Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Porto go through on away goals

Porto secured their spot in the last 16 of the Europa League on away goals on Thursday after a 1-0 defeat to Sevilla at the Estadio do Dragao.
Porto, holding a 2-1 lead from last week's first leg in Spain, looked in complete control of the return meeting until a two-minute spell midway through the second half threatened to undo all their good work.
First, Sevilla substitute Luis Fabiano scored against his former club to give the 2006 and 2007 UEFA Cup winners a lifeline, and then 60 seconds later Porto were reduced to 10 men when Alvaro Pereira was shown a straight red card.
The runaway Portuguese league leaders suddenly looked in serious trouble, but Sevilla lost their man advantage five minutes later when centre-back Alexis was dismissed for a second yellow card, and the visitors could find no way through in the closing stages as they exited the competition.
Sevilla considered themselves unlucky to lose the first leg after playing well but going down to an 85th-minute goal, and Gregorio Manzano's side looked fired up from the start tonight with Frederic Kanoute sending a shot just wide in the third minute.
However, that was as good as it got for the Primera Division outfit in the first half as Porto gradually stamped their class on proceedings.
Fernando Belluschi fired a thunderous 30-yard effort just wide while Sevilla goalkeeper Javi Varas denied Alvaro and Hulk in the opening 45 minutes.
Porto also hit the woodwork prior to the break when the fit-again Falcao, this season's leading scorer in the Europa League, was unlucky to see a superb header come back off the crossbar with Varas well beaten.
It was a similar story after the break with Belluschi, Falcao, Hulk - twice - and Joao Moutinho going close before the hosts were stunned when their former player Luis Fabiano put Sevilla ahead.
The Brazil international, who had only been on the pitch for 15 minutes, latched on to a good through-ball from Alvaro Negredo, held off his marker and thumped his shot past Porto goalkeeper Helton.
That still left Sevilla needing another goal to save themselves, but their hopes received a further boost moments later when Alvaro was dismissed following a crunching challenge on Gary Medel after losing control of the ball.
Sevilla barely had time to make the most of that sending-off before they too lost a player, with Alexis picking up a second yellow for tugging back the dangerous Hulk.
The away side pushed hard in the closing stages and Kanoute headed wide while Jesus Navas' cross just failed to pick out the unmarked Diego Perotti in the middle.
However, it was Porto who looked the more likely scorers as Sevilla left gaps at the back, but Hulk, who had numerous openings, and his team-mates could not find the goal that would have prevented a first European defeat in nine matches under coach Andre Villas-Boas.
The misses did not prove costly though as Porto held on for an away-goals triumph that sets up a last-16 showdown with CSKA Moscow.

Silva rejects Man City exit talk

Spain international star David Silva has rubbished rumours he is homesick and has struggled to settle into life at Manchester City.
Reports surfaced over the weekend claiming the 25-year-old playmaker was considering a return to his homeland following his move from Valencia last summer.
But, speaking at a promotional event in his role as a tourism ambassador for his native Gran Canaria, Silva insisted the quotes were not his.
The World Cup winner joined City on a four-year deal and insists he is happy in England.
"I was as surprised, as anyone else here, to have read those reports," he said.
"I do the odd interview with Spanish press but I have never come out with these quotes that may or may not have been attributed to me.
"My initial reaction was surprise, but as I have said before, I am happy to be here and I find myself very much at ease with life here.
"The thing about a big city like Manchester is that people respect your space. They leave you to get on with your life.
"In Spain, people can get on your back and maybe live the game more. Here it's nice to go out and chill in the city."
Silva had to wait until September before establishing himself in City's starting line-up but has since shone playing behind top scorer Carlos Tevez.
And while he admits it was difficult to adjust to his new surroundings early on, he feels his recent form is a fairer reflection of what he can offer.
"The help of my team-mates and all the people at the club has helped my settling-in period go so smoothly," he added.
"It was difficult to begin with, but I was not quite 100 per cent fit because I missed part of pre-season due to my late arrival from the World Cup.
"There were also a couple of international friendlies that involved long journeys which interrupted me getting into shape. I didn't have the time then, but since then I think the form has started to come through for me."

