-old – who made 18 appearances in all competitions during his four months with the English Championship side – will immediately join up with new Madrid coach Juande Ramos and will be available for selection for the Spanish champions in the new year. The Spain Under-21 international's return to the Santiago Bernabéu comes with the club in the midst of an injury crisis. With the likes of Mahamadou Diarra out for the season due to a knee complaint and uncertainty surrounding the immediate prospects of Rubén de la Red following an on-field fainting incident, Ramos appears to be willing to give less experienced players a chance. The former Sevilla FC manager recently handed 21-year-old Miguel Palanca a surprise debut in the 2-0 defeat away to FC Barcelona.

Holders United to take on Inter

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Holders Manchester United FC will take on FC Internazionale Milano in the first knockout round of the UEFA Champions League following today's draw in Nyon.

Mourinho return
Sir Alex Ferguson will renew acquaintances with José Mourinho who famously led FC Porto to victory against United at this stage in 2004 en route to winning the trophy. In other stand-out ties nine-times champions Real Madrid CF were paired with five-times winners Liverpool FC, and 2008 losing finalists Chelsea FC tackle a Juventus side coached by former Blues manager Claudio Ranieri.

Sporting face Bayern
Sporting Clube de Portugal, in the knockout stages for first time, take on four-time winners FC Bayern München, while Porto will meet Club Atlético de Madrid in an all-Iberian duel. French champions Olympique Lyonnais, in the knockout phase for the sixth successive season, face a two-legged tie against FC Barcelona while Arsenal FC take on AS Roma and Villarreal CF play Panathinaikos FC.

Fascinating ties
Matches will be played over two legs on 24/25 February and 10/11 March. In the ceremony staged at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, the eight winners of the group-stage pools were paired with teams that finished second. No clubs from the same association could be pitted together, while sides that met in the group stage were also kept apart. The draw for the remaining rounds will be made on 20 March, with this season's final taking place in Rome on 27 May.


First knockout round – to be played 24/25 February and 10/11 March
Team named first at home in first leg
Chelsea FC (ENG) v Juventus (ITA)
Villarreal CF (ESP) v Panathinaikos FC (GRE)
Sporting Clube de Portugal (POR) v FC Bayern München (GER)
Club Atlético de Madrid (ESP) v FC Porto (POR)
Olympique Lyonnais (FRA) v FC Barcelona (ESP)
Real Madrid CF (ESP) v Liverpool FC (ENG)
Arsenal FC (ENG) v AS Roma (ITA)
FC Internazionale Milano (ITA) v Manchester United FC (ENG)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Schweinsteiger maintains solid bond at Bayern

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After a career that has already brought him ten winners' medals with FC Bayern München, 24-year-old Bastian Schweinsteiger has signed a three-year contract with the Bundesliga champions, committing until June 2012.

'Very happy'
The German international midfielder has scored 18 goals in 168 league appearances for Bayern, and has won four Bundesliga titles, four German Cups and two League Cups with the club he first joined as a trainee in 1998. His contract was set to expire next summer but Schweinsteiger's new deal potentially extends his association with the Bavarian outfit by another three years. It is a boost for Bayern, who go into Friday's draw for the UEFA Champions League first knockout round as one of eight seeded teams, having won Group F. Schweinsteiger, scorer of 17 goals in 62 games for Germany, played in all six of their group-stage matches.

Raúl Wants Tough Champions League Challenge

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Raúl González hopes that Real Madrid are not given an easy team in the next phase of the Champions League because he wants to the team to face a strong challenge.

Los Merengues' captain was not going along with many players and pundits that all hope the club will be given an easy ride in the draw that is to be made on Friday.

Madrid have a renewed spirit after an encouraging display against Barcelona and Raúl reflected that when he stated that on their day his side could beat anyone.

"There can be teams that may make things easier, but what interests us is that we are playing well and if Madrid is on form then we can beat anyone," he told AS.

"But if we are not on form then anyone can beat us. I would prefer to play a tougher team so that we have to do it the difficult way."

Reflecting on el Clásico, Raúl explained that while the fans and media were hyping up the meeting all the players were focussed on the game and was pleased that Madrid gave a god account of themselves.

"A game between Barça and Madrid is always talked about long before the game itself, but all we focus on is the 90 minutes," he continued.

"It was a very hard game, we went into it with difficulties and I think we played in a way that could have seen us win.

"If we had scored then the game would have changed and I think it would have been better to watch, with more goals.

"We have to improve in a lot of areas and but we had only spent four days with the new coach, but things feel good. We made them uncomfortable though and they had some problems.

Madrid may have dropped to 12 points behind league leaders Barcelona but Raúl tried to remain positive and claimed that the title was still a possibility.

"We are not going to give up on anything and there is a long way to go in the season, but it does depend on how our rivals at the top play," he explained.

"Barça have a very good chance, but our next five games four at home and one is away in the Copa del Rey and that will give us more preparation time in the league and the Champions League.

"We think we can still win it but we will have to keep winning and see what happens."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Van der Sar lines up one last season at United

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Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar has agreed a new one-year contract with Manchester United FC which will take him through to June 2010, by which time the 130-times capped Netherlands international will be 39.

Official announcement
United officially announced the new contract on Friday, confirming that the 1.97m-tall keeper would spend another full season at Old Trafford, with his existing contract set to expire next summer. "Next year will be his last," said manager Sir Alex Ferguson. "Edwin has great experience, and his temperament and performance levels have never changed." Understudies Ben Foster and Thomas Kuszczak will look to take over from Van der Sar next season, with Sir Alex adding: "Edwin has helped with the development of our young keepers, but next year we need to make it more competitive for Ben and Thomas. It will come down to whoever is the right man for the job."

Successful spell
The 38-year-old Van der Sar joined United from Premier League rivals Fulham FC in 2005, following spells at AFC Ajax and Juventus, and has won two league titles with the club. He also made the penalty shootout save that won United the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League at the expense of Chelsea FC. United finished top of Group E this autumn to earn a tie against a second-placed side from another UEFA Champions League group in next Friday's draw for the first knockout stage.

Real can beat Barcelona - Ramos

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LA LIGA
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona Date: Saturday 13 Dec Kick-off: 2100 GMT


New Real Madrid coach Juande Ramos insists his team can beat Barcelona at the Camp Nou to boost their ailing hopes of retaining the league title.

Ramos's predecessor Bernd Schuster was sacked on Tuesday after stating Real were incapable of winning the match - but the Spaniard believes they can.

"We're going to the Camp Nou to win," said the ex-Tottenham coach on Friday.

"We're capable of doing so, as has happened on other occasions. It's going to a great, hard-fought game."

Reigning Spanish champions Madrid sit fifth place in La Liga, nine points adrift of leaders and arch-rivals Barcelona.

Ramos replaced Schuster on a six-month contract to become Madrid's eighth coach in less than six years.

The former Tottenham coach's first league game is crucial as he bids to avoid a defeat that would leave his new club 12 points adrift.

Madrid have lost three of their past four league matches, while Barcelona have won 11 and drawn one of their past 12, during which they have scored 43 goals.

Arjen Robben was sent off in the closing stages of Sunday's 4-3 home defeat by Sevilla and is suspended along with left-back Marcelo.

Robben says his team have not given up on winning a third straight league title despite their poor start.

"Not at all. I mean if we win on Saturday anything can happen," said the Dutchman.

Since Madrid beat Barcelona 4-1 three days after winning its second straight league title, the Catalan team has been transformed by coach Pep Guardiola, who replaced Frank Rijkaard at the end of last season.

"A win would give us an important advantage over Madrid and a boost to help us make progress," said Mexican defender Rafael Marquez.

"Hopefully it will be a great game and we can convince people that the 4-1 is forgotten. It's something that I don't like thinking back to and I understand people want revenge."

And Guardiola predicts Madrid will adopt a new style on Saturday under Ramos, who was formerly in charge of Barcelona's reserve team.

