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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Champions League, Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool

Cole gives Blues the edge

Joe Cole scored the only goal of the game as Chelsea emerged from the first leg of their Champions League semi-final with a 1-0 advantage over Liverpool to take to Anfield.

After generating enough chances to put the tie beyond doubt, particularly in a first-half they comfortably dominated, Jose Mourinho's side were put under sufficient pressure after the break for Liverpool to head home believing they can turn things around in front of their own supporters.

Cole's goal was a delight to watch and the kind of quick break that visiting sides to Stamford Bridge usually dream of. That Chelsea were the home side yet still found themselves attacking on the break was of little importance to those fans waving blue and white flags.

The opening period belonged to the Blues and Cole's goal was just reward for a display which had Liverpool pegged back deep in their own half for long spells. Chelsea could have been in front as early as the eighth minute when Ashley Cole's cross was headed down by Didier Drogba for Lampard to fire in a shot which brought an excellent save from Jose Reina.

It was a warning that Liverpool failed to heed and when John Arne Riise's pass was intercepted by Drogba three minutes later, Chelsea looked certain to open their account. But Drogba, with 31 goals to his credit this season, failed to find Joe Cole with his pass and another opportunity went begging.

Drogba's lack of bravery moments later allowed Liverpool to escape yet again when he paid far too much attention to the onrushing Reina than the flight of Joe Cole's cross and missed the ball completely. When Frank Lampard's free-kick flew inches wide of Reina's right-hand upright in the 22nd minute, Mourinho could have been forgiven for thinking it was not going to be his side's night.

But all that changed seven minutes later with a goal of such simplicity that it was difficult to believe Chelsea had scored it against a side with one of the meanest defences in England. t began with Ricardo Carvalho breaking-up a Liverpool attack and racing out of defence before slipping a sublime pass to Drogba. The striker, who gave Daniel Agger a torrid evening, turned him superbly before crossing for Cole to find the net from six yards.

Liverpool, not surprisingly, upped the pace of their own game in the second period and it almost paid dividends. But in Petr Cech, Chelsea have a guardian of the sticks who, like Cole, epitomises the spirit of defiance in the Stamford Bridge camp.

Cech, out for three months with a fractured skull sustained in a Barclays Premiership match against Reading last October and who still has to wear a protective helmet, flung himself to his left to keep out a goalbound volley from Steven Gerrard.
Liverpool were now in the ascendancy but despite replacing Craig Bellamy with the lanky frame of England striker Peter Crouch, they failed to produce another telling moment.

Instead it was Reina who kept Liverpool in the tie with a fantastic save to deny Lampard when the England midfielder volleyed the ball towards the top corner 10 minutes from time.

Drogba almost scored a second in stoppage-time but headed wide of the target from six yards. The tie remains delicately poised ahead of the return leg at Anfield and while Liverpool will feel they are capable of overcoming the deficit, Chelsea's remarkable spirit may prove to be unbreakable yet again.

Chelsea: Cech, Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Ashley Cole, Makelele, Joe Cole (Wright-Phillips 84), Mikel, Lampard, Shevchenko (Kalou 76), Drogba.
Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Boulahrouz, Geremi, Bridge, Diarra.

Goals: Joe Cole 29.

Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Agger, Riise, Gerrard, Alonso (Pennant 83), Mascherano, Zenden, Kuyt, Bellamy (Crouch 52).
Subs Not Used: Dudek, Hyypia, Gonzalez, Sissoko, Paletta.

Booked: Mascherano.

Champions League, Chelsea 1-0 Liverpool extended highlights:


Champions League, Manchester United 3-2 Ac Milan

Rooney trumps Kaka to give United edge
Wayne Rooney brilliantly trumped AC Milan's Brazilian star Kaka to fire Manchester United to an exhilarating 3-2 victory in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final here on Tuesday.

The victory was all the more remarkable given the hosts were outplayed at times by a mesmeric Milan outfit, who bounced back in superb style from Ronaldo's fourth-minute opener and were never likely to be the powderpuff opposition Roma provided in the last round.

