Saturday, February 28, 2009

Roma lose Perrotta to hip injury

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AS Roma have lost midfielder Simone Perrotta for the home second leg of their UEFA Champions League tie against Arsenal FC after the Italian international suffered a hip injury in training today.

Month out
Perrotta, 31, is expected to undergo further tests in the coming days but initial reports say he faces over a month on the sidelines. The absence of the former AC Chievo Verona player, who has made 18 Serie A appearances this season as well as being a regular in Europe, adds to the concerns of coach Luciano Spalletti with Daniele De Rossi already ruled out of the 11 March fixture through suspension.

Aquilani recovering
Brazilian centre-back Juan is still out after missing the 1-0 defeat in England with a thigh injury, although midfielder Alberto Aquilani is recovering from an ankle problem and could return for the first knockout round decider against the Gunners.

Extra officials set for 2012

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UEFA president Michel Platini is certain that two extra assistant referees behind the goal-line will become part of football after the game's rulemakers gave the go-ahead for further trials.

A final decision will be made in 2011 and the rule change could come in for Euro 2012.

Platini was jubilant after his plan for further trials with extra referees was given the green light.Asked if he was confident it would become part of football's rules, Platini said: "I am sure."

The International FA Board (IFAB) meeting near Belfast gave the go-ahead for new trials in a professional league. It also handed a way back in for goal-line technology by agreeing to a new report on latest developments.

Meanwhile, FIFA abandoned their controversial proposal to extend the half-time break from 15 to 20 minutes.

Platini added: "The decision will be made in 2011 so if it is agreed then it will be used in Euro 2012."

The IFAB also rejected a proposal by the Irish FA for sin-bins, and by the Scottish FA for a fourth substitute to be allowed in extra time.

FIFA withdrew their proposal for an extra five minutes at half-time after opposition from the home nations.

Goal-line technology, which was put on ice a year ago, could be revived after the IFAB agreed to hear a report on latest developments by adidas and German company Cairos Technology.

The IFAB is made up of representatives of the four home associations, who each have a vote, and FIFA, who have four. Any rule change needs at least six votes in favour.

Guti on his way out of Real

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Real Madrid favourite Guti is set to leave the Primera Liga giants for pastures new in 2011 he has announced.

Following in the wake of Raul's recent declaration that he too will call it quits in a couple of years, Guti has decided to seek a new adventure and will look to end his playing career in an "exotic" country before embarking on a coaching stint.

"I have already enjoyed many years at the club and I hope to enjoy the remaining three that I have left. My target is to continue playing at Madrid until 2011," the 32-year-old told La Sexta.

"After that, I hope to be able to go to an exotic country like the USA, Qatar or Dubai and play there. It would be a great way to end my career.

"And after that, I will try to take on the role of a coach. At some point, I would love to be on the bench in the dugout," he added.

Whilst he remains at Real, Guti is however determined to do his best as Los Blancos attempt to chase down Barcelona who currently hold a seven point advantage over their bitter rivals at the top of the Spanish standings.

"Now, Barcelona are seven points ahead of us, but I believe that when they see us approaching even closer, they will raise their game.

"Before, they had a sufficient enough an advantage to be calm and relaxed, but now, they know that in each and every game, three vital points are at stake," he affirmed.

Guti, who recently returned from a calf muscle injury, could make his first start for Madrid in a month when they play Espanyol on Saturday.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Robben hopeful of Madrid comeback

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Real Madrid's Arjen Robben believes his Champions League dreams will not fall foul of Liverpool despite their loss.

Madrid have been left with a mountain to climb if they are to avoid being dumped out at the last-16 stage of the competition for the fifth successive season after going down 1-0 to Liverpool in front of their own fans.

Yossi Benayoun scored the only goal of a closely-fought first leg in which there were precious few goalscoring opportunities for either side as defences largely kept their opponents at bay.

Robben, who had arguably Madrid`s best effort in the second half when his thunderous 25-yard strike was palmed over by Jose Reina, has not given up hope of his side progressing, and in the process avoiding another European exit at the hands of the Reds for the Dutchman.

Robben was part of the Chelsea side that was eliminated by Liverpool at the semi-final stage in both 2005 and 2007, but he has faith it will be third time lucky on this occasion.

"We have to go to Anfield and give it everything. We don't have anything to lose and we are going to go there confident of getting through the tie," he said.

"I'm sure we can be in the quarter-finals."

Robben knows from bitter experience how hard it is to get a positive result at Anfield.

In 2005 Chelsea lost 1-0 there after being held goalless at home, while in 2007 the London outfit were again defeated 1-0 having led by the same scoreline from the first leg, and were subsequently knocked out 4-1 on penalties - Robben missing his side's first spot-kick.

"The situation now is difficult, because we wanted to win this game," he added on his club's website.

"They are an English team, which means they are very strong, especially at a tactical level. They closed up the space very well and scored a goal. It will be difficult, but in the return match we are going to try and turn the tie around.

"To get a good result at Anfield we have to move the ball very quickly and try to create as many chances as possible.

"They have done very well. They have not left any spaces because they wanted to keep a clean sheet. They are a stronger team at home and it will be difficult to beat them, although we can do something big there."

Del Piero seeks perfection

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Alessandro Del Piero feels Juventus need to play a "perfect game" to progress to the Champions League quarter-finals.

Didier Drogba scored the only goal in the first leg of the last-16 tie with Chelsea last night to give Guus Hiddink's side the slenderest of advantages ahead of the return fixture in Turin.

Del Piero is well aware of how tough a test is ahead of them but the Juve and Italy veteran insists the tie is far from over.

"I believe it will also be a tough match at home but it's still an open game," he said. "In order for us to get through, to get a result against what I think is a great team, we need to play a perfect game because we can't concede and we have to score two goals.

"In Turin we have to be more aggressive, we have to score and we will need a bit of luck too."

Juve had a poor start to the game and only really got into the match after Drogba's goal.

The Serie A side then had a plethora of chances and Del Piero believes there are still positives to be taken from the match despite the defeat.

"We're ending this battle with a slight satisfaction, because we deserved a draw," he added. "We'll take on board the defeat and our good performance, knowing that in Turin we have to do even better.

"It was a very hard game because Chelsea are a big team and they showed that, we respect them very much but I believe that we still have the chance to go through.

"I think we saw a good Juve performance because we didn't lose our heads when we conceded a goal at the beginning.

"We got back into the game, focused well, tried to play, tried to look for space which there wasn't much of. We are a bit upset but also very happy."

Champions League Wednesday Review

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Liverpool took a significant step towards the Champions League quarter-finals with a 1-0 win over Real Madrid.

The Spanish side headed into the last-16 clash as La Liga's form team but a typically efficient Liverpool performance saw Rafael Benitez's side return home with a lead - and a vital away goal - to take into the second leg at Anfield.

Yossi Benayoun headed home Fabio Aurelio's 82nd-minute free-kick to earn a clinical Liverpool victory.

Liverpool also went close through Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso, who were both denied by fine saves from Iker Casillas, while Madrid's best effort was an Arjen Robben piledriver that Jose Reina tipped over.

A first-half matchwinner by Ivorian striker Didier Drogba gave Chelsea a 1-0 lead to take to Turin against Juventus in a fortnight's time.

Drogba pounced in the 12th minute when he collected a pass from Salomon Kalou and despatched a vicious shot beyond Gianluigi Buffon from 12 yards.

Chelsea could have won by a bigger margin but failed to make the most of their chances while Juventus captain Alessandro Del Piero saw a first-half effort superbly saved by Petr Cech.

Bayern Munich gave Sporting Lisbon a nightmare welcome to the Champions League knockout stages with a 5-0 win in Portugal.

Sporting qualified from the group stage for the first time earlier this season but got a rude awakening tonight.

Franck Ribery broke the deadlock for the German champions after 41 minutes with further goals from Miroslav Klose, a Ribery penalty and two from Luca Toni.

In the other match on Wednesday night, Panathinaikos gave themselves an excellent chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals by scoring a vital away goal in a 1-1 draw with Villarreal.

Giorgos Karagounis gave the Greek side the lead midway through the second half in Spain and although Guiseppe Rossi equalised with a penalty seven minutes later, Henk Ten Cate's men will fancy their chances of going through when the teams meet in Athens in a fortnight.

Barca , Atletico and United held as Arsenal wins

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Arsenal 1-0 Roma
Atletico Madrid 2-2 FC Porto
Inter Milan 0-0 Man Utd
Lyon 1-1 Barcelona


Lyon 1-1 Barcelona

Thierry Henry rescued Barcelona with a second-half goal in their Champions League last 16 first leg tie in Lyon.