"With Schuster, we knew more or less what they were doing," he said. "With Juande, I imagine they'll do other things."

Barcelona should have a near fully fit squad to choose from for Saturday.

Striker Samuel Eto'o missed training but is expected to return, while Andres Iniesta is recovering well from injury.

Real are reeling from the news that Ruben de la Red, who collapsed unconscious during a match at the end of October, could miss the rest of the season.

He joins long-term absentees Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mahamadou Diarra on the sidelines.

"I can't remember a situation like the one we are in right now, with three players sidelined for the entire season," Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon told Spanish TV on Thursday.

But Madrid defender Fabio Cannavaro has insisted Real can still take three points from Barcelona on Saturday: "If there is a team capable of winning in the Camp Nou, it's us," the Italian said.

Ronaldo, Torres up for Fifa award

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Manchester United midfielder Ronaldo and Liverpool striker Fernando Torres have been shortlisted for the Fifa World Player of the Year award.

United and Portugal winger Ronaldo, 23, scored 42 goals for his club last season and collected the European Player of the Year award on Sunday.

Torres scored 33 goals in his debut season for Liverpool and the winner for Spain in the final of Euro 2008.

Kaka of AC Milan and Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Xavi are also shortlisted.

Ronaldo finished third in voting last year, while Barcelona's Messi, who inspired Argentina to Olympic gold, was runner-up to AC Milan playmaker Kaka.

The nominations were made by the coaches and captains of national teams from around the world. The award will be handed out on 12 January at the Zurich Opera House.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Uefa set to make Rooney decision

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Uefa will decide on Monday whether to charge Manchester United's Wayne Rooney over his clash with Aalborg's Kasper Risgard in their Champions League game.

Risgard claimed Rooney stamped on him during the 2-2 draw and left marks on his chest, while Aalborg stand-in coach Allan Kuhn was also unhappy.

Uefa confirmed on Friday that it will assess the incident, which was missed by French referee Laurent Duhamel.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson refused to discuss the matter on Friday.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's game at Tottenham, Ferguson said: "I am not going to discuss Wayne Rooney.

"You press guys have created most of it. You are not getting anything from this club at all on Wayne Rooney. That is it, finished."

Uefa told BBC Sport on Thursday that they could take retrospective action once they have reviewed video footage of the incident.

Risgard alleged Rooney, who said after the incident, "that's football, it's a physical game", apologised.

"I don't know what happened but he was jumping on my chest," said Risgard.

"I think he was a little bit frustrated. Anywhere else but here [Old Trafford] and it would have been a red card.

"That's what happens in football. I can see the marks on my chest, big marks. He apologised so it's OK. That's what happens in football."

However, Rooney played down any suggestion of unnecessary aggression.

If European football's governing body does decide to take action Rooney could face punishment and miss part of the last-16 stage in February.

United are set to face one of Inter Milan, Sporting Lisbon, Atletico Madrid, Lyon or Real Madrid after Rooney's equaliser meant they topped group E ahead of Villarreal.

The 23-year-old's 52nd-minute goal also meant United extended their unbeaten run in the Champions League to 19 games - a record shared with Ajax and Bayern Munich.

Aalborg stand-in coach Kuhn said he was not certain Rooney purposely landed on Risgard.

"It is not good for a fantastic footballer," he stated. "You have to keep your head and stay calm in situations like that - but that man was a little bit frustrated.

"I was not sure during the game and I have not seen the pictures, so I cannot be 100% sure, but some of my people have seen it and said it was."

United manager Ferguson said he did not see the incident but did, however, concede it was a feisty game at times and criticised Aalborg goalscorer Jeppe Curth for a challenge on Carlos Tevez.

"Aalborg are not short of tackles are they?" exclaimed Ferguson. "They got stuck in and the one on Carlos was a blatant attack. Probably what saved him was that Carlos got straight up.

"But other than that I don't think it was such a game that you could say it was a filthy match."

Marseille hit with fine by Uefa

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Marseille have been fined £8,936 by Uefa after their fans threw missiles at Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard in a Champions League tie at Anfield.

Gerrard was waiting to take a corner in Liverpool's 1-0 win on 26 November when he was struck by an object - believed to be a cigarette lighter.

The fine was imposed after a Uefa disclinary hearing in Nyon.

It followed a similar incident when the two teams met in September, which resulted in a £12,644 for Marseille.

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 after the match.

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 season, 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.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advocaat Rues Youthful Zenit's Madrid Defeat; Says Arshavin Should Go

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Dick Advocaat spoke with grim resignation to reporters after his side fell to a 3-0 loss to Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

Without some of their most recognisable stars he was left explaining why the lineup had an oddly youthful look to it - particularly without star forward Andrei Arshavin.

He told UEFA.com, "We need to think about who will be in the new team, in the future.

"We wanted to free those who want to leave, and work with those who want to be here."

Clearly he was hinting at Andrei Arshavin, who is said to be desperate to leave St. Petersburg to try his luck further west.

"As for Andrei Arshavin, he wasn't ready for this match. He had a fever. But I did want him to play.

"For him to play here would be a chance for him to demonstrate his talents," said the coach.

"That's the price we pay for having good players. It's normal that if we progress and move forward and play in Europe they want to improve.

"Having won the Super Cup against Manchester (United) has raised hopes in this team, yet we haven't managed to beat Real Madrid."

We deserved to lose, says Wenger

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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admitted his side were second best after their 2-0 defeat at FC Porto cost them top spot in Champions League Group G.

"We lost the match and came second. Porto were stronger than us," said Wenger. "We were not in trouble until they scored but then it was difficult.

"In the last 20 minutes, they were dangerous every time we lost the ball and we were not effective enough.

"At 2-0 down the belief was not there, we weren't strong enough to come back."

Arsenal must now wait for the draw for the last 16, which takes place in Nyon on Friday 19 December at 1200 GMT.

Having finished second, the Gunners can meet Panathinaikos, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona or Roma in the next stage, but Wenger says they have nothing to be afraid of.

"We can fight with everybody in Europe and can qualify against anybody," added the Frenchman.

"It is important now to come back in the Premier League and be in a good position. We now have some time to focus on that.

"We will see who we get in the draw, and then look at the Champions League again in February."

Wenger brought Emmanuel Eboue back into his starting XI, despite the Ivorian being booed at the hands of his own supporters during their 1-0 win over Wigan at the Emirates on Saturday.

Eboue received a warm ovation from the travelling supporters in Portugal and threw his shirt into the crowd at the end.

"He got the support of the fans here and he did all right," said Wenger.

"But it does not go as quickly as that. It will take a little time."

FC Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira said his side deserved top spot after an assured performance.

"The players knew what my tactics were going to be and they played even better than I expected," said Ferreira.

"We deserved first place in the group, but it is most important that the players grew a lot with this type of performance."

Ferguson Worried By Wasteful Manchester United

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Manchester United had already qualified for the Champions League knockout rounds heading into their Group E closer with Aalborg last night.

Therefore it was a weakened Red Devils line-up which scraped a 2-2 draw against the Danish champions, with Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney each finding the net at Old Trafford.

And yet with a little more in front of goal the hosts could have galloped to a comfortable victory, and Sir Alex Ferguson could not hide his disappointment with his charges’ poor conversion rate.

“I am concerned by the chances we're missing,” the United manager said in the Daily Mail.

“I don't know what it is - concentration or carelessness. But we're going to embarrass ourselves if we are not careful.”

The most headline-worthy incident of the game did not occur in the goalmouth, however, as Rooney got ‘involved’ in much more than just scoring chances.

The England forward could face disciplinary action after being accused of stamping on the chest of Aalborg midfielder Kasper Risgard.

But Ferguson said: “I never saw anything with Rooney. They were quite tigerish themselves. One of their players could have been sent off for a tackle on Carlos Tevez.”

Kuhn savours 'perfect goodbye'

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Aalborg BK caretaker coach Allan Kuhn said it was "the perfect way to say goodbye" after ending his 12-game spell in charge of the Danish champions unbeaten with a fine draw at European champions Manchester United FC. Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, was just happy to have finished top of UEFA Champions League Group E.

Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United manager
We had some great chances and taking 50 per cent of them would have comfortably won the game for us. We had better control in the second half and should have won. There were some pluses, though, and it is a good thing that we won the group. We had a lot of young players tonight and an experience like this can only be good a thing for them. There are no easy games now, we are expecting a tough game whoever we get. The good thing is that the second leg is at home and no one will want to come here. We're in there and that's the important thing so let's have a go.

Allan Kuhn, AaB caretaker coach
I'm very proud to get a draw at Old Trafford. It has been a great night for all of our supporters and I have made sure that the players went out again to thank them for their support. We had to be calm and of course United pushed us hard right until the end but our goalkeeper had the match of his life and you have to have the match of your life if you are to get something here. The is the perfect way to say goodbye, I'm proud of this club and the players.

Lineup finalised for knockout draw

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The lineup for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League has been finalised after Manchester United FC, FC Bayern München, FC Porto and Juventus all clinched their places in the first knockout round as winners of their respective sections.

Fascinating ties
The four clubs join the four other group winners and the runners-up from each of the eight sections in the draw for the next stage, which is held on Friday 19 December from 12.00CET at UEFA headquarters in Nyon. Among the contenders are Liverpool FC, five-time winners of the European Champion Clubs' Cup, last season's runners-up Chelsea FC and Italian champions FC Internazionale Milano.

Draw conditions
* Teams from the same association cannot be drawn against each other.
* The winners and runners-up of the same group cannot be drawn against each other.
* Group winners cannot be drawn against each other.
* Group runners-up cannot be drawn against each other.
* All group runners-up will play their first-leg matches at home.

2008/09 UEFA Champions League
First knockout round – to be played 24/25 February and 10/11 March
Group winners Group runners-up
A AS Roma (ITA) Chelsea FC (ENG)
B Panathinaikos FC (GRE) FC Internazionale Milano (ITA)
C FC Barcelona (ESP) Sporting Clube de Portugal (POR)
D Liverpool FC (ENG) Club Atlético de Madrid (ESP)
E Manchester United FC (ENG)
Villarreal CF (ESP)
F FC Bayern München (GER)
Olympique Lyonnais (FRA)
G FC Porto (POR)
Arsenal FC (ENG)
H Juventus (ITA) Real Madrid CF (ESP)

Ramos happy to make a positive start

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Real Madrid CF coach Juande Ramos said the 3-0 victory over FC Zenit St. Petersburg was a confidence boost for his players on his debut at the helm. Ramos's charges had already done the job of qualifying from Group H but here they fulfilled their task of impressing the new boss. His opposite number, Dick Advocaat of Zenit, declared himself satisfied with a campaign which resulted in a third-placed finish behind Madrid and Juventus.

Juande Ramos, Real Madrid coach
The biggest positive is that we got a very good, very emphatic victory. We were already through, so the main thing was that we picked up some confidence tonight. It was also good that we didn't concede, but we have to take it step by step and keep on improving. There is a problem, in particular, with our left flank. Every player has his own strengths and we are going to look for the best possible kind of game to suit their characteristics. I was really focused on the game tonight and didn't pay much attention to what was happening around me in the stadium with the supporters.

Dick Advocaat, Zenit coach
After a game like this we can only say thank you and go home. We have had Madrid and Juventus in our group, so overall we have made a good showing in this competition [finishing third in the section]. It is not the right moment to express exactly what I'm feeling, but I do think the club now has to decide which players it will build the team around. Andrei Arshavin was not really ready for tonight's match but he wanted to play and it was a great chance for him to show his talent. It is also normal that the leading players in Russia eventually want to play for the top European teams.

Helton and Porto savour the moment

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Goalkeeper Helton says FC Porto will not be worrying too much about the outcome of 19 December's UEFA Champions League first knockout round draw after his side secured top spot in Group G.

Important stop
Goals in each half from Bruno Alves and Lisandro allowed Porto to leapfrog their opponents Arsenal FC at the top of the section, and guaranteed them a tie against one of the group runners-up in the next phase. However, it was Brazilian custodian Helton who paved the way for the Portuguese champions' success, pulling off a terrific first-half save from Aaron Ramsey with the contest still goalless. Helton saw enough from Arsenal's young side at the Estádio do Dragão to need no reminder of the quality evident throughout the competition.

More work ahead
"It's hard work against any opponent in this competition," said the 30-year-old. "We'll keep working and worry about what's coming next in the morning." The successor to the legendary Vítor Baía could afford to smile as Jesualdo Ferreira's men stretched their excellent recent run to seven successive victories in all competitions, a streak which has seen them recover from a difficult beginning to both their Portuguese Liga and UEFA Champions League campaigns.

'Great performance'
Qualification had looked a distant prospect for the 2003/04 winners after their Matchday 3 home defeat by FC Dynamo Kyiv, but they followed up that disappointment with back-to-back away wins to ensure their progress. However, Helton was especially pleased that Porto were able to return to their usual strong selves at the Dragão, having lost only once in 21 previous UEFA Champions League matches on home soil before the defeat to Yuri Semin's men. "I think it was a great performance in the end," he said. "We knew that it would be difficult tonight, but we managed to get control of the game and see it out."

Aalborg accuse Rooney over tackle

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Aalborg's Kasper Risgard has accused Manchester United's Wayne Rooney of making a dangerous tackle on him during Wednesday's 2-2 Champions League draw.

The incident went unpunished by the referee but Risgard claims it left him physically marked and alleged Rooney, who said "that's football", apologised.

"I don't know what happened but he was jumping on my chest," said Risgard.

Uefa told BBC Sport they could take retrospective action once they have reviewed video footage of the incident.

"I think he was a little bit frustrated," added Risgaard. "Anywhere else but here [Old Trafford] and it would have been a red card.

"That's what happens in football. I can see the marks on my chest, big marks. He apologised so it's okay. That's what happens in football."

However, Rooney played down any suggestion of unnecessary aggression.

"That's football, it's a physical game," he said.

Risgard claimed French referee Laurent Duhamel did not see the incident but if European football's governing body does decide to take action Rooney could face punishment and miss part of the last-16 stage in February.

United are set to face one of Inter Milan, Sporting Lisbon, Atletico Madrid, Lyon or Real Madrid after Rooney's equaliser meant they topped group E ahead of Villarreal.

The 23-year-old's 52nd-minute goal also meant United extended their unbeaten run in the Champions League to 19 games - a record shared with Ajax and Bayern Munich.

Aalborg coach Allan Kuhn said he was not certain Rooney purposely landed on Risgard.

"It is not good for a fantastic footballer," he stated. "You have to keep your head and stay calm in situations like that - but that man was a little bit frustrated.

"I was not sure during the game and I have not seen the pictures, so I cannot be 100% sure, but some of my people have seen it and said it was."

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said he did not see the incident but did, however, concede it was a feisty game at times and criticised Aalborg goalscorer Jeppe Curth for a challenge on Carlos Tevez.

"Aalborg are not short of tackles are they?" exclaimed Ferguson. "They got stuck in and the one on Carlos was a blatant attack. Probably what saved him was that Carlos got straight up.

"But other than that I don't think it was such a game that you could say it was a filthy match."

Ferguson was delighted that his squad achieved his aim in Group E and added: "We won the group, which is what we wanted to do, and I think the tournament really takes off now.

"We missed too many chances for my comfort - we should have been three up in the first 15 minutes.

"You only need a second to lose a goal and it was quite a shock to us and they made it difficult for us because it gave them a purpose to hold on and defend really.

"It is a great night for them in a way and fortunately we got a goal back.

"Although 2-2 is not a great result for us it has given me an opportunity to play a lot of my players, which is important.

"Winning the group and remaining undefeated is another important issue because it is a good run we are on and we want to keep it that way."

And Ferguson relished the possibility of his side facing Real Madrid in the last 16 because he was infuriated with the Spanish club's president Ramon Calderon in the summer over the pursuit of United winger Cristiano Ronaldo.

