Monday, March 30, 2009

Völler expects English glory in Rome

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Rudi Völler was part of the Olympique de Marseille side that won the inaugural 1992/93 UEFA Champions League, when England's representatives did not even make the group stage. Yet the former Germany striker says he expects the current Premier League dominance of the competition to continue this term – and for the foreseeable future.

Rome link
Now Bayer 04 Leverkusen's sporting director, Völler has a particular interest in the 2009 final as it is played at the Stadio Olimpico on 27 May. Not only did Völler spend five seasons with AS Roma; he was also in the West Germany team that lifted the FIFA World Cup at the Olimpico in 1990. The glory in Rome this time will be English, he predicts, with success for one from Manchester United FC, Liverpool FC, Arsenal FC or Chelsea FC to follow United's triumph in Moscow last May.

Financial advantage
"Manchester United basically symbolise the other three English clubs," Völler told uefa.com. "It's not just luck that all four clubs from England reached the quarter-finals. They have overtaken even the Italian league in financial terms. That's why it will be difficult in the future to beat these four. The best players in the world play there and the highest salaries are paid."

Barcelona chance
The Premier League provided three semi-finalists in both 2007 and 2008, but the year before FC Barcelona prevailed and Villarreal CF also reached the last four. That pair will attempt to halt the challenges of FC Bayern München and Arsenal in the quarter-finals on 7/8 and 14/15 April. "Barcelona are definitely among the title favourites along with Manchester United," Völler, 48, said. "They play the most attractive football in this Champions League. It's always nice to watch them attack and see their short-passing game, with Lionel Messi up front. So they are favourites and Villarreal are surprise quarter-finalists, but they are also dangerous opponents."

Bayern threat
However, Völler's successor as Germany coach and former strike partner, Jürgen Klinsmann, who matched his tally of 47 international goals, will hope his Bayern side can stop Barcelona. "Bayern have a good chance of getting far, just like the four English clubs and Barcelona," Völler said. "They have a good team, especially on the left with Franck Ribéry, Zé Roberto and Philipp Lahm. Then their attack with Luca Toni and Miroslav Klose is fantastic. So it's going to be difficult for the English teams to defeat Bayern Munich, that's for sure."

Liverpool selection
Unlike Bayern, FC Porto must negotiate an English club in the last eight – United. Völler believes a repeat of their 2004 victory over the Old Trafford outfit and eventual coronation is unlikely, stating: "I think it's already a huge success for Porto to have made it to the quarter-finals." And in picking an overall winner, the Völler verdict is: "Manchester United probably have the strongest team, but they already won last season, so that's why my favourites are Liverpool."

"United to win for football's sake!"

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Gordon Strachan has backed his former club Manchester United to go all the way again in the Champions League.

He believes Man United need to retain the Champions League for the "sake of football".

The Celtic manager, whose side met Sir Alex Ferguson's team in the group stages of the competition, is a great admirer of the champions' style of play.

With United facing Porto and being handed a favourable possible passage to Rome, Strachan is refusing to look beyond his former club.

"I hope it's Manchester United," he replied when asked who will win the Champions League in May.

"I think they play some fantastic football, them or Barcelona, their football is absolutely fantastic.

"There are good sides in there like Bayern Munich, some terrific, terrific sides.

"But, for the sake of football, I just think Manchester United's philosophy on the game is the best."

United will hope to beat Porto and then meet either Villarreal or Arsenal in the semi-final.

Arbeloa itching for Barca clash

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Alvaro Arbeloa would love nothing more than to beat Barca in the Champions League to "take them down a peg or two".

Barca are enjoying a stunning season and are on course for a treble of the Primera Liga, Copa del Rey and the Champions League but Liverpool are enjoying an impressive run of their own and have cut Manchester United's lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League to just one point - although the defending champions do have a game in hand.

Rafa Benitez's men will meet Barca if they overcome Chelsea in the last eight and the Catalans beat Bayern Munich and that would be a dream encounter for Arbeloa who graduated from Real Madrid's youth academy.

"We're not doing badly in the Premier League, we're there waiting to see if Manchester United fall," said the Spain defender.

"And in the Champions League we're waiting to see if we meet Barca, to see if we take them down a peg or two.

"Barca are favourites in the competition as they are playing a marvellous game.

"It's not going to be easy. First we have to beat Chelsea. Barca are a strong rival, but Chelsea will be a difficult obstacle and we have to be prepared."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Advocaat may make Ferguson move

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Zenit St Petersburg boss Dick Advocaat has hinted he may try to sign Rangers captain Barry Ferguson in the summer.

Ferguson flourished under Advocaat's management of the Ibrox club in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

"Our central midfielder Anatoliy Tymoschuk will go to Bayern Munich in May/June," Advocaat told BBC Scotland.

"So if the players in my selection cannot fill in that position, then I have to buy one and Ferguson is definitely a candidate."

Scotland skipper Ferguson, who is now in his second spell with Rangers, was first given the Ibrox armband by Advocaat in 2000.

A few months earlier, Ferguson was voted player of the year by the Scottish Football Writers' Association.Everybody knows what I think about Ferguson," Advocaat added. "He's a top player."

Current Rangers manager Walter Smith had been told to trim his squad from 28 to around 20, with the club aiming to reduce their estimated £25m overdraft.

And former Blackburn Rovers player Ferguson was linked with a move to Newcastle United during the January transfer window.

Advocaat led Zenit to a Uefa Cup final win over Rangers last season.

Uefa issues match-fixing charges

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Uefa has charged Macedonian club FK Pobeda over match-fixing allegations relating to a Champions League qualifying match in 2004.

FK Podeba's president and one player have also been charged after irregular betting patterns were reported.

The match was against Armenian side FC Pyunik and took place on 13 July 2004.

They are charged with being "in breach of the principles of integrity and sportsmanship by manipulating the outcome of a match".

The match in question is the first leg of the tie which FC Podeba lost 3-1 at home, before they went on to draw 1-1 in the second leg.

Uefa's control and disciplinary body will deal with the case on 17 April.

Ten preliminary matches from the current Uefa Cup season and 15 from last season had also been under review for irregular betting patterns.

Uefa will launch a gambling investigating unit next season, featuring experts who will review suspected irregularities in matches from European competitions. "We are setting up this betting fraud detection system across Europe to include 27,000 matches in the first and second division in each national association," said Uefa general secretary David Taylor.

"Only a few matches cause us problems but we are determined to root out this problem."

Uefa president Michel Platini added: "There is a grave danger in the world of football and that is match-fixing.

"The match-fixing is the greatest problem. If you know who is winning, there is no reason to play anymore. Buying players and referees is what worries me."

Barça concern over Iniesta and Touré

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Andrés Iniesta and Yaya Touré both face a race to be fit for the first leg of FC Barcelona's UEFA Champions League quarter-final against FC Bayern München after the midfield pair picked up identical injuries during Sunday’s 6-0 Liga home win over Málaga CF.

Concerns
Touré, 25, was replaced in the 25th minute after failing to recover from a challenge with opposition full-back Nacho and was later diagnosed with a small tear to his right adductor muscle. The 24-year-old Iniesta, who has been restricted to 19 Liga appearances this season because of injury problems, lasted an hour before being forced off with the same complaint. Both players have been given an estimated recovery time of 15 days.

Bayern encounter
To make matters worse, Xavi Hernández also hurt his achilles though he remains in the Spain squad for their FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Turkey. Josep Guardiola's side welcome Bayern on 8 April with the return leg in Munich taking place six days later.

Toe blow for Chelsea forward Anelka

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Chelsea FC could take on Liverpool FC in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League without leading scorer Nicolas Anelka as the striker has a toe injury which is expected to keep him out for three weeks.

World Cup
The 30-year-old played the whole game as Chelsea lost 1-0 at Tottenham Hotspur FC on Saturday. He now faces a spell on the sidelines, though, according to the French Football Federation who replaced Anelka with Paris Saint-Germain FC forward Guillaume Hoarau ahead of Les Bleus' FIFA World Cup qualifying double-header against Lithuania on Saturday and 1 April.

Anfield first
France coach Raymond Domenech said of Anelka, the scorer of 15 Premier League goals this term: "He is suffering from a left big toe injury and is out of action for three weeks." Chelsea face Liverpool away on 8 April, six days before the quarter-final concludes at Stamford Bridge. The winners of the all-English tie will meet either FC Barcelona or FC Bayern München for a place in the Rome final.

Rafa to break bank for Silva

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Spanish giants Valencia are bracing themselves for a record bid from Liverpool for leading Spain international David Silva.

According to the Liverpool Echo, Rafael Benitez, who is armed with a new contract at Anfield, is prepared to dump most of his transfer budget on the £25million-rated Silva.

His budget is believed to be £30m - but it could increase if Tom Hicks and George Gillett successfully raise money by selling their stakes in their American franchises.

Reports in Spain suggest the Primera Liga outfit are holding out for a fee in the region of £25m for Silva and with Barcelona and Juventus also both believed to be interested in snapping him up the battle for his services could be hard fought.

Liverpool are also believed to be on the trail of Valencia defender Raul Albiol.

