Michael Ballack Germany's recent success

Michael Ballack, the poster boy for German football, has been forging a reputation for himself at Premier League leaders Chelsea, whom he joined in 2006. The Germany captain is enjoying his time under new coach Carlo Ancelotti, having scored three goals already this season.

Annan, Ghana's next shooting star

At any given moment there are names floating through the heads and across the desks of the managers of major European clubs; hot young prospects poised in their relative obscurity but on the cusp of a big breakthrough. The name of Ghanaian Anthony Annan is at the top of those lists.

Currently with Rosenborg, runaway leaders in Norway's Tippeligaen, Annan has played every minute of Ghana's ten qualifying games in the African Zone, culminating earlier this month in the Black Stars becoming the first African nation, aside from hosts Bafana Bafana, to qualify for next year's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Not bad for the 23-year-old who only two years ago was lining up for Hearts of Oak, training on a dirt pitch beside a dumping area on the sun-scorched coast of Accra.

"I was an important part of the team, not just a member of the squad," the friendly Annan told African Football Media from his home near Trondheim. "It is a source of great pride for me to have had such a responsibility. We have big players in the Ghana team, guys like Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari, players who are known all over the world. Those guys always gave me total encouragement to play with confidence."

I just stood there not moving, trying to think about what had happened. I stared into the sky and thanked God. I thought: 'We did it! I am here!'
Annan on reaching South Africa 2010

Over the course of a gruelling qualifying campaign, young Anthony, who grew up admiring Pablo Aimar and Argentine football in general, played a holding role in the centre of midfield, keeping things tight when Chelsea star Essien sought more freedom in attack."It helps a young guy like me a lot to look over and see Essien by my side. It can slow your breathing down," added Annan, who has been described as ‘the next Essien' because of the interest being shown in him from big-time clubs in England, Spain and Italy.

Annan is quick to defer to his team-mate however, saying: "Essien is a unique player, powerful and strong but elegant. When he goes forward, I stay behind and cover him. I let him go up and do his things because he is an amazing player when he moves toward goal. I'm happy to stay back and support the man."

The compact, muscular Annan can also play in the backline but prefers to line-up in midfield, where his eye for a piercing pass has made him a target for major European clubs. He first caught the eye of Ghana's then-coach Claude Le Roy - who publically compared Annan to French icon Claude Makelele - and picked him for last year's CAF African Cup of Nations on home soil in 2008.

Third place wasn't a dream result for the Black Stars, but Annan took a major step as a player. "It was my first international tournament," he says. "It was a tremendous honour that the coach put his faith in me. Every African wants to play in the CAN, and on home soil it was even more special. We did what we could do, but we lacked a little bit of luck and missed out on the trophy. Now we are a better team, and better for the experience of having lost."

Focused on claiming the Norwegian top flight, something domestic giants Rosenborg are only one win away from doing, Annan says that English football would suit him well and that he'd like to play there someday. But for now his focus is intently on next year's FIFA World Cup finals.

Essien is a unique player, powerful and strong but elegant. When he goes forward, I stay behind and cover him.
Annan on Michael Essien

Ghana sealed their place in the event on 6 September, with two games to spare, after a 2-0 win over Sudan. "When the final whistle went [against Sudan] I was so excited that I froze," Annan said, joy clearly in his voice. "I just stood there not moving, trying to think about what had happened. I stared into the sky and thanked God. I thought: 'We did it! I am here!'

"With next year being the first World Cup in Africa, we were all desperate to make sure we'd be there," Annan added about what will be Ghana's second finals on the trot and the first ever on African soil. "We were always talking about it together as a team like a bunch of kids, and then we did it."

The world seems to spreading out at young Annan's feet. With a move to one of Europe's big leagues looking likely and a virtually guaranteed place in the FIFA World Cup-bound Ghana's first team, this is one young Black Star about to shoot through the sky.

goal-shy Portugal

Portugal's record over the years suffers in comparison with the achievements of Europe's superpowers. Their tally of four appearances at the FIFA World Cup™ and five at the UEFA European Championship seems paltry when compared to that of seasoned qualifiers like Germany, Italy and England.

