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Monday, December 19, 2011

Villa facing Euro 2012 fitness battle

Barcelona striker David Villa is hoping to be fit in time for Spain's European Championship defence next June but will face a real battle to be ready for the finals, according to one of the doctors who operated on his broken leg on Monday.
David Villa hospital stretcher

Barcelona striker David Villa underwent surgery on his broken leg on Monday
• Villa undergoes surgery on broken leg
Villa, 30, is expected to be out for four or five months after breaking his shinbone during Barcelona's Club World Cup semi-final victory over Al-Sadd last Thursday.
Although Villa had not been featuring as regularly for his club of late, he is still a vital player for his country; the former Valencia frontman is Spain's all-time leading scorer with 51 goals in 82 games and claimed seven goals during Euro 2012 qualifying.
La Roja coach Vincente del Bosque will be desperate to get Villa back but Dr. Ramon Cugat, who was part of the team operated on the Barca star, said that a return to fitness for the tournament in Poland and Ukraine will be a challenge.
"The chances [of him playing this season] are slim, but it cannot be ruled out,'' Dr. Cugat said. "The timetable of four to five months is tight, yet there is hope. He has his goal to reach. He is keen to be able to play in the both the Champions League final and the European Championships. He wants it all.
"Tomorrow [Tuesday] he will begin his recovery, beginning to move his ankle. In three days he will be on crutches, and in five weeks we will remove the screws.
"We hope to have Villa back in time for the European Championship. It will be cutting it close. I believe that it will take four to five months, but we have to see how he evolves. I could make a mistake if I give an exact date.''
Dr Cugat added: "The operation went perfectly, and 35 minutes after the player was sending messages to his team-mates and smiling.''
Villa, who will spend the next few days recovering in hospital, was the tournament's top scorer as Spain won Euro 2008 with four goals while he was joint top-scorer with five goals as the Iberian nation won the World Cup in South Africa last summer.
Should Villa miss out on a place in Vicente del Bosque's Euro 2012 squad then it could be to the benefit of Valencia striker Roberto Soldado, who is one of the forwards fighting to be on the plane to Poland and Ukraine.
However, the former Real Madrid forward put his personal ambitions aside in admitting he hopes Villa will be fit to feature next summer.
"Clearly I'm a bit closer (to a Spain spot), but from the heart I hope that he recovers as soon as possible," Soldado told radio station Cope . Spain needs him, every Spaniard wants him to be at the European Championships and we're sure that he's going to get there.''

Friday, December 16, 2011

Arsenal and Chelsea weak

Glenn Hoddle doesn't hold out much hope for Chelsea and Arsenal after both London clubs were handed tough Champions League draws, against Napoli and AC Milan respectively.
Andre Villas-Boas training crouch

Andre Villas-Boas led his Chelsea team to a notable scalp against Manchester City last time out
Hoddle feels Chelsea and Arsenal are no longer the forces in Europe they have been in the past. The former England and Chelsea manager said: "Both clubs are going to find it tough. Both sides are not as strong that they have been over the past two or three years, and even then they couldn't manage to do it.
"Chelsea are reverting to the style of play which was synonymous with much of their success. They are being more defensive and tight, and have been getting better results as a consequence. But Napoli have one of the best offensive teams in the competition, their front three are as good as anything in the entire tournament.
"Arsenal are going to find it just as tough against Milan. Arsenal have been conceding too many goals lately and I don't see how they can stop conceding against the top sides like Milan. For many years now Arsenal have been one of the best passing teams, as good as anyone in Europe at retaining possession apart from Barcelona. But now they have deficiencies in defence that could cost them dear."
Of course Hoddle has no doubt who are the clear favourites for the Champions League: "It is not rocket science to go for Barcelona. Most people would say they will win it, and I am no different," Hoddle said.
"I always considered the 1970 Brazil team as the best on the planet, but now I would say that Barcelona are the best of all time."
Glenn Hoddle was launching the In Studio Match Experience at the Courthouse Hilton hotel in central London with the first cinema screenings being both Arsenal and Chelsea away in the Champions League

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Seven thrilling tales of the Brasileirao

The 2011 Brazilian Championship ended on a high note, with a host of regional derbies taking place across the country on a thrilling final day. That last act was very much in keeping with an exciting season, one that threw up no shortage of unforgettable moments.  
From champions Corinthians’ early-season thumping of Sao Paulo to a clash of generations between Ronaldinho and Neymar and a vital late Adriano goal that kept O Timão on track for the title, the eight-month campaign produced many highlights that will live long in the memory.
Reflecting on it all, has picked out seven of the games that helped make the newly concluded Brasileirao one of the most gripping and unpredictable of recent times.