Brazilian striker Kaka looked to have put Milan firmly in the box seat as he first cancelled out Ronaldo's opener and then fired the visitors into the lead before half time. Rooney restored parity just ahead of the hour mark, before sending the majority of the 73,000 fans crammed into the stadium into raptures with a wonderful solo goal with seconds remaining. It was not quite as majestic a performance as two weeks ago, when United trounced Roma 7-1, but no less satisfying; rather than the free-scoring fluid football witnessed on that magnificent evening a fortnight ago, this victory was steeped in courage, grit and determination.

As is their want when faced with Italian opposition at Old Trafford, United took an early lead and there was little surprise as to the identity of the scorer and after much UEFA deliberation, Ronaldo was credited with the opener after just six minutes. Cristiano Ronaldo used all of his height to rise and meet Ryan Giggs' corner with a header that hit Dida's shoulder, sending the ball looping goalwards. Dida tried to get back, but only succeeded in nudging it over the line under pressure from Gabriel Heinze.

Kaka confirmed that was a one-off with the first of his two strikes on 19 minutes. It was a brilliant goal and one that embodied all that is good about the silky Brazilian - not only did he show his abundant pace and skill, but he also displayed his coolness in front of goal, bursting onto Clarence Seedorf's through ball to leave both Michael Carrick and Heinze for dead, before slotting across Edwin van der Sar.

Kaka was undoubtedly the star of the show in the opening 45 minutes, and his second gave Milan the lead going in at the break, although this time he was gifted a shooting opportunity, when Heinze and Patrice Evra collided on the edge of the box. Kaka simply strode forward and confidently slotted home. At 2-1 up, Milan threatened to swamp United as their retention of possession and passing began to highlight just why they are such a force to be reckoned with in Europe.

United never gave up hope, and Rooney's 59th minute strike against the run of play kept alive their interest in this tie. The England striker finished well, but it was all about Paul Scholes' scooped pass through, which baffled the Milan defence and played his team-mate in on goal. Dida did his best to make the save, but the ball looped over the line to set up the stage for Rooney's winner. Giggs was the provider, lacing a pass through for Rooney to run onto and take on a first time shot. The surprise and accuracy of his effort caught out Dida at his near post and gave United a slight advantage ahead of next week's trip to Italy.

Manchester United's second half performance had possibly deserved the victory, and after the equaliser, the hosts poured forward in search of a winner. Fletcher came close on 63 minutes only to see Dida pull a flying save right out of the top drawer, before Giggs flashed a free kick inches wide of the post and Ronaldo hit the side netting.

For Milan, Kaka posed a constant threat, while Alberto Gilardino toiled up front on his own to no avail. Coach Carlo Ancelotti's main striker in Europe has struggled all season and on this evidence, is some way off discovering his form. More worrying news for coach Carlo Ancelotti was that Paolo Maldini and Gennaro Gattuso had to be substituted, and both players will now face a race against time to be fit for the second leg in eight day's time.

Manchester United: Van der Sar, O'Shea, Brown, Heinze, Evra, Fletcher, Carrick, Scholes, Ronaldo, Rooney, Giggs.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Smith, Solskjaer, Dong, Richardson, Eagles, Lee.

Booked: Evra, Giggs.

Goals: Ronaldo 6, Rooney 59, 90.

AC Milan: Dida, Oddo, Nesta, Maldini (Bonera 46), Jankulovski, Gattuso (Brocchi 52), Pirlo, Ambrosini, Seedorf, Kaka, Gilardino (Gourcuff 84).
Subs Not Used: Kalac, Cafu, Inzaghi, Favalli.

Booked: Kaka, Bonera.

Goals: Kaka 22, 37.

Champions League, Manchester United 3-2 AC Milan extended highlights:

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Champions League, Bayern Munich 0-2 AC Milan (agg 2-4)

Milan strikes eliminate Bayern Munich
Experience told as clinical AC Milan scored twice in the space of four first-half minutes to claim an impressive 4-2 aggregate victory over FC Bayern München, and a semi-final against Manchester United FC.