Yet over the last decade, the Portuguese have become virtual ever-presents at major finals and have impressed on the big stage on more than one occasion, finishing runners-up at UEFA EURO 2004, fourth at Germany 2006 and reaching the last eight at Austria and Switzerland 2008.

Given that impressive run, Portugal were widely tipped to qualify for South Africa 2010 at a canter. But despite boasting the reigning FIFA World Player Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Queiroz's undoubtedly talented outfit are in serious danger of missing out on the finals for the first time since France 1998.

Their most obvious shortcomings have been up front, where star performer Ronaldo has failed to repeat the club form that has taken him to the pinnacle of the world game. The Real Madrid man has hit just two goals on international duty in the last 23 months and, alarmingly, has yet to score in eight games in the current qualification campaign.

What makes his goal drought all the more perplexing is the fact that over more or less the same period, the flying forward struck 18 English Premier League goals for Manchester United, the second-biggest haul in the country.

Ronaldo's finishing woes are not the only cause of Portugal's troubles in front of goal. "Our finishing has been very poor," lamented midfielder Duda after the recent qualifiers against Denmark and Hungary. "We've been missing a lot of chances."

We have been the better side in a lot of our games but unfortunately we are just not putting our chances away.
Portugal's Pepe

That game against the Danes provided a perfect illustration of their problems, with Ronaldo and Co hitting the back of the net just once from 35 goal attempts. "We have been the better side in a lot of our games but unfortunately we are just not putting our chances away," commented Pepe after heading Portugal to a welcome 1-0 defeat of Hungary just days later.

Among the side's scorers, only Nani and Hugo Almeida have two goals to their name. Simao Sabrosa, Deco, Bruno Alves, Liedson (on his debut for A Seleçao das Quinas) and Pepe have all appeared on the scoresheet once, with their other goal coming when Malta defender Brian Said put through his own net in a 4-0 win in Ta'Qali. Since then the Portuguese have laboured to no fewer than three goalless draws.

Adding to the mystery is the fact that coach Queiroz has a glittering cast of players to call on aside from Ronaldo. Nani continues to develop under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson, while right winger Simao has made a valuable contribution at Atletico Madrid, forming part of a highly productive attacking line with Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero.

Pepe has produced some commanding performances at the back for Real Madrid, and fellow centre-back Bruno Alves is yet another cultured performer to graduate from the Porto academy. Seasoned midfielder Deco, a UEFA Champions League winner with Porto and Barcelona, is back in favour at Chelsea, while the Brazi-born Liedson has proven his lethal goalscoring skills in the colours of Sporting.

Too little, too late?
Yet despite the riches at their disposal, Portugal have struggled to gel as a unit during their faltering Group 1 campaign. Inhibited by a lack of fluency in possession and a tendency to lose shape, their failings in front of goal are the most obvious symptom of their shaky recent form.

Uncertainty has been heightened by Queiroz's decision to switch goalkeepers midway through the group. After being entrusted with the No1 jersey for the first four games, keeping three clean sheets in the process, Benfica's Quim was surprisingly dropped for Sporting Braga's Eduardo.

"Quite apart from anything else, I'm happy because we've got a balanced side now," said Queiroz after returning from Budapest. "We have a settled squad and I'm very happy with how the players have responded to the difficulties we're facing."

That balance may have come too late to save Queiroz's side from a surprise elimination, however. With only high-pressure home games against Hungary and Malta to come, Portugal need maximum points and a Swedish slip-up just to make the play-offs. It is a state of affairs few would have predicted when the Lusitanians embarked on what was meant to be a straightforward journey to South Africa.

Germany edged closer to securing a place at next year's FIFA World Cup finals with a comfortable victory over Azerbaijan in Hanover.

