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The Malaysian Insider :: Sports

Barca lead trimmed after thriller in Sevilla

Posted: 13 Mar 2011 08:56 PM PDT

Bojan Krkic (left) gets past Sevilla's Martin Caceres to score for Barcelona during their Spanish first division match at Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Seville, March 13, 2011.. — Reuters pic

MADRID, March 14 — Barcelona's advantage over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga was cut to five points when they surrendered the lead and were held to a 1-1 draw in a thrilling clash at battling Sevilla yesterday.

Pep Guardiola's side had their usual swagger in the first half at the Sanchez Pizjuan and looked to be cruising when substitute Bojan Krkic, who replaced the injured Pedro, put them ahead in the 30th minute.

However, after Alvaro Negredo held off two defenders and crossed for Jesus Navas to nod in the equaliser four minutes after halftime, the match burst into life, with end-to-end action and both sides coming desperately close to snatching a winner.

Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta crashed a shot off the crossbar with just under five minutes remaining and had an effort cleared off the line in added time after goalkeeper Victor Valdes had saved brilliantly from Sevilla winger Navas.

Joint La Liga top scorer Lionel Messi, who had a scare when he hurt his right knee in a clash with Sevilla keeper Javi Varas but was able to play on, also headed against the crossbar in the first half.

Guardiola said the introduction just after the break of Sevilla's Mali striker Frederic Kanoute, who sent Negredo clear in the build-up to the home side's goal and twice came close to scoring, had made the difference.

"They (Sevilla) are a very good team and have been playing at a high level for many years," the former Barca and Spain midfielder told a news conference.

"Kanoute gave them the continuity that they were missing," he added. "We got too little return for what we created in the first half."

He said he was "generally happy" with the result after his players' efforts in the Champions League on Tuesday, when they overturned a 2-1 first-leg deficit to eliminate English club Arsenal 4-3 on aggregate and reach the last eight.

Audacious chip

Real continued their perfect home record on Saturday when Karim Benzema netted twice in a 2-0 home win over Hercules and with 10 matches remaining champions Barca have 75 points to Real's 70.

"We still have the upper hand," Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets said in a television interview.

"We controlled the match well apart from the first 15 minutes of the second half."

Villarreal missed a chance to trim the gap to third-placed Valencia to one point earlier yesterday when they conceded a late penalty to gift nine-man Sporting Gijon a 1-1 draw.

Giuseppe Rossi had put Villarreal ahead in the 29th minute at the Madrigal when the United States-born Italy striker pounced on a keeping error to sweep a loose ball in off the post, his 15th of the campaign.

The club with the distinctive canary-yellow kit were closing in on victory following a run of only one win in seven games when Gijon defender Jose Angel Valdes earned a second yellow card with 25 minutes remaining and captain Rafael Sastre was shown a straight red for bringing down Rossi in the 90th.

However, David Barral went down in the penalty area in added time and Diego Castro converted the spot kick with an audacious chip into the centre of the goal.

Villarreal have 51 points from 28 matches, three behind Valencia, who held on to Spain's third automatic Champions League qualification berth despite crashing to a 4-0 defeat at Real Zaragoza on Saturday.

It was a further blow to Unai Emery's side following their elimination from Europe's elite club competition by Schalke 04 on Wednesday.

In other matches yesterday, European hopefuls Espanyol ended a run of six defeats in their last seven matches when they beat 10-man Deportivo Coruna 2-0 to climb above Athletic Bilbao into fifth on 43 points.

Bilbao can reclaim fifth spot with a win at Getafe in today's game.

Malaga secured only their seventh win of the campaign when they won 2-0 at Real Sociedad but remain bottom of the standings, level on 26 points with Hercules and Almeria. — Reuters


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Man United face Marseille full of surprises

Posted: 13 Mar 2011 07:57 PM PDT

MANCHESTER, March 14 — Manchester United sprung a surprise by fielding seven defenders at the weekend and may be poised for another against Olympique Marseille in the Champions League with Nani close to an early return from injury.

Manager Alex Ferguson had ruled him out of tomorrow's last-16 second leg as the Portuguese recovers from a gashed leg but seemed to change his mind before the French champions head to Old Trafford following last month's 0-0 draw in Marseille.

"Nani has had the stitches removed and has a chance for Tuesday," Ferguson was quoted as saying by the Manchester Evening News yesterday. "He's done some work on the bike, but the problem is that he hasn't trained yet."

Marseille only needed to have looked at United's team sheet for Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal to witness Ferguson's ability to shock, as he named a lineup with only one recognised midfielder which still beat the Londoners 2-0.

Grappling with a raft of injuries, and wanting to rest the likes of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, Ferguson drafted in full backs Rafael, Fabio and John O'Shea who performed well in midfield.

"I couldn't risk Scholes and Giggs because of Tuesday's game against Marseille, such a vital game for the club, so Darron Gibson had to play as the only natural midfielder," Ferguson told MUTV.

United were boosted by winger Antonio Valencia coming through 45 minutes on Saturday, his first appearance since breaking and dislocating his ankle in September.

He looked sharp enough to be a viable replacement for Nani if the Portuguese sits out the game as had been expected following last Sunday's injury.

The English side have the upper hand at Old Trafford where they are undefeated this season and where they have never lost to French opposition, although a score draw would put the visitors through.

Marseille could benefit from insider knowledge as their Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze knows Old Trafford well from his three years at United from 2004 and he was looking forward to returning to the site of so many good memories.

"My first big moment at Old Trafford was when the fans and my team voted me as best player," he told UEFA's website. "To go on to win the domestic league title with Manchester United — my first — was unforgettable."

Premier League leaders United will be bracing themselves for an onslaught from a Marseille side who go into the game lifted by a 2-0 win over Stade Rennes in Ligue 1 at the weekend.

Playmaker Lucho Gonzalez, who netted the second goal against Rennes, was at his brilliant best and France forward Loic Remy opened the scoring.

They will be without Brazilian striker Brandao, who went back to his native country for a week after being put under formal investigation in an alleged rape case.

Marseille, who won the first ever Champions League title in 1993, and three-times European champions United kick off at 1945 GMT tomorrow.

Possible teams:

Manchester United: 1-Edwin van der Sar; 21-Rafael; 5-Nemanja Vidic, 12-Chris Smalling, 3-Patrice Evra; 11-Ryan Giggs, 18-Paul Scholes, 16-Michael Carrick, 24-Darren Fletcher; 10-Wayne Rooney, 9-Dimitar Berbatov

Olympique Marseille: 30-Steve Mandanda; 24-Rod Fanni, 17-Stephane Mbia, 21-Souleymane Diawara, 19-Gabriel Heinze; 6-Edouard Cisse, 7-Benoit Cheyrou, 8-Lucho Gonzalez; 11-Loic Remy, 10-Andre-Pierre Gignac, 20-Andre Ayew. — Reuters

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