Valencia have hit massive financial difficulties in recent months and are set to sell crown jewels Silva, David Villa and Raul Albiol in an effort to bring their debt of 450m euros under control.

It is Silva who has caught Benitez's eye though, with the Liverpool manager on the lookout for a versatile attacking player who can figure in a number of positions behind Fernando Torres as he looks to add strength in depth to his squad.

The 23-year-old certainly fits that bill and Liverpool have already made tentative enquiries about his availability.

They will only follow up their initial interest if Valencia are realistic about their valuation of a player who has won 21 caps for Spain.

Liverpool are unlikely to be willing to pay that kind of asking price but Benitez will move fast it a compromise deal can be struck.

Reds chief scout Eduardo Macia - who took Silva to Valencia when the attacking midfielder was a teenager - was recently dispatched to Spain to check on Silva's availability and was not discouraged by what he learned.

Silva was one of the stars of Spain's victory at Euro 2008, operating in a left sided attacking role which allowed him to support Torres and Villa at every opportunity.

An ankle injury has stopped him from making as many appearances as would have been expected for Valencia this season.

But the midfielder returned to action in January and is currently training with the Spanish national squad ahead of this weekend's World Cup qualifier against Turkey

Laursen hopeful over Champions League

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Aston Villa defender Martin Laursen remains optimistic the club can still qualify for next season's Champions League.

Villa, who have not won a Barclays Premier League match since February 7, are three points behind fourth-placed Arsenal and face Manchester United after the international break.

"Of course it doesn't look great, but we still have a chance," said Laursen, who is recovering from a serious knee injury.

"There are still eight games left, and Arsenal have some difficult games to come, so we are still believing."

Laursen added of last weekend's defeat: "That was, of course, too many goals to let in, but Liverpool are strong right now and there wasn't really much we could do about it."

Fergie may retire next year

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Sir Alex Ferguson could step down as Manchester United manager at the end of next season, according to his son Darren.

The legendary Scot has been at the helm of the Old Trafford outfit since November 1986 and has brought unprecedented success to the Red Devils.

There has been speculation over when Ferguson will call time on his career with United ever since he performed a U-turn over his initial decision to quit when he turned 60 seven years ago.

Darren Ferguson, who is following in his famous father's managerial footsteps with his role at Peterborough, believes it could be next summer when the United boss elects to call it a day.
Building

Ferguson has stated that he wants to help United equal Liverpool's record of 18 English league titles, with the Red Devils just one adrift.

The North West rivals are battling for Premier League supremacy this term, with the Anfield outfit having cut United's lead at the summit to just one point, although the reigning champions still have a game in hand.

Ferguson jnr said of his father: "His health is fine and he's building a new team.

"If they win (the Premier League) this year then they catch Liverpool in terms of titles won.

"I can see him doing this year and next - and then that might be it for him."

Monday, March 23, 2009

UEFA confirm Reds date change

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UEFA have confirmed that Liverpool will not have to play their last eight second leg against Chelsea on the 20th anniversary of Hillsborough.

The second leg will be played at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, April 14 - a day before the anniversary of 96 fans losing their lives.

The first leg will take place at Anfield on Wednesday, April 8.

Becks: United can rule Europe again

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AC Milan midfielder David Beckham is backing Manchester United to retain their Champions League title this season.
The England midfielder believes his former club have the "strongest" team in Europe and will become the first club since AC Milan in 1990 to be European club champions in consecutive seasons.

"This season I would like to see a Manchester United v Barcelona final," said Beckham in an interview with today's Gazzetta dello Sport.

"My former team-mates would win because at this time they are the strongest for any opponent. Even if Liverpool have (Steven) Gerrard, who is one of the best in the world."

Beckham, who earlier this month extended his stint on loan with Milan from the Los Angeles Galaxy until June, wishes he could be competing in Europe's elite club competition.

"I miss the Champions League so much," said Beckham.

Milan failed to qualify for this season's edition of the Champions League but Beckham hopes to play in the competition next term.

"That is my dream," he said.

Beckham indicated he would prefer not to go up against United if Milan were to play in the Champions League.

"It would be a problem," he said. "But if next year the final would be Milan v Manchester United, I would like to win it even if I am a United fan."

One of Beckham's motivations to continue with the Rossoneri was to stay in contention for a place in the England squad.

The 33-year-old believes he has a lot to offer to the national team.

He said: "I can bring experience because it is a young squad. I would be just happy being useful to the group and continue to work with (Fabio) Capello, who has changed our mentality. We needed that."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Red Devils and Dragons await fiery rematch

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UEFA Champions League holders Manchester United FC may have lost two of their three previous ties with FC Porto, but manager Sir Alex Ferguson was happy to be drawn against them in the quarter-finals.

Home advantage
"This is a good draw for us," said Sir Alex, whose side will kick off the tie at Old Trafford on 7 April. "You sometimes wonder if being at home first is a good or a bad thing but I think in this modern-day competition there's no indication of what is better. The only thing you hope is that you don't lose a goal in the home tie." Though Ferguson is undecided, history shows that the side hosting the opening match in ties between these two clubs in UEFA club competition has always gone on to win.

Portuguese accent
United boast Portuguese talent in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani while Brazilian midfielder Anderson joined the Reds from Porto in 2007. Sir Alex feels that will help as his side look to avenge their exit at the hands of the Dragons in the first knockout round of the 2003/04 edition, when Porto went on to lift the trophy under José Mourinho. "We've met Porto before and obviously we respect any Portuguese team," said Sir Alex. "We have had a huge Portuguese influence in the club, firstly with [former assistant manager] Carlos Queiroz but now with Cristiano and Nani. So we understand Portuguese football."

Daunting draw
The draw is a daunting one for Porto, but the Liga champions have the upper hand in terms of previous meetings with United. They beat the Red Devils 6-5 on aggregate in their first meeting, a 1977/78 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup second-round tie, and while they lost out to Sir Alex's side in the 1996/97 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals, the 2003/04 victory left them on top in statistical terms. Vítor Baia, the club's goalkeeper in both legs of that latter success and now Porto's director of international relations, is certainly not cowed by the prospect of a game against United. The 39-year-old said: "We are an ambitious club and we want to make the semi-final. Last time we played them it was a great performance and we will try to do the same again."

'Different world'
Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira, meanwhile, was concerned that the prospect of facing United might distract his side from their domestic programme, but said: "I will not rest anyone as there will be no easy games." However, he knows that his charges will be up against it when they face the European champions, with the second leg scheduled for 15 April. "Results are unpredictable and anything can happen," he said. "The differences between FC Porto and Manchester United are huge. They don't have a better European pedigree than us but they live in a different world."

Klinsmann inspired by Camp Nou challenge

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Jürgen Klinsmann was not downhearted after his FC Bayern Münche side drew FC Barcelona in the quarter-finals, saying the players had a chance "to test our strength against the best European team at the moment".

'Something extraordinary'
The 44-year-old won two UEFA Cups but never Europe's top club competition during his illustrious playing career, and came up against Barcelona four times as a striker for AS Monaco FC and Bayern. Although he lost both games for the French side, he enjoyed more success for FCB and is undaunted by his first meeting with the Catalan giants as a coach. "This is an enormous opportunity," he said. "It is a very tough draw but it's also something extraordinary. Barcelona will be a high obstacle, but anything is possible. We have faith in ourselves and don't have to be afraid of anyone."

Bayern unbeaten
The two sides have met four times in European club competition, with Bayern yet to be beaten. The German champions won 2-1 at Camp Nou after drawing in the first leg of a 1995/96 UEFA Cup semi-final, with Klinsmann on the team-sheet in both games and Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola featuring in the first. They met again in the 1998/99 UEFA Champions League group stage, with Bayern winning 1-0 at home and 2-1 again in Spain.

Friendly relationship
The clubs have also faced off in pre-season friendlies in each of the past two summers at Camp Nou, Barcelona winning both. They triumphed 1-0 in August 2007 in Mehmet Scholl's farewell game, while on 23 August last year they prevailed 4-0, including two goals for Samuel Eto'o. Barcelona president Joan Laporta said: "I feel a little sad that we've been drawn against Bayern because of the great relationship we have. It will be tough because we'll have to play the return leg away; it makes the challenge a tougher one but that in turn means the rewards will be higher. They will be magical nights and we won't be able to switch off for a second."

Home advantage
Bayern, whose Dutch captain Mark van Bommel is a former Barcelona player, visit Camp Nou for the first leg of the quarter-final tie on 8 April, with the tie to conclude in Bavaria on 14 April. Bayern general manager Uli Hoeness felt getting the away tie out of the way first would stand his side in good stead. "We always said that if we drew one of the big names, we'd like to play the second match at home, and that's what has happened. For our fans it will be a dream come true when we face Barça at our stadium for the return match."

Reds and Blues set to battle again!

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Liverpool and Chelsea will renew their European rivalry after being drawn together in next month's Champions League quarter-finals.

It is the fifth successive year the two sides have met in Europe, with Chelsea triumphing in their semi-final in 2008.

Holders Manchester United take on FC Porto and Arsenal play Villarreal, with the winners meeting in the semi-finals.

