Belfast Telegraph

David Healy: Rio was the real Roman conqueror

Cristiano Ronaldo was at it again in midweek for Manchester United.

He really is unstoppable at the moment. And Wayne Rooney is not that far behind him.

They scored the goals in the 2-0 win over Roma in the Olympic Stadium that puts United in total control of their Champions League quarter-final tie.

But it was another man who really impressed me on Tuesday night - Rio Ferdinand.

I thought he was immense against Roma, just as he has been for most of the season. His performance was made even more outstanding because his central defensive partner Nemanja Vidic had to go off injured in the first half.

Over the years Ferdinand has taken quite a lot of criticism from different areas of the media and supporters with some labelling him a bit of a playboy.

Much of that was down to missing a drugs test which ended up with him landing a ban.

Sir Alex Ferguson has never been one who likes his players having a playboy image and clearly he has been a major influence on Rio's career.

Fedinand was the United captain in Rome, and Fergie doesn't just hand the armband to anyone, so you can bet your life that the manager thinks very highly of him.

And no wonder. Right now he looks the best defender in Europe, let alone England.

I believe Rio learned from his experience when he was banned and has come out a far better player because of it.

I've heard people say that Roma hardly threatened United, but that was down to the way Ferdinand marshalled the defence.

He really has emerged as a hugely important player for the Old Trafford side. He has always been known as a footballing centre-back. He still has that in his game but he has become a lot more solid now which is proving beneficial to the team.

Ronaldo and Rooney obviously grab all the headlines, but don't underestimate how crucial Ferdinand is to their success this season.

United are going to play Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final. Yes, I may be looking ahead but I can't see Roma or Schalke causing an almighty stir and beating the big boys next week

United should have a comfortable night at Old Trafford in the second leg. It won't be 7-1 like last year, but Fergie's boys will come through easily enough while Barcelona, now that they are 1-0 up from the first leg, will see it home at the Nou Camp.

And then the countdown will be on for that tie. I can't wait.

I believe the draw has worked out well for United. They would prefer to play a side like Roma or Barca rather than another English club which is what the other three Premiership sides will have to do to reach the final.

When United meet Barcelona all the hype will surround Ronaldo and Rooney as well as Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o.

The big decision for Frank Rijkaard will be who to play. You know Fergie might just fancy it should Barcelona play all four, if they are fit and available, because he will back his defence, led by Ferdinand, knowing that there will be obvious gaps for the likes of Ronaldo and Rooney to exploit.

It is going to be fascinating watching Cristiano and Wayne going forward in the wide open spaces at the Nou Camp and it will be just as compelling seeing Rio cope with Barca's firepower at the back.

Pompey's day at Wembley

This has been the year of the upset in the FA Cup. I guess it will be a surprise now if there ISN'T a shock in the semi-finals.

Portsmouth are big favourites to win the trophy, but not having the cup tied Jermain Defoe is a big miss for them. He has been another of Harry Redknapp's great signings.

No doubt though Harry will have the rest of his boys fired up for what will be the first Wembley appearance for most of them.

Portsmouth's opponents West Brom are considered one of the most inconsistent sides in England, but looking at the Championship, there are a lot of teams who could have that label.

It is that sort of division with everyone capable of beating each other. West Brom, on their day, are definitely capable of beating Premiership sides. They have plenty of goals in them and in our own Chris Brunt, they have a guy who can deliver brilliant crosses.

I think West Brom will give Pompey a real game, but I'm edging towards Harry's boys.

In the other semi-final Cardiff's match against Barnsley is going to be something else for the fans who could not have dreamt they would be heading to Wembley for a FA Cup semi-final. I know the Barnsley boss Simon Davey, who was the youth team boss at Preston when I was there. I'd like to see Barnsley do it for him and because I've always been a fan of the underdog, but I feel Cardiff might nick it.

Windsor ref gives Pool the edge

Before Wednesday night I doubt any Arsenal fans knew who Peter Vink was. Now they are wondering if he has cost them the chance to reach the Champions League semi-final.

Just in case you haven't worked it out yet, Vink was the referee at the Emirates in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool.

Bar the penalty that wasn't given when Dirk Kuyt pulled Alexander Hleb back, I thought Vink got most of the decisions right, but unfortunately for him not awarding the spot-kick was the one everyone was talking about after the game.

Northern Ireland fans might remember Vink. I certainly do.

He has been the man in the middle for two of our international games at Windsor Park. The first was in a blizzard against Estonia when Ivan Sproule scored the only goal of the game and the second was when we played Denmark in our last home game of Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

Most people thought that the match at Windsor that night should NOT have gone ahead because of the flooding on the pitch. The rain just kept coming.

Have to say though I'm grateful to Mr Vink for giving it the all clear because otherwise I would never have scored that winning goal against the Danes and beat Davor Suker's goalscoring record in the competition and our fans would not have enjoyed another magical evening.

Not sure the Gooners will feel the same way towards the ref because that penalty call has definitely made Liverpool favourites in the tie. The Anfield factor always seems to come into play in European games and I imagine it will do so again in the return leg. The atmosphere is going to be incredible. It could be another one of those glory nights for Liverpool in Europe.

In the other quarter-final next Tuesday night, Chelsea have made it hard for themselves after a strange performance against Fenerbache. To go 1-0 up, it wasn't like them at all to end up losing 2-1.

I still fancy Chelsea to go through but the result in Turkey just piles more pressure on Avram Grant and I wouldn't like to be him if it all goes pear-shaped at the Bridge.

Belfast Telegraph


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