Marseille keep pressure on as they thump PSG

Marseille kept alive their hopes of winning the French title on Sunday with an impressive 3-0 victory over bitter but ailing rivals Paris Saint Germain which saw visiting fans boycott it because of what they saw as over the top security measures.

Goals by Hatem Ben Arfa, record-signing Lucho Gonzalez and Benoit Cheyrou handed Marseille an easy win which sees them in fourth place in the league, three points adrift of leaders Bordeaux, though they have played a game more than the champions.

Montpellier are on the same number of points, after beating Rennes 3-1 on Saturday, as Bordeaux but trail on goal difference and have played two more matches as the leaders game with relegation-threatened Le Mans was called off due to severe weather conditions.

Earlier Lille had missed a chance to keep the pressure on Bordeaux and Montpellier when they slipped to a 2-1 home defeat by Auxerre.

The Lille management probably would have preferred that the referee had had his way and called the match off at its original kick-off time because of a water-logged pitch.

However, it was judged to be fit for play at the delayed kick-off time and the hosts bore the look of a team that was still weary from its impressive 1-1 away draw with Turkish giants Fenerbahce on Thursday which saw them progress to the last 16 of the Europa League.

Auxerre’s Roy Contout was the standout of the match as the 25-year-old French Guyana-born striker grabbed a double to give the visitors the three points and move them into sixth in the table, six points off Bordeaux, though having played a game more.

Lille’s highly-rated teenage Belgian international midfielder Eden Hazard had pulled them level but the hosts were unable to repeat the trick once Contout had restored Auxerre’s lead in the 72nd minute.

Lille coach Rudi Garcia refused to concede that their chances of the title had evaporated in what was their first defeat after eight successive wins.

“What we have failed to take this evening (Sunday) we have to get away from home, beginning with St-Etienne,” said Garcia.

“There are 36 points still up for grabs. The title race is a long one, and the title was not decided this evening. We are up there with the leaders and we have to bounce back from this.”

His Auxerre counterpart Jean Fernandez praised Contout but accepted that the quality of the pitch had suited his side better than their opponents.

“We played to our strong point, ie in terms of our workrate.

“Lille created several chances from freekicks which we saved, but we held our nerve and we were good in the aerial battle.

“The pitch did not do Lille any favours to be fair. They were also tired, notably in the second-half because they have played five matches in three weeks. We have achieved something this evening. Lille came into this match on the back of eight successive victories, 12 if you take all competitions.”

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Milan suffer Pato blow

(GSM) – Milan’s hope of reaching the quarter finals of Champions League have suffered a major blow after top scorer Alexandre Pato limped out of Sunday’s league win over Atalanta.

The Brazil star set Milan giants on course for a 3-1 win with a first-half double at the San Siro but pulled up late on while in full flow, clutching his thigh.

The 20-year-old looked distraught as he headed for the dressing rooms and it was feared he had suffered a recurrence of the adductor injury that recently kept him out for two months.

Pato has only played five games since returning from injury, which included the 3-2 defeat by Manchester United in the first leg of their Champions League knock-out tie.

The Italian giants now face an anxious wait to see if Pato will be fit in time for the second leg at Old Trafford on 10th March.

“We will have to wait 24 to 48 hours before knowing the extent of the injury,” said Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani.

“Not to have Pato would be terrible. We don’t have anyone who can replace him. Without him, we would need to change our tactical set-up.”

Pato has been in superb form this season, with Sunday’s brace taking his league tally to 12 goals from 17 starts, and he has scored two goals in seven Champions League games.

“We have to see what type of injury he’s suffered but it’s true that his last injury was to an adductor so that is a little worry,” coach Leonardo told Sky Italia.

“It doesn’t seem as bad as it seemed on the pitch but it still worries us.”

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Romanian top clash ends undecided

(GSM) – The Romanian top clash between CFR Cluj and Steaua Bucharest, played on Sunday, ended in a 1-1 draw.

Cluj began the game as leaders in the Romanian Liga I and knew that a defeat could well cost them their top spot. Steaua on the other hand, are in fourth place but a win would have led them to second or even first.

Things started well for Steaua at Cluj’s Dr. Constantin Radulescu stadium, as Bogdan Stancu scored the opening goal after just 12 minutes.

But Cluj remained focused and got the equaliser through Ricard Cadu with ten minutes to go in the first half.

As neither side scored a second goal, it became the fourth consecutive draw between these teams. Cluj will likely be the happier side following this result, as they keep their three-points advantage over Timosoara, Unirea Urziceni and Steaua.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Top four win in Dutch Eredivisie

(GSM) – There were no surprises in the Dutch Eredivisie on Sunday, as all of the top-four teams won their games.