Corinthians 5-0 Sao Paulo(Pacaembu, 26 June 2011, Matchday 6) Sao Paulo went into this crunch meeting with confidence high after winning their opening five games and conceding just one goal in the process. Form is no guarantee of success when it comes to big-city derbies, however, as O Tricolor Paulista found out on a harrowing afternoon. Already hampered by the absence of Lucas, Casemiro, Rhodolfo and Rodrigo Souto, they were further inconvenienced by Carlinhos Paraiba’s dismissal just before half-time, the prelude to a second-half collapse.
Danilo coolly opened the scoring after the break, with Liedson then taking over, O Levezinhoghosting into the spaces afforded him by Sao Paulo’s undermanned defence to help himself to a hat-trick. As the Timão faithful celebrated, Jorge Henrique completed the five-goal rout with a drive that squirmed beneath goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni and over the line, setting the seal onCorinthians’ biggest ever win in the fixture and leaving Sao Paulo’s perfect record in tatters.

Santos 4-5 Flamengo (Vila Belmiro, 27 July 2011, Matchday 12)
Billed as a duel between the old master Ronaldinho and the young wizard Neymar, this mouth-watering clash more than lived up to expectations as the Brasileirao’s two most bankable stars turned on the style in one of the most exciting games for many a year.
Laying down an early gauntlet to his idol, Neymar helped tee up Santos’s opening two goals, conjuring up a remarkable overhead assist for the second while lying flat on the ground. He then made it 3-0 with a spectacular solo effort, playing a one-two with Borges before slicing through the Fla defence and sliding the ball past Felipe.
Accepting the challenge, Ronaldinho tapped in from close range to spark a Flamengo fightback that brought the scores level by half-time. And though Neymar dinked O Peixe back in front at the start of the second half, it was the former Barcelona star who had the last word, rolling back the years with a trademark free-kick under the wall and then completing his hat-trick and a stunning Fla comeback with a side-footed finish.

Vasco da Gama 2-2 Corinthians (Sao Januario, 2 October 2011, Matchday 27)Eventual runners-up Vasco went into this game with a two-point lead over the side that would pip them to the title. The hosts landed the first blow in a match that underlined how little there was to choose between the teams over the season, star centre-half Dede rising highest at a corner to head home.
O Timão hit back when Alex converted the selfless Danilo’s pass at the far post only for Fagner to put the home side back in front with a coolly chipped finish. Though Danilo restored party with a fine header, Corinthians could and should have won the game, wasting a string of presentable chances in the closing stages. Ultimately, those misses would not prove costly, and it was Os Cruzmaltinos who were left to rue the share of the spoils as they finished two points adrift of the Sao Paulo side in the final reckoning.

Fluminense 5-4 Gremio(Engenhao, 16 November 2011, Matchday 35)
Another nine-goal thriller in which Fluminense, who have acquired a reputation for the improbable in recent times, fell behind three times before Fred fired them to an unlikely win. The ex-Lyon striker enjoyed a purple patch at the season’s end, striking four goals here and notching another eight in the next three games to finish just behind Santos’s Borges in theBrasileirao scoring charts.
Rafael Marques got the ball rolling when he nodded in from close range to give Gremio the lead.Fred scored his first of the evening to level things up and popped up again to make it 2-2 after Marquinhos had put the visitors back in front with an exquisite free-kick. Rafael Sobis then got in on the act to give Flu a brief lead, but back came Gremio with two goals in a minute from Brandao and then Adilson. The insatiable Fred had the last laugh, however, tying it up at 4-4 from the spot and then hooking in the winner to cap an epic victory.

Corinthians 2 -1 Atletico-MG (Pacaembu, 20 November 2011, Matchday 36)When Corinthians’ fans look back on their triumph in the 2011 Campeonato Brasileiro, they will undoubtedly point to this clash with Atletico-MG as being pivotal in their success. Going into the game in top spot, two points clear of closest chasers Vasco da Gama, O Timão went a goal behind and were only able to level in the 77th minute via the wiliest of poachers Liedson.  
Despite being the stronger side and piling the pressure on O Galo, Corinthians’ siege looked destined to end in frustration. That was until the last-gasp intervention of substitute Adriano, who has been ravaged by injury since joining the club earlier this year, with the former Inter Milan and Brazil star collecting Emerson’s pass before firing an unstoppable left-footed shot past Renan Ribeiro. O Imperador’s first competitive goal for Corinthians could barely have come at a better time.

