Fri, Nov 03, 2006 - Page 23 News List

No luck for Brits in Champions League

FIRING BLANKS Manchester United, Celtic and Arsenal all failed to score a goal on Wednesday, while AEK Athens secured their first win in 22 Champions League matches


British clubs had a horror night in Wednesday's Champions League clashes, with two former winners of European club soccer's premier competition Manchester United and Celtic losing while last season's finalists Arsenal were held at home to a draw.

United went down 1-0 away at Danish outfit FC Copenhagen -- former Aston Villa striker Marcus Allback scoring -- while Celtic's emotional return along with the surviving Lisbon Lions from their European Cup success to Lisbon ended in a damp squib losing 3-0 to Benfica.

British misery was Portuguese delight as 2004 winners FC Porto stayed in the hunt to go through beating hapless Hamburg 3-1 in Germany, which exacerbated Arsenal's woeful night as they belied their nickname of the Gunners by firing blanks, missing some easy chances in the 0-0 draw with CSKA Moscow.

CSKA head the group with eight points while Porto joined Arsenal on seven points.

However, while some teams missed their chances of wrapping up their places in the last 16 both Lyon and Group E rivals Real Madrid did with 1-0 wins over Dynamo Kiev and Steaua Bucharest respectively.

Lyon, though, were more impressive than the Spanish giants -- who saw Ruud van Nistelrooy, preferred to Ronaldo, miss a penalty and then have his blushes spared by an own goal from Banel Nicolita, described as one of "the stupidest goals ever."

AC Milan also took a huge step towards the last 16 with a 4-1 walloping of Anderlecht, thanks largely to a virtuoso performance by Brazilian Kaka, who scored a hat-trick and was labelled the "best player in the world" by coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Lille's chances of making their second place in the same group secure went askew as they went down 1-0 away at AEK Athens, who secured their first win in 22 Champions League matches -- helped ironically by the sending-off of Lille's Greek defender Efstathios Tavlaridis after just 22 minutes.

In Denmark Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was left defending his decision to field a relatively understrength team which saw the end of their seven match unbeaten run but they should nevertheless still cruise into the next round.

"We had a team that was easily capable of winning the match without question and we controlled it most of the night," said Ferguson, who will celebrate his 20th anniversary in charge on Monday. "I don't think we should concern ourselves with the team we played. We should concern ourselves with losing a bad goal from a corner."

Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken voiced his pride in the way his players had battled to the end to secure a win that keeps their hopes of reaching the last 16 of the competition alive.

"Some of them could barely walk in the last ten minutes but still we managed to keep it tight after we scored," he said.

From Ferguson's former Manchester United playmaker and now Celtic manager Gordon Strachan there were no excuses about the humbling by Benfica, refusing to accept that the presence of 12 of the Lisbon Lions had affected his team's performance.

"I would be a weak man trying to blame some legendary figures [for the performance]," Strachan said.

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