Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nemanja Vidic awaits for a ban in the Champions League after red card in Japan

Manchester United talented defender Nemanja Vidic is going through an anxious wait to find out what punishment he will face for being sent off in the Club World Cup final that took place in Japan, a tournament that the Red team won with a very good performance.

Indeed, the Serbian received a straight red card for elbowing an opponent in the second half of United's win over Liga de Quito in Japan.

If the defender escapes with just a one-match UEFA ban, he will miss the first leg of his side's UEFA Champions League encounter with Inter Milan at the end of February.

However, if the punishment is more severe, the Serbian will be ruled out of the entire tie and possibly the first leg of the quarter-final should ManchesterUnited overcome Jose Mourinho's team,which will be able to use Adriano.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Juve beat Real Madrid in Bernabeu Stadium to qualify for the next stage

Italian Powerhouse Juventus from Turin joined Barcelona and Sporting Lisbon in the knockout round of the Champions League on Wednesday after two goals by Alessandro Del Piero gave the Italian team a 2-0 win at the favorite Real Madrid.

As for the defending champion, Manchester United, they are almost through following Ryan Giggs' 84th-minute header in a 1-1 draw at Celtic. But two more group leaders, Bayern Munich and Arsenal, were also held to draws and still have work to do from their final two matches.

With new Argentina national manager Diego Armando Maradona watching to see some of his countrymen in action, Italian veteran Del Piero, who first played in a Champions League final 12 years ago, scored in the 17th and 67th minutes at Bernabeu Stadium to give Juventus 10 points from four games.

"I'm so pleased to have scored in front of Maradona. I hope Diego comes to watch us play more often," said Alessandro Del Piero, who received a standing ovation from the Madrid fans in the 80,000 crowd.

"I live off these types of emotions. I'm pleased the fans gave me that applause when I came off. This is a crazy stadium and it was a very important game for us. It's a good moment for me."

Now, Claudio Ranieri's team is four ahead of Madrid and six ahead of Zenit St. Petersburg, which won 2-0 at BATE Borisov.

"I have to say that fortune wasn't on our side on several occasions, but this is a Champions League game so you have to move on," Madrid coach Bernd Schuster said. "There are still more games to play."

Although Zenit, last season's UEFA Cup winner, can reach 10 points by winning its last two games, that would mean Madrid could only finish with a maximum of nine, ensuring Juventus is guaranteed of finishing in the top two spots in Group H.

Controversy over last minute penalty in the Liverpool vs. Atletico Madrid match

The experienced Swedish referee Martin Hansson has conceded he is actually unsure if he was right to award Liverpool a late penalty on Tuesday night.

Indeed, Hansson pointed to the spot in injury-time of the Reds' UEFA Champions League draw with Atletico Madrid after Steven Gerrard went down under a challenge from Marian Pernia.

Super captain Gerrard dispatched the penalty to cancel out Maxi Rodriguez's first-half goal and leave Rafa Benitez's side level on points with Atletico at the top of Group D.

Hansson admitted publicly: "From my angle, I am not sure if it was a penalty. I am not allowed to comment on specific situations according to Uefa."

The official has come in for criticism in Sweden in recent weeks after three debatable penalty decisions.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Odds ahead of Liverpool vs. Atletico Madrid

British team Liverpool welcome Spanish side Atletico Madrid to Anfield, with both sides in prime position to progress from Group D.

We must remember that two wins in their opening two games had them level at the top of the group before Liverpool visited the Spanish capital a fortnight ago, and Simao's late equaliser for Atletico at the Vicente Calderon ensured that the situation remained that way heading into the reverse fixture.

Liverpool star frontman Fernando Torres missed the chance to make an emotional return to his old stomping ground due to a hamstring injury, but the Spanish international has a 70% chance of facing his former side tonight, according to his manager Rafael Benitez.

On the other shore, Luis Garcia and Florent Sinama Pongolle will make their first return to Merseyside since leaving the Reds. Both are assured a warm welcome, with Garcia in particular a former favourite with the Kop after hitting some vital goals on the Reds' memorable run to Champions League success in 2005.

In fact, Pongolle also made a valuable contribution on the road to Istanbul, scoring a goal in the crucial 3-1 win over Olympiacos that secured qualification from the group stages.