The hosts took the lead thanks to an amazing free-kick, Juninho lofting an extraordinary effort over keeper Victor Valdes' head from way out on the left.

Samuel Eto'o toe-poked a shot against the upright as Barca hit back, before Lyon's Karim Benzema struck the post.

Barca improved after the break and Henry got their leveller, stooping to head in a corner at the far post.

Arsenal 1-0 Roma



A first-half penalty from Robin van Persie gave Arsenal a narrow lead going into the away leg of their Champions League last-16 clash against Roma.

Arsenal were the better team over the 90 minutes, taking a deserved lead when Van Persie was fouled by Philippe Mexes and then fired in low from the spot.

Fellow striker Nicklas Bendtner struck over from eight yards, while Emmanuel Eboue sent his shot inches wide.


Atletico Madrid 2-2 FC Porto

Lisandro Lopez spared FC Porto keeper Helton's blushes by bundling in a leveller to earn a draw at Atletico.

Atletico took the lead when Sergio Aguero's pass was hammered in by Maxi Rodriguez, before Lisandro had a goal wrongly disallowed by the referee.

He fired in to level soon after, but Atletico went ahead again when Diego Forlan's speculative 25-yard shot somehow went straight through Helton.

But after blazing another chance over, Lisandro tapped in to earn a draw.


Inter Milan 0-0 Man Utd


Manchester United dominated for much of this lively Champions League last-16 clash but had to settle for a goalless draw with Inter Milan at the San Siro.
A Cristiano Ronaldo bullet header was well saved after four minutes and Ryan Giggs then missed when clean through.Inter were much-improved in the second half as Zlatan Ibrahimovic burst to life, and after dummying for Adriano the Brazilian shot tamely wide.A new-look United defence stood strong as Inter pushed for a late winner.

United were held on by Inter keeper

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United spun chance after chance to give Inter hopes to advance to next stage . It was a contest between the Inter keeper and the United forwards in the first half with the former saving well and the latter spoiling chance after chance . Berbatov and Giggs were the main culprits and it raises the question of why Rooney was put on the bench . If the England forward have been started the story would have been another one as he has scored goals on all his previous 4 appearances

Manchester United dominated for much of this lively Champions League last-16 clash but had to settle for a goalless draw with Inter Milan at the San Siro.
A Cristiano Ronaldo bullet header was well saved after four minutes and Ryan Giggs then missed when clean through.Inter were much-improved in the second half as Zlatan Ibrahimovic burst to life, and after dummying for Adriano the Brazilian shot tamely wide.A new-look United defence stood strong as Inter pushed for a late winner.


With Nemanja Vidic suspended, and Gary Neville and Wes Brown injured, Ferguson's hopes of improving on a measly record of one win in 12 games against Mourinho rose slightly with Jonny Evans and John O'Shea declared fit an hour before kick-off.

But the Inter boss, without Patrick Vieira, Marco Materazzi and Walter Samuel, might have felt vindicated on hearing that his opponents were leaving Wayne Rooney on the bench with Dimitar Berbatov playing alone up front.

However, if either team was guilty of playing cagey football it was Mourinho's side, who were off the pace for much of the first half. With Giggs and Michael Carrick dominant in the middle in the opening exchanges it was the visitors who settled the quickest, with Ronaldo in the thick of the action.

The Portuguese winger had already gone close with a free-kick, and after four minutes his rocket header from a Giggs corner was brilliantly saved by the left arm of Julio Cesar.

While Inter's attackers were struggling to make friends with the ball, their defenders were faring little better and were lucky to get away with a Giggs through-ball to Berbatov, who failed to cross to the unmarked Ji-Sung Park.

A shockingly-timed Nelson Rivas tackle then allowed Giggs to squirm his way though again but the Welshman could only blast the ball at the over-worked keeper.

The home support became increasingly agitated as the sea of red piled forward, with Ronaldo just inches away from opening the scoring with yet another free-kick. He then headed just wide.

Ibrahimovic, misfiring until the 40th minute, pulled the ball back for Adriano but Edwin van der Sar sniffed out the danger. The Inter bench even got in on the action just before the interval as reserve keeper Francesco Toldo was booked for dissent.

The Inter manager was the first to change tactics, the Colombian Rivaz making way for Ivan Cordoba, and it seemed to rouse his team.

Esteban Cambiasso crossed from the left and, after an Ibrahimovic dummy, Adriano's shot flew high and wide.

The Brazilian was soon shouting for a penalty but his theatrics that followed a Rio Ferdinand hand on his shoulder did not fool the referee. The Italians were much better and more composed in the second half with the menacing Cambiasso pushing the United defence regularly onto the back-foot.

Mario Balotelli and Julio Cruz were thrown on for Inter, but the Old Trafford side were not content to sit back with Ronaldo pulling back for Park, whose sliding legs just avoided the ball.

Giggs, once again on imperious form, went on a dazzling run, only to be thwarted by a lunging blocked tackle by Cordoba on the penalty spot and then Rooney, on as substitute with five minutes left, was denied by the legs of Cesar.

After Cordoba had brought Ronaldo down on the edge of the box in injury time and the Portugal star strolled up to take the free-kick, you sensed the headlines may be his.

But the ball flew safely within range of the impressive Cesar and so Old Trafford awaits for battle to recommence in a fortnight.

Although United cannot celebrate an away goal, they can take pride in increasing their unbeaten Champions League run to 20 matches and breaking the record they shared with Ajax and Bayern Munich.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wenger prefers Champs League

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Arsene Wenger admits he finds the Champions League more enjoyable than the league because teams like to attack.

His Arsenal side have struggled for goals in recent weeks, with Saturday's 0-0 draw against Sunderland an example of the problems affecting Wenger's team.

The continued injury absences of playmakers Cesc Fabregas and Tomas Rosicky, as well as the loss of strikers Emmanuel Adebayor and Eduardo, have not helped the Gunners' cause, but Wenger also believes his side have been stifled by unambitious opponents.

He is, though, confident that when Roma visit in the first knockout round of the Champions League tomorrow it will be a more flowing game of football.

The Frenchman, unsurprisingly given his favoured open style of play, is looking forward to challenge.

"You never know but certainly in the Champions League teams have a more positive attitude than the teams who have come in the Premier League to the Emirates recently, but that would not be very difficult I must say," said Wenger.

"Usually the Champions League is more enjoyable but more difficult as well. You feel like you play more on the edge.

"You feel if you make a mistake your opponent will take advantage of it which is not always the case with a team who just defends.

"You can talk and talk and talk but football becomes really exciting when both teams really try to play.

"You need to have two (attacking sides) to have a good game. You need two teams trying to play to have a good game."

Wenger admits to being frustrated by the tactics of some of the sides who have held Arsenal domestically of late but understands that it can be an important part of cup football.

"In our sport it is not always the team that takes the initiative that wins," said Wenger.

"In most other sports when you take initiative you are rewarded. In football, no. It makes it interesting as well, it makes cup results possible, when teams three or four divisions down still win games against teams who are better. That's impossible in basketball for example."

Wenger is unable to call on recent purchase Andrei Arshavin for the meeting with Roma due to his participation with Zenit St Petersburg earlier in the competition.

Zenit are now out having failed to progress from the group stages and, although Wenger was aware of the situation when he bought the Russian forward, his injury problems up front have forced him to query the regulations.

"We signed Arshavin for the championship and for the FA Cup, obviously not for the Champions League," he said.

"But he played in a team that is out of the competition. The logic is not really obvious; if he can play in the championship and in the cup then why not be qualified for the Champions League?

"But we cannot complain because we knew that when we bought him. The logic is not obvious though - he played for a team that cannot play in the competition anymore."

Ronaldo: It's time for the kill

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Cristiano Ronaldo has urged his Manchester United team-mates to play to their instincts and “kill” the opposition.

The Red Devils' wing wizard has also declared that his side will cripple Internazionale at the San Siro, and ensure that Jose Mourinho's men will exit from the competition in a fortnight.

"We have a more experienced team and are the reigning champions," said Ronaldo. "It's time to kill or be killed. Whoever loses will exit the competition - and we don't want to lose."

"It will be a difficult game but I think Manchester United have a better team," continued the Portuguese superstar. "They're a team with very experienced players but we also have our aces and great players."

"It will be a good game, a well-contested game, and the better team will triumph," concluded Ron. "I have won the Champions League and want to repeat that very soon."