Bayern Munich meet Barcelona in the other tie. The first legs are on 7/8 April, and the return on 14/15 April.

The second leg of Chelsea's tie with Liverpool at Stamford Bridge will not be on 15 April after Uefa granted the Merseyside club's request to avoid that date because it is the 20th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy.

Liverpool's chief executive Rick Parry said he was grateful to Uefa for accepting the request.

"It is good news," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"This was hugely important to every Liverpool fan and to the club so we are very pleased with the outcome. We would have been massively disappointed if the decision had been different."

The semi-finals take place on 28/29 April and 5/6 May and the final will be played on Wednesday 27 May at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

It is the second successive year that four English teams are in the last eight of the competition.

Although they were beaten by Chelsea last year, Liverpool reached the 2005 and 2007 finals at the expense of the Blues.

As in 2008, the Reds must travel to London for the second leg, but Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is confident his side can come out on top this time.

"Hopefully it won't make a difference to us that the second leg is away," Benitez told his club's website. "We have to think about the first game at Anfield with our fans behind us and look to get a positive result to take to Stamford Bridge."

Last season's first leg at Anfield ended in a 1-1 draw after John Arne Risse scored an own goal and Chelsea won the return 3-2 after extra-time.

"We need to make sure we don't make a mistake in the first leg like we did in last year's semi-final," added Benitez. "They will be two tough games but we are playing well and clearly we are confident we can win.

"Chelsea are a very good team. We know each other very well and this is an exciting draw.

"We knew it would be difficult to avoid an English team but we need to approach the two games with confidence. We've done the double over them this season in the league but clearly these two games in the quarter-finals will be different."

The draw is also a reunion of sorts for Porto and United.

The Portuguese club beat United on their way to winning the tournament in 2004, when then Porto boss Jose Mourinho charged up the Old Trafford touchline in delight after a 90th-minute Costinha goal took them through.

And Arsenal's tie with Villarreal is a rematch of their 2006 semi-final, which the Gunners won 1-0 on aggregate.

"It is maybe a good opportunity to play the first game away from home, but at that level it is very difficult to be creative in your statement," said Gunners boss Wenger. "It will depend on the quality of your performance and the players available as well.

"We have learned that to knock any Spanish team out is very difficult. There are many big clubs in Europe who are not in the quarter-finals. We are one of the five clubs who have for 10 consecutive years qualified for the Champions League, so to go to the end of it is our immense desire."

The match also sees Villarreal winger Robert Pires line up against his former club, and the Frenchman said: "Of course it will be a special match. Returning there makes me very happy but today, as a Villarreal player, I want to win to continue in the competition with my team."

United beat Chelsea on penalties in last year's final and the draw means another all-English final remains a possibility.

Reacting to the match-up with Porto, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson said: "This is a good draw for us. We've met Porto before and obviously we respect any Portuguese team.

"We have had a huge Portuguese influence in the club, firstly with Carlos Queiroz but now with Cristiano (Ronaldo) and Nani, so we understand Portuguese football."

United will play the second leg in Porto but Ferguson insists that should not be a problem.
You sometimes wonder if being at home first is a good or a bad thing, but I think in this modern-day competition there is no indication of what is better," said the Scot.

"The only thing you hope is that you don't lose a goal in the home tie. We are happy with the draw and we are looking forward to the next round."

Bayern Munich's general manager Uli Hoeness was also satisfied with the draw despite being paired with Barca.

"This is fantastic news," Hoeness said. "As we've been saying all along, if we're to be drawn against one of the giants, we want the first leg away from home, and that's what we've got.

"Barcelona at the Allianz Arena in the return is a dream come true for our fans."

The German champions' coach Jurgen Klinsmann added: "Coming face-to-face with the best team in Europe at the moment is a terrific challenge for us all.

"It's something truly out of the ordinary. Barcelona will be exceptionally tough, but anything's possible. We believe in ourselves, and there's no need to be overawed."

Barcelona's former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry was relieved to avoid the Gunners but is wary of the threat Bayern will pose.

"I did not want to play against Arsenal," Henry said.

"The English clubs seemed more dangerous but in football anything can happen and Bayern is a big team in Europe. They have many players who can make the difference and score goals.

"It is going to be a very difficult match, they scored a lot of goals in the previous round, so it is not going to be easy."

Bayern thumped Sporting Lisbon 12-1 on aggregate to reach the quarter-finals.

Champions League Quarter Final Draw

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The stage is set for the best show in football as the best 8 teams in Europe come against each other . The road is set for next Kings of Europe .
It will all be exiting matches as high flying Barcelona takes on another free flowing high flying Bayern . It will not be as free scoring like as we saw in the knock out stages as Bayern scored 12 goals against Sporting Lisbon .
It is yet another draw between Chelsea and Liverpool . Liverpool now are at the top of their form as they recently demolished Real Madrid and the current Champions United . But Chelsea are also on the stage of recovery under the new manager Hiddink
The Champions of Europe takes on FC Porto . It is time for Fegie’s men to have revenge on them for their earlier win under Mourinho in 2004 . United are looking for glory in all competitions . They have already bagged two trophies .
English giants Arsenal takes on Villa Real . Arsenal is back on form but the yellow submarines will not be an easy task

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Iconic 'Finale Rome' set for ultimate stage

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adidas has unveiled the official match ball for the UEFA Champions League final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on 27 May – the adidas Finale Rome.

Roman values
The design of the adidas Finale Rome is based on the widely recognisable UEFA Champions League starball. The colours of the new match ball are inspired by the traditional Roman colour burgundy with gold detailing around the stars. Mosaic figures representing key sporting and Roman values such as speed, teamwork, justice and power are featured in each star – honouring European club football's blue-riband event.

Sophistication
Like the EUROPASS, the match ball of UEFA EURO 2008™ in Austria and Switzerland last summer, the adidas Finale Rome boasts the innovative surface structure PSC-Texture™. This surface structure allows players to control and direct the ball perfectly in all weather conditions. The PSC-Texture™ consists of a sophisticated and extremely fine structure on the ball's outer skin that guarantees optimum grip between ball and boot. Due to the usage of this material, the ball texture feels like goose bumps. In addition, like the EUROPASS, the adidas Finale Rome is constructed out of 14 panels using revolutionary Thermal Bonding Technology.

'Historic'
At a press conference at Terrazza Colle Oppio in Rome – an open balcony with a wonderful view of the Colosseum in the background – participants sang the praises of the ball to be used for the final. "We thank the FIGC [Italian Football Federation], the Italian Olympic Committee [CONI], the municipality of the city and adidas," said Peter Willems, UEFA head of marketing activities. "Rome is a historic venue and we hope to watch a historic final here. The ball is an icon of this tournament. The starball was introduced in 2000 for the finals and has been used for all matches of the competition since the 2006/07 season. It is the best of the best on the ultimate stage – the ball with the highest level of technology."

'Important partnership'
"I want to stress the importance of the partnership between adidas and UEFA," added Winand Krawinkel, marketing director of adidas Italy. "We have been producing balls for the most important football events in Europe and in the world since 1970. UEFA gave us the incentive to make many important steps in technology." The adidas Finale Rome is currently available at retail outlets worldwide. adidas has been making footballs since 1963, and has supplied the official match balls to all major UEFA and FIFA tournaments since 1970.

Hiddink says Deco's season may be over

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Deco could miss the rest of the season after suffering a recurrence of a hamstring injury in Chelsea FC's 1-0 win at home to Manchester City FC on Sunday.

Drogba news
The Portuguese international playmaker limped off four minutes before half-time at Stamford Bridge, and manager Guus Hiddink admitted the initial prognosis is not good. "After 20 or 25 minutes he had this problem again, so he will be out again for a while," said the Dutchman. "He'll have to be very fit to come back this season. I have my doubts to be honest." There was better news for Chelsea about Didier Drogba, however, with Hiddink insisting the injury that forced the striker to hobble off in the second half was "not a big problem".

Platini eager to help Liverpool

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Michel Platini promised Liverpool that UEFA will arrange fixtures to help avoid the Hillsborough anniversary.

The anniversary falls on April 15, which is one of the two dates set aside for the second legs of the quarter-finals, the other being the previous day.

UEFA president Platini has not guaranteed Liverpool will not be asked to play on April 15 but pledged that European's governing body would "do our utmost" to avoid the scenario.

UEFA issued a statement reacting to reports claiming they had rejected an appeal by Liverpool to avoid playing on the anniversary date.

Platini said: "We are aware of the huge significance of the April 15 date for both Liverpool FC and their fans, and that is why we will do our utmost to make sure that the club does not have to play its UEFA Champions League second leg quarter-final match on that day.

"I have been in regular correspondence with Liverpool FC on this matter for some time now and fully sympathise with the club's feelings as to the importance of respecting the date of April 15 for those who lost their lives at Hillsborough.

"This being the 20th anniversary of that tragic disaster in 1989 makes it even more relevant and we will take this into account."

Ninety six people died when Liverpool supporters were crushed at the Leppings Lane end of Hillsborough on April 15, 1989, as they attended their team's FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.

A cousin of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was among the dead, and the England midfielder has urged UEFA to be sympathetic to the club.