It was a dismal run in November last year that ensured Liverpool had no say in the Premier League title race at the end of the season. A loss tonight would have the doubters out in force again. But last year Liverpool's dip in domestic form coincided with three Champions League wins which were crucial to them staying in the competition and may also have saved Benitez's job.

A triumph tonight would all but assure the hosts of a place in the knock-out stages, and would then allow them to focus their attentions on the Premier League for a couple of months.

Atletico, you would imagine, would be relatively content with a draw given Liverpool's record at home in the Champions League in recent years. With their attacking threat, however, it would be no surprise if they were able to match Marseille's feat of 2007 by winning at Anfield.

But the Reds appear to have found some consistency and tonight may well prove to be a key juncture in their season.

Chelsea's Scolari might not to use Drogba yet

Chelsea's coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has stated that key striker Didier Drogba is still some way off match fitness and as such will not start in Tuesday evening's away fixture in the Champions League against Italianpowerhouse AS Roma.

In fact, Scolari believes that Didier Drogba is only fit enough to play 20 or 25 minutes maximum and, therefore, French forward Nicolas Anelka, who scored a hat-trick at the weekend, will retain his first team place.

"I think Anelka will start the game but Drogba is not ready to start a game," Scolari informed the club's official website. "Drogba can play maybe 20-25 minutes, not more. So as he is in a better condition now, I will play Anelka.

"It is very important for our squad that they have confidence in our defence, because we have very good players in midfield and in attack and there are only one or two games where we have not made any goals.

"In this UEFA Champions League we have won two games and drawn one game 0-0, so I think that when I have very good defence I have very good attack," he said.

"I think that we need to arrive in the Final. We play very well, but we don't arrive until now in any position. We need to arrive in more finals and win more finals, and maybe then, after this, it is possible to say that we are better - but not right now" he stated.

Gunners looking forward to boost morale with a Champions League victory

Arsenal coach and boss Arsene Wenger is relying upon a good performance against tough Fenerbahce in the Champions League to help lift his squad after a humbling week at home.

The London team have slipped six points behind leading pair FC Chelsea and Liverpool in the Premier League after a 4-4 draw with Tottenham and a shock 2-1 loss at lowly Stoke.

In fact, a quick response is essential to help keep alive hopes of a first English championship since 2004 and Wenger will be hoping Fenerbahce's players prove as accommodating as they did two weeks ago when they capitulated 5-2 to Arsenal in the national stadium of Turkey.

What's more, with an initial 1-1 draw at Dynamo Kiev and a 4-0 win over FC Porto already in the bag, victory against Fenerbahce could clinch Arsenal's place in the next round, allowing Wenger to concentrate on getting things together in the Premier League.

"I am convinced that once you qualify in the Champions League you can be completely focused and if needed, rest some players in the Champions League," Wenger said. "That is why for us, it is important to qualify as quickly as possible, especially as we didn't win our last game.

"Of course, we had two bad experiences recently and that is why it is important to come back to winning ways and to qualify."

But Arsene Wenger has just 15 fit players for the game, with Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Adebayor joining the list of injured players during Saturday's 2-1 loss at Stoke.

With Abou Diaby, Thomas Rosicky and Eduardo da Silva also on the sidelines, Wenger accused opponents of deliberately setting out to hurt his young team. Arsenal has not won a trophy since the combative Patrick Vieira left in 2005 and has since been accused of being easy to muscle out of games.

Arsenal's best performances since that FA Cup triumph have mostly come in Europe, with its biggest achievement being an appearance in the 2006 Champions League final.

As we know, Wenger reeled off the names of Walcott, Adebayor, Diaby, Rosicky, Eduardo and Bacary Sagna — who could recover from an injury sustained against Stoke in time to play Fenerbahce — and insisted that each was injured after being deliberately targeted.

As for French defender William Gallas, he will miss Wednesday's match but could return from a hamstring injury in time to face Manchester United on Saturday for the first of several games key to Arsenal's slim chances of winning the Premier League.

"We lost a match but we are six points behind the leaders," Wenger said. "It is the start of November and we have plenty of quality to get it back. The same persons who say we are not good, let them say it in three weeks when we are the best."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Celtic's Stephen McManu not interested in critics after Champions League defeat

Celtic powerfull defender Stephen McManus brushed aside the adverse media reaction which followed Tuesday's Champions League defeat by the mercyless Manchester United at Old Trafford.