Leaders PSV hosted last-placed RKC Waalwijk in Eindhoven and earned a rather easy 5-1 victory.

Hungarian Balazs Dzsudzsak scored the opening goal for Fred Rutten’s side in the sixth minute, and Ibrahim Afellay made it 2-0 13 minutes later. After another three minutes, it was Danny Koevermans to add a third.

Nordin Amrabat went on to find the target five minutes before the end, and although Charlison Benschot pulled one back three minutes after the hour, Koevermans soon restored the advantage with his goal for 5-1 on 68 minutes.

FC Twente had a hard time against NEC but did end up taking three points. Luuk de Jong scored the opening goal in Twente’s favor after 13 minutes, but had his effort cancelled out by Bjorn Vleminckx in the 67th.

The winning goal came at five minutes from the end, and was scored by Costa Rican striker Bryan Ruiz, 2-1.

Third-placed Ajax received Utrecht at the Amsterdam Arena and the visitors went a man down after 33 minutes as Jan Wuytens was sent off.

Ajax first took advantage through Luis Suarez ten minutes later, and Gregory van der Wiel made it 2-0 six minutes after the hour. Further goals from Suarez and Danish winger Dennis Rommedahl set the score to 4-0.

Feyenoord gave away a 0-2 lead at Groningen but scored a late winner to leave Groningen with a 2-3 win.

No goals were scored in the first half at Euroborg stadium but Andrea Bahia (57th) and Jon Dahl Tomasson (80) gave Feyenoord a comfortable lead in the second.

Groningen fought back however. Tim Matavz netted for 1-2 in the 83rd minute and Andreas Granqvist got the equaliser five minutes later.

But Feyenoord had the final day, as defender Ron Vlaar scored the winning goal in the 90th minute.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Romaric off as Sevilla fire blanks against Bilbao

Ten-man Sevilla missed the chance to close the gap on third-placed Valencia following a disappointing 0-0 home draw against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

Sevilla were handicapped by the dismissal of Ivory Coast international midfielder Koffi Romaric on 51 minutes and needed some smart saves from goalkeeper Andres Palop just to secure a point.

It was the first time since October that Sevilla had failed to score at home in the league and now lie three points behind Valencia who travel to Atletico Madrid in Sunday’s late match.

Earlier Villarreal bounced back from heavy defeats to Real Madrid and Wolfsburg with a 1-0 home victory over Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday to move six points off the European places.

Villarreal had been thrashed 6-2 by Real in the league and then 4-1 by German champions Wolfsburg in the Europa League so needed a shot in the arm and got it with a clean sheet and three points thanks to Joseba Llorente’s 35th minute goal.

A quickly-taken free-kick caught Depor off-guard as Ariel Ibagaza released Nilmar whose shot across goal was finished off by Llorente as Villarreal climbed to eighth.

Depor fall to sixth following their eighth defeat of the campaign with Real Mallorca climbing above them into fifth thanks to a late 2-1 comeback win at Valladolid.

An 83rd minute winner from Julio Alvarez clinched only Mallorca’s second away win of the season to keep up their European push although their coach Gregorio Manzano said he was relieved to reach the 40 point mark which usually guarantees safety,

“We have reached 40 points and now we have to try and fight until the end to get the team into Europe although there is a long way to go,” said Manzano.

At the other end of the table bottom side Xerez drew 1-1 with Espanyol although the point does little for their survival hopes with the club 12 points from safety.

Atletico Madrid host Valencia later on Sunday looking to transfer their cup form to the league where they are struggling down in 14th position.

Atletico have reached the Kings Cup final and are going strong in the Europa League to help compensate for their poor league season that began with aspirations to challenge for the title.

“We have a lot of goals for the remainder of this season but we are not neglecting the league,” insisted striker Diego Forlan.

On Saturday Barcelona maintained their two-point gap over Real Madrid at the summit with a 2-1 home win over Malaga that didn’t reflect their dominance.

“All games are important and from here to the end of the season, we have to make sure we make no mistakes,” said Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta. “We have to try and win every game and the good thing is that we won and we are top.”

Real were convincing winners crushing Tenerife 5-1 to make it 11 goals in their last two league matches.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Alex Ferguson: Dunne the buy of the season

(GSM) – Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has lavished praise on Aston Villa defender Richard Dunne, tagging the Irish defender as the signing of the season.

After being told that he is surplus to requirements at Manchester City, Dunne signed for £5million in the summer. And the Republic of Ireland international quickly proved to be an excellent signing for Aston Villa, as he instantly settled in at Villa Park and formed a solid central defensive partnership with James Collins.