Vasco 2-1 Fluminense (Engenhao, 27 November 2011, Matchday 37)Vasco may have been taking on Fluminense, but they had one eye on fellow championship chasers Corinthians who were hoping to clinch the crown in their match against Figueirense. Knowing that O Timão had won 1-0 thanks again to that man Liedson, 2011 Copa do Brasilwinners Vasco thus needed to beat Rio de Janeiro rivals Flu at any cost to prevent Os Corintianos from guaranteeing the title with a match to spare.
Os Cruzmaltinos it was who struck first, with striker Alecsandro coming off the bench to head Vasco into the lead. Yet their hopes were hit just seven minutes later, when Flu’s lethal frontmanFred grabbed an equaliser for O Tricolor Carioca. But with the Corinthians' players already assembled on the pitch at the Ressacada stadium in Florianopolis, ready to celebrate title success, Vasco kept the race alive in the most dramatic of fashions. A last-minute strike from fan favourite Bernardo made it 2-1 to the home side as the victory kept them within two points of the summit to guarantee a thrilling final round of matches packed with spice-laden regionalclássicos.

Cruzeiro 6-1 Atletico-MG (Arena do Jacare, 4 December 2011, Matchday 38)While the Brasileirao title was being settled by the results of two of the country’s biggestclássicos – Palmeiras-Corinthians and Vasco-Flamengo – another regional derby between Cruzeiro and Atletico-MG looked all set to go down in history. For the former, A Raposa, only three points would do to avoid relegation to Serie B for the very first time. O Galo, for their part, had the tantalising opportunity to consign their biggest rivals to the dreaded drop.
In the event, proving once more that logic goes out of the window in derby games, previously out-of-sorts Cruzeiro emphatically banished their relegation fears with a 6-1 demolition of their arch-rivals at the Arena do Jacare. Goals from Roger, Leandro Guerreiro, Anselmo Ramon, Fabricio, Wellington Paulista and Everton thus prevented A Raposa from experiencing the lowest point in their history while, at a stroke, achieving their biggest and most significant win in theclássico Mineiro.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

FBI examines U.S. soccer boss's financial records

FIFA executive member Chuck Blazer attends the 61st FIFA congress at the Hallenstadion in Zurich June 1, 2011. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
(Reuters) - The FBI is examining documents charting more than $500,000 in payments made by a Caribbean soccer group to a top U.S. official of the sport that has been shaken internationally by corruption allegations.
According to a U.S. law enforcement officer, a New York-based FBI squad assigned to investigate "Eurasian organized crime" is examining evidence related to payments made to Chuck Blazer, U.S. member of the executive committee of FIFA, the Zurich-based governing body of soccer.
Blazer is also general secretary of CONCACAF, the sport's governing body in North and Central America and the Caribbean. He has recently sparked controversy by accusing two other top international soccer officials of corruption.
The U.S. law enforcement official would not describe the time frame or extent of the FBI inquiry.
But the official said the probe related to documents whose existence was initially reported by the Independent newspaper of London last weekend and on the website by British journalist Andrew Jennings, who specializes in investigating alleged corruption in international sports.
In an e-mail to Reuters, Blazer denounced Jennings' story as "replete with errors" and said the journalist had a "clear agenda."
But Blazer did not deny receiving three offshore payments, totaling more than $500,000. Instead, Blazer insisted that "all of my transactions have been conducted legally."
According to the documents, reviewed by Reuters, three payments were made to offshore accounts maintained by Blazer over the last 15 years.
In a letter dated January 29, 1996, Jack Warner, president of the Caribbean Football Union, and until recently president of CONCACAF and vice president of FIFA, instructs the vice president of a bank to wire transfer $57,750 to an account at Barclays Bank in the Cayman Islands maintained by a company called Sportvertising Ltd. The letter says that if any problems arise with the transfer, the bank should contact Blazer at CONCACAF's New York office.
A 1990 document, signed by both Blazer and Warner and reviewed by Reuters, identifies Blazer as "President" of Sportvertising Inc. The document, headed "retainer agreement", describes how CONCACAF, via the company, employed Blazer as its general secretary, paying his company both monthly fees and "a 10% override feel on all sponsorships and TV rights fees from all sources received by CONCACAF or for CONCACAF programs/tournaments", excluding "sponsorships arranged at the local level on tournaments and events."
Also examined by Reuters are records documenting a $205,000 payment to Sportvertising Inc., dated September 2010. The records includes a notation indicating the payment was on behalf of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU).
A third set of documents also in the FBI's possession relates to a purported $250,000 payment by the Caribbean Football Union to Blazer earlier this year. A letter to a bank supervisor dated March 31, 2011, signed by Warner, authorizes the bank to issue a draft worth $250,000 to "CHUCK BLAZE" and to debit the Caribbean Football Union's account accordingly. A second document purports to be a copy of a $250,000 canceled check made out to Chuck Blazer.
In e-mails to Reuters, Blazer said he had not been contacted by the FBI or notified by them of any investigation.
He said two most recent payments to his company's Caymans accounts were in his view meant to be repayments to him by Warner of "a significant amount of money" that Blazer says he loaned to Warner in 2004.
Blazer said that as soon as he saw the most recent payment -- in the form of a check from the Caribbean Football Union -- he "immediately objected".
"In the past few weeks I have learned that Mr. Warner treated the CFU accounts as his personal accounts and co-mingled a variety of funds in those accounts," Blazer said. He said he was now "working with the current CFU administration to bring in forensic accountants to attempt to untangle this mess."
"My financial affairs have been structured legally and with advice of counsel - a standard practice for individuals of my age," he said.
He also said Warner, once his close ally in tense and tangled internal FIFA politicking, now is "attempting to attack me for having disclosed his unlawful conduct."
Warner did not respond to a query e-mailed to the Trinidad-based office of the Caribbean Football Union.
Earlier this year, shortly before FIFA's governing body was scheduled to hold a vote on whether to re-elect the organization's president, Sepp Blatter, Blazer publicly denounced Warner, a long-time ally, for his alleged involvement in a plot to hand cash bribes to Caribbean soccer officials in return for their votes to support a bid by Qatari soccer official Mohammed bin Hammam to replace Blatter as FIFA chief.
In the wake of Blazer's allegations, Hammam was investigated by FIFA's ethics committee on the bribery charges, found guilty of corruption, and banned for life from the game. Hammam is appealing against the FIFA life ban.
Last week, FIFA said it opened ethics proceedings against 16 Caribbean soccer federation officials related to the special meeting of the Caribbean Football Union in May.
Warner, a FIFA vice president and longest-serving member of the world soccer groups executive committee, was suspended by FIFA pending an inquiry into Blazer's bribery allegations. In June, he resigned from all his positions in international soccer. FIFA dropped the investigation into Warner.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Brazil look to bounce back from Copa woe

