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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Boss relieved by Rooney strike

Sir Alex Ferguson was annoyed with himself for not employing Wayne Rooney in a central role earlier against, after the striker scored within moments of switching position.

Rooney spent much of the match in a wide left position as the Italians dominated the early stages of the second half, but moved inside when Owen Hargreaves replaced Anderson.

Sir Alex's switch to 4-4-2 reaped instant dividends, as Rooney pounced on a mistake from Roma goalkeeper Doni to give United a vital second goal.

"I should have put Wayne Rooney through the middle quicker," Sir Alex told ITV after the match. "It (the second goal) was an instant reaction to that.

"We maybe had some lucky breaks in the second half, they could have scored a couple when they went through on the left hand side against us."

Rooney's goal, which followed a superb first-half header from Cristiano Ronaldo, gave United a 2-0 lead to take into next Wednesday's second leg.

With the Reds looking well placed for a semi-final place, Sir Alex was highly satisfied with a job well done in the Stadio Olimpico.

"It was a very good team we were playing against," he said. "I think we had to defend really well at times. It was a good disciplined performance, we had good possession of the ball and that's not easy in that atmosphere.

"And we didn't lose a goal, which is really vital. It's a fantastic scoreline for us, and we're very, very pleased."

The only sour note of the evening came as Nemanja Vidic limped off in the first half with a knee injury. The Serbian is set to undergo a scan to determine the extent of the blow.

"We don't know," said Sir Alex. "We hope it's a nerve. It's a knee injury anyway, we're just praying it's not anything other than a nerve injury."

Ferguson hails 'marvellous' United performance

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson saluted his side as they took a giant step tonight towards a place in the Champions League semi-finals.

Goals from Cristiano Ronaldo - his 36th of the season - and Wayne Rooney put United in the driving seat with a 2-0 win over Roma to take into the second leg at Old Trafford next week.

Ronaldo made the breakthrough in the 33rd minute, and Rooney added a second in the 67th minute to leave Roma dispirited.

Ronaldo made the breakthrough with a brave header, and Rooney's was a simple tap-in after Ji-Sung Park had headed the ball into the area from the back post.

Ferguson said: 'It was a marvellous result for us. We showed discipline and composure on the ball.

'Ronaldo's goal changed the game for us. It was a fantastic header.

'His spring and courage to go in front of the defender surprised the Roma player.

'It was a centre forward's header - it reminded me of myself.'

On Park's contribution to the second goal, Ferguson said: 'I'm not sure how he managed to get the ball back into the area. It did not seem possible.

'But Wayne appeared to unsettle the goalkeeper and managed to touch it in.'

Roma made a decent fist of it in the second half but found goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar unbeatable.

The Dutch goalkeeper's fitness had been a concern, because he has been troubled with a groin problem.

Ferguson said: 'He's had one or two injuries - which have given us a bit of concern - but he came through the game well tonight.

'Edwin showed why he has 120 caps. His experience is vital.

'He made one incredible save in the second half and is a great goalkeeper.

'We rode our luck in the first 15 minutes of the second half. You get those breaks sometimes - and we did today.'

United's celebrations were tempered as defender Nemanja Vidic was forced to come off with a knee injury in the 33rd minute.

He will have a scan tomorrow, and Ferguson said: 'I pray it is not serious, because he is such an integral part of our team.

'We think it might just be a nerve injury but we can't be sure at this moment.'

There was no repeat of the violent scenes that have marred clashes between the clubs in recent games, and Ferguson said: 'That is a bonus and what we wanted to happen tonight.

'Roma and ourselves have worked hard to make sure there would be no incidents.'

Rooney is hoping United have completed the most difficult part of their mission.

'It was a very good game for us - we played really well,' he said.

'It's a very good result - but in the Champions League you never know. We defended well as a team, and I think if we play like we did tonight in the second leg we will go through.

'It was important that we kept a clean sheet.'

On the second goal, he added: 'I don't remember much about it; I just turned, and the ball was on my foot.'

Roma goalkeeper Alexander Doni said: 'Ronaldo's goal was fantastic - there was very little I could do.

