Ferguson blasts United after last-ditch defeat

Alex Ferguson slammed his team on Tuesday after seeing Manchester United lose 2-1 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final first leg and striker Wayne Rooney injured.

“We didn’t play well enough, to be honest. We kept giving the ball away,” said Ferguson after his side conceded an injury-time Ivica Olic goal that evoked memories of the famous 1999 Champions League final between the two.

However, the Scot remained upbeat for the second leg at home next Wednesday, saying: “Well, Old Trafford will be a different game obviously … we’ll play better and we won’t be giving the ball away the way we did tonight.”

“We’ve got the away goal and that’s an advantage.”

To add injury to insult for the three-time European champions, talismanic striker Rooney limped off the field after giving the visitors the advantage with a left-foot volley with only 66 seconds on the clock.

“He’s got a kick in the ankle, we’ll just have to see tomorrow. Let’s hope it’s not too serious,” said Ferguson, echoing the thoughts of England fans everywhere with just over two months to go until the World Cup in South Africa.

Ferguson said Rooney, who has been on prolific goal-scoring form, netting 34 times this season, “may be doubtful” for Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash with Chelsea in the English Premier League but added: “It’s too early to tell.”

Summing up the game, Ferguson said it was “a disappointing performance possession-wise” but handed credit to United’s German opponents who, he said, were the better side.

Goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, left stranded by a Franck Ribery free kick mid way through the second half – which took a deflection off Rooney – and beaten from close range by Olic in the second minute of injury time, paid tribute to Bayern’s “never-say-die” spirit.

“German teams are never beaten until they are on their way to the airport. It’s hard to take,” he said.

For his part, Bayern’s Dutch coach Louis van Gaal said the win was “highly-deserved.”

“We conceded a goal in the first minute that we never should have done. That was a shock. We needed 10 minutes to recover from and after that, we were the better team.”

“We have a good chance also in Manchester, because we can always score a goal away from home.”

Bayern will hope to welcome back their own talisman, Dutch winger Arjen Robben, who sat out the clash with United after picking up a calf injury in Saturday’s defeat against Stuttgart.

Belgian defender Daniel van Buyten also stressed the Bayern team’s will to win after a run of poor results that has seen them slip off the top of the Bundesliga.

“Of course, we started the game very badly, but we never gave up hope. We played a full 90 minutes knowing that we could win.”

German international striker Mario Gomez, who came on as a second-half substitute, said the 66,000 fans inside the Allianz Arena had pulled the team through.

“The crowd carried us. I have only very rarely experienced an atmosphere like that in a match,” he said.

Wed 31 March, 2010
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Fluminense considering Deco

(GSM) – Fluminense have confirmed they are interested in Chelsea midfielder Deco. The Brazilian club have still not made a formal bid for the Portugal international but are considering making an offer, according to the club’s vice-president.

The native Brazilian, who was linked to Inter Milan in the summer, has started only 12 games in the Premier League this season and has been tipped leave Stamford Bridge in the summer.

Deco recently insisted he intends to see out his contract which still has another year on it. However, he eyes a return to Brazil.

The 32-year-old is keen to go back to Brazil and be close to his family. He had earlier expressed a wish to play for Corinthians upon his return but may also receive an offer from Fluminense to consider.

“We have already got in touch with the player and with his agent, but we still haven’t decided anything and we haven’t made an official offer for the player yet,” Fluminense’s vice-president Alcides Antunes told the Brazilian media.

“We got in touch with Deco and we are analysing the possibility of having him to reinforce Fluminense, but we also have some other options.”

Deco’s agent Acaz Felleger says the former Porto and Barcelona playmaker will not think of his future before the summer.

Felleger told the Daily Mirror, “We will wait until the end of the season so Deco can concentrate on football.

“Maybe Chelsea will allow him to go as one day he would like to return to Brazil to be close to his family.”

Wed 31 March, 2010
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Sullivan in search for Dubai investors

(GSM) – West Ham are searching for new investment and David Sullivan has traveled to Dubai in-hunt for additional investors at Upton Park.

Sullivan and David Gold bought 50 per cent of the club in January and the Hammers’ co-owner is interested in finding minority shareholders to own the remaining 50 per cent of the club.

Sullivan is currently in Dubai along with vice-chairman Karren Brady to hold talks with potential investors.

“I have good horse racing connections over here. We only want people to take up the Straumur percentage of investment,” said Sullivan.

“English people are proving reluctant right now because of the team’s league place but we’re working hard.

“Some people here are billionaires and we want them on board.”

Wed 31 March, 2010
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Trapattoni turned down Juventus offer

(GSM) – Republic of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni claims he had rejected an offer to return as Juventus manager in January. Juve are believed to have made the move right after Ciro Ferrara’s sacking.

However, Juve eventually appointed former AC Milan coach Alberto Zaccheroni as their manager with a contract that ends when the season comes to a close.

Trapattoni has a great history at the Turin giants, having managed the club for 10 years between 1976 and 1986.

During his 10-year-reign, Trap led the Old Lady to winning six Serie A titles and a European Cup.

The 71-year-old admits he rejected the offer “with a heavy heart” as he is focused on guiding the Republic of Ireland to Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

“It was impossible to divide my time between Ireland and a club,” Trapattoni told Mediaset.

“With a heavy heart I had to turn it down, as it was impossible to divide my time between Ireland and a club. It would not have been professional of me.”

Wed 31 March, 2010
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Estudiantes advance in Libertadores

(GSM) – Reigning Copa Libertadores winners Estudiantes advanced to the 2010 knockout rounds on Tuesday after winning 2-0 at Peruvian side Juan Aurich, who finished with nine men.

The sides traded blows until the 52nd minute when the visitors went in front on Gastón Fernández’s goal.

Rodrigo Braña extended the lead for Estudiantes in the 68th minute, but the end of the match was marred by red cards.

Juan Aurich’s Jesús Álvarez earned his marching orders in the 86th minute, top scorer Luis Tejada was dismissed in stoppage time.

The result secures a berth for the Argentinians, though it is yet unclear if they will go in as a group winner or one of the six best runners-up.

The 13th and 14th seeds have been reserved for Mexican sides San Luis and Chivas after they were forced to withdraw last season due to H1N1 fears.

Wed 31 March, 2010
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Lanús hopes alive after Libertad draw

(GSM) – Lanús kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the Copa Libertadores group stage as Maxi Velázquez’s late goal earned them a 1-1 draw at Libertad.

The Paraguayans took the lead in the third minute when Adalberto Román scored from close range.

It looked even better for the hosts in the 41st minute when Lanús’ Paraguayan striker Santiago Salcedo was sent off for a second bookable offense.

Libertad, however, were not able to capitalize on the advantage, and misses hurt them dearly when Velázquez stunned them with the equalizer on 83 minutes.

Libertad sit top of Group 4 on nine points with Lanús further back on seven points in third place. Each side has one group match remaining.

Wed 31 March, 2010
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Barcelona to beat Arsenal, but it won’t be as easy as some people say.

Iniesta and Fabregas - who is the biggest loss?

Iniesta and Fabregas - who is the biggest loss?

Tonight’s game at the Emirates is being built up into something of a David and Goliath match-up. It is billed as the amazing Barcelona side taking on the little minnows of Arsenal. Barcelona are red hot favourites and Arsenal are being given no chance at all.

Exceptional

Whilst I accept that Barcelona are the current champions and are an exceptional team, I think it would be very dangerous to write off Arsene Wenger and his men. Barcelona are currently second in La Liga and Arsenal are third in the Premier League. In theory and maybe, reality, there is very little to choose between the sides.

We all remember the ease with which Barcelona dismissed Manchester United in last season’s final, but let’s not forget that Chelsea were a matter of a few seconds and some appalling refereeing decisions away from knocking them out in the semi-final. Arsenal must treat Barcelona with a huge amount of respect, but they have no need to fear them at all.

Arsene Wenger told the BBC,

“We must be brave and go for it. What you want from your team is not to worry too much about the strengths of Barcelona and focus on our strengths. I do not deny their quality, but we are an exceptional team as well. I do not deny their quality. However the form of the day, the desire, the belief, how much we play for each other will make the difference. They are an individual and collective threat, but so are we. If we produce the best performance, then we can beat any side in the world.”

Centre-back Thomas Vermaelen continued the theme,

“We are not focussed on individuals, because we have to play our own game and play as a team. Messi is a very good player, one of the best players in the world. However, there will be no time to be intimidated. You do not have to be nervous or look at individual players. You have to be focused on your own performance and the team’s performance. If you want to win the Champions League, you have to beat the best teams.”

One of the interesting facets of tonight’s game is the prospect of Cesc Fabregas playing against the club where he began his young career and the club who, if you believe the press, are desperate to have him back. Unfortunately, it is doubtful whether that return will take place as Fabregas is struggling to recover from the leg injury picked up at Birmingham on Saturday. Wenger explained yesterday,

“We will give ourselves twenty-four hours more and we will assess the situation, but if the match were today, Cesc would not be able to play. If he is at full capacity on Wednesday, we will play him. The medical staff tell me there is still a chance he will be available, but that will be decided in the warm-up on the night. That tells you how late we will leave it. I would say it is 60% against, 40% for him playing. We have a squad of nineteen players so I have considered the possibility of leaving him out completely. We will give him twenty-four hours more, but I don’t know if he will be available. If he is not capable to play I would not even put him on the substitutes’ bench.”

Barcelona have their own issues in midfield and some would say that theirs is even more damaging. Andres Iniesta picked up a hamstring injury at Mallorca on Sunday and has been ruled out of the game. If Fabregas is one of the best midfielders in the world then so is Iniesta. Of course, Barcelona can boast the likes of Xavi, Messi and Ibrahimovic, but equally, the likes of Nasri and Arshavin are not exactly mugs.

Possession

I do expect Barcelona to come out on top over the two legs but I do not expect it to be easy. Arsenal play some scintillating football at times and they will have as much possession as Barcelona which will be an unusual position for the Catalan side to find themselves in. Arsenal’s problem can be turning that possession and great football into goals and that is why, in the end, I think Barcelona will win.

Make no mistake though, this game is a very long way from being a foregone conclusion for Barcelona.

Wed 31 March, 2010
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Henry´s return to Arsenal sets stage for ´dream tie´

Thierry Henry will make an emotional return to Arsenal for Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final, but the Barcelona striker could be forced to surrender the spotlight at the Emirates Stadium to his team-mate Lionel Messi.

Ever since the reigning European champions were paired with Henry’s former club, fans of the beautiful game have been licking their lips in anticipation of a rare meeting between two sides whose commitment to the sport’s purist principles is unmatched across the world.

Henry, who joined Barca in 2007, will be one of the most recognisable faces amongst a galaxy of stars in north London and he is guaranteed a rapturous reception from the Arsenal faithful.

But the France star, who won two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and scored a club-record 226 goals in 369 games for Arsenal, is far from certain to start after spending much of his time on the bench recently. It is a prospect that doesn’t unduly concern him.

“I’m not saying I won’t try to fight or whatever because that’s the way the game is. But I don’t want to play against Arsenal,” Henry said.

“Before the draw I said that I did not want to face Arsenal. To return home is strange and even more so in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

“I’m very emotional, but also staying calm. It will be different because I spent seven years at Highbury and one at the Emirates and to see the people, the fans and the other employees at the club will be very strange.”

Like David Beckham, who struggled to make an impact as AC Milan lost on his reunion with Manchester United in the last round, Henry could find himself relegated to a sideshow anyway if Messi maintains his remarkable form during the two matches.

At times over the last eight months, the mesmerising Argentina forward has seemed to be staging his own goal of the season competition.

He already has 34 goals this term, including a recent stunning effort against Real Zaragoza, and he single-handedly destroyed Stuttgart as the holders cruised into the last 16.

As if that wasn’t enough to give Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger sleepless nights, Messi believes Arsenal’s open style of play will allow him even more space to flourish.

“At this stage of the tournament we’re not too concerned who we face, because to be the best you have to beat the best,” Messi said.

“If anything it suits us to be playing a side like Arsenal who give their players freedom to play without restrictions. I wouldn’t expect them to abandon that and employ different tactics to deal with us.”

Wenger is also sweating over the fitness of captain Cesc Fabregas after he suffered a knee injury in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Birmingham.

Fabregas, who started his career alongside Messi in Barca’s youth academy, hopes to play despite severe bruising to his leg and knee, but his participation remains uncertain.

No matter who takes the field on Wednesday, the quality of play is likely to be the highest in Europe this season.

Barca swept their way to the treble last year with some breath-taking displays and Arsenal are no slouches themselves when it comes to entertaining the neutrals.

“There are similarities there in the way we play, the way we educate young players, the way we rely on young players and in the sense of belonging to the club,” Wenger said.

Barca coach Pep Guardiola agrees. “Since I took the job our play has been marked by brave, attacking football. Sometimes we’ve been bold and I think we’ve played audaciously,” he said.

“It’s a philosophy of football. Win or lose I want us to show who we are and what kind of football we believe in.”

Losing Andres Iniesta to a hamstring injury suffered in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Real Mallorca could disturb Barca’s midfield equilibrium, but the Catalans will take heart from the expected return of defender Gerard Pique from a knee problem.

Wed 31 March, 2010
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Tiredness threatens to derail Inter´s season

Inter Milan’s defeat to AS Roma at the weekend has sparked worries that the Serie A leaders are suffering from fatigue ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final, first leg at home to CSKA Moscow.

While the rest of Italy’s teams crashed out of Europe one after another, Inter remain their country’s only flagbearers on the continent and they are also still in the Italian Cup, facing a semi-final, second leg next month.

But while they are still on course for a remarkable treble, their league form has disintegrated over the last month and a half.

Although they beat English Premier League heavyweights Chelsea twice in the last round of the Champions League, at home they have been in crisis.

Two wins in nine matches has seen their once 14-point lead over second-placed AS Roma reduced to a single point.

But top scorer Diego Milito, who netted on Saturday but was denied an injury time equaliser by the post, claims tiredness will not stop his team.

“Are we tired? It’s not easy playing in three competitions, you use up a lot of energy but we’re going to keep going and try to do our best,” he said.

“All these commitments are in themselves a motivation, not a problem. Our desire to win is stronger than our fatigue.”

And that desire to win might just be stronger in Europe than at home as Inter bid to end a dire recent record on the continent and reach their first Champions League semi-final since 2003, when they lost to neighbours AC Milan, who went on to beat another Italian side Juventus in the final.

Coach Jose Mourinho was brought to the club as a replacement for Roberto Mancini, despite the Italian leading the team to three straight Serie A titles, in order to bring European success to the club.

He had an impressive record in the Champions League, winning it with Porto in 2004 and reaching two semi-finals with Chelsea.

He was excused last season’s second round exit at the hands of then reigning champions Manchester United but the feeling is that a last four appearance is the very least expected of Mourinho this term.

But despite a difficult opening to their group stage campaign, they have since gone from strength to strength.

And they have history with their opponents having met them in the group stages two years ago.

Inter came through those games with a pair of victories but they were not without their difficulties.

They trailed 1-0 in Moscow and 2-0 in Milan before hitting back on both occasions.

They’ve also had the advantage of a trip to Russia already this season as they faced Rubin Kazan in their pool, earning a 1-1 draw in the cold.

However, if Inter are feeling jaded, their opponents’ conditioning will be at the opposite end of the spectrum as they are only three games into their new domestic season.

But 2005 UEFA Cup winners CSKA are not the force they once were in Russia, having failed to win the title since 2006 and finishing only fifth last season, missing out on European qualification altogether.

It means their hopes of becomming the first Russian team to reach the last four of Europe’s premier club competition since neighbours Spartak in 1991 are looking thin.

But they have had some encouraging results on their travels this season, drawing 3-3 at Old Trafford against Manchester United and winning at both Besiktas and Sevilla.

Whatever the result on Wednesday the teams will have little time to dwell on it as the second leg takes place just six days later.

Wed 31 March, 2010
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Toluca and Pachuca draw in CONCACAF Champions League

(GSM) – The CONCACAF Champions League semi final tie between Mexican sides Toluca and Pachuca could still go either way after a 1-1 draw in Tuesday’s first leg.

Pachuca were first to score in the city of Toluca, as a cross from Aguilar was picked up by former Ajax player Dario Cvitanich, who rounded the keeper and directed the ball into the goal for 0-1.

But Toluca got the equaliser in the 78th minute with Edgar Dueños turning in a left-winged cross from Vladimir Marin.

The match, which had been rather friendly in the first half, turned ugly late on as both Miguel Almazan and Diego Novaretti conceded second yellow cards, leaving Toluca with just nine players on the pitch.

No more goals were scored in the second half however, but Toluca will need to deal with their two suspensions when the sides meet again in Pachuca next week.

Wed 31 March, 2010
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