Gerrard said at the weekend: "We're still waiting to see whether UEFA will make us play on the day. That would be far from ideal given all the emotion that always surrounds the club on that day."

The Champions League quarter-final draw takes place on Friday.

Cruyff: We don't want Liverpool

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Johan Cruyff has been impressed with Liverpool and how they crushed Real Madrid and Man United in the space of four days.
And the man who played for and managed the Spanish giants wants to avoid Rafa Benitez's side at all costs in Friday's quarter-finals draw.

Cruyff, who still acts as an advisor to Barca, said: "Against Madrid, Liverpool became a steamroller, and for sure, many of those who feared playing against Manchester United don't want to face Liverpool now.

"Because of the manner in which they demolished Madrid and then thrashed United, they are clearly the side who everyone will want to avoid in the draw for the Champions League.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Zlatan: The one that got away

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic was unhappy with his contributions after Inter Milan failed to pierce Man United's backline.

The Inter striker was close to a goal after he hit the crossbar during the 2-0 Champions League defeat at Manchester United.

"All we were missing was the goal," he said of the Old Trafford loss. "They scored four minutes into each half and when that happens it does knock you down.

"We continued playing, hit the woodwork twice and I had another two chances go so close. We played with confidence and character, but it was not enough."

The Nerazzurri had said the Champions League was their main target for this season, but go out in the second round for the third year running.

"It's a shame, as I really wanted to win this trophy and it was my primary objective for the campaign.

"I gave my all, but it wasn't enough. In the first half I was a little isolated upfront, but the tactics worked.

"We changed a few things after the break and had more chances, but could not find a way through. I am very disappointed, but we must look ahead and win the Scudetto."

Guardiola thanks Barca fans

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Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola hailed his side's supporters for the role they played in their win over Lyon.

And he asked them for more of the same as the Catalan giants continue their chase for the treble.

Barca stormed into the quarter-finals after scoring four times in 18 minutes prior to half-time en route to downing the French champions 5-2 at the Nou Camp, securing a 6-3 aggregate triumph in the process.

It was a classy display from Barca, who have now recorded two impressive victories to seemingly get their season back on track after going five games without a win, and Guardiola was keen to praise the fans for their part in proceedings, with a crowd of around 90,000 roaring on the home side.

"I'm grateful the stadium was full. The fans have been very good," said Guardiola, whose team have already reached the Copa del Rey final and are six points clear of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga.

"It's clear that we will have to make an even bigger effort than we have until now. In Madrid they will soon forget the Champions League and focus on the league.

"Without the support of the fans we will not be able to achieve it."

Striker Samuel Eto'o, who scored his side's fourth goal to end his recent scoring drought of four games, added: "I want to dedicate my goal to the fans and give them my thanks.

"If in every game we have some supporters like tonight, then surely we wouldn't even draw any matches."

Aside from Eto'o's strike, France international Thierry Henry netted a brace before the break while Lionel Messi added another as Barca, fresh from their 2-0 win over fellow Copa del Rey finalists Athletic Bilbao at the weekend, blitzed Lyon in the first half.

Lyon threatened to stage a fightback with two strikes in quick succession either side of half-time from Jean Makoun and Juninho, but they could make no further in-roads and Barca wrapped up with win a fifth late on from Seydou Keita.

"We played very well. We've played other good games, but maybe because of the importance of this match it was one of the best," said Guardiola.

Barca must now wait until a week on Friday to see who they are paired against in the last eight of the Champions League, with holders Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Porto and fellow Spanish side Villarreal the other clubs through.

Prior to that draw though, Barca face a league game against Almeria this weekend and Guardiola preferred to concentrate on that match rather than think about who they might get in Europe.

"Now we have Almeria. Whoever we are drawn against (in Champions League) will be welcome," he said.

"We will study them a lot, and we will try to know their weak points. They are all very good. There are four English teams, and I also want to congratulate Villarreal. Regarding the Germans and Portuguese, they are famous teams from their countries. Whoever we get will be nice.

"We are among the best eight teams in Europe and we have to be happy because one of the best eight teams will visit the Nou Camp."

Tonetto laments his spot of bother

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AS Roma left-back Max Tonetto will probably remember 11 March 2009 for the rest of his life. After eleven consecutive penalties had been successful, his wayward effort towards the Curva Nord of the Stadio Olimpico left the final spot-kick scoreline 7-6 in Arsenal FC's favour and Roma's dream of a place in the final at their own ground came to a dramatic end.

Change of direction
"I saw [Manuel] Almunia change direction so I changed the place I was going to put it and it just went all wrong," said Tonetto. "I practised taking penalties this morning and scored every time; unfortunately it happens. The players immediately told me not to think about it."

Backs to the wall
Wary of the threat Arsenal posed on the flanks, Roma coach Luciano Spalletti handed Tonetto an unfamiliar left-midfield role. But an injury to central defender Juan with less than half an hour on the clock scuppered those tactics. The 34-year-old Italian dropped back into his favourite position with John Arne Riise shifting to the heart of defence to form an unlikely partnership alongside on-loan Malian Souleymane Diamoutene. Already without the influential Daniele De Rossi as well as Philippe Mexès, Roma's chances of holding on to the lead Juan had given them after nine minutes appeared slim.

'Running scared'
Not only did they manage it but Tonetto believes the Giallorossi played so well they should have wrapped things up inside 90 minutes. "It was a great performance. Our fans never stopped singing for two hours – they deserved better," he said. "We had enough chances to finish them off in normal time. Arsenal were running scared but we couldn't get the second goal and paid the price in the shoot-out."

Positives
Unsurprisingly, Tonetto is keen to look ahead and feels that the manner of the elimination could help Roma finish the domestic season on a high and clinch a place in next season's UEFA Champions League. "Our objective now is fourth place," he said. "We need to get over the disappointment and aim to beat Sampdoria on Sunday."

Inter: Mourinho is innocent

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Inter Milan have denied allegations that coach Jose Mourinho assaulted a fan after their Champions League match.
Greater Manchester Police are investigating a claim that a fan was punched by the former Chelsea manager shortly after Inter crashed out of the Champions League.

A statement from Inter read: "At the end of the game, the Portuguese tactician gave interviews to the European media, signed autographs, watched the penalties of the Roma v Arsenal game before saluting (Sir Alex) Ferguson in his office.

"After giving the last interview to Inter Channel, he entered the team bus that was parked outside the dressing rooms and hence it was a very calm post-game experience."

The allegation was one of common assault against Mourinho, with the claim that he punched a supporter close to the Inter team bus as the Italian side left the stadium.

GMP contacted United to request CCTV footage of the area and have confirmed a complaint has been made.

"Shortly before midnight last night a man reported that he had been punched in the face outside Old Trafford," a police statement read.

"We are investigating an allegation of common assault."

United would only confirm they are aware of the allegation and are making no further comment.

The allegation came at the end of a bad night for Mourinho, who watched his team's European campaign come to an end, with Nemanja Vidic and Cristiano Ronaldo grabbing United's goals at the start of each half.

Although the former Chelsea manager was in jovial mood, shaking hands with Red Devils supporters as he made his way to the visitors' dug-out before kick-off and after half-time and enjoyed a friendly post-match chat with Ferguson, he came under sustained attack from the Italian media for his failure to get Inter through.

"If anyone wishes to criticise my team, they will have to fight me," he said at one point, those comments coming via an official interpreter.

Although he has taken Inter to the top of Serie A, his relationship with the local press is far from smooth, a fact that has only fuelled a belief that he could one day replace Ferguson at Old Trafford.

The plane taking the Inter party back to Milan left Manchester at 12.25am last night, once Mourinho had concluded his post-match obligations and enjoyed his meeting with Ferguson.

The fan who made the complaint is not from the Greater Manchester area and did not report any injuries to police or need treatment.

Uefa rules out Euro final switch

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Uefa has ruled out moving the Champions League final away from Rome after an Arsenal fan was stabbed before their game with Roma on Wednesday.

The Liberal Democrats have called for the final to be taken away from Rome.

But Uefa believes there are logistical problems in switching the match as the final is due to take place on 27 May.

"We are two months from the event, so it's not really possible," said William Gaillard, special advisor to Uefa president Michel Platini.

Last season's final in Moscow was contested between two English clubs - Manchester United and Chelsea - and there is a strong possibility there will be a Premier League club in the final again with Arsenal, Liverpool and last year's two finalists in the quarter-finals.

And Lib Dem sports spokesman Don Foster has written to sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe, raising his concern that fans of the four English clubs - if any of the top-flight teams reach the final - may not be safe if they have to travel to the Italian capital.

"With Italian authorities seemingly incapable of keeping travelling fans safe, it seems totally inappropriate for them to hold the Champions League final," said Foster.

"There have been at least 23 stabbings and numerous attacks on English fans in Rome over the last few years. Something seems to be going badly wrong in the way Italian football is being policed."

Speaking before Foster's call for the switch, Gallaird said he believes the absence of any Italian clubs in the competition after Juventus, Inter Milan and Roma were knocked out by Chelsea, United and Arsenal this week will help the Italian police.

"Roma has now become a defacto neutral venue for the final which should make life easier," said Gallaird.

