Manchester duo set for European task
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
Manchester United’s Rafael Da Silva (up) vies with Liverpool’s Stewart Downing during a Premier League game. United visits Ajax in the Europa League tonight. AFP photoThe city of Manchester was hoping to see its two football sides fight out the Champions League final but instead tonight both sets of fans will have to make do with the lesser fare of the Europa League.
However, both face tricky second round ties if they are to progress a step closer to the final on May 9 in the mundane surroundings of Bucharest rather than the glamour of the Champions League final in Munich on May 19.
Bigspending City - who finished third in a tough Champions League group behind Bayern Munich and Napoli - has to travel to defending champion Porto in Portugal while United, who surprisingly finished below Benfica and Basel, is away at Dutch giants Ajax.
City manager Roberto Mancini insists that he will select a strong side to play the Portuguese champions, whose high standards of last season when they were all but unbeatable domestically and in Europe have slipped and they trail Benfica by five points in this term’s title race.
“I will play a strong team against Porto. We want to win the Europa League because it is an important trophy,” Mancini told the Sunday Mirror. “We were disappointed not to do well in the Champions League, but now our concentration is on the Europa.”
As a player, Mancini scored the only goal in his side Sampdoria’s Cup Winners Cup quarterfinal at Porto in the 1994/95 season.
Porto is unbeaten in seven home European matches while City has just one win in its last seven trips.
United perhaps faces an easier task as it plays an Ajax side a long way short of the quality that dominated Europe in the 1970’s and who won the Champions League title most recently in 1995.
However, Sir Alex Ferguson will still send out a top quality side tonight and believes that Portuguese star Nani and English defender Phil Jones will also get a run out after recovering from injuries.
“I’m definitely treating it seriously,” said Ferguson, who is seeking to make it a full house of European trophies having won the 1991 Cup Winners Cup with United and subsequently two Champions League trophies.
Ferguson’s Ajax counterpart Frank de Boer has not given up hope of winning the league title being eight points off leaders PSV Eindhoven. However, were the Dutch to claim the scalp of United it would trump even winning the league crown.
“Two clubs with masses of history and a rooms full of European Cups - this tie is worthy of the Champions League,” he said. “We know they are the toughest team to beat but we are relishing it.”
Beşiktaş wins ‘Portuguese war’
Beşiktaş dashed Braga’s hopes of contesting a second successive Europa League final getting a big win over its Portuguese rival in the first leg of their round of 32 meeting on Feb. 14.
Tomas Sivok’s header and Simao’s strike gave Beşiktaş a 2-0 win in Portugal after Braga had Helder Barbosa sent off in the 29th minute for a second bookable offense.
Beşiktaş, who has several key Portuguese players in its squad such as Ricardo Quaresma, Simao, Hugo Almeida and Manuel Fernandes, will host Braga at the Fiyapı İnönü Stadium next week.
Beşiktaş coach Carlos Carvalhal has also spent much of his playing career for Braga.
Also on Feb. 14, David Fuster gave Olympiacos a 1-0 victory at Rubin Kazan with a 71st-minute goal. Olympiacos goalkeeper Roy Carroll saved a penalty in the game.