UEFA Champions League Group D wrap: Balotelli penalty earns City a draw

3 October 2012 23:13

A late Mario Balotelli penalty helped Manchester City secure an unconvincing 1-1 draw at home to Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.

Roberto Mancini cut a frustrated figure at Etihad Stadium as City needed an 89th-minute Balotelli spot-kick to earn a point in the Champions League encounter.

Substitute Balotelli, who had only been on the pitch for eight minutes, coolly slid home a penalty after Neven Subotic had been harshly penalised for handballing a David Silva volley.

It came after Dortmund had created a glut of excellent opportunities only to be denied by a Joe Hart master-class in goal in the Group D clash.

The England number one could not prevent Marco Reus giving the visitors the lead after 60 minutes but he was equal to everything else the Bundesliga champions threw at him, with half a dozen outstanding saves.

City’s best opportunities in the first half fell to the lively Sergio Aguero, who was denied athletically on each occasion by the excellent Roman Weidenfeller.

The Dortmund ‘keeper also kept out Samir Nasri, while Silva sliced a volley horribly over the bar from inside the six-yard box shortly before the interval.

At the other end, Mario Goetze, the brilliant German prospect, brought the best out of Hart, who was busier than during his team’s loss to Real Madrid a fortnight ago.

Hart turned an early Goetze drive on to the post and, later, clawed the winger’s half-volley on to the crossbar.

Goetze was left shaking his head with disbelief when Hart then charged off his line to deny him from close range.

The second half continued where the first half finished off, with Hart denying Goetze for the fourth time in the match by flinging himself to his right to tip a rasping effort around his post for a corner.

But Hart’s one-man show of resilience was finally broken after an hour.

The catalyst was a terrible mistake from Jack Rodwell, a 33rd-minute replacement for the injured Javi Garcia.

Rodwell played a loose pass without looking and his error was pounced upon by the outstanding Reus, who charged towards goal and lifted the ball past Hart and into the bottom corner.

Dortmund continued to test Hart and Robert Lewandowski missed an excellent chance with a quarter of an hour to play, poking a cross wide with the goal at his mercy.

Balotelli made City pay for their wastefulness as he netted from the penalty spot to give City their first point in the group.

Real Madrid recorded a 4-1 victory over Ajax in the other Group D encounter as Cristiano Ronaldo netted a hat-trick at Amsterdam Arena.

The visitors deservedly went 1-0 up in the 42nd minute when Ronaldo found the net from close range, before Karim Benzema made it two shortly after the break with a fantastic overhead effort.

Niklas Moisander pegged one back after a corner only minutes later, only to see Ronaldo restore Madrid’s two-goal lead with a well-placed effort.

Shortly after, the Portugal star got his hat-trick with yet another fine finish as Real completed a comfortable win.

AFC Champions League wrap: Bunyodkor, Ulsan meet in semis

3 October 2012 21:20

Bunyodkor will meet Ulsan for a place in the AFC Champions League final after both teams prevailed in their quarter-finals on Wednesday.

Uzbek side Bunyodkor accounted for Adelaide United 5-4 on aggregate, while South Korean team Ulsan beat Al Hilal 5-0 over two legs.

Adelaide bowed out of the competition following a heartbreaking 3-2 extra-time loss to Bunyodkor in the second leg of their quarter-final in Tashkent.

Bunyodkor twice came from behind to level the scores in normal time before Alibobo Rakhmatullaev headed home the winner in the 114th minute, sending the Uzbek side through to the semi-finals.

Adelaide, who were held to a 2-2 draw at home in the first leg two weeks ago, ended the match with only nine men following the dismissals of Fabian Barbiero and Iain Fyfe, while Anvar Gafurov was sent off for Bunyodkor.

Iain Ramsay opened the scoring for the visitors after just three minutes before Lutfulla Turayev levelled proceedings in the 20th minute.

