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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cristiano Ronaldo hailed his return to his homeland as "the perfect night" after firing United to victory against his former club.

Cristiano Ronaldo hailed his return to his homeland as "the perfect night" after firing United to victory against his former club.

The Portuguese international headed home Wes Brown's cross just after the hour to give United a priceless victory and set them on their way in Group F.

Ronaldo was pleased with the result, but admitted that he felt a tad guilty about netting against the club he calls his second home.

"It's a perfect night for me. I scored and the team won. So it's been a great night for me and United," he told Sky Sports at the final whistle.

"It's always important to win away from home. Both teams played well, but I think the result is a fair one because we did better.

"Red is my colour and I want to win for United. I said before the game that Sporting Lisbon is my second home and I feel a little bit sad [that they lost], but the most important thing is United. They are my team and I'm very happy with the victory."

Some sections of the home fans rose to applaud Ronaldo's goal, before the whole stadium gave him a standing ovation when he was substituted in the final few minutes. It was a gesture which delighted the 22-year-old winger.

"The people here are very important to me," he insisted. "They helped me a lot when I played here.

"When I scored I didn't want to do too much because I don't think it's fair. But I'm very happy with the three points." Read more...

Boss pleased by away boost

Sir Alex Ferguson believes United's slender victory over Sporting Lisbon will give his players just the boost they need for their upcoming Champions League away trips.

The 1-0 win in the Portugal capital, courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo's second half diving header, was only United's third Champions League win in the last 15 on their travels.

The boss was pleased with his side's penetration after the break and is hopeful that this result will set things up nicely for United in Group F.

"It was good night for us," he told Sky Sports. "Winning your first match of the group away from home, just like we did last season, sets the tone. Getting a good start is always important.

"This victory will give the players a good confidence boost because we went a couple of years without winning away from home in Europe.

"Last season we changed that trend and it got us back to how we were eight or nine years ago when we were a constant threat away from home.

"Tactically things were, in the main, very good. Our penetration was better in the second half and there was more purpose to our game. They had some opportunities from the edge of the box, but they never really opened us up and that was our plan."

Ronaldo's 62nd minute goal was sportingly applauded by some sections of the home crowd in tribute to their former servant.

"It was interesting to see that - it's a rarity in the modern day game, but given that he's an ex-player for the club it's understandable in some ways," said Sir Alex.

"I'm pleased that he's off the mark for the season. His suspension derailed him a little bit, but I'm sure he's back on track now."

Another United player back on track is Wayne Rooney, who completed 71 minutes of the match, his first since breaking his foot in the opening game of the season last month.

"It was difficult to measure how long we kept Wayne on the pitch, but as soon as we scored I decided it was time to get Louis [Saha] ready," explained the boss. "Wayne will be better for his minutes on the clock and I'm sure he'll be ready for Sunday." Read more...

Owen eyes Chelsea return

Owen Hargreaves missed United's opening Champions League Group F game against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday, but the midfielder is hoping to be fit to face Chelsea this weekend.

The 26-year-old has been struggling with a thigh strain and also missed United's 1-0 win over Everton last weekend.

It had been thought that Hargreaves would be fit for the trip to Portugal, but the Englishman was left out of the squad that travelled of Lisbon.

"[The injury] is okay," he said on Monday. "I have never really had this injury before so this is new territory."

"I thought I would be fit to play for England in the Israel game, then the Russia game and then Everton, but I've still not done it. I have to take it day by day so hopefully I will be fit for the weekend."

Injury prevented Hargreaves from appearing in United's opening three matches of the campaign. But he proved exceptional in the three games he has played in so far this term. Outstanding despite defeat to Manchester City, he then helped the Reds to 1-0 victories over Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland, which makes it all the more maddening that he cannot have a clear run of games.

"It is frustrating," he said. "I missed pre-season then I had a run of games and I was really enjoying it. It is just disappointing to suffer something so niggly. But I think these injuries come from last season when I broke my leg." Read more...

Sporting Lisbon Vs. Manchester United (Report)

Cristiano Ronaldo headed a fine winner on his return to former club Sporting Lisbon, giving United a winning start to the 2007/08 Champions League.

The Reds were solid, if unspectacular, in overcoming the Portuguese side, and were indebted to two superb saves from Edwin van der Sar either side of Ronaldo’s goal.

