Fri, Nov 05, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Van Nistelrooy strikes again and again

THE BEST Manchester United's manager Alex Ferguson purred with delight on Wednesday as his Dutch star took his personal tally to 35 goals in 36 European matches

AFP , PARIS AND ATHENS

Bayern Munich's Roy Makaay, left, vies for the ball against Juventus Turin's Fabio Cannavaro during their Group C Champion's League return match in Munich.

PHOTO: AFP

Both Lyon and Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy struck four times in Group D of the Champions League on Wednesday as the French champions downed Fenerbahce 4-2 while the Dutch star's goals saw United to a 4-1 victory over Sparta Prague.

Lyon were joined in the next round by Juventus courtesy of a 1-0 away win over Bayern Munich, who must be anxiously looking over their shoulders in Group C as Maccabi Tel Aviv recorded Israel's first ever victory in the Champions League group stage with a 2-1 win at home to once proud Dutch giants Ajax.

Bayern lead the latter two sides by just three points with two matches remaining.

Juventus coach Fabio Capello's former side AS Roma just about stayed in the hunt for a place in the last 16 thanks to an injury-time goal from Vincenzo Montella to force a 1-1 home draw with Bayer Leverkusen in Group B.

However, Roma need to win their last two matches by handsome margins and hope results go their way elsewhere as with a solitary point they trail not only Leverkusen but Dynamo Kiev and Real Madrid -- who fought out a 2-2 draw in Ukraine with Real coming from 2-0 down -- by six points.

While that group is set to go down to the final match so does Group A as 1-0 victories for Olympiakos and Liverpool over Monaco and Deportivo La Coruna respectively saw them leapfrog the French side and lead them by a point.

Lyon had Brazilian youngster Nilmar to thank for their victory as he scored twice in injury-time to clinch the 4-2 win over their Turkish opponents but the French side's coach Paul Le Guen preferred to focus on the overall effort.

"There was a lot of heart and determination in that performance," the former Paris Saint Germain central defender said.

"It was difficult but it is a hell of an achievement to qualify for the Champions League after four matches," added Le Guen, who won the 1996 Cup Winners Cup as a player with PSG.

United look all but certain to join Lyon in the next round as they lead Fenerbahce by five points, but understandably Sir Alex Ferguson wanted to talk about van Nistelrooy, who showed his class by reacting to the Scot's demand that his strikers step up to the plate.

"Ruud -- he's just unbelievable," a delighted Ferguson purred after van Nistelrooy had taken his total to 35 goals in 36 European matches for United.

"He's definitely the best, most clinical finisher we've seen here. You hope all the chances will fall to him."

For Bayern's handler Felix Magath there was deep frustration as his side went down to a 90th minute winner by Alessandro del Piero, who shrugged off the constant jeering after trying to win a penalty earlier in the match.

"We created so many chances and should have had the game wrapped up in the first half," fumed Magath.

"The draw looked secure and then came the goal," added the former German international striker, who said that he was still confident they would progress.

While Magath continued to believe in his side making the knockout stage, Roma coach Luigi Del Neri admitted that their chances were remote, but vowed to fight until the end.

"There is a small probability and as long as we have that we will give everything," he said.

"Obviously it is a long shot, but we have to keep believing."

Olympiakos maintained their fine form at home as having seen Liverpool off 1-0 they did the same to last season's Champions League finalists.

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