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."