In a game of few chances, Edwin van der Sar’s brilliant first-half save from Liedson was the platform for United’s triumph, while Nani and substitute Louis Saha both came close to doubling United’s margin of victory.

Ronaldo’s goal was enough to notch United’s 100th victory in the Champions League, however, and further good news was provided by a sprightly 71-minute outing for Wayne Rooney.

The England striker made his first appearance since suffering a fractured foot against Reading, and showed no lack of fitness as he ploughed a lone furrow upfront.

The opening exchanges between the two sides were bossed largely by the hosts, who seemed eager to test van der Sar from long-range at any given opportunity.

Having already been called into action on several occasions, the big Dutchman kept United on level terms in breathtaking fashion just before the half-hour mark, denying Liedson with an astonishing fingertip save.

The Brazilian was picked out on the edge of the United box and, having fashioned space for a shot, curled a shot which was bound for the top corner until van der Sar hurled himself towards the ball and clawed it around the post.

The big Dutchman was required again to keep out several long-range efforts from the hosts, including a deflected free-kick from Brazilian defender Ronny.

United, however, were beginning to show more hints of fluency as the half wore on. Nani had a shot deflected just wide after a rapid counter-attack, while only a last-ditch intervention from Polga stopped Rooney from tapping home Giggs’ neat low cross.

Sporting continued to show plenty of industry, but it was United who had the final threatening moment of the half, as Polga again denied Ronaldo on the edge of the area.

United’s ascension continued into the opening exchanges of the second period. There was unquestionably greater purpose in the visitors’ game, while Sporting’s pace notably waned just after the break.

Skipper Ryan Giggs missed United’s first clear opening of the evening in the 58th minute, heading over the bar after a fine run and cross from Ronaldo on the left.

A second such opportunity arose four minutes later, and Ronaldo was far more clinical in front of goal as he stooped to head in Wes Brown’s superb right-wing cross.

The winger’s delight at putting the Reds ahead was clearly tempered by the fact that the goal came on his old stomping ground, as reflected in his deliberately muted celebrations.

That gesture was recognised by the home support who, ahem, sportingly afforded Ronaldo a rapturous round of applause to accompany the travelling supporters’ more euphoric celebrations.

United’s lead seemed to severely stunt the hosts’ ambitions, and Nani almost made it an old-boys’ double on the 70 minute mark, but saw his powerful shot parried out by Stojkovic.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side seemed set to see out the game in great comfort, but for a defensive lapse to almost cost them two points as Tonel ghosted onto the end of a left-wing cross.

The defender powerfully headed goalwards from close-range, only for van der Sar to again save his side by plunging low to his right and fisting the ball to safety.

Substitutes Anderson and Louis Saha combined well with Nani in a move which led to Saha shooting straight at Stojkovic, before Ronaldo again tested the goalkeeper with a winding run and low shot.

Moments later Saha shot wide after another fine run from Ronaldo, as United struggled to find a second goal which would have put the result beyond doubt.

Ronaldo was terrorising the Sporting defence, and it was surely partially relief as well as admiration which ensured the winger a standing ovation from the home fans when he was eventually substituted with five minutes remaining.

It was a fitting tribute to the man who, perhaps inevitably, proved to be the difference between the two sides on his first return to his former club.

Team line-ups

Sporting Lisbon: Stojkovic; Silva, Abel, Polga, Tonel, Ronny (Pereirinha, 74), Veloso, Moutinho, Liedson, Izmailov (Vukcevic, 55), Romagnoli (Purovic, 68).
Subs not used: Tiago, Paredes, Farnerud, Gladstone.

Manchester United: Van der Sar; Brown, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Ronaldo (Tevez, 85), Carrick, Scholes, Giggs (Anderson, 76), Nani; Rooney (Saha, 72).
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Pique, J Evans, Eagles.

Attendance: 39,514

United starlet facing spell on sidelines

Manchester United midfielder Darron Gibson faces a spell on the sidelines after fracturing a toe in a reserve-team clash with Sporting Lisbon.

Gibson, who made his senior debut for the Republic of Ireland in Slovakia last week, suffered the injury during a 5-2 defeat in a match that was specially arranged to pit United's youngsters against their Portuguese counterparts.

Although there has been no official confirmation of a precise recovery time for the 19-year-old, who was expected to make his first senior appearance for Sir Alex Ferguson's side in next Wednesday's Carling Cup clash with Coventry, early estimates are that Gibson will be out for 'a few weeks'.