Substitute Jeronimo Neumann handed Adelaide the lead again in the 64th minute, but the advantage was short-lived as Akmal Shorakhmedov forced the contest into extra time with an equaliser.

In Riyadh, Ulsan backed up their 1-0 first-leg victory with a 4-0 thumping of Al Hilal in the second leg of their quarter-final.

Brazilian forward Rafinha starred for the visitors with goals in the 22nd and 26th minutes.

Second-half goals from Shin-Wook Kim and Keun-Ho Lee put the result beyond doubt.

Gullit hits out at Robben, Ribery

3 October 2012 21:14

Ruud Gullit has hit out at Bayern Munich duo Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, claiming the wingers are not among the elite of European football.

The former Netherlands international believes the two attackers have a long way to go until they reach the level of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Bayern are a good team. They do not have many stars but the team is well put together,” Gullit told Bild.

“Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are stars. They are of a different calibre than Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.”

Gullit is of the opinion that Robben’s persistent injuries have hampered his career to a great extent.

“He is the best player the Netherlands have. But whenever you need him, something happens. His body is springing nasty surprises. He is injured far too often,” Gullit said.

Cole on Rodgers´ mind for Udinese

3 October 2012 20:53

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has hinted that Joe Cole could return for Thursday’s Europa League tie against Udinese.

The former England international has not featured for the Reds since suffering a recurrence of a hamstring injury in the 3-0 defeat to West Brom on the opening day of the Premier League season.

“His attitude is superb and Joe really thinks he can contribute to the group, which is great,” Rodgers told the club’s official website.

“He’s been unfortunate. He’s been out and came back a couple of times, but didn’t quite really get through fitness wise.

“He was out for eight weeks, trained for a couple of weeks, had his first game, scored a good goal and now he is fit. He’s back into training now and looking to fight for a place in the squad.

“He loves his football, Joe, and he’s now fit enough to fight for his position in the group.”

Lucas Leiva and Martin Kelly remain the only long-term injury worries, while Spanish full-back Jose Enrique is close to a return to action.

“We’re fine. We’re pretty much the same as we were at the weekend. The boys that are bit longer-term like Lucas Leiva are still working well,” said Rodgers at a pre-match press conference.

“There’s nothing new from the weekend. Jose Enrique is back out on the pitches running. Apart from that, everyone is good and the condition of the team is good. We’ll look forward to tomorrow night.”

Though Rodgers fielded a young and inexperienced side in Liverpool’s 5-3 win over Young Boys, he is expected to start a number of more senior players, including Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, against Udinese.

“I always look at each game and pick a group and team to win it,” he continued.

“We need to ensure we have a group that is strong enough to win the game, but those players (Gerrard and Suarez) will be involved.”

Borini: Liverpool serious about Europa League

3 October 2012 20:44

Italian forward Fabio Borini says Liverpool are treating the Europa League as if it were the Champions League.

Liverpool will host Udinese on Thursday and Borini believes playing against teams on the cusp of Europe’s premier club competition raises the standard of the matches.

“I think (the Europa League) is very important,” he said.

“It can take us to a new performance level that is very high, because we play against other European teams like Udinese who should also play in the Champions League.

“For us it is our Champions League.”

Liverpool made a slow start to the campaign under new manager Brendan Rodgers but bounced back with wins over West Bromwich Albion in the League Cup and Norwich City in the Premier League.

“In Liverpool the expectations are always high because it is a top club and it has to be this way,” Borini said.

“I came here because I also have got big expectations. That is why I chose this club.”

Borini, who joined Liverpool from Roma in July, said he felt comfortable amongst the new faces at Anfield.

“I think not just me, but lots of players are very young, and maybe in their first year in the Premier League or the Europa League,” he said.

“It is very important because it gives the team some freshness and enthusiasm.

“It also helps me learn from Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Jamie Carragher, because they are top players.

“They have played in every kind of game you could possibly play, and that is really helpful.”