As for Rooney's strike, he added: 'It was just a misunderstanding and it's a pity - because it happened when we were playing at our best.

'Manchester United are a great side and they proved it once again - but we have to believe it is still possible.'

Ronaldo eyes Euro glory

Cristiano Ronaldo believes that United have a big chance to win the Champions League this season after an impressive 2-0 win away to AS Roma in the quarter final first leg on Tuesday.

United made a significant stride towards the semi finals, with Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney scoring two potentially crucial away goals.

“I think we have a great chance this year,” says Ronaldo. “The team is playing fantastic football and we are more mature than last year.

“We know the Champions League is different to the Premier League. This is a great competition and of course we want to win it this season.”

Ronaldo, who opened the scoring against Roma with a powerful header five minutes before half time, says it was a pleasing performance from defence through to the Reds’ front players.

“It was a very good performance,” he told ITV. “It was a tough game, Roma played very well but I think we deserved to win.

“I feel happy to have scored the goal to help the team. We’ve got the second leg at home in a week and we will play to win for our supporters as we did here.

“The defence was terrific. The shape, the way they squeezed Roma. It was a fantastic performance, they did a really good job.”

AS Roma Vs. Manchester United Result Report

United delivered the model European away performance in Rome on Tuesday– strong in possession, resilient during the inevitable Roma backlash, and ruthlessly scoring two away goals.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney did the damage, presenting the Reds with a glorious opportunity to make the Champions League semi finals later this month. But, take note, the job is only half done. Roma weren’t without their chances, and they will come to Old Trafford in a week’s time knowing they’re up against it, but not out of it.

This wasn’t the all-out attacking United of Saturday’s 4-0 thumping of Aston Villa, but it was the kind of performance Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have sometimes lacked away from home in Europe in recent years.

The United boss was able to select Michael Carrick despite the midfielder sitting out training in Rome the night before. There was a recall for Ji-sung Park (his first European start this season) in place of Ryan Giggs. Carlos Tevez settled for a place on the bench as Anderson made up a three-man central midfield alongside Carrick and Paul Scholes.

Luciano Spalletti, Roma’s coach, said that his players would not just stand and admire a team he regards as “the best in the world”. Their 7-1 defeat at this stage last year is clearly a wound that has not yet healed. So much so that Spalletti threatened not to present Sir Alex with a bottle of his favourite wine after the game – “no more gifts, on or off the pitch,” he said, half jokingly.

Roma, without the suspended Simone Perrotta and the injured Francesco Totti, would be up against it with United being in fine form that culminated in Saturday’s imperious win over Aston Villa.

United had hoped to avoid an English opponent at this stage, but nevertheless drew a familiar foe – this being the fifth time in 12 months that the Reds have come up against Rome’s Giallorossi.

The Reds started with Rooney on the left, Park on the right and Cristiano Ronaldo up front. United took immediate control in the early stages, pressing Roma back and keeping possession with great assurance, albeit without really breaking beyond the opposition back line.

But it was Roma who registered the first effort on goal, defender Christian Panucci heading over from a corner. The chance signalled their entrance into this tie. The bad news for United was that Nemanja Vidic was forced off just after half an hour after falling awkwardly. The influential Serbian defender was replaced by John O’Shea in the centre of United’s defence.

The enforced change momentarily flustered the Reds, but not for long. With little more than five minutes of the first half remaining, an intricate move across the edge of Roma’s penalty area found Scholes on the far right side. The midfielder, in outstanding form, served up a cross and Ronaldo bravely ran and leapt at it, powering the ball into the back of the net.

In the second half, Roma realised they had to drive forward and, as in the first half, had the first opportunity. De Rossi’s surging run forward created space in the box and his pass to Tonetto allowed the full-back to shoot, but his effort from 12 yards went narrowly wide. Moments later, with the home crowd stirred at their team’s positive approach, Panucci fired over at the back post. United head to weather the storm.

Roma were far more ambitious in the second half – they had to be. And from a series of corners the Giallorossi threatened United’s goal. On 62 minutes Edwin van der Sar was called upon to make a world-class, one-handed save from Vucinic’s glanced header.

