Saturday, February 24, 2007

Manchester United Opponent Lille Charged for Player Protest

Lille was charged by European soccer's governing body for a player protest during its 1-0 Champions League defeat against Manchester United, a match that was also marred by crowd disturbances.

Lille's players held up play during the Feb. 20 round-of-16 game after Ryan Giggs scored with a quickly taken free kick after 83 minutes. The French club, which said the goal shouldn't have been allowed, lost its request for a replay.

Giggs curled his shot into the net while Lille was still preparing its defensive wall and with goalkeeper Tony Sylva out of position. Lille kicked the ball straight out of play at the restart and its players walked to the side of the field where they surrounded referee Eric Braamhaar. A melee involving both squads ensued before the game resumed.

UEFA said on its Web site today it dismissed the protest because ``there was no proof of a technical error'' from Braamhaar. Lille has three days to appeal.

UEFA will also consider possible safety and security violations at the Felix-Bollaert stadium in Lens and the behavior of both sets of fans at a separate meeting of its Control and Disciplinary Body on March 22.

United fans had to be helped to safety by stewards after scaling a barrier to escape a congested stand. Lille blamed the problem on United fans arriving with fake tickets.

The clubs meet again on March 7 at United's Old Trafford stadium in the second leg.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Unprecedented scenes at Lille Match

A disputed goal and a controversial no-goal preceded a near walk-off in a hot-tempered Champions League match on Tuesday.

Manchester United got the better call both times the ball went into the net, leaving the English team with a 1-0 win over Lille in the first leg of the second-round match, which was also marred by fan trouble.

Ryan Giggs scored the winning goal for United in the 83rd minute of the match, which was played in Lens because Lille's stadium does not meet UEFA standards.

Giggs apparently took his free kick before the referee blew his whistle. Following a foul on substitute Louis Saha, Giggs looked at the referee and then quickly curled his shot over the wall, leaving Lille goalkeeper Tony Sylva stranded as the ball sailed into the top corner.

That prompted a Lille coach to gesture to the players to leave the field. Angry Man United players also rushed to sidelines, but there was little trouble and the match soon resumed.

"When the goalkeeper asks to place his wall, you should wait for the referee's whistle," Lille captain Gregory Tafforeau said. "There was no whistle at all and the player shot directly ... the result is (a) goal."

Ferguson angry

United coach Alex Ferguson was also angry, but he was mad at the Lille staff and urged UEFA to take action because he felt they may have acted inappropriately.

"I've never seen that. It was complete intimidation of the referee," Ferguson said. "UEFA have got to do something. The Lille coaching staff intimidated the referee and it created a hostile atmosphere."

Lille coach Claude Puel also complained that he was unable to get his substitutes on the field because the free kick was taken too quickly.

"It's incomprehensible. We wanted to place the reserves," Puel said. "Of course, the referee didn't want to."

Earlier in the match, Lille striker Peter Odemwingie had his 63rd-minute goal voided because of a push. The Nigeria forward headed in a cross from the left, but the referee disallowed the goal because of an apparent push on United defender Nemanja Vidic.

"The defender is beaten, he's touched a bit and plays for the foul," Puel said. "We played a great second half and shook up this great team. We had the better chances. I'm proud of my players. They showed we're not here by chance."

Riot police in action

Police fired tear gas into a section of the crowd early in the game and some Man United fans were pushed against a high metal security safety barrier. Although several fans were helped over the barrier, there were no reports of any serious injuries.

In the 15th minute, United supporters shook the high metal fence while a large gate was partially pushed open before being slammed shut again. After riot police arrived and fired tear gas, security officials helped at least two supporters to safety on the field.

Television reports suggested gates in the rear of the seating section had been opened by police to allow English fans with tickets to sit with other United supporters.

Wayne Rooney and Henrik Larsson both had earlier chances for United, while Mathieu Bodmer forced a point-blank save from United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

United played better early and Paul Scholes found Rooney with his back to goal in the 19th minute. The striker's perfect touch took him around his defender but he shot high.

In the 42nd, Giggs found Rooney inside the area, but his cross was palmed away by Sylva. Cristiano Ronaldo collected the rebound but couldn't score.

Lille responded and Bodmer collected a pass from Odemwingie on the edge of the penalty area and his low shot crept past the post with Van der Sar beaten.

