Cech ready to end Champions League misery

Petr Cech insists Chelsea are ready to finally end their Champions League misery against Liverpool in Wednesday’s decisive semi-final second leg.

The Blues have lost at this stage to Rafa Benitez’s side twice in the last three seasons and also crashed out in the last four against Monaco.

Cech is desperate to make it fourth time lucky and he knows Chelsea have a golden chance after John Arne Riise’s own goal gave them a 1-1 draw in the first leg last week.

The Czech goalkeeper, who is only just back in action after surgery on a horrific facial injury, is confident the chance to erase the bitter memories of those agonising near-misses will provide Chelsea with all the incentive they need to finish the job at Stamford Bridge.

“We all remember the moment we lost the semi-finals and this is a moment we don’t want to repeat,” he said.

“I think now could be the time to finally do it. Everyone knows what we are playing for.

“We showed many times that we have the mental strength. We just need a bit of luck, which we didn’t have in the last two semi-finals. We had a bit in the first leg and we hope it will be decisive.”

Morale at the Bridge is sky-high after Saturday’s Premier League win over Manchester United breathed new life into the title race and Cech believes Chelsea’s late surge is perfectly-timed.

“I think at this moment it could be an advantage for us because we had a big game which we won. Now we have another big game,” he said.

“It is important. If you drop points at the start of the season it doesn’t really matter. If you are in form at the end of the season in big games that makes a difference. We have showed a lot of character in big games.”

A goalless draw would be enough to send Chelsea through to the final in Moscow, but Cech claimed his side have no intention of playing a cautious game because that would give Benitez’s team the advantage.

“It is always difficult to start a game thinking about 0-0. We will play the game with a positive spirit,” Cech said.

“We want to make sure we score a goal because that will make it even more difficult for them. From the first minute we will try to score.

“Of course we know that the longer the game goes at 0-0 the better that is for us.”

Tue 29 April, 2008
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Grant slams Benitez´s mind games

Chelsea manager Avram Grant accused Rafa Benitez of deliberately putting pressure on the officials ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Liverpool.

Benitez angered Grant over the weekend when he revealed he had compiled a video dossier on Didier Drogba to show his defenders how to avoid being conned by the Chelsea striker’s penchant for exaggerating fouls.

The Liverpool manager also expressed his unhappiness with UEFA’s choice of Roberto Rossetti to referee the Stamford Bridge showdown because he believes the Italian favours home teams.

In Rossetti’s five Champions League matches this season, the hosts have won on four occasions, with the only away win being Chelsea’s success in Valencia.

But Grant is convinced Benitez’s claims are intended to ensure Rossetti is keen not to be seen to give any borderline decisions to Chelsea.

“I think he is trying to affect the referee but he will not do that,” Grant said.

“Rafa can say whatever he wants and I can say why he said it. You can ask him why he said that but the reason is clear.

“I will not speak about the players at Liverpool and what they do, so I don’t like that another coach speaks about my player.

“I think he is trying to distract attention from what happened in the first leg. I respect Rafa Benitez and he can always say whatever he wants but it is 1-1.

“The referee could easily have given a penalty for us and a yellow card to (Jamie) Carragher so he wouldn’t play on Wednesday. Even the goal was offside by (Ryan) Babel. To me this is the case and Rafa is trying to take attention from it.

“It is good psychology but I don’t think it will affect the referee.”

Since Drogba confessed two years ago that he was prone to dive, the Ivorian has cleaned up his game to a large extent, although there are still occasional bouts of the theatrics that so infuriated Benitez at Anfield.

But Grant is adamant Drogba deserves more protection because Liverpool’s defenders will resort to foul means to stop him.

“Because he is a powerful player the referee needs to whistle more for him,” Grant said. “If you see the Liverpool game and what their defenders did to him, you will see the referee was very polite.

“The defenders think there are other ways to stop him because he is so powerful and stronger than them.”

Grant will wait until the last minute to let Frank Lampard decide if he wants to play as the England midfielder continues to mourn the death of his mother.

Lampard missed Saturday’s win over Manchester United but has been training again since Sunday.

“He is doing everything. We know his situation to be available for the game but we are before the training session so we will see,” Grant said.

Grant was in positive mood ahead of a defining moment in his Chelsea career. After months of being criticised by fans and pundits, the Israeli is on the verge of taking the club to their first Champions League final – a feat which proved beyond his predecessor Jose Mourinho.

John Arne Riise’s stoppage time own goal in the first leg at Anfield has put Chelsea in pole position and now a goalless draw would be enough to send them through to the final in Moscow on May 21.

Grant acknowledges Chelsea can’t truely be regarded as one of Europe’s big club until they have earned their stripes in the continent’s elite competition.

The Blues have stumbled at this stage three times in the last four years and Grant can’t wait to make history.

“It is very important for the club and I am here to serve them,” he said.

“Chelsea wants to be a big club and to do that we need to be in the Champions League final. It would create history.”

Tue 29 April, 2008
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Ronaldinho too expensive for us, says Moratti

Ronaldinho is too expensive even for Italian champions Inter Milan, their president Massimo Moratti said on Tuesday.