The winger also expects to be heavily marked by the reigning Serie A champions in their Champions League second-round, first-leg clash.

Sir Alex Ferguson believes that his player have the mettle to stand up to the physical test.

"When we came here two years ago and played AC Milan in the semi-final, we saw the immaturity of the boy. But he is a different player now," said Ferguson.

"I want to see maturity from Ronaldo and everyone else because of the atmosphere and the competition."

Sir Alex is hopeful Jonny Evans and John O'Shea can recover from their injuries to start.

Mourinho and Sir Alex renew rivalry

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osé Mourinho was in ebullient mood ahead of FC Internazionale Milano's first knockout round meeting with Manchester United FC, insisting his side would take on the European champions with "no fear" in what promises to be a close encounter at San Siro.

Similarities
The similarities between Inter and United are striking; both are domestic titleholders, both boast clear leads in their title races, and both have suffered just two league defeats all season. But the one glaring difference, standing out like a beacon, is European form. United won the UEFA Champions League last term and are one match away from a record 20-game unbeaten sequence in Europe's premier club competition. Conversely, Inter have continually flattered to deceive, falling at this hurdle in each of the last two campaigns.

Sticking point
The Nerazzurri also struggled to get through the group stage, finishing second to Panathinaikos FC after two wins, two draws and two defeats. Yet Mourinho lost only once in ten matches against United during his three years in charge of Chelsea FC and is convinced he can continue that impressive run. "I have told my players not to be afraid of being knocked out, but instead to go into this match thinking that in 15 days we can celebrate beating the European champions," he said. "I'm an optimist – always have been – but I'm right to be confident because whenever this side has been in difficulty it has responded well. We have no fear."

Weekend wins
They certainly responded well against Bologna FC on Saturday as Mario Balotelli, just on as a substitute, fired in a decisive late free-kick moments after the hosts had made it 1-1. That helped maintain Inter's nine-point cushion at the top of Serie A, though the Nerazzurri were equally indebted to goalkeeper Júlio César for keeping Bologna at bay in a frenetic finale. United had fewer problems as they too prevailed 2-1, at home to Blackburn Rovers FC. Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo scored as the Red Devils went seven points clear at the Premier League summit, but the points came at a price as Jonny Evans went off with an ankle knock, adding to Sir Alex Ferguson's defensive concerns.

'Fantastic crowd'
"With Wes Brown [ankle], Rafael [ankle] and Gary Neville [virus] out, and Nemanja Vidić suspended, it's a worrying moment for us but we've accepted it and we'll get on with it," said Sir Alex. "The challenge of playing in a stadium with a fantastic crowd will help the players – I'm sure of that." With Fabio likely to come in at right-back and Anderson (ankle) still sidelined, the United manager admitted a degree of tactical tinkering would be required although he denied Mourinho's claim that his side play "less offensively in Europe".

Early exchanges
The Portuguese coach was full of confidence throughout the news conference, only really letting down his guard when he conceded that the tie "will probably last longer than 180 minutes". Sir Alex retorted by saying: "It'll be all over tomorrow if we get the away goal." The early exchanges between two of Europe's leading managers have only served to heighten the anticipation.

Zanetti: Time is right to beat United

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FC Internazionale Milano may have lost in the first knockout round of the last two UEFA Champions League seasons, but captain Javier Zanetti is confident of stopping the rot against holders Manchester United FC, insisting: "This match has come at the right time for us."

Stage fright
Detractors might suggest that when it comes to the knockout phase, Inter suffer from stage fright. Successive defeats by Villarreal CF and Liverpool FC have ended their involvement before even the quarter-finals and with Tuesday's opponents arriving in Milan as European champions, the Nerazzurri again have their work cut out to reach the last eight.

'Right time'
However, Inter are sitting pretty, nine points clear in Serie A, and Zanetti says they are not dwelling on the past. "We are looking forward, not back," he said. "We have a great chance of winning. We are in great form, we won our last league game and this side has great desire. This match has come at the right time for us. Manchester United are undoubtedly a great side and we respect them, but there is no fear in the camp. We have prepared for the match in great detail and I believe we have everything right to win this match."

'Bad memories'
Long-serving Zanetti was in the last Inter team to face United, ten years ago, and remembers well the 3-1 aggregate quarter-final defeat, both for the result and for the fact he will renew acquaintances with three other veterans of that tie. "Unfortunately, I have bad memories of that match," he said. "[Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs] have played a key part in the history of Manchester United and I have great admiration for them."

Club record
The Nerazzurri skipper is not short of admirers himself and is also showing few signs of slowing down. Zanetti's continued importance to the cause is reflected by his being the only player to have played every minute of this season's league campaign. Another remarkable achievement should be celebrated on Tuesday if Zanetti breaks Giuseppe Bergomi's club record by making his 118th European appearance for La Beneamata. The 35-year-old will sport a commemorative armband to mark the occasion, but is more focused on United and their danger man, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo threat
"Ronaldo is capable of making the difference at any given moment," Zanetti said. "He is a fantastic player but it's important we keep it tight all over the pitch and don't give anyone space to cause us problems. If we do that we can also think about inflicting some damage ourselves. They are one of the best sides in Europe but we are good enough to go through. At Inter we aim high and always look to improve, so this is a great opportunity for us to show just how good we really are."

Tuesday’s knock out Preview

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Inter Milan v Manchester United


The much waited match of the day contesting between the champions of Italy with the Champions of World, Europe and English football playing each other . It will be the battle between the two best managers in Europe – Ferguson the long serving coach of United and Mourinho the new one in the block who can claim to be Fergie’s real successor . With his spells with Porto , Chelsea and now with Inter the Portuguese has shown that he is also a genius
Defensively United are in trouble now with Vidic suspended and Evans & O’shea injured United does not have two experienced centre backs in the back. With Neville and Brown also injured United somehow have got a defensive crisis. But otherwise they are flying high in their league and it is a chance for van der Sar to break the European record for keeping maximum hours without conceding
Battles will be fought between the United forwards and their counterparts. Though it is seen as a battle between Ronaldo and Ibramovic Rooney and Berbatov will have main hand on the outcome on the match. Rooney is in fine form and he is not showing any signs of the hamstring problem which sidelined him for 7 matches.

Inter coach Jose Mourinho has similar, if less extreme, problems to negotiate.Argentine defender Walter Samuel is unlikely to make his starting line-up after missing the weekend's 2-1 victory over Bologna with a calf injury. With Italy international Marco Matterazzi also struggling to recover in time for the Italian champions, the heart of their backline will be selected from Ivan Cordoba, Cristian Chivu and Nicolas Burdisso.



Atletico v Porto


Atletico have lost six of their last 11 games in an alarming slide that has already cost coach Javier Aguirre his job.

Replacement Abel Resino won his opening fixture but has since overseen a draw and a defeat as Atletico slipped to seventh in the table.

But none of that will count for anything in the eyes of Lopez when they take the field on Tuesday.

"The path that we're following is the right one and the team's attitude was good," captain Lopez said..

"When you concede a goal at the end of the match you get down, but we can't drop our heads. We have another final on Tuesday against Porto.

"We have to try and forget about the bad things and focus on Champions League.

"We have to put league play aside and approach Tuesday's encounter with a different mentality. We have to win in any way possible in front of our supporters."

While problems have been mounting in the league, Atletico - who have never lost to Portuguese opposition at home - have been strong at the Vicente Calderon, winning two and drawing one of their European matches there this season.

While there is plenty of talent in the Atletico squad, it is thin in places and Resino must find a balance with tough league fixtures coming up against Barcelona, Real Madrid and Villarreal.

Star striker Sergio Aguero was a substitute at the weekend after becoming a father for the first time earlier in the week, but is expected to start tomorrow night.

Luis Garcia and Ever Banega are out injured, as is Colombia defender Luis Perea who was knocked unconscious and suffered a fractured cheekbone in a frightening collision early in the Sevilla match.

While Atletico are slumping, Porto travel to Madrid in buoyant mood after starting the year with five wins and two draws to move four points clear at the top of the Lig table.

Coach Jesualdo Ferreira last week claimed he was not looking ahead to the Atletico match as he planned for the weekend fixtures, but nevertheless rested key players Lucho Gonzalez and Cristian Rodriguez for the 2-0 win over Pacos de Ferreira on Friday night.

Porto have an impressive array of attacking options available with Lisandro Lopez and the Brazilian Hulk also making the trip.

A knee strain will keep left-back Nelson Benitez on the sidelines, making room for young Frenchman Aly Cissokho.