In the 51st, Rooney dribbled past two defenders but was too far out to shoot, so he chipped the ball back to the far post where Ronaldo arrived too late to be able to slide it in.

Ronaldo had another chance two minutes later when he broke free in the area, but Sylva held his ground and made the save.

In the 57th, Van der Sar made a superb stop to deny Bodmer after he collected a flick from Odemwingie.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Manchester United 1-1 Reading

Sat., Feb. 17, 2007
Matchday Wrap Matchday Photos
Chelsea 4-0 Norwich City Recap
Watford 1-0 Ipswich Recap
Plymouth 2-0 Derby Recap
Man Utd 1-1 Reading Recap
Arsenal 0-0 Blackburn Recap
Boro 2-2 West Brom Recap
Sun., Feb. 18, 2007
Fulham vs. Tottenham
Preston vs. Man City

The Royals' only previous appearance in the last eight came as long ago as 1927. But now they have the chance to knock United out on home soil at the Madejski Stadium to advance to the same stage once more.

Reading were thankful the Red Devils failed to take a host of clear opportunities, both before and after Michael Carrick had put the hosts in front.

But, for their tenacity alone, Steve Coppell's men deserved another crack at the Red Devils.

When the teams were announced, it was pretty easy to see why Sir Alex Ferguson had offered such public backing to Coppell's decision to make wholesale changes.

While Coppell brought seven new faces into his starting line-up, Ferguson was not that far behind him with six.

Tuesday's Champions League trip to Lille offered an obvious reason for Ferguson's decision but it still did not do much to enhance the status of a competition United have won a record 11 times.

Coppell was part of one of those successes - in 1977 - and was also famously in charge of the Crystal Palace side United needed a replay to beat to lift Ferguson's first trophy, the 1990 FA Cup, and it soon became apparent the former Old Trafford favourite's side would be no easier to overcome than his old one.

Too often, promising attacks came to an end in disappointing fashion. On three separate occasions, Park Ji-Sung was found wanting, which must have distressed a vast South Korean media corps come to witness his personal duel with Seol Ki-Hyeon.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wasted United's best chance of the opening stages when Andre Bikey failed to cut out Carrick's low cross. The Norwegian seemed surprised when the ball rolled through to him and merely allowed to bounced off him, giving Adam Federici the chance to save.

Federici had no chance of winning his next one-on-one duel with Solskjaer, who controlled instantly, then drilled through the Reading goalkeeper's legs after Bikey's clearance had looped towards him off Park.

Unfortunately for United, an offside flag had been raised when TV replays indicated Solskjaer was level with Bikey.

Had Reading held out until the break, referee Graham Poll could have expected to hear a few choice words from the United camp. As it was, Carrick had put them in front, so all was well.

Having embarked on the latest in a series of blistering forward bursts, Ronaldo seemed to have run into a dead end, so simply laid the ball off to Carrick.

With only one goal to his name since an £18.6million summer move from Tottenham, Carrick is hardly a sharp-shooter. But his 25-yard strike, which arrowed into the bottom corner, must have drawn admiring glances from all United's illustrious forward contingent.

Ronaldo was still keen to make a more meaningful contribution though and had Federici panicking when he controlled Darren Fletcher's angled ball on his chest, then volleyed towards the Reading goal as he fell. Fortunately for the visitors, the winger was marginally off target.

Given that piece of near genius, and other bits of mesmerising skill which illuminated an otherwise drab evening, it is little wonder Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona appear willing to break the bank to sign him.

However, for once in this stunning season, the winger left his shooting boots at home.

And, after two misses, the first of which was an obvious chance after Park had sent him clean through, United were made to pay for his wastefulness.

Serious question marks will be asked of Saha after he left Gunnarsson with a free run onto John Oster's corner.

The finish was as close to perfect as it was possible to be as the Icelander's header bounced in off the underside of the bar.

Ferguson immediately introduced Paul Scholes, Henrik Larsson and Patrice Evra to set up a frenzied finish.

Larsson went close at one end, Reading substitute Stephen Hunt at the other.

But, when Saha failed to convert United's final opportunity late on, Reading were able to celebrate another famous mini-triumph on what is turning into the finest season in their history.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

UNITED have been branded a bunch of overpaid fat cats by Euro rivals Lille.

