Bremen no problem for Jol as Hamburg eye Euro crown

Hamburg coach Martin Jol is relishing facing Bundesliga rivals Werder Bremen in Thursday’s UEFA Cup semi-final despite the heartbreak of losing to them on penalties in the German Cup last week.

Goalkeeper Tim Wiese was Bremen’s hero in Hamburg when he broke home fans’ hearts with three consecutive saves in the penalty shoot-out to hand his side a 3-1 victory on spot kicks in the German Cup semi-final.

And with Hamburg fourth in the Bundesliga, while Bremen languish in 10th, Jol is not bothered by last week’s cup defeat at the hands of Bremen or the 2-0 upset at Dortmund in the league last Saturday.

“We have played well in two games against Werder so far this season,” said former Tottenham Hotspurs boss Jol.

“We beat them in the Bundesliga and drew in the German Cup (the game finished 1-1 after extra-time).”

The fact that Hamburg lost on penalties does not concern Jol who is convinced his side can come through both the impending two-legged UEFA Cup matches.

“It is the end of April and we are still near the top of the Bundesliga table.

“Bremen are in tenth place. Should things be the other way round, we would have a problem.”

Bremen are in the German Cup final on May 30 at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium where they will face Bayer Leverkusen, but their cup form has been one of the few things their fans have had to cheer about this season.

And until Hamburg lost the second leg of their quarter-final 2-1 at Manchester City to go through 4-3 on aggregate, Jol’s side had a fine record of five wins in six games, scoring 12 and conceding only three goals.

And both sides know plenty about each other: “We know them and they know us, so there’s nothing new there,” said Jol.

Hamburg are without top scorer Mladen Petric for the trip to Bremen, he had eight stitches removed from the gashed shin he received in last week’s defeat to Bremen, but the Weserstadion tie comes to early for the Croatian.

He will be out for another ten days, but it is hoped he will be fit for the second leg at Hamburg’s HSH Nordbank Arena a week later.

Germany defender Marcell Jansen is struggling with a rib injury, but has told Jol he is prepared to grit his teeth and play with the injury.

For Bremen, the only key injury concern is the fitness of captain Frank Baumann who has missed the 3-2 win over Bochum last weekend, but is expected to have shaken off a knock to be fit in time.

Thu 30 April, 2009
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United edges Arsenal in Champions League

Manchester United will take a 1-0 lead into the second leg of their Champions League semi-final with Arsenal after the holders failed to fully capitalise on their domination here on Wednesday.

An inspired display from Gunners goalkeeper Manuel Almunia ensured that John O’Shea’s 17th-minute strike – only his second Champions League goal in his 60th appearance in the competition – was the only reward Sir Alex Ferguson’s side reaped from a first leg encounter they comfortably controlled.

O’Shea admitted United had not made the most of the chances they created.

“Their keeper made a couple of great saves but from the first-half we could have been a couple more up,” the Ireland defender said. “Overall though we have to be happy. We are more than capable of scoring an away goal at the Emirates but it is far from over.”

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admitted he had been relieved to see his side concede only one goal but insisted they could turn things around at the Emirates next week.

“Almunia kept us in the tie and we want to take advantage of that,” the Frenchman said. “But it is very balanced. We still believe we will do it at home and you will see a different Arsenal next week.”

Carlos Tevez’s decisive role in the weekend comeback against Tottenham earned him a place in a United starting line-up in which there was no room for either Dimitar Berbatov or Ryan Giggs, who was made to wait until 66 minutes had elapsed before coming on to make his 800th appearance for the club.

Arsenal’s defensive problems were eased as former United centreback Mikael Silvestre and teenage leftback Kieran Gibbs both came through late fitness tests, although the opening exchanges hardly inspired confidence in a back four missing both William Gallas and Gael Clichy.