The Scottish current champions lost 3-0 in a one-sided encounter that had most pundits - and many Hoops fans - discussing the gap that has appeared to have grown between the two clubs since they met at the same stage of the tournament two seasons ago.

Celtic, without an away win in the competition in 19 attempts, are bottom of Group E with one point and are now battling with Danish side Aalborg for a UEFA Cup spot rather than looking to qualify for the knockout stages for the third season in succession.

However, ahead of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League clash with Hibernian at Parkhead, the Scotland defender was in no mood for the Manchester post mortem to continue.

"We are not really interested in what's been written to be perfectly honest," he said.

"We are just interested in the game tomorrow.

"It's evident, it's obvious, you don't need people to tell you. So as far as we are concerned, the Manchester United game is done.

"In football you always look to the next game, we move on and we give respect to Hibs.

"Hibs have been playing reasonably well recently and they will be excited about coming to our place.

"It's going to be a very tough game but we are up for it."

Indeed, McManus will come up against former team-mate Derek Riordan who returned to Easter Road in the summer after failing to pin down a regular first team spot at Parkhead following his move to Celtic two years ago.

But the big Scotland defender insists Riordan will not be the only threat to the champions.

"Derek will play the best that he can for himself and his club, that's what you do in football", McManus said.

"He's a good finisher but Steven Fletcher is a good finisher, Colin Nish is a good finisher and Dean Shiels can pop up with a few goals, so they can score which is the hardest thing in football.

"But we are capable of scoring goals as well, so we look forward to it."

Chelsea FC had a hard time to beat italian Roma

It was a tough game indeed, but the victory might have been written for Chelsea by the Almighty. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Chelsea defeated Roma 1-0 in the UEFA Champions League, held in the Stamford Bridge, London, on October 22.

The blues could have scored its first in the very second minute, had Nicolas Anelka not been flagged for offside. In the 3rd minute, De Rossi, the Roma striker missed the target. Luciano Spalletti, the Roma coach proved his dexterity in maintaining a hard line-up that really proved impregnable for the Blues to crack. In the 9th minute, Frank Lampard, the Chelsea striker made a fiery shot, but Doni, the Roma goalie made a brilliant save.

Philippe Mexès, the center back player of Roma committed a hard tackle, which earned him a yellow card in the 22nd minute. In the 24th minute, Lampard made a powerful but blind shot at the post. Florent Malouda, the left winger of the Blues was not spared by the Greek referee, Kyros Vassaras for showing excessive aggressiveness and was booked in the 30th minute. The first half ended with a blank scoreboard.

Both teams were keen for goals from the very beginning of the second half. Anelka and Salomon Kalou attempted at the target, but failed to score. In the 72nd minute, Jphn Terry, the Chelsea captain faced yellow card for tackling Francesco Totti, the Roma striker. Scolari put Di Santo as a substitute of Kalou in the 77th minute. Just after that, the Chelsea captain scored the victorious goal for the Blues after getting a brilliant pass from Lampard.

As the game was nearing its end, Menez and Tonetto were brought as the substitutes of Taddei and Riise by Spalletti in the 81st and 82nd minute, respectively. But they failed to score a single for Roma. In the 85th minute, Christian Panucci was booked with yellow card. Philippe Mexès, another center back of Roma made a shot, but missed the target. Petr Čech, the Chelsea goalie was at his best throughout the match. After three matches, Chelsea has scored seven points, while Roma has three points only.

Friday, July 04, 2008

2008/2009 Champions League Draw

According to the UEFA, Fenerbahce, which was a quarterfinalist in the Champions League last season, was drawn against MTK Budapest on Tuesday for the 2008-09 Champions League.

The draw for the first two qualifying rounds was held, and Fenerbahce was among 14 teams given byes into the second round of qualifying on July 29-30 and Aug. 5-6. UEFA Cup finalists Glasgow Rangers is one of the other teams given a bye.

AS we know, the Champions League qualifying stages begin with the first round on July 15-16 and July 22-23. The 14 winners advance to the second round to fill out the 28- team stage.

The second qualifying round winners will advance to the third qualifying round, where they will be joined by another 18 teams, with the draw on Aug. 1. The 32 clubs involved will then compete in 16 fixtures for the right to follow the 16 automatic qualifiers into the group stage.

