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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Christiano Ronaldo Interview

United wing wizard explains why he'd gladly swap personal awards for team glory...

Are you pleased with your form this season?
I try to improve and this season has been even better than the last. People say I need to perform better in big games; I respect that opinion, but I don’t feel I need to prove anything to anyone. I’m pleased with my progress, but I believe this United squad is the best I’ve been involved in. It’s more consistent and more mature.

In recent seasons you bet Sir Alex you’d score 15 goals; now you have 36...
That’s true! I’m happy with the improvement. I’m a better player now than I was a year ago and definitely better than when I first came here. I hope that continues. Why have I scored more goals this season? It’s hard to say, I’ve just had more chances.

Do you have a favourite goal from this season?
I enjoyed my header against Roma away. That was very satisfying. But I like the free kicks against Portsmouth, Bolton and Sunderland. It’s hard to pick one.

Were you proud to beat George Best’s 32 goals in a season from midfield?
I don’t really want to break anybody’s record – I feel bad! I’ve seen tapes of George Best playing and he was absolutely fantastic. It’s a wonderful record to hold.

You’re tipped to win numerous Player of the Year awards again this year…
It’s nice to be recognised, but if I had the choice of winning, say, the Champions League or the Golden Boot, I’d pick the Champions League every time.

Christiano Ronaldo ~ Goals, Celebrations & Commentary 07-08


Gary Neville Returns


Ryan silences his critics

"Ryan Giggs began the week faced with a storm of criticism. Callers to Manchester United's own TV station were blaming him for the draw at Middlesbrough. Giggs played through the middle in the second half on Sunday and struggled at the Riverside. Even Alex Ferguson screamed at him for failing to latch on to a through ball from Park Ji-sung. For some time people have questioned whether the 34-year-old's shelf-life is up at Old Trafford. Last night he reminded the Reds faithful just what he is still all about before he was replaced by Wayne Rooney on 73 minutes. Giggs may have lost a yard of pace but there will be few 30-somethings still as quick as him with the ball at his feet. And that ball still sticks to his majestic left foot."
Neil Custis, The Sun

Adebayor's battle cry

Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor admits his side's season now hinges on Sunday's Premier League clash with United at Old Trafford.

The Togolese forward is confident, however, that the Gunners can overcome the heartbreak of their Champions League exit to Liverpool by reigniting their league title challenge.

"Our season now depends on Sunday, when we will know whether we are going to be on holiday or not," Adebayor told press after Tuesday night's match.

"That is the day we have to prove we can still win the Premier League otherwise United will have a hold on the title that will be very difficult to break.

"I believe it's still possible for us to win the League but we have to lift ourselves, keep our focus and keep our mentality strong. I think we will show that at Old Trafford, and stay in the battle for the title."

Adebayor feels it is vital for his side to finish strongly in a season which exceeded the expectations of many outside the Emirates Stadium.

"We must pick ourselves up. We must keep on going," he said. "We also cannot lose sight of what we are trying to do at Arsenal. Many people did not think we would get as far as we have done this season.

"But we could so easily have been in the Champions League semi-final if things had gone for us and we are still fighting with a chance in the Premier League."

On Sunday, Arsenal will be without Abou Diaby, who completes a domestic ban for his sending-off at Bolton, long-term absentees Tomas Rosicky and Bacary Sagna.

There are also doubts over the fitness of French midfielder Mathieu Flamini, who was withdrawn during Tuesday night's defeat at Anfield with an ankle injury.

Pique relishing Barca reunion

Gerard Pique is relishing a return to Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals, and the young Spaniard is confident that United can oust his former side en route to reaching this year's final.

The 21-year-old central defender left the Catalan giants to join United in 2004 and, after playing a key role in the Reds' quarter-final, second leg victory over Roma on Wednesday evening, Pique insists the Reds have nothing to fear.

"It means a lot for me to go back to the Nou Camp," he told MUTV. "I grew up there and it will be a great feeling to return. I hope we go through. We are very confident even though they are one of the best teams in Europe.

"I think a lot of people want a Barcelona v United final but this isn’t possible. Instead, we’ll play in the semi-finals and it will be a great tie. I think the fans will really enjoy it."

In Nemanja Vidic's absence, Pique slotted in seamlessly alongside Rio Ferdinand against Roma, and the youngster feels it is exactly that kind of strength in depth which gives United a great chance of reaching the final in Moscow.

"I think we have a great chance of making the final," he said. "The injury situation is good and everybody is doing a job when they come into the side. I think we can do it and I hope we’ll be in Moscow.

"It’s easy to come into the side and play because everyone’s playing well and we all know our roles. It’s easy to step into this team and enjoy your football when you’re on the pitch."