"That would be a nice party wouldn't it?" quipped Ferguson. "I look forward to tea and biscuits with Ramon Calderon."

Wednesday's Champions League review

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Although injured, Cristiano Ronaldo collects the 2008 Ballon d'Or before kick-off


GROUP E

Manchester United were held to a 2-2 draw by Aalborg but still topped their Champions League group as Villarreal were beaten 2-0 by Celtic.

Carlos Tevez gave United the lead after three minutes but Aalborg equalised when Michael Jakobsen headed home.

Jeppe Curth's header on the stroke of half-time gave Aalborg a shock lead but United salvaged a draw when Wayne Rooney finished powerfully.

Villarreal had been hoping United would slip up, so they could leapfrog them at the top of the group but they became Celtic's only scalp of the campaign.

Shaun Maloney put the Scottish side ahead and Villarreal's task became even harder when they had Guille Franco sent off. Aiden McGeady got bottom-placed Celtic's second as they ended a disappointing campaign on a high note.

GROUP F

Bayern Munich finished top of the group after a 3-2 win at Lyon, who have to be content with the runners-up spot.

Germany forward Miroslav Klose put Bayern ahead before Luca Toni set up Franck Ribery for the second goal, and Ribery turned provider for Klose as Lyon fell apart.

Sidney Govou pulled a goal back for the French side and Karim Benzema added a second, but Bayern hung on.

Alberto Gilardino headed in the only goal to give Fiorentina victory over Steaua Bucharest and with it a place in the Uefa Cup.

Gilardino headed into the far right side of the net after a corner from Juan Manuel Vargas before Steaua were reduced to 10 men when Pawel Golanski was sent off in the 72nd minute for a second yellow card.

GROUP G

Arsenal failed to take the point they needed to finish top of the group
as their young side were outplayed by Porto, who claimed a 2-0 victory and their place at the summit.

Bruno Alves headed Porto in front and Lisandro Lopez doubled the lead with a cool finish as the Portuguese champions faced little resistance from a poor Gunners side.

Roman Eremenko scored a first-half goal to give Dynamo Kiev a 1-0 win over Fenerbahce and a spot in the Uefa Cup.

The midfielder collected Artem Milevskiy's reverse pass from the left and struck a precise left-footed shot that went between the legs of Volkan Demirel.

GROUP H

Juventus were held to a 0-0 draw by BATE Borisov, but the point was all the Italians needed to finish top of the group.

Juve midfielder Marco Marchionni hit the post with a header two minutes before his team-mate Sebastiano Giovinco missed a penalty in the 53rd minute, blazing his shot over the bar.

Raul Gonzalez became the all-time leading scorer in Uefa competitions as he notched twice in Real Madrid's 3-0 win over Zenit St Petersburg.

The Spanish forward broke the deadlock when Zenit goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev failed to hold a cross and Arjen Robben doubled the lead.

Raul then scored his 66th European goal - an exquisite chip - to complete a comfortable victory and give new coach Juande Ramos the perfect start to his tenure.

The eight group winners going into the last 16 draw are: Roma, Panathinaikos, Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Porto and Juventus.

The eight runners-up are: Chelsea, Inter Milan, Sporting Lisbon, Atletico Madrid, Villarreal, Lyon, Arsenal and Madrid.

The eight third-place teams which drop into the Uefa Cup are: Bordeaux, Werder Bremen, Shakhtar Donetsk, Marseille, Aalborg, Fiorentina, Dynamo Kiev and defending champions Zenit St Petersburg.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Panathinaikos v Anorthosis Famagusta

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With Athens resembling more a war-zone than a stage for what should be a fascinating Champions League clash, there might be a regrettably unique atmosphere at the OAKA Spiros Louis Stadium on Tuesday evening.

The city in a state of shock and anger following the death of 15 year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, who was shot dead by police following an altercation with a group of youths on Saturday.

Athens has now suffered from three days of rioting, with police clashing with protesters who have damaged shops, buildings and filled the streets with violence.

Police have reacted with stun grenades in some situations, with Molotov cocktails also having been used by some rioters – there have been violent scenes also in other pars of the country, including Thessaloniki and Trikala.

The situation is perhaps reminiscent of rioting that lasted for weeks following the killing of a teenager by police in 1985 and with such a history in mind, there have been suggestions from within the Greek media that the Panathinaikos-Anorthosis match might be canceled.

It wouldn’t be the first time European football’s governing body have taken such an action: AEK Athens' Champions League qualifying tie with Sevilla was postponed in the wake of the bush fires that plagued Greece last year.

Marseille v Atlético

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Group stage - 09 December 2008 20:45 (CET) - Vélodrome - Marseille - France

Gerets underlines Marseille ambition

Nothing will sway Olympique de Marseille from securing another tilt at a European trophy according to coach Erik Gerets, with his side desperate to sew up third spot in UEFA Champions League Group D at home to Club Atlético de Madrid on Tuesday.

Consolation prize
Security incidents coloured the teams' first meeting in October, but Gerets underlined that nothing matters more than Marseille's pursuit of a UEFA Cup berth. "What's important is the football," he stressed. "For 90 minutes that's all that counts. We're trying to stay in Europe." Eliminated from the continent's primary club competition after losing 1-0 at Liverpool FC on Matchday 5, OM are determined to claim the consolation prize on offer by finishing above PSV Eindhoven – to do so, they need only match the Eredivisie outfit's result against Liverpool in the Netherlands.

Return to form
Atlético will also have one eye on that game as they can top the section, providing they equal Liverpool's performance and maintain their narrowest of goal-difference advantages. Their hosts will be buzzing after a timely return to form on Saturday, however, having overcome neighbours OGC Nice 2-1 at the Stade Vélodrome to go second in Ligue 1, three points behind leaders and next Sunday's opponents Olympique Lyonnais. Gerets warned Los Rojiblancos not to think his players will be distracted by their reinvigorated domestic ambitions, however. "With everything at stake, we're taking this game extremely seriously," he said. "It's the only one we're thinking about right now."

Niang absence
No amount of bullish talk could make light of Mamadou Niang's absence, though, after the striker broke his foot against Nice. Niang found the target when Marseille succumbed 2-1 at the Vicente Calderón on 1 October and will be particularly difficult to replace. "It's going to change our approach because we don't have another player with the same style," explained Gerets, who may employ Mathieu Valbuena in a withdrawn striking role behind Bakari Koné. "I have an idea what to do and I think it will be positive."

Revamped lineup
Atlético are in the rudest of health, meanwhile, with defensive duo Antonio López and Luis Perea available again and tipped to feature as coach Javier Aguirre fields a revamped lineup. "I will have full faith in whichever eleven I decide to put out on the pitch," said Aguirre, who held his pre-match conference in Madrid. Key men John Heitinga, Paulo Assunção and Simão were not in the party that travelled to Marseille, while French goalkeeper Grégory Coupet is expected to be given a rare start on his return to his homeland.

CL Preview: Basel - Sporting CP

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It's a "meaningless" game at St. Jakob-Park, meaning that even the most talented ticket-seller has a real job on their hands to hype this one up to the punter.

Sporting will finish 2nd and Basel 4th in their group regardless of what happens in Group C on Tuesday evening, so there is just pride - and the small matter of UEFA prize money - to play for.

Sporting won the first match between the sides this season 2-0 back in Lisbon, while Basel have still managed just one point in their entire European campaign.

But both sides converge in terms of league form, which isn't going as well as hoped. The Portuguese outfit are third in their Liga, three points off leaders Benfica and one behind surprise front-runners Leixoes, who beat Sporting last month.

Basel are one point behind current leaders FC Zurich in the Swiss Super League, with coach Christian Gross feeling the heat after the 2-0 loss at Neuchatel Xamax two matches ago.
TEAM NEWS

Basel

Scott Chipperfield could return to the squad ahead of schedule, although Marcos Gelabert, Ronny Hodel and David Abraham are likely to miss out. Coach Christian Gross may rotate in Fabian Frei, Pascal Schuerpf, Michel Morganella and other youth prospects either as starters or substitutes.