Within two minutes, Darren Fletcher’s cross had given Wayne Rooney the chance to force Manuel Almunia into a fine one-handed save and it quickly became apparent that Arsenal would struggle to cope with the tempo of United’s opening salvoes.

A superb double save from Almunia denied Tevez just after quarter of an hour had elapsed but the resulting corner saw the holders claim the opener that their efforts deserved.

The initial delivery failed to trouble the Arsenal backline but, fatally, Michael Carrick was allowed to pick the ball up beyond the back post and hook it back across goal.

Theo Walcott’s attempt to intercept only served to direct the ball into the path of O’Shea and the Ireland defender finished with the aplomb of a seasoned striker, hitting a half-volley into the roof of the net.

Still reeling from that setback, Arsenal were fortunate not to concede a second when Cristiano Ronaldo headed an inviting cross from Tevez straight at Almunia.

But as the first half came to a close, the visitors began to string a few passes together although there were no clear chances to show for their attractive build-up and Almunia had to be quickly off his line to deny Ronaldo after a slipshod passback by Gibbs.

With United’s energy levels slipping, chances were thinner on the ground after the interval, but the hosts were still unfortunate not to double their lead with just over 20 minutes left after a piece of brilliance from Ronaldo.

Picking up a loose ball just inside the Gunners’ half, the Portuguese winger advanced to within 30 yards of the goal before unleashing a wickedly dipping drive that left Almunia completely stranded but clattered against the bar.

By that stage, Giggs had entered the fray and the frustration of the evening for United was summed up by the fact that only a fractional offside decision prevented the veteran Welsh winger from marking his landmark appearance with a goal.

Wed 29 April, 2009
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Quick Report: Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal

Manchester United are a step closer to a spot in the UEFA Champions League final, for the second consecutive time, following a 1-0 win over Arsenal at Old Trafford. The Gunners have no reason to complain, having conceded only one goal.

United dominated from the start and it did not take long for the first opportunities to arise in front of Manuel Almunia’s goal. However, the Spanish keeper was in top shape and blocked several powerful efforts.

But the home side did take the lead on 17 minutes. Michael Carrick sent in a low pass from the left and John O’Shea fired it in the roof of the goal. Almunia did get his hands to it but couldn’t sufficiently deflect the shot.

Cristiano Ronaldo almost got a second on 69 minutes but the Portuguese forward hit the crossbar from about 25 meters.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, with freshly crowned Players’ Player of the Year Ryan Giggs starting on the bench, were dominant in all ways and if they have any reason to criticize their performance, it would be based on the fact that more goals should have been scored in this game.

The second leg will be played at London’s Emirates Stadium on Tuesday, May 5th.

Wed 29 April, 2009
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Gourcuff keeps Bordeaux title dream alive

Bordeaux recovered from conceding a goal inside 20 seconds and having a man sent off to sustain their French title aspirations with a stunning 3-2 victory at French Cup finalists Rennes on Wednesday.

The freshly crowned League Cup champions were reduced to 10 men mid-way through the first half after falling behind straight from the kick-off, but equalised through Yoan Gouffran before on-loan AC Milan playmaker Yoann Gourcuff put them ahead.

Moussa Sow appeared to have denied Laurent Blanc’s side the points when he equalised with two minutes to play, but the inspirational Gourcuff struck again deep into injury time to keep the heat on league leaders Marseille.

The victory cuts Marseille’s advantage to two points with five league games remaining, while Rennes remain seventh and lose their unbeaten home record.

The visitors got off to the worst possible start, with Rennes taking the lead on 19 seconds when Sow’s half-volleyed cross was bundled in at the back post by Romain Danze.

The goal was the fastest scored in Ligue 1 this season, shaving seven seconds off the mark set by Valenciennes’s Jean-Claude Darcheville when he scored against Auxerre on April 4.

Bordeaux had won their five previous league games and went into the match on the back of Saturday’s 4-0 League Cup final victory over second-tier Vannes, but they were dealt a further blow when centre-back Marc Planus was red-carded in the 26th minute for sliding in on Sow.