In an interview with Italy's Gazzetta dello Sport, Barcelona president Joan Laporta claimed he wanted at least 40 million euros for the sale of the Brazilian two-time world player of the year.

That was a day after Barca's Dutch coach Frank Rijkaard admitted that Ronaldinho would be heading away from the Nou Camp at the end of the season.

“The price for Ronaldinho is a bit high, we're following events … but it seems to me that we're not the most interested,” said Moratti. “There are others who have made their interest official.”

Inter's city rivals AC Milan have long let the world know they want to sign the Brazilian but they want to pay less than half Barca's asking price.

Premiership sides Chelsea and Manchester City, the latter owned by billionaire former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra, are both also rumoured to be in the chase for the player.

Laporta talked up the Brazilian in the Gazzetta interview, making some claims that many will find hard to swallow given how keen Barcelona are to sell Ronaldinho.

“Ronaldinho is a great guy, he's never been the slightest problem and I'm certain that when he gets better he'll be just as good as before,” said Laporta.

“He just needs a new motivation but that's not to say he's definitely going because he can find that with us, given that he is contracted until 2010.”

Tue 29 April, 2008
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Rangers’ defender Weir out of Fiorentina match

Rangers defender David Weir has been ruled out by manager Walter Smith of Thursday's UEFA Cup semi-final second leg away to Fiorentina.

Centre-back Weir sustained a groin injury during Sunday's Glasgow derby defeat against Celtic and now Christian Dailly is expected to take the 37-year-old's place alongside Carlos Cuellar at the heart of Rangers' defence.

Weir was a member of the side that held the Italians to a goalless draw in last week's first leg at Ibrox but Smith is now resigned to being without the Scotland international for the return match in Florence.

“Davie won't make Thursday night, which is a blow considering how important a player he is for us,” Smith told the Glasgow Evening Times.

But the former Scotland manager refused to give up hope of Weir playing in Sunday's Premier League match against Hibernian.

Midfielder Steven Davis will travel to Florence with the rest of the squad on Wednesday despite sustaining a groin muscle problem against Celtic.

Sunday's 3-2 defeat at Parkhead left second-placed Rangers three points behind leaders Celtic but with three games in hand.

Victory over Fiorentina would see Rangers into their first major European final since they won the now-defunct Cup Winners' Cup in 1972.

Tue 29 April, 2008
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Praise for Del Piero

Juventus striker Alessandro Del Piero has received praise from his coach Claudio Ranieri.

Ranieri was speaking after Juventus had won a place into the Champions League for next season by securing third place in Serie A with a resounding 5 – 2 victory over Lazio.

In the match Del Piero had scored his eighteenth goal of the season. Ranieri said that the achievement was even more meritorious since he had begun the season the bench.

Ranieri added that he would need to strengthen his squad before the next season if success at an even higher level was to be achieved. He went on to say that his squad needed to have at least twenty to twenty five players with at least two for each position in order for the club to be successful both in Serie A and Champions League.

Already Juventus appear to be in the market for ArsenalÂ’s Mathieu Flamini to strengthen their midfield with PalermoÂ’s Amauri wanted to bolster the attack.

Tue 29 April, 2008
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Donadoni hands Del Piero Euro 2008 boost

Italy coach Roberto Donadoni said in an interview published in La Repubblica on Tuesday that as things stand he will take Alessandro Del Piero to Euro 2008.

Del Piero, who started the season on the Juventus bench, has been in fine form since the turn of the year and the clamour for his return to the national team set-up has been growing.

The veteran striker has been left out of Donadoni's recent squads but his 18 goals in Serie A this season seem to have forced the coach into a re-think.

Asked if he would call up Del Piero for the tournament in Austria and Switzerland in June, Donadoni said: “Ten months ago no but now yes.

“The facts speak for themselves but I'll only talk about my squad when the time is right.

“It seems that many people want to create problems for me. There's one thing I'm already certain about, with players such as Del Piero and others, whatever choices I make, they won't cause a fuss.”

Donadoni has other problems to contend with as he will be out of contract after the finals and has turned down a conditional extension offer from the Italian Federation.

“I would have lost my dignity if I had accepted the proposal they put to me,” he said.

“But in Austria and Switzerland we'll be going there to win. We're going there aiming high, that's for sure.

“If after that our paths separate, we'll leave on friendly terms.”

Tue 29 April, 2008
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Angry Daei threatens to quit Iran job

Iran's coach Ali Daei launched a furious tirade against his football federation on Tuesday, threatening to quit and revealing he is still waiting for a contract to sign.

Daei, the holder of the world record for international goals, was appointed in March to reverse the flagging fortunes of the Team Melli in its World Cup campaign.

However with crunch qualifying matches approaching in June, it appears that relations between the ex-Bayern Munich striker Daei and federation head Ali Kafashian have reached an all time low.

“If Kafashian does not have time to talk with me about friendly matches and my contract, then I am not free either,” Daei told the Hamshahri newspaper.

“I have not won my honour so easily that I can lose it this way.

“If things go on like this, we should think about something else and they could appoint someone else who they like.”

