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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Giggs: We're still on course

Ryan Giggs says United are firmly on course for qualification to the last 16 despite frustration at not making the most of chances to win at Celtic Park.

United had almost 25 attempts at goal against Gordon Strachan's men, but it took until the 21st opportunity for Giggs to nod his header past Artur Boruc, who had failed to hold Cristiano Ronaldo’s swerving drive.

Dimitar Berbatov missed a golden opportunity to win it right at the death, but he turned his close-range shot wide of the goal. A chance missed, and a metaphor for the game itself, but Giggs wasn't too disheartened.

“With so little time to go and being 1-0 down we’d have settled for a draw,” admitted Ryan. “But the way we played and the tempo of our game in the second half, I think deserved a win. We came here to win, but we’ll go into the last two games knowing that we can qualify.”

The United skipper admitted the Reds weren't happy with the first-half display, but he was pleased with the attitude in the second half in trying to break down a stubborn Celtic rearguard.

“We were disappointed with our first-half performance,” Giggs told Sky Sports. “We didn’t keep the ball well enough. It came up to the front men and wasn’t sticking there. It wasn’t a really bad performance in the first half, we just knew that we could do better.

“But we came out in the second half and kept Celtic pinned back. We knew the chances would come, it was just a case of taking them. Celtic made it hard for us, they got men behind the ball. We knew that we just had to keep creating chances, whether it was from crosses, one-twos on the edge of the box, or just keeping the tempo going. That’s what we did.”

The pressure paid off when Giggs headed United level with little more than five minutes remaining. The Welshman says it is always worth anticipating the goalkeeper spilling one of Ronaldo’s rockets. “His shots are always worth following up,” Giggs added. “It moved all over the place, which is difficult for the goalkeeper to deal with and I just gambled on it. It fell to me and I headed it in.”

The Reds are top of Group E, but level on points with second-placed Villarreal, who drew 2-2 with Aalborg. United travel to Spain later this month in a match that will all but decide who goes through as group winners.

Celtic Vs. Manchester United Match Report

A late Ryan Giggs goal clinched a point at Celtic Park and all but cemented the Reds’ spot in the knockout phase of this season’s Champions League.

Giggs pounced on 84 minutes to head in from close range after Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc could only parry Cristiano Ronaldo’s swerving shot.

It capped a period of complete dominance – and growing frustration – as the Reds laid siege to Celtic’s goal in the second half after going into the break 1-0 down courtesy of Scott McDonald’s early goal.

For long periods it looked like the Scots would hang on to their lead, but Giggs’ goal, his 26th in European competition, earned the Reds a point that, barring a comprehensive Aalborg win at Old Trafford, will see Sir Alex’s men through safely to the Last 16.

Despite Celtic’s commanding home record, the United boss stopped short of deploying a full-strength Red army. Instead, Sir Alex opted to rest some of his troops, including Dimitar Berbatov, Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra.

John O’Shea slotted in on the left side of defence, while Carlos Tevez, operating on his own with Ryan Giggs hovering just behind, made just his second start in seven games.

At right back, 18-year-old Brazilian Rafael was included from the off, with Gary Neville and Wes Brown both left in Manchester nursing minor injuries.

Sir Alex also took the bold step of handing young goalkeeper Ben Foster his European debut. Despite signing in July 2005, Foster’s Celtic Park outing was only his second Reds appearance since arriving at Old Trafford.

Of course, Foster’s loan spells with Watford (two seasons – one in the Championship, one in the Premier League) mean he’s not without experience, but he could do little when, in the 13th minute, Australian striker Scott McDonald lobbed superbly over the 6ft 2in custodian.

Although not entirely against the run of play, the Reds had enjoyed a bright opening spell. Tevez, desperate to impress on his recall to the starting XI, won the game’s first corner in the third minute. Celtic failed to clear convincingly and the ball fell to Cristiano Ronaldo, who saw his volley from 12 yards bravely blocked.

Ronaldo went closer from a 10th-minute free-kick, after Barry Robson clattered into Darren Fletcher 25 yards from goal. The Reds’ no.7 managed to get his shot up and over the Celtic wall, but the ball kept rising and flashed over the crossbar.

McDonald’s opener galvanised the already vocal home support, who jeered every Reds touch with deafening derision.

The boos turned to ironic cheers when Rio Ferdinand spurned a golden chance to draw level on 19 minutes, the defender blazing over from close range. He then saw a header cleared off the line, as the Reds’ rotten luck continued.

Nani entered the referee’s notebook when he halted a Celtic breakaway by illegal means, although the challenge was clumsy rather than cynical and thus the card colour yellow and not red.