Spalletti backs Reds' charge

After watching his side beaten by the Reds at the quarter-final stage for the second campaign in a row, Roma coach Luciano Spalletti feels United have the wherewithal to win this season's Champions League.

The Reds booked a semi-final berth against Barcelona with a 3-0 aggregate victory over the Italians, despite fielding a much-changed side in Wednesday night's second leg.

"We put in a good performance and we're proud of that, but if you look at the track record and the history, Roma aren't at the same level as United," Spalletti said in his post-match press conference.

"I believe United are well-equipped to win the tournament. They have the potential to do so both collectively and individually. We saw this evening that whoever plays for them, they are a strong team."

The 49-year-old Italian admitted that, although his side were hampered by the absence of skipper Francesco Totti, United were worthy winners over the two matches.

"Of course we missed Francesco Totti very much," he said. "Anyone would like to have him in their team. He plays a crucial role for us and is vital to the way we play.

"But to get to this level, a team has to be able to overcome the absence of important players. We must concede that over the two legs United were better than us and deserved their victory."

United's progress would not have been so straightforward if Daniele De Rossi had not blazed a first-half penalty over the crossbar.

The Italian international midfielder waited for an age before hammering a shot into a baying Stretford End, and he conceded that pressure could well have been his undoing.

"It was not a penalty to make it 2-0 in the last minute, but still I think the game would have changed if I had scored," he said. "The first goal was there, eleven metres away from me, but we all know what happened.

"It was a highly-charged moment and probably I had too much time to think before taking it. I've scored penalties in important games like the World Cup final during my career but tonight I was less fortunate."

Giggs: We can win it

Ryan Giggs says there is a real belief in the United camp that the Reds can win the Champions League this season.

The veteran winger was part of the 1999 Treble-winning side who famously sealed a dramatic victory over Bayern Munich in the dying seconds at the Nou Camp.

In the semi-finals it's a return to the scene of the Reds' greatest recent triumph and Giggs says the players are confident of getting past Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona team and beyond.

"The Barcelona games are the kind of matches you want to play in as players. All the lads are looking forward to it," Giggs told MUTV.

"Playing at the Nou Camp will be a great experience. It's a massive pitch and you're up against great players. It's about performing over the two legs and we're confident we've got the ability to get through.

"When you get to the semis you know you're only one step away from the final and you want to make sure you get there. We're determined to do that.

"There are four teams left and they're all top sides who are capable of winning the competition. We hope it's us."

Fergie fumes at pen but happy with home form

Sir Alex Ferguson will return to Barcelona determined to prove his Manchester United team is 'special.'

United rightly clinched a place in the last four of the Champions League for the second successive season following a 3-0 aggregate quarter-final victory over Roma.

Leading 2-0 from the first leg in Rome, Ferguson dropped Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes to the bench, and his team still managed a 1-0 win on the night.

After dominating the opening 25 minutes in which Roma goalkeeper Doni made three fine saves, the Reds rode their luck when Daniele de Rossi blazed a 30th-minute penalty over the bar.

Then in the 70th minute, Ferguson's side wrapped up the tie when Carlos Tevez produced a glancing, diving header to a right-wing cross from Owen Hargreaves for his 17th goal of the season.

There was no way back for Roma, leaving United on the cusp of an all-English final against Liverpool or Chelsea should they beat Barcelona, with the first leg at the Nou Camp in a fortnight's time.

'I think we've something really special here, there's something really special with this team, and we want to go there and show we're a special team,' remarked Ferguson.

'Barcelona have a marvellous history, they're a wonderful club, but we can't go there and be negative.

'We have to go there and be really positive, and if we do that then we've a chance.'

Recalling some famous battles with Barca in the past, Ferguson added: 'We gained a lot of our education against Barcelona when we drew 3-3 here in the group stage, and then lost 4-0 in the Nou Camp at a time when we could only play three foreign players.

'I made one of those great, wise decisions of mine to leave Peter Schmeichel out, which didn't turn out too well for us.

'Then the year we won the cup (1999) we drew 3-3 in Barcelona and drew 2-2 in the home match in the group stages again. They were fantastic, unbelievable games.

'We also beat them in the Cup Winners' Cup in 1991, and although that was a different time, I look forward to going there with what is a very good team.'

Ferguson feels his current team has what he describes as 'better energy' going into the clash with Barcelona, compared to the games with AC Milan at the same stage last year when they beaten 5-3 on aggregate.

'I believe the energy of the team is far ahead of the team a year ago. It's much, much better,' assessed Ferguson.

'I believe we would have been in the final if we had had the proper energy, but we had a lot of injuries at the time, and it was the same team that was playing all the time.

'We played a Milan side fantastically prepared against us. We rested eight players on the Saturday before we played them (at the San Siro, losing 3-0), and they were a better team than us.