Martin O’Neill’s side has the best defensive record in the Premier League this season and Ferguson acknowledges that Dunne’s signing contributed to his side’s impressive defensive records.

“Martin has done a good job in a quiet way, without spending a great deal of money,” he told the Daily Star.

“He has bought very wisely and signing Dunne, for me, is the buy of the season – £5million for him was outstanding business.

“Martin has done a terrific job with his players. They are a professional, organised team and have improved defensively with Dunne and James Collins.”

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Frustrated O’Neill: Ref should have sent off Vidic

(GSM) – Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill labelled Phil Dowd’s decision not to send off Nemanja Vidic ‘puzzling’. O’Neill was speaking in the wake of Aston Villa’s 2-1 loss Manchester United in the Carling Cup final.

Vidic was lucky to escape a red card just five minutes into the match after he was the last man when bringing down Gabriel Agbonlahor in the penalty area.

James Milner scored from the resultant penalty-kick, but Michael Owen equalized before Wayne Rooney won the game for the Red Devils in the 74th minute.

And when quizzed about the incident, O’Neill told Sky Sports, “I think everybody felt that, everybody except the man who made the decision.

“I don’t think there’s any query about it and the more you see it the more it’s so puzzling. It’s a big, big point in the game.

“We were absolutely fantastic, particularly in the first half of the game. We took the game to Manchester United and we played some scintillating football.

“We’re a really great side that is improving and has the ability to do that, and I thought we had wonderful support, which was terrific as well.

“Manchester United obviously came more into the game in the second half and caused us one or two problems, but we were always dangerous in the game.

“Getting back to the major point in the game and Manchester United, without doubt, should have been playing the game with 10 men for what is 83 minutes.”

O’Neill spoke to Dowd at the final whistle, but refused to tell the press the explanation the referee gave.

He added, “That will remain between myself and the referee, who is otherwise a very fine referee, but I thought he got this one wrong and I think anybody who witnessed this on TV or during the course of the game today would probably side with me.

“The problem with it, of course, is it’s a bit sour grapes because we’ve got beaten in the game by a really fine Manchester United team, but in two, three weeks’ time it’s forgotten and the trophy goes to Manchester United.

“We end up losing. I think anybody who knows anything about the game thinks that was a major decision.”

The Villa boss says the red card could have really changed the outcome of the game.

“Eventually who knows what the outcome would be, but I would say it would be a difficult battle to play in these conditions,” continued O’Neill.

“Wembley is not in the best shape at the minute, it was very difficult conditions and playing with 10 men and a goal behind, we’re a very capable side.

“That should have been the scenario, but it wasn’t.

“We’re improving rapidly and I hope this taste of Wembley here will drive us more to come back.”

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Ribery fires Bayern top of Bundesliga

France international Franck Ribery fired German giants Bayern Munich to the top of the Bundesliga on Sunday for the first time since winning the title in 2008, beating Hamburg 1-0.

Following a return to form under Dutch coach Louis van Gaal, Bayern caught up Bayer Leverkusen at the top of the table a month ago but since then, the two rivals have been neck-and-neck, with Bayern second on goal difference.

But Leverkusen blinked first this weekend, with their record-setting 24th game unbeaten counting for little as an heroic Cologne side kept them to a goalless draw on Saturday.

On Sunday, Bayern had the more chances as former Chelsea winger Arjen Robben and midfielders Thomas Mueller and Bastian Schweinsteiger picked holes in the Hamburg defence to pile on the pressure.

It took until the 78th minute for Bayern to find the back of the net, however, with Ribery, in bright yellow boots, firing a bullet of a shot past Ivorian defender Guy Demel to beat Wolfgang Hesl.

In Sunday’s other game, Hanover suffered their ninth straight defeat as defending Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg, fresh from their passage into the last 16 of the Europa League last week, won 1-0.

In a game full of chances for both sides, it was Bosnian midfielder Zvjezdan Misimovic who finally made the breakthrough for the visitors on 77 minutes, his 10th goal of the season.

Hanover have now gone 13 games without a win, and now find themselves last but one in the table with only the hapless Hertha Berlin, one of the stars of last season, below them.

Stuttgart maintained their fine recent good run under coach Christian Gross by coming from behind to beat Eintracht Frankfurt at home 2-1, lifting them up to eighth in the table.

Stuttgart’s Brazilian-born striker Cacau continued the form that saw him picked for the squad for Germany’s World Cup warm-up friendly against Argentina on Wednesday, scoring twice in four minutes just before the break.

The 29-year-old, who has played four times for Germany, has now scored seven goals in the last three games, including opening the scoring in Stuttgart’s recent Champions League last-16 home clash with Barcelona that ended 1-1.