Celtic kept their pre-match promise to get in the Reds’ faces, as United’s midfielders enjoyed little time on the ball. Without the freedom to create from open play, United were forced to rely on set-pieces. A corner in first-half injury time almost provided the equaliser, but Nemanja Vidic couldn’t direct his close-range header under the crossbar.

Sir Alex recognised the need for change at the break and replaced Nani with Dimitar Berbatov.

Desperate Celtic defending from Gary Caldwell prevented Ronaldo from tapping in early in the second half, before Artur Boric saved comfortably from the no. 7 moments later.

United kept probing, however, and Berbatov’s introduction almost yielded a goal on 56 minutes. In what was almost a carbon copy of his first strike at Old Trafford a fortnight ago, Berbatov, on the spin, cleverly flicked a header towards goal. This time, however, Shaun Maloney was on hand to clear off the line and preserve Celtic’s advantage.

United’s summer signing went close again after a clever ball from Rafael to the back post was headed down by John O’Shea. The Bulgarian couldn’t make decisive contact and the ball looped harmlessly into Boruc’s arms.

An almighty scramble on 68 minutes saw Tevez, O’Shea and Fletcher all denied as the Reds laid siege to the Celtic goal.

Sensing cracks beginning to show in the Scots’ defence, Sir Alex threw on Wayne Rooney with 19 minutes to play. Ronaldo tested Boruc again from distance and the stopper was again on hand to deny the Reds an equaliser when Rooney let fly from 30 yards.

Of course, it only takes one error to turn a game and Boruc’s inability to deal adequately with Ronaldo’s 84th-minute rocket ultimately cost Celtic all three points.

Team Line-ups

Manchester United: Foster; Rafael (Evra 66), Ferdinand, Vidic, O’Shea; Ronaldo, Fletcher, Carrick, Nani (Berbatov 46); Giggs, Tevez (Rooney 71)
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Anderson, Park, Evans
Booked: Nani

Celtic: Boruc; Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Wilson; Brown, Hartley, Robson, Maloney (O’Dea 76); McDonald (Hutchinson 82), Sheridan (Donati 64)
Subs not used: Brown, Naylor, Nakamura, Caddis

Celtic Vs. Manchester United Highlights Video Clip

Celtic [1 - 1] Manchester United
13' [1 - 0] S. McDonald
84' [1 - 1] R. Giggs


United won't play games

It won’t be the end of the world if United lose at Celtic Park on Wednesday night.

With a trip to Villarreal and a home tie against Danish minnows Aalborg to come, the Reds would still be odds-on favourites to qualify from Group E.

But Sir Alex Ferguson is determined this season’s group stage campaign won’t go down to the wire.

“Hopefully I can give a few players some minutes on the pitch [against Celtic],” he told MUTV in an exclusive interview at the Reds’ team hotel.

“But I’ll be picking a team to get a result. That’s the important thing: we’re not fiddling about here.

“We did that in 2006 and threw away a game [against FC Copenhagen in Denmark]. We can’t afford to do that.”

On that occasion, United had to scrape through on Matchday 6 with a come-from-behind win against Benfica at Old Trafford.

Victory on Wednesday night would secure the Reds’ passage to the next phase and allow Sir Alex the freedom to rest and rotate players in the remaining group games.

See the manager’s exclusive pre-match interview on MUTV at 18:30 on Wednesday night.

Owen may not need op

Contrary to press reports last weekend, a decision has not been made on the best treatment for Owen Hargreaves’ ongoing tendonitis problem.

Some UK papers claimed Hargreaves was set to go under the knife in an effort to ease the knee trouble he’s experienced since arriving at United in July 2007. The on-again, off-again nature of the problem has restricted the midfielder to just three appearances this season.

Earlier this week, a club spokesperson told Hargreaves would return to a specialist; on Tuesday evening, Sir Alex Ferguson revealed a decision on the best way forward is unlikely to be made before next week.

“We’re managing it at the moment,” he said. “We should have some news next week on our exact position.”

Meanwhile, an ankle injury means Wes Brown didn’t travel to Glasgow for Wednesday night’s match against Celtic. The boss said Brown could be out of action for “a couple of weeks”.

Rio wants to make history

Rio Ferdinand insists he will view his career as a failure if he does not add to the three Premier League titles and Champions League crown he has won with Manchester United. Ferdinand's status as an Old Trafford legend is assured but the defender, who turns 30 on Friday, is far from satisfied. "I won't be looking back yet," said Ferdinand. "But if I get to the end of my career and have only won the trophies I currently have, I'd be disappointed. I want to win more. I'm greedy. You have to be in this sport to try and achieve anything. I would not be happy to just have this. It's realistic to think we can win the Champions League again this season, because we have fantastic players. We've added Dimitar Berbatov - he's a fantastic player - and we have a very talented squad if everyone stays fit."
David McDonnell, Daily Mirror