Sir Alex responded immediately, calling for the combative Owen Hargreaves to replace the more forward-thinking Anderson. Spalletti, sensing the need to capitalise on the groundswell of pressure, brought on speedy winger Ludovic Giuly. But it was the Reds manager’s tactical tinkering that had the bigger impact.

Spalletti had warned United that there would be no gifts, but his players must not have been paying attention. On 66 minutes Park did brilliantly to head Brown’s deep cross back across the face of goal. Either Panucci or Doni should have cleared the danger, instead both tried. And when the ball landed at Rooney’s feet he gladly took the opportunity.

The goal completely changed United’s outlook, and with Rooney taking up more central role, Roma looked threatened. Seconds later Ronaldo was on the run and forced Doni to tip his 20-yard shot onto the post. Then Carrick hit struck from a similar distance, but saw his effort curl away from goal.

Sir Alex was able to take off Rooney with six minutes remaining, once again showing the strength of his squad in bringing Tevez on. The Argentine nearly set up a third, crossing for Ronaldo who sent a rasping volley narrowly over the bar. Nevertheless, United gladly take a two-goal advantage into the second leg, 90 minutes from a place in the last four.

Team Line-ups

Manchester United: Van der Sar; Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic (O'Shea 31), Evra; Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes, Anderson (Hargreaves 55), Park; Rooney (Tevez 84).
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Giggs, Pique, Silvestre.
Booked: Anderson

AS Roma: Doni; Cassetti, Mexes, Panucci, Tonetto (Cicinho 69); Taddei (Giuly 59), De Rossi, Pizarro, Aquilani (Esposito 77), Mancini; Vucinic.
Subs not used: Curci, Antunes, Ferrari, Brighi.
Booked: Pizarro, Mexes

AS Roma Vs. Manchester United Highlights Video Clip

AS Roma [0 - 2] Manchester U.
39' [0 - 1] C. Ronaldo
66' [0 - 2] W. Rooney


Sir Alex: Euro refs offer Ronaldo more protection

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson believes Cristiano Ronaldo is offered more protection by referees abroad than he is at home.

However the veteran Scottish boss is convinced the English game will change in light of the serious injury to Arsenal striker Eduardo.

Ronaldo will be in the spotlight tonight when he aims to improve his remarkable 35-goal tally against Roma in Champions League.

Frank De Bleeckere of Belgium will be in charge and Ferguson said: 'Without question it is a different style of refereeing in Europe. In Spain and Italy there is far more protection for the player with the ball. That is good.

'The English game is built on real passion and speed. You do not get these games every week in Europe. There it is played at a more leisurely pace , then speeds up in the last third.

'Our games sees a tackle every 30 seconds so there is more risk of injury.

'But the English game will change now. It has to after the incident involving the Arsenal player.'

Ferguson is likely to hand Paul Scholes his 99th Champions League appearance in this quarter final first leg match.

But the midfielder is taking nothing for granted even though Ferguson has apparently promised to play him should the club reach the final.

Scholes was forced to look on from the sidelines in 1999 when United snatched the crown from Bayern Munich.

It was a huge disappointment for him but at 33 he remains a key figure in Ferguson's plans after a three-month absence with a knee injury.

On the prospect of playing in the final, he said: 'It would mean a lot to me of course but there is still a long way to go. I know the manager will only play me if I am playing well, no matter how many games I have performed in.'

Despite 14 years at United and seven Premier League winners medals Scholes retains a boyish enthusiasm for the game.

He said: 'I still get as much of a buzz now as I did when I made my debut in the Champions League. This is a major competition which everyone wants to win.

'It is a massive game against Roma considering we are at the quarter-final stage of the tournament.'

Scholes was sent off here last year and Ferguson quipped: 'He would be more valuable to me if he stayed on the pitch.

'I was so delighted with his performance against Liverpool (United won 3-0) especially as he has been for three and a half months.

'It was not easy for him when he came back but he has found his form again. As we know he is one of the great players.'

