Monday, February 27, 2006

Manchester United is the Carling Cup Champion

Manchester United defeated Wigan Athletic with a blunt 4-0 to win the English League Cup final on Sunday.

The Manchester club, twice European champions, were hot favourites to beat the side from a neighbouring town.

Indeed, Sir Alex Ferguson's side created the first clear cut chance in the seventh minute when Wayne Rooney headed against the bar from a Gary Neville cross.

But Wigan, who were making their first ever appearance in a major final, were forced to change goalkeepers as Mike Pollitt was unable to continue with an injury. John Filan came on as his replacement.

The Reds took the lead in the 33rd minute when a long kick up field by Edwin van der Saar was headed on by Louis Saha.

Pascal Chimbonda and Arjan De Zeeuw crashed into each other and Rooney took full advantage to blast the ball past the substitute goalkeeper Filan.

Wigan saw their hopes of getting back into the game ruined by conceding three goals in six second half minutes.

As the reports say, Ryan Giggs picked out Cristiano Ronaldo, who found an overlapping Gary Neville and his cross was bundled home at the second attempt by Louis Saha in the 55th minute, despite a fine initial save by Filan.

The score was 2-0 to Manchester United.

In a very interesting move, four minutes later, atrocious defending by Stephane Henchoz saw his poor clearance fall to the feet of Louis Saha and he slipped the ball through for Cristiano Ronaldo to make it 3-0.

Two minutes later, the game was over as a contest when Man of the Match Rooney scored his second after Wigan failed to deal with a Giggs free-kick.

This victory was the biggest in the final since it was switched from two legs in 1967.

It guarantees United a place in next season's UEFA Cup if they should finish outside the Champions League qualifying places in the English Premier League this season.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Argentine Heinze to be back in March

Manchester United player Gabriel Heinze, who suffered a cruciate knee ligament damage in September, is convinced that he will be back in action within four weeks.

"I expect to play again in one month," the Argentine player says.

"The doctor of the Argentina national team, Donato Villani, has evaluated me and we are all optimistic. I have worked hard and the results have been very positive."

It's good to remember that the 27-year-old Heinze was injured in United's Champions League game at Villarreal on Sept. 14.

In fact, Sir Alex Ferguson had been sceptical about his chances of recovering in time for the World Cup.

"Every player would want to play in the World Cup, I'm not disputing that, but I can't see it myself," Ferguson told the press in December.

"I just made a bet with Sir Alex Ferguson about returning to the field this season and I am going to win it," Heinze said on Tuesday.

"I think about the World Cup in Germany as the big final target for my rehab."

Heinze is one of the Argentina players seen as a certainty in coach Jose Pekerman's World Cup squad if he is ready to make it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Manchester United beats Portsmouth 3-1

Manchester United FC made sure it was third time unlucky for rivals Portsmouth, who were looking for a hat-trick of home Premiership victories against the Reds, by giving them a master class in first-half finishing.

Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo scored two fine goals after Ruud van Nistelrooy headed in the rebound from Ryan Giggs' shot as memories of previous 1-0 and 2-0 defeats at Fratton Park were dismissed by the high-flyers.

Harry Redknapp may not yet be running of patience but Portsmouth squad is certainly beginning to run out of time with only 12 games left to somehow hang on to their Premiership status. Next up in a couple of weeks' time is the small matter of a visit to Chelsea.

Redknapp, nevertheless, tried as ever to put on a brave face after another soul-searching defeat, with comments such as "we must go on a run" and "it's all still to play for". Yet you get the distinct impression that he is starting to clutch at straws. Of all the worrying statistics surrounding Portsmouth, none is more telling than the fact that they have just once scored more than a single goal in any League game this season - and that was against Sunderland. They may have paid a record £4.1m for Benjani Mwaruwari but so far the Zimbabwe international striker is firing blanks.

Everything, as they say, goes in threes and Portsmouth were looking for a third successive home win over United, who had triumphed only once in the top flight at Fratton Park in 47 years. Bogey ground? Not any longer. Three certainly figured - for the number of times Dean Kiely had to pick the ball out of his net, all in the first half. Only in an opening burst and a pulsating last 15 minutes did Pompey spark into life, their late rally resulting in Matthew Taylor's goal.

On the positive side, the crowd never stopped giving them rousing support while Lomana LuaLua's pace and trickery were a constant threat. Of Portsmouth's new signings only Pedro Mendes, one of four former Tottenham players in their 16-man squad, looked the part and would have been a contender for man of the match but for a scintillating display from United's Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese scored two goals and kissed the top of the bar after Ruud van Nistelrooy had notched his 19th Premiership goal of the season, nodding the ball over the line after Ryan Giggs had struck the woodwork.

"When we stayed up last time we took 21 points from the last 10 games and we need to do something similar," Redknapp noticed. "Then, of course, we had Yakubu and we need someone like him to start scoring goals. I had to take some chances in January and brought seven players in. It's not easy to hit the ground running but if I'd sat back and done nothing we'd never have survived anyway."

Van Nistelrooy, United's captain for the day, was unhappy about his team's second-half performance but is just two goals away from joining a select band of United legends who have scored 150 for the club. In all probability United will not catch Chelsea, despite closing the gap to 12 points, but second place and at least one domestic cup now look a fair bet. Not a bad return.

Goals: Van Nistelrooy 18 (0-1); Ronaldo 38 (0-2); Ronaldo 45 (0-3); Taylor 87 (1-3).

Portsmouth (4-4-2): Kiely; Pamarot, O'Brien, Primus, Taylor; O'Neil, Davis (Griffin 55), Pedro Mendes, D'Alessandro (Routledge 45); Mwaruwari, LuaLua. Substitutes not used: Ashdown, Karadas, Hughes.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar (Howard 45); Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Silvestre; Ronaldo, Fletcher, Giggs (Smith 45), Park; Rooney (Saha 82), Van Nistelrooy. Substitutes not used: Evra, Richardson.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Van der Sar talks about next crucial game

Dutch keeper Edwin van der Sar is convinced that the next fortnight will make or break Manchester United's season.

The Reds will face Portsmouth in the Premiership on Saturday and they want to consolidate second spot in the table before embarking on a crucial cup double, starting with a visit to Liverpool in the FA Cup before tackling Wigan in the Carling Cup final on February 26.

Van der Sar is aware that three wins would leave United looking forward to the remainder of the season with some silverware already in the cabinet.

But in the other handm, three defeats would condemn Sir Alex Ferguson's men to back-to-back trophyless campaigns for the first time in 17 years, a thought Van der Sar is not prepared to contemplate.

"These next few matches are very important if we are going to get some silverware this season," said the giant Dutchman.

Is good to remember that Van der Sar has been widely regarded as a force for good at Old Trafford this term.