A four-minute burst done the damage on the half hour mark, and Ottmar Hitzfeld's side never really recovered despite pushing the Rossoneri in the second half.

Seedorf scored in the 27th minute when he received a pass on the edge of the Bayern area from Kaka and showed great footwork to neatly take the ball past two challenges and shoot between Daniel Van Buyten's legs into the bottom right-hand corner.

The Dutchman - the only player to have won the Champions League three times with as many clubs - then turned provider as he flicked on an Andrea Pirlo pass to free Inzaghi through the middle. The Italian did what he does best against Bayern and fired his sixth goal in five appearances against the Germans in the competition past a helpless Kahn! There was a hint of offside about the goal, but it was marginal and did not take away from the confidence with which Inzaghi hammered the ball home, especially following his earlier lack of composure on the ball.

Up to that point proceedings had been rather cagey, Bayern going closest to opening the scoring after eight minutes through Christian Lell. A Mark Van Bommel ball to the far post was driven into the ground by the 22-year-old and the shot had Dida beaten.

Massimo Oddo was well-positioned on the line to clear and Inzaghi then spurned a glorious opportunity to open the scoring at the other end. A Paolo Maldini dink over the top was miscontrolled in a situation that has so often seen the Milanese striker take a touch and finish with aplomb.

Lukas Podolski had a shot saved at close range by Dida, and Inzaghi fluffed a header after a good frist-time cross from Marek Jankulovski before the flurry of action on the half hour mark produced Milan's goals.

With Bayern dazed following their Italian opponents mercenary streak, Podolski had the only remaining chance of the half as he failed to get a toe on a tantalising free-kick into the goalmouth, and it remained 2-0 to the visitors going into half time. Bayern pushed Milan in the second half, and the impressive Lell almost created a goal for Hasan Salihamidzic ten minutes after the restart when he curled a delightful ball to the far post that Oddo managed to turn behind.

Van Bommel tested Dida with some fierce shots and the Dutch midfielder, alongside Lell, was the most impressive of the Bayern players in his application and determination. Milan defended resolutely to keep the home side out though, and Claudio Pizarro headed straight at Milan 'keeper Dida with ten minutes remaining in what was one of their better chances of the half.

Van Bommel had yet another shot tipped around the post as full time approached, but Bayern lacked the thrust that was required to really push Milan to the limit and time eventually ran out for the German side.

Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld:
"It's a very big disappointment.

"We got a 2-2 draw in Milan and we had great hope that we would advance. But we always knew that Milan can win away from home.

"We were unlucky not to score first. It may have been different then.

"They got a lot of confidence from those two goals and they have great players. We tried everything and we went out fighting, but Milan was clearly the better team."

AC Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf:
"I am delighted we have qualified and even more so that I scored.

"We have taken a step towards the final but Manchester United know us well."

Bayern Munich: Kahn, Salihamidzic, Lucio, Van Buyten, Lahm, Ottl (Santa Cruz 46), Hargreaves, Van Bommel, Lell (Gorlitz 77), Makaay (Pizarro 61), Podolski.
Subs Not Used: Rensing, Karimi, Ismael.

Booked: Van Bommel, Salihamidzic.

AC Milan: Dida, Oddo, Nesta, Maldini, Jankulovski, Gattuso (Cafu 87), Pirlo, Ambrosini, Seedorf (Gourcuff 80), Kaka, Inzaghi (Serginho 70).
Subs Not Used: Kalac, Kaladze, Oliveira, Bonera.

Goals: Seedorf 27, Inzaghi 31.

Bayern Munich 0-2 AC Milan extended highlights:

Champions League, Liverpool 1-0 Psv Eindhoven (agg 4-0)

Liverpool beat PSV again!
Liverpool FC booked a UEFA Champions League semi-final date with English rivals Chelsea FC for the second time in three years as Peter Crouch's solitary strike wrapped up a comfortable 4-0 aggregate win over PSV Eindhoven in the quarter-final at Anfield.

