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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Brown relishing finale to season

Manchester United defender Wes Brown is looking forward to a 'great ending' to the season.

He remains in sight of a second Champions League winners' medal after a highly-disciplined display in the victory against Barcelona.

Manchester-born Brown, 28, was an unused substitute when the team famously lifted the trophy in 1999.

Since then his Old Trafford career has been series of highs and lows, mainly because of injury.

And there was a time when this looked as though it could be his final season at the club after a long-running dispute over a new contract.

It was recently resolved with Brown sealing a four-year deal - and life could now hardly be sweeter.

With United going for a league and Champions League double, he has impressed Fabio Capello and been picked in his first two England teams.

Brown said: 'I have been here at Manchester United since I was a boy.

'I was happy to sign a new contract and we could have a great ending to the season.'

In addition to securing a place in Moscow, United are favourites to pip Chelsea and retain their crown.

Brown said: 'If anyone had told us at the start of the season we would be in the final and needed to win two games to take the title, we would have been delighted.

'We are all happy to go through. Now we aim to do our best in Moscow. The lads are buzzing at the thought of being in the final.'

United refused to buckle when the Spanish side stepped up the tempo in search of a crucial goal and Brown said: 'It was a great performance as we stopped them scoring.

'We dug in, knowing it was going to be difficult as they have some great players.

'They put a lot of pressure on us but we did brilliantly over the two legs and deserve to be in the final.

'We showed we can play as well as them. The fans were great as well. They got us going in the game.'

Next up for United are West Ham at Old Trafford on Saturday and they complete the campaign at Wigan a week on Sunday.

Brown added: 'They are two tough games but this victory against Barcelona will help us.

'We know if we play as well as we did in the Champions League then we have a great chance of retaining our title.'

Ronaldo: It's a team game

Cristiano Ronaldo took another step towards becoming FIFA'S World Player of the Year but insisted the team was more important than any individual.

Manchester United's gifted winger proved he is prepared to put in a hard shift as well as they secured a place in the Champions League final in Moscow next month.

Although he failed to improve on his 38-goal tally, Ronaldo's gritty display in the 1-0 defeat of Barcelona only served to emphasise how far he has come this season.

He is now widely recognised as the best player in the world after finishing third behind Kaka and Lionel Messi last season.

Ronaldo, the PFA player of the Year, remains modest about his part in United's success as they chase a double of league and Champions League.

He said: 'My performance is not important, winning is and we're in the final. It was a great result.

'Of course I feel good. It has been a great season and I'm in a great moment. I've scored many goals. I have played well but so have the team - they have been fantastic.'

Ronaldo is blossoming at the top level - even in the face of change.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has surprised many pundits with the way he has set up his side in Europe, especially with the way United counter attack.

But his tactics have proved spot on as under-pressure Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard knows only too well.

Ferguson said: 'I have watched them a lot. If you try and meet them too early, they always open you up because they have the extra man in midfield.

'We didn't go hell for leather at them and defend too early. I think Frank Rijkaard would have liked that. It is something we have learned in Europe. We have enough experience in certain positions to wait for the counter-attack.

'The pace we have up front and the goalscoring threat we have allow us to do that.'

Ferguson's comments were endorsed by Ronaldo.

'It's very important to have experienced players but it's also equally important to have young players, ' said the Portugal international.

'Young players have a lot of power and run more, so you need that balance. You also want to win all the time when you play for Manchester United.

'I thought we played better than Barcelona. It was an intensive game but we created more chances and played the better football.

'The fans were absolutely fantastic. They did a great job singing all through the game - the motivation helped the players to get a great victory.'

Ronaldo is now putting thoughts of the final to the back of his mind with crucial Premier League games to come against West Ham on Saturday and Wigan a week on Sunday.

United are level on points with Chelsea - who face Newcastle on Monday - but have a superior goal difference.

Ronaldo said: 'The most important thing now is the league because the final is weeks away. We have work to do and it is important to keep our concentration.

'We have two games now to lift the Premier League, we have a good chance and if we win them both we are champions.'

Meanwhile Ferguson will monitor the fitness of Wayne Rooney (hip) and Nemanja Vidic (face) ahead of the West Ham match after they sat out the victory against Barcelona through injury.

Patrice Evra, however, is expected to be fit after suffering a knock last night.

Van Der Sar dreaming of another medal

Veteran goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar can scarcely believe he is on the verge of becoming a two-time Champions League winner.

