United scents 20th league title

Updated 11 February 2013
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United scents 20th league title

LONDON: Ryan Giggs demonstrated his enduring value to Manchester United with the opening goal in a 2-0 home win over Everton yesterday that put his side almost out of sight in the title race.
The 39-year-old Welshman slotted his side in front after 13 minutes to continue his extraordinary feat of having scored in every Premier League season since its inception 21 years ago.
Robin van Persie was also on target for United before halftime as the leaders took full advantage of champions Manchester City’s shock 3-1 defeat at Southampton on Saturday.
With 12 games remaining Alex Ferguson’s side have 65 points, 12 more than City, and are closing in on a 20th league title.
At the other end of the table, Aston Villa claimed a vital 2-1 home victory over West Ham United to move out of the bottom three, Christian Benteke and Charles N’Zogbia the scorers.
A remarkable 4-4 draw with Everton in the final weeks of the title race last season proved United’s undoing as City piped them on the final day of the season on goal difference.
This time, however, there were no slip-ups from Ferguson’s side as they recorded a 10th consecutive home league win.
Despite the proximity of Wednesday’s Champions League last- 16 tie against Real Madrid, Ferguson resisted any temptation to rest key players — a mark of respect for an Everton side themselves chasing a top-four finish and who beat United on the opening day of the season on Merseyside.
With Madrid manager Jose Mourinho watching from the stands, United produced a clinical performance, even if Van Persie was guilty of an astonishing miss early on when he took the ball past Everton keeper Tim Howard but blasted his shot against the post.
But United did not have to wait long for their opener.
Van Persie picked out Giggs with a pull back and he steadied himself before curling a precise shot in off the post.
Everton briefly enjoyed some possession but on the stroke of halftime right back Rafael released Van Persie with a clever reverse pass and the Dutchman again rounded Howard before shooting into the empty net despite Johnny Heitinga’s desperate attempt to keep the ball out of the net.
United never lost control and comfortably contained Everton after the break, although David De Gea was required to make a fine low save after sloppy play by Chris Smalling allowed Nikica Jelavic a rare sight of goal.


Saudi Arabia prepare to step up World Cup preparations with Italy test

Updated 41 min 12 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia prepare to step up World Cup preparations with Italy test

  • Green Falcons play the Azzurri in Switzerland
  • Mancini: 'Saudi Arabia are a fast and physical team'

Italy coach Roberto Mancini is wary of the threat posed by Saudi Arabia ahead of their friendly on Monday in St.Gallen in Switzerland.
The four-time global champions failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and are looking to rebuild ahead of the 2020 European Championships. Mancini was appointed in May to take over the national team and breathe in some new life.
“This is a vital game for us,” Mancini told Saudi Arabian television ahead of the friendly. “We know that Saudi Arabia are preparing for the World Cup so this is a great chance for us to build for the future,” said the former Manchester City boss.
“Saudi Arabia are a fast and physical team,” added Mancini. “All of the players are technically very good and we are looking forward to the test. We have to be careful as some of the players are playing for their World Cup place.”
Mario Balotelli is set to win his first international cap in four years for Italy after being recalled by Mancini.
“We didn’t make the World Cup,” said Balotelli. “Now we have to forget about that and focus on the future.”
The former Manchester City, AC Milan and Liverpool forward is looking forward to the challenge on Monday.
“We have to forget about what happened earlier this year and the fact that we didn’t qualify,” said Balotelli. “That is history now and we are really looking forward to playing Saudi Arabia. I haven’t played for the national team for a long time and I feel that I still have a lot to offer.”
Saudi Arabia are coming off the back of two 2-0 friendly victories against Algeria and Greece in a Spanish training camp that took place in May, but a good result against Italy would increase confidence levels further.
The lowest-ranked of all the 32 teams at the World Cup have a busy preparation period and take on Peru and Germany after the Italy clash. Saudi Arabia will meet the hosts Russia in the opening game of the 2018 World Cup in Moscow on June 14. After that, the Green Falcons take on Uruguay and Egypt in Group A.
“Any game is an important one in the build-up to the World Cup,” Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said on Sunday. “But playing Italy is something special. If we can get a good result then it can give us confidence to go on and have a good tournament. The important thing for us is that we feel we believe at this level and that is why we can try and push Italy all the way.”
The Green Falcons have been in Switzerland for a week in what is the fifth and final leg of their World Cup preparations. “Preparations are running smoothly and perfectly,” said Nawaf Al-Temyat, the vice president of Saudi Arabian Football Federation and chairman of World Cup 2018 preparation team, in a video on the federation’s Twitter account.
“We look forward in the coming three weeks to strong preparations. We’ll be playing three tough games against tough opponents. The Italian team has a new coach, Mancini, which is a great motivation for us. The Peruvian team is also a strong one and might be full of surprises in the World Cup. The coach and the players are very skilled.”
The Green Falcons have won three, lost three and drawn one of the seven games since Pizzi replaced Edgardo Bauza.
“We always say in the Saudi team that performance should be good during friendlies and results should be good in official games,” added Al-Temyat. “This means results are not important in friendlies but our performance is.”