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Höwedes, Giggs and Lehmann take a bow

Published: Friday 15 April 2011, 10.34CET
Benedikt Höwedes and Ryan Giggs captured the headlines, Jens Lehmann returned and Nemanja Vidić wiped away a tear: all in a week's work as we review seven days in European football.
by Paul Saffer
from London

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Published: Friday 15 April 2011, 10.34CET

Höwedes, Giggs and Lehmann take a bow

Benedikt Höwedes and Ryan Giggs captured the headlines, Jens Lehmann returned and Nemanja Vidić wiped away a tear: all in a week's work as we review seven days in European football.

Player: Ryan Giggs (Manchester United FC)
It is almost obligatory these days to refer to United's No11 as 'the evergreen Ryan Giggs', but the 37-year-old unquestionably invites the adjective due to his continued excellence. Fielded in a central role for the visit of Chelsea FC on Tuesday, he set up goals for Javier Hernández and Park Ji-Sung, just as it was his cross turned in by Wayne Rooney at Stamford Bridge. "We've said it so many times: Ryan Giggs is incredible, a unique person and player," said Sir Alex Ferguson.

Team: Bayer 04 Leverkusen
The Bundesliga race looked to be done and dusted a long time ago, but the sheer tenacity of second-placed Leverkusen has ratcheted up the title tension in recent weeks. Leaders Borussia Dortmund had a 15-point lead at the start of March, but now find themselves a mere five points clear. Leverkusen made sure to pounce on a draw for the leaders on Saturday despite falling behind to FC St Pauli the following afternoon, as goals from Stefan Kiessling and Lars Bender in the final 24 minutes gave them a fifth consecutive success. Leverkusen veteran Michael Ballack warned: "My team is capable of anything."

Country: Portugal (FC Porto, SC Braga, SL Benfica)
Portugal are guaranteed at least one team in the UEFA Europa League final after Braga, Benfica and Porto all booked their places in the last four on Thursday. Braga survived over an hour with ten men to see off FC Dynamo Kyiv and will now meet Benfica, who weathered an early storm at PSV Eindhoven. No such problems for newly-crowned Liga champions Porto, whose 10-3 aggregate victory over FC Spartak Moskva was the highest winning margin in a UEFA Cup or UEFA Europa League quarter-final. Spanish side Villarreal CF await them.

Goal: Benedikt Höwedes (FC Schalke 04)
Schalke made the statement of the quarter-final stage and they rounded off their remarkable victory against holders FC Internazionale Milano with an emphatic, almost impudent goal. Wily experience and youthful vigour combined as Raúl González dinked a lovely ball beyond the Inter defence and Höwedes raced clear to lash a fierce shot past the helpless Júlio César. "I just hammered the ball and I'm just relieved it looked like it was a lethal finish," said the centre-back, still beaming an hour after full time.

Number: 900 (Real Madrid CF)
Real Madrid CF reached another milestone in Europe on Wednesday, although they may have wished they were able to ring it up in more spectacular circumstances. When Tottenham Hotspur FC goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes fumbled Cristiano Ronaldo's long-range attempt into his net during the sides' UEFA Champions League quarter-final decider, he inadvertently handed the Merengues their 900th goal in UEFA competition – 144 more than their nearest rivals on the all-time list, semi-final opponents FC Barcelona.

Quote: Nemanja Vidić (Manchester United FC)
"I know I have a reputation for being strong but I'm only human. I cry during very sad moments. There was one film, The Notebook, that really touched me too. I was watching it alone, sitting in the dark, and I got very involved in the story. I almost cried. Almost."
The intimidating Serbian centre-back revealed his softer side this week, sharing his appreciation for Nick Cassavetes's 2004 tear-jerker.

Help the aged I: Davor Vugrinec (NK Varaždin)
Vugrinec is evidently a man who does not like to be told "no", having inflicted further pain on HNK Hajduk Split for turning him down in 2005. "He's 30 – he's too old for us," explained then Hajduk coach Miroslav Blažević. Since then the spurned striker has found the net against the Croatian First League giants for HNK Rijeka, NK Zagreb, NK Dinamo Zagreb – and now Varaždin, for whom he registered twice in Saturday's 3-0 home win. "It's interesting, but just a coincidence," said the 37-year-old, who lies just six goals shy of the all-time leading marksman in the Croatian top flight, Igor Cvitanović.

Help the aged II: Jens Lehmann (Arsenal FC)
Few expected to actually see former Germany goalkeeper Lehmann back between the sticks for Arsenal after he was lured out of retirement last month, but there he was in the first XI after Manuel Almunia injured a knee in the warm-up before Sunday's outing at Blackpool FC. It was the 41-year-old's his first professional appearance in 11 months, and he played his part in a 3-1 success for Arsène Wenger's men. "He was screaming and shouting at everyone and played like a 30-year-old," said midfielder Jack Wilshere. "He's three years younger than my dad."

Home support: Olympique Lyonnais women
Lyon defeated Lehmann's female counterparts Arsenal LFC 2-0 in the first leg of their UEFA Women's Champions League semi-final at the Stade de Gerland last Saturday. They were cheered all the way by a crowd of 20,123, the biggest ever to watch a female game in France. It is also the record attendance for a UEFA women's club match other than a final.

Respect for precedent: FC Internazionale Milano
This is the 19th UEFA Champions League season, and for the 19th time the holders have failed to defend their title. It was not like that in the old European Champion Clubs' Cup, where until 1990 the titleholders prevailed on 13 occasions in 34 attempts, including Inter in 1965. But notably, since certain countries have been permitted to enter more than one team, in 1997/98, only once have the defending champions even reached the final – Manchester United in 2009.

Last updated: 07/12/13 4.44CET

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