Wednesday, April 4, 2007


ROME, April 4, 2007 (AFP) - Paul Scholes was sent off in the first half as Manchester United lost 2-1 to Roma in a highly-charged Champions League quarter-final, first leg here on Wednesday. United were reduced to 10 men in the 34th minute when Scholes picked up a second yellow card, the first one having already ruled him out of the second leg at Old Trafford.

Roma exploited their numerical advantage a minute before the break when Rodrigo Taddei's deflected shot beat Edwin van der Sar.

The goal sparked ugly scenes as United fans - reacting to spiteful provocation from the home supporters - were baton-charged by Italian police.

United coach Sir Alex Ferguson had said an away goal would be vital if his side were to reach the semis.

And he got his wish on the hour as Wayne Rooney netted his first Champions League goal for two-and-a-half years with a cool finish after a swift United counter-attack.

"To be fair I wasn't really thinking about it being a millstone around my neck more that it was the quarter-finals of the Champions League," said Rooney.

"It was a good goal and being down to 10 men we needed one and this is not a bad result."

But Roma refused to let their heads drop and substitute Mirko Vucinic restored their lead in the 66th minute, hammering home the loose ball after van der Sar had only half cleared Mancini's venomous strike with his fists.

Ferguson seemed satisfied with the result, though, he was far from happy with the referee.

"Being against 10 possibly 12 men for at least an hour it was a good result," said Ferguson.

"The referee didn't give a decision for us tonight, but I can't complain about the sending off.

"However the referee said before the match that he would book anyone asking for someone to be booked and yet a Roma player demanded the booking for Scholes and was not punished and that is not acceptable."

His Roma counterpart Luciano Spalletti said that he thought they could have won more convincingly.

"With more luck we could have won by more," he said.

"When they were unable to score we had our hands on the scruff of the neck of the match and I though we would make it 2-0.

"A draw next week won't be good enough but we can still be confident of going through."

While Rooney ended his goal drought the other player desperately waiting for a Champions League goal Cristiano Ronaldo drew greater praise from Roma veteran defender Christian Panucci.

"If he takes off with the ball you will never catch him," said the former Italy international.

"You could compare him to motorcycling world champion Valentino Rossi. If I was given the same engine as him then perhaps I could catch him."

Roma's joy at defeating the English Premiership leaders was tempered slightly by a booking for midfielder Simone Perrotta, who like Scholes will miss next week's return match.

The home side made an aggressive start with Taddei screwing a shot wide and Christian Chivu curling a free-kick the wrong side of the post.

United were slow to get into their stride, but they gave their hosts a warning of their attacking threat when Ronaldo left Daniele De Rossi for dead only to see his low cross towards Rooney intercepted.

Francesco Totti drove a free-kick straight into the arms of van Der Sar before Scholes picked up his first yellow card for clattering into Christian Wilhelmsson.

After Totti had tested van der Sar with an angled shot, Scholes went for an early bath for bringing Totti's robust run to an end with another crude challenge.

"The way numbers are at the moment we have a few players out and we could do without that," said Ferguson.

"Sure we can cope. We have the options I think. Nevertheless Scholes is a loss as he is a world class player."

Perrotta was booked for diving to even the score in suspensions for the return leg before Roma went ahead.

Mancini cut the ball back intelligently after a quickly-taken corner and Taddei's shot hit Wes Brown before finding the net.

Ronaldo had a great chance to level the score two minutes after the restart, but his lob lacked the height to get above Roma's Brazilian keeper Doni.

Totti blazed over from a good position before United caught Roma out with a lightning break in the 60th minute.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer found himself in acres of space down the right, and his pin-point cross found Rooney with time and space.

The England striker took the ball down cleverly and placed a low shot past Doni.

"One would probably not see a better goal all night," purred Ferguson.

"He showed good composure and produced a great finish."

Spalletti too was left in awe of the England star.

"Rooney was excellent. We put several men on him but he was too strong for them when he was given his one chance."

Roma reacted positively and Vucinic equalised after van der Sar had failed to deal with Mancini's blistering drive.