'If we had had better energy then we would have gone through.'

To add to the victory, Ferguson had Gary Neville back after a 13-month lay-off with an ankle injury, whilst Mikael Silvestre also started, ending seven-and-a-half months on the sidelines.

'It's been a long time for the boy,' added Ferguson on Neville, who came on in the 81st minute for Anderson.

'When we got to 1-0 it was easy to do, although we didn't know where to play him, that was the problem.

'But he came on and got a few touches, and what he has learned is how much he is appreciated by the fans. It was a great reception he got.

'So it was good to have the boy back. He's had a hard, hard time of it, with persistent small injuries that have derailed him.

'But in the last six weeks to two months he has been through a programme we designed for him to ensure he trained in all the sessions and played in the reserve games.

'Now I think we can get him in the team soon - I'm sure he's back.

'With Silvestre, he got injured in the second of game of the season, so to get him back gives us a little extra experience at a very important time of the year.

'So it's been a big bonus for us tonight.'

Brown's Euro dream

After missing out in 1999, Wes Brown admits he'd love to play in this season's European Cup Final.

Brown was an unused substitute at the Nou Camp nine years ago but hopes to go one better if the Reds reach Moscow this season.

Sir Alex's men took a giant leap towards that target on Wednesday night with a 1-0 win over AS Roma at Old Trafford (2-0 on aggregate).

"It was nervy at times but I think we controlled the game well," Brown told MUTV.

There was no nervier moment than the 30th minute when Daniele De Rossi stepped up to the penalty spot after Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo ruled Brown had illegally halted Roma winger Mancini.

"I touched the ball and got up and tried to carry on playing, but the referee gave the penalty and we had to get on with it."

To the delight of United's vocal support, De Rossi (the only Roma player to score in last season's 7-1 rout at Old Trafford) sent his kick high over the bar and into the Stretford End.

"If that penalty had gone in it would have made it a lot more difficult for us," Brown said.

"But all in all I think we played well and passed well. We deserved the win."

A Carlos Tevez header sealed victory and booked United's place in the Champions League semi-final. The Reds will meet Barcelona, with the first leg at the Nou Camp on Wednesday 23 April.

"Carlos' goal settled everyone down and it was a real professional performance after that," Brown said. "We're through now and everyone's happy.

"Barcelona will be a difficult challenge but we're playing well as a team and I can't wait for those two games. A lot of the injured players are coming back now and the squad's in great shape.

"Last season [we played AC Milan in the semi-final] with loads of players out but now everyone's back and enjoying their football.

"I was in the 1999 squad for the final but unfortunately I didn't play. It would mean everything to get to a final and play."

Neville ready to play his part

Gary Neville is looking forward to playing his part in United's season finale after making a successful return to first team action in the win over Roma.

The defender stepped onto the Old Trafford turf on Wednesday night for the first in over a year having been sidelined by injury.

The skipper was given a rapturous reception by the United faithful when he entered the fray on 81 minutes and he's relishing the challenges that lie ahead.

"Missing the end of last season was bad. I missed the Champions League quarters and semis, the Championship run-in and the FA Cup final so it's good to be back to help the team now," he told MUTV.

“People kept asking me when I was coming back and it was a bit embarrassing, I’d try and give them a date and then it wouldn’t materialise. But the fans have always supported me and gave me a good reception when I came on."

The victory over the Italians has set up a mouthwatering clash with Barcelona in the last four and Neville is expecting a memorable encounter.

"They're two unbelievable games to look forward to," he enthused. "Two clubs who play the game the right way. It'll be an unbelievable occasion to be a part of."

Sir Alex: Bring on Barca

Reds boss Sir Alex can’t wait to face Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final.

The Catalans beat Schalke 2-0 on aggregate to progress, but will be without skipper Carlos Puyol for the first-leg tie at the Nou Camp on 22 April.

“Puyol’s a very good player, so that’s interesting,” Sir Alex told Sky Sports.

“We have the opportunity now to achieve something really special. We want to go to Barcelona and show we’re a good team.

“Barcelona are a wonderful club but we can’t go there and be negative. We have to go there and be really positive. If we do that then we’ve got a chance.”

The United manager surprised everyone with his starting line-up against AS Roma, leaving Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Scholes on the bench.

But Sir Alex defended his decision and maintained his faith was repaid by those in the starting XI.

“We have Arsenal on Sunday to think about and you have to look at the big picture at times,” Sir Alex told MUTV.

“We were going into a game at Old Trafford with a two goal lead and I have to trust the players in that situation.

“I keep saying it’s the best squad I’ve ever had so if that’s the case then why shouldn’t I play them? I took out Scholes, Rooney and Ronaldo but Ji-sung Park, Carlos Tevez and Owen Hargreaves were our three best players.”