Uruguayan Jorge Fucile is available after shaking off an ankle injury.


Lyon v Barcelona


Barcelona will be trying to keep their fine form when they take on Lyon. They have never lost any match to Lyon .They will be trying to erase their recent defeat to Espanyol . Lyon will be hoping for a magic performance from Benzema . The striker is currently the joint top scorer in the competition .

Primera Liga leaders Barca have been installed as heavy favourites to see off Les Gones, who are constant under-achievers in Europe's elite competition.

Puel believes his team have the ability to cause an upset but admits it is a tough ask to get the better of the Blaugrana over two legs.

"It's the most difficult draw we could have faced, given that Barca is the best team in the world at the moment," Puel said ahead of tomorrow's first leg, which takes place at the Stade Gerland.

"Barca are stronger than us. It's a pleasure to watch them play - they have everything in their team to produce great football.

"They have some great individual players, but they play with a team spirit and a strong mindset. It'll be tough for us but I think we have a chance if we play as a team.

"Obviously we don't have as many stars as Barca, but we have our own resources."

The teams come into the match having experienced contrasting fortunes in their respective leagues at the weekend.

Barca were beaten 2-1 at home by neighbours Espanyol and saw their lead at the top of the table cut to seven points as a result of second-placed Real Madrid's 6-1 win over Real Betis.

Lyon, meanwhile, extended their cushion at the summit of Ligue 1 to six points thanks to their 2-0 victory at Nancy.

They have won four of their last five league games and their confidence has flooded back after a sticky spell before the winter break.

Their backline has also improved since the start of the season, with Jean-Alain Boumsong and Cris proving an obdurate central-defensive partnership.

Barca captain Carles Puyol is confident his team-mates will have forgotten about the Espanyol defeat - and the draw against Real Betis a week earlier - by the time they run out at the Stade Gerland.

"Losing always hurts, you feel it in the dressing room. But we're looking forward to the next match," said the Spain defender.

"We haven't had good results in the last two games, but we haven't lost our self-confidence. We know where we are going and we have to continue playing in the same style."

On the match against Lyon, he added: "It's 50/50. They're a solid team with some great players."

Barca will be without France left-back Eric Abidal, who has been ruled out for at least two months with an adductor injury sustained against Espanyol.

Key Lyon players Karim Benzema, Juninho, Ederson and Fabio Grosso started on the bench against Nancy, with the first three coming on as second-half substitutes.

They will all return to the starting line-up, as should winger Kader Keita, who was an unused substitute at the weekend.

The right-back position is still a major concern for Puel, with Anthony Reveillere and Francois Clerc still out with long-term knee injuries.

Midfielder Fabio Santos has been filling in there over the past few weeks but he is also out injured. Centre-back John Mensah should move over to the right



Arsenal v Roma



Injury plagued Arsenal will be hoping to overcome Roma. Arsenal will be without Andrey Arshavin for their last 16 Champions League first-leg tie against Roma on Tuesday.

The Russian is ineligible having played for Zenit St Petersburg in the competition, while strikers Emmanuel Adebayor and Eduardo are injured.

Boss Arsene Wenger is already without key players Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott.

Abou Diaby should be fit after a thigh problem, while Niklas Bendtner is set to start alongside Robin van Persie.

With his potential firepower severely curtailed, Wenger is more concerned about conceding a vital away goal against a Roma side boasting the attacking threat of Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and former Gunner Julio Baptista.

While Luciano Spalletti's side are 16 points behind Serie A leaders Inter Milan, Wenger believes Brazilian Denilson will have a key role to play in nullifying Roma's strong midfield.

Arsenal (from): Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Toure, Clichy, Nasri, Denilson, Eboue, Bendtner, Van Persie, Fabianski, Djourou, Gibbs, Wilshere, Vela, Song, Ramsey, Diaby.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wenger: Arsh to unlock defences

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Arsene Wenger believes Russian playmaker Andrei Arshavin can help Arsenal unlock their attacking power once again.

Wenger has earmarked Arshavin to haul the Gunners back into the Barclays Premier League top four.

The 27-year-old is in line to make his Gunners debut against Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow, giving fans the first glimpse of his undoubted talent following a protracted £15million transfer from Zenit St Petersburg.

Arsenal rediscovered their magic touch in front of goal during Monday night's 4-0 thrashing of Coca-Cola Championship side Cardiff, when Eduardo marked his return from a year out with a broken leg to grab a brace before then suffering a hamstring problem which will keep the Croatia striker out for a couple of weeks.

However, the last two Premier League games - against West Ham and Tottenham - have ended goalless.

Wenger knows his side are sure to face another determined defence tomorrow, but believes in Arshavin he has a player capable of providing a key link between midfield and attack.

"He can integrate well our combination game, he can move very well, he is very mobile so that is something we work on as well," said Wenger.

"He is a clever passer of the ball and that is something you need in every big team to open teams up."

Wenger, though, warned against placing too much expectation on the Russian as an instant fix.

"You have to give everybody who comes in time to adapt, to adjust," said the Arsenal boss.

"I know him quite well on his vision, his passing ability, his quick brain. That is something which is very important in the modern game."

Wenger added: "He has personality, he has a strong character.

"The handicap he has at the moment is that he is not completely fit physically, but all the rest should be quite quick.

"Anyway, we will take the needed time.

"We will not put him under pressure, if he needs a bit longer he takes a bit longer.

"At the moment we have many players in that area injured like [Cesc] Fabregas, like [Tomas] Rosicky, like [Theo] Walcott, so there is a position to take as a creative midfielder."

Wenger, meanwhile, admitted it was a blow to lose Eduardo again so soon after his return.

"It is a shame because he got injured two minutes before I took him off," said the Arsenal boss.

"But it is not a bad injury, he will miss two weeks.

"I believe overall the situation is very positive because he managed to convince everybody that he will be back as a player for Arsenal Football Club, which is the most important thing.

"In the short term, we are a little disappointed but he will be back."

Arsenal head into tomorrow's game on an unbeaten run of 12 in all competitions.

However, the Gunners remain outside the top four, some five points behind Chelsea.

With the Blues at third-placed Aston Villa tomorrow lunchtime, Arsenal have a chance to close the gap.

However, Wenger maintained: "We know somebody will drop points, but let's focus that we get the points.

"We can only focus now on being as perfect as possible until the end of the season, and see where we stand after. If the others are perfect as well, then well done to them."

Wenger insisted: "The team is in a good shape mentally and physically, the hunger and the desire are there. The ingredients are looking good.

"I believe we will be there [top four], but it is down to our run and our efficiency.

"We are on a good run, are in good shape and the close future looks very good, if we can win the games.

"With the players coming back, they can have a positive effect on the squad and we can finish the season in a very strong way."

Rooney ready for Inter summit

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Sir Alex Ferguson feels Wayne Rooney can perform for Man United for their Champs League clash with Inter Milan.

After a 30-minute outing as a substitute in the midweek win over Fulham, Rooney has been promised a starting spot in tomorrow's Premier League encounter with Blackburn as Manchester United look to go eight points clear of second-placed Liverpool.

Having scored with his first touch following a seven-match absence with a hamstring strain, Rooney has already signalled his well-being.

However, Ferguson needs to check the 23-year-old's stamina too before the showdown with Jose Mourinho's Serie A leaders.

"Wayne Rooney will play tomorrow," said Ferguson.

"He has to start a game to see how far advanced he is."

Ferguson confirmed Rooney came through his Fulham run-out without a problem and although the England forward was in contention for last weekend's FA Cup tie at Derby, the United boss feels exactly the right approach was taken given the slight setback Rooney suffered a fortnight ago.

"We could have been tempted to use Wayne at Derby but we felt the extra few days' training would help him," said Ferguson.

"He had a little setback which wasn't terrible but it was enough to keep him off for a couple of days.

"Then we had to him back into the real training to make sure he was 100% fit.

"Thankfully he came out of Wednesday with no reaction."

Barça lose Iniesta for Lyon trip

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Midfield player Andrés Iniesta has been ruled out of the first leg of FC Barcelona's UEFA Champions League first knockout round tie away to Olympique Lyonnais on Tuesday after straining his left thigh during training yesterday.

Previous problem
The 24-year-old underwent tests today, leaving club medics to estimate a return in around 15 days. Iniesta has already missed two months of this season with a ruptured right thigh sustained during a home draw against FC Basel 1893 in early November. Since his return from that injury in January, the Spanish international is the only player to appear in all 12 of Liga leaders Barça's fixtures in 2009. Iniesta is expected to be fit for the visit of Lyon to Camp Nou on 11 March.

