Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wenger: You will be sorry United

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Arsene Wenger has told Manchester United that they will pay for only bagging a 1-0 Champions League semi-final first leg win.

Irish defender John O'Shea gave United the priceless but ultimately slender lead to take into the second leg of their Champions League semi-final with Arsenal next Tuesday.

O'Shea's 17th-minute effort was the least Sir Alex Ferguson's side deserved for a near faultless display, in which Manuel Almunia several stunning saves and Cristiano Ronaldo rattled the Gunners' crossbar.In addition, Ryan Giggs had a goal controversially disallowed for offside on his 800th appearance, meaning Arsenal headed home glad to still have a chance of reaching Rome on May 27, a train of thought Wenger believes his side will ram home in the second leg.

"They can have regrets because they did not score a second goal," explained the Frenchman.

"The return leg will be a good opportunity to show our character and mental strength.

"It is down to us to make sure they regret they didn't.

"I am confident that you will see our strength of character - and next Tuesday I can talk about it in the Press conference after the game.

"It will be our biggest win over United if we do it because there is a final at stake.

"And when we play at home and know that there is a final at stake we will be up for it.

"We will be up for it next Tuesday and I am confident we can do it. I believe we will be on top."

Ferguson fires warning to Arsenal

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Sir Alex Ferguson has warned Arsenal they will struggle to stop Manchester United scoring in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final on Tuesday.

Boss Ferguson saw United win their home leg 1-0 but they squandered chances to make the scoreline more convincing.

"We played at a good high tempo and maybe we should have scored four goals but before the game I wanted to win without losing a goal," said Ferguson.

"We know we can go there and score and that is the big problem Arsenal have."

United dominated the game but only had John O'Shea's 18th-minute goal to show for their efforts.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a header saved and hit the bar with a second-half screamer, while Carlos Tevez saw a close-range effort brilliantly stopped by Gunners keeper Manuel Almunia.The bigger problem is if you don't make the chances. I believe they can make the chances again. We know we have goal threats," insisted Ferguson.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes his players are capable of a much better performance at the Emirates Stadium and was relieved to emerge from the first leg with only a one-goal deficit to make up.

"I believe that we have a good chance to reverse the result," he said.

"I am convinced you will see a different Arsenal team at the Emirates.

"United can have regrets because they didn't score a second goal. It's down to us to make sure they regret they didn't score a second goal."

Wenger reserved special praise for Spanish keeper Almunia. "His saves were excellent, top class in every sense. His reading of the game, his decision making, quality, sharpness. He was really top class tonight."

Ferguson, meanwhile, chose to single out goalscorer O'Shea, whose only other goal this season was in the Carling Cup semi-final against Derby.

"He is a great professional. The boy never complains. He is happy to play anywhere," said the United manager.

"He has not always been a number one choice but he produces 30 performances a season and it is a contribution we are grateful for.

"At the present moment in time, he would be in the team if we got to the final."

However, Ferguson remains concerned that United's fixture list could hamper their bid to win four trophies this season.He claimed that while Arsenal can afford to rest players in their Premier League game against Portsmouth on Saturday, he must pick a strong side for the early kick-off against Middlesbrough as United look to maintain their lead in the title race.

"Arsenal's big advantage is that they can play Pat Rice at right-back and Arsene himself at centre-forward on Saturday," said Ferguson.

"We have to play a team to win the game. We have a lunchtime kick-off at Middlesbrough and I do not think it is right."

Hiddink pays tribute to defence

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Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink hailed his side's defensive display in the 0-0 draw at Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final, first leg.

The Blues became the first visiting side to keep a clean sheet at the Camp Nou this season.

"We are pleased with the result," said Dutchman Hiddink.

"When you look at the short history of Barca and what their results have been and the score here, it's quite an achievement against a beautiful team." Hiddink was not satisfied with his team's use of the ball in possession but says their mental strength played a significant part in going into the return leg on 6 May on level terms.

"We must play better when we are in possession," he stated. "We can play better, although it is also due to the opponents, who do not let you play that easily."But on a mental part I think that this team has a lot of courage and blood that they want to sacrifice and win in all circumstances. This is mentally a very tough team."

Goalkeeper Petr Cech made some crucial saves in the game, while Jose Bosingwa's marking of Lionel Messi prevented the Argentine having a major impact on the game.

"Petr did a good defensive job. There were one or two situations where he could have cleared in a different way but it did not do any damage. He saved the game for us," added Hiddink.

"Messi was rather well neutralised tactically.

"Bosingwa did a good job and had some help from Florent Malouda on the left side and good support from the centre as well when Messi cut inside.

"It can happen one night that you stop him but I don't think it will happen twice."

Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola insisted his team would maintain their attacking philosophy at Stamford Bridge and had no complaints about Messi.

"He was the victim of extremely tight marking so it was not easy for him to find space," he said. "I think he did great, given the circumstances.

"It's never easy to play well when the opposition is not playing football.

"I am proud of my players. You can be sure we will go to London with the same attacking spirit."

Xavi backs Barça to banish the Blues

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Even the disappointment of registering their second consecutive 0-0 home draw in a UEFA Champions League semi-final against English opposition cannot convince Xavi Hernández that Chelsea FC, and not FC Barcelona, will be in the final in Rome on 27 May.

'Good feeling'
"We showed tonight that Barça are quite capable of going to Stamford Bridge in the second leg and not only dominating the game but scoring," the midfielder told uefa.com. "This team has the capacity to win against anyone, anywhere, even though it's going to be difficult to achieve that." The Spanish Liga leaders will be without the injured Rafael Márquez and Carles Puyol, who is banned, for the return match but Xavi remains confident, adding: "It's a real shame we'll have to do it without them but we've still got a good feeling about what we can achieve in the second game."

First-leg frustration
Frustration was the key sentiment among Josep Guardiola's players after an opening leg in which Chelsea harried and pressed from start to finish. Their optimism that the failure to win or even score at Camp Nou – a shortcoming which proved costly against Manchester United FC a year ago – will not be decisive this time stems from the chances created despite Chelsea's blanket defence. Samuel Eto'o, Bojan Krkić and Aleksandr Hleb all passed up decent opportunities. "It's not as if this is a terrible result, but the problem is that we deserved much more from our performance," Xavi said.

'Only things missing'
"We should have scored at least one goal because we were the ones who went for the victory, we were the team who tried to play football from start to finish," he went on. Barcelona – top scorers in the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League with 29 goals – had found the net in all 27 home games in all competitions this term, prior to Chelsea's visit. "Chelsea came out in ultra-defensive mode but we still managed to craft four really good chances. That suggests to me that the tie is still up for grabs. Barça put on a show which our fans enjoyed and the only things missing were the goals and victory we deserved."

Madrid test
Before the decider in London next Wednesday, Barça have to play their fiercest domestic rivals, Real Madrid CF, at the Santiago Bernabéu – a game which will have significant bearing on the league title race. However, with Márquez facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines after suffering a knee injury early in the second period, Guardiola will have considerable preparation and planning to do to turn the disappointment of Tuesday's missed opportunity into a launch pad for strong displays in Madrid and London.

Sir Alex wins the first round

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There is going to be three weeks of continuous action between Red devils and Gunners and Sir Alex has got the upper hand over Wenger by winning the first match .It was the heroics of the goal keeper which keeps them still in the game . Otherwise they would have been beaten by 4 or more goals.

Arsene Wenger had called on his young charges to seize the day. Instead it was Man United who rose to the challenge.With better luck and better finishing, the Red Devils would already have one foot in Rome's Olympic Stadium. How it only finished 1-0 to Ferguson's side is a baffling mystery - Arsenal must have played their 'get out of jail' card. Opportunity knocks now for the Gunners, because they must have departed Old Trafford with an overwhelming sense of relief.

The first 20 minutes in particular were as searching a test for Arsenal as they have endured for some years.

In the build-up to the game, Ferguson had referred to this match-up as "the perfect semi-final" and United came close to perfection in the opening half with only goalkeeper Manuel Almunia standing up bravely to limit the damage.

United were tremendous, Wayne Rooney awesomely so, and Arsenal never managed to get their much-vaunted passing game going.

Rooney's effect was doubly good - not only did he scare the life out of the Arsenal defenders, he was also a vital part of Ferguson's tactical plan to deny Theo Walcott the ball.

Whenever Arsenal were in possession, Rooney took up a position to cut off the angle to Walcott whose impact was as a result so limited that he was substituted with 20 minutes left.