There is apparent concern in the federation that Daei is still coaching Iranian club side Saipa and may be distracted from focusing the Team Melli on its preparations for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Media have said that the federation is waiting for the current Iranian football league season to end to sign a contract with Daei.

However the football authorities played down the row with Daei and said the failure to sign a contract was unimportant.

“Daei has been busy with Saipa and Team Melli during this time and the fact a contract has not been signed is not a sensitive issue,” said the deputy head of the Iranian football federation, Mehdi Taj.

Daei's appointment ended a months-long coaching vacuum at the head of one of Asia's top sides which Iran had failed to fill despite an intensive search.

The suddenness of his appointment led to speculation in Iran that leading figures in the Islamic republic had backed him in preference to Afshin Qotbi, the Iranian-American coach of top league side Persepolis.

Tue 29 April, 2008
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FIFA president ´wants Spain to bid´ for 2018 World Cup

FIFA president Sepp Blatter hopes Spain will bid for the 2018 World Cup, possibly jointly with neighbouring Portugal, Spain’s sports press quoted him as saying on Tuesday.

“The time has come for Spain to organise another World Cup. I would like the president of the Spanish Football Federation to make official Spain’s bid for the 2018 World Cup,” he said Monday in Zurich, sports daily AS reported.

Blatter was speaking at the Swiss headquarters of football’s world governing body to a visiting delegation made up of members of Spanish clubs and the Spanish Football Federation.

Spain hosted the 1982 World Cup which was won by Italy who beat West Germany 3-1 in the final held at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

In November the president of the Portuguese Football Federation, Gilberto Madail, proposed a joint bid with Spain to host the 2018 World Cup.

The president of the Spanish Football Federation, Angel Maria Villar, did not rule out a bid to host football’s global showpiece but remained prudent when asked about the possibility by reporters in Zurich.

“It’s an option which we will study together with the Spanish government, but without haste,” AS quoted him as saying.

FIFA will name the host country of the 2018 World Cup in 2011.

The sole official candidate to date is England while Australia, China, Mexico, Russia, Uruguay, the United States and Argentina have expressed their interest in hosting the event.

South Africa will be the first African nation to host the tournament in 2010 and Brazil will stage the 2014 World Cup.l

Tue 29 April, 2008
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The Premiership battle: Manchester United

The English title race is one of the most exciting in years, with three teams still battling for the top spot with two games to go. Which opposition do Manchester United face? Here’s an overview.

Manchester United have the best chances of winning the Premiership this year, as the Red Devils still have a better goal record than Chelsea, with whom they share the lead.

But after losing to Chelsea this weekend, United will need to do well against Barcelona in the Champions League to keep their confidence from breaking down.

First stop for Manchester is West Ham United at home. In theory, not a tough opponent. The Hammers are currently tenth in the league and are only just recovering from a bad streak of games.

However, it has to be noted that West Ham United won the last three Premiership games against Manchester United.

Nevertheless, Soccerway’s prediction:

Manchester United 3-1 West Ham United

The season should be decided on May 11th, when United travel a bit to the south to face Wigan Athletic.

Of the two matches United have left, this should be the easiest. Wigan are 14th in the league and stood no chance in their most recent matches with the Mancunians.

Wigan did have a successful month, with draws against sides as Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but they should not be expected to be a equal match to a side that could clinch the championship.

Taking united’s motivation and Wigan’s surprisingly strong defense into account, Soccerway’s Prediction is:

Wigan Athletic 0-1 Manchester United

If United win both matches, as would be expected from Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, they will occupy the top spot after the full time whistle sounds on May 11th.

Visit us again tomorrow to see what we think will happen to Chelsea in the coming two games.

You have a different opinion on the outcome of these matches? Use the ‘discuss’ option below!

Tue 29 April, 2008
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Bayern Munich chasing Bundesliga records

With a 12-point lead, Bayern Munich have virtually won this season's Bundesliga title, but are still chasing records for the largest winning margin and the lowest number of goals conceded in a league season.

After their 4-1 win over defending champions VfB Stuttgart last Sunday, Bayern now have a 12-point lead over rivals Schalke 04 and Werder Bremen with four games remaining.

Only a miracle can stop them being crowned German champions for the 21st time.

But Bayern, who have led the Bundesliga from the first weekend of the season, need four more points if they are to match their own record from 2002/03 when they won the league by 16 points.

And with goalkeeper and captain Oliver Kahn set to retire at the end of the season after 14 years at Bayern, Munich are also closing in on Werder Bremen's record of 22 for the fewest number of goals conceded in a Bundesliga season.

The Munich defence has only leaked 18 goals all season with four games left.

Bayern are also chasing the first treble by a German side.

Having won the German Cup and with the Bundesliga title virtually guaranteed, they will be the first side in Germany to collect the three main trophies in a season if they win the UEFA Cup.

Having drawn the first leg of their UEFA Cup semi-final 1-1 with Zenit St Petersburg last Thursday at the Allianz Arena, Bayern travel to Russia on Thursday for the return leg.

The final is in Manchester, England, on May 14.

Tue 29 April, 2008
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