With just the Confederations Cup and a selection of friendlies standing between them and the 2014 World Cup they will host, Brazil know that they must take their game against Germany - live on ESPN UK at 1945 BST on Wednesday - seriously.
The clash will be the first meeting of the two nations since June 2005, when Brazil beat their hosts 3-2 in a Confederations Cup semi-final in Nuremberg. Recently, though, Mario Menezes' failed to impress at the Copa America, less so in their penalty shoot-out defeat to Paraguay when they missed all their spot kicks, and much more will be at stake in three years' time if they do not sort out the endemic problems.
The attacking talents of Neymar, Pato, Robinho and Ganso struggled in Argentina, but still showed glimpses of their incredible potential. A more experienced side could combat some of the naivety that will surely feature in a young side.
Germany, for their part, will be missing two of their most impressive performers, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira, as they are required for Real Madrid's pre-season preparations ahead of the two-legged Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona and could be short of experienced internationals in midfield.
The impressive Bastian Schweinsteiger will still make his mark, likely alongside Bayern team-mate Toni Kroos, but Dortmund's youth are well covered with call-ups for Sven Bender, Mario Gotze and Ilkay Gundogan.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the age scale, German legend Michael Ballack has turned down the option of a 'farewell' match against the Brazilians, claiming that such an idea was ''a farce''. The fact that 54,767 fans have sold out Stuttgart's Mercedes-Benz-Arena suggests perhaps that others place more importance in the fixture than the former German captain. Brazil's players may be among them.
Germany player to watch: Manuel Neuer. The new Bayern Munich goalkeeper was the subject of ire from his own fans before he had even signed for the club and was thrust into the glare after a mistake in his competitive debut against Borussia Monchengladbach led to a shock 1-0 defeat. The stopper has class, though, and will be keen to cement the No.1 spot at international level with a commanding performance back between the sticks.
Brazil player to watch: Alex Pato. Tipped for a few years to be the replacement for Ronaldo in the Brazilian side, the striker has not made the giant leaps expected of him. For Milan he dovetails well with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but has looked a little isolated when asked to play as a lone striker for his country. Pace, power and deadly accuracy are all part of his repertoire and it should not be long before he is viewed as one of the best in the world.
Key Battle: Mario Gotze v Neymar. The young Dortmund midfielder has been tipped as 'Germany's Lionel Messi' by legend Franz Beckenbauer and will continue to show his skills in the Bundesliga next season after snubbing a move. In this sense, and many others, he is like Brazilian Neymar who is also being tracked by Europe's elite but seems content to stay with Santos. Both players are young, technically excellent and have the ability to change a game with their dribbling and vision.
Trivia: ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge was opposed to the game, saying: ''I know that Brazil is an attractive game. But this slot has to be scrapped, and the (post-season) June dates as well.'' The game will also be broadcast in 190 countries.
Stats: Germany have only beaten Brazil three times, while the Samba stars have won 12 of their 25 games. In Women's internationals though, Germany have never lost against Brazil.
Odds: Germany (2.40), Brazil (2.90) and the draw (3.30) are on offer with bet365 and Germany to win 2-0 will get you 12.00.
Prediction: Friendlies are often tough to call, but Brazil will be highly motivated to succeed. One feels that the home advantage and a sprinkling of youth in the German side, though, may pay off.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Match-fixing scandal halts Turkish league