It was Rooney who came within a hair's breadth of scoring in the opening exchanges with a powerful looping header that seemed to be dropping over Almunia. The Spaniard performed some body contortions that would not be out of place in the Chinese state circus and somehow managed to claw the ball away from behind him.

Nervousness spread amongst the Arsenal players like wildfire. Kieran Gibbs slipped at a critical moment but Cristiano Ronaldo hurried his cross. Bizarrely, of all the United players, he was the one to have an off-day.

With Carlos Tevez snapping angrily at vulnerable heels there was little respite for the Gunners, and Old Trafford echoed to chants of 'Argentina, Argentina' as the little striker brought a terrific double save from Almunia.

But the keeper could only paper over the cracks for so long and from the corner Arsenal were outnumbered at the far post. Michael Carrick did brilliantly to win some time and space and fire a ball across goal that took a slight deflection off Mikael Silvestre to find John O'Shea - an often unlikely goalscorer at critical moments for United - who thumped it into the roof of the net.

United had so much movement and had so much attacking intent that Arsenal were unable to get into the game. United's verve was summed up by Rooney trying an outrageous driven shot from the halfway line.

Arsenal's suspect defence creaked alarmingly, with United old boy Silvestre looking particularly rusty, and having been physically bullied by Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final, they were bullied by United's sheer footballing class.

The importance of United keeping Walcott quiet was twice highlighted by the 20-year-old England star providing the only two real moments of Arsenal inspiration: the first providing a chance for Fabregas that Edwin van der Sar did well to hold, the second coming within an ace of breaking through only to be denied by Nemanja Vidic.

The second half was infinitely better for Arsenal, but United still bossed it with Ronaldo finally making a contribution courtesy of a dipping, rasping 25-shot onto the crossbar.

There was controversy too when Ryan Giggs thought he had scored but was denied by the finest of offside calls.

Unfortunate for the player of the year, but fortunate for Arsenal. And make no mistake, this was a massive let-off for the Gunners and they are still in this one.

Barca players slam negative Chelsea

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Barcelona's stars have accused Chelsea of being negative and cyncial during Tuesday's 0-0 Champions League semi-final draw.

Barcelona failed to score at home for the first time this season against a Chelsea side which defended in numbers and committed almost three times as many fouls as the Catalans.

Chelsea often had nine men behind the ball, with just Didier Drogba alone up front.

And the Londoners' lack of ambition failed to impress Barcelona.

Defender Gerard Pique believes only his side played any football over the 90 minutes.

"Barcelona were the only team who wanted to play, and yet the reward is for Chelsea, even though it seems like they came for a draw," he said.

Pique came through the youth system at Barcelona and returned to the club in the summer following a spell at Manchester United.

Ironically, the Catalan defender was on the bench for United in last season's Champions League semi-final at Barcelona, which also finished goalless.

He was preferred to captain Carles Puyol at the back this time for the locals, though, and says Barcelona can hold their heads high after a game which they dominated from start to finish.

"At least we know we're superior because we showed that on the pitch," he said.

Xavi, meanwhile, accused Chelsea of anti-fair play.

"There were some actions which were clear yellow cards and not even a foul was given, and then (Yaya) Toure was booked for protesting.

"One team wanted to play and the other one didn't, it's a shame... there's all this talk about fair play, but I haven't seen any from them tonight," he said.

Toure, who was booked for protesting a refereeing decision, believes German official Wolfgang Stark should have punished Chelsea players for their persistent fouls.

"It was worse than deplorable - it looked as if he had come to help Chelsea," he said.

Barca and Chelsea ended up with two yellow cards apiece, but Toure says Hiddink's men should have had more.

"Players like (Michael) Ballack and (John Obi) Mikel made so many fouls, it's unbelievable to think they weren't booked," he said.

Like Pique, Barca President Joan Laporta also believes Chelsea were happy to play for a draw.

"They defended a lot and very well, although it looked as if that is exactly what they came to do: defend," he said.

Nevertheless, Laporta is confident Barcelona can reach a second Champions League final since he took control of the club in 2003.

"They didn't score and that's the most important thing; we know a goal for us at Stamford Bridge will make life very difficult for them," he said.

And striker Samuel Eto'o believes Chelsea will be obliged to play a more open and positive game when the two sides meet in London on May 6.

"We will try to score there in order to relax, but they won't be able to play like they did today, with nearly all of their players waiting in their own half," he said.

Eto'o feels the Catalans still have a great chance of making the final in Rome next month.

"0-0 is not a bad result and we still have a great chance of getting to the final - a goal in London will change everything," he said.

Barca coach Pep Guardiola will have problems in central defence for that match, though.

Rafa Marquez broke down with a knee injury on Tuesday night and will be sidelined for the rest of the season, while Puyol's booking means he is suspended for the return leg.

Gabi Milito is still out with a long-term injury, meaning Uruguay defender Martin Caceres - the club's only other senior centre-back - is likely to come in for a rare start.

Champions League Wednesday Review

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Man Utd 1-0 Arsenal


Manchester United hold the edge in the battle for a place in the Champions League final after John O'Shea's early goal gave them victory in an absorbing encounter with Arsenal.

O'Shea scored from close range after Arsenal failed to clear a corner - giving United a slender but fully deserved advantage to take into the semi-final second leg at the Emirates next Tuesday.

Sir Alex Ferguson has made it his mission to make United the first side to successfully defend the Champions League title and they set about their old Premier League adversaries with relish from the first whistle.

And, while United will be happy to go to Arsenal in the ascendancy and having prevented Arsene Wenger's side from scoring a crucial away goal, they will have regrets that they failed to capitalise on the superiority they exerted throughout.

Arsenal were penned in for long periods as United played at the high tempo that suits them best, and it was only a mixture of the excellence of goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and good fortune that kept the deficit within manageable proportions.

Almunia saved superbly from Wayne Rooney, denied Carlos Tevez with a double block and turned away Cristiano Ronaldo's header from six yards as United turned on the style in a dazzling first 45 minutes.

Arsenal managed to steady the ship after the interval, but they never seriously threatened United apart from a tame Cesc Fabregas shot and a volley from Emmanuel Adebayor after the break.

Ronaldo struck the bar from 30 yards with 20 minutes remaining as United continued to press for what could have proved a decisive second goal, but Arsenal survived and will still feel there is life in the tie yet, despite delivering a disappointing performance.

United never allowed Arsenal to get into their trademark passing rhythm, playing with more drive and energy than the Gunners, who were overrun in midfield at times and struggled to cope with the pace and variety of Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo in attack.

Ferguson prefaced the game by suggesting it could be the "perfect semi-final" - it was not quite that for United, but you suspect they will be highly satisfied with the outcome.

United's fans certainly celebrated at the final whistle in a manner that suggested they feel they have taken a significant stride towards retaining the trophy they won so dramatically on penalties against Chelsea in Moscow last May.

Wenger, however, will harbour hopes that the undoubted talent in his side, kept under wraps for so long here, can turn things around on home territory.

Ferguson's selection of Tevez ahead of Dimitar Berbatov suggested he wanted an energetic, high-tempo approach against an Arsenal defence undermined by injuries to influential pair William Gallas and Gael Clichy.

And that was exactly what he got in thrilling opening exchanges completely controlled by United and played out in a vibrant Old Trafford atmosphere.

Arsenal goalkeeper Almunia was in action inside the first 90 seconds, retreating desperately towards his goal to claw out Rooney's looping header.

And youngster Kieran Gibbs then showed early nerves as he slipped to let in Ronaldo, but United's winger flashed the ball across the face of goal with no-one on hand to apply the crucial final touch.Arsenal were on the ropes, and it took a superb double save from Alumnia to deny Tevez after a slick exchange with O'Shea as United swarmed all over a Gunners side struggling to come to terms with the pace of the game.

Wenger's players never looked like surviving this fierce early barrage, and so it proved as United took a deserved lead in the 18th minute.

Arsenal failed to clear a corner, and when Michael Carrick's cross was deflected into his path by Mikael Silvestre, O'Shea lashed a finish high past Almunia.

Arsenal's only response was a low 20-yard shot from Fabregas that was comfortably collected by Edwin van der Sar.

Almunia was the keeper in constant action, and he performed heroics again after 28 minutes to keep out Ronaldo's header from an inviting cross by the industrious Tevez.

The only black spot in the opening 45 minutes for United - apart from not capitalising fully on their outstanding approach play - was a yellow card for Tevez after he collided with Almunia in a chase for possession.Arsenal looked to have settled more after the break, and even felt bold enough to pose another brief threat after 62 minutes when Adebayor's volley flew over the top, although Van der Sar had the effort well covered.