"Wednesday's incident gives us food for thought, but we are confident we will have everything in place to ensure a safe final for all fans.

"This was a regrettable incident and any incident like this is one too many. We've been speaking to the Italian authorities regularly in the run up to final and we will be asking them to step up their efforts in light of this event.

"We aren't thinking of moving the final at this stage."

Mourinho 'assault' investigated

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Greater Manchester Police are investigating an allegation of common assault against Jose Mourinho.

It has been alleged Mourinho punched a supporter close to the Inter Milan team bus as he left Old Trafford following his side's 2-0 Champions League defeat to Manchester United on Wednesday. .

GMP have contacted United to request CCTV footage of the area and have confirmed a complaint has been made.

"Shortly before midnight last night a man reported that he had been punched in the face outside Old Trafford," a police statement read.

"We are investigating an allegation of common assault."

United would only confirm they are aware of the allegation and are making no further comment.

The allegation came at the end of a bad night for Mourinho, who watched his team crash out of the Champions League following their defeat, with Nemanja Vidic and Cristiano Ronaldo grabbing United's goals at the start of each half.

Although the former Chelsea manager was in jovial mood, shaking hands with Red Devils supporters as he made his way to the visitors' dug-out before kick-off and after half-time and enjoyed a friendly post-match chat with Sir Alex Ferguson, he came under sustained attack from the Italian media for his failure to get Inter through.

"If anyone wishes to criticise my team, they will have to fight me," he said at one point, those comments coming via an official interpreter from Italian.

Although he has taken Inter to the top of Serie A, his relationship with the local press is far from smooth, a fact that has only fuelled a belief that he could one day replace Ferguson at Old Trafford.

The plane taking the Inter party back to Milan left Manchester at 12.25am last night, once Mourinho had concluded his post-match obligations and enjoyed his ritual of a meeting with Ferguson.

'Stabbing' threatens Rome final

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Rome's ability to host the 2009 Champions League final is in doubt again after an Arsenal fan was apparently stabbed.

The incident happened before the leg outside the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday night.

Ahead of the Gunners' penalty shootout victory, a supporter was attacked, the British Embassy in the Italian capital claimed, when the minibus in which he was travelling lost its way close to the stadium.

In the latest worrying incident of football hooliganism in the city, it was suggested a group of home fans targeted the vehicle and attempted to force their way inside.

"One managed to get on to the bus and there was a fight," an embassy spokesman said.

"The driver managed to get away when the Roma fan was pushed out of the bus."

"The victim was able to watch the match after receiving medical care, the spokesman revealed.

He added: "We don't know if it was a stabbing or glass from a smashed window."

An Arsenal spokeswoman said: "A male Arsenal fan was believed to be stabbed outside the stadium.

"Roma fans threw stones at a bus, smashing windows, and an individual allegedly entered the bus and stabbed a fan."

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are aware of the incident that happened in Italy and we are providing consular assistance."

Arsenal's fans had already been warned to avoid certain areas of the city by their club after a string of ugly incidents over recent years.

"If you travel to the stadium independently, please be aware you are at risk," stated the booklet circulated by Arsenal.

"Do not take trains to the Piazza Flaminio or attempt to use the Ponte Duca D'Aosta bridge as these are habitual routes taken by the 'Ultras' (Roma's hardcore supporters).

"Please stay away from the Campo De Fiori."

The Italian capital has come under the microscope in the wake of several high-profile incidents in recent years, most notably when a number of Manchester United fans were wounded in clashes with Roma fans in two separate incidents in the city in 2007.

City officials had been warned by European football's governing body, UEFA, that any serious acts of hooliganism between now and the May 27 final could see the showpiece moved elsewhere.

It now remains to be seen whether UEFA still have confidence in Rome to host a trouble-free showpiece in two-and-a-half months' time.

United send Mourinho’s Inter home from champions league

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Jose Mourinho endured anything but a special night as Manchester United reached the Champions League quarter-finals.

Five years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson felt Porto fluked their way to a two-legged success at exactly the same stage of the competition, and that was the result which launched Mourinho's career.

This time, United were the team who carried the good fortune as goals at the beginning of each half from Nemanja Vidic and Cristiano Ronaldo proved enough to cast aside a mistake-riddled performance from which Inter should have profited.

Victory keeps the Red Devils on course for an unprecedented quintuple and, to Ferguson's satisfaction, allowed him to record a second win in 14 head-to-head duels with Mourinho as, in front of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the cream of England proved too strong for the best of Italy.

Yet, as good as United were in the San Siro a fortnight ago, they were bad in the opening period here.

The number of sloppy passes quickly reached double figures and kept going, with Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney particular offenders.

Indeed while Rooney at least managed one decent 30-yard effort that flew wide, and eventually a telling cross for the second goal, Carrick could hardly do a thing right.

Inter were not particularly brilliant. Yet as it became obvious their opponents were not the supermen their domestic form makes them out to be, the Italians grew in confidence, no-one more so than Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Anonymous in the first leg and initially deprived of his regular strike partner Adriano, who started on the bench, the Swede was transformed.

Ibrahimovic had already looked dangerous when he found space between Rio Ferdinand and John O'Shea and rose to meet Maicon's curling free-kick.

The header took the ball downwards, then back up, flicking against the bar with Edwin van der Sar beaten.

Ibrahimovic then turned provider, floating over a superb cross for Dejan Stankovic, who had got behind Patrice Evra only to scoop his far-post shot over when he should have done much better.

In between, Van der Sar got the faintest of touches, unseen by the referee, to a Stankovic snap-shot which might just have crept in without the veteran Dutchman's intervention.

Apart from Rooney's shot, United's response was one good chance for John O'Shea. The Irishman continued his gallop into the Inter box as Ryan Giggs - the one menacing figure in a red shirt - and Rooney opened the Serie A leaders up, only to stroke his shot against Julio Cesar's legs.

How fortunate therefore that the Red Devils had got their noses in front before their below-par performance became apparent.

Vidic was clearly eager to make up for lost time, having been suspended for the first leg due to his dismissal at the Club World Cup.

And when Giggs floated over a fourth-minute corner, the Serbian took maximum advantage of Patrick Vieira's ill-timed slip to steer a precise header into the bottom corner.

It was the first notable event of an evening that began with Mourinho taking a slow stroll out of the tunnel, to his dug-out, totally on his own before the teams had entered the pitch, shaking hands on the way, as he did before the second half as well.

The bravado merely fuelled a growing belief that, in Mourinho's mind at least, he will be the man who eventually replaces Ferguson, providing of course the Scot does leave at some point in the next 20 years, by which time he will be 87.

Mourinho must have felt 87 four minutes after the restart as Inter found themselves two adrift.

The Italians seemed to have regained the initiative in the early moments of the second period. But when Giggs and Scholes presented Rooney with a decent crossing opportunity, Ronaldo rose to power home.

Any feeling the visitors might claw their way back was dispelled just before the hour, when Adriano, given his head in response to Inter's worsening position, volleyed against the inside of a post and saw the rebound bounce to safety.

Ferguson would no doubt claim it was the luck United were missing five long years ago.

This time there was no touchline charge for the Special One.

Berbatov and Rooney drew good saves out of Julio Cesar as United look to build on their lead, while the introduction of Luis Figo offered Inter another attacking outlet which resulted in Ibrahimovic accidentally turning another effort fractionally wide, admittedly after a couple of pretty dismal attempts at goal.

With the game won, United's swagger returned as Mourinho and Inter slipped slowly away.

Champions League round-up

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Sir Alex Ferguson earned rare bragging rights over Jose Mourinho as Manchester United continued their quintuple quest with a 2-0 second-leg win over Inter Milan in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, while Arsenal ensured all four English sides reached the quarter-finals with a 7-6 penalty shoot-out victory at Roma.

Having already lifted the Fifa Club World Cup and the Carling Cup, while an FA Cup semi-final place has been booked at the same time as a seven-point lead has been carved in the Premier League, United have been touted as unstoppable this season.

And Red Devils boss Ferguson - who recorded only a second win in 14 attempts over Inter boss Mourinho - saw his side polish their five-time potential as headers from Nemanja Vidic and Cristiano Ronaldo either side of half-time at Old Trafford boosted dreams of becoming the first team to defend the Champions League title.

With Liverpool and Chelsea booking their place in the last eight on Tuesday, hopes were high that Arsenal and holders United would ensure all four Premier League teams progressed beyond the first knockout stages of this season's tournament.

But in contrast to United, the Gunners experienced a nerve-wracking night in the Eternal City as Roma's Juan struck to tie the game at 1-1 on aggregate, and then Max Tonetto missed the decisive penalty-kick to send Arsenal through.

Meanwhile, bookmakers' favourites Barcelona eased into the quarter-finals with a 5-2 victory over Lyon at the Camp Nou, and Porto eliminated Atletico Madrid on away goals in Portugal following a 0-0 draw.

If rumours are to be believed, Mourinho harbours aspirations to succeed Ferguson when the Scot decides to call it a day, and the former Chelsea boss, who has made no secret of his fondness for the Premier League, was highly visible before kick-off as he prowled the touchline and tunnel of the defending champions, offering his famous charisma in abundance.