FA Cup details announced

The Football Association have announced the dates and kick-off times for this season's FA Cup quarter-finals.
The first quarter-final will take place on Saturday March 12 at 12.45pm when Birmingham take on Bolton at St Andrew's in a game screened live by ESPN.
The second tie between Manchester United and Arsenal or Leyton Orient at Old Trafford will be live on ITV later that day at 5.15pm.
The Stoke v West Ham game will take place on Sunday March 13 at 2pm and be live on ITV, while Manchester City or Aston Villa will host Everton or Reading in the weekend's final tie at 4.45pm, live on ESPN.

Blues stars told to enjoy final

Birmingham manager Alex McLeish has urged his players to "relish every moment" of Sunday's Carling Cup final against Arsenal at Wembley.
McLeish recalls how, as a young Scotland midfielder, he allowed his first meeting with England "to pass me by" and he does not want his squad to fall into the same trap against the Gunners.
It will be his first major final south of the border after winning 19 trophies as a player and manager in Scotland.
He said: "What is the message to players? Relish every moment of the final and don't let it pass you by.
"I played my first game against England many years ago at Hampden Park and I was a young midfielder at that time against two wily characters in (Sir) Trevor Brooking and Terry McDermott.
"The game, I just never got into it at all. I suppose playing against two great players had something to do with that.
"But we don't want this occasion on Sunday to pass anybody by and, to be honest, we've got a lot of experience in that squad so the players shouldn't be fazed."
McLeish is hoping the final will not just be a one-off appearance on the big stage for his players.
He is hoping Arsenal's heavy fixture list, as they chase four trophies, will count in City's favour.
McLeish said: "I hope it's a not once in a lifetime for the players. "I hope there's more to come.
"It's my first cup final in England and I'd love to win it. I'd love it to be my first success in England and I hope there's more for the players.
"I've got to do everything I can in my power to win this trophy.
"We know Arsenal are favourites but they've got a little bit of fixture congestion, so maybe that will be in their minds a little bit.
"The other great advantage we have is that the stadium will be half full of Birmingham fans.
"We will really relish that because we normally go down to London and play against the big clubs and there's only a sprinkling of the Blues fans there."
McLeish is hoping his experience of being a winner as a player and manager will be some help in trying to upset Arsene Wenger's side.
He said: "It doesn't guarantee me anything. It doesn't guarantee that the team will win.
"But I do have a fair bit of experience in certain situations and, if that's needed on the day, then hopefully something like that can come to the fore.
"It would be nice to think that the players can win it with the tactics and formation that we lay out before kick off and that they adhere to every little instruction.
"But they've got to express themselves and play their own game."

Crooks set for Afghanistan tour

Wakefield-born Crooks, 33, made 73 appearances for City between 1994 and 2001 and played for a number of other clubs including Barnsley, Bradford and Rochdale before he joined the regiment as a gunner in 2009.
He graduated to leading aircraftman a few weeks ago and is currently on the training range ahead of moving on to 1 Squadron RAF Regiment at RAF Honington in Suffolk.
From there he will embark on his first tour of Afghanistan at the beginning of next year.
Comparing life as a professional footballer and a gunner, he said: "Both roles are about working as a team, being there for your team-mates and moving forward as a team.
"You have to be mentally and physically fit for both roles, but you train as a professional footballer for 90 minutes so the training is a lot more explosive, whereas being a gunner you have to be robust and have a lot more stamina as you are carrying heavy weight over longer distances and over longer days and nights.
"You train all week to prepare for the Saturday game and put everything that you've trained for into that game and it's exactly the same as this.
"I have done my training and am now really looking forward to putting it into practice."