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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hargreaves: I'm fully fit

Owen Hargreaves is determined to play in every game until the end of the season.

The summer signing from Bayern Munich has been in and out of Sir Alex’s side since his arrival at Old Trafford, largely due to niggling knee injuries.

But the 27-year-old told the Manchester Evening News he now feels fully fit.

“The game against Reading was the best and strongest I have felt in weeks,” Hargreaves said. “It was good to be back. I feel positive and optimistic now. I’m looking forward to the next three of four months because I think Manchester United can have a fabulous season. I want to play every game.”

The England international played 45 minutes in Monday night’s exhibition match in Saudi Arabia and appeared to suffer no ill effects. Of course, that game was played at low intensity, a far cry from the rigours of the Barclays Premier League.

“It’s a different environment for me [playing in England],” Hargreaves admitted. “It’s a different climate, there are different pitches, different services and staff at the club to get used to.

“Maybe the body has to get used to all those changes. The physical intensity of the English league may have had something to do with [my injuries at the start of this season]… perhaps I needed to adjust to it, having played in Germany.

“It will be nice from now on to play with the lads day in and day out. At the beginning of the season I would play and then not train all week. That’s no good for anybody.

“I’m really happy to be feeling good again. We have big goals this season and are going to need everyone.” Read more...

United reject applause idea

United have dismissed suggestions there could be a minute's applause at Old Trafford when fans mark 50 years since the Munich tragedy.

Tuesday's papers report opposition fans have urged the Reds not to hold a minute's silence before the Manchester City match on Sunday 10 February - the nearest fixture to the anniversary - because of fears the tribute may be disrupted by a dissenting minority.

But Phil Townsend, United's communications director, told us today:

"Manchester United have given great thought to the best way of remembering those who died at Munich. We feel a minute’s silence is the most appropriate way of paying tribute.

"We do not feel that applause is appropriate given that 23 people died.”

A number of tributes are planned for the City match. For example, the two sides will wear special kit that will not feature the clubs' sponsors. Read more...

Al Jaber Testimonial Match - Al Hilal Vs Manchester United Result Report

An acrobatic overhead kick proved the difference in Riyadh as United’s exhibition match against Al Hilal ended in a 3-2 defeat.

Bader Al-Kharashi scored the spectacular winner on 73 minutes in a game to honour Saudi Arabia’s most famous footballer, Sami Al Jaber.

Jaber, 35, represented Saudi Arabia at four World Cup finals and scored in three. His club career, which began in 1988 and ended only this season, has been spent entirely at Al Hilal, except for a four-game spell at Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2001.

Despite United’s impending heavy fixture load, Sir Alex remained true to his word and sent out a strong team in the impressive King Fahd Stadium. Cristiano Ronaldo was undoubtedly the fans’ favourite, drawing cheers and whistles of admiration with every touch. He dazzled in the early minutes with fancy footwork but failed to test Al Hilal goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Deayea with a long-range strike.

It was the home side who came closest to opening the scoring on seven minutes when Yasser Al Qahtani beat the Reds’ offside trap and teased Edwin van der Sar to the right-hand side of his area. With the Dutchman stranded, Al Qahtani crossed into the middle but the ball was just too high for the man of the moment, Al Jaber, who failed to meet the cross.

The execution may not have been perfect but the move sent out a clear statement of intent: the Saudis were not about to lie down and let United steal all the headlines. That message was rammed home on 19 minutes when Al Hilal took a shock lead, albeit slightly fortuitously when Al Qahtani capitalised on a ricochet off Rio Ferdinand to fire past van der Sar.

The lead didn’t last long, however, and United turned defence into attack with trademark speed on 25 minutes. Seconds after Ferdinand had put his body on the line to block another Al Hilal shot, Ronaldo was riding a challenge in the centre circle before releasing Carlos Tevez through the middle. Tevez, one on one with Al-Deayea, made the finish look easy as he slotted the ball under the onrushing goalkeeper with his left foot.