This season's final will be played at Rome's Stadio Olimpico on May 27, 2009.

Following are the first and second round qualifying draws:

First qualifying round draw:

Linfield (Northern Ireland) vs. Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) Valetta (Malta) vs. Artmedia Petrzalka (Slovakia) Dinamo Tbilisi (Georgia) vs. NSI Runavik (Faroe Islands) 4 Santa Coloma (Andorra) vs. Kaunus (Lithuania) Murata (San Marino) vs. IFK Goteborg (Sweden) Llanelli (Wales) vs. Ventspils (Latvia) Anorthosis Famugusta (Cyprus) vs. Pyunik (Armenia) FK Inter Baki (Azerbaijan) vs. Rabotnicki (Macedonia) Tampere United (Finland) vs. Buducnost Podgorica (Montenegro) F91 Dudelange (Luxemborg) vs. Domzale (Slovenia) Dinamo Tirana (Albania) vs. FK Modrica (Bosnia and Herzegovina) Aktobe (Kasakhstan) vs. Sheriff (Moldova) Drogheda United (Ireland) vs. Levadia Tallinn (Estonia) FC BATE Borisov (Belarus) vs. Valur (Iceland)

Second qualifying round draw:

Rangers (Scotland) vs. FC Santa Coloma-FBK Kaunus winner SK Brann (Norway) vs. Llanelli-Ventspils winner FK Inter Baki-Rabotnicki winner vs. Partizan (Serbia) Tampere United-Buducnost Podgorica winner vs. Valetta-Artmedia Petrzalka winner Anorthosis Famugusta-Pyunik winner vs. Rapid Vienna (Austria) F91 Dudelange-Domzale winner vs. Linfield-Dinamo Zagreb winner Panathinaikos (Greece) vs. Dinamo Tbilisi-NSI Runavik winner Murata-IFK Goteborg winner vs. Basel (Switzerland) Aktobe-Sheriff winner vs. Sparta Prague (Czech Republic) Drogheda United-Levadia Tallinn vs. FC Dinamo Kyiv (Ukraine) RSC Anderlecht (BEL) vs. FC BATE Borisov-Valur winner Beitar Jerusalem FC (Israel) vs. Wisla Krakow (Poland) Fenerbahce (TUR) vs. Budapest (Hungary) Aalborg (Denmark) vs. Dinamo Tirana-FK Modrica winner

Harry Kewell moves to Turkey

It's far removed from the glamour and millions of dollars you normally associate with the best football competitions in the world such as the English Premiership, Spain's Liga and Italy's Serie A.

In keeping with his profile in football, australian star Harry Kewell was linked with a move to any number of clubs in those competitions. As recently as last week he was reportedly on the verge of signing with Italian club AS Roma.

However Turkey is going to be Kewell's new home after he ended the protracted guessing game over his future by signing a three-year deal with Turkish champion FC Galatasaray.

Indeed, Kewell, who was released by Liverpool at the end of the recently completed English season, made one of the biggest decisions of his career by steering in a direction that has served a number of Australian internationals well over the years.

They include Josip Skoko (Genclerbirligi SK, 2003-05), Nick Carle (Genclerbirligi OFTAS 2007-08), Michael Petkovic (Trabzonspor, 2002-05 and Sivasspor, 2005-08) and Mile Sterjovski (Genclerbirligi OFTAS, 2007). Recently capped Socceroos forward Bruce Djite has signed with Genclerbirligi SK.

Despite that, none of those clubs can compare in terms of prestige to Galatasaray, which is regarded as a giant of Turkish football.

Along with Fenerbache, the Lions, as they are known, have won the Turkcell Super League a record 17 times, but it is a club which fancies mixing it with the super powers of Europe.

While the Turkish competition does not have automatic entry to the Champions League -- the Turkish champion enters in the third qualifying round and the runner-up in the second round -- Galatasaray has featured regularly in both the Champions League and UEFA Cup.

The club's biggest success came when it beat Arsenal in a penalty shoot-out in the UEFA Cup final in 1999-2000, becoming the first Turkish club to win a major European title. That year it also beat Real Madrid in the Super Cup.

It's important to mention that Galatasaray has failed just once in the past 10 years to make it to Europe and this is obviously one of the main reasons Kewell has joined the club. It will be interesting to see how Kewell, who values his privacy, copes with the different lifestyle in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city and the most populated in Europe and the third most populated in the world.

