UEFA stands firm on semi-final suspensions

BUCHAREST - Manchester United's Darren Fletcher and Barcelona pair Eric Abidal and Daniel Alves will miss the Champions League final after UEFA said on Monday there were no grounds for overturning their suspensions. UEFA, announcing the decision of its Control and Disciplinary body, said in a statement that the two clubs had failed to get their appeals in on time, but even if they had made the deadline they would have been rejected. "There were no grounds for contesting the referees' original decisions," the statement said. The three players will serve one-match bans during the final in Rome on May 27, although UEFA added the clubs would have three days in which to lodge appeals against Monday's decision. UEFA general secretary David Taylor told Reuters: "The decision was no surprise really and although it is a shame the players will miss the final, you cannot have rules based on compassionate grounds. Where would you stop?" The trio join a list of players unfortunate to have been suspended from the biggest match in European club soccer. Pavel Nedved missed Juventus's final against AC Milan in 2003 and Roy Keane and Paul Scholes were suspended for Manchester United's epic win over Bayern Munich in 1999. Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta missed AC Milan's win over Barcelona in 1994 and Costacurta completed an unwanted double by also being suspended for the World Cup final when Italy played Brazil. LATE CHALLENGE Midfielder Fletcher was sent off for a clumsy challenge on Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas late in United's semi-final second leg win last Tuesday when United were already 3-0 ahead. Although TV replays showed the Scot played the ball first, he also sent Fabregas sprawling with referee Roberto Rosetti awarding a penalty and showing Fletcher a red card. Barcelona's French defender Abidal was sent off for what Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo saw as a trip on Nicolas Anelka in Wednesday's semi-final second leg against Chelsea, while Brazilian Alves was booked for a challenge on Ashley Cole. Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said last week the club were appealing out of respect for the players. Barring injuries during the next fortnight, United have plenty of options to cover Fletcher's absence with Scholes, Anderson, Michael Carrick and even veteran defender and club skipper Gary Neville able to play in a holding midfield role. Barcelona, though, are likely to seriously miss Alves who adds pace, strength and invention to their attacks from his position at right back and also covers ground in defence. Abidal might well have started the final on the bench. Barcelona are also concerned about injuries to Thierry Henry and Andres Iniesta, who scored the goal that took them into the final. Iniesta, however, expects to be fit after having further tests on a thigh muscle injury on Monday. "I will be in Rome," Iniesta told reporters as he left the hospital. "It is a small tear that wasn't as bad as we thought. The enthusiasm I have to play in the final will help my recovery."