Totti might have given Roma a two-goal cushion but his 20-yard screamer whistled wide.

Drogba saves Chelsea but Valencia have the advantage

by Steve Griffiths

LONDON, April 4, 2007 (AFP) - Didier Drogba kept Chelsea's Champions League challenge alive with a second half equaliser to earn a 1-1 draw against Valencia on Wednesday.

Drogba - who became the first Chelsea player since Kerry Dixon over 20 years ago to score 30 goals in a season - came to Chelsea's rescue after David Silva's stunning strike had put Valencia in control of a hard-fought quarter-final first leg clash at Stamford Bridge.

Jose Mourinho's side will feel they are still in with a chance of reaching the semi-finals, but they will have to improve on this tepid display if they are to overcome Valencia in next Tuesday's return at the Mestalla.

The eternally optimistic Mourinho, though, still believed that his side can pull it off.

"It is open completely open," said Mourinho of the tie.

"A draw at home is normally a bad result but not this one.

"I believe they (Valencia) think they can win it.

"But why can we not go there (Valencia) get a draw and then win in extra-time."

Valencia were without a host of key players through injury and suspension, but the Spanish side still coped comfortably with Chelsea's sporadic threats.

The English champions never really found their stride and are now in danger of not only losing their Premiership title to Manchester United, but also missing out on Europe's elite club competition for a third successive season under Mourinho.

With Valencia under-strength, Mourinho had opted to go for the throat, fielding an attack-minded team that included strikers Drogba, Andriy Shevchenko and Salomon Kalou.

Chelsea's players got the message and were on the front foot immediately.

Drogba was just unable to reach Ashley Cole's cross before Kalou rattled the crossbar in the 10th minute with a curling shot from the edge of the area.

Valencia probed patiently at Chelsea's defence and Silva gave a hint of their potential when he blasted into the side-netting from a tight angle.

Silva squandered a much better chance midway through the half when Joaquin's shot fell to him 10 yards from goal. The Spanish forward had time to pick his spot but scuffed his effort tamely wide.

The knowledge that failing to take a lead to the Mestalla could be fatal seemed to pray on Chelsea and they started to rush their attacks when more composure was needed.

Their aggressive game-plan was also leaving spaces at the back for Valencia to exploit and Asier Del Horno, playing against his former club, brought Petr Cech into action with a looping long range shot.

Mourinho's side had been warned and Silva took full advantage of those gaps with a goal of the highest quality after half an hour.

Picking the ball up wide on the left, Silva drove forward before unleashing a ferocious 30-yard strike that arrowed into the top corner of Cech's goal.

Chelsea grew increasingly frustrated at their failure to test Valencia and Michael Ballack held his head in despair when he glanced an effort wide just before the break. Drogba fared little better as he shot hurried over with the last kick of the half.

Valencia keeper Santiago Canizares almost handed Chelsea an equaliser when he palmed a cross to Ricardo Carvalho, but the Portuguese defender couldn't react in time.

Quique Sanchez Flores's team had kept Drogba relatively quiet, but an awful piece of defending from Roberto Ayala gifted the Ivory Coast forward a goal in the 53rd minute.

Cole sent a long pass over Ayala and the veteran Argentina centre-back missed his attempted clearance, allowing Drogba to surge past him and loop a header over the out-of-position Canizares.

Drogba was typically humble about his achievement in emulating Dixon's record.

"I feel good but you know the most important thing wasn't my goal but that now we believe we can qualify," added the Ivory Coast star.

With highly-rated Valencia forward David Villa completely anonymous, the visitors struggled to pose any danger to the Blues for long periods after the interval.

They were content to sit back and soak up Chelsea's attacks and Mourinho knew he had to gamble to find a breakthrough.

He sent on Joe Cole, back after four months out with a foot injury, and Shaun Wright-Phillips as he tried to increase the pressure on Valencia.

Carvalho had a shot blocked in the 84th minute before Shevchenko's over-head kicked flashed wide, but Chelsea had run out of ideas.

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