Indeed, he has spent all his football life in England, having gone to Leeds as a 15-year-old in 1995 and spending eight years there before joining Liverpool in a much heralded move in 2003.

But Liverpool FC never saw the best of the attacking midfielder because of a series of injuries.

Kewell, 29, was hammered by sections of the English media which claimed he failed to deliver for Liverpool and the money the club had spent on him had virtually gone down the drain.

As we know, Liverpool FC made a token gesture to keep him at the end of the season, but it was never going to be enough and he left the club on a free transfer.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Celebrations at FC Porto: The club will not be banned for the next Champions League Season

Portuguese club FC Porto are set to play in next season's European Champions League, Portuguese news agency Lusa reported on Monday, despite an initial UEFA decision to bar them for being found guilty in a match-fixing scandal.

European football's ruling body UEFA overturned their own decision to ban the 2004 continental champions from next season's Champions League on Friday just because of a procedural error but shelved the decision on whether they could play in the 2008/09 season.

In fact, Porto won this season's Portuguese league easily to automatically qualify for the group stages.

Lusa, quoting an unnamed UEFA official, added that the European body would only re-examine the case if the club was sanctioned by the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF).

The national federation, however, are not set to look into the case, involving the attempted corruption of referees, before the start of the 2008/09 edition of club football's richest and most prestigious competition, UEFA claimed.

The UEFA official, quoted by Lusa, said: "In the case that the matter is not looked into by the Portuguese federation before the start of the Champions League (2008/09 competition), it will not be studied by UEFA's disciplinary commission." This effectively means Porto would be free to compete.

But the press office of the Portuguese federation said later on Monday they had not communicated to UEFA any particular time scale for the re-examining of the affair.

The FPF, which received a fax of UEFA's decision on Monday, overturning an initial ruling to exclude Porto from next season's Champions League, said it was UEFA themselves who came to these conclusions (that the case would not be re-examined in Portugal till the start of next season's competition).

UEFA wrote, according to the FPF, that because of "the complexity of the matter, it would be difficult for (Portuguese) judicial sporting governing body to take any decision before the start of the competition." The draw takes place on August 1.

The internet site of sporting daily A Bola quoted William Gaillard, advisor to UEFA president Michel Platini, saying a possible exclusion of Porto from the competition could happen no earlier than the 2009/2010 season.

UEFA barred Porto from next season's competition on May 9 after the disciplinary commission of the Portuguese league found them guilty and fined the club 150,000 euros, docked them six points and suspended the club's president Jorge Pinto da Costa for two years for their part in events dating back to 2004.

Porto were assured of winning this year's league title by 14 points, even with the six-point penalty, and the club decided not to appeal the league's sanction.

AS we know, Porto's exclusion would have meant third-placed Vitoria Guimaraes qualified directly for the group stages and Benfica had a berth in the third qualifying round.

Despite that, UEFA decided to overturn their decision to ban Porto and to refer the matter back to the Portuguese sporting authorities for re-examination because of an initial procedural error.

It's important to mention that UEFA believed Vitoria Guimaraes and Benfica, who finished third and fourth in the league, should, along with Porto, have also come before the Portuguese authorities.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Champions League Final in Moscow will be like a War, but Capello takes caution measures

The five-star hotel in Hertfordshire used by the England National Team in the build-up to internationals, could be the custodians of some prized possessions by the end of the week. Along with the mobile phones, flip-flops and shorts banned by italian coach Fabio Capello, the footballers of Chelsea FC and Manchester United have agreed to leave their Champions League winner’s medals at home for fear of upsetting their teammates, with any transgressors to have their loot confiscated immediately. No mercy.

Talented winger Joe Cole is ready to go to war with United in Moscow on Wednesday, but has already brokered a peace treaty that will come into force when they report for international duty on Friday in preparation for the friendly internationals against the United States squad at Wembley on May 28 and Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain four days later. Having half-a-dozen or so England internationals playing in the Moscow Champions League final is a source of pride, but also causes certain problems.

“They know I love them, but Wednesday night will be a war,” Joe Cole assured. “But whoever wins wins, and it’s difficult. You can’t have banter about it because we meet up with England two days later. You have to be dignified in win and defeat.