Turkey were left hoping for a miracle to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ after a 1-1 draw against their leading Group 5 rivals Bosnia last night.

Overview of Countries and National Teams that qualified for FIFA 2010 and will be playing in the Soccer World Cup in South Africa.

Find out who will be playing alongside hosts South Africa at the 2010 World Cup with thecup2010.blogspot.com definitive guide to who has qualified and when they wrapped up their place at the finals.

Netherlands might win fifa 2010

If the Netherlands have underperformed at recent major tournaments, it has not been due to a shortage of talent. Rather, as those involved will testify, the Dutch have tended to lack the consistency and dogged determination that generally separates champions from also-rans at these intensely competitive international events.

As captain Giovanni van Bronkhorst admitted: "When you have a big tournament with all the best teams, you have to be on top form in every single match if you're going to win. We saw that at EURO 2008, when we played really well but had one bad game against the Russians and were knocked out. That's got to be a lesson for us in South Africa."

Fortunately, the signs auger that we will see a different kind of Oranje at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The majestic manner in which they qualified hinted at a new, untypically Dutch mentality, with the inconsistency bemoaned by Van Bronkhorst replaced by a ruthless streak that yielded eight straight wins. If it's omens you're after, the only other team to have survived the European preliminaries without dropping a point - West Germany in Spain 1982 - went on to reach the Final.

Yet even that might not be enough to satisfy this Netherlands side. Bert van Marwijk, the coach responsible for the team's new tough, resolute mindset, has also made no secret of his ultimate goal, telling FIFA.com earlier this year: "If I had the slightest idea that we could not win the World Cup, I would just stay at home."

This attitude has proved contagious. Frank de Boer, Van Marwijk's assistant and a veteran of 112 internationals, is perhaps best placed to judge the transformation that has taken place, and he believes that this current Dutch side have every right to target a trophy that has proved notoriously elusive.

"We have a mission - and that mission is to be world champions," he said. "Why not? We have the quality to beat anybody. Of course, we are also respectful of the fact that many other teams have the same mission and will have the same confidence we do. Brazil look tremendous just now, Spain too, England are very strong and there are some nations that you know you can never count out at the big tournaments.
But we are going to South Africa to win, that's for sure."
De Boer's confidence is based largely on the evidence of a qualifying campaign that, as well as witnessing the usual flair and fluidity one might expect, also saw clean sheets kept in all but two of the Netherlands' matches. Vital to this impressive defensive effort was the ever-present Andre Ooijer, a former team-mate of De Boer's who also shared with FIFA.com his belief in this new, results-focused Oranje.

"Winning becomes a habit," said the 35-year-old. "You see that with the best teams all over the world, and going into games expecting to win is a big factor for us. It's been brilliant. None of our qualifiers were easy, there was no really weak team in our group, so it's very satisfying to have done enough to win every single game. I think we can go on to the World Cup full of confidence because of what we have achieved."

De Boer, whose own glittering playing career brought him UEFA Champions League glory but only FIFA World Cup frustration, admits that the Netherlands' consistency under Van Marwijk has surpassed even his expectations. His hope now is that this new generation of Dutch players can succeed where there was only failure for legends such as Cruyff and Bergkamp.

"I would never have expected them to win every match," he admitted. "But we knew how we wanted the team to play and, fortunately, the players managed to put that plan into action. It's all been going extremely well and we're very proud of what the boys have achieved. If they keep the same form and attitude, they can beat anybody. We have a good squad and, if you look at our bench, it's vert encouraging. But you can always improve and that's what we'll be trying to do before 2010."

The strength in depth referred to by De Boer was underlined in the Netherlands' final preliminary win in Scotland, when a trio of star substitutes, Rafael van der Vaart, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and the team's latest sensation, Eljero Elia, turned the match in their favour. Qualification had long since been secured, of course, and yet Ooijer explained that making it eight wins from eight served a greater purpose than merely maintaining momentum and creating a little bit of history.