It means the 19-year-old is now a major doubt for next month's international double-header with Germany and Cyprus at Croke Park. Read more...

Man Utd had bid for Kerzhakov rejected

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is following Sevilla striker Alexander Kerzhakov.

It's emerged that Sevilla rejected a £12 million bid from United over the summer, insisting Russia international Kerzhakov was not for sale.


Louis Saha

Position: Striker
Goals: 37
Joined United: 23 Jan 2004
Transfer Fee: £12.85million
Previous Clubs: Fulham
United Debut: 31 Jan 2004 v Southampton (H)
International France

With Manchester United (2004- present)

* FA Premier League - Winner: 2006/07 Runners Up: 2005-06
* League Cup Winner: 2006
* FA Cup - Runners Up : 2004/05, 2006/07


Ronaldo relishes Sporting return

Cristiano Ronaldo has admitted he never tires of watching the game which transformed him into a star.

Four years ago last month, Ronaldo turned in such an outstanding performance for Sporting Lisbon in their friendly win over Manchester United that Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs spent the journey home imploring Sir Alex Ferguson to sign the Madeira-born teenager.

Within weeks, Ferguson had acted on the advice, with the eventual £12million transfer fee now being heralded as one of the shrewdest bits of business he has ever done.

After curbing the excessive use of tricks which were a hallmark of his early days at Old Trafford, Ronaldo has gone on to become one of the best players on the planet.

But, for all his stellar performances in a United shirt, he still likes to look back fondly on virtually his last appearance for Sporting.

'I have watched that game many times,' he admitted.

'It was a spectacular match for a lot of reasons - it was our first game in the new stadium, there was a capacity crowd and it was against Manchester United, a team I have always dreamt about playing for.

'Now that dream has come true.'

Ferguson will hope for something spectacular from Ronaldo in the first competitive rematch between the sides as United open their latest Champions League quest in the Jose Alvalade Stadium

After torrid returns to his homeland against Porto and, twice, Benfica, Ronaldo is expecting a more positive reception tonight.

'I played here for seven years, I have a lot of friends here and I have always wanted to come back,' he said.

'I know people like me here. At Benfica they barrack me, here my reception will be good.

'But however much I like the club, my first colours now are red and I hope to win with Manchester United.'

Ferguson, who must decide whether to bring Wayne Rooney straight back into his starting line-up or leave the England forward on the substitutes' bench, has expressed his concern about Ronaldo becoming a trophy target for referees.

Already this term the Madeira-born star has been sent off for an apparent head-butt and booked for diving, although in neither instance does the United chief believe Ronaldo had done anything wrong.

'It is a worry for us,' said Ferguson. 'It is almost as though Cristiano is being punished for his success.

'There is no question in my mind there is an unfairness about it all.

'We have looked at the Portsmouth one from another angle and it was a quite ridiculous decision. Hughes said Cristiano never touched him, so he gets a three-match ban for that.

'And the one on Saturday was even more ludicrous. Quite clearly, Cristiano was tripped on the edge of the area. Why would Cristiano go down when he can score? On that occasion, the referee reacted far too quickly.'

Ferguson's concerns were only heightened when he was informed excitable German referee Herbert Fandel was in charge.

It would be fair to conclude United have an unhappy history as far as Fandel is concerned.

A trained pianist, Fandel has played all the wrong notes for Ferguson in the past, sending off Roy Keane during a stormy last-16 tussle with FC Porto three years ago before producing another red card to get rid of Paul Scholes in last season's quarter-final first leg against AS Roma.

Initially, Ferguson buried his head in his hands as Fandel's name was mentioned, before humorously stating: 'We need a supply of mogadon.' Read more...

Queiroz: I'll quit United

Carlos Queiroz has dropped a bombshell by revealing he is ready to quit Manchester United. Queiroz, 54, is frustrated with his Old Trafford assistant role and is looking at other options. He is in his second spell as Alex Ferguson’s No 2 after an unsuccessful term at Spain’s Real Madrid. Queiroz said: “I need to reflect on what I want to do in this last part of my career. In December I’m going to stop and think about myself. My contract is perpetual and caters for various options. But I only have one life and one career. I am going to think about it and go for the route that makes me most happy."
Neil Custis, The Sun

Reds have pitch concerns

Sir Alex was afforded his first glimpse of the Estadio Jose Alvalade's pitch when the Reds trained at the ground on Tuesday night.