But as the respective United and Inter bosses, who enjoy an amicable relationship, share a vintage glass of post-match claret in the bowels of Old Trafford, Mourinho will hope Wednesday's meeting will not have acted as a possible job interview.

Since famously sprinting down the Old Trafford touchline in 2004 as Costinha's late equaliser sent United crashing out to Mourinho's Porto, who went on to win the competition, the Portuguese had built a record of one defeat in 13 games against Ferguson.

However, Ferguson - who is keen to add a third Champions League winners' medal to his personal collection following 1999 and 2008 successes - banished any suggestions of a 'Mourinho curse' as a 0-0 first-leg draw was followed by a 2-0 victory on home soil.

Mourinho named Patrick Vieira - a man with an equally polished reputation in England following an illustrious spell with Arsenal - in his side, but the decision backfired as early as the fourth minute when the Frenchman inexcusably lost Vidic at a Ryan Giggs corner, allowing the United defender a simple header.

Inter could have drawn level shortly before the half-hour mark, but Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic failed to replicate Vidic's aerial prowess when nodding a free-kick into the ground and away off the United crossbar.

An agonisingly tense, but extremely absorbing, first half continued in end-to-end style and John O'Shea should have added to United's lead when one-on-one with Julio Cesar, while Ibrahimovic bent an effort just wide of Edwin van der Sar's far post.

Inter came out with purpose in the second half, but in the 49th minute World Player of the Year and Ballon d'Or recipient Ronaldo headed a Wayne Rooney cross past visiting goalkeeper Cesar.

Inter substitute Adriano rattled the United woodwork as the Serie A champions attempted to find a way back into the tie, but the English side held on.

Arsenal were made to work hard in the Olympic Stadium as, after a 1-1 aggregate draw, the Premier League side defeated Roma 7-6 on penalties.

The Gunners visited Rome with a one-goal advantage courtesy of Robin van Persie's penalty in the first leg at Emirates Stadium, with sceptics suggesting that an unbeaten record in Italy, which stretched back to 2002, was under threat.

But throughout the build-up to the match, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger had maintained that it was not in his side's 'culture' to look to shut up shop and sneak through to the quarter-finals.

After stunning European giants AC Milan at the same stage last season, Wenger feels his side has come of age on the continent, but Roma dominated their visitors and the Italian's opener came courtesy of an ugly mix-up between two of the Arsenal's most experienced performers.

William Gallas and Kolo Toure conspired to hamper each other when attempting to clear Francesco Totti's low cross, offering Juan a simple finish on nine minutes.

Roma, so subdued in the first leg in North London as Arsenal wasted chance after chance, had clearly learnt their lesson and persisted in pressing their opponents in every area of the pitch, preventing trademark pass-and-move football.

Wenger's side were fortunate to not have been punished with a penalty on the stroke of half-time as left-back Gael Clichy appeared to haul down Marco Motta, but Spanish referee Manuel Gonzalez remained uninterested.

Arsenal seemed more intent after the half-time break, but Doni in the Roma goal was not truly tested as Wenger, who decided to introduce Theo Walcott, was happy to see former player Julio Baptista horribly miscue with the goal gaping in the best chance of the 90 minutes.

After a goalless period of extra-time, penalties were required. Eduardo and Vucinic failed from the spot, and then Tonetto blazed over the bar to send Arsenal through.

Barcelona continued to live up to their billing as the side most likely to sample success in Rome on 27th May as they brushed aside Lyon 5-2 to wrap up a 6-3 aggregate win.

Thierry Henry set Pep Guardiola's side on their way in the Camp Nou in the 25th minute as he collected Rafael Marquez's pass to stride into acres of space and slot past Hugo Lloris.

And with Lyon, who had been forced back from the opening whistle, still staggering, Barca doubled their lead as Henry, who had netted in the 1-1 first-leg draw, scored his third of the tie two minutes later.

Guardiola's men - who have reached their 34th Copa del Rey final since the opening meeting in France two weeks ago - were on song and deservedly had their third on 40 minutes as Argentina star Lionel Messi jinked in from the right touchline, beating five Lyon defenders, before converting in stunning style.

And there was still time before the interval for Samuel Eto'o - who has enjoyed a rejuvenated season and is the current top scorer in the Primera Liga - to make it 4-0, while Lyon pulled back some pride as Jean Makoun headed in at a 44th minute corner.

Lyon halved the deficit with the first attack of the second half as Brazilian Juninho - who netted a trademark free-kick in the first leg to earn praise from Guardiola - rolled in for a slightly less spectacular goal.

But any hopes of a dramatic comeback were erased as Juninho was dismissed for dissent and a second booking on the stroke of full-time, while Seydou Keita netted Barca's fifth on the night in injury-time.

Porto and Atletico Madrid played out a goalless stalemate in Portugal, allowing the home side to progress on away goals following a 2-2 draw in the first leg.

A tense night at the Estadio Dragao saw a game of few chances. Fernando had an effort for Porto in the first half, while Sergio Aguero turned down the opportunity to pass as Atletico's best attack went to waste.

The Spanish side introduced Diego Forlan in the second half after the striker had surprisingly been left on the bench, but it was Porto who almost snatched the win on the night as Lisandro hit a post in the dying minutes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fan power key for confident Del Piero

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Alessandro Del Piero has urged the Juventus fans to get behind the team on Tuesday as he believes the "special atmosphere" of the Stadio Olimpico can help his side overcome Chelsea FC and earn a UEFA Champions League quarter-final place.

Major role
Del Piero says the Bianconeri are focused and determined to rise to the challenge of overturning a 1-0 first-leg deficit from Stamford Bridge, adding that their cause can be significantly aided by passionate home support. The Stadio Olimpico is sold out for the visit of last year's losing finalists – potentially a crucial factor in smoothing Juventus's passage to the last eight according to the captain.

'Intense'
"These last few days have been intense," he said. "We've all been looking forward to the Chelsea game with great enthusiasm and we'll need to play the perfect match. We will need to push ourselves to the maximum and we will also need the crowd to get behind us. In the first leg they played well and got the win, but we played pretty well and lost, so we will need to turn those two things around. But a special atmosphere in the ground is crucial."

'Memorable moments'
Del Piero has played in no fewer than 86 UEFA Champions League ties in his glittering career and is eager to help his team recover from a first-leg reverse for the fifth time in nine attempts since 1992. 'Pinturicchio' remembers well three of those comebacks, in 1995/96, 2002/03 and 2004/05 – each against Real Madrid CF – and hopes to revive that spirit against Chelsea. "Every different era in your career provides its own memorable moments. We had the right stuff to come back from adversity on those occasions and we want that to be the case again.

'Team spirit'
"The team spirit we must show will be essential. We must be united. We will have to keep possession, not concede too much space, and try to score whenever we can by playing with intelligence. The first-leg result was negative but not disastrous. To get back in the tie we need to show character. We must show heart, will to win, enthusiasm and the desire to come out on top." But the 34-year-old Italy playmaker is aware how difficult it is has become to face Premier League clubs.

English improvement
"Over the last few years there has been a sea change in English football. They have invested a great deal, not just in financial terms, but also in hiring quality players and great coaches from abroad who have managed to find the right mix of foreign talent to complement the strength of the English game. Whereas before English clubs were very strong in certain areas, now they have all bases covered and, in some cases, have created the complete side." For Del Piero, however, that does not make English success a foregone conclusion. "We'll have to wait and see whether they are still on top in the next few days."

Reds' big week starts with unfinished business

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Liverpool FC manager Rafael Benítez is hoping three key players can recover from injury in time to play when they defend their 1-0 lead over Real Madrid CF in the UEFA Champions League first knockout round second leg at Anfield on Tuesday.

Trio doubtful
Midfielder Yossi Benayoun, whose late header earned Liverpool their narrow victory in Madrid, is rated as the most doubtful with a damaged hamstring, but Benítez is also closely monitoring the fitness of striker Fernando Torres, who has an ankle strain, and full-back Álvaro Arbeloa, who has suffered hamstring problems. Benítez said: "He [Torres] was training yesterday and today and we have one more session, so we have time and then we will decide tomorrow [Tuesday]." The Spaniard conceded that Benayoun is unlikely to feature, adding: "[Daniel] Agger is not available [with a back injury], and it is the same situation for Arbeloa as for Torres." Winger Albert Riera is definitely out as a yellow card in the first leg earned him a suspension.

Weekend rest
With their FA Cup campaign already over, Liverpool had the weekend off and they have not played since beating Sunderland AFC 2-0 in the English Premier League on 3 March. After leading the way for much of the season, Liverpool have slipped back to third place, behind Chelsea FC on goal difference, and seven points adrift of frontrunners Manchester United FC, who the Reds face at Old Trafford on Saturday. "It's an important week, that is clear," Benítez admitted. "If we beat United we can still be in the title race, but if we don't it will be very, very difficult. Winning the tie [against Madrid] is the most important thing. When you are doing things properly, sometimes you don't need to win the match to progress."