Turkey's football federation have delayed the start of the new season by a month amid a massive match-fixing investigation, Anatolia news agency reports.
Federation president Mehmet Ali Aydinlar says matches in the super league will kick off on September 9, and a day later in the second division.
Some 30 people have been charged and jailed pending trial this month as part of a probe into match-fixing and bribery in Turkey's first and second divisions.
The president of reigning champions Fenerbahce, Aziz Yildirim, is the most prominent among the incarcerated suspects, which include the vice-president and the coach of another Istanbul giant, Besiktas.
The suspects are accused of manipulating 19 games last season, which saw Fenerbahce clinch the title in the last match, outstripping Trabzonspor on goal difference.
The inquiry and arrests have sent shockwaves among fans in football-mad Turkey, amid the prospect of Fenerbahce losing the title.
Earlier this month, Besiktas, the Turkish Cup winners, returned the trophy to the football federation until cleared.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Uruguay surpass Argentina

Diego Forlan scored twice as Uruguay clinched a record 15th Copa America title with a comfortable win over Paraguay in Buenos Aires.

The Paraguayans reached the final without winning a single match in normal time but their fortune ran out against a Uruguay side who were vastly superior.
Luis Suarez put La Celeste ahead after 12 minutes and Forlan doubled the lead 30 minutes later. Atletico Madrid striker Forlan then added a late third to tie Hector Scarone as Uruguay's leading goalscorer with 31.
Uruguay bossed the first half with the pace and movement of Forlan and Suarez proving particularly troublesome for Paraguay's overworked defence.
Oscar Tabarez's men bristled with intent from the off and could have gone ahead inside two minutes. Suarez battled his way past two defenders and his scuffed shot was goalbound before Paraguay goalkeeper Justo Villar managed to smother it behind.
From the resulting Forlan corner, Diego Lugano powered a header on goal which was superbly parried by Villar, with the follow-up from Lugano blocked by the arm of Nestor Ortigoza on the line.
Paraguay's defence had been the foundation for their run to the final but it was breached for the first time in six hours after 12 minutes.
The ball fell fortuitously to Suarez in the area and the Liverpool striker turned smartly before clipping in a shot which beat Villar via Dario Veron's leg and the left-hand post.
Paraguay almost conceded again shortly after the half-hour mark when Suarez put Forlan through but Villar made an important block with his legs.
Suarez then turned the hapless Veron and lashed a shot into the side-netting before picking out strike partner Forlan, whose volley was easy for Villar.
Uruguay were dominating all over the field and they got the second goal their opening-half display deserved three minutes before the break when Egidio Arevalo dispossessed Ortigoza before playing in Forlan and his powerful drive easily beat Villar for his first goal in 13 internationals.
Ortigoza almost redeemed himself nine minutes into the second period when his scooped pass found Nelson Haedo Valdez and his volley produced a wonderful save from Fernando Muslera, the keeper tipping the ball onto the bar.
Paraguay wasted another route back into the contest after 62 minutes when midfielder Cristian Riveros failed to connect with Ivan Piris' cross at the near post after attempting an unnecessary back-heel.
The Paraguay rally eventually petered out and Uruguay could have added a third with 16 minutes to go, Edinson Cavani picking out fellow substitute Sebastian Eguren, whose deflected effort was superbly saved by Villar.
But Tabarez's men did have the final say with a wonderful third in the final minute. Cavani swept a cross-field pass to Suarez, whose cushioned header was perfect for Forlan to run on to and slot past the advancing Villar.