Eduardo comeback halted by hamstring blow

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Eduardo da Silva's hopes of making a UEFA Champions League comeback for Arsenal FC in Tuesday's home first knockout round fixture against AS Roma have been dashed by a hamstring injury.

Comeback
On Monday the 25-year-old Croatian international striker played his first competitive game since breaking his leg on 23 February 2008, scoring twice in a 67-minute appearance in Arsenal's 4-0 FA Cup fourth-round replay defeat of Cardiff City FC. However, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has revealed that the Brazilian-born forward picked up a knock just before his withdrawal, delaying Eduardo's potential UEFA Champions League and Premier League returns by a fortnight.

'What a nightmare'
"Eduardo is out for two weeks," Wenger told Arsenal TV online. "He picked up a hamstring injury two minutes before I took him off. What a nightmare. Nobody knows how it happened but I knew straight away after the game it would be a two-week job. It is nothing like he had before, but I do know that little setbacks like this are part of being nine months out. After that long out, nobody plays six months on the trot. It is impossible. But at the same time it is a blow, because he can score goals. He had shown that on Monday." Eduardo has until 11 March to recover if he is to feature in the second leg at Roma.

Beckham deal not close - Galaxy

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LA Galaxy supremo Tim Leiweke says AC Milan are "not close" to signing David Beckham after making a "ridiculous" offer for the midfielder two weeks ago.

Beckham is on a short-term loan with Milan until 9 March but the Italian club want to keep him longer.

But Leiweke, chief executive of the company that owns Galaxy, told Gazzetta dello Sport: "We are not close.

"Two weeks ago Milan made a ridiculous offer ($3m or £2.1m) to which I replied 'no' in a few seconds."

He added: "With that figure, Galaxy don't even cover the damages deriving from the shortfalls of not selling his shirts.

"Since then, no-one has made any moves. There are no meetings arranged."

Leiweke, the president and chief executive of LA Galaxy's parent company, AEG, has been angered by AC Milan's claims that they are close to signing the England international.

On Thursday, Milan vice president Adriano Galliani said: "In the past few hours we have taken steps forward. We are more confident now."

Leiweke responded by saying: "I have decided to speak up because I have read too many inaccurate stories.

"After that ridiculous offer, Milan have not done anything. They have tried other people, from the commissioner of the league (Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber) to David's representatives, but not us, who own his rights.

"If David doesn't return, who will replace him? Our transfer market is already closed. If Milan are so determined to keep him, why are they taking so long? Do they think that we will settle for less money? They are mistaken."

Leiweke says the ramifications of Beckham not returning would be damaging for both LA Galaxy and football as a whole in the United States.

"What Milan don't understand is that behind this story, there are fans that are renouncing subscriptions, sponsors that want damages and rival teams that have the right to know if the Galaxy will play at their stadium with or without Beckham.

"David is an incredible professional and I am happy for him and for Milan that his Italian experience is going so well. This confirms that our choice to bring him to the United States was the right one."

Leiweke made it clear that he bears no grudge against Beckham.

"David is a friend and asked me to listen to what Milan proposed," he said.

"I have said yes, because of him. But I will not be taken for a ride and hence, on 9 March, Beckham will be in Los Angeles and will work with the same seriousness and dedication as before.

"He already knows he doesn't have a choice because the first option to come out of his contract is at the end of 2009."

Beckham signed a five-year contract with the Galaxy in January 2007 after a successful spell with Real Madrid.

"What really matters is that Milan make a real offer," Leiweke said.

"I don't wish to talk about the offer but the figures (between $10m and $15m, or £7m to £10.5m) that I have read in the United States are close to what we want."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Torres: Gerrard is irreplaceable

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Fernando Torres paid tribute to his club captain Steven Gerrard and cannot wait to see his captain back in action.

Gerrard has been struggling with a slight hamstring tear but the inspirational midfielder could make a surprise comeback against Manchester City this weekend.

Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, Torres said: "The news was that he would be out for three weeks, but we hope that he'll be back playing again sooner,

"But you never know how things can turn out with a hamstring injury - and I speak from experience.

"It was a good sign that he asked to be substituted as soon as he felt the twinge, because if a hamstring goes completely, you don't get to walk off the pitch.

"I hope and wish that he will be back soon."

Torres concedes Gerrard is the one player in Liverpool's ranks who is irreplaceable: "He has no natural replacement.

"Every side has a main reference, a home-grown player, someone who lives and breathes the club.

"Other players come and go, but that player remains. Here, our reference player is Gerrard. Liverpool FC is Gerrard plus ten more. He's irreplaceable."

Rafa Benitez will be hoping for Gerrard to recover in time for Liverpool's Champions League tie against Spanish giants Real Madrid next week.

Eduardo: The best day of my life

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Arsenal FC striker Eduardo da Silva said it was "the best day of my life" after he scored twice on his competitive comeback from a horrific leg injury in the Gunners' 4-0 FA Cup fourth-round replay victory against Cardiff City AFC on Monday night.

'Tear in my eye'
Eduardo opened the scoring on 20 minutes and added another from the penalty spot 15 minutes into the second half on an emotional evening for the Croatian international, whose career was threatened by the compound fracture of the left fibula and dislocated ankle he suffered at Birmingham City FC on 23 February 2008. Although he had featured as a substitute for Croatia against Romania last week, teeing up the decisive strike in a 2-1 friendly win, he was delighted to be back among the goals for Arsenal. "This was the best day of my life because I've proved I can play football again," he said. "It was a special moment for me to score. I was very emotional and I had a tear in my eye. I celebrated by kissing my wedding ring because my wife, my daughter and all my family supported me through this."

Mental strength
Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger paid tribute to the 25-year-old Brazilian-born forward, saying: "Of course it is nearly 12 months out and he has been extremely strong mentally during that time, I could never see one minute of doubt in his mind or one minute where he said, 'No, I don't want to do it'. He always wanted more and this guy is small but has the mental strength of a mountain." Having come through the replay against Cardiff, Arsenal will play Burnley in the fifth round, with the winner of that tie to meet either Sheffield United FC or Hull City AFC in the quarter-finals. Arsenal resume their UEFA Champions League campaign at home to AS Roma in the first knockout round next Tuesday.

Kaka urges Galaxy to sell Beckham

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AC Milan star Kaka has called for the Los Angeles Galaxy to allow David Beckham his desired move to Italy.

Beckham, 33, is eager to make his loan deal with Milan a permanent switch, but the MLS side are determined to see him return to California next month.

Kaka says Beckham's form for the San Siro side has made him indispensible.

"Maybe it was a marketing move at first, but today the truth is that he is fundamental," the playmaker told Brazilian television.

"I wish Milan can reach a deal to acquire him permanently because he is a player who can help us now and in the coming seasons.

"He is a player that in the last few games was very decisive, with passes and goals."

Ex-England skipper Beckham could find out on Friday whether he has a future at Milan, according to the Italian club's chief executive Adriano Galliani.

BBC Sport understands that AC Milan representatives will fly to the United States this week for further negotiations.

And Galaxy coach Bruce Arena admitted he is expecting talks between the two parties in the coming days.

He said: "Obviously, I would suspect from the comments I've heard from David that there would be some discussions. But I have nothing confirmed at this point."

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder wants to stay at Milan beyond his loan period, which ends on 9 March.

But parent club LA Galaxy want him to return to the United States and Milan have already missed last Friday's deadline that was set by the MLS.

"There is still a bit of distance but Friday could be the decisive day for Beckham," said Galliani.

"The wish of the player is to stay, we will see how the situation evolves."

The Los Angeles club said they have already rejected a £5m offer from the Italian side, with their valuation believed to be around the £10m mark.

Beckham has impressed Milan during his two-month loan period, scoring twice and helping the side move up to third in the table.

His performances also led to him being recalled to the England squad for the friendly against Spain last week.

Despite picking up a slight calf strain in Sunday's derby against Inter, Beckham will travel to Werder Bremen on Wednesday for Milan's Uefa Cup tie.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mourinho predicts Chelsea return

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Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is confident he will return for a second managerial spell at the London club.

Chelsea have had three managers since Mourinho, who guided the club to two Premier League titles, left the Blues in September 2007.

"If you ask me if one day I think I'll return to Chelsea, I'll tell you yes I think so, because we were so happy together," the Inter Milan coach said.

"But when I say one day, I am not saying to you when."

Chelsea appointed Guus Hiddink on a temporary basis until the end of the season in midweek after owner Roman Abramovich sacked Luiz Felipe Scolari, with the Dutchman combining the role with coaching the Russian national side.