MANCHESTER UNITED have been branded a bunch of overpaid fat cats by Euro rivals Lille.

Striker Peter Odemwingie has vowed to dump them out of the Champions League next week.

He said: “We may not have the fat bank accounts like United players, but in order to show we deserve the money they are getting, we have to kick them out.

“We are ready for anything. Names don’t really count in football. We play more like a team and do not beg for recognition.”

United aces like Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney rake in well over £100,000 a week at Old Trafford.

But Odemwingie, nicknamed Osaze, added: “We have quality players who have the experience to face the likes of Ronaldo, Rooney and Ferdinand.

“We have a younger team with strong players, who are ready to prove a point.

“They may have some of the best players on the Continent but we will not look at credentials when we meet. We beat Milan 2-0 in our last match — so playing United is no big deal.”

The Premiership leaders go to France for the first leg on Tuesday but Nigeria hitman Osaze, 23, insists the war of words has already begun.

He added: “I know the game will involve more than just field play. Psychology will be one of them and Lille are a club with character.

“We change our tactics in every match depending on the situation. I will say our coach Claude Puel holds the ace here.

“Alex Ferguson is an institution but we also have good coaches who have what it takes to confront the legend.

“With a good display the return leg in England on March 6 will be a formality.”

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Reds win 2-0 against Charlton to stay 6 points clear

Wayne Rooney kept his nerve when it mattered to ease Manchester United to a unconvincing win over Charlton.

After all the swagger of recent performances, the Red Devils were forced to grind out a result against Alan Pardew's brave battlers, who never let their heads drop even after Park Ji-Sung had nodded the hosts into a first-half lead.

Charlton came agonisingly close to breaching United's defences on two separate occasions but eventually, Rooney eased Sir Alex Ferguson's nerves, calmly chipping to the far post after Scott Carson had blocked his initial shot, setting up Darren Fletcher for the easiest of finishes.

Ferguson certainly could not claim his side were anywhere near their best but it is on such triumphs championship wins are built and their advantage over Chelsea remains at six points - and now there are only 11 games to go.

Having conceded the prospect of living in a sunnier, warmer place than north-west England must hold some appeal for Cristiano Ronaldo, it was somewhat ironic Ferguson was denied the services of his brilliant young winger because of a heavy cold.

As Ronaldo warmed himself by the fire at home, his team-mates struggled, the opening period lacking any of the fluency that has characterised so many of their recent performances.

Certainly Charlton were not handicapped by any sense of inferiority. Pardew may have inherited an unenviable situation when he took over at the Valley but it is clear the Addicks will not surrender their proud Premiership status without a fight.

The visitors should have gone ahead too but, after Dennis Rommedahl had already fired one decent opportunity into the side netting, Tomasz Kuszczak plunged to his left to turn away a goalbound Darren Ambrose header.

It was an excellent save and one which belied the fact Kuszczak has spent almost all season sitting on the bench as understudy to Edwin van der Sar.

Kuszczak was to deny Ambrose once more before the first-half was through, although by then United had managed to get their noses in front.

Given his hard-man reputation Ben Thatcher will be disappointed at the way Park simply shrugged him aside as he rose to meet Patrice Evra's deflected cross.

Once he had won the aerial duel, Park simply steered his header into the net.

The only other moment of note during an otherwise unremarkable opening period when Rooney acrobatically controlled Ryan Giggs' long ball from almost head height, a manoeuvre that took both Thatcher and Souleymane Diawara out of the game.

Rooney needed just one more touch before letting fly with a fierce right-footed shot that skimmed the outside of a post with Carson totally beaten.

If Ferguson hoped the half-time break would help bring any more fluency to his team's efforts he was mistaken.

United continued to labour and with Alexandre Song outstanding in Charlton's midfield, the visitors gained greater confidence and encouragement.

With a bit more calmness, Rommedahl might have done much better than blaze over from 25-yards after finding himself in plenty of space in a central position.

Having left Henrik Larsson on the bench for the first time since his arrival from Helsingborg, Ferguson introduced the veteran Swede for Giggs just after the hour mark. Even that move failed to inspire an immediate improvement in fortunes.

In fact, it was Charlton who continued to look the more likely scorers and Marcus Bent was only millimetres away from getting a vital touch to Rommedahl's inswinging free-kick which actually flew just wide off Gary Neville's head.

