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Sports FRIDAY, MARCH 21, 2014

No plans for Bayern to party at Mainz

Photo of the day

Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) and Miikka Anttila (FIN) perform during FIA World Rally Championship 2014 in Leon, Mexico on March 6, 2014 —

Bruised United among familiar faces at Europe’s top table MANCHESTER: Manchester United will take their usual place at the top table of European soccer in the Champions League quarter-finals draw today but like an impoverished lord at a society dinner, they will hope no-one notices their moth-eaten garments. United will be among familiar faces when they go into the pot with defending champions Bayern Munich and the rest of Europe’s elite in the shape of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Paris St Germain. But unlike other seasons in the past two decades when they have swaggered in with all the confidence of either champions or strong favourites, this season they are simply relieved to be just a part of the proceedings. And of course, the other guests know all too well that United are turning up as a team in transition with new manager David Moyes enduring a tough baptism after following the retired Alex Ferguson into the job. Wednesday’s spirited 3-0 Round of 16 second leg victory over Olympiakos gave United a 3-2 aggregate win over the Greek champions and a place in the last eight for the first time since 2011, which was also the last time they reached the final. Pressure eased The win, thanks to a first Champions League hat-trick from Dutchman Robin van Persie, relieved some of the pressure that has been building on Moyes. He has come under increasing criticism from pundits and fans alike following a series of poor results which has left them seventh in the Premier League table, a distant 18 points behind leaders Chelsea. Moyes said before Wednesday’s win he felt his job was safe and that the board were fully supportive of him, and after steering United into the last eight, he was relishing the challenge ahead but would not say this was a turning point. He told reporters: “It was a magnificent team performance. I don’t want to come out and say, ‘this is the moment’, but I hope it is. “We have been asked a similar question before and we have not shown it. This is a work in progress and it will take time to get it as we really want it. It is a big job. “I have got a lot of things I want to do but the players gave the crowd something after we lost to Liverpool (3-0 at home on

Sunday) and we are delighted to see Manchester United in the last eight of the Champions League. “We played very well and deserved our victory. I’m not feeling any pressure from inside the club... it’s coming from you lot (the media). “We know the job we have to do. It’s probably bigger than I thought when I first came to the club. “And if we go into the last eight as the underdogs, that suits me fine. We can be more than a match for anyone.” Midfield maestro While looking towards the future, Moyes showed he still has time for the past with the recall of Ryan Giggs to orchestrate the midfield, and the 40-year-old Welshman did not let him down. Giggs was making his 140th appearance in the competition, two shy of Raul’s all-time record, and he had a hand in two goals, and contributed a series of other telling passes as United took control. It was also noticeable that United played with a strong and effective spine down the middle. David De Gea had an outstanding game in goal, Phil Jones was authoritative alongside a rejuvenated Rio Ferdinand at the core of the defence and Wayne Rooney showed leadership qualities in attack. With Danny Welbeck cutting from one flank and Antonio Valencia, despite a huge swelling on his eye from an early collision, powering down the other, United looked more like the menacing Red Devils of old. Olympiakos, who held a 2-0 advantage from the first leg, threatened at times and one goal, even when they were 3-0 down, would have been enough for them to qualify, meaning United could never truly relax. In the end, United held firm to turn the tie around after coming from two goals down in the first leg to win on aggregate for the first time for 30 years. The victory keeps their season alive and a route open to next season’s Champions League, but the only way that United can realistically take part in the elite competition for a 19th successive season is by winning this year’s final in Lisbon. That, though, might just be too much of a tall order for the fading aristocrats at the moment. — Reuters

BERLIN: Winger Arjen Robben says Bayern Munich have no plans to celebrate at Mainz 05 tomorrow, even if they are confirmed champions with a record eight Bundesliga matches to spare. Bayern hold a massive 23-point lead in the Bundesliga and will be confirmed champions if they win at fifth-placed Mainz 05 and both rivals Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 lose tomorrow. No Bundesliga side has ever been crowned Champions as early as March and Bayern are set to beat their own record, set last season, of winning the title with six matches to spare. Bayern are unbeaten in their last 50 Bundesliga matches, dating back to October 2012, and have won all of their last 16 league matches. But with Bayern having reached the German Cup semifinals and the last eight of the Champions League, Robben insists the Bavarian giants have other priorities other than celebrating in Mainz if results go their way. “The party won’t last long, we still have too many games ahead of us,” said Robben in Thursday’s press conference. “This week has been reasonably quiet, but it won’t last. We have a game every two or three days coming up and the focus is on the Champions League.” Bayern are eager to become the first team to defend the Champions League title having won last May’s final 2-1 against German rivals Dortmund to become European champions for the fifth time. Robben has said Bayern will not be travelling to Mainz expecting to win the title as they need both Dortmund and Schalke to either lose or draw against mid-table Hanover 96 and bottom side Eintracht Braunschweig respectively. “I’m not assuming we’ll do it as early as tomorrow and it’s the same feeling in the team,” said Robben. “I don’t expect both Dortmund and Schalke will lose or draw.” Even if results do not go Bayern’s way on Saturday, Pep Guardiola’s side can still be confirmed league champions on Tuesday in their Bundesliga match at Hertha Berlin. “We will be champions, but exactly when is secondary,” said Bayern’s attacking midfielder Toni Kroos. It has long been just a matter of time before Bayern are confirmed German champions for the 24th time, but Robben says they need to keep winning to maintain their form for the Champions League with Bayern also bidding to become the first team to go through an entire Bundesliga season unbeaten. “We need to maintain the pace and rhythm to prepare us well for Europe,” said the Dutch winger. — AFP

Chelsea title hunt excites Lampard LONDON: Frank Lampard is glad to see Chelsea back at the top of the Premier League ahead of their crunch London derby against title rivals Arsenal tomorrow. Chelsea have fallen short in recent seasons but Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge has injected new life into the team. “It’s great to be in this position,” Lampard said of Chelsea’s current top spot. Back in 2005, Mourinho guided the London club to their first championship in 50 years and they defended the title the following season. However The Blues have won just one Premier League since, in 2010 under Carlo Ancelotti. Chelsea won the 2012 Champions League and FA Cup, but finished the season 25 points adrift of winners Manchester City in sixth place. A year later they were 14 points behind Manchester United, finishing third, but won the Europa League. Mourinho, who returned to Stamford Bridge in preseason, says that Manchester City are still favourites as they have games in hand. But England midfielder Lampard, whose side suffered a setback with a shock 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa last weekend, was nevertheless buoyed by Chelsea being four points ahead of second-placed Liverpool. “We’ve had a couple of years, two or three years, off the pace, finishing short,” the England midfielder added. “It’s great to be back in the race and to feel that around the club, to feel we’re fighting for the title rather than fighting for fourth place. It feels good.” After reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League with a 3-1 aggregate defeat of Galatasaray, Chelsea face a London derby with Arsenal-who are looking for their first trophy in nine years. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, branded a “specialist in failure” by Mourinho last month, will take charge of his 1,000th game as Gunners boss this weekend. “They’ve got a lot of good players and quality,” Lampard said of Arsenal. “Every team has to break the mould some time. “We worry about ourselves, where we are at the minute. If we can win as many games as we can till the end of the season we’ll give ourselves a great chance. I am confident.” — AFP

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