United made a double substitution with 25 minutes left, sending on Ryan Giggs - making his 800th appearance for the club - and Berbatov for Anderson and Tevez.

And Ronaldo almost marked their arrival with United's second as he sent a thunderous right-foot shot against the crossbar with Almunia motionless.

Wenger made a change of his own, replacing the subdued Theo Walcott with Nicklas Bendtner, and then sent on Eduardo for Adebayor as the game entered its final 10 minutes.

The changes made little alteration to the pattern of the game, with Arsenal ultimately content not to concede a second after some harrowing moments.

It is advantage United - who suffered a scare late on when Rio Ferdinand went off after suffering a blow to the ribs - but the narrow lead still leaves the semi-final in the balance ahead of next week's return game.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Champions League Tuesday Review

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Barcelona 0-0 Chelsea

It was a goalless encounter between the English and Catalan giants .Chelsea produced a spirited defensive display to stop Barcelona from scoring in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final in the Nou Camp.

The Spanish league leaders enjoyed plenty of possession, but struggled to create many clear-cut chances.

Thierry Henry forced Petr Cech to save and Bojan headed over from two yards, before Cech stopped Alex Hleb's effort.

Chelsea almost nicked a goal as Didier Drogba was foiled by Victor Valdes, while Michael Ballack headed just over.

But Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink will be delighted with his side's defensive fortitude in keeping a clean sheet - a feat not achieved by any visiting side at Barca this season.

It means the Blues will fancy their chances of reaching a second successive Champions League final when they meet in the second leg at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday.For long periods Chelsea had to be content with watching Barca knock the ball around as they gave another masterclass in possession.

Chelsea played right into their hands, with Cech among the main protagonists as his long, aimless kicks only served to gift the ball straight back to the home side.

But for a team that this season has scored four goals in a game six times, five goals five times and six goals four times, the hosts were unable to broker many genuine chances.

For all the twinkle-toed approach play of the industrious Andres Iniesta and Henry down the left, they struggled to get close to the Chelsea goal with the regularity their build-up demanded.

Twice in the opening stages Cech flapped at crosses from the left but the Blues survived and they fashioned a half-chance of their own when Florent Malouda's cross found Frank Lampard and he curled wide from 25 yards.

Barca were seeing far more of the ball, but they grew increasingly frustrated by Chelsea's solid rearguard action and were quickly reduced to shooting from outside the area.

Henry twice chanced his arm, once testing Cech with a low drive and then lashing in a fierce shot from 22 yards that the Czech keeper did well to parry behind.

It seemed as though Barca were trying to wear Chelsea down, but they were very close to going in at half-time a goal down.

Rafael Marquez's backpass was woefully short and Drogba fastened on to the loose ball only to see his shot well saved by Valdes, the keeper getting up quickly to deny the Ivorian from the rebound.Chelsea's spirits were lifted by their sudden involvement in the match and right at the start of the second half they nearly took the lead again, Ballack flashing a header wide from Drogba's free-kick.

The Barca fans were growing increasingly restless at their team's lack of openings and a serious-looking injury to Marquez and a booking for his replacement Puyol that rules him out of the second leg did little to pacify them.

But Pep Guardiola's side continued to probe away in their usual manner and half-chances came and went as the off-key Lionel Messi volleyed over before Daniel Alves, in typically fiery mood throughout, stung the palms of Cech from out on the right.

Alves went even closer when his 30-yard free-kick brushed the top of Cech's net before Samuel Eto'o, on the day he was linked with a move to Manchester City, raced through only to shoot at Cech's outstretched left leg.

Barcelona's best chances came deep into injury time as Bojan, on for Henry, remarkably headed an Alves cross over from point-blank range, before fellow substitute Alex Hleb was foiled by a fine Cech save.

Chelsea may not have got the away goal Hiddink craved before the game, but their Dutch manager will surely be delighted by the outcome.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Wenger: We are gunning for United

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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has issued a stark warning to Manchester United ahead of their Champions League semi.

The English giants meet at Old Trafford in an eagerly anticipated first leg clash, with United closing on a Premier League title and Arsenal currently enjoying a rich vein of form.

After United's 5-2 demolition of Tottenham on Saturday, the Gunners eased past Middlesbrough 2-0 yesterday at the Emirates Stadium where Red Devils manager Sir Alex Ferguson was an interested spectator.

Wenger and Ferguson met up before Arsenal's win, although any pleasantries shared in north London are sure to be forgotten in Manchester, with Arsenal's gaffer quick to assure United that they are in for a major test.

"What is important against United is that we are at our best. When we are at our best we can beat everybody," Wenger told The Sun newspaper.

"If you go to Old Trafford without belief you make it very difficult from the start for yourselves.

"We'll go there with belief, with desire and with enjoyment. We will give absolutely everything to do it.

"We will be faithful to the game we play. We go, like we go everywhere in Europe, to score or win."

"This will be an exciting game between two teams that will try to play and who know each other well.

"The talent on the pitch always surprises you and I believe both teams will really go for it and it will be an exciting game."

Gerard Pique: Barcelona Must Be Wary Of Chelsea's Didier Drogba

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Barcelona centre-back Gerard Pique has sent a note of caution to his team-mates to watch out for Chelsea forward Didier Drogba when the two teams meet in the Champions League semi-final.

The three-time capped Spain international has hailed the Ivory Coast striker, who has scored nine goals in his last twelve appearances in all competitions, as one of the most difficult players in the world to contain.

"He is the worst striker to defend against," Pique told El Mundo.

"He is an athlete, who is also intelligent when he has the ball under control.

"He is one of the most complete strikers in the world – he is strong, good in the air, quick and has a very good shot."

The 22-year-old was on the books of Premier League champions Manchester United between 2004-2008, and while he says that Red Devils boss Alex Ferguson fears Arsenal more than Chelsea, he has revealed that the Scot always paid special notice to Drogba.

He explained, "Ferguson was more afraid of Arsenal than of Chelsea for everything that happened in the past. [However,] he always underlined Drogba’s impact, as well as their wings and their midfield."

While Pique believes that Chelsea have become more of a force to be reckoned with when going forward under Guus Hiddink, he is optimistic that playing the first leg at the Camp Nou will see Los Cules past the Blues.

"They do attack more. Under Hiddink they score loads of goals but also concede loads because they open their game. They are not like Liverpool, who close the door behind to get results," he added.

"Playing the first game at home is better because you do not play for the show but for the result.

"When you play it at home, you look for the best result possible. You do not need to attack much. But if you do not claim a good result, it is okay, because we are capable of winning away."

Malouda sends Barca warning

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Barcelona will not be able to withstand Chelsea's relentless pressure, says Blues winger Florent Malouda.

Chelsea travel to Camp Nou to face the Champions League hot-favourite Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

According the Sun, the Frenchman has cited the example of Chelsea's impressive 3-1 win over Liverpool in the quarter-final first-leg at Anfeld.

He told reporters: "Barca are maybe not used to the pressure we are capable of putting on them."

"Our win at Liverpool is an inspiration for us."

Malouda and Chelsea will take some encourage from Barcelona's 2-2 draw against Valencia in the Primera Liga last weekend.

Uefa Champions League, Semi-final first leg Wednesday

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The stage is set for the Kings of Europe as the continents top 4 clubs fight with each other to find out who are going to make to the finals in Rome . This year once again is dominated by English teams , which shows the strength and depth of Premiere League. The only English team knocked out has been done by another English team .
Arsenal defender Mikael Silvestre is a major doubt to play at Old Trafford, according to manager Arsene Wenger.

"I believe the only serious new problem we have is Silvestre, he has a back spasm and is 50-50 for Old Trafford."

Striker Robin van Persie will miss the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Manchester United because of a groin injury.

Manchester United will again be without defender Gary Neville (foot injury) but have no other fresh injuries.

United may also be boosted by the return of defender Wes Brown, who has only made two substitute appearances since October due to a foot injury.

And Ryan Giggs will be hoping to make his 800th first-team appearance for United after being rested for Saturday's 5-2 victory against Tottenham.

Left back Gael Clichy will not recover in time from his back injury for Wednesday's match though.

"He could be back for the second Manchester United game. He has a scan on Monday. We'll go from there. He has a chance to be back in full training next week," Gunners boss Arsene Wenger told www.arsenal.com.