Gago crucial
Madrid welcomed back Argentina midfielder Fernando Gago to the team on Saturday following his ankle sprain, as city rivals Club Atlético de Madrid halted Los Merengues' ten-match winning run in the Liga in a 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabéu. The result left Madrid in second spot, six points behind leaders FC Barcelona. Coach Juande Ramos said he has a fully fit squad of 20 to choose from against Liverpool and he stated that Gago is a key component of his lineup: "A lot of what we have been able to achieve in our great run of results in the league has been down the excellent efforts of Gago and the rest of that central midfield."

Confident mood
Ramos urged the nine-time European champions to believe in themselves at Anfield and he gave an upbeat assessment of their prospects: "We know we are at half-time in this tie as 90 minutes have been played and there are 90 minutes still to play," the former Tottenham Hotspur FC and Sevilla FC boss said. "We are confident we can go out and turn things around and reverse this deficit. However much we talk about tactics, the important thing is that the players go out convinced they can actually do this and pull off the right result and give a good account of themselves. We have to work as hard as we possibly can to ensure that has every chance of happening."

Scholes: No touchline charge!

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Paul Scholes thinks Sir Alex Ferguson cannot perform an 'Old Trafford charge' if Manchester United beat Inter Milan.

Should they beat the Italian giants in the Champions League on Wednesday, Scholes will not be expecting his manager to perform the act.

On his first visit to the Theatre of Dreams five years ago, Jose Mourinho famously raced out of the dug-out and ran down the touchline as he celebrated the goal that took eventual winners FC Porto into the last eight.

Mourinho is back this week, again as underdog but this time with a much stronger Inter team, hoping for a repeat.

Scholes wants the opposite of course. But even if the Red Devils maintain their incredible quest for five trophies, he will not be waiting for Ferguson to fly down the touchline in glee.

"At his age?" laughed the former England star. "He would probably collapse.

"It would be nice to see but I don't think our manager goes in for that type of thing.

"He will probably stand up, have a little clap and be pleased we have gone through."

Not that Scholes is taking anything for granted.

United may have emphasised their class with a four-goal hammering of Fulham to reach the FA Cup semi-finals for the fourth time in six years at the weekend but the victory came at a cost, with Rio Ferdinand picking up an ankle injury that puts his presence against Inter in jeopardy.

There have been positive vibes from United's Carrington training complex but it will be another 24 hours before Ferguson can offer an accurate assessment for the England star.

At least United do have Jonny Evans to come in, as he did for the first leg when Nemanja Vidic - who has again been linked with AC Milan - was suspended.

Evans was outstanding at the San Siro, although United are still cursing their failure to take advantage of unquestioned dominance by grabbing a vital away goal.

It leaves them vulnerable to Inter scoring, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Adriano both capable of doing damage even if neither man impressed a fortnight ago.

Scholes recalls a couple of occasions, against Monaco in 1998 and Real Madrid two years later, when United failed to emerge victorious from similar situations.

However, they did also overcome Barcelona in last season's semi-final to book what turned out to be a night of glory at the Luzhniki Stadium last May.

"It probably was the perfect way to play a home leg after a goalless draw," said Scholes.

"We did well to get the draw in the first place because Barcelona is such a tough place to go, then we defended really well and got the goal at home, which, in a European tie, was ideal. We will take that again on Wednesday."

Another winning goal would be nice for Scholes too as he was the man who thundered home the strike that took United to Moscow. Not that he is too bothered.

"Now and again I still score these big goals," he shrugged.

"It would be good but whoever scores does not really matter as long as we get through.

"Any win against a tough team like Inter would be great for us."

The sight of Scholes remaining on the bench at Fulham hinted at a place in Ferguson's starting line-up on Wednesday, with the same also true of Ryan Giggs, while the places of Dimitar Berbatov and Cristiano Ronaldo appeared assured.

However, Ferguson will be giving nothing away, knowing his head-to-head record of just one win in 13 confrontations with Mourinho suggests Inter's wily coach can take maximum advantage from any bit of information he can lay his hands on.

United should not be short on confidence though, having already pocketed the Club World Cup and the Carling Cup this season, with the Premier League seemingly in the bag and just two wins away from landing the FA Cup as well.

United have been paired with Everton in the last four, a team they have beaten 23 times in 29 meetings since their surprise defeat in the 1995 Final at Wembley.

They also have the memories of Moscow to fall back on, at least ensuring United will not give up their crown lightly.

"We had a great night in Moscow and we want to experience that feeling again," said Scholes.

"But last year is gone now. It was great when it happened. But this is a new year and we want to win it again."

Ramos: Real need to progress

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Real Madrid coach Juande Ramos believes their clash with Liverpool can help them regain their 'prestige' globally.

The former Spurs boss, who is in charge at the Bernabeu on a short-term contract until the end of the season, will attempt to help his team overcome a 1-0 deficit from the first leg of their last-16 tie with the Reds at Anfield this evening.

The nine-times winners have not even made it to the final of the competition since 2002, and Ramos insists progression to the latter stages is crucial for a club which likes to bill itself as the biggest on the planet.

Real have been knocked out at the last-16 stage for the past three seasons, and Ramos is determined to change that statistic.

He said: "This game requires a fine performance, and if we do turn this result around it will restore some of the club's prestige in this tournament.

"I hope that we can achieve such a result and take the club closer to another final.

"The first leg was a real tactical battle, but we are only halfway through, we are confident we can turn things around and reverse 0-1 deficit. My players are convinced they can do this, we must work, though, as hard as we can."

Ramos believes Madrid's impressive recent domestic run, and their fine away form in La Liga, will help them at Anfield.

He said: "Victories breed confidence. The great run of unbeaten away games does give us confidence for this match.

"This is a delightful, delicious game, and it is sad that one great side will be left by the wayside."

Captain Raul, Madrid's record goalscorer and the leading scorer in the European Cup, hopes the Spanish champions will be inspired and not intimidated by the Anfield atmosphere.

Raul has, in fact, watched matches at Anfield as a fan, invited to the ground by the Spanish contingent in the Liverpool squad.

He said: "I hope the home crowd has an influence on us. I have been here as a fan, and it is a spectacular atmosphere.

"We are looking forward very much to playing on such a stage, and hope we can find that sort of inspiration from the noise and atmosphere."

Wednesday's knock out Preview

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The stage is set for the big games in Europe as anyway eight European giants have to leave the arena and the winners will go to the Quarter finals. The English giants have got slight upper hand over their Spanish and Italian counterparts as Real Madrid need to win the game at Anfield by a margin of 2 goals also Juventus and Roma trailing Chelsea and Arsenal respectively. Barcelona have got the away goal advantage and Inter Milan have got the mountainous task of winning at Old Trafford if they want to progress . Bayern almost made to the next round with their first leg performance .


Manchester United v Inter Milan


The much waited match of the day as the first leg end in a goalless draw at Italy contested 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 and who wants to do the same with United with his recent remarks. With his spells with Porto , Chelsea and now with Inter the Portuguese has shown that he is also a genius
In the first leg United outclassed their Italian counterparts in every department yet they were not able to do that in front of the goal . It was a rather bad decision for Sir Alex to leave Rooney on the bench as his other strikers were ruining chance after chance . The striker is in his peak form now scoring goals in all his last starts and also making crucial assists . He will be up to take his chances .
Vidic is coming after suspension which is a major boost for United . The Serbian is their major player in the heart of the defence throughout the season and it is interesting to see how Ibramovic cope with him Defensively United are in trouble now with Ferdinand & O’shea injured . With Neville and Brown also injured United somehow have got a defensive crisis. But otherwise they are flying high in their league .

Battles will be fought between the United forwards and their counterparts. Last match it was between Ronaldo and the Inter milan keeper

Meanwhile, Inter Milan have just two fit centre-backs after losing Marco Materazzi and Nicolas Burdisso to injury in the first half of their 2-0 victory over Genoa.

Ahead of the game in Manchester, Inter coach Jose Mourinho said: "Christian Chivu, Walter Samuel, Materazzi and Burdisso are out."


Roma v Arsenal


Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor will miss the Champions League tie with Roma because of an ongoing hamstring injury.

But Ivory Coast defender Kolo Toure should be fit for the match, which Arsenal lead 1-0 from the first leg.

Eduardo and Theo Walcott - who both played in the Gunners' FA Cup win over Burnley - are among manager Arsene Wenger's options up front.

Meanwhile, Roma defender Cicinho is out for the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.

Up front, Eduardo made a strong case for inclusion with a superb goal against the Clarets, while England winger Walcott played the last 20 minutes in his first appearance since shoulder surgery in November.

Walcott admits he is not fit enough to start yet but could make an impact from the substitutes' bench.

"I need a few more training sessions, a few more games coming off the bench and hopefully if I am doing well the boss will put me in," said Walcott.

He added: "The shoulder feels fine.

"I still haven't experienced getting clattered yet, so that's the next test. Even though it sounds weird, that will definitely be good for me."

Tuesday’s knock out Preview

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The stage is set for the big games in Europe as anyway eight European giants have to leave the arena and the winners will go to the Quarter finals. The English giants have got slight upper hand over their Spanish and Italian counterparts as Real Madrid need to win the game at Anfield by a margin of 2 goals also Juventus and Roma trailing Chelsea and Arsenal respectively. Barcelona have got the away goal advantage and Inter Milan have got the mountainous task of winning at Old Trafford if they want to progress . Bayern almost made to the next round with their first leg performance .