PSV finishe the game with 10 men after the unfortunate dismissal of teenager Dirk Marcellis on his debut, a decision that even drew sympathy from the Kop. Peter Crouch scored the winner midway through the second-half, but this was little more than a functional performance that failed to match the creditable efforts of United and Chelsea 24 hours earlier.

Benitez opted to rest both Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher with a 3-0 lead already in the bag from the first match in Holland last week. Along with Javier Mascherano, they were both on the substitutes' bench. Sami Hyypia, Bolo Zenden and Alvaro Arbeloa were in the starting line-up as Liverpool attempted to secure what was by now an expected semi-final spot.

Liverpool felt they could coast through the occasion, despite the fact the Kop had come to party and kept up a constant barrage of noise. Alarm bells were ringing in the third minute when Farfan sent in a powerful header from Phillip Cocu's right-wing cross, and it took a fine reflex save from Jose Reina to keep it out.

Then Liverpool lost Craig Bellamy. He attempted to block a cross from Csaba Feher, and only connected with his boot. The Welshman collapsed behind the goal-line and was eventually carried off on a stretcher, with a damaged right leg, Robbie Fowler coming on as substitute.

The arrival of Fowler certainly sparked the crowd even more. Liverpool fans are priming themselves for a final goodbye to their hero, 32 earlier this week. Fowler came close with a flicked header, and his movement in the box certainly gave PSV something to think about.

There was little to entertain them on the pitch, and there was only one chance to cheer in the first half when Carlos Salcido was booked in the 41st minute for a foul on Fowler. Zenden curled the 20-yard free-kick just wide of the post.

Liverpool's urgency hardly improved after the break, and it was PSV coming forward with Reina making another fine save from a Farfan drive. Patrick Kluivert and China international Sun Xiang were introduced by the Dutch before PSV were totally deflated by a crazy sending off.

Italian referee Roberto Rosetti clearly decided to liven up the proceedings with a ridiculous red card for 18 year-old Marcellis on his debut. A tackle on Zenden caused the incident, hardly a serious foul and Liverpool's fans booed the decision. PSV were stunned, but resistance was futile and the home fans applauded the youngster from the pitch.

Three minutes later, Liverpool were ahead and the tie was really over. John Arne Riise crossed from the left, Gomes pushed the ball away and Fowler turned it back for Crouch to score from two yards, his 18th of the season. The game over now, Mark Gonzalez replaced Xabi Alonso in the 71st minute and Gabriel Paletta took over from Daniel Agger soon after.

Another Riise cross spooned up for Crouch to head over the bar from eight yards!

Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Hyypia, Agger (Paletta 78), Riise, Pennant, Sissoko, Alonso (Gonzalez 72), Zenden, Crouch, Bellamy (Fowler 17).
Subs Not Used: Dudek, Gerrard, Mascherano, Carragher.

Goals: Crouch 68.

PSV: Gomes, Marcellis, Simons, Addo, Salcido, Feher (Sun 62), Cocu, Vayrynen, Culina, Farfan (Kluivert 62), Kone (Van Eijden 71).
Subs Not Used: Moens, Da Costa, Tardelli, Ter Horst.

Sent Off: Marcellis (64).

Booked: Salcido.

Champions League, Liverpool 1-0 PSV highlights:

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Player Ratings: Manchester United - AS Roma

Manchester United:

van der Sar - 6 - It was not the busiest night for the Dutchman and he wasn't convincing, although anything was going to be an improvement from his weekend fiasco.

O'Shea - 7 - Mr Versatile did his job very well for United at full-back as he provided plenty of cover for the wave and wave of attacks.

Brown - 7 -
A potential weak link following the loss of Nemanja Vidic to injury, but he can't be faulted on a night like tonight.

Ferdinand - 7 - Another player keen to improve on the weekends performance and he did just that, while also offered a surprise attacking option with the occassion run through the middle.

Heinze - 7 - The Argentine completes the set of defenders that did their job without being spectacular, but on a night like tonight it is the attacking six that are going to get all the praise.