“In fact, you just can’t go running round with a Champions League medal round your neck at The Grove, either. We’ve had a little word about it already. We’ve said we wouldn’t do that.”

Such taunting would be surely too much to bear for those on the losing team, particularly for those, such as Jow Cole, who are looking forward to playing in the most important match of their career. “It will be the biggest thrill of my life to play in a Champions League final and to hopefully go and win it will be cracking,” he expressed. “I can’t wait. The World Cup games have been the biggest of my life so far. I spent a lot of time growing up watching World Cups and that was the reason I wanted to be a pro.

“However, the Champions League has taken on a life of its own, everything from the special music before you go out, it’s the pinnacle. In fact, it’s next to a World Cup final.

“For the young lads to climb the top of the mountain is a huge achievement and something that takes the breath away. It doesn’t matter if it’s Man United or whoever. This wasn’t on the radar when I was growing up, but the more successful you are, the more greedy you get and the more you want. I really want this.”

Talented Cole’s hunger is not in doubt. It is shown by the tireless energy that is the hallmark of his game, though his ability to make an impact at the highest level has been questioned. It says much about his consistency that the 26-year-old has been Chelsea’s busiest footballer this season, with 54 appearances, a far cry from his role as a perennial substitute when he first joined the team.

It's true that Joe Cole has benefited from Avram Grant’s more relaxed style of leadership, having tired of what some have perceived as José Mourinho’s bullying tactics, but his improvement has taken place gradually over the past five years and it is shown by the calibre of midfield players to leave the squad during that time. “Looking at players who have come in, the wingers like Gérémi, Arjen Robben, Damien Duff and Jesper Gronkjaer, they were all ahead of me at times, but I’ve carried on,” Cole expressed. “That’s because I’ve been out there and it’s like playing with my mates. It’s fantastic. I’ve always believed in myself, I’ve always been ready for the fight, but if my career finished at Chelsea tomorrow, I wouldn’t just want people to remember me for winning trophies. I’m always there for the fight and will give my all.”

For all his professionalism, Joe Cole retains the youthful enthusiasm of the ten-year-old who rushed back from a cup final of his own to watch italian powerhouse AC Milan humiliate Barcelona in the Champions League final 14 years ago. His habit of saying that he “just wants to play football” may grate during interviews, but it captures his essence and explains his popularity around the country, even with opposing supporters.

“I used to play in the AC Milan shirt for my team when I was a kid,” Cole recalls. “The year that Milan beat Barcelona 4-0, we played our cup final that same night about 6pm. We won that final and went back with our families and watched the European Cup final.

“I totally supported Milan. I was only 12 nad didn’t know too much about Milan, I didn’t even know where Milan was. But they had the same kit as us so I supported them. They had great players, including french leader Marcel Desailly, and to end up playing with him was amazing.”

It's important to say that Cole will have further childhood memories when he comes up against Michael Carrick, also a product of the West Ham United youth academy, at the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday, a far cry from the days when they were relegated together at West Ham.

“He’s done fantastically this season and, apart from Cristiano Ronaldo, he’s been their player of the year,” Cole expressed. “I speak to a lot of people up there and he probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s a great footballer. But, again, Wednesday night is Wednesday night.

“Yes, if you ask both sets of players, they’d take a scrappy 1-0, but I hope for the punters that it’s a great match, free-flowing football and a good advert for the game.

“I have to say that I get emotional before big games – you know how much it means to your family and to everyone around the club, but mainly for my family, mum and dad, brother and sister and girlfriend”, he concluded, completely sure about their triumph.

Moscow Final: Ballack to face the game of his life

Talented German midfielder Michael Ballack believes Wednesday night's Champions League final with the Chelsea jersey on is a "golden opportunity" to make up for his past failures.

Indeed, the talented player was a losing European Cup finalist in 2002 when Real Madrid beat his Bayern Leverkusen team.

"You don't go into these games to lose. I know what that feels like and I will give everything to get the victory," he said ahead of the final against Manchester United.

"We are a really strong squad and we've shown that constantly during the season."

In 2002, as well as losing in the Champions League final, Leverkusen conceded the Bundesliga title to the powerfull Bayern Munich and were beaten in the German Cup final.

And just a month later, the midfielder missed the World Cup final, which Germany lost to Brazil, because of suspension.