Juventus vs Chelsea



Chelsea hold a 1-0 lead from the first leg at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago, but Del Piero still believes that can be overturned at the Stadio Olimpico with a repeat of their performance in London and a bit of luck.

"We played well there a fortnight ago," he said. "Chelsea played quite a good game and won, we played a very good game but lost.

"Hopefully we can turn that around tomorrow night.

"We have been particularly looking forward to this game and tomorrow we will have to play the perfect game."

After losing Mohamed Sissoko to a fractured foot at the weekend, coach Claudio Ranieri received even worse news on Monday when he lost central defender Nicolas Legrottaglie to a recurrent knee injury.

"He still has the same problem with his knee," he explained. "He tried to train, but said he could still feel pain. He had never really fully recovered from it in the first place."

Former Aston Villa defender Olof Mellberg should take his place alongside Giorgio Chiellini at the heart of the Juve defence while Jonathan Zebina has been included in the squad after making his first appearance of the season in the Turin derby at the weekend.

Zdenek Grygera is also back after missing the derby while Del Piero and Amauri should start in attack, but Ranieri is not taking anything for granted.

Guus Hiddink has vowed Chelsea will not sit back and gift Juventus the initiative.

"It's always nice to have a clean sheet," said Hiddink. "That's very important. But if you just wait in the second leg and hope not to concede, willing not to concede a goal and not have any initiative in the game, you will have a lot of problems.

"So, whenever we can, the team must attack. It's in their character. We've not come here just to defend. That would be asking for trouble.

"At this level, it's tight. Our game at Stamford Bridge was tight. Tomorrow it will be too.

"When you are in this period in Europe, I don't want to talk about luck but you have to force luck a little bit."

Hiddink's options have been boosted by the return to fitness of Ghanaian midfielder Michael Essien.

Essien was sidelined for six months earlier this season with knee ligament damage but he will be in the 18 on duty against Juventus.

Hiddink will wait until the last moment to decide whether top scorer Nicolas Anelka has recovered sufficiently from his bruised toe or whether midfielder Deco suffers any reaction to his hamstring tear.


Liverpool vs Real Madrid

A bullish Rafael Benitez will send Liverpool into Champions League battle against Real Madrid on Tuesday.
He insists that his side can still win two trophies this season. For boss Benitez, these coming days are the last throw of the dice to rescue Liverpool's season, with the Barclays Premier League seemingly out of reach.

A week ago Benitez was in the depths of depression after the shock defeat at Middlesbrough, coming only days after a stunning 1-0 win in the Bernabeu that sets up Liverpool perfectly for Real's arrival at Anfield.

But now Benitez's demeanour has changed dramatically as he contemplates a week of destiny for Liverpool's future.

In the next five days Liverpool face two of the world's greatest football powers in Real and Manchester United.

Two wins would be the miracle result Benitez craves. The first, completing a last-16 victory over Real, would send Liverpool into the Champions League quarter-finals for the fourth time in five years.

Benitez determinedly talked up his injury-hit side's chances, saying: "This is a huge week in Liverpool's season.

"We aim to progress in the Champions League. It is so important for the fans and the club, and the money, for Liverpool to reach the quarter-finals.

"Then we have the game at Manchester United. If we win then we can still think about the title; if you cannot do that it will be almost impossible to win the title.

"But we feel we are still in a fantastic position, much better than last season.

"We have been improving and the key is to improve a little more in the next week.

"We can progress in Europe. Why not? We know that we have enough quality and experience in this competition."

Fernando Torres has been back in light training for two days following his ankle injury but it seems highly unlikely he will be risked from the start tomorrow, much as Steven Gerrard was not risked in the Bernabeu until the final minutes.

Alvaro Arbeloa, with a hamstring problem, is critical to Benitez's selection. If the Spain international is not fit, then he may have to play Javier Mascherano at full-back again.

That would unbalance his whole midfield and may force him to play Brazilian youngster Lucas.

He seems certain to be without Yossi Benayoun, the match-winner in Madrid, who has picked up a hamstring injury in training.

Madrid boss Juande Ramos said: "Knowing who will play for Liverpool is not something I can control, but Liverpool do not base their success on one individual and they always have a squad and strength in depth, it is never about just one player.

"We accept that it is tough at this stage, but must deal with it, but we have the quality to go through. This competition is all about bringing out the best in a team."

And he believes that Madrid's impressive recent domestic run, and their fine away form in La Liga, will help them at Anfield.

He said: "Victories breed confidence. The great run of unbeaten away games does give us confidence for this match.

"This is a delightful, delicious game, and it is sad that one great side will be left by the wayside."


Bayern vs Sporting Lisbon


Bayern Munich coach Jurgen Klinsmann has promised to take their Champions League tie with Sporting Lisbon seriously.

That is despite his intention to rest several key players after establishing a comfortable lead in the first leg.

Bayern beat the Portuguese side 5-0 away from home and should complete the job at the Allianz Arena tomorrow, although Klinsmann expects the opposition to be in better shape than a fortnight ago.

"They are a really good team," he said. "The will want to show that what happened in Lisbon was just a one-off.

"They will give it all they have got."

Nevertheless, Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is sure his club are certain of being in the last eight.

"I think I can say without sounding arrogant that, before this second leg, our team is as good as guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals," he said.

That practical assurance will allow Klinsmann to make a few alterations and he has confirmed he will give a rest to goalkeeper Michael Rensing and not take any risks on the injured trio of Luca Toni, Franck Ribery and Tim Borowski.

Hamit Altintop is also out of the game after picking up an injury in the 5-1 win over Hannover on Saturday.

Jose Ernesto Sosa and Breno should earn rare starts, although Klinsmann believes the 66,000 fans deserve to see their team at their best.

"It will be a sell-out, it is the Champions League and we have an obligation to the fans to give it our best and offer them a good game," he said.

"I want a really good performance and a team which takes this game seriously.

"We may have one and a half legs in the next round, but we are not fully there yet.

"Those who do play will have to give it everything."

Klinsmann has included Deniz Yilmaz and Thomas Muller in his squad from the reserve team and one of the two forwards could well start.

The Bayern coach has shown a reluctance to play Lukas Podolski recently and his place in the team is far from guaranteed.

Sporting coach Paulo Bento also believes the tie is all but over.

"The outcome is already clear, but we will leave the competition with pride," he said.

Bento could rotate his team even more than Klinsmann since Liedson is out and both midfielders Fabio Rochemback and Leandro Romagnoli have not made the trip to Munich.

Panathinaikos vs Villarreal



Henk Ten Cate believes passion and desire will be the key ingredients required if his Panathinaikos FC side are to see off Villarreal CF and progress to the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.

Quality
The Greek club are many people's favourites following the impressive 1-1 result they gained in the first leg at El Madrigal, but their Dutch coach insists the first knockout round tie is still delicately balanced. "Both teams have quality, and Villarreal have an extremely strong squad," said Ten Cate, who has main striker Vangelis Mantzios available for the first time since the match in Spain after a knee injury. "We have prepared well and we are at home so we have a good chance to qualify. But we will only do it if we are serious in our approach and play with desire and passion."

Cauldron of passion
A sell-out crowd is anticipated at the OACA Spiros Louis Stadium for what is being billed as the Green Machine versus the Yellow Submarine – and the spicy atmosphere will play a major role in Pana's chances according to Ten Cate. "With the cauldron of passion that our fans will create, I believe we will get the result we want," said the trainer, who will replace suspended defender Giannis Goumas with Polish international Jakub Wawrzyniak. "As always they will be our 12th man. With those supporters behind us the team is capable of great things."

Challenge
Panathinaikos are one game away from equalling their longest unbeaten run in the competition after going five matches without defeat, and they are also in good domestic form having overcome Larissa FC 3-0 on Saturday to maintain second spot in the Super League. Ten Cate threw the gauntlet down to opposite number Manuel Pellegrini, saying: "After the first leg the Spanish press wrote that Villarreal had not played better all season. Well, now they have to play even better if they want to beat us. We will play to win as always, but we know a goalless draw will take us through."

'No favourites'
Pellegrini, who welcomes back Joan Capdevila from suspension, sounded an equally confident note, explaining how his side can turn the tie around. "I don't think either team can be considered favourites," he said. "Panathinaikos have the away goal but we will go for the win. If we can control as much possession as we did in the first game, and convert more of the many chances we always create, then we can get the right result."

Winning form
Villarreal consolidated fourth place in the Spanish Liga with a 1-0 win against RCD Espanyol on Saturday and are unbeaten in six outings. Midfielder Ariel Ibagaza caught the eye against Espanyol, but is expected only to make the bench as Robert Pirès was rested with this match in mind. Despite Giorgos Karagounis's influential display in the first leg, Pellegrini said he will not be making special plans to contain the Greece schemer. "We have not singled out any players," he concluded. "Panathinaikos have good players all over the park and we have to account for all of them, not just focus on one particular individual."

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