"It was important in a few respects, not only psychologically but also in terms of our FIFA ranking and perhaps the way we are seeded for the draw in South Africa," he said. "As for whether there is more to come from us, we will see that at the World Cup. That is where the big test will come for all of the teams who want to win that tournament. But we have set a standard by the way we have played in qualifying."

For Ooijer and De Boer alike, there is also the added incentive of bettering the Netherlands' finest FIFA World Cup campaign in recent memory. Both were members of the squad that came within penalty kicks of reaching the 1998 Final and, according to Ooijer, the bittersweet memories of that French summer still evoke thoughts of what might have been.

"For me, that was my best World Cup memory; to get into the semi-finals of that tournament against Brazil was fantastic. If we had not been unlucky on penalties, who knows what might have happened? Hopefully we can have a bit more luck this time and take the trophy. If we play to our maximum, I think that's possible."

Top 10 Players Who Never Made A World Cup

So a lot of the talk this week has been all about how we might be witnessing a World Cup in 2010 without Cristiano Ronaldo, or for that matter Lionel Messi. Its pretty unthinkable to imagine a World Cup without the two best players on the planet, but it could happen.

And while both Messi and Ronaldo have played at World Cups before, I thought it would be a timely reminder of ten players who weren’t lucky enough, for whatever reason, to play in the biggest tournament in World Football.

It might be because they played for a country who never made it, or because they fell out with management, or because they had somebody better than them ahead of them. But food for thought - Stéphane Guivarc’h has played at a World Cup, and none of these players have.

Abedi Pele

A World Cup in Africa, so its only right we start with the player who bought so much prominence to African Football in the first place. The three time African Footballer of the Year had success in Germany and Italy, but mostly in France, where he was an instrumental part of the Marseille side that picked up a Champions League medal (against a formidable AC Milan side, no less) unfortunately, despite the dual talents of himself and Tony Yeboah for Ghana, they never made a World Cup.

Johnny Giles and Ryan Giggs

The two have a number of similarities. They played completely differently - Giggs known for his silky skills and speed, Giles known for his win-at-all-costs mentality, but they both helped to define clubs that dominated eras in English Football, Giles as part of the 1970s Leeds United team that won a number of titles and Giggs as part of Man United’s 1990/00s teams that won everything there was to win. Neither made it to a World Cup though - Giles Republic of Ireland never making the cup, exactly as Ryan Giggs’ Wales never did.

Matthew Le Tissier

One of the best footballers of his generation, it remains a little bit of a mystery why Le Tiss, never made a World Cup although there are a couple of reasons. First, no-one knew exactly where he played, sometimes as an attacking midfielder, sometimes a forward. Second managers tended to want to play him in midfield, where England already had Paul Gascoigne, a national treasure and as big a talent. Lastly, he loyally spent his entire career at Southampton, meaning he was never tested on as big a stage as he should have been.

Eric Cantona

He might have defined the Man United team of the 1990s, but he never made it to a World Cup for France, despite being first capped in the late 1980s. He had fallen out with management before the 1990 World Cup so wasn’t selected for France’s Italian adventure, he was apart of the squad that failed to make the 1994 World Cup, and he retired in 1997, a year before France won the World Cup. He probably wouldn’t have been picked anyway.

Duncan Edwards

Speak to absolutely anyone of a certain age in England, and they’ll tell you how good Duncan Edwards was. Bobby Charlton called him the best player he ever played with. There is very little footage left of Edwards, who was killed in the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, but if he’s a tenth as good as people say, its a massive shame he never made a World Cup.

Valentino Mazzola

Similarly to Edwards, was killed before his time. There was a time in Italy, where Juventus were not Turin’s most talented team. Torino snatched Mazzola during the war from under the nose of Juve, and he led Torino to league title after league title as they dominated the post-war Serie A. Sadly, the entire team was killed in an air crash leaving one of Italy’s most talented players with just 12 caps.