Werder Bremen meanwhile capped a fine week by winning 2-1 at 10-man Mainz on Saturday to move to within a point of the European qualifying positions, with Germany midfielder Tim Borowski and substitute Sebastian Broedl the scorers.

Bremen booked their place in the last 16 of the Europa League with a 4-1 win at home to Dutch side FC Twente on Thursday.

Bottom club Hertha Berlin’s bid to pull away from the foot of the table received a blow when they were beaten 2-0 at home by Hoffenheim.

Borussia Moenchengladbach drew 1-1 at home to Freiburg, while Nuremberg climbed one place to third-bottom after securing a goalless draw at Bochum.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Capello should experiment in midweek friendly

fabio-capelloEngland boss Fabio Capello has selected his squad for Wednesday night’s friendly with Egypt. There wasn’t too many surprise names in the squad with the exception of young Stoke centre-back Ryan Shawcross.

The 22 year-old was selected despite an awful incident involving Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey.

Chance

The game against the African champions will be the ideal opportunity for Capello to test out some of his backup players.

He probably already has his starting line-up for the World Cup in his mind. However there are still players capable of making it into that 23 man squad.

Left-back

There is the much talked about and obvious problem of the left-back spot for England. Inexperienced pair of Everton’s Leighton Baines and Aston Villa’s Stephen Warnock are the two mostly likely candidates for the spot at the moment.

Both should be given their chance against the Egyptian’s. Maybe 45 minutes each to prove they are good enough to play at international level. I’ve already sang the praises of the pair in other articles and neither are likely to let England down.

The question is can they keep up their good form at club level. Even if Ashley Cole recovers from injury one of the pair will be likely to be on the plane to South Africa in June. It’s a big few months for the pair that could decide their fate.

Form

Capello is famous for picking his sides on form rather than reputation and he has been true to form with England. Two players that are currently in-form are Aston Villa midfield pair Stewart Downing and James Milner.

Since his recovery from injury Downing has been revitalised and his move to Villa has helped his development. He has been performing consistently well with Villa and has now forced his way back into contention for a place in the national side.

England’s lack of left-sided players is notorious and Downing could be the answer to the left-wing position. However a question mark still remains over whether he is international quality. He should be given a chance on the left of midfield and see how he equips himself. He now has to take that chance.

James Milner is in the form of his life this season and has been playing in the centre of the Villa midfield. He is a versatile player who can also play as a full-back. He could be a crucial squad player at the World Cup. He may not start Wednesday’s game but he has to go to South Africa, if just for the aforementioned versatility.

Defence

With doubts over Rio Ferdinand’s fitness over the past few months it’s important for Capello to look at his cover options. I don’t know what he was thinking by calling up Manchester United’s Wes Brown.

I recently wrote an article on how poor he has been for United in recent weeks and the next thing you know he’s in the England squad. That’s football I suppose, but I’d be really concerned if Brown was one of those 23 players who made the World Cup.

The likes of West Ham’s Matthew Upson and Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott are decent back up players, but both have endured injury troubles in recent seasons. Lescott in fact hasn’t played much football for City at all since his summer arrival from Everton. I would like to see Lescott and Upson paired at the back.

They must be the first choice back up for Terry and Ferdinand. It would also be interesting to see young Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross. He has impressed for Stoke at the centre of their defence in the last few seasons and the Ramsey incident shouldn’t sour his call up.

Keeper

With form in mind Birmingham City keeper Joe Hart must be in with an excellent chance of winning his first cap on Wednesday night. He has been the key to Birmingham winning seven games 1-0 this season. For a youngster he has showed a great maturity and reliability.

He’s been a regular for the England under-21s and surely he now deserves his chance for the full national side. The likes of veteran David James and West Ham’s Robert Green aren’t in the best of form and Hart could take advantage.

Lessons

One game will not be enough to convince Capello of a player’s quality but for the less inexperienced players at international level it’s a good chance to impress. The likes of Hart, Shawcross, Baines, and Warnock could all gain valuable experience at international level which will stand them in good stead in the future.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Torres keeps Liverpool´s Champions League push alive

Fernando Torres marked his first English Premier League start of 2010 by hitting the winner as Liverpool triumphed 2-1 in a bruising encounter with Blackburn at Anfield on Sunday.

Torres has endured an injury-interrupted season but the Spain striker made a telling contribution as Rafa Benitez’s side maintained their push to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Keith Andrews scored a shock equaliser for Rovers from the penalty spot to cancel out Steven Gerrard’s 10th goal of the season before Torres struck in the 44th minute – his 13th Premier League goal of the season – to leave Liverpool fifth in the table, one point behind fourth-placed Tottenham.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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