Manchester United FC manager Sir Alex Ferguson's delight at reaching the UEFA Champions League semi-finals was tempered by the loss of David Beckham with a foot injury.
United beat RC Deportivo La Coruña 3-2 at Old Trafford tonight but Beckham joined club captain Roy Keane on the injured list after breaking a bone in his foot during the first half. "Beckham has a broken metatarsal bone in his left foot and he will be out for six to eight weeks," Sir Alex said. "It is a big blow to Manchester United. Games are about tackles and I thought the player had to go for the challenge."
'He will be devastated'
Asked if Beckham would be available for England's forthcoming FIFA World Cup campaign, Sir Alex revealed that the prognosis was not positive. "I think it is doubtful he will be back for the World Cup," he added. "I haven't spoken to him yet but I'm sure he will be devastated. These things happen in football but we have a very strong group of players and they are used to this."
United's Juan Sebastian Verón and Ronny Johnsen were also substituted during the match and both were nursing injuries at the final whistle. "Johnsen has a hamstring injury and Verón has hurt his achilles again," Sir Alex added. "Johnsen may miss the first leg of the semi-finals."
Seven for Solskjær
Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Beckham's replacement, scored twice to put United in the driving seat, before a stunning solo goal from Ryan Giggs capped a fine performance from the hosts. Solskjær, who now has seven goals to his name in this season's competition, was delighted with the result but is keen to look forward rather than dwell on what is now the past.
"It is the next month that counts now and hopefully we will get some silverware this season," he said. "It is great to have scored seven goals in 13 Champions League matches but really it is about the team and the result. We cannot look to the past now, it is the future that matters. We are playing very well and I think that we can give any team a difficult game."
Deportivo coach Javier Irureta was philosophical in defeat but was proud of his side's efforts against United this season. The Spanish club have beaten United twice (home and away) and lost twice in four thrilling encounters. "It was not to be, it could have been as we did very well in the first half, but in the end United were too strong," he said.
Irureta applauded United's tactics during the match but believed his side was still in the tie at the interval, despite trailing 3-1 on aggregate. "They really hurt us with their counterattacks," he admitted. "They got nine men behind the ball for long periods, leaving just [Ruud] Van Nistelrooij on his own up front and it worked for them. At 1-1 we still had a chance, we were still in the game and we had lots of possession but United took their chances and we did not."
'Butt was fantastic'
Ferguson singled out midfield player Nicky Butt for special praise after the English international admirably filled Keane's shoes and bossed the centre of the pitch. "Nicky Butt was fantastic tonight and we are fortunate to have a player like that at the club. Looking at the performances of Giggs and Van Nistelrooij and Solskjær up front, there were a lot of positives for us."
United now face Bayer 04 Leverkusen, conquerors of Liverpool FC, in their two-legged semi-final. Sir Alex is well aware of the threat the 1. Bundesliga leaders pose but is confident that United can reach the final of Europe's premier club competition for the first time since 1998/99. "In both games against Liverpool, Leverkusen were impressive," he said. "They have a lot of imagination and we will have to watch that but I think we've got a good chance."
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