Knockout stage berths beckon for United, Barca
Knockout stage berths beckon for United, Barca
The fourth round of matches holds great significance for several teams in this year’s competition as defending champions Chelsea face a crunch encounter against runaway Ukrainian league leaders Shakhtar Donetsk, with beaten finalists Bayern Munich vying to keep pace in Group F when they host Lille.
United recovered from an early two-goal deficit to beat Braga 3-2 at Old Trafford a fortnight ago to record their third win in as many matches in Europe’s top club competition, having yet to reach top gear.
Successive league wins over Chelsea and Arsenal has seen United climb to the top of the Premier League table and defensive stalwart Rio Ferdinand believes there is more to come from the Group H leaders.
“I don’t think we have hit a real purple patch yet, which we are really searching for,” he was quoted as saying on the club’s website.
Despite a solid defensive display in Saturday’s 2-1 triumph over the Gunners, United’s profligacy in front of goal prevented a more convincing scoreline and Ferdinand stressed the importance of “getting it all in one package and doing it all in ninety minutes at the right times.”
“We’re still aiming for that and it will come soon, don’t worry,” added the 33-year-old in an ominous warning to upcoming opponents.
Spanish giants Barcelona also have maximum points after three rounds and may welcome back long-term absentee Gerard Pique after the defender was included in the squad for Wednesday’s tie in Glasgow.
A 3-1 win over Celta Vigo at the weekend propelled Barca to their best start to a league season and the Catalans own the distinction of being the only side to have defeated Celtic at Parkhead in the tournament’s modern era.
Jordi Alba’s stoppage-time winner broke Celtic hearts at the Nou Camp two weeks ago and another triumph for Tito Vilanova’s side would secure their progression to the last 16, leaving Celtic with plenty of work to do after a promising start to Group G.
Chelsea will be out for revenge at Stamford Bridge against Shakhtar after their first taste of Ukrainian opposition ended in a 2-0 defeat on matchday three.
Group E leaders Shakhtar are searching for a first victory on English soil, while second-place Chelsea know they cannot afford to cede any more ground if they are to repeat last year’s improbable success.
The Blues are just a point ahead of Juventus, who are in action against Danish minnows Nordsjaelland, and must still travel to Turin later in the month.
Chelsea playmaker Juan Mata billed Wednesday’s clash “like a final,” underlining the importance of collecting three points “if (Chelsea) want to finish first in (their) group.”
Meanwhile last season’s runners-up Bayern Munich find themselves level with Valencia and BATE Borisov, who meet at the Mestalla in midweek, on six points in Group F.
The German heavyweights will be aiming to regain control of the group when they host strugglers Lille at the Allianz Arena, while Rudi Garcia’s French charges must avoid defeat to prevent an early elimination.
Romanian outfit CFR Cluj can tighten their grip on the second qualification spot alongside United in Group H as they welcome bottom side Galatasaray to Transylvania.
Elsewhere Benfica are out to stop the rot against visiting Group G rivals Spartak Moscow in Portugal.
Spartak’s 2-1 win in Moscow earned Unai Emery’s side their first points of the campaign, while Benfica — who have lost two consecutive European home fixtures — are bottom with just a point to their name.
'Mohamed Salah is not superman' says Kuwait coach ahead of friendly with Egypt
KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait coach Radojko Avramovic is disappointed his players will not get the chance to test themselves against Mohamed Salah on Friday night, but still feels the friendly against Egypt is an important step on their road to recovery.
While Salah will be preparing for the Champions League final against Real Madrid, Kuwait will host Egypt in Kuwait City in what will be only their fourth match since FIFA lifted a two-year ban on the side over government interference in management of the country’s football federation. There have been friendly defeats at the hands of Jordan and Cameroon in March before a 2-0 win over Palestine on May 11.
“For a long time, we did not play and it will take time to recover,” said Avramovic. “Each game we play, we see an improvement and that is the target. We are starting to play some good football. We played well in the second half against Cameroon and against Palestine.”
Egypt will be a different level of opponent. “Now we can see how good the players really are, but we are at home and want to give the fans something to cheer,” said Avramovic.
The North Africans, who have been drawn with hosts Russia, Uruguay and Arabian rivals Saudi Arabia in Group A, are not just missing Salah. Aston Villa’s Ahmed Elmohamady is preparing for a Premier League promotion playoff, while Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny is recovering
Avramovic is curious as to how his defenders would have handled Salah. “He is one of the best players in the world and it would have been good for us to test ourselves against him, but he has an important game,” said the former Notts County goalkeeper.
“Everyone in the Arab world is proud of him and he is a great example of what can be done. He shows the future of Arabic football and it is the same for Kuwait. It is good to go to other countries and face different kinds of players.”
The coach, who led Singapore from 2003 to 2012, is wary of Egypt, even without their talisman. “He is a great player, but Egypt didn’t qualify for the World Cup just because of him — he is not superman. They have lots of good players. This game is a great chance for us to see where we are. We want to be playing at World Cups in the future and this shows us how far we have to go. At the moment, we are focused on winning games and not just trying players out.”
After Kuwait, Egypt, who started their pre-World training camp in Cairo on Monday, travel to Italy to take on Colombia and then to Brussels to face Belgium on June 6. The team kicks off their World Cup campaign against Uruguay on June 15.
“We are trying to reach the best form before the World Cup. This game will be very important for us,” Egypt coach Hector Cuper said earlier this month. “The Egyptian fans will attend the match against Kuwait — they are waiting for us and we want to please them.”