Better news for the Gunners is that Johan Djourou is fit again following a knee injury which kept him out of the 3-0 quarter-final second leg victory over Villarreal.

Uefa Champions League, Semi-final first leg uesday

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The stage is set for the Kings of Europe as the continents top 4 clubs fight with each other to find out who are going to make to the finals in Rome . This year once again is dominated by English teams , which shows the strength and depth of Premiere League. The only English team knocked out has been done by another English team .


Barcelona v Chelsea


FC Barcelona and Chelsea are crossing swords for the fifth time in the Champions League. Chelsea progressed twice; in the 2004-05 and 2006-07 seasons. The Catalans beat the Londoners 5-1 after extra time in the 1999-2000 quarter-finals after losing the away match 3-1 in London.

Barcelona's Lionel MESSI is the top scorer in this season's Champions League with eight goals from nine matches.

With six assists, XAVI (Barcelona) is joint assist leader this CL season together with Bayern Munich's Franck RIBERY. Chelsea's Frank LAMPARD has five assists this CL season.

Carles PUYOL has played in all of Barcelona's eight CL matches against Chelsea.

Rafael MARQUEZ returns from suspension. PUYOL, Daniel ALVES and Sergio BUSQUETS will face suspension if booked.

Didier DROGBA has scored in each of Chelsea's last five CL matches. He needs one more goal to break the CL record for scoring in most consecutive matches played by a club.

DROGBA received a red card during Barcelona's 2-1 win over Chelsea in the last 16 of the 2004-05 competition.

If he plays, Michael ESSIEN will be making his 50th appearance in a CL match.

BELLETTI (2004-2007) and DECO (2004-2008) won the Champions League with Barcelona. Ricardo QUARESMA (2003-04) also played for the Spanish club.

Ashley COLE is suspended for the first leg.

John TERRY returns from suspension. Nicolas ANELKA will face suspension if booked.

'Lamps' eager to shine again on biggest stage

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Lampard
Even if Frank Lampard were not about to lead Chelsea FC in their UEFA Champions League semi-final against FC Barcelona, he would still be transfixed by the prospect of what lies ahead over the next week.

Greatest semi-final
A veteran of six games between the powerful and resilient Chelsea and the more delicate but brilliantly-skilled Barcelona, Lampard believes the tie epitomises top-level European football. "When the draw paired us with Barça, so long as we could defeat Liverpool [FC], I just felt that was the best Champions League semi-final I could ever imagine," the free-scoring midfielder told uefa.com. "The aura of their stadium and playing against a Barça side who always try for beautiful football – it's just an amazing experience, and every time they come to Stamford Bridge it's an explosion. But, by the same token, this game will be as hard as you can get. I think it's well-known in the football world that for the last six months Lionel Messi has been out on his own, by a distance, the best player there is. When you play Barça, if you are not on top of your game, then Messi, Xavi [Hernández] and [Andrés] Iniesta will be on top of you."

Team hunger
It was back in September that Lampard, drawing on the pain of losing last season's Moscow final on penalties to Manchester United FC, told uefa.com: "I don't think I've ever felt such determination to get somewhere and win, as I do now about the Champions League." He is a man of his word: three goals, five assists, plus displays oozing leadership and character, have taken the 2008 runners-up through some fiery encounters – particularly in Turin, against Juventus, and Liverpool. "Collective spirit and determination have been key parts of getting this far," agreed Lampard ahead of Tuesday's first leg in the Catalan capital.

Delicate balance
The 30-year-old England international places positive emphasis on the fact he and his team are in their fifth semi-final of the last six seasons – with Barcelona accounting for their only failure to reach the last four since 2004. Although he admits there is a delicate balance between motivation and fear of failure, Chelsea will use previous disappointments to spur them on against Josep Guardiola's side. Ask him if constantly falling just short is annoying, hurtful, a source of determination or a curse, and he says: "There is a little bit of all those things. We crave success and we have basically achieved everything else domestically.

Total commitment
"I know what you mean when you say cursed, because the more years you are very close and it doesn't happen, you feel: Will I ever get there? And you all start to get that bit older. But the main fuel is determination. You don't feel it all the time but in big games like against Liverpool, when you know you could be going out, that's when it really kicks in." With a goal every other game against Barcelona, including his career favourite in a 2-2 Camp Nou draw two seasons ago, Lampard poses a real threat to the tournament favourites. And he is very, very determined.

Friday, April 24, 2009

MLS rake in Beckham loan-deal fee

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Major League Soccer (MLS) will receive £6.8m as part of the agreement to extend David Beckham's loan to AC Milan until the end of the season.

Beckham is with Milan on a timeshare deal, but will rejoin the Los Angeles Galaxy on 1 July until Christmas.

"We asked for $10 million, we got our $10 million," said MLS commissioner Don Garber. "We don't know where it (the money) is coming from.

"He can't get paid from Milan. Milan could pay us. He could pay them."

In the US players are contracted with the league rather than individual teams.Milan want the 33-year-old Beckham, who has the right to terminate his Galaxy contract after the 2009 season, back at the Serie A club in January 2010.

"I don't know if he's going to leave after this season whether we would want him back," added Garber.

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid player is believed to have part-funded his move to Milan himself.

Since returning to Europe, Beckham has moved back into contention as a major player for England, who are coached by former Milan coach Fabio Capello.

Trophy completes Rome's birthday honours

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The city of Rome has received the UEFA Champions League trophy in the traditional handover ceremony – on a day celebrating the 2,762nd birthday of the Eternal City.

On display
The ceremony, now an established fixture on the European football calendar, sees the previous season's UEFA Champions League winners formally return the trophy to UEFA, who then hand the silverware to the host city to be put on display until the final at Rome's Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday 27 May.

Birthday
It was a special day for Rome, as according to legend, the city was founded on 21 April 753 BC. The handover ceremony at the Sala Protomoteca at the Campidoglio started with a giant screen showing the highlights of last year's final, in which Manchester United FC beat against Chelsea FC after a penalty shoot-out in Moscow.

'In love with football'
Manchester United CEO David Gill and former striking hero Ole Gunnar Solskjær came into the room, with each holding a handle of the trophy. UEFA President Michel Platini was there to greet them and receive back the trophy. "I'm happy to be here in Rome with people in love with football," he said. "We hope to see a beautiful final in a beautiful city."

Children's initiative
Mr Platini also announced an initiative for the victims of the recent earthquake in L'Aquila, in which children from the stricken area will be invited to take part in the activities for the final on 27 May. The UEFA President then passed the trophy over to the Mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno. "We give our word that we will show the best face of Rome for the final," said the mayor. "It will be a day of celebration and joy."

Italian joy
"The trophy has arrived in Rome and we are glad about it," said vice-president of the Italian Football Federation, Demetrio Albertini. "It will visit various cities in the country, such as Florence, Milan, Naples and Turin. Having won this competition, I perfectly know that the trophy is heavy – but it's very light to lift when you win it."

'Breathe the event'
"The final is not only a football game but an event," said UEFA competitions director Giorgio Marchetti. "The popularity of this competition is constantly growing. There will be events around the city starting on the weekend before the match, in order to involve as many people as possible even if they don't have tickets for the final. We hope that all the Rome citizens will be able to breathe this event."

Van Persie ruled out of United trip

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Arsenal FC have received a major blow ahead of their UEFA Champions League semi-final against Premier League rivals Manchester United FC after striker Robin van Persie was ruled out of the first leg at Old Trafford on Wednesday with a groin injury.

Key player
Van Persie picked up the problem in the second half of Arsenal's FA Cup semi-final loss to Chelsea FC on Saturday, being replaced after 75 minutes at Wembley. The 25-year-old Dutch forward has been a key performer in the Gunners' run to the last four of Europe's premier club competition, scoring four goals in seven games this season, but manager Arsène Wenger confirmed that he "is definitely out for Sunday [against Middlesbrough FC] and for Manchester United".

Clichy out
Wenger also added that first-choice left-back Gaël Clichy would certainly miss the game at United because of a back injury. "Clichy could be back for the second Manchester United game," he added. "He has a scan on Monday. We'll go from there. He has a chance to be back in full training next week." However, there was some good news for the north London outfit after they welcomed back goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and defender Johan Djourou on Thursday, while leading scorer Emmanuel Adebayor "should come back into training on Saturday" according to Wenger.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beckham shines in AC Milan romp

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David Beckham produced a vintage display as AC Milan moved up to second in Serie A with a 5-1 win over Torino.

