Champions League: Giants on brink of qualifying

Inter Milan, Barcelona, AS Roma and Rangers are on the brink of qualifying in Tuesday’s Champions League group matches though Arsenal and Manchester United have already reached the knockout stages.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger intends to give some of his young Gunners another chance to impress in the Group H trip to Sevilla.

A place in the last 16 of Europe’s elite club competition is already in the bag after securing the point they needed with a goalless draw from the away game against Slavia Prague earlier this month.

Manchester United, meanwhile, top Group F with a perfect record of 12 points from four matches as they prepare to meet Sporting Lisbon at Old Trafford.

For Scottish club Rangers, however, there is everything to play for at VfB Stuttgart.

Midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger has warned Rangers that he and Stuttgart have regained the belief which brought them the Bundesliga title last season.

The former Aston Villa midfielder is a key figure in the Stuttgart team and was as dismayed as anyone when their season began in lacklustre fashion. But Stuttgart made it four wins in a row with their weekend 4-1 victory away to Eintracht Frankfurt.

Hitzlsperger said, after Stuttgart turned on the style: ”We are back to our old strength because we believe in ourselves again. After the terrible start we were determined to come back. The results have given us new self-confidence.”

Stuttgart may have to cope without German player of the year Mario Gomez when they face Rangers at the Gottlieb-Daimler stadium. The striker had to come off before half-time with a back problem against Frankfurt.

He has not been ruled out yet but Stuttgart will not want to include the 22-year-old if there is any risk involved. They cannot qualify for the last 16 after losing all four of their Group E matches so far.

A Rangers victory combined with Lyon losing at home to Barcelona would give the Scots passage with a game left to go.

Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o is training again after a three-month lay-off after rupturing a tendon in a friendly match with Inter Milan in late August.

He was a goal scorer in Barca’s 2-1 win over Arsenal in the 2006 European Champions League final though in Eto’o’s absence, Argentine striker Lionel Messi has taken over the role of being Barca’s principal goal-getter.

Lyon, however, are set to field Brazilian Fred in the centre forward role in the possible absence of Karim Benzema, who has a right thigh injury. Benzemi clashed with Rennes player Bruno Cheyrou on Saturday and club doctors have put a large question mark over his appearance against Barcelona.

Meanwhile, AS Roma captain Francesco Totti is a major doubt after suffering a recurrence of the foot problem that has sidelined him for the last month.

Totti lasted just 15 minutes of his return to first-team training on November 22 before taking a knock on the same foot he had injured in the 2-1 win over Sporting Lisbon on October 23.

Although x-rays after the initial injury showed no fractures in his right foot, the player was in too much pain to train the following game and missed Saturday’s Italian league match at Genoa.

Roma coach Luciano Spalletti said he did not know when Totti would be fit again, though it appears unlikely that Totti (31) will be available for the Group F match in Kiev where Roma can secure their place in the knockout rounds.

Group G leaders Inter Milan are expected to make changes for Tuesday’s trip to Turks Fenerbahce after a 2-1 home victory over Atalanta in the Italian league on Saturday kept them top of the table.

Mancini expects to make changes to his side against Fenerbahce, probably by restoring Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Hernan Crespo to the starting line-up and giving Marco Materazzi, who came on as a substitute on Saturday, his first start since returning from injury.

However, he complained that his plans to rotate his squad were being hampered by team doctors reluctant to give returning players the green light to play.

”The doctors are overly cautious and go out of their way to prevent player’s from returning and for a coach, this is a problem,” Mancini said.

”No one has a serious problem, especially Dejan Stankovic, who we held back because of a sore ankle.” — Sapa-AFP

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