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Mourinho off the hook after ref rant
Link - Independent

UEFA will not take any disciplinary action against Jose Mourinho over comments he made about the referee after the first leg of the Champions League tie between Inter Milan and Manchester United.

However, his post-match rhetoric was given shorter shrift by Alex Ferguson and his players in advance of the second leg on March 11.

Mourinho suggested that the tie was perfectly balanced after a 0-0 draw at the San Siro on Tuesday night, with United unable to score the away goal their dominant performance merited against the Italian champions.

The Inter coach also stated, with typical bluster, that his team will prevail in the second leg at Old Trafford "if we go there and the referee gives so much protection to the away team" as Luis Medina Cantalejo, the Spaniard, did on Tuesday -- a remark that officials of UEFA scrutinised yesterday before declaring that the former Chelsea manager will not face a touchline ban or any other sanction.

Mourinho woke up to a series of headlines pronouncing his side as being far inferior to the European champions.


Inter may have held out for a goalless draw but the 'Gazzetta Dello Sport' in particular was hugely critical of Mourinho for instructing his team to sit deep and let United come at them.

Mourinho was even accused of changing his story to fit the way the game had panned out.

In his post-match interview on Sky Italia, he said that the pace of United had pinned Inter back despite their best attempts. In his subsequent press conference for newspapers, he changed his tune, claiming that it was him who had expressly told his team to sit back despite his pre-match stated intention that Inter would attack.

"They (United) are a very quick team and we don't have these characteristics," he said.

"The only reason I lost only once against Manchester United is that I understood this immediately. If they had scored in the first half, the situation would have been harder for us and, for this, it is not an easy decision to make to sit deep and try to block them."

In Italy, where Ferguson is held in more reverence than perhaps he is even in England, his coaching was scored 6.5 by the Gazzetta. Such marks have been the cause of enormous controversy and rows in the past.

Mourinho was given just 5 and accused of being "timid" in his approach and making the wrong decision to pick Nelson Rivas ahead of Ivan Cordoba.

United's players were dismissive of Mourinho's comments, a mood that reflects the single-mindedness that is driving their pursuit of silverware on four fronts.

They meet Tottenham Hotspur in the Carling Cup final at Wembley on Sunday -- with Ferguson promising seven changes to the team as he looks to reward the youngsters who have taken his team so far in the competition -- and, as strong favourites to add the Premier League and FA Cup to the Club World Cup they have won this season, they are understandably confident about their chances in the second leg against Inter.

"We played better than Inter," Cristiano Ronaldo said. "We created more chances, especially in the first half, and we deserved to win.

"At home, I feel we have a better chance in the second leg. I don't know whether Inter will be a better team in Manchester. We respect them, but in my opinion we have a better chance at Old Trafford because we have a better team."

That was a verdict that was hard not to reach at the San Siro on Tuesday night as Ronaldo alone tested Julio Cesar, the Inter goalkeeper, on four occasions.

It was arguably Ronaldo's most impressive all-round performance on a big stage away from home in the Champions League, but he was only one of many United players who rose to the occasion, with plaudits also going the way of Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, the often unheralded Park Ji-sung and Jonny Evans, the 21-year-old Northern Ireland defender who did not put a foot wrong as he stood in for Nemanja Vidic.

Evans seems certain to be one of the four players who will keep his place in the team for the Carling Cup final, having made four appearances in the competition so far.

The Northern Ireland international limped out of the San Siro clutching Zlatan Ibrahimovic's shirt after coming through another stern examination of his defensive capabilities.

Evans was clearly feeling pain from an ankle injury he first suffered at Sunderland last season, which forced him to miss four games last month. However, he will be more than happy to have a couple of jabs again in order to play on Sunday.

"It's not nice to even think about it," said Evans of the prospect of being consigned to the Wembley stands.

"The manager has tried to tell me if I miss it, it's no big thing, but I would be quite gutted. Hopefully the manager will allow me to have a few more injections."

Evans has already made 22 appearances this campaign and he admitted: "I wasn't expecting to play anywhere near that number."


On more than one occasion this season, Ferguson has stressed how important a figure Evans will one day be at Old Trafford.

It explains why the Scot refused point blank when Roy Keane tried to make last year's spell on loan a permanent arrangement at the Stadium of Light.

Although still very much a back-up option to Ferdinand and Vidic, who has been so impressive this term that he is favourite to land the PFA player of the year prize, Evans has justified his manager's faith.

Fletcher and John O'Shea may also start Sunday's game, along with Vidic, who was suspended for the match in Milan.

Ferguson is certain to turn to players such as goalkeeper Ben Foster, Darron Gibson, Nani and Danny Welbeck, as well as Carlos Tevez, who was an unused substitute in Milan, but he must decide whether or not to use A-list players such as Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, both of whom would love to be involved on Sunday.

Rooney was given only a six-minute run-out in Milan, with Giggs surprisingly chosen ahead of him as Dimitar Berbatov's foil in attack, and, while League Cup duty has often been frowned upon by players at leading clubs -- Paul Scholes, of all people, was fined for refusing to play in a tie against Arsenal in November 2001 -- the England forward is one of many United players who are desperate to be involved on Sunday.

"All the players want to play," Rooney said on his way out of the San Siro. "But it's down to the manager how he thinks the squad should be used." (© The Times, London)

- Oliver Kay

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