We also must mention that Chelsea have already lost one final this season, the League Cup against Tottenham, while they were pipped to the Premier League title by Manchester United on the final day of the campaign.

"Yes, I was at Leverkusen and we were five points ahead in the league with three games to play and had reached the Champions League final," expressed the former Bayern Munich captain.

"But we managed to still come second in the German Bundesliga and then we lost the Champions League to Real Madrid.

"We lost the German Cup final that year, too, and then Germany lost in the World Cup final against Ronaldo's Brazil, so this is a golden opportunity to put it right."

Michael Ballack has developed into an instrumental player for manager Avram Grant after a lengthy period on the sidelines earlier in the season with a painful ankle injury.

But He netted both goals in Chelsea's 2-1 league win over United last month and the player himself says he feels revitalised: "I am totally happy with the way things have gone this season, especially after my difficult injury," Ballack said.

"When I returned to fitness I got back in the team very quickly because we had some injuries in the squad. That gave me my golden opportunity to make an impact straight away.

"I already said before the Champions League semi-final against Liverpool that I think we still look good and fresh as a football team. We coped with playing 120 minutes in that game and scored two goals in extra-time.

"That's why I think it shows that we have a very good level of physical strength in this team. The final of the Champions League is one match so it is all in our hands". And this time, he will not miss it.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Drogba knew Chelsea was going to be in the final game

Didier Drogba's two goals led the London side to their first ever Champions League final after the 3-2 win over FC Liverpool, setting up a mouthwatering showdown with Manchester, who Drogba described as the best team in England.

The African star admitted: "Right from the beginning of the season the Champions League was our target. We had some problems this season. It was a difficult time for the club. But the most important thing was to stand up and keep working as we did. The objective didn't change and now we are in the final.

"I know that Manchester United are a fantastic team and are the best in England, but we aren't bad either."

It's important to mention that the first ever all-English final between Mancheser United and Chelsea will take place in Moscow on May 21, 2008

English glory: Chelsea and Manchester United reached the Champions League FInal to be played in Moscow

Football fans heading to Moscow for the Champions League final will see a contest of north against south and red against blue after Chelsea beat Liverpool in the tournament's second semi-final.

Indeed, Chelsea got an epic result and reached the UEFA Champions League final for the first time, as they defeated Liverpool 3 - 2, with a double from Didier Drogba.

The London side will now play Manchester United in the Russian capital's Luzhniki stadium on 21 May.

The blues eventually beat Liverpool 4-3 on aggregate in a thrilling match that had to go to extra time before a winner was decided.

The Blues' final against powerfull Manchester United will mean that the two sides are going head to head at home and abroad at the end of the season, as they are on equal points in the Premier League with just two games left.

Sir Alex Ferguson's team defeated FC Barcelona 1 - 0 with a superb goal by Paul Scholes. The game was really equilibrated and many newspapers in Spain assure that Barza deserved to reach the final.

Now, fans travelling to Moscow can catch flights to one of the city's main airports, the largest of which are Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo.

Connections are provided by British Airways, KD Avia, Scandinavian Airlines and other carriers.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Riise's pain after Champions League own goal

After the unforgettable mistake, Liverpool defender John Arne Riise has admitted his misery at the own goal which threatens to derail his side's Champions League challenge.

In fact, Riise is still coming to terms with the impact of his blunder after he headed into his own net in the last minute of stoppage time to gift Chelsea a 1-1 draw in the semi-final first leg at Anfield.

The Red team face a mammoth task to reach the final now but Riise is determined to help the Reds bounce back at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday.

"What can I say? I'm ashamed and devastated. Sometimes you experience these kind of things and for defenders it happens from time to time. Now it has happened to me," he expressed.

"In fact, I know how strong I am mentally, and what really matters is how you recover. I've experienced tougher things and I know I will learn from this.

"I'm very disappointed, but I won't go around and hang my head. I have to use this as something positive and learn from it."

The Norway footballer, who also scored an own goal against Luton in the FA Cup this season, was so down he didn't even speak to his brother in the aftermath of Tuesday's game.

Indeed, Bjorn Helge Riise, who plays for Lillestrom, let us know: "I tried getting in contact with John Arne after the encounter.

"Eventually he sent me back a sms saying, 'I don't want to speak. I'm so disappointed. Give me a call back in a couple of days and we'll speak then'."