Bernd Schuster

Voted second best player of the 1980 European Championships (which Germany won), Schuster sensationally retired from international football aged 24, after repeatedly falling out with the German FA. He decided to go home and see his baby son be born instead of playing for his country, which caused a national scandal and he walked away from the chance to play at any World Cup for his country.

George Weah

Another case of the most talented player in the world playing for a country - Liberia - that were never good enough to make the cut. Weah mesmerised Europe, especially when he did things like this for AC Milan, and he won World, European and African footballer of the year. In 1994 there was undoubtedly a feeling that one of the best players in the game was not at the World Cup.

George Best

Possibly the most famous big name never to make a World Cup, Best played for Northern Ireland, who never made the World Cup. You probably don’t need reminder of his ability on the ball though, as he lit up English football (and picked up a European Cup with Man United) for years and years. Eternal proof that you can’t qualify (let alone win) a World Cup with just the best player in the world playing for you.

Alfredo Di Stefano

Described by Pele as better than a certain El Diego, and yet bizarrely, the Real Madrid legend never played in a World Cup. The reasons though, are more complicated than some of the others above. Born in Argentina, he played for his country, but they didn’t play in the 1950 World Cup. He then became a Colombian international, and never made a World Cup. He became a Spanish National in 1956, but the Spanish didn’t qualify for the 1958 World Cup. Finally he led them to the 1962 Finals, but he got injured before the tournament and couldn’t play.

Ballack's future

Germany's Michael Ballack will consider his international future after next summer's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. The Chelsea attacking midfielder, 33 in three weeks' time, has been the key player for his country for several years.Speaking ahead of Saturday's friendly with South Africa in Leverkusen, he said: "I will decide after the World Cup in 2010 if I carry on or stop."This will be a new situation for me that I need to think carefully about. In any case, I'll play as long as it gives me pleasure and I have ambition."

I will decide after the World Cup in 2010 if I carry on or stop. I'll play as long as it gives me pleasure and I have ambition.

Germany's Michael Ballack on his international future

Ballack's admission is unlikely to come as a surprise to Germany coach Joachim Low, whose side continue to hone their preparation for their remaining qualifiers with a game against Bafana Bafana at the weekend.The match comes four days ahead of a Group 4 qualifier against Azerbaijan in Hannover. The crucial games in the pool are in October, when Germany travel to second-placed Russia before hosting third-placed Finland.

Germany have been unimpressive in recent outings, and Low is expecting his side to rise to the challenge over the next few games. "I expect a much improved performance in Leverkusen and Hannover. We know exactly what caused the dip in the curve recently," he said.

Bayern Munich full-back Philipp Lahm is another who is hoping Germany can raise their level of performance when it really matters. "We have to get a grip on a few tactical things, both in attack and defence," he told Bild newspaper. "Otherwise we are going to have real problems in the World Cup qualifiers."

Germany edge closer to South Africa (fifa 2010)

Germany edged closer to securing a place at next year's FIFA World Cup finals with a comfortable victory over Azerbaijan in Hanover.
Michael Ballack opened the scoring with a penalty in the 14th minute, but Germany coach Joachim Low would not have been happy with the remainder of the first half as his side risked conceding an equaliser.

Their guests had Samir Abbasov sent off early in the second half and there was no stopping Germany with a one-man advantage. Two goals from Miroslav Klose and a Lukas Podolski strike sealed the comprehensive win which keeps Germany top of qualifying Group Four by a single point from Russia, who they meet in Moscow on 10 October.
After making his full debut in the 2-0 win over South Africa at the weekend, Mesut Ozil's name has become one of the first on Low's teamsheet and he showed precisely why he is one of Germany's hottest properties at the moment.

He left three Azerbaijan defenders stranded as he moved into a position to shoot in the seventh minute, but Kamran Agayev made his first save of a very busy opening 15 minutes.