Sir Alex backs Reds

Sir Alex Ferguson and his young princes are planning to party like it’s 1999 on their way to Champions League glory. For the first time since that Treble-winning year, boss Fergie is convinced Manchester United have the depth of talent to conquer Europe again. In fact, he believes the current squad — with Cristiano Ronaldo, 23, Wayne Rooney, 22, and Nani, 21 — is his best ever. Ferguson said: “We have only won the European Cup once in my time at Old Trafford so that tells you how difficult it is. In that respect it is going to be hard but we have the players who can make us successful. They are confident about expressing themselves and they enjoy playing. They are not afraid of challenges and there is enough youth in the team to make them ambitious and want to get there. This is probably my best squad ever in terms of completeness.”
Neil Custis, The Sun

Ronaldo's set to shine

Sure, he destroys the likes of Fulham and Bolton, but can Cristiano Ronaldo turn on the style when it really matters?

That’s the question opposition fans keep asking United supporters in pubs around the country. After all, the Reds’ No.7 has never scored against title rivals Chelsea and, until last season’s 7-1 demolition of Roma, only had one Champions League goal to his name.

In Rome on Monday, however, it was Sir Alex Ferguson who was faced with the question ahead of United’s quarter-final, first leg clash at the Stadio Olimpico.

“You have to remember, the boy’s not had as much European football as a lot of the top players on the European scene,” he countered. “He’s only young – he’s just turned 23.

“I’m sure in two or three years’ time the question will not even need to be asked. In domestic football this season he’s improved in every department of his game and the more he plays in Europe, the more he’ll show his attributes on the European stage.

“I have no concerns about that. All I can say is that a year after we came to Rome last season we’re bringing back a player who’s shown incredible improvement and is in fine goalscoring form.”

Indeed, since that 7-1 rout, Ronaldo has scored nine in his last 10 appearances in the competition, including vital winners against Sporting Lisbon (twice) and Olympique Lyonnais. Alongside Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, he’s the current joint top scorer in the 2007/08 competition.

Rio a Red for life

Rio Ferdinand says he hopes to have signed a new contract with United by the end of the season after stating his desire to stay with the Reds for life.

The defender, who joined in July 2002, has two more years left to run on his current deal and insists he is keen to stay put for the remainder of his career.

"I have two more years on my contract and I'd like to finish my career at United," revealed the 29-year-old in an interview with BBC Radio Leeds.

"The club have made an approach to my agent but there's so many games it's difficult to get around the table.

"By the end of the season, if not sooner, it should be done and dusted."

The centre-back also reflected on his recent outing as England captain during last week's friendly in France.

"Being given the duty was a real honour for me, I'd love to be the captain of England, who wouldn't?" he said.

"It's not going to be the be all and end all, it won't make or break my career or make me lose sleep at night.

"I'm still going to have the same thoughts and apply myself the same way regardless of who is being picked as captain. I want to win things and we need eleven captains out there not just the one."

Sir Alex in peace plea

Sir Alex Ferguson has called for peace ahead of Tuesday night’s Champions League clash with AS Roma in the Italian capital.

At this stage last season, ugly scenes in the stands marred the Reds’ visit to Rome as fans clashed with Roma supporters and police.

When the teams met earlier this season, however, there was less trouble in and around the Stadio Olimpico, although some United fans still reported problems.

“After the experience of last season, [the potential for violence] is definitely a concern,” Sir Alex conceded. “But the police, both the English and Italian forces, have been working hard to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“Nobody wants to see a repeat of what happened last season. For the reputations of both clubs, we hope it’s a good, competitive game and nothing more.

“We want rivalry between the fans and there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as it’s just rivalry and the supporters’ energy is focused on supporting their own teams. If that happens then we can go back to Manchester happy in the knowledge that everything’s been peaceful.”

Football violence in Italy was again brought into focus over the weekend when a 28-year-old Parma fan was hit and killed by a bus at a motorway rest stop.

“We’re all sad when we hear of a young person losing his life,” Sir Alex said. “It’s difficult to control what happens both inside and outside the stadiums, but we were very sad to hear of the tragic news.”

Scholes: Ronny's the best

Paul Scholes admits he’s never played with anyone as good as Cristiano Ronaldo.