Starting the match after two games as an unused substitute after a shoulder injury, Beckham set up the first two goals of a Filippo Inzaghi hat-trick.

It was Inzaghi's second hat-trick in his last six matches - a purple patch that has included nine goals in all.

The 35-year-old combined superbly with Beckham and another goal set up by the 33-year-old Englishman was disallowed.

The win moved Milan level on points with Juventus, but still 10 points off Inter Milan who look destined to win Serie A.

Beckham first found Inzaghi's head on nine minutes from a free-kick, but the Milan striker had strayed offside and the goal was ruled out.

Four minutes later the Italian nodded home a Beckham corner and on 37 minutes a clever chip into the box from the Englishman again found Inzaghi head's to make it 2-0.

After the break Milan ran riot as substitute Ronaldinho set up Inzaghi for his hat-trick on the hour mark before Kaka added a penalty after Massimo Ambrosini was brought down by goalkeeper Matteo Sereni.

Ivan Franceschini got Torino on the scoresheet 10 minutes from time but Ambrosini finished off a sumptuous team move in the last minute to round off the scoring.

On Saturday, 10-man Juventus grabbed a point at home to Inter as Zdenek Grygera's injury-time header earned them a 1-1 draw at the Stadio Olimpico.

UEFA ban for Macedonian team

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FK Pobeda have been banned for eight years after being found guilty of fixing a Champions League match.

The UEFA Control and Disciplinary Body Friday issued the suspension "for breaching the principles of integrity and sportsmanship under Article 5 of the UEFA disciplinary regulations".

The ban runs from the start of the 2009/10 season.

UEFA's disciplinary panel, which debated the matter for seven hours, also ruled the club's president, Aleksandar Zabrcanec, and Pobeda player Nikolce Zdraveski be banned for life from all football-related activity.

Europe's governing body will be contacting their global equivalent, FIFA, to request that the punishments are extended worldwide.

Macedonian side Pobeda have three days to appeal the decision on receipt of the grounds for the ruling.

The charges against Pobeda relate to the club's Champions League first qualifying round tie against FC Pyunik over two legs on July 13 and 21, 2004.

UEFA's ruling was based on reports of irregular betting patterns and the declarations of witnesses.

Berbatov confident of Rome trip

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Dimitar Berbatov has no doubt Manchester United will come through their Champions League semi-final with Arsenal.

United set up the meeting of minds between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger with their win over Porto in Portugal last night.

Cristiano Ronaldo's wonder goal has revived talk of an unprecedented quintuple, as well as ensuring there will be a trio of Premier League clubs in the last four of Europe's most prestigious competition for the third season running.

It promises to be an intriguing battle, contested by arguably the two most exciting teams in England.

And at the end, Berbatov expects United to be the ones booking a trip to Rome on May 27.

"The Arsenal games are going to be great for everybody to watch and I know it is going to be difficult," said the Bulgarian.

"They are a great team. But we are Manchester United, so I think we are going to win."

Berbatov has not been an unqualified success since his arrival from Tottenham in a club record £30.75million deal last summer.

The Bulgarian's languid style is not to everyone's taste and supporters who love the all-action approach of Carlos Tevez, the man who has been squeezed out by Berbatov's arrival, accuse the new boy of not working hard enough.

Yet there has never been an indication Sir Alex Ferguson is unhappy.

Indeed, he has been positively effusive in his praise of Berbatov's economic style.

However, Berbatov is aware he needs to put some major medals on the table, to prove he is the equal of his illustrious team-mates.

"It is very close but things can happen, so it is best not to think too far ahead," he said.

"We are determined to defend this trophy and the fact we now have to face another English team makes it a little bit different. But we should still be confident."

Berbatov has become used to superstar status during a career that included a successful spell with Bayer Leverkusen before he joined Tottenham, where he became a fundamental part of a side that won the Carling Cup last season before his relationship with the London outfit turned sour.

Even he had to play second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo, whose wonder goal will be talked about for years to come, having been delivered from exactly 39.1 yards.

"It was a very special goal," said Berbatov.

"Cristiano gives everything he can in every game. Sometimes you need a special player to do something out of the ordinary. Cristiano delivered."

While the enthusiasm for a meeting with Arsenal will see memories of past clashes between United and the Gunners - on and off the field - rekindled, both sides have more immediate priorities.

Arsenal face Chelsea in an all-London FA Cup semi-final, with the Red Devils in action at Wembley 24 hours later when they tackle David Moyes' Everton.

If recent history is anything to go by, United can expect a stern examination, even if they have tended to come out on top against the Toffeemen.

But they will head south buoyed by the return from a groin injury of Rio Ferdinand, who proved once again last night why his partnership with Nemanja Vidic has been so successful.

Ferdinand has missed the last three of the five matches United had not kept a clean sheet, with Vidic not completing the other two, having been suspended for the defeat at Fulham following his dismissal against Liverpool.

But, so tight were United at the back, Porto barely created a chance of note, with Berbatov among those leading the praise.

"Our defence is incredible," he said.

"They have been tremendous for us all season and deserve so much credit for their performances.

"The major reason we are in the position we are at the moment is because of our defenders and I want to thank them."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Yaya Toure Hoping Barcelona Can Go The Distance

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Barcelona midfielder Yaya Toure has said that he hopes his side can "continue right to the end" of the season.

The Catalan team are still competing in three competitions and, with just a few months left, they have some key matches coming up.

Most significantly, perhaps, is their Champions League clash with Chelsea, which will either see them reach the final or fall at the penultimate hurdle.

Toure told uefa.com that, right now, the team are enjoying the way they are playing and they are just looking to keep it going until the season is over.

"Each time we step out on to the pitch, we try to please ourselves and the fans who come to see us," he said.

"For us, the most important thing when we play together is to enjoy ourselves. What's important to the fans is winning, but to us it's the way we play, as well as victory.

"At the moment everything's going well because we're winning lots of games by playing in a good style, so I hope that's going to continue right to the end."

Barcelona are favourites for all three competitions they are in. This weekend they take on Getafe in La Liga, as they look to go nine points clear of Real Madrid.

Fergie eyes calmer clashes

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Sir Alex Ferguson believes that the UEFA Champions League semi-final matches with Arsenal will not be as highly charged as previous encounters.

United and Arsenal had some heated matches in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the two clubs battled it out at the top of the Premier League.

But ever since Chelsea arrived on the scene to break up the duo's dominance of the English game the clashes have been more reserved.

The rivalry reached such heights that the emotions of the fixture at times spilled out after the final whistle.

Memories of Arsenal players aggressively surrounding Ruud van Nistelrooy at the end of a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in 2003 springs to mind.

While the 2004/05 season brought the infamous 'pizzagate' scandal at Old Trafford, and the Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira war of words in the tunnel at Highbury prior to a 4-2 away win for the Red Devils.

"For many years they were our main competitor," Ferguson stated.

"The games were high octane. They were highly-charged matches. It has calmed down a bit in the last couple of years, maybe because the personalities have changed."

Gone are the ferocious characters of Keane and Vieira, to be replaced by the flair of Cristiano Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas, and Ferguson insists that skill was evident at Emirates Stadium earlier in the season, despite his side losing 2-1.
Outstanding

"The football played that day was outstanding and you would say there are goals riddled right through the tie," he added.

"But it is still incredibly interesting and intense."

The Scot is conscious of the threat that the Gunners will pose, particularly with a lot of their main players coming back fresh after spells on the sidelines.

"We now we have to start to think how we will navigate through our next few games because we have a big programme coming up," he explained.

"What we need to do with Arsenal is to try to get a foot in the final by winning the home game.

"That is not going to be easy. Arsenal are fresh and have come into good form lately.

"They have four or five players back who are totally fresh - (Emmanuel) Adebayor, (Theo) Walcott, (Robin) Van Persie, Fabregas - which obviously has a lot to do with the way they are playing at present.

"But we must attempt to get a lead to take with us to the Emirates."

We blew them away, says Walcott

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Theo Walcott confirmed his status among England's brightest attacking talents with an inspirational display in Arsenal FC's 3-0 defeat of Villarreal CF last night and reflected that his long injury absence earlier this season may have helped mature him as a player.

Early goal
Walcott had already menaced the Villarreal defence several times with his pace and touch when he deftly chipped Arsenal into a tenth-minute lead on their way to clinching a 4-1 aggregate success and a UEFA Champions League semi-final against Manchester United FC. And the winger, who only turned 20 on 16 March – a week after returning from four months out with a shoulder dislocated on England duty – underlined that his early goal was the key on what initially appeared a tense night.