The visiting goalkeeper was called into action five minutes later by Ballack, who tried his luck from long range before he was given the chance to open the scoring from the penalty spot.

Podolski was fouled inside the area by Samir Abbasov and the Chelsea midfielder stepped up to send Agayev the wrong way from the spot and give Germany a 14th-minute lead.

The floodgates were expected to open and Mario Gomez should have added a second two minutes later when he had a free header from Ballack's cross, but Agayev made another save.

However, Germany lost their early momentum too quickly and even risked conceding a goal before the interval when Olexandr Chertogan tested Rene Adler from long range. Adler tipped his shot over the crossbar before making a more difficult save to deny Mahir Shukurov moments later.

Low brought Klose on at the interval and he made an instant impact, luring Abbasov into a foul which earned the Azerbaijan captain his second yellow card of the evening in the 50th minute before the Bayern Munich striker doubled Germany's lead five minutes later.

He picked up the ball from Philipp Lahm before picking his spot past Agayev for a goal which will come as a major fillip to a player who no longer has a guaranteed place for club or country. The goal certainly did do Klose good, as he showed in the 66th minute when he provided an excellent finish to a deflected cross from Andreas Beck from just inside the six-yard box.

Podolski got in on the action five minutes later when he added the fourth after Ballack nodded Ozil's cross down to him inside the penalty area and Germany's first-half struggles had been forgotten as they looked capable of scoring on every attack.

Klose was denied his hat-trick when another effort was correctly ruled out for offside in the 73rd minute, but his two earlier goals had done enough damage to earn Germany a vital three points.

Turkey hoping for a miracle (fifa 2010)

Turkey were left hoping for a miracle to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ after a 1-1 draw against their leading Group 5 rivals Bosnia last night.

"Luck has abandoned us," lamented the daily Taraf on Thursday, while the mass circulation daily Hurriyet headlined: "From now we have to wait for a miracle."The UEFA EURO 2008 semi-finalists Turkey suffered two losses against Spain and have dropped several points to the group's outsiders. "We're paying the price of points lost against Belgium and Estonia," former player Ridvan Dilmen told the Milliyet newspaper.

Turkey, who finished third in the 2002 FIFA World Cup after beating South Korea 3-2, failed to qualify for the 2006 tournament. However, coach Fatih Terim insisted that he would not be pushed into quitting. "I'm the one who decides what I should do," he said.

For the Turks to finish second in their group and to make the play-offs, they need to win their last two matches against Belgium and Armenia, but also hope that Bosnia, who currently have a four-point advantage, lose both of their final matches against Spain and Estonia.

Rodrigo Kenton axed after Tico slump

Rodrigo Kenton has paid the price for Costa Rica's poor recent form in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying. The Central American nation's FA announced the boss's dismissal at a press conference on Monday in San Jose.

The coach, formerly a national team assistant and successful youth manager, took over the country's top post in June of 2008. He brought about a much-heralded revival after the disastrous reign of Hernan Medford nearly saw the Ticos eliminated from South Africa 2010 contention in the preliminary rounds at the hands of lowly Grenada.

However, after Kenton - a former player with local club giants Deportivo Saprissa - led the side to a first-place finish in the semi-final round, fortunes shifted in the final 'hexagonal.' After leading the six-team group for a large chunk of the campaign, the Costa Ricans - who have reached the last two FIFA World Cup finals and three overall - dropped their last three games, falling into the precarious fourth-place position with two matchdays to go.

It is likely that the Ticos will miss out on one of the three top spots in the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone, meaning they could face a play-off with South America's fifth-place finisher, a daunting proposition which might pit them against the likes of Argentina, Ecuador or Colombia.

"I would like to take the opportunity to thank Mr. Kenton for all of the work he has done," said FEDEFUT (Costa Rica's FA) President Eduardo Li to members of the media on Monday. "But results are important, and we have not got the right ones over the course of our last three matches."
The dramatic implosion of the Costa Rican side, which Kenton had revived by calling on youngsters like Celso Borges and Bryan Ruiz, has been nothing short of devastating. They lost their last three qualifying games to Mexico (at home in San Jose), Honduras and El Salvador, conceding eight goals and scoring none.