Nineteen United players spent an hour on the turf, running through light ball-work, a half-field simulation match and attacking exercises before finishing with a thorough stretching session. The grass, however, appeared patchy in places and came away from its roots on a number of occasions.

"The pitch isn't great," the manager said. "It's cutting up badly and they have a problem with that. I think one half of it is worse than the other.

"We played here for the opening of the stadium in 2003 and we had terrible problems with the pitch on that day. I don't think they've ever sorted the problems. They've renewed the turf this summer but they're still having the same problems."

United squad at training on 18 September: Van der Sar, Kuszczak; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Pique, Evans; Ronaldo, Eagles, Scholes, Carrick, Gibson, Anderson, Nani; Giggs, Rooney, Tevez, Saha


Ole takes Reds coaching role

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took temporary charge of United’s reserves side in Lisbon on Wednesday morning, and it marks the former Reds striker’s first steps into the coaching side of the game.

Solskjaer, who ended his playing career last month due to injury having scored 126 goals in 366 appearances for the Reds, won’t be taking up the Reserves role full-time, but Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed that the Norwegian has joined the club’s coaching staff.

The 34-year-old has not yet been given an official job title, but he is to work closely with technical skills development coach Rene Meulensteen, with particular emphasis on coaching strikers throughout the club's ranks.

Sir Alex told “This is an ideal trip for Ole to come along and get involved with the coaching side of the game.”

Ole led the warm up and took charge of a reserves team including Tom Heaton, Dong Fangzhuo, Lee Martin, and Darron Gibson against a Sporting Lisbon team made up of first- and second-year Academy scholars. Read more...

Saha key to United's plans

Tonight's Champions League clash with Sporting Lisbon marks the first time Sir Alex Ferguson has had Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez all available for selection.

But while Reds fans will be licking their lips in anticipation of what this talented trio could deliver, the United boss insists the secret to success in this season's European campaign lies elsewhere.

"I think if we can get Louis Saha to stay fit then that will be a big, big bonus," the manager told English press in Lisbon.

"The other players are all tremendous footballers, but Louis is different and adds different ingredients. The power and strength of Saha is very important in Europe and it's key he remains fit."

It was Saha who grabbed United's winner in Portugal last season, with a 60th-minute strike to sink Benfica in the group stage. He also scored in the corresponding home fixture and twice against Celtic at Old Trafford.

Sir Alex revealed the Frenchman, who has just 72 minutes of league action under his belt this season after suffering a knee injury towards the end of last season, would certainly play a part in tonight's match. Like his other strikers, however, he's uncertain just how big the role will be.

"We're still in the process of picking our moments with Louis – when he does and doesn't play," he said.

"Rooney will be involved against Sporting, and Tevez too. I have good attacking options and I'll be using them all throughout the game.

"At the moment we're showing a good team spirit and a good work ethic. Our defenders have been wonderful in the last three games and that immediately gives us a good chance of winning matches. And we have the players to do that." Read more...

Ronny craves victory in Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo says he respects his former club but won't be doing them any favours as United prepare to take on Sporting Lisbon in Wednesday's Champions League Group F fixture.

During Tuesday's pre-match press conference, Ronaldo, who spent seven years at Sporting before signing for the Reds in 2003, admitted the Portuguese club felt like his "second home". But there's no denying where Ronaldo's loyalties lie these days.

"It's always good to come back to Lisbon," the 22-year-old said. "I have many friends and colleagues at the club and I'm very excited about the match. I like the club but now my first colour is red and I hope to win with Manchester United."

Asked if he would celebrate should he find the net against the club that nurtured his talent from an early age, Ronaldo said he couldn't plan his reaction.

"It will depend on the moment," he said. "I will have to wait to see how I feel. I don't know if I'll score and I don't know how I'll react. Right now I just want to say I'll give my best and I'll be playing to win.

"United respect Sporting Lisbon but we also believe we have the better squad. I hope I'll be happy at the end of tomorrow's game and I hope I receive a warm welcome from the Sporting fans."

Sir Alex believed the Reds' no.7 needn't worry about the fans' reaction, even though he was booed viciously the last time United played in Portugal.

"There won't be any negative reaction from Sporting fans," the manager said. "This is his old club and he was here seven years as a kid. I think he'll get a good reception – Nani too. Ronaldo got some stick at Benfica but that's expected." Read more...