The away side bossed proceedings thereafter, with Alou Diarra, Marouane Chamakh and Gourcuff all threatening before Gouffran chested down Petter Hansson’s headed clearance and arrowed a fine volley into the net in the 62nd minute.

Eight minutes later Gourcuff found a gap in the wall to fire home a 22-yard free-kick, only for Sow – who scored the goal that guaranteed Rennes a place in the French Cup final when they beat Grenoble 1-0 last week – to equalise after Ulrich Rame had parried a shot from Stephane M’Bia.

Victory looked to have eluded the visitors at the last, until Gourcuff rammed home a shot from the edge of the box in the 93rd minute to snatch a brave and unlikely victory against his former club.

Wed 29 April, 2009
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Roma´s Doni out for 3 months after knee operation

AS Roma’s challenge for a top four Serie A finish and Champions League football has been hit after goalkeeper Doni was ruled out for three months with a knee injury.

Roma released a statement claiming the Brazilian needs an operation on the cartilage in his right knee, a process that usually requires three months of recuperation.

Roma currently sit sixth in Serie A, six points behind fourth-placed Fiorentina, who thrashed them 4-1 last weekend, with just five matches remaining.

Wed 29 April, 2009
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O´Neill keen on Old Firm joining EPL

Martin O’Neill added his backing on Wednesday to plans for Scottish giants Celtic and Rangers to play in the English Premier League.

Bolton chairman Phil Gartside has put forward proposals which would see the Premier League create a second division, including the ‘Old Firm’

Aston Villa manager O’Neill, who won three Scottish titles and three Scottish FA Cups while in charge of Celtic from 2000 to 2005, believes such a move would be mutually beneficial to both of the Glasgow clubs and the EPL.

“My personal thought is that Celtic and Rangers would enhance the Barclays Premier League,” he told Aston Villa TV, the club’s own television station.

“Glasgow is a phenomenal football city. Celtic house 60,000 fans and Rangers house 50,000 fans every game. I’m not sure about Rangers but I know Celtic’s capacity could go from 60,000 to 80,000 overnight, without a doubt.

“When I was manager of Celtic a number of years ago, there was some talk of both teams joining the Premier League in some capacity.

“There was mention of them being put in the Championship too, or maybe even lower down than that, and then making them work their way up through promotion.

“If forced to do that they would eventually get to the top and end up as monumental players in the Premier League.

“Of course, the sceptics would say ‘Why do it?’ But I’m talking about enhancement.”

However, moves for Celtic and Rangers to play their domestic football south of the border are likely to face strong opposition, not least from within the Scottish game.

The presence of the Old Firm is the major financial drawcard when it comes to negotiations for the rights to televise the Scottish Premier League.

And home matches against Celtic and Rangers are usually the biggest money-spinners for their top-flight rivals because of the size of the two clubs’ travelling support.

Meanwhile officials at the Scottish Football Association, who are vehemently opposed to a combined UK team at the 2012 London Olympics, would likely do all they could to oppose another move which they believed threatened their status as an independent football nation.

O’Neill added admitting the Old Firm to English football could set an awkward European precedent.

“I suppose Belgian teams could then ask to join the Dutch league and Dutch teams could then request to join the Bundesliga. All of those points would have to be considered.

“But, if you’re asking for a personal opinion, I think Celtic and Rangers joining would enhance the Barclays Premier League and make us all strive to get better. That’s my view.

“There are processes that would to have observed obviously. It was spoken about a few seasons ago and obstacles were put in the way.

“The idea died at that time and I don’t know how strong the possibility is at the moment. I certainly support the idea. But, then again, I could be a voice in the wilderness.”

Wed 29 April, 2009
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Wolfsburg´s Magath set to join Schalke: report

Felix Magath, coach of Bundesliga leaders Wolfsburg, is set to take charge of their German league rivals Schalke 04 next season, according to a report in the Stuttgarter Zeitung Wednesday.