Probable Starting XI: Stockli; Zanni, Marque, Ferati, Safari; Ergic, Stocker, Frei, Eduardo, Carlitos; Derdiyok.

Sporting

Rui Patricio is out suspended after his sending-off against Barcelona in Matchday 5. Tonel and Fabio Rochemback could make their respective returns from injury, but Pedro Silva is set to miss out again while Abel remains doubtful. Youngsters such as Daniel Carrico are expected to feature while Paulo Bento uses this match to try out some new ideas.

Probable Starting XI: Tiago; Pereirinha, Carrico, Anderson Polga, Caneira; Miguel Veloso, Fábio Rochemback, Joao Moutinho, Izmailov; Derlei, Vukcevic.

Quaresma Wins 'Golden Bin' Award

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Inter striker Ricardo Quaresma has always stated his ambition to win the Ballon d'Or award but he will have to settled for the 'Golden Bin' accolade this season.

The award is given to the worst player of the season by Italian radio station Radio 2.

The disappointed loser this year with 17 percent of the votes is Quaresma, who even beat old war-horse Christian Vieri.

Adriano, who received the bin - and Roberto Mancini's boot - last year, finished third, in front of former Milan striker Ronaldo and Rossoneri stars Nelson Dida and Andriy Shevchenko.

Juventus flop Tiago Mendes finished in ninth place.

The 'Golden Bin' is not the prize everyone wants for Christmas, but it's what the former Porto midifielder deserves as his form so far has not justified the €18.6 million spent on him in the summer.

Barcelona v Shakhtar

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Group stage - 09 December 2008 20:45 (CET) - Camp Nou - Barcelona - Spain

Those who know him well explain that Josep Guardiola has always been an extremely driven, extremely demanding man. Matchday 6 and the visit of FC Shakhtar Donetsk to the Camp Nou has already given added evidence of these two admirable qualities in the 37-year-old FC Barcelona coach.

Tough examination
Partly with a view to Saturday's Liga home match against Real Madrid CF, but equally because his players are asked to perform at a massively intense level for month after endless month, Guardiola has chosen to rest eight significant players for the visit of Shakhtar. Barcelona, impressive 4-0 winners against Valencia CF at the weekend, have confirmed both qualification and top spot in Group C thanks to their powerful performances since September, so Samuel Eto'o, Víctor Valdés, Daniel Alves, Carles Puyol, Rafael Márquez, Yaya Touré, Xavi Hernández and Lionel Messi have all been given two days' holiday and will not feature in the squad to face Mircea Lucescu's team. Guardiola believes he stands to benefit twice over from seeing what he hates to hear described as a "second XI" getting a tough examination from the Ukrainian side.

High standards
"There are a thousand different things you can learn as a coach on a night like this," argued the man who lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup as a Barça player at Wembley in 1992. "The guys I pick will hear me telling them that on the night they are Barça's first team, that I expect them to win, and that I'll demand they recognise the prestige of playing in the Champions League. I understand that around this city everyone wants to talk about the match against Madrid this weekend, that everyone thinks the reason for me resting senior players is El Clásico, but that's not true. All eight players are already carrying a lot of games in their legs and they will benefit from the rest in the medium term, not just for the weekend. Also, I want to see hunger, concentration and quality from those players who don't get so many opportunities, particularly because Shakhtar have given us our most difficult European game this season."

Revenge
That last-gasp 2-1 win for the Blaugrana in Donetsk on Matchday 2 remains a thorn in Lucescu's side. "We didn't get the result we deserved and I'd like to put that right at Camp Nou," said the 63-year-old Romanian. "Had we won, the pressure Barça would have been under could have changed the entire face of Group C. So, although we cannot qualify for the next phase, my players had better not think they are here on holiday." Striker Brandão is available after suspension and defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy is expected to recover from a thigh problem to start. Lucescu spoke in support of Guardiola's decision to rest star players but does not think his UEFA Cup-bound team's task will be any easier. "Guardiola's having a terrific debut season and I understand the importance of him leaving out some of his players. But the lads he puts in will be terrifically motivated to do well and prove themselves so it will be a good, tough match."

Scolari unfazed by Blues pressure

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Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari says he can cope with the pressure as his side face a crucial Champions League tie against CFR Cluj on Tuesday.

The Blues need a win to guarantee them a place in the knock-out stages but Scolari said the pressure was nothing compared to managing Brazil.

"Do you know how many people live in Brazil? All the people there are coaches," he said.

"I was coach there and you think there is pressure here? It is zero pressure."

Scolari also insisted it would not be a disaster if Chelsea fail to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition for the first time.

A draw or loss to the Romanian side would allow Bordeaux to knock out the Blues if the French team beat Roma.

The Brazilian would be the first Chelsea manager to fail to lead them out of the group stage of the Champions League.

Although elimination would be a disaster for the Stamford Bridge club and their billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich, Scolari - despite the threat of them slipping into the Uefa Cup - is remaining calm.

"This is only one more game. It is important for our qualification for the next phase," added the former Portugal manager.

"It is the same as other games because we need three points. If we win, we are in the next phase.

"It is not the most important game of the season - it is one more game.

"If we lose, then maybe were are out. It is possible. If we lose and we are out of the Champions League, I will not feel good. But no more than that. This is life, this is football."

Roma v Bordeaux

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Group stage - 09 December 2008 20:45 (CET) - Stadio Olimpico - Rome - Italy

'The biggest game of the year'

"The importance of this game cannot be underestimated – it's huge," was Júlio Baptista's take on AS Roma's decisive meeting with FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The Italian side may top Group A but so tight is the section that their UEFA Champions League ambitions could end with a defeat. "We have to give everything because even the slightest of errors could result in a massive setback."

Wide open
The Giallorossi occupy pole position, a point ahead of Chelsea FC and two clear of Bordeaux, but in the one group with all still to play for, a home loss could yet herald their elimination. "It is the biggest game of the year," Baptista said. "I may have experience of such matches but I think we are all responsible for playing well at crucial times like this."

Telling impact
Baptista's performance in the 3-1 win in Bordeaux on Matchday 2 was crucial to Roma's change in fortunes in the competition. After a shock home defeat by CFR 1907 Cluj in their opening fixture, Luciano Spalletti's men fell behind to a Yoann Gourcuff strike before 'the Beast' pounced with two second-half goals, the first a gorgeous free-kick, to complete the turnaround following Mirko Vučinić's equaliser. It helped underline the Brazilian international's contribution at Roma since his summer arrival from Real Madrid CF. "I'm happy with how things have gone so far," he said. "It's always a challenge joining a new team in a new league with a new way of playing. You have to adapt and I think I've done that."

Renaissance
Baptista can operate either as main striker or attacking midfielder, and has been used by Spalletti as part of an increasingly devastating trident alongside Vučinić and Francesco Totti. "At the start of the season we had a lot of players injured. We've got through that and now we're on a bit of a run," the 27-year-old said of the team's run of four successive Serie A wins. "You can always play better though. We've had to get stronger mentally as much as physically, to show character and depend on ourselves. We are displaying more confidence now."

Winning mentality
Although a draw would be enough for Roma to qualify, Baptista wants victory to avoid some big names in the 19 December draw for the first knockout round. "To be first in the group would give us a better chance of progressing further in the competition, as we would miss teams like [FC] Barcelona," he added. "We need to give 100 per cent against Bordeaux."

PSV v Liverpool

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Uefa Champions League, Group D
Venue: Philips Stadion Date: Tuesday 9 December Kick-off: 1945 GMT

Robbie Keane is expected to be handed the task of leading Liverpool's attack in their final Champions League Group D match away to PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday.

Off-form Keane was left on the bench for Saturday's win at Blackburn, but is in the squad to face PSV as Liverpool seek to clinch top spot.

Fernando Torres and Fabio Aurelio are out, while Dirk Kuyt is rested.

PSV have a doubt over Danny Koevermans (hamstring), who has scored all four of their Champions League goals.

Midfielder Ibrahim Afellay is battling an ankle injury, while defender Carlos Salcido and striker Danko Lazovic have both hit out at coach Huub Stevens recently.

Liverpool's Emiliano Insua, Nabil El Zhar and Sami Hyypia all miss out as they are not registered with Uefa for group matches.

Manager Rafael Benitez has added reserve defender Martin Kelly, plus local products Stephen Darby and Jay Spearing, to the squad.

Keane, who scored his first goal since his £20m move from Tottenham in the reverse fixture at Anfield in October, has struggled to find the net this season.

But despite benching him at the weekend, Benitez insisted the striker had a bright future at Liverpool.

"Robbie's future is to be ready, to score goals and to work for the team," said Benitez, who added "you cannot guarantee anyone's position".

"The challenge is there for him. When you sign a player for a lot of money, that is it. He becomes another player in the squad and he has to fight for his position," added Benitez.

"I do not know whether his confidence has been affected, we will see tomorrow.

"Clearly he has to show character, and show you are a good player. When we decide to sign him we knew he was a good player.

"He has to know he needs to fight and work hard. But he has a future here, why not?

"I have a lot of patience, with everybody. He will be here after the January window, it is not my idea to sell him."

Benitez also backed under-pressure Brazilian youngster Lucas Lieva, who is expected to start.

Lucas was booed by the home fans during the recent match against Fulham at Anfield but Benitez said: "Lucas is a clever player with character.

"I do not like to hear my players booed by our own fans, we want to progress together towards our goals."

Liverpool are through from group D to the Champions League knockout stages, alongside Atletico Madrid, but who finishes in first and second place will be decided on Tuesday.

"The best thing about winning the group is that you play the second leg of the next round at Anfield, which is very important for us," said Benitez.

"It is difficult to say now who will play in Eindhoven, but it is clear that we will be making several changes.

"[PSV] will make it very difficult for us. They have ability, pace and they are playing at home."

Fourth-placed PSV have already been eliminated from the Champions League but victory over Liverpool could still see them qualify for the Uefa Cup.

Liverpool (from): Reina, Cavalieri, Kelly, Dossena, Agger, Riera, Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano, Benayoun, Keane, Arbeloa, Babel, Lucas, Carragher, Ngog, Spearing, Darby.

Chelsea v CFR Cluj

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Uefa Champions League, Group A
Venue: Stamford Bridge Date: Tuesday 9 December Kick-off: 1945 GMT

Chelsea are without the suspended Frank Lampard for their final Champions League group match.

Florent Malouda is also doubtful with a knock but Joe Cole is fit again, while it is unclear if Didier Drogba will partner Nicolas Anelka in attack.

Luiz Felipe Scolari's side need to beat the Romanian team to guarantee their spot in the knockout rounds.

Any other result could give Bordeaux the chance to go through with a victory at Roma, who are leading the group.

CFR Cluj, however, cannot qualify and are even out of contention for the Uefa Cup spot awarded to the third-place team.

As well as Lampard, the Blues are also without the injured Michael Essien (knee), Juliano Belletti (ankle), Ricardo Carvalho (knee), and Franco Di Santo (hamstring).

Deco, who scored with a stunning scissors kick in the 2-0 win at Bolton on Saturday, admits he did not expect to arrive at the last pool game needing victory to ensure qualification.

"It is a surprise for us," said the Portuguese midfielder.

"We have many problems with injuries, many players out. We had difficulties in the away games, losing to Roma and drawing with Cluj. Now we have just one game to be in the last 16.

"We have had it difficult but now we have to think about this game. We can't think about what happened in those other games.

"We are still in a good position. We need to win."

CFR Cluj striker Yssouf Kone was in the Rosenborg side which drew 1-1 with Chelsea in their opening Champions League game last season, in what turned out to be Jose Mourinho's last match in charge.

The Burkina Faso international has now set his sights on bringing down Chelsea's current coach.

"I heard that Scolari would go back to Brazil if they didn't beat us," said Kone. "But if Chelsea don't beat us tomorrow, he will really be in trouble.

"Right now Chelsea are under the pressure, the biggest pressure in the group.

"We will be playing without any pressure. They have big players but we are not bad either. It will be worth more than just three points to us if we win."

Cluj opened their campaign with a 2-1 win at Roma before the wheels came off their challenge and their coach, Maurizio Trombetta, insisted they would not be lacking motivation when they run out Stamford Bridge.

"Playing against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge is enough motivation for us," said Trombetta.

"Unfortunately for us we have no chance of going any further. But we were outsiders in Rome and won and so maybe with a little luck and concentration, we can do it again against Chelsea."

Provisional Chelsea squad: Cech, Cudicini, Hilario, Bosingwa, Ferreira, Alex, Terry, Ivanovic, Deco, Obi, Ballack, J Cole, A Cole, Bridge, Kalou, Anelka, Drogba, Stoch.

Diarra set to miss rest of season

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Mali midfielder Mahamadou Diarra will be sidelined for six to nine months after undergoing knee surgery, his club Real Madrid confirmed on Monday.

The 27-year-old sustained the injury to his right knee while playing for his country against Chad in October.

He was initially out of action for two weeks before returning for Real.

A month later, however, he aggravated the injury in a league game and an X-ray last week confirmed he would need arthroscopic surgery.

Diarra's absence will only adds to Real's long injury list.

The Spanish champions have struggled this season due to a shortage of fit players and they are fifth in the Spanish table, nine points behind leaders Barcelona.

The club signed Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar last week and he is being seen as a replacement for Ruud van Nistelrooy, who is also out until the end of the season with a knee injury.

Diarra will also be sorely missed by Mali, as he will be absent for the opening matches of their final round of qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations, which begin in March.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rafa Benitez: Liverpool Might Not Want To Top Group D

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Liverpool have already booked their place in the last 16, after downing Olympique Marseille 1-0 in a tight encounter at Anfield on Matchday 5.

The Merseysiders will battle against PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday night as they grapple with Atletico Madrid for top spot in Group D, which the Spaniards lead by just one goal's difference.

However, the standings in other groups lead Rafael Benitez to believe that it may be more beneficial for his Reds to stay put in second place.

"It is difficult to know whether you want to finish first or second," the ex-Valencia coach was quoted as saying by The Sun. "We cannot play an English side in the last 16, so that reduces the options.

"Looking at the groups we could finish top and end up playing against Juventus or Real Madrid. It is also possible to face Lyon or Bayern Munich so it is very difficult to decide who you’d rather play next."

However, Benitez admitted there were also perks involved in finishing top:

"The best thing about winning the group is that you play the second leg of the next round at Anfield, which is very important for us."

Cluj Hit Back At Chelsea Boss Scolari's Champions League Jibes

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They may already be out of the reckoning in Europe, but Cluj are not lying down in the wake of Big Phil's threats to quit the Blues if they don't dispose of their Romanian opponents this week...


Chelsea appeared to be cruising out of Group A and into the last 16 after going unbeaten in their first three Champions League ties this season.

However, their trouncing by Roma on Matchday 4 was followed up by a draw with Girondins Bordeaux, meaning have conceded top spot and are yet to book their passage to the knockout rounds.

After seeing his side struggle in France, Luiz Felipe Scolari boldly declared that he might as well flee to his native Brazil if the Blues cannot overcome CFR Cluj this Tuesday.

It was a big call from Felipao, especially considering that the Romanian club claimed victory at the Stadio Olimpico - which Chelsea could not - and held the Premier League heavyweights when they visited Napoca.

Emmanuel Culio was particularly riled by Scolari's comments, and he will be holding nothing back at Stamford Bridge tomorrow night.

"That was a lack of respect for Cluj and Romanian football," the Argentine winger told The Sun.

"We’ve proved we’re more than good enough to beat great sides and we can certainly beat Chelsea.