'Blew them away'
"I think if you are not nervous, you are not right," Walcott said. "The first goal helped calm everybody down and from then we blew them away. They didn't get many opportunities but they are a good team when they can get it down and pass the ball. We were aware of that and we played brilliantly."

New perspective
Wednesday's goal came only four days after Walcott had scored for the first time since his shoulder operation at Wigan Athletic FC, but he believes he has learned a lot about the game during his enforced absence. "You get a different perspective on watching the game when you're injured," he said. "I've been watching things [from the stands] and I can see the whole pitch, see how we play football."

Injuries
Several of Walcott's club-mates, including goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and defenders William Gallas and Johan Djourou. watched the Villarreal game from the sidelines due to injury, and the winger knows it has been a bit of a theme for Arsenal recently. "William's been brilliant for us this year, Johan got a knee problem, Almunia – we've been so unlucky with injuries this year, but the players that come in do a fantastic job as we've shown tonight," Walcott said.

Semi-final
Arsenal visit Old Trafford in the last four on Wednesday 29 April before the return six days later, and even with Saturday's FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea FC and a league encounter with Liverpool FC to follow, Walcott is already excited about the United tie. "It will be fantastic," he said. "I haven't had the opportunity to play in the semi-final of the Champions League before, so yet again it will be great experience for me. It seems like I've been around for a long time! But I'm not going to think about the game, Chelsea is the big one then Liverpool in midweek. It's a very big week for us."

Fabregas broke 'code of honour'

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Cesc Fabregas has been criticised by Villarreal's Diego Godin for squealing their match details to the public.

Arsenal playmaker Fabregas has claimed that Sebastian Eguren had abused him verbally throughout Arsenal's Champions League clash with Villarreal on Wednesday.

But Godin felt that what goes on the pitch stays on the pitch and he told Spanish paper Marca that what Fabregas did broke a 'code of honour'.

"It has and will always be part of football, but players should never tell it," the centre-back told Marca.

"Someone telling what happens on the pitch is not good to me.

"Every player is aware that there is a code of honour on the pitch and what happens there should stay there," said the the Yellow Submarine defender.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ronaldo: Winning goal my best

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Cristiano Ronaldo claimed the wonder goal that took Man United into the semi-finals was the best of his career.

Ronaldo struck after just six minutes, drilling home an incredible effort from fully 35 yards to set up a last-four duel with old rivals Arsenal.

The Portugal superstar's 20th goal of the season was worthy of winning any game. And Ronaldo admitted he had never scored a better one.

"It is the best I have scored," he said.

"It was a fantastic strike and I can't wait to see it again on DVD. I am very happy with it."

The goal put Porto on the back foot almost immediately.

And, although United were forced to survive a few scary moments as the home side desperately tried to find a way through at the end, Sir Alex Ferguson was never seriously concerned his side would lose their precious lead.

It means, for the first time, United must face English opposition in a two-legged European tie, with old rival Arsene Wenger lying in wait for a battle to decide who will go to Rome for the final on May 27.

"It would be tough no matter who we played but the fact it is another English side gives a different type of spice to it," said Ferguson.

"We are two good footballing sides, so it should be a terrific semi-final.

"Our game earlier in the season was fantastic. It was the way football should be played and we will look forward to it.

"The first leg is at home, so 1-0 would be perfect for us. But it is not going to be easy."

Champions League Wednesday in pics!

There was a purpose and focus about United from the first whistle.

It resulted in a performance far removed from the below-par efforts of recent weeks, including last week's first leg, with Ferguson confirming the return of Rio Ferdinand after a recent groin strain was a key factor.

"Rio coming back was a major part of our success," said the United boss.

"He and Nemanja Vidic have a partnership that goes back three years. They have a great understanding of the game and there is a good balance between them.

"Rio coming back allowed us to cement a back four to what it really is. They performed really well tonight."

The contributions of Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs, whose energy belied his 35 years, were also crucial, as was the secure goalkeeping of Edwin van der Sar.

But, as Ferguson acknowledged, none of it would have mattered without the contribution of Ronaldo, whose 20th goal of the season - and only his second in the Champions League since last year's final - was enough to inflict Porto's first defeat on home soil against English opposition.

"I will have to trawl a long way back through my memory bank to come up with anything as good as that," said Ferguson.

"It was a sensational goal. It was a great strike and to do it so early gave us the platform to go on and win.

"It put them on the back foot and I really don't think they had a chance after that."

Guardiola: Chelsea is hard

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Josep Guardiola believes seeing off Chelsea to reach this year's Champions League final will be a difficult challenge.

The Primera Liga leaders will face Guus Hiddink's side next after they brushed aside Bayern Munich and the Blues got the better of Liverpool.

The pair will now meet in the semi-finals of the competition just two games away from an appearance at this year's final in Rome on May 27.

Guardiola knew he would face either Chelsea or Liverpool in the semis, but now concedes he did not have a preference on who he would rather face.

"I don't think we had any preference between Liverpool or Chelsea," he said. "Maybe Chelsea are more attacking, but Liverpool are very disciplined in defence.

"Either way, we have a tough opponent and we have got to accept that it is Chelsea and not Liverpool. Liverpool would not have been any easier, but Chelsea is hard enough."

Bayern boss Jurgen Klinsmann has admitted his troops harboured faint hopes of overturning their daunting 4-0 first leg deficit to Barcelona.

Frank Ribery pulled a goal back for Bayern shortly after half-time, although their hopes were extinguished when Seydou Keita levelled.

Klinsmann had no complaints over the two legs stating that the better team had clearly progressed.

"Yes, we had a small hope, even if we did not say so," he said.

"We had a meeting three hours before kick-off and we said that we can dream if we approach the game well and give it everything.

"There have been crazy stories in football and when we went 1-0 up there was a bit of hope. But after they made it 1-1, it was over.

"We had set our sights as high as possible and we did a lot, but we have been knocked out by a team who are clearly better.

"They are the best club in world football at the moment and we have seen that we have a lot of work to do if we are to go further next year."

Deco Warns Chelsea: It’s Almost Impossible To Stop Lionel Messi

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Chelsea swept past Liverpool 7-5 on aggregate in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and have been rewarded with a showdown with the competition’s red-hot favourites, Barcelona, in the semi-finals.

One of the Blues’ star signings of last summer, Deco, spent four seasons with the Blaugrana before making the jump to Stamford Bridge. He knows all about Barca's dangerman, Lionel Messi, after watching him rise through the ranks as a teenager.

“Leo Messi is incredible. He is one of my best friends and I know him well,” he was quoted as saying by Sport.

“At the moment, Leo is almost impossible to stop on his day. He is an incredible player and if he is on form, we can only wait and see who has the ability to stop him.”

The 31-year-old has no qualms about taking on Barcelona in the semi-finals, and he also assured that he bears no grudges against his old club after he was told by incoming coach Pep Guardiola that he was no longer needed.

“Barca are one of the rivals we managed to avoid in the first knockout rounds, but at this stage, you cannot choose your opponents,” he affirmed.

“If we want to go all the way to the final in Rome, we must beat them, which will not be easy work.

“I still have a great deal of affection for Barca. I was very happy there and I cannot help but think fondly about that stage of my life. I also have great memories of the city of Barcelona and of Catalunya and in fact, whenever I get the chance, I will go back to my house there and visit my friends.

“As for Pep, I think that he is doing a great job at Barca and the club are on to something huge.”

The first leg of the semi-final clash will take place at the Camp Nou on April 28.

Fabregas relishing United clash

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Cesc Fabregas is looking forward to a semi-final against Man United after seeing off Villarreal 3-0 in the Champions League.

That result handed Arsene Wenger's side a 4-1 aggregate win over the Spanish side and set up a mouth-watering clash with their Premier League rivals.

Theo Walcott opened the scoring with a superb 10th-minute chip before Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie, with a penalty, put the result beyond doubt.

Fabregas told Sky Sports 3: "What was really important was that we'd said we wanted to try to score early, keep the pressure on and we did that well.

"At the end 3-0 is quite a fair result, we could have scored a few more but let's not be greedy.

"(Facing Manchester United) is unbelievable for us. What can you say? To be in the semi-final of the Champions League against maybe the best team in Europe, and the world, we would take it for sure."

Fergie hails 'magnificent' Utd

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Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was delighted with his side's performance in Wednesday's 1-0 win over Porto.

United marked their 150th UEFA Champions League match under Ferguson by becoming the first English team to win at Estadio do Dragao.