The obvious problem for the visitors in those latter stages was the more they pressed, the more vulnerable they were on the counter-attack.

Rooney set up Louis Saha with a superb pass which ended disappointingly with a shot straight at Scott Carson.

But the pattern had been established and when Carson blocked Rooney's shot with his legs shortly afterwards, the striker quickly seized on the loose ball and delivered a deft cross to the far post which Fletcher could not fail to head home.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Victorious against Spurs

Manchester United rattled in three goals in 10 minutes either side of halftime to set up a 4-0 victory at Tottenham Hotspur and restore their six-point lead over Chelsea in the Premier League on Sunday.

United had struggled to impose themselves on the Londoners until Cristiano Ronaldo was brought down by Steed Malbranque in the last minute of the first half and converted the subsequent penalty.

Three minutes after the restart centre back Nemanja Vidic glanced in a firm header from a corner and six minutes later Ronaldo reached the byline to cross low for Paul Scholes to score from point-blank range.

Dimitar Berbatov missed two decent chances for Spurs before substitute Louis Saha set up Ryan Giggs for the fourth in the 77th minute.

Sunday`s Team News for Spurs Match

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United begin their run of away games with a trip to White Hart Lane to Play Martin Jol’s Tottenham Hotspur in the Premiership match at 1600 GMT on Sunday.

The Lane clash will make an interesting outing especially for former Spurs midfielder Michael Carrick who completed a move to Manchester United in the summer, as he comes across his former team-mates.

Spurs fans will also get an opportunity to pit their highly rated midfielder Tom Huddlestone, 20, against the 25-year-old England international Carrick, who has discovered his touch at the Premiership leaders of late.

Another battle to watch out will be between Portuguese internationals, defender Ricardo Rocha – Spurs’ new signing from Benfica – and Red Devils winger Cristinao Ronaldo.

Manchester United have healthy competition for places upfront as French striker Louis Saha is back from the knee injury. England striker Wayne Rooney is hot and hungry while Ronaldo is burning the scoring charts as he is on 14 goals at present and in the second place in the scorers’ list.

“I am glad he (Louis) is back. He is a fantastic striker. If we improve our goal threat we improve our chances and I think Louis does that,” Fergie said.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer always seems to make most of his opportunities, and Red Devils boss Ferguson cannot ask for more, although he has worked them up saying they are soon going to score lots of goals.

They did exactly that in the midweek with a clinical 4-0 win over relegation-threatened Watford. However, United’s clean sheet in the win over the Hornets was only their first in eight matches.

Ferguson is now banking on England centre-back Rio Ferdinand and Serbia international Nemanja Vidic to be similarly tighter as a tricky spell of road trips to Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City to follow.

Meanwhile, Martin Jol has acknowledged that the sale of Carrick has been the reason for Spurs’ stuttering start to Premiership. It has had a similar effect on Spurs like when Chelsea missed John Terry.

“We’ve realised we miss Michael Carrick. His biggest quality was to move play from defence to attack and win the ball. Because of him, other players played better,” Jol said.

According to the Dutch manager, “Tom Huddlestone has that quality but he has just turned 20 and he still has to make the next stage in his development.”

Tottenham, meanwhile, have been hit hard by the news that their inspiring skipper Ledley King has been ruled out for another six to eight weeks with his bruised foot.

Spurs are also without a win since King's last Premiership match which was on the Boxing Day when they won against Aston Villa.

However, exciting England midfielder Aaron Lennon, who was ruled out of the midweek defeat to Arsenal through illness, is fit and Dimitar Berbatov could return as well following a groin injury.

England midfielder Jermaine Jenas is expected to be fit after receiving a knock on his ankle, while Teemu Tainio (throat infection) is still ruled out and Egyptian striker Mido is suspended.

Tottenham Hotspur (from): Robinson, Cerny, Alnwick, Chimbonda, Lee, Assou-Ekotto, Dawson, Gardner, Rocha, Lennon, Ghaly, Malbranque, Huddlestone, Zokora, Jenas, Keane, Berbatov, Defoe, Murphy.

Manchester United (from): Van der Sar, Kuszczak, Neville, Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Silvestre, O’Shea, Evra, Heinze, Park, Fletcher, Scholes, Carrick, Giggs, Richardson, Ronaldo, Rooney, Saha, Larsson, Solskjaer.