Former Bayern Munich coach Magath, 55, has turned Wolfsburg from a mid-table outfit to title contenders in a little over a year and, according to the Stuttgart paper, he is set to replace sacked Schalke coach Fred Rutten.

Magath was sacked as Bayern coach in February 2007, despite leading them to the German League and Cup in both 2005 and 2006, but he has led Wolfsburg to the top of the league and two points clear with five games left to play.

Wed 29 April, 2009
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Real´s Guti to miss El Clasico

Real Madrid announced Wednesday that midfielder Guti would miss Saturday’s ‘El Clasico’ against arch-rivals Barcelona due to injury.

“Jose Maria Gutierrez ‘Guti’ suffered a knock to his left ankle during Wednesday’s training session and has been ruled out of Saturday’s match against Barcelona,” it said in a statement.

He “will be looked at again by the medical team to determine how much time he will miss.”

Guti played in Real’s last two matches after being sidelined for several games by coach Juande Ramos.

The Spanish champions are already without injured Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder.

The Barcelona match could be crucial in deciding the league title this season, as Real are just four points behind the Catalan giants at the top of the table with just five matches to play.

Wed 29 April, 2009
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Benitez expects Gerrard back for Newcastle

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is set to play against Newcastle United on Sunday, Reds boss Rafael Benitez told the club’s official website here on Wednesday.

England international Gerrard is back in training following a groin injury and Liverpool will be delighted that their inspirational midfielder looks like being available for the closing stage of their Premier League title pursuit.

The Merseysiders could find themselves kicking off six points behind leaders and bitter rivals Manchester United if the reigning English champions beat Middlesbrough, who in common with fellow north-east side Newcastle are struggling to avoid relegation, on Saturday.

“Steven is doing well and is training with the rest of the team. I think he will be fit and available for Sunday,” Benitez said.

“It is good news for the team and for him because he can be a key player for us over the remaining games,” the Spaniard added.

“Without Steven the squad has been playing well and scoring goals, so that is positive.”

Meanwhile Benitez was adamant he was not contemplating, for the time being at least, getting rid of any member of Liverpool’s squad following reports linking midfielder Xabi Alonso with a move to Juventus.

“I was reading the press and they are talking about different players,” Benitez said. “I can guarantee today (Wednesday) that we are not thinking about selling anyone. All we are thinking about is to do our job and to try and win the Premier League title, if possible.

“After that you never know what can happen in the market. Clearly, at this moment, we are just preparing for winning games.”

Liverpool won the last of their record 18 English league titles – a mark United will equal if they top the table at the end of this season – in 1990 and so have yet to be crowned champions in the Premier League era.

Wed 29 April, 2009
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FIFA ´monitoring´ swine flu ahead of Confed Cup

World football’s governing body said Wednesday that it is monitoring the outbreak of swine fever that has sparked alerts around the globe just six weeks before the Confederations Cup.

“We are monitoring the situation and we hope it will be under control before the seven teams are moving from their countries to South Africa for the Confederations Cup,” said FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke.

“We will cancel only if we feel that we have to. If there are no risks and if we have all the necessary assurances, the competition will go ahead,” he told a press conference.

“It is serious, it is so serious that we canceled our Concacaf tournament” in Mexico, he added.

Countries playing in the tournament have the right to bar their teams from travelling to South Africa from the Confederations Cup, which runs from June 14 to 28, Valcke said.

FIFA was forced to move the women’s World Cup to the United States in 2003, due to the SARS outbreak in the intended host country China.

Medical experts from FIFA were set to meet this week in Zurich to discuss the swine flu outbreak, Valcke said.

The disease is believed to have killed 159 people in Mexico, the epicentre of the outbreak that has already produced cases as far away as Germany and Israel.

Wed 29 April, 2009
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