Mourinho was succeeded by Avram Grant, who was subsequently sacked in May 2008, with Scolari arriving after Euro 2008.

"I'm somebody who wishes them (Chelsea) good because it's a special club for me, I have special friends there," added Mourinho, ahead of the Milan derby.

"I belong to their story, they belong to my story.

"So I am not enjoying this period where they have had several managers in one year and a few months," he added, ahead of Sunday's Milan derby.

"I am not there, I am just a supporter from the outside. I hope they find stability and go back to (winning) trophies."

Derby success underlines Inter supremacy

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First-half goals from Adriano and Dejan Stanković helped FC Internazionale Milano claim the derby honours with a 2-1 victory against AC Milan that lifted them nine points clear of Juventus after the Bianconeri drew with UC Sampdoria.

Adriano opener
Inter started the day seven points ahead of Juventus, with AC Milan a further point adrift, and had the better of the early opportunities with Adriano heading over and Stanković dawdling to allow a glorious chance to pass him by. It mattered little, though, when Adriano nodded in the opener after 29 minutes from close range following Maicon's cross.

Late response
Milan were breached again on the stroke of half-time when Zlatan Ibrahimović headed down a long ball and Stanković rifled it low inside the near post. The game drifted after the interval until Marek Jankulovski darted to the byline and cut the ball back for Pato to fire in. Filippo Inzaghi, twice, and Pato were both denied by Júlio César as the Rossoneri produced a late onslaught to try to earn a draw.

Unlucky Juve
Juventus had faltered earlier as they could only manage a 1-1 draw at home against Sampdoria. The visitors opened the scoring ten minutes in when Giampaolo Pazzini found the net following an Antonio Cassano pass but the hosts dominated thereafter. Pavel Nedvěd and Alessandro Del Piero both struck the woodwork before Amauri (62) finally restored parity by bravely heading in Sebastian Giovinco's cross.

Roma defeated
With three goals in seven second-half minutes sending AS Roma tumbling to a 3-0 reverse at Atalanta BC, Genoa CFC seemed set to leapfrog the capital club and opponents ACF Fiorentina into fourth after Thiago Motta, Raffaele Palladino and Diego Milito's penalty gave them a 3-0 lead – despite Giuseppe Biava's dismissal when the score was 1-0. But Adrian Mutu replied from the penalty spot then struck twice more to ensure the Viola stayed fourth, a place ahead of their hosts. Elsewhere, Cagliari Calcio beat US Lecce 2-0 while the day's other three matches ended in draws.

Beckham reluctant to return to US

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David Beckham says he would be reluctant to return to the LA Galaxy as he seeks to make permanent his loan spell with Serie A club AC Milan.

Galaxy are unhappy Milan failed to meet a Major League Soccer deadline over any move on Friday for the 33-year-old.

"I know it will be difficult to go back after everything that's happened," he said after Sunday's Milan derby defeat.

"I've said I want to stay at Milan and I haven't changed my mind, but it's out of my hands."

The England midfielder had to come off early in the second half of AC Milan's 2-1 defeat by Inter Milan because of an injury to his right leg.

"There will be more talks this week between the two clubs and hopefully, as I've said before, they can come to an agreement," said Beckham, who is on loan in Italy until 9 March.

"Milan have made it clear that they want me for the rest of the season and so on, so we'll have to wait and see.

"I hope things will go the way I want them to, of course. But if I have to go back, I will be professional, because that's what I have to do."

Sunday's defeat left AC Milan nine points behind Serie A leaders Inter.

"We're quite far behind them now and we needed to win the game, but you never know," said Beckham.

"This league is strange, you can win one week and lose the next, so there's a chance, but it's a slim chance.

I was struggling a bit because I got a kick on my calf playing for England on Wednesday and it didn't really clear up, and then I got another kick on it tonight, it's just one of those things."

Inter Milan's Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic believes Beckham belongs at Milan, a place where he can show his true quality.

"I haven't followed his story every day it's true, but big players should absolutely play in big teams and Beckham is one of those," Ibrahimovic told BBC Sport.

"He has done well for Milan, he is a good team player and has helped them a lot since he arrived at the club.

"I think he is becoming very important for them, especially in the way he plays, because he is a great team player and they have other players with different qualities."

Galaxy have increasingly adopted a tougher negotiating stance over Beckham and on Friday insisted he must go back to Los Angeles after the Major League Soccer deadline passed.

Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani has dismissed Galaxy's stance as a "tactic", while the Serie A club's coach Carlo Ancelotti thinks a move is still possible.

Beckham joined Milan on loan in an attempt to revive his international career after England head coach Fabio Capello said he needed to be playing more competitive football.

The England international, who equalled Bobby Moore's England record of 108 caps for an outfield player in last week's 2-0 defeat by Spain in Seville, has become a regular for Milan since his arrival in January.

However, with England set for nine internationals from the end of March until October, including six qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, a return to the MLS could see Beckham left out of the national squad.

Milan, who have had a £5m bid for the 33-year-old rejected, have so far failed to meet the Galaxy's valuation, which is reportedly in excess of £10m.

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid star has settled in quickly at the San Siro, impressing both Ancelotti, his team-mates and rival managers with his professionalism and work ethic.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Galaxy: Becks to return stateside

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The LA Galaxy are set to hold David Beckham to his contract after AC Milan failed to table an acceptable bid for the midfielder.

The potential deal that would see the Galaxy star seal a permanent deal to the Rossoneri, is said to be off after the Serie A giant failed to get an acceptable bid in before the MLS' mandated dealine.

Anchutz Entertainment Group president Tim Leiweke, whose organization owns the Galaxy, was in no mood to meet halfway when interviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

"He will be back here on March 9 and we don't want to entertain any more conversations now," Leiweke said. "It is a distraction to [Galaxy Coach] Bruce Arena, the team and the fans and we move on. That's the last we're going to talk about this."

AC Milan may have taken the deadline for granted. However, Leiweke has closed the door on all negotiations.

"They'll come back. Sure they will. But we owe it to our fans [not to consider it]. They've been reading all these stories and we lose credibility by the day. That's not fair. We owe it to Bruce and we owe it to the rest of the team."

"We're a month away from our season."

Leiweke also stated that Milan never came close to the LA Galaxy's valuation of Beckham.

"They've never been in the ballpark," Leiweke said of Milan meeting the asking price of the former England captain.

The executive seemed to feel that the Galaxy, MLS, and even Beckham had been treated poorly by the Italian club.

"What they've tried to do is use David and use us. We're not going to play that game anymore. This has been extremely damaging and distracting for our team," continued Leikewe. "I've been as courteous and as gracious as I possibly can out of respect for David, but now it's time to move on. We need to get David excited about the team we're building here and coming back."

It is possible that Beckham could fork out some of the transfer fee to pay his way to Milan, considering his wealth, but Leiweke said that this was unlikely.

"I doubt it," Leiweke said. "Nor would I encourage him to even think about that."

Beckham is due to rejoin the Galaxy on March 9.

Chelsea confirm Hiddink appointment

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Chelsea FC have confirmed that Russia coach Guus Hiddink will take charge of the club until the end of the season.

Vacant post
The 62-year-old takes over following the dismissal of Luiz Felipe Scolari on Monday, and will lead Chelsea for the remainder of their 2008/09 UEFA Champions League campaign, kicking off with the first knockout round tie against Juventus on 25 February and 10 March. "I must say that this is an exceptional situation," Hiddink said. "If it was any other club aside from Chelsea my answer would be a straight 'no', but Chelsea is different because I have good relations with the owner [Roman Abramovich]."

Dual role
Hiddink will undertake his duties with the Premier League side in tandem with his job as coach of Russia, but sees no serious conflict in his dual role – he led Australia to the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals while coaching PSV Eindhoven. "Of course, when Russia play [World Cup qualifiers] I would go there to coach them as there won't be any [league] games during that time," he said. "I have already [combined two jobs] a couple of years ago when I was coaching Australia and PSV, so I'm familiar with the situation and what it takes."

Russian connection
Chelsea say that Hiddink will meet up with his new charges "later this week" and took the opportunity to "thank the Russian Football Union for their understanding and co-operation". Chelsea owner Abramovich has maintained links with football in his native Russia, with Hiddink having said: "I wanted to do something for Roman Abramovich who has done so much for Russian football."