Manchester United's formidable keeper is daring to dream again after helping Ajax become kings of Europe in 1995.

The Dutch side came within a whisker of regaining their crown the following year but Van der Sar had to settle for a loser's medal as they lost to Juventus on penalties.

He later moved to the Italian giants before joining Fulham and then United in June 2005.

At 37 Van der Sar is savouring every moment as the team chase a glorious double of league and Champions League.

United booked their place in the final in Moscow thanks to a 1-0 aggregate victory against Barcelona and the Dutchman said: 'You remember 13 years ago you won it and 12 years ago you lost it.

'It has been a long time in between and it is a great feeling to go to the final again and try to win it for a second time.

'We knew we had to perform against Barcelona to go through. We achieved that and are delighted.'

Van der Sar claimed United gave the perfect response to the those who had doubted them after the controversial defeat by title rivals Chelsea at the weekend.

He said: 'The quality of the team is its strength and that includes mental strength.

'The players and the management team have a lot of character. You have to go from game to game and from strength to strength. That is how it is at this club.

'We have a lot of individual quality in the team but being a team is also important. We worked extremely hard together as Barcelona are not a bad team.

'They have not done brilliantly in the league but against us they really performed. It was hard work but we got a great result.'

United saw off Barcelona thanks to a superb defensive display and a magnificent winner from the evergreen Paul Scholes.

Van der Sar added: 'I was pleased to keep two clean sheets against them because we always know we have a goal in us.

'Scholesy was brilliant in training before the game. We know he is always capable of scoring and is a great player.'

Manchester United Vs. Barcelona Celebration


The reluctant hero

While a host of jubilant United players stopped to address the world's media after Tuesday night's Champions League victory over Barcelona, there was no sign of match winner Paul Scholes.

Having scored the tie-settling goal against the Catalan giants, the softly-spoken midfielder typically shunned the limelight and disappeared to be with his family after the final whistle.

His team-mates, however, were more than happy to heap praise on Scholes, who now seems guaranteed to start a Champions League final after missing the 1999 final through suspension.

"You could see his reaction, it was a big relief for him," Mikael Silvestre told MUTV. "He wasn’t involved in ’99, but now he is taking the team with him to Moscow. It’s good for him, he fully deserves it. He is a great professional. He is a local lad so it means a lot to him."

Scholes swung the tie in United's favour with a scorching 25-yard drive which faded into the top corner of Victor Valdes' goal, and his colleagues were far from surprised by the moment of brilliance.

"I was talking to Patrice Evra about Scholesy in training before the game," said Ji-sung Park. "He was unbelievable. We said that he would do something big in the game and he did."

"It was a great goal, unbelievable," added Wes Brown. "I’m just glad it was Scholesy, he deserves it. He’s got us into the final."

Ronny: Fans were fantastic

Cristiano Ronaldo says United’s fans played a starring role in the Reds’ Champions League victory on Tuesday night.

Old Trafford was a cauldron of noise for Barcelona’s visit, as supporters rallied behind United and cheered the lads to Moscow.

“The fans were absolutely fantastic,” Ronaldo told MUTV. “They did a great job and sang for the whole game. It gave the players motivation and helped us get a massive result.”

Ronaldo flung himself to the ground at the final whistle, apparently almost overcome with emotion.

“The feeling is great,” he said. “It will be my first Champions League final and I feel very good. It’s great for me and my colleagues.

“The final is in three weeks and we have time to work and keep our concentration. But the most important thing now is the league.”

United's treble boost

Sir Alex is hopeful Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra will all be fit to face West Ham at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Rooney (hip) and Vidic (head) missed the Reds’ triumphant Champions League semi-final second leg on Tuesday night, while Evra (head) was stretchered off in the game’s dying stages.

“Patrice got a real bang on the head,” the manager confirmed, “but I’m sure he’ll be all right for Saturday.

“Vidic may be okay too, but that’s in the doctor’s hands.”

There were murmurs of doubt among United fans when it became apparent Rooney had been left out of the Barcelona clash, but Sir Alex told MUTV he had little choice.

“After getting the knock against Chelsea on Saturday, Wayne was in real pain on Monday.

“I made the decision not to risk him because if I had to then substitute him early in the match it could really have affected us. So I went with a front two of Ronaldo and Tevez.

“Wayne has got a big chance [of being fit for West Ham]. He’ll be all right for Saturday.”