"He can’t just say that if Cluj win or draw he will leave and go to Brazil."

Anything but a victory could prove disastrous for Chelsea, as even a draw could see them dumped into the UEFA Cup should Bordeaux upset Roma.

Adriano And Balotelli Recalled By Mourinho For Bremen Match

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Inter defeated Lazio 3-0 on the weekend without the use of either Adriano or Mario Balotelli, as Jose Mourinho had left them off of his squad list for differing reasons.

Adriano had been ill during the week and the 'Special One' did not consider him match fit after he had missed a couple days of training. Meanwhile, the ex-Chelsea coach was unhappy with the effort he was seeing from Mario Balotelli in training.

However, both strikers have been included in Mourinho's call-ups for the Champions League match against Werder Bremen on Tuesday. Adriano is completely recovered from the flu and Balotelli's fine performance with the reserve squad seems to have convinced Mourinho to recall 18-year-old Balotelli.

Julio Cruz and Francesco Toldo are out through injury and Hernan Crespo and Walter Samuel cannot take part because they were not included in Inter's original Champions League list they submitted at the beginning of the season.

The Nerazzurri are already qualified for the next stage of the competition, but would like to secure first place in the group with a victory.

Below are Mourinho's call-ups:

Goalkeepers: 12 Julio Cesar, 22 Paolo Orlandoni, 43 Luca Stocchi.

Defenders: 2 Ivan Ramiro Cordoba, 6 Maxwell, 13 Maicon, 16 Nicolas Burdisso, 23 Marco Materazzi, 39 Davide Santon.

Midfielders: 4 Javier Zanetti, 5 Dejan Stankovic, 7 Luis Figo, 11 Luis Jimenez, 19 Esteban Cambiasso, 20 Sulley Muntari, 36 Francesco Bolzoni.

Strikers: 8 Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 10 Adriano, 33 Amantino Mancini, 45 Mario Balotelli, 77 Ricardo Quaresma

Inter To Be Without Julio Cruz Until 2009

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Julio Cruz played in last night’s Serie A encounter for Inter with Lazio last night, but the Argentinian had to be replaced during the first half of his side's 3-0 win over the Biancocelesti in Rome after he was injured.

“Fortunately it's nothing too serious,” said Inter’s team physician Franco Combi. Cruz was left off Inter's team list for Tuesday's Champions League match with Werder Bremen.

Coach Jose Mourinho has called up Adriano, Ricardo Quaresma, Mario Balotelli and Amantino Mancini to join Zlatan Ibrahimovic in attack for this week’s Champions League outing, but Cruz may have been an important part of the Portuguese tactician’s plans for the midweek match.

Inter has already qualified for the knockout phase, but is still attempting to come top in its Champions League group in order to avoid another top placed team in the draw for the knockout stages.

Villarreal's Rossi Flattered By Italian Interest

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Giuseppe Rossi has admitted that other clubs' interest in him only inspires him to work even harder and he has no intention of looking for way out of Villarreal this season.

The Italian international has been linked with Juventus and Roma in recent weeks after impressing for both the Yellow Submarines and the national team.

But the former Manchester United forward does not want to be distracted by transfer talk and will instead use it to make him play better and help Villarreal compete for the title.

"It is something that motivates you. It's nice to be wanted by other teams, but it is nothing more," he said.

"That also something that I do not want to distract me, because what is important is to focus on the team and on the next game."

Villarreal go to Celtic for the last game of the Champions League group stage in midweek and Rossi admits that he is a fan of Scottish football after Sir Alex Ferguson introduced him to it.

"I know Scottish football well as Ferguson used to speak to me about Scottish clubs," he told the Scottish Mail.

"It made me watch live matches on TV. Celtic will look to win and that makes them so dangerous."

United Can Retain Champions League Crown - Giggs

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Manchester United's legendary midfielder Ryan Giggs remains confident that the club have what it takes to hold on to the Champions League trophy.

However, the 35-year-old says it will not be easy as clubs are more determined to claim victory over the current champions.

"We knew it would be tough because every team is out to beat the holders," Giggs said when asked about their chances this year.

"You have got to remember what it took to win the Champions League. It wasn't easy. It was tough right from the start.

"We need to use the experience we had last year and keep the desire and the hunger because we have already proved the talent is there.

"With all those things we have a great chance."

The former Wales international has become one of the club's most celebrated players since making his debut as a 17-year-old in the 1990-1991 season.

However, Giggs says he never dreamt that he would go on to become such a success.

"As a Manchester United fan I used to go and watch them play," he remarked.

"I signed for them when I was 14 and have not played for another team.

"It wasn't until I was leaving school, when I knew that I would be going on to an apprenticeship at United, that I knew this was going to be my career.

"Before that you don't take anything for granted, you know there are not many people that make professional footballers."

ACF Fiorentina v FC Steaua Bucureşti

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Fiorentina determined to deny Steaua


ACF Fiorentina will take on FC Steaua Bucureşti in their final UEFA Champions League game on Wednesday determined to hold on to third place in Group F and book a place in the UEFA Cup.

Price paid
The Serie A club believe they have already paid dearly for a lack of experience at the top level in European football, after section rivals FC Bayern München and Olympique Lyonnais cruised through to the last 16. A draw at the Steaua Stadium on Matchday 6, however, would be enough for the Viola to at least cut their losses and move into the UEFA Cup's Round of 32.

Experience counts
Fiorentina goalkeeper Sébastien Frey summed up the mood, saying: "Our main objective now is to keep our UEFA Cup place. There's one game left, we've got to go over there and try to get a result, because that too is a big tournament." Looking back at a campaign which has yielded only three points from five matches, all from draws, Frey added: "What we're lacking is experience and that counts for a lot in this competition. At difficult moments, you have to know how to deal with certain situations – and unfortunately we didn't."

Not easy
Alberto Gilardino echoed this view as the Italy striker reflected on the team's frustrating run. "For a lot of us, this was our first time in the Champions League, so it might be down to a little bit of inexperience. We all found it difficult. It hasn't been easy and we've also had to deal with a pretty tough group, with some big teams – teams who've been playing in the Champions League for ten years."

European hopes
Fiorentina's continued stay in European competition now hinges on a fixture in which the hosts, who held Cesare Prandelli's men 0-0 at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in September, need a victory to climb into third position. "Our aim is to get that UEFA Cup place," said Gilardino. "But we'll need to put on a great performance in Bucharest." For his part, Prandelli knows the next few days are about ensuring the Viola feel confident after what is bound to have been a painful setback. "The Champions League is very unforgiving," said the 51-year-old coach. "But it's an important experience for these lads. We just mustn't lose our conviction that we can become a great team."

Sarriegi hoping Greens' story has happy ending

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Scoring Panathinaikos FC's Matchday 5 winner at FC Internazionale Milano was an electrifying experience for José Sarriegi, but the defender has told uefa.com he hopes lightning will not strike twice when Anorthosis Famagusta FC visit Athens on Tuesday.

Hero
Following their Matchday 1 defeat by Inter, Panathinaikos were then tripped up by Anorthosis as Sarriegi's own goal set the unheralded Cypriot club on their way to a famous 3-1 victory. The 29-year-old was to become his team's hero, however, when he scored the only goal of the game against Inter in Italy last time out to earn Panathinaikos a second successive group-stage win, and leave them merely needing to avoid defeat in the Greek capital to clinch a place in the first knockout round.

'Important goal'
"It was as if I had been hit by lightning," said Sarriegi of his strike in Milan, which gave Panathinaikos a first-ever win on Italian soil. "I was shouting, 'It's in, the ball is in!' I am not used to scoring and I don't know how to celebrate. I consider myself lucky to have scored that goal. It's the UEFA Champions League, a very tough match, in a legendary stadium, with one of Europe's biggest clubs as an opponent. That goal is important for the club and for the fans." Just how important, Sarriegi was able to guage for himself on his return to Athens. "It was crazy," he said. "I have to thank all those fans who came to the airport at six o'clock in the morning to greet us and celebrate with us. You don't see that every day and it was very pleasing."