European champion
Hiddink was coach of the PSV team that won the European Champion Clubs' Cup in 1988 and also guided the Dutch club to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals four seasons ago. He has also coached De Graafschap, Fenerbahçe SK, Valencia CF, Real Madrid CF and Real Betis Balompié as well as the Netherlands, Korea Republic and Australia national sides. He steered Russia to the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2008™ last summer.

Giggs to play on at United

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Ryan Giggs will be able to add to his club-record tally of Manchester United FC appearances after extending his contract by one year until June 2010.

Record marks
The 35-year-old midfielder has spent his entire career with United since first signing forms aged 14 in 1987. He made his debut against Everton FC on 2 March 1991 and in Sunday's 1-0 win against West Ham United FC scored his 147th goal on his 787th club appearance. Capped 64 times by Wales between 1991 and 2007, Giggs is the only player to have won ten English league titles, alongside four FA Cups and two UEFA Champions League successes. He will continue his bid for a third European title when United face FC Internazionale Milano in the first knockout round on 24 February and 11 March.

Ambition
Giggs told manutd.com: "I feel fit and I'm enjoying my football more than ever. This is an exciting young team and the spirit is great in the dressing room. I want to be a part of that and achieve even more success." Manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who persuaded the teenage Giggs to join United, added: "Ryan is a true professional of the game; his lifestyle, the way he looks after himself, his desire to always want to win is a credit to him and also an inspiration to any young kid who wants to become a footballer. It would be easy for him to be complacent after all he has achieved but he isn't, and that speaks volumes of why the club wanted to extend his services and use that experience."

Santos adds to Lyon's injury concerns

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Olympique Lyonnais midfielder Fábio Santos will be out for up to ten days after sustaining an injury to his right thigh in training on Thursday, putting him in doubt for the first leg of the French champions' UEFA Champions League first knockout round tie against FC Barcelona on 24 February.

Puel confident
Scans on Friday confirmed the extent of the injury, though his coach Claude Puel remains optimistic that the Brazilian will be fit in time to face the Spanish league leaders. "His body is not used to the pile up of games, but we hope he will be back in the squad to play Barcelona on 24 February," Puel said.

Injury list
A succession of injuries has restricted the Brazilian to just two starts in Ligue 1 this season. This latest setback adds to Puel's concerns as he contends with a lengthy absentee list with Sidney Govou, François Clerc, César Delgado and Anthony Réveillère all out injured. On a brighter note, Mathieu Bodmer will play his second reserve team game on Saturday as he continues his recovery from a serious knee injury.

Eduardo eager for return to Arsenal action

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Eduardo da Silva was thrilled to get his first taste of competitive action in Croatia's 2-1 win against Romania on Wednesday since breaking his leg a year ago. "After this I would like to play for Arsenal soon," he said. "I feel good and I showed I'm ready."

No fear
The 25-year-old has not played for club or country since suffering a horrific injury in a Premier League game against Birmingham City FC on 23 February last year, but came on as a 61st-minute substitute in Wednesday's friendly and set up Niko Kranjčar to score the winner. "Everyone kept asking me about fear, but I'm glad they all saw that I'm not afraid of anything on the pitch and am ready to play," said the striker, who joined Arsenal FC from NK Dinamo Zagreb in July 2007.

'The old Eduardo'
"Only at the moment I went on to the pitch did I feel a little twinge of nerves in the pit of my stomach, but after I got my first touch of the ball, that feeling went away. The most important thing is that I am back and that I showed I can play. For the second goal, I saw Niko and passed to him. My team-mates all congratulated me, but I have much more work to do if I am to become the old Eduardo."

Arsenal ambition
The Brazilian-born player, who took Croatian citizenship in 2002, has been playing in reserve games for Arsenal since December, but has yet to return to competitive action. Eduardo, who scored four goals in his first 17 Premier League games, is eager to remedy that. "After this, I would like to play for Arsenal soon," he said. "I feel good and I showed I'm ready." Arsenal meet AS Roma in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round. They lie fifth in the Premier League, five points behind Chelsea FC in the race for the fourth UEFA Champions League berth.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Barca and Real fighing over Costa

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Two of Spain’s biggest clubs are reportedly tracking young Brazilian Douglas Costa, currently playing for Gremio.

According to Sport, the attacking midfielder was being watched by scouts during his exploits at the recent South American Under-20 Championships, and Barcelona and Real Madrid were among the more interested parties.

The 18-year-old, who impressed in Venezuela for Brazil, has been compared to Ronaldinho because of his style of play.

Costa does have a buy-out clause of 28 million euros, but his agent revealed that no offers have been made for the player yet.

Cesra Bottega, his agent, said: "We have not spoken to any team. We only know that a range of talent scouts have been watching him, but for the time being there is nothing official."

Costa has a natural left foot and has a deadly free kick to boot.

He has yet to appear frequently for the Selecao and either club could be taking a big gamble if they are willing to shell out his buy-out clause in June.

Messi: The titles will come!

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Barcelona forward Lionel Messi wants his club to transform their scintillating form into silverware this season.

Barcelona have mesmerised the footballing world with their attacking football this campaign. Despite that, playing exciting football has not won them any titles yet.

The Catalans are still involved in three competitions and Barcelona star Lionel Messi has explained how desperate everyone in the team is to win titles this season.

He told Sport: "We all form part of a group that has many important desires to achieve things for the club and for the fans. We have many desires to win titles at the end of this season and I believe that if we continue as we are now, the success will arrive.

"We are adapting very well to the style of play and I believe that we can continue with our system of rotation to maintain this level until the end of the season."

The Argentina international has been a revelation for Barcelona this season, popping up with numerous important goals and assists to fire his team to a massive Primera Liga lead, 12 points ahead of nearest challengers Real Madrid in the league.

However, Messi was adamant that he feels just the same as he did last year.

He stated: "The truth is that I feel equally as important as always. last year I was away from the pitch for a lot of time and I value being able to play."

The twinkled-toed winger also took time out to praise Brazilian right-back Dani Alves, who has consistently shined for the Blaugrana after joining from Sevilla last summer.

He concluded: "Dani is an impressive player and it is fantastic to play with him with the qualities that he has and the options he gives us on the pitch."

Ballack: Blame the players

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Chelsea midfielder Michael Ballack insists the players should take the blame for Luiz Felipe Scolari's sacking.

The Brazilian was dismissed on Monday after a poor run of form, with Russia coach Guus Hiddink set to be confirmed as the club's new manager until the end of the season.

Germany captain Ballack is adamant Scolari cannot be held entirely accountable for the slump in form which has even put qualification for next season's Champions League at risk.

"It is a shame because he had not been with us for a long time," Ballack told German website www.sport1.de.

"Of course there was some criticism and we did not get the results we all would have wanted, but that is not the manager's fault but the team's.

"Something like this is always uncomfortable."

Should Hiddink's appointment be ratified, the Dutchman will be the fourth manager Ballack has played under at Stamford Bridge since joining in 2006, but despite the upheaval the German is still confident the club can challenge for silverware this season.

"I want to win the Champions League and play at the highest level and I can do that with Chelsea," he added.

"Last year we were level with Manchester United on points right to the end (in the Premier League) and we lost the (Champions League) final unluckily on penalties.

"This club has high ambitions and that is what I came here for."

Terry hints at divided Blues camp

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Chelsea captain John Terry has hinted at a divided Stamford Bridge dressing room and revealed his shock at the sacking of manager Luiz Felipe Scolari.

"He had my full support. I'm sure two or three of the other players would say the same," said the centre-half.

"I was shocked by what's happened. I have sympathy for Scolari. He's a great man but we weren't playing well and that unfortunately falls on his head.

"Maybe it should have fallen more on us the players," added Terry.

Chelsea have taken just eight points from their last six Premier League games and have fallen to fourth place in the league.

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"At end of the day it's all about results, and unfortunately for Scolari they didn't come," added Terry.

Russia coach Guus Hiddink is expected to take over from Scolari but Terry admitted that he was glad to have the distraction of playing for England as Chelsea decide on their next manager.

England are in Spain to play a friendly against the Euro 2008 champions at Seville's Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium on Wednesday.

"What's happening back home is at the back of my mind but I am focusing on the game ahead," said Terry.

"It is a bit of a relief to get away for a couple of days because my main concern should now be England.

"The manager [Fabio Capello] has stressed he wants everyone focused on the game ahead. I want to put in a good performance personally and hopefully the squad can do the same."

Chelsea agreed a compensation package with Scolari and his backroom staff, the club confirmed on Tuesday evening.

Although no details were given, some reports have suggested Scolari could walk away with about £7.5m.