Ronaldo - 9 - Is there a better player in the World at the moment? If there is I have not seen him in action! Just majestic from the winger, who plays football as if it were art. There are few better sights in football than when Ronaldo is running at speed at defenders, although for Roma it is a sight that will give them nightmares for years.

Fletcher - 8 - In for Paul Scholes, which is not an easy thing to do, but in a totally different way he was just as effective. The Scot worked so hard for his team and will have won over many critics with a fine and gutsy display.

Carrick - 9 - Two sensational goals from a player who is now truly at home at his level. There will be nobody questioning his price tag if he continues to show he has goals in his game. He could have had a third and it would have been deserved.

Giggs - 9 - The Welshman may be the veteran of the outfield players, but the way that he plays the game is so energetic it defies his years. However, his choice of passes is where he shows his experience.

Rooney - 8 - The striker was asked to play out wide and support from the flanks which is not his strongest position, but he was a tireless performer and still arrived with a strikers goal. Excellent performance.

Smith - 8 - United would admit they would rather still have Henrik Larsson or even Luis Saha, but Smith was another player that showed his worth with extra work rate and few would deny his well taken first half goal was well earned.


Doni - 4 - Most of the goals were such good finishes that he can't be expected to have saved them, but nonetheless Doni's lack of saves to shots is very poor. He should be more angry with the players ahead of him.

Panucci - 4 - Vastly experienced international, but made to look like a school boy as United used all the tricks in the books to get past him with their various attacks.

Mexes - 3 - Shocking display from the Frenchman who was reduced to show his lack of class with petty fouls in the closing stages.

Chivu - 4 - The Romanian will have been wishing his mask would have covered his entire face so nobpdy would recognise such an uncharacteristic display.

Cassetti - 4 - Ronaldo will have given Cassetti nightmares for years to come, but hopefully he'll then learn how to deal with the wing wizard.

Wilhelmsson - 5 - Marginally more industrious in midfield, but too often poor distribition cost his side dearly. A shadow of what he is capable of.

De Rossi - 6 - Not the worst performance from the Italian despite the outcome, but his lack of support from midfield options was telling. He also scored with a nice finish.

Vucinic - 4 - Totally overrun in midfield and unable to exert any real authority on the game.

Pizarro - 5 - At times he was involved in decent link up play, but so often the final ball was lacking and there wasn't the commitment to get back and deal with United's pacy attacks.

Mancini - 5 - Similar to above, but with even less involvement.

Totti - 7 - Probably the only Roma player that can be proud of their display, as at least the skipper showed commitment. At times it looked as if he was playing on his own and he may have done better if he wass.

For match report and highlights please click here.

Champions League, Manchester United 7-1 AS Roma (agg 8-3)

Manchester United seven wonders destroty Roma!
A scintillating display by Manchester United saw them tear Roma apart to reach the Champions League semi-finals. Manchester United obliterated Roma and all but erased the reputation of Serie A. No one believed it possible to treat an Italian club quite like this. The victors, nonetheless, will give more thought to their immediate future than to this contribution to the lore of European football!!

A goal behind from the first leg, Sir Alex Ferguson's men blew their opponents away with four first-half strikes from Michael Carrick, Alan Smith, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. Further efforts after the break from Ronaldo, Carrick and Patrice Evra completed a remarkable 8-3 aggregate success for a United team who will fear neither prospective semi-final opponent, AC Milan or FC Bayern München, after this display.

England international Michael Carrick, receiving the ball from Cristiano Ronaldo 25 yards out, curled a delightful chip over the stranded Alexander Doni in the visiting goal to send the home fans into raptures and sends their hopes soaring. Minutes later a second goal followed from Alan Smith - only in the side as a replacement for injured Louis Saha and a surprise selection ahead of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at that – and then immediately the third goal went in, first-leg hero Wayne Rooney bagging it from close range.

Ronaldo added two of his own either side of half time while another from Carrick and a seventh strike from substitute Patrice Evra completed the rout, Daniele de Rossi grabbing a stylish consolation!!!