Stark contrast
Sarriegi's emotions were in stark contrast to those he felt in Nicosia in early October, when his headed own goal gifted Anorthosis an eleventh-minute lead which they built on to claim all three points and leave Panathinaikos's hopes of reaching the next round in the balance. "I've got bad memories of that match," the former Athletic Club Bilbao defender admitted. "We had travelled to Cyprus in a very optimistic mood after playing well against Inter. But in Nicosia that early own goal was a big blow and we couldn't react to it. It wasn't like the defeat against Inter, where we felt that we had done a good job. When we lost to Anorthosis, we were very sad, very disappointed."

'Great feat'
The disappointment of that reverse will be a distant memory, however, should Henk ten Cate's men claim the point required to clinch their berth in the last 16. Sarriegi added that the squad's goal of pipping Anorthosis to a place in the hat for the first knockout round draw on 19 December would drive them on more than any desire for revenge. "More than making amends for our defeat there, we want to qualify, no matter who our rival is," he said. "We want to progress; that's the most important thing for us. We started this competition in July, went through two qualifying rounds to the group stage and we are on the verge of becoming one of Europe's best 16 teams. That would be a great feat."

Chygrynskiy excited by Camp Nou test

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FC Shakhtar Donetsk may have little at stake in their final Group C fixture at FC Barcelona, but for defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy, just playing "in a stadium as legendary as Camp Nou" is enough to send a shiver down the spine.

Record win
The main business in Group C was completed on Matchday 5 when Barcelona clinched top spot with a 5-2 win at closest challengers Sporting Clube de Portugal, while Mircea Lucescu's side secured third place and a UEFA Cup spot by overwhelming FC Basel 1893 5-0, their record score in UEFA competition. Chygrynskiy missed that triumph because of a thigh injury, but he is doing all he can to ensure he is fit to face the Spanish Liga leaders.

'Mistakes'
"We played very well against them in Donetsk but our own stupid mistakes robbed us of a win," he told uefa.com. "Now we want to prove that defeat was not a fair reflection of the game." With the Ukrainian Premier League now in hibernation for the winter break, Chygrynskiy cannot think of a better place to round out Shakhtar's year. "I'm happy to finish the year with a game in a stadium as legendary as Camp Nou. There is no doubt both teams will play some spectacular football."

Good run
Shakhtar will be looking to end a punishing first half of the season on a high note. A run of five successive league wins, including the scalp of rivals FC Dynamo Kyiv, has improved the mood, though Shakhtar remain a distant 12 points behind Dynamo. Their UEFA Champions League form has also left much to be desired, with a pair of wins against Basel all they have to show from five matches so far.

Sporting defeats
Things might have been so different. Shakhtar led Barcelona 1-0 with three minutes remaining on Matchday 2, only for the visiting side to hit back with two Lionel Messi strikes to claim the points at the RSC Olympiyskiy Stadium. Messi's winner came four minutes into added time and seemed to knock the stuffing out of Shakhtar, who then lost back-to-back matches against Sporting to end their hopes of advancing.

'Deserved more'
"I think we deserved more than we got in the group," the 22-year-old said. "We should have been able to get the better of Sporting. I can't think of one reason why we failed to do so. We seemed to have enough experience as we were participating in the group stage for a third consecutive season. We have quality players and a famous coach, but we still can't reach the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League. It seems everyone didn't play to their best this autumn."

Clean sheets
Speculation surrounding Lucescu's future has not helped matters, but Chygrynskiy, who played in every minute of Shakhtar's league campaign prior to his recent injury, jumped to the coach's defence. "This season we have been paying much more attention to defending collectively," he said. "Yes, we conceded too many goals at the beginning of the season but since then we have defended much better and have kept four successive clean sheets in the league, as well as one in the game against Basel."

High ambitions
Chygrynskiy, capped 13 times by Ukraine, came through the youth ranks under Lucescu at Shakhtar. His career has been on a constant upward curve and he is ambitious for more, including greater exposure to the continental stage although he feels it is too early to discuss club president Rinat Akhmetov's target of winning a European trophy. "I hope we do well in Barcelona and later on in the UEFA Cup. We must only think about winning our next fixture and, if we do that, success will follow. The president, coach, players and fans are all dreaming of that."

Ronaldo gets hands on Ballon d'Or

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Manchester United forward Cristiano Ronaldo was handed the prestigious European Player of the Year award in a televised ceremony on Sunday.

Accompanied to Paris by United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, Ronaldo collected the Ballon d'Or - golden ball - trophy from France Football magazine.

"I've been playing for Manchester for five years - I feel at home," said the 23-year-old Ronaldo.

"I'm happy at Manchester and want to stay."

During the summer Ronaldo was linked with a move to Real Madrid after a season in which he scored 42 goals for United as Ferguson's side won the Premier League and the Champions League.

"I'm an ambitious person. I don't want it to stop here," said Ronaldo reflecting on his success. "I think we have to keep trying to win trophies, collectively and individually. I'm on the right track.

It's always special to reach this level, the important thing is to stay there. The idea is to keep progressing, collectively and individually as well.

"Without my team I couldn't have won it, and I have to thank them also."

Ronaldo was the first United player to win the award since George Best in 1968 and Ferguson predicted the best was yet to come from the Portuguese forward.

"It's a long time since we won one, 40 years ago," said Ferguson. "Of course, he's only 23. He's only just beginning. When players get to 26 they start to mature."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ferguson unsure over Keane return

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Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is uncertain whether Roy Keane will return to football management.

Keane resigned as Sunderland manager on Thursday after 27 months in charge of the Black Cats and his future in the game remains unclear.

"It is difficult to say whether he will be back," said Ferguson.

"He is an incredibly controversial character. Every week he always had something to say about the game. He was the same as a player."

Ferguson, who Keane played under at Manchester United, added: "He is such an interesting character and did a decent job up there."

Keane, who had spent more than £70m on 33 players since 2006, guided the club into the Premier League during his first season as manager before keeping them there last term.

And despite recent results, which have seen Sunderland win just one of their past seven games, the Black Cats are still in a better position this year than they were at the same stage at last season.

Former team-mate and now Manchester City boss Mark Hughes believes Keane's exit may have come as a result of not taking a decent break between finishing his playing career and taking over as manager at a club.

The 37-year-old Irishman went to Sunderland in August 2006 almost immediately after injury finished his playing career at Celtic in June of the same year.

Hughes also began his managerial career immediately but believes he was helped by the fact that his first role was as Wales boss, with the intermittent nature of the international calendar giving him time away from the game.

"You sensed in recent weeks that maybe there was a point where he was going to consider his future and walk away," said Hughes.

"He is still young and still has a future in the game, if he wants to return there is plenty of time for him to do so.

"Maybe he went from being a player to a manager too quickly.

"I think it is important to have a bit of breathing space once you stop playing and although I went straight into management it was with Wales so I still had a bit of time off. I don't think Roy had that benefit.

"He needs to take a step back, learn from the experience and go again."

However, Ferguson believes the problem is more deep rooted than that, with the pressures of management taking a greater toll than ever.

"There are very few managers that last more than three to four years at a club nowadays and the lifespan of a manager at a club is getting shorter and shorter," he said.

"They can move on to different challenges, but it's a very precarious industry nowadays and a very emotional game.

"A couple of years ago, people were saying that I should have gone four years earlier - the black flags were out!

"Football people like myself are fortunate to have been at a club for so long, though. I haven't had to go through that emotional situation."

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger expressed his surprise at Keane's resignation but believes he will make a return to management.

"It is a surprise, but I can understand it," said Wenger. "He is a passionate man, and I regret he leaves the job.

"When you are passionate, especially at the start of this career, you suffer immensely physically. Also, because he is a passionate man, there is no other way for him to be in the job.

"When you are passionate about the game, you go out of it and then come back into it because there is no other way to be happy. That is why I believe he will be back."

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