Milan boosted by Kaka’s return

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Kaka could make a sensational return from injury for the Rossoneri against Internazionale in the Milan derby.

AC Milan only managed to draw 1-1 against Serie A cellar-dwellers Reggina over the weekend, and that leaves them eight points behind league leaders Inter.

The Rossoneri's dismal showing was made worse by club superstar Kaka's foot injury, which forced the Brazil international off the field late in the game.

Initial scans revealed that the midfield maestro had suffered a sprained left foot, which would normally require two weeks of recuperation.

However, the latest word from Milan is that Kaka has made sufficient progress to play some part of the Milan derby this weekend.

The Italian media broke the news and reports have suggested that the midfielder's withdrawal from Brazil's friendly against Italy could have sped up the recovery process.

If Kaka is to take part in the Milan derby this weekend, it will be interesting to see what AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti does with Ronaldinho, who has been tipped to start for the Rossoneri, as a result of the injury to his fellow compatriot.

Sir Alex impressed by buoyant Barça

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Manchester United FC may be up against FC Internazionale Milano in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League but Sir Alex Ferguson believes FC Barcelona could yet prove the biggest challengers to their crown, telling fans in Malta he was impressed by the Liga leaders' "strength in depth".

Birthday celebrations
The Manchester United Supporters' Club Malta is recognised as United's oldest registered supporters' club, with their 50th anniversary earning them a visit from Sir Alex Ferguson, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes on Monday. The trip to Malta represents a rare break for the English leaders, who will take on Inter on 24 February and 11 March. Sir Alex said Inter "will be really tough opponents," adding: "José Mourinho is a very good tactical coach and we all know that."

Barça menace
However, when it comes to defending the title they won in Moscow last summer, Sir Alex sees FC Barcelona as his side's main competitors. "Barcelona have got strength in depth as far as their squad is concerned and having a 12-point lead at this stage at the top of La Liga is quite a confirmation of their strength," he said. "I think Barcelona will be the biggest threat if Manchester United are to win the Champions league this season."

'Experience'
United defeated the Spanish side in the semi-finals last term en route to winning the competition for a third time and Sir Alex believes his team are well equipped to retain their crown. "I'm very happy with our current squad," he said. "[There is] lots of experience on our side and I must mention some exceptional youngsters who are knocking on the doors of established players. That is why I believe we can keep our place at the top. The quality is very good. We again are challenging on all four fronts. We are going through a fantastic spell and the beauty of it is that it seems never-ending."

'Great keeper'
That has been in large part to the strength of the United defence and goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar in particular. The 38-year-old was unbeaten again on Sunday as United defeated West Ham United FC 1-0 to go two points clear at the top of the Premier League. "Van der Sar is the man that will be talked about after his clean record of 13 clean sheets. He is a great keeper but everyone has been fantastic, especially our defence which has been great."

Liverpool challenge
Speaking before the dismissal of Luiz Felipe Scolari as Chelsea FC manager, Sir Alex added that he felt Liverpool FC remain the biggest threat to United pulling off their third successive Premier League title. "I will not be surprised if Chelsea recover their form soon enough to remain in the title challenge," Sir Alex said. "They do have a lot of top-quality players but I still do think Liverpool will remain our main title challengers this year."

Giggs winner
Meanwhile, 35-year-old Ryan Giggs said retirement was far from his mind after scoring the winner against West Ham. The Welshman, now in his 19th season for United, said he had "absolutely no intention" of hanging up his boots in the summer. "I am enjoying my football more than ever," he declared.

Eriksson plays down Pompey link

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Sven-Goran Eriksson has denied he is set to become Portsmouth boss and has reiterated his desire to stay as Mexico manager until after the 2010 World Cup.

The ex-England boss is preparing for a World Cup qualifier tie against the United States in Columbus on Wednesday.

"I am very happy where I am. It's always nice to be mentioned but there is nothing," insisted Eriksson.

"I have a contract with Mexico until 2010. We will qualify and we will do everything we can do to win."

After Tony Adams was sacked as Portsmouth manager on Monday, Eriksson has been strongly linked with the post - along with ex-Chelsea boss Avram Grant and former boss of Charlton and West Ham Alan Curbishley.

"It's always like that when a manager leaves a club for whatever reason - if he leaves or if he is sacked," Eriksson said of the rumours circulating following Adams' departure. "I'm not the only manager being mentioned in this story."

Other people in the frame for the Fratton Park role include Croatia coach Slaven Bilic, ex-Sunderland boss Roy Keane and former England managers Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle.

Portsmouth are 16th in the Premier League table - two places and one point above the relegation zone - and Paul Hart has been put in charge of the first team, starting with Saturday's home game against Manchester City.

Commenting on the club's temporary boss, Pompey chief executive Peter Storrie told the club website: "Paul's a strong character and at the moment I think it needs a strong character.

"The players will give him respect for as long as he's doing it. He's a good guy. He jumped at the chance to do it and I'm sure you'll see quite a steadying hand.

"What we need to do is gel together, work as one, cut out the mistakes and just get going and get a couple of results. We really must do everything we can to make sure we stay in the Premier League."

Eriksson led England at the 2006 World Cup and a year later the 61-year-old Swede took over as Manchester City boss before his Mexico appointment in June 2008.

Eriksson added: "I always said I have a contract until 2010, after the World Cup. In football, you never know what will happen but I have a contract and I want to win on Wednesday.

"I have always said that Mexico will be in South Africa. It's very important to start winning but I don't think that my future depends on getting a good result tomorrow, life will go on.

"If we lose, we will have nine more games to qualify to the World Cup but I repeat: I'm not thinking about a defeat."

Hiddink lined up for Chelsea job

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Russia coach Guus Hiddink is in line to become the new manager of Chelsea as talks with the Dutchman continue.

Hiddink will take charge for the rest of the season after the Russian Football Association said they would allow the 62-year-old to do both jobs.

Hiddink, who is friends with the Blues' Russian owner Roman Abramovich, has hinted a temporary move would suit him.

"If it was any other club my answer would be a straight 'no', but Chelsea is different," said Hiddink.

One British bookmaker has already paid out on Hiddink taking the reins at Stamford Bridge within the next 48 hours.

Hiddink, who is contracted until the end of the 2010 World Cup, said his commitment to Russia was still as firm as ever.

"I have good relations with Roman Abramovich. I would like to help them if I could," he added.

"This would only be for the next two or three months until the end of the season. I will not leave my job with the Russian national team. It's out of the question.

"When I took the Russia job it was a long-term project and I don't like to leave it unfinished."

Russia have two World Cup qualifiers over the course of the rest of the Premier League season - at home to minnows Azerbaijan on 28 March and away to Liechtenstein four days later.

Hiddink has the extensive club and international experience Abramovich is searching for, having coached PSV Eindhoven and Real Madrid as well as the Netherlands, South Korea and Australia.

And the Dutchman insists that once again juggling both club and international commitments would not be a problem.

"I have already done that a couple of years ago when I was coaching Australia and PSV, so I'm familiar with the situation and what it takes," said Hiddink, who is in Turkey for a training camp with the Russia squad.

Billionaire Abramovich, who agreed a compensation package with Scolari and his backroom staff on Tuesday evening, was instrumental in Hiddink's appointment as Russia manager in 2006, and the pair have since maintained close ties.

And it seems that the opportunity to bring the Dutchman to Chelsea has now fallen at the right time for all parties, as Hiddink's contract does not prevent him from undertaking two jobs.

"In his contract there isn't any point on which he can't combine two posts, so he can do it. But right now the ball is in Chelsea's court because they must make him some offer. We think that he can do it but now it's his decision," a Football Union of Russia (FUR) spokesman told the BBC.

Earlier, Chelsea confirmed that they had been given permission to talk with Hiddink about taking over from Scolari, adding their "thanks to the FUR" for the co-operation.

The Blues travel to Championship strugglers Watford in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday, and plan for Hiddink to be in place in time for the game - though current first-team coach Ray Wilkins will be in charge if a deal has not been finalised.

Hiddink warned talks were still at a formative stage when asked if he could combine both high-profile jobs, telling Russian newspaper Sport Express: "You correctly use the word 'if'.

"I can't rule out that option but it is at the stage of being examined. If everything is organised properly, a move to London could happen. I'll be able to give you a final answer in a few days."

Hiddink's appointment would cap a momentous few days for the Blues, who sacked Scolari after just seven months in charge, on Monday.

However, Dutch journalist Rob Fleur warned there will definitely be more upheaval in the summer, telling BBC Radio 5 Live: "Guus will only do it to the end of the season.

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