The game began at 100 miles per hour, United with the majority of the ball as an electric Old Trafford roared them on. However the first three shots were directed at the goal of Edwin van der Sar. First David Pizarro sent one a few yards wide, which did not especially trouble the Netherlands international, before Francesco Totti unleashed a snaking grass-cutter fractionally past the post that certainly had him worried. The Red Devils' defence learnt their lesson and made sure to close down the playmaker, doubtful until just before kick off, at every opportunity.

Mirko Vucinic had a wayward attempt in the eighth minute, followed three minutes later by Carrick's sublime opener. It was the crucial goal that on many recent European nights had evaded Sir Alex Ferguson's team and sent them out of the competition; on this occasion it served as the catalyst for a phenomenal passage of play that ensured their progression.

In the 17th minute Smith was rewarded for his industry up front when a Gabriel Heinze pass towards the centre of the field was completely missed by Cristian Chivu in a moment of madness and the blonde striker finished coolly from 18 yards. It evoked memories of his winner in the Stadio Olimpico for Leeds United against Lazio back in 2001; if possibly not for ardent Red Devils fans.

Only two minutes afterwards the score was 3-0 as Smith played in Ryan Giggs, who had popped up on the right wing. Attacking the by-line, he fed the ball to the edge of the six-yard box where Rooney had made a run to meet it and hit the back of the net via the inside of the far post.

Still, at that point two goals for the second-placed Serie A side would have put them through and so it was important that the Premiership leaders, beaten by Portsmouth in the league at the weekend, balance attack with defence. They achieved that as Mancini and Totti were frustrated and Montenegro international Vucinic barely got a kick in the final third.

Emotions boiled over at one stage in the first half when Smith was booked for a late tackle on Chivu and then felt wronged when Marco Cassetti was not punished for a blatant off-the-ball kick, while Rio Ferdinand was also shown a yellow card. The fourth goal arrived two minutes before the break when Ronaldo, along with Giggs a constant threat on the counter, bore down on the penalty area and smashed a low shot inside the near post.

The Giallorossi had another nightmare start to the second period when Carrick, who worked tirelessly off the ball throughout the match, passed to the veteran Welsh wing wizard on the left. He low first-time cross was left by Smith and missed by Doni before Ronaldo stuck it away for an incredible fifth goal to pep up the atmosphere once more.

The scenes of jubilation in the stands were the main show from that moment on as Roma struggled to break down a dense United defensive unit; until Carrick took possession from Heinze around the hour mark. He opened up his body and picked out the far top corner with another goal of the very highest quality. Smith attempted an outrageous chip on the bouncing ball from the corner of the box which landed on the roof of the net before Totti crossed to De Rossi, who turned in a volley from ten yards that on another occasion would have had the Italian fans shouting the house down.

Alas for them it meant absolutely nothing in the circumstances and Evra even cancelled it out with a cracking low shot inside the near post from the right with his natural left foot as Doni anticipated a drive to the far upright!!

Totti tried his utmost to score in a match that he described beforehand as more important than last summer's World Cup final victory for Italy over France, though whether he feels the same way now it has ended in such a way is debatable.

Manchester United were deserved winners, Roma swept away by their attacking ferocity early on – perhaps something lacking in recent seasons of failure in Europe.

Manchester United: Van der Sar, Brown, Ferdinand, Heinze, O'Shea (Evra 52), Ronaldo, Fletcher, Carrick (Richardson 73), Giggs (Solskjaer 61), Rooney, Smith.
Subs Not Used: Kuszczak, Dong, Cathcart, Eagles.

Booked: Smith, Ferdinand.

Goals: Carrick 12, Smith 17, Rooney 19, Ronaldo 44, 49, Carrick 60, Evra 81.

Roma: Doni, Panucci, Mexes, Chivu, Cassetti, Wilhelmsson (Rosi 88), De Rossi (Faty 86), Vucinic, Pizarro, Mancini (Okaka Chuka 90), Totti.
Subs Not Used: Curci, Defendi, Ferrari, Taddei.

Booked: Cassetti, Mexes.

Goals: De Rossi 69.

United's seven wonders match highlights: