SPORTS

Manchester United boss praises team for Panathinaikos thrashing

Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson was full of praise for his striker partnership of Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Ryan Giggs following the 5-0 demolition of Panathinaikos on Tuesday – even though neither player got on the scoresheet. The Greek league leaders could not come to grips with the fast-moving United duo as they played a part in four of the goals the rampant home side scored in their Champions League Group E opener at Old Trafford. «The first-half performance was superb. The movement and speed of the front two players was fantastic. Possibly Panathinaikos was a bit nervous in the early part of the match but we capitalized on that. There was a dominance and aggression in our play,» said Ferguson. «We got those two early goals and that allowed us to play with real confidence and composure. When you look at Panathinaikos’s record – they have a very decent record in Europe and they have good experience so I think you have to give credit to our performance,» he added. Two goals in two minutes from Mikael Silvestre and Quinton Fortune (13th and 14th minutes) had United cruising and two more from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Nicky Butt had them 4-0 up by the break. Substitute Eric Djemba Djemba then capped things off with his first goal for the club late on to give the English champions a flying start in their quest to repeat their 1999 triumph. «People will look at the scoreline and see that Ruud hasn’t scored. They will probably think he hasn’t played, but his overall contribution was fantastic, as was Ryan Giggs. He was terrific,» Ferguson said. «When you’re not scoring goals, it’s important to contribute in other ways and Ruud showed himself to be a really good footballer tonight. He likes to score goals but he didn’t put his head down when he didn’t get one. He kept going and we’re pleased with that. If you’ve got a home game, first it’s important to get off to a good start. Now we can look at that 10 points (target) with a bit more optimism. We have the away game with Stuttgart, then the double-header with Rangers, who won tonight [Tuesday] [2-1 at home to Stuttgart] which will add a bit more spice to it,» Ferguson added. He withdrew John O’Shea (knee), Butt (hamstring) and Solskjaer (knee) and left Roy Keane on the bench as precautionary measures ahead of Sunday’s visit by Premier League leaders Arsenal. Panathinaikos Manager Yitzhak Shum, who was on the end of another five-goal Old Trafford thrashing when in charge of Maccabi Haifa in the first game of last season’s competition, was happy to praise the Premier League champions. «We can play a lot better than that but you have to recognize how good Manchester United is,» he said. «No one will win here in the group.» (Reuters, AFP)