We must consider that Riise's future at Anfield was already far from certain before his gaffe and the defender admitted his hopes of earning an extension to his current contract, which runs out next year, were hardly improved on Tuesday.

Despite that, Riise is likely to start in the return against Chelsea after Fabio Aurelio was ruled out and Benitez expressed: "I have talked with John and told him not to keep thinking about the own goal all of the time. He must come back and be ready.

"I know he is really down, but the only way to change the situation is to score in the right net at Stamford Bridge. He knows that Fabio is injured, so he knows he will get his chances again. He has played so well for this club, so for that to happen in the last seconds is the worst thing possible."

"Of course we have tried to analyse what happened. Mascherano could have stopped the cross, but when you are left-footed like John, the problem was whether he used his right foot to clear. That was the real point. I prefer to think like this: if Riise scores the winning goal that will be perfect for us."

Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty shot in Manchester United goalless draw with Barcelona

The favorite Manchester United blunted a inefficient Barcelona's attack to earn a 0-0 away draw in the opening encounter of their two-match Champions League semifinal.

Barcelona FC was last night held to a scoreless draw at the Camp Nou stadium for the first time in this season's tournament as the English champion frustrated an opponent that had almost two-thirds of the possession and three times as many direct shots.

"Although they had a lot of play on the edge of our box, they didn't have many chances," United manager sir Alex Ferguson expressed. "Going back to Old Trafford for the second leg nil-nil gives us a marvelous opportunity."

In fact, Manchester United will advance to the May 21 final in Moscow against Chelsea or Liverpool with a victory in next week's return match in Manchester, where it's on an 11-game winning streak in Europe's elite club tournament.

Alex Ferguson's side failed to seize the initiative in the third minute when Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty kick, awarded when the ball struck Gabriel Milito's arm in the area.

Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who's scored a tournament- leading 7 goals this season, side-footed wide from the spot in front of about 95,000 spectators at the stadium where United won its second European Cup title in 1999.

"The penalty was a big moment," blaugrana boss Frank Rijkaard admitted. "It's still open. Scoring one goal over there could be very important."

As we saw, Samuel Eto'o had several shots and Gianluca Zambrotta, Xavi Hernandez and Thierry Henry also tested Man. United goalie Edwin van der Sar.

Cristiano Ronaldo was United's main threat on the counterattack as Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez struggled to break out of their own half.

"I don't think we were fast enough, direct enough and we lost the ball just too much," Ferguson analized and concluded. "We usually play better but we had to defend more. We'll definitely attack more in the second leg."

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Arsenal eliminate Milan as Fabregas proves to be a world class player

Surprisingly, current champion AC Milan was eliminated from the European Champions League, losing 2-0 at home last night to English Arsenal.

Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas beat goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac with a long bouncing shot from outside the penalty area in the 84th minute and Emmanuel Adebayor scored from close range in injury time.

"It's really good for such a young team to beat a team like Milan with so much quality," Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger admitted. "It will be positive for the future and the rest of our season."

Indeed, the Gunners advanced to the quarterfinals on 2-0 aggregate in the home-and-home series and became the first English club to beat the popular team AC Milan at San Siro stadium.

"There are no regrets," the "rossonero" Coach Carlo Ancelotti admitted. "There are regrets when you could have done more, but they didn't allow us to. Both teams did their best and we have to accept the loss and move on." he concluded.

Despite Messi's injury, FC Barcelona beat Celtic to advance in the Champions League

Midfielder Xavi Hernandez flicked in a cross from the left by Ronaldinho Gaucho in the fourth minute to give Barcelona FC a 1-0 triumph over Scotland's powerhouse Celtic as the Spanish club advanced 4-2 overall.

However, the young talent Lionel Messi, the competition's leading scorer with six goals, pulled up as he made a run. He left the field in tears in the 35th minute of the second-round, second-leg match at Camp Nou.

This serious injury was similar to the one which sidelined Messi for six weeks in December and January, club officials admitted.

"I feel sad and I really feel for him and for the team, above all for Leo (Messi), who is very upset," Barcelona president Joan Laporta stated afterwards.

It's important to consider that the Argentine international, who scored twice in Barcelona's 3-2 win in the first leg, had been recalled to the starting lineup to join with Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o, with Thierry Henry left on the bench.

In the end, the blaugrana team advanced to the quarterfinals on 4-2 aggregate.