Simeone guards against complacency

23 October 2013 00:26

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone insists his side will not be getting carried away following their 3-0 win at Austria Vienna.

Raul Garcia gave Atletico the perfect start to the Group G encounter with a goal in the eighth minute, before strikes from Diego Costa in the 20th and 53rd minutes sealed a comfortable victory for the La Liga outfit.

Costa’s brace – his 11th and 12th goals of the season – means he is the fourth Atletico player to score twice in his first UEFA Champions League game, a feat matched by Simeone.

The victory left Simeone’s side five points clear at the top of the group with three wins from three matches but afterwards, the coach insisted his team would continue to take things one game at a time following strong starts both in Europe and domestically.

“We cannot afford to move away from this game by game mentality,” he said.

“We know the difficulties we will face in the UEFA Champions League and in La Liga.

“It was a very good first half for us in terms of how we interpreted the way in which we had to control the game and its rhythm.

“Positioning Raul (Garcia) behind Diego Costa gave us a lot of strength, and our full-backs were also excellent.”

Costa, playing in his first Champions League game after serving a two-match suspension, was delighted with the impact he made.

“I felt good out on the pitch and was very happy to make my UEFA Champions League debut in such a manner,” he said.

“We played a great game. Our way of thinking is to take things on a game by game basis, trying to reach our maximum level in each encounter.”

De Boer bemoans wasteful Ajax

23 October 2013 00:21

Ajax manager Frank de Boer was left to rue missed chances after going down to a damaging 2-1 UEFA Champions League defeat at Celtic.

The Dutch champions are bottom of Group H at the halfway stage with a solitary point after James Forrest’s 43rd-minute penalty and Beram Kayal’s deflected strike early in the second half meant a fine stoppage-time strike from substitute Lasse Schone was no more than scant consolation.

Veteran midfielder Christian Poulsen struck the post with the game goalless after forward Kolbeinn Sigthorsson rippled the side-netting, while Thulani Serero spurned the visitors’ two best chances after the break before drawing a foul that saw Celtic substitute Nir Biton sent off.

Ajax might have created even more from lengthy spells of possession, but De Boer was satisfied with their overall performance and insists more of the same will bring the victory he requires when the sides meet again in Amsterdam.

“We had the best chances to score, and they did not,” he told UEFA’s official website. “But the fact is that in football other laws are counting, so the best team does not always win the match.

“We dominated the game. Poulsen hits the post for us, Serero is two times in an one-on-one situation with their goalkeeper and for Sigthorsson goes the same.

“Those were real goalscoring opportunities for us, so they have to be goals also. But when we play like we have now again in the next match then we certainly will beat them in the Amsterdam ArenA. I really believe in that.”

De Boer, who did not dispute the award of Celtic’s penalty for Stefano Denswil’s clumsy foul on Anthony Stokes, also felt a lack of experience counted against his players amid Celtic Park’s cauldron-like atmosphere.

He added on Sky Sports: “Maybe also the youth in my players – they need to have more experience in that kind of situation.

“But I cannot be angry at them. They gave 120 per cent, they created chances but football is about goals.

“Normally the best team wins and I will be satisfied if we play like this and get these chances. In the end, you have to score.”

Spalletti backs referee over early red card

23 October 2013 00:06

Luciano Spalletti feels referee Paolo Tagliavento was correct to hand Hector Herrera a sixth-minute red card in his side’s 1-0 victory over Porto.

The Mexican was given his marching orders after receiving two yellow cards in the space of a minute against Zenit St Petersburg in the UEFA Champions League Group G encounter – a record for the competition.

His first was given for a poor tackle on former Porto striker Hulk and was immediately followed by a foolish second for encroachment on the resulting free-kick.

And Zenit eventually made the extra man count four minutes from time, with Aleksandr Kerzhakov rising highest to head home from a superb Hulk cross.

“I think it was a correct decision by the referee,” said Spalletti. “I would be surprised if he didn’t see the second yellow.”

Spalletti was also full of praise for Hulk, who returned to the Estadio do Dragao in fine form.

“Hulk was the player that gave them more problems,” he added. “He was everywhere, dribbling from the right, giving Kherzakov the goal, he was crucial for our win.”

The win lifts Zenit to second in the group, while Porto drop to third – one point behind the Russian side.

Fonseca bemoans early red card

23 October 2013 00:04

Porto boss Paulo Fonseca pinpointed Hector Herrera’s early red card as the pivotal moment in his side’s 1-0 defeat to Zenit St Petersburg.

Herrera was given his marching orders in only the sixth minute of the UEFA Champions League Group G tie after being shown two yellow cards in quick succession.

His first for a reckless challenge on former Porto striker Hulk was immediately followed by a foolish second for encroachment on the resulting free-kick.

And Zenit eventually made them pay in the 86th minute when Aleksandr Kerzhakov headed home a superb Hulk cross.

“The red card just after six minutes was decisive and playing with 10 men against a team like Zenit conditions any strategy,” said Fonseca.

“I’m not happy with the result but we showed a lot of solidarity between our players and we improved in many aspects even with 10 men.

“I’m proud of what the team did and we even created chances to score.

“It gives us optimism for the future. Things are more difficult now but not impossible.

“We are still in contention for next stage and we believe we can win in any stadium. If Zenit won here then we can also win in Russia.

The defeat sees Porto drop to third in the group, with Zenit up to second.

Wenger backs Arsenal to bounce back

22 October 2013 23:59

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger backed his “jaded” players to bounce back from Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League defeat to Borussia Dortmund.

The 2-1 loss to Jurgen Klopp’s men at the Emirates Stadium was Arsenal’s first in Group F, while it also ended the Premier League leaders’ 12-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

Olivier Giroud’s ninth goal of the season cancelled out Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s 16th-minute opener just before the break, only for Robert Lewandowski to strike eight minutes from the end.

While Wenger believes Arsenal can and will recover quickly from the setback, the Frenchman also lamented the goals conceded against last season’s runners-up.

“Disappointment is part of how a team grows,” he said.

“Some players are a bit jaded, it was a game of high intensity, but very few chances. Dortmund were well organised to stop us playing but we put ourselves on the back foot for the first goal, and were naive for the second.

“We started hesitantly and gave them confidence. Our fluent football was not quick enough.”

Arsenal, Dortmund and Napoli are all level on six points and Wenger believes his side need to win one of their remaining two away games in the group to be sure of qualification.

He added: “The group is tight and difficult for us, but it is possible (to qualify). We need a result away from home.”

Midfielder Mikel Arteta echoed Wenger’s sentiments, although he conceded the defeat makes progression a much tougher ask.

“It’s going to be tough now,” he said.

“This is probably the toughest group in the competition but I think we are still capable of going through.”