Hyperbole comes as unnaturally to the 33-year-old as giving away possession, so Scholes’ comments ahead of United’s crunch Champions League quarter-final, first leg are certain to be heeded.

So often the admired, Scholes became the admirer when asked how enjoyable he finds playing with the Reds’ No.7.

“I’ve played with some top, top players in my time at Old Trafford,” Scholes told the press in Rome.

“But if I’m honest I think Cristiano must now be at the top. To score the amount of goals he has done this season – and from his midfield position – is nothing short of amazing.

“And it’s not only his goals. He’s making chances as well. He poses such a big threat to other teams.”

Scholes’ confidence in Ronaldo was shared by his manager, who said Ronaldo “has a big chance” of winning the coveted Ballon d’or (European Footballer of the Year) should United progress to the Champions League final.

“Reaching the final will really enhance his opportunity [of winning the award], but he certainly has a chance.”

AS Roma Vs. Manchester United Match Preview

Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar looks set to return to the side against Roma in the Champions League quarter-final.

Van der Sar was on the flight to Italy on Monday morning after missing the 4-0 Barclays Premier League victory against Aston Villa with a groin injury.

Michael Carrick, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs all travelled after coming off on Saturday with knocks.

Mikael Silvestre was a surprise addition to the party after recovering from a knee ligament injury, sustained in September.

However Nani was again missing and ruled out of the first-leg match because of a thigh strain.

Meanwhile, Paul Scholes has named Cristiano Ronaldo as his best ever team-mate in a glorious 14-year career at Manchester United.

It is a remarkable tribute to the Portugal winger, who is looking to improve on his 35-goal tally against Roma.

Scholes has played alongside the likes of Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Mark Hughes and David Beckham, not to mention the evergreen Ryan Giggs, collecting seven Premier League winners medals in the process.

However, it is Ronaldo that gets the midfielder's vote as his top team-mate at Old Trafford.

Scholes, who is due to make his 99th Champions League appearance in Italy, said: "I've been quite lucky to have played with a lot of great players.

"Cristiano has to be at the top now, purely for what he has done this season. Scoring the amount of goals from his position has been nothing short of amazing.

"It is not just that, though, it is the way he makes chances and the threat he poses to other teams.''

Ronaldo has not just reserved his scoring form for the domestic game either.

He has bagged six in seven Champions League matches heading into the quarter-final encounter.

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is looking for Ronaldo to maintain his momentum as they go for glory at home and abroad.

Ferguson said: "You have to remember Cristiano has only just turned 23.

"We have seen a development in every part of his game in domestic football.

"That's why we are delighted to bring a player back to Rome who has made an incredible improvement in the last year.

"Cristiano's goalscoring performances have been a big advantage to us as we all know.''

Meanwhile, Roma coach Luciano Spalletti is confident his side can overcome the absence of Francesco Totti and beat a Manchester United side he rates as the "best in the world''.

The Giallorossi take on United at the Stadio Olimpico without skipper Totti, who has been ruled out due to a thigh injury.

Spalletti believes his Serie A high-flyers have enough quality, however, to beat the Barclays Premier League leaders without their talisman.

"Totti is Totti,'' he said. "But a team that is not able to play without a player does not have the right mentality.

"To have reached this stage of the competition means we have a strong team even without Totti.

"I have a lot of confidence in my players, who I am sure will take on more responsibility as they have done in the past when we have played without Totti.''

Mirko Vucinic will lead the attack in Totti's absence and Spalletti knows the Montenegrin forward will be up to the task.

"We are all ready, including Vucinic,'' he said. "Vucinic has helped us win games and I am sure he is determined and ready.''

"This review is collected from ESPN."

Van Der Sar fit for Italian job

Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar looks set to return to the side against Roma in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Van der Sar was on the flight to Italy on Monday morning after missing the 4-0 Premier League victory against Aston Villa with a groin injury.

Michael Carrick, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs all travelled after coming off on Saturday with knocks.

Mikael Silvestre was a surprise addition to the party after recovering from a knee ligament injury, sustained in September.

However Nani was again missing and ruled out of the quarter-final first-leg match because of a thigh strain.

AS Roma Highlights