United reshuffle as Braga come calling


Sir Alex Ferguson is prepared to make changes to his defence and midfield for Manchester United FC's UEFA Champions League Group H encounter with an SC Braga side who have taken plenty of confidence from an eye-catching 2-0 victory at Galatasaray AŞ on matchday two – earning praise from the Red Devils' manager in the process.

 United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson

For me, Braga are better away from home and they proved that with their 2-0 win at Galatasaray. So, once again it looks like counterattacking football will play a big part, which we also saw in our first game here against Galatasaray. They caused us problems but we managed to hold out until half-time and took a hold of the game in the second period. I'll be leaving out Rio [Ferdinand] and Patrice Evra, and a couple of the older players, in light of the game on Sunday [against Chelsea FC].

 We've had some success with a [midfield] diamond recently, while at this club we've always had a tradition of playing with wide players. We've got Ashley Young back, Nani, [Antonio] Valencia and [Ryan] Giggs, who are all wide players, while we've got plenty of options in central midfield too.

We actually rested players on Saturday like [Shinji] Kagawa and [Tom] Cleverley, both who've been playing very well – so "I wouldn't say we're underestimating Braga at all. I think the level of the game in England and Europe is so high now, that making yourself unpredictable can be a strength." When it comes to United, teams will now have to think: 'Are they going to play with two out wide? Or with a midfield diamond?' With players like Kagawa, Cleverley and Giggs, they can give us that flexibility.

Weekend result

Saturday: United 4-2 Stoke City FC (Rooney 27 65, Van Persie 44, Welbeck 65; Rooney og 11, Kightly 58)

De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Carrick; Van Persie, Rooney, Welbeck.

 • Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck both struck their first club goals of the season. Rooney also put through his own net for the first time in his career.

 Team news

Nemanja Vidić remains sidelined with a knee injury, but Ashley Young is back from knee injury.


Coach José Peseiro

Sir Alex Ferguson praised Braga very highly only a few days ago, so he doesn't underestimate us. He's got an excellent squad with plenty of talent to choose from, while he also said earlier today that he rested players especially for this game. They're one of the best teams in the world and don't tend to suffer much when they make changes, so it'll be very tough whoever they put out.

 We've got good players and a good team too, so we're going to be trying to win. But if we can't win then a draw is a good result too. We'll need to defend well, try and keep hold of the ball and keep believing we are capable of winning. Of course, we don't have the same resources as United, but I have complete faith in the players I've got. It doesn't do the coach or players any good at all if you start thinking any other way.

 "Any praise from someone like Alex Ferguson is fantastic, but our players won't need any extra motivation – they'll get more than enough when playing in a stadium like this."

 I spent a fortnight here when Carlos Queiroz was here and I spoke to Alex about Nani, because I think at the time he was trying to decide who to sign between Yuri Zhirkov and Nani. We spoke about him three or four times and later United invited me to the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow, as Queiroz told me they appreciated that I'd given them good information about Nani.


Benzema learns to stave off pressure

 When you wear No9 for Real Madrid CF, pressure is just something you have to live with. When the spotlight has become white hot Karim Benzema has looked to his family to escape the glare. On the occasions when his game has faltered, he could always rely on his mother to insist that he was still worthy of the famous white shirt.

These days, he looks to the younger members of the Benzema clan to bolster his confidence. "Pressure has been part of my life since I was at Lyon, though it is more intense here because this is the best club in the world," he said. "I don't take the pressure into the game with me, otherwise I would freeze and wouldn't be able to play at all. I get rid of it by chatting with my little brother."

When he plays without tension, the results are there for all to see. In the three years since Benzema left Olympique Lyonnais for Madrid he has evolved into a more complete, more serene, attacker. His support network within the club, which includes coach José Mourinho, Zinédine Zidane and club president Florentino Pérez, has

Mourinho has helped Benzema overcome his stage fright with a mixture of man-management and tactics. Benzema says the Portuguese has made him consider his psychology during a match. "The coach made me work a lot on the mental part of my game," said the 24-year-old. "I'm now stronger in this respect. I've had many ups and downs since I arrived in Madrid, but I'm still here. Mourinho is a great coach and he's supporting me."

Benzema is in optimistic mood as he prepares for the next UEFA Champions League match, at Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday. Is the experience any different to other games? "It's about the environment. There is more pressure." So does he have a special routine or does someone help him prepare mentally? "No, I have no one for that," he concludes. "I am just here with my little brother, my agent and we have a laugh."


Syrian badminton team excel in Iraq

 Damascus, (ST) – The men and women's national badminton team have presented impressive performances in the Iraq International Badminton Championship which was concluded on Sunday in the city of Erbil .

Ten teams took part in the said event.

Ammar Awad and Sanaa Mahmoud finished first in the mixed doubles final after beating their Jordanian counterparts.

In the men singles discipline, Awad came third only to take a bronze medal whiles his teammate Sanaa captured another bronze medal  in the women singles contest.

It is worth noting that Sanaa won the gold medal in the women singles contest in the Syria International Championship which was staged in Damascus in 2011.



Venus Williams beats Andrea Petkovic

Venus Williams came from a set down to see off Andrea Petkovic and set up a Luxembourg Open final against Monica Niculescu.

Romanian Niculescu barely broke sweat to earn a 6-1 6-3 victory over Slovak Daniela Hantuchova in her semi-final.

But it was Williams who had to put in the hardest shift on Saturday as the American battled past German Petkovic 5-7 6-4 6-4 to make her first final in nearly two and a half years.

Petkovic, ranked 182 in the world, was pushing the seven-time Grand Slam winner all the way and even at 4-4 in the decider looked more than capable of upsetting the player ranked 141 places higher.

But Williams stood firm to break Petkovic's serve and ease to victory in a marathon two hours, 38 minutes.

Niculescu, ranked 70th, reached her second straight Luxembourg Open final with an easy win over Hantuchova.


Edin Dzeko's 'heavy goals' delight Manchester City assistant boss

 David Platt hailed the 'heavy goals' of Manchester City super-sub Edin Dzeko after his brace earned a win at West Brom.

City looked in danger of falling seven points adrift of leaders Chelsea after James Milner was sent off in the first half and then Shane Long broke the deadlock for West Brom.

But Dzeko equalised within 60 seconds of entering the action with 10 minutes left and then in injury time snatched the winner with his sixth goal of the season.

City first-team coach Platt said: "If you look at Edin's career for Manchester City, the goals he has scored, he has got a lot of heavy goals, goals that are very important.

"I remember goals at Blackburn the season before last which more or less gave us Champions League qualification.

"You look back at last season as well and he got some vital goals. To win the league, (Sergio) Aguero's goal will always be the one but remember Edin equalised.

"He has been a threat all season and his form has been very good all season."

Milner was sent off for a professional foul after bringing down Long midway through the first half.

But Platt felt City deserved their victory after controlling the game for long periods despite their numerical disadvantage.

Platt, deputising at the press conference for sore throat victim Roberto Mancini, said: "Watching it live it didn't seem a goalscoring opportunity to me for the sending-off. Equally you can see why it is given.

"But we can't sit there for 70 minutes grumbling about a decision.

"For the rest of the first half we were affected by it to a certain extent and no-one was controlling the game.

"We said at half-time if we keep our control and discipline, stay together, we know we can impose our play on them and in that second period we controlled the match.

"If you look at the stats of efforts on goal and possession, you wouldn't have thought we'd had a man less than them."