The powers that be in the FA clearly felt a message needed to be sent as the side aim to turn things around with all to play for in their last two games. The announcement of a new coach is expected in the next few days, with the next game - at home to eliminated Trinidad and Tobago - coming on 10 October. Costa Rica round out their account away against the USA four days later.

Ten-man United burst Spurs' bubble

Manchester United were behind after a minute and reduced to ten men but still recorded victory in a pulsating match at White Hart Lane that ended Tottenham Hotspur's 100 per cent start to the Barclays Premier League season. Jermain Defoe's acrobatic strike opened the scoring, but United have a history of comebacks against Spurs - 5-2 last season and 5-3 eight years ago - and they levelled through Ryan Giggs' free-kick.

Anderson drilled home before the break and despite playing the last half an hour without Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney sealed victory with a cool finish before the end. It was meant to be the game in which Spurs proved their top-four credentials after four straight wins, but instead it was United who showed their steel, if anyone thought they would not challenge for titles without Cristiano Ronaldo.

This match had everything - spectacular goals, off-the-ball incidents, a red card, flying tackles and incredible intensity. By half-time the number of openings or shots had reached double figures.

The thrilling first half sprang to life after Defoe's opener. The 26-year-old spent the summer in the gym bulking up his physique and the result has been an explosive start to the campaign, his spectacular goal after 50 seconds was his eighth in as many games for club and country.

The chance was created following a loose pass by Dimitar Berbatov, who was jeered with his every touch on his return to Spurs, to Darren Fletcher, allowing Wilson Palacios to slide in. Robbie Keane shifted the ball to Benoit Assou-Ekotto and his cross to the far post had Peter Crouch challenging Nemanja Vidic. Vidic appeared to get the last touch as the ball went into the danger zone, leaving Defoe to execute his bicycle-kick into the bottom corner.

This kick-started United. Scholes drove wide and Fletcher drove into the penalty area and forced Carlo Cudicini to parry at the near post. The Italian also saved from Berbatov's flick header.

Crouch's height caused United problems, especially when he collected a long ball, flicked over Vidic and volleyed powerfully, with Ben Foster's footwork making the save look easy. Crouch had replaced injured Luka Modric and added a different dimension to the Spurs attack, resulting in Keane drifting wide.

United's equaliser came from the familiar source of Giggs. Palacios had received a yellow card for the tackle on Berbatov that led to the free-kick, 25 yards from goal. Giggs' set-play curled over Keane in the wall and into the top corner.

Berbatov had two chances shortly after, the first when he crushed Anderson's pass and had his volley tipped over the crossbar. Then he had a rebound cleared off the line after Rooney's effort was saved, and another that went over when the ball was worked back to the Bulgaria striker. The action never stopped. Aaron Lennon thought he was caught off the ball, while Crouch headed over from a Tom Huddlestone corner.

Scholes bookedSpurs brought on Jermaine Jenas for Palacios at the interval, and there was the same pace and intensity when play got under way again. Scholes was booked for tripping Defoe, then King was cautioned for exacting revenge a minute later. Jenas, returning from a calf injury for his first appearance of the season, curled an effort that Foster tipped around the post, with Crouch hitting the crossbar from the corner.

Scholes received his marching orders just before the hour mark for his second caution, this time for a clumsy tackle on Huddlestone. United's response was to bring on Michael Carrick for Berbatov to add numbers in midfield.

Carrick's quick pass to Rooney set the England striker off down the left and he cut inside to force Cudicini into a save that came off the woodwork. Rooney's goal came 12 minutes from full-time. He raced onto Fletcher's pass and cut inside Alan Hutton before squeezing his finish through Cudicini's legs.

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