The 1-1 scoreline reflected the balance of play, although neither side had really broken sweat. Testimonial matches are rarely played at the highest intensity and this was no exception. Few tackles were felt at full force, with Ronaldo allowed to display his full repertoire of tricks and flicks.

After setting up United’s equaliser, the Reds’ no.7 got on the scoresheet himself just after the half-hour mark when he met Nani’s corner with a firm header at the near post.

Sir Alex’s men would have gone into the break 2-1 up had the referee not awarded Al Hilal a highly dubious penalty on 38 minutes. Not that anybody seemed to mind. In fact, even the United boss was smiling when he realised the decision was engineered, it seemed, in order to give Sami Al Jaber the opportunity to score in his own testimonial.

It had been an innocuous challenge from Rio Ferdinand but Al Jaber was emphatic with his finish from the spot, sending substitute goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak the wrong way and the ball into the top corner. The 70,000 who had gathered in the King Fahd Stadium to pay tribute to Al Jaber’s career erupted with delight, their hero savouring every moment of applause.

Sir Alex made four changes at half-time, the most unpopular of which was Ronaldo’s withdrawal. The trade-off, however, was the introduction of Wayne Rooney, another favourite among the Saudi Arabian fans. Owen Hargreaves, Ji-sung Park and Nemanja Vidic were also granted time on the pitch, with Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Carlos Tevez rested.

There was more penalty drama early in the second half when John O’Shea was adjudged to have brought down Al Jaber, although replays showed only the slightest of touches. Al Jaber, presented with a chance to score his second from the spot, passed on the opportunity, graciously allowing team-mate Mohamed Al Shalhoub to take the kick.

Shalhoub stepped forward and duly found the net, but the bizarre award of the penalty was nothing compared to the official’s even stranger request for it to be re-taken. Unfortunately for the home crowd, Shalhoub lacked composure the second time around, screwing his shot wide of Tomasz Kuszczak’s post.

And then came the moment Saudi football fans never wanted to see. Fifty-six minutes into the game, the fourth official held up the number nine and brought an end to Sami Al Jaber’s night. In the stands supporters stood and voiced their appreciation, while hugs and kisses abounded on the pitch.

Sir Alex made his own significant substitution on 65 minutes when 17-year-old Danny Welbeck has handed a taste of first-team action. Just last week, Welbeck was playing for United’s Academy side; here he was in Saudi Arabia performing in front of 70,000 fans.

Welbeck showed some assured touches on the ball and almost found the net with a smart header on 86 minutes.

Before that, Wayne Rooney went within inches of giving United the lead. Owen Hargreaves missed a free header in front of goal, but the ball hit Rooney at the back post and looked destined for the net until a goal-line intervention kept the score at 2-2.

The scoreboard operators were spared on that occasion but were called into action on 73 minutes when Bader Al-Kharashi secured the win. A looping header across goal seemed to pose little danger to the Reds’ defence until Al-Karashi launched himself into the air and executed a terrific overhead kick that flew into the bottom corner.

Danny Welbeck had a chance in the final minute to level the scores but the youngster blazed over from the penalty spot after being brought down inside the area. Had he scored, Welbeck would have been hugely unpopular for the night belonged to Sami Al-Jaber, Saudi Arabia's favourite footballing son.

United: Van der Sar (Kuszczak 30, Heaton 65); Simpson, Ferdinand (Vidic 46), O'Shea, Evra (Hargreaves 46); Eagles, Fletcher, Anderson (Welbeck 65), Nani; Ronaldo (Park 46), Tevez (Rooney 46)

Subs not used: Brown

City plea to scrap silence for Munich

Manchester United have been urged not to hold a minute's silence at the Munich memorial match at Old Trafford - by fans from visiting rivals Manchester City. City fear a minority of their followers are intent on ruining proposed tributes at the Manchester derby to mark the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, which claimed the lives of 23 people. Such is the concern a planned tribute could be marred that the official City Supporters' Club have written to United and urged them instead to have a minute's applause.
David McDonnell, Daily Mirror