Describing Cristiano Ronaldo's rocket goal as, "unbelievable, a magnificent hit", Ferguson beamed with delight after the game.

Complimenting the partnership of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, the United boss admitted his relief in having his defence back to normal.
Key

"They did well," he told Sky Sports. "They had good concentration at the back - they defended very, very well.

"That was key for us. If we can get back to that foundation of not conceding away goals then we can do well.

"The stability at the back, the recognition of Ferdinand and Vidic together, it's always going to be a great start for your team."

Asked how it felt to become the first English team to beat Porto on home soil after 150 games in Europe's elite competition, he said: "It doesn't matter who you beat but one hundred and fifty games is a long time."

Magnificent

Ferguson went on to compliment Ronaldo after his superb strike in the first half made sure of a semi-final tie with Arsenal.

"Unbelievable, a magnificent hit," he said. "He took them all by surprise from 40-yards out - the goalkeeper had no chance."

He added: "I couldn't see dangers against Porto. I thought we controlled the game well and they never bothered us too much.

"Arsenal next? It's going to be a great semi-final. There'll be some great football in that one."

Champions League Quarter Final Second leg Review Wednesday

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It is going to be an all English encounter in the semis as United send Porto out and Arsenal thrashed Villareal


Ronaldo thunderbolt sends United to the semis



United became the first English team to record a European victory at Porto. Cristiano Ronaldo wonder goal earned a 1-0 UEFA Champions League quarter-final second-leg win and maintained the holders' grasp on the trophy. For the first time in a month United defence looked well organized and they kept a clean sheet .

Ronaldo's thunderous early strike from just shy of 40 yards flew across goal and into the top corner.Nemanja Vidic missed a great chance from five yards late in the first half and Dimitar Berbatov had a shot saved.Lisandro Lopez might have scored a dramatic late goal for Porto, but Edwin van der Sar saved his weak shot.

The visitors got off to a dream start through Ronaldo’s goal on just six minutes and spurned a golden opportunity to score a second through Nemanja Vidic just before half-time.

The second half was a much better one for Porto as they had more of the play, but they struggled to create too many clear opportunities and United held firm to progress.

The Red Devils now meet Arsenal in the semi-finals after the Gunners defeated Villarreal in the night’s other quarter-final tie.

United made four changes from the side which started the 2-2 first leg draw at Old Trafford. Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher, Ji-Sung Park and Jonny Evans all made way with Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov and Rio Ferdinand coming in.

With Ferdinand in the side United looked commanding at the back.


Arsenal FC 3-0 Villarreal CF




Arsenal are now in the Champions League semi-final after sweeping past Villarreal at the Emirates Stadium.

Theo Walcott, Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie were on the scoresheet as Arsene Wenger's youngsters defied their injury worries in defence to wrap up the tie within an hour.

The Spaniards had Sebastian Eguren dismissed, and the hosts were then able to conserve energy for their FA Cup clash against Chelsea at the weekend.

If they win at Wembley there will be genuine hope of getting something out a season where many predicted them to slip out of the traditional top four in England.

Wenger himself admits he has been amazed by how his young players have gone 18 Barclays Premier League games without defeat - and this performance will have impressed him too.

But nothing has been easy at Arsenal this season. Earlier in the campaign William Gallas was stripped of the captaincy, now Wenger is desperately short on numbers in at the back.

Ahead of this clash, Bacary Sagna was taken ill, meaning an entire back four was missing as Arsenal protected their slender away-goals advantage.

Kolo Toure held together a defence that contained Emmanuel Eboue at right-back, Kieran Gibbs at left-back and inexperienced Lucasz Fabianski in goal.

Villarreal had problems of their own, with Marcos Senna, the cornerstone of their midfield, out injured.

They did have Robert Pires stationed on the left flank, meaning it was Arsenal's past versus the club's future, as Walcott was raiding down the right.

It was a fascinating clash, with Walcott almost putting the ball out of play early on when Pires picked up a knock, only to carry on with the ball to set up an attack.

The 20-year-old showed his ruthless side again when he netted the opener in the 10th minute.

Eboue slipped the ball forward from the right, Cesc Fabregas' flick allowed Walcott to run through on goal, with the England winger chipping home high over goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

It was reward for Arsenal's bright start after Van Persie went close with a header that cleared the crossbar and a long-range effort that Lopez gathered at the second attempt.

The hosts were inches from adding a second goal after Van Persie's powerful free-kick was saved by Lopez. Adebayor's follow-up header got deflected on target but Gonzalo Rodriguez hacked off the line.

All eyes were on the assistant referee but it would have been the tightest of calls if he had flagged for a goal.

The equation for Villarreal shifted only slightly - they still needed a goal.

Diego Godin had given Wenger's side an early scare when he got on the end of Giuseppe Rossi's free-kick and forced Fabianski into a save with his scissor-kick.

The visitors then caused some nervous moments in Arsenal's defence before the break, with Rossi getting sight of goal at the near post before the hosts scrambled clear.

Pires also had a shot blocked from the edge of the area, while Godin headed over from a corner in first-half stoppage-time.

Manuel Pellegrini's men sensed that it was their time to apply pressure on Arsenal's makeshift defence. It meant all hands on deck for Wenger's makeshift back line.

Arsenal's best option was to counter attack. Van Persie was making runs from deep to cause Villarreal problems, with Godin picking up a booking for stopping one run.

No opponent got close enough to Van Persie on the hour mark and he sent through Adebayor, who took one touch before finishing past Lopez with the outside of his boot.

The third came from Van Persie's penalty and also saw Eguran dismissed.

Godin took Walcott's legs away in the penalty area but escaped a second booking for the offence. Eguran, who got a yellow card in the first half, got another caution for dissent and then disgracefully put his hands on the referee while protesting more. Van Persie kept his nerve and fired in the spot-kick.

Wenger's goalscorers were then given a breather to rest for the battles ahead.

Half-time anger inspires Chelsea

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Chelsea coach Guus Hiddink has revealed an angry half-time team talk was the inspiration behind the Champions League fightback against Liverpool.

Liverpool, needing to win by three goals, were 2-0 up at half-time but then Chelsea scored three times.

The Reds scored twice more but Chelsea made it 4-4 (7-5 on aggregate) and booked a semi-final tie with Barcelona.

"Sometimes you lose your temper. But they reacted and they knew the first half was not OK," said Hiddink.

"We were angry because we didn't start as we planned and we know Liverpool are a good team tactically with very skilful players.

"Tactically but also mentally we said to each other, that it was not the way we would start the second half. That's why I like to work with this team, it reacts." Chelsea were lacklustre in the first half and goals from Fabio Aurelio and Xabi Alonso gave the visitors a deserved lead.

"You cannot give them a lot of space but we did. We dropped back too much and looked for safety," said Hiddink.

However, goals from Didier Drogba, Alex and Frank Lampard put the Blues back in charge and despite late goals from Lucas Leiva and Dirk Kuyt, Lampard's second sealed a thrilling result.

"We knew that we could score and happily we did rather early after the beginning of the second half," said Hiddink.

Champions League Quarter Final Second leg Review Tuesday

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Chelsea and Barcelona progressed to the semis and they will meet each other in two weeks . It was a classic European free scoring match between Chelsea and Liverpool.

Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool (agg: 7-5)

Chelsea survived a huge scare before drawing one of the most entertaining Champions League games of recent times to seal a 7-5 aggregate win over Liverpool and book a semi-final against Barcelona.

Guus Hiddink's team led 3-1 after the first leg at Anfield but Fabio Aurelio's free-kick after an awful misjudgement from Petr Cech and Xabi Alonso's penalty put Liverpool in control at the break.

Jose Reina fumbled Didier Drogba's deft touch into his own net and Alex's thunderbolt free-kick levelled the scores on the night with two goals in six dramatic second-half minutes.

The inspirational Frank Lampard put the Blues 3-2 ahead, slotting home Drogba's intelligent cross.

The tie looked finished but Liverpool were not done yet and Lucas Leiva's deflected strike was quickly followed by Dirk Kuyt's near-post header.It was 4-3 to Liverpool with seven minutes of normal time remaining and Stamford Bridge was stunned, while the Reds required just one more goal to complete a sensational victory on away goals.

But Lampard converted Nicolas Anelka's pass to level at 4-4 in the final dramatic action of a truly memorable game of football.

Liverpool were without their skipper Steven Gerrard because of an injury but came close to pulling off a memorable victory without their inspirational leader.Liverpool gave the hosts an early warning when a delightful touch from Yossi Benayoun after 13 minutes created a clear opening for Fernando Torres, who failed to hit the target with his left-foot strike.

It was a poor miss and Liverpool's slim hopes were almost completely extinguished a minute later but Lampard narrowly missed the target with a free-kick.

Then came the moment that embarrassed Cech and handed Liverpool a lifeline, as Aurelio smashed his free-kick into the bottom corner.


B Munich 1-1 Barcelona (agg 1-5)


Barcelona reached the Champions League semi-finals after drawing their last eight second leg with Bayern Munich to seal a comprehensive aggregate victory.

Facing a 4-0 first-leg deficit, Bayern made a strong start with Luca Toni and Franck Ribery going close early on.

Ribery rounded Victor Valdes to put the hosts ahead after half-time but they did little to extend their lead.

Seydou Keita produced an emphatic first-time finish to level and set up a last-four meeting against Chelsea.

The Premier League side drew 4-4 with Liverpool in the second leg of their tie to go through 7-5 on aggregate.

Barca and Chelsea will meet for the fourth time since 1999-2000, with the first leg at the Nou Camp on Tuesday 28 April and the second at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday 6 May.

Josep Guardiola's men will be full of confidence going into that tie after seeing off Bayern so comfortably.

The damage was done six days earlier in Spain and under-pressure Bayern boss Jurgen Klinsmann admitted before the game it would be "unrealistic" to expect his side to progress to the semi-finals.

But the four-time champions began as if intent to do exactly that and, backed by a vociferous home crowd, they attacked Barcelona from the outset.The orchestrator of Bayern's attacking play was Ribery, the Frenchman coming in from his position on the left to break forward at every opportunity.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Uefa Champions League, Quarter-final second leg

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Current champions Unitedhold on the Champions League hangs by a thread after Porto left Old Trafford with a darw and two crucial away goals .They have a mountain to climb as they have to win at Porto . Arsenal have a slight advantage of 1 away goal


Man Utd v Porto - Match of the day


United will be out to win at Porto to keep alive the dream of winning all trophies .United look vulnerable at the back and they have to regroup their defence . The injury to key players is the main reason for their slump in form

Porto will be trying to keep a clean sheet for their dream run.Memories of the Portuguese champions knocking United out at the last-16 stage in 2004 are still fresh in the memory for many Red Devils fans.Then under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, Porto grabbed a last-minute goal to draw 1-1 at the Theatre of Dreams to seal a 3-2 aggregate win, sending the 'Special One' dancing down the touchline. The Portuguese side went on to be crowned European champions that year but since then, this season is the first time they have progressed further than the first knockout round.



Arsenal v Villarreal


Arsenal and Villarreal have only been drawn against each other twice in European competition.The first leg of the quarter-final of this season's Champions League, resulted in a 1-1 draw. Marcos Senna scored the opener for Villarreal, Emmanuel Adebayor equalised.

Villarreal will be without influential midfielder Marcos Senna for this week's Champions League return leg with Arsenal because of injury.

The Spain international, 32, limped out of Saturday's 2-0 defeat by Malaga with a hamstring problem.

It is not known how long Senna will be sidelined but the Villarreal website states he will miss Wednesday's game at the Emirates Stadium.

Senna scored Villarreal's goal as they drew the first leg 1-1 with Arsenal.

The Primera Liga side could be severely under-strength in midfield, with Santi Cazorla an absentee and wingers, Cani and Mati Fernandez, also doubtful.

Meanwhile, Arsenal have a crisis in defence with Johan Djorou joining William Gallas on the injury list after he was stretchered off with a knee problem during the 4-1 win at Wigan.

Klinsmann wants proud exit

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Bayern Munich coach Jurgen Klinsmann insists his side have a duty to restore some pride against Barcelona.

A 4-0 defeat at the Nou Camp last Wednesday has practically decided the tie in Barca's favour, but Klinsmann still wants his side to leave the European stage with their heads held high.

"We have a duty to our fans to play a great game," he said.

"We want to play well and leave the Champions League, unfortunately in the quarter-final stage, with respect."

Last week's crushing defeat left Klinsmann's position in doubt and he admitted it has not been the best of Easters for him with speculation mounting by the day that he has no future in charge of the record German champions.

But he admits it is part of his job to stand up to the critics when things go badly without getting carried away with the praise.

"It has been a tough last couple of days," he admitted.

"Nobody likes to take what I have had to take these days. I tried to enjoy Easter with my kids yesterday, but it was always in the back of my mind.

"This is a very special club, one of the biggest in the world, and we reached the quarter-finals in a very impressive way (beating Sporting Lisbon 12-1 on aggregate).

"We hit the wall in Barcelona with a weakened team and you go from one extreme to another when things go well and people give you compliments, but if things hit you like last week with Wolfsburg and Barcelona, they show you another face.

"You have got to live with it. This is an amazing club and I am proud to be head coach here. I have got to look forward and ignore it."

Klinsmann's job may not depend on the outcome of tomorrow's game anyway.

Before the season started, when Klinsmann arrived to replace Ottmar Hitzfeld, his priority was to win the Bundesliga and establish the club back in the Champions League by successfully coming through the group stages.

They did that impressively, boasting the best record of all 16 qualifiers before sending Sporting crashing to a record Champions League aggregate defeat.

That, according to Klinsmann, appears to have been forgotten in the aftermath of the lesson his team received at the Nou Camp last week.

"We still have the aims we had at the start of the season," he said.

"That is to win the German title, which is still possible and we are up for doing it.

"Of course the experience in Barcelona was bad, but the aim was to take Bayern into the knock-out phase and then we played a great game and were unfortunate to draw Barcelona.

"But our aim in the Champions League has been reached. We have got one round further than originally planned and now we have the (German) title in our sights and then we will plan for next season."

Klinsmann therefore appears confident that he will be around next year while the return of several key players gives him increased confidence for tomorrow night.

"We had a depleted team in Barcelona, but we have Philipp (Lahm) back and Lucio back so they will give us more stability," he revealed.

"Daniel van Buyten is also back in training today. Apart from (Miroslav) Klose, I have a full squad to choose from and I will see who is up for it the most."

Klinsmann confirmed that Hans-Jorg Butt will play his third consecutive game in goal, making him the new number one "for the foreseeable future" after surprisingly taking the place of Michael Rensing last week.

Pep wary of wounded Bayern

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Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola is taking little notice of suggestions that Bayern Munich have already given up.

Barca hold a 4-0 lead heading into Tuesday's second leg in Munich and comments coming out of the German giants from the likes of coach Jurgen Klinsmann and chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge indicate they have little hope of turning the tie around.

However, Guardiola is remaining cautious and is warning his players not to take anything for granted against a Bayern side who beat Eintracht Frankfurt 4-0 at home in the Bundesliga yesterday, and thrashed Sporting Lisbon 12-1 on aggregate in the previous round of the Champions League.

"It's a good test for us. We need to go there with care," said Guardiola, who will watch the Bayern game from the stands after being sent from the dugout during last week's first leg.

"Bayern are capable of scoring four goals, and even more so when they are hurt like they are.

"I don't believe the declarations that are coming out about the fact they have already given the game up for lost.

"I'm convinced that they'll have a good game and (Franck) Ribery and co are very dangerous players. We have to go there thinking we need to win the game."

Guardiola was speaking after seeing his treble-chasing side go nine points clear at the top of the Primera Division with their 2-0 win over relegation-threatened Recreativo Huelva last night.

Andres Iniesta gave Barca the perfect start by breaking the deadlock in the opening minute but the expected deluge of goals against Recre failed to materialise and it was not until the 68th minute that Guardiola's men doubled their lead, Nasief Morris putting the ball in his own net when trying to cut out Iniesta's cross.

Barca then missed a late penalty through Lionel Messi before surviving a scare when Recre striker Ersen Martin had a goal ruled out for a marginal offside decision.

It was far from the vintage Barca that had scored 15 goals in their previous three home matches against Lyon, Malaga and Bayern but Guardiola was just as happy to see his side win with a gritty performance.

"Victories like the one against Valladolid after the international break, and like this one after a Champions League game... these are the kind of games which win you things in the end," he said.

"Even though we lacked a little dynamism, we've responded very well, and right now we have a nine-point advantage over second place, although it will surely be back to six (second-placed Real Madrid host Real Valladolid tonight).

"We've done our work, we've been focused and we are deserved winners."

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