Jumat, 28 September 2012

Samuel Eto'o announces Cameroon comeback

Cameroon - Eto'o
Samuel Eto'o will return to Cameroon's international setup after he ended his self-imposed exile from the national side.

The striker missed his side's 2-0 African Cup of Nations qualifer defeat to Cape Verde, but will be available for the return leg after meetings with coaching staff and Prime Minister Philemon Yang.

The striker revealed his U-turn with a statement on his official website, where he explained his desire to help to help his country in the future.

"On the request of the highest authority of the Republic, I make myself available to the Indomitable Lions," he said.

"I am encouraged by my desire to serve my country with the same faith, ardour and determination of 15 years ago."

Manager Song Bahang and coach Jean Paul Akon were both present at the negotiations, and Eto'o who has scored 53 goals in 109 appearances for his country, believes that he can work alongside his coaching team to bring more success to one of Africa's most successful sides.

"I met with the state authorities recently to discuss the present situation of football in Cameroon, and specifically the national team," he added.

"I am convinced that together, putting aside other interests for the country, we are capable, with God's assistance, of giving Cameroon football the panache and shine of old."

Hulk happy with life at Zenit despite language barrier

Hulk - Zenit St Petersburg
Hulk has moved to dismiss reports that he is unhappy at Zenit St Petersburg and has assured supporters that he will adapt to his new surroundings.

The Brazilian forward moved to Russia from Porto at the beginning of September and has scored twice for the Russian champions, although there have been rumours that he has struggled to make the transition.

Reports on Friday also claimed that a bomb had been found outside the club's training ground with a photo of the striker taped to it, but speaking before the incident he was swift to dismiss talk of his supposed unrest.

"I think with time I will adapt, but it is clear that the fact that they speak another language in Russia creates some difficulties," he told R-Sport.

, I feel that the climate within the team is fantastic. I'm happy to play for Zenit, I have absolute support from everyone here. I'm trying to fit into the team and Zenit general

With 55 goals in 99 appearances for Porto, big things are expected of the Brazil international in front of goal, and he hopes to recreate the same form in the coming weeks.

"I have no problems with anyone. I'm just trying to do my job the best way that I can. I'm very happy with my role in the team which is to score goals," he added.

As well as vying for domestic trophies, the 2008 Uefa Cup winners are hoping to make their mark on the Champions League, but after a 3-0 defeat to Malaga they must now beat AC Milan to keep their hopes of qualification alive, as well as beating rivals Lokomotiv Moscow in the league.

"We have two important games against Lokomotiv and Milan. If we win these matches, we will recover our confidence in our own abilities. We need to win, and then I will just think about my goals," he concluded.

Kamis, 27 September 2012

Armenian striker Yura Movsisyan's life has gone full circle as he stars in Russia

Yura Movsisyan - FC Krasnodar
Yura Movsisyan was good with his familys move to California. He was 12 years old, and, after moving from his birthplace in Baku, Azerbaijan, to various places in Europe, Movsisyan was getting used to relocating.

After settling in Pasadena, though, Movsisyan was thinking he could stay close to home to compete in MLS. But being selected by Kansas City in the MLS draft meant Movsisyan would be on the move again.

Two seasons with the Wizards. Two-plus seasons, including an MLS Cup title, with Real Salt Lake. Two seasons with Randers FC in Denmark.

Now, Movsisyan, 25, is in his second year with FK Krasnodar, and leading the Russian Premier League with eight goals in nine matches.

Movsisyans impressive start to the season is setting up some interesting scenarios. Russias big clubs Anzhi Makhachkala, Dynamo Moscow, Lokomotiv, and Zenit Saint Petersburg have expressed an interest in Movsisyan. At this pace, Western Europe is also going to be taking notice.

But Movsisyan is not automatically going to pack up and go to the highest bidder. Partly because that bidder might well be right where he is. Krasnodar players earn plenty, thanks to club president Sergey Galitskiy, an Armenian-Russian business magnate.

They havent been in the mood to sell him and they certainly have the resources to keep him, said Patrick McCabe, Movsisyans agent. The question is, is he going to stay in Russia? Thats difficult to answer right now, because salaries outside of Russia are much lower. And he has added more value to this club when they paid $3.5 million (2.7m) for him they didnt have high expectations, and he has outperformed them.

McCabe returned this week from a meeting with club officials after watching Movsisyan knock in two goals in a 6-1 victory over Mordovya.

They are going to make a strong effort to keep him, McCabe said of Krasnodar. At the same time, the money you can earn in Russia is beyond what can be made with some [English] Premier [League] clubs. Hes 25 now and he knows he doesnt have a long career, so he wants to make the most of it and do whats right for his family. He wants to play in the Champions League or Europa League, but its also a business decision. This is a job he has to do for himself and his family.

He took a big risk when he went on a free transfer from Salt Lake to Denmark. Thats when he put himself on the map.

Movsisyan was a 22-year-old starting striker back then, alongside Robbie Findley, as Real Salt Lake won the MLS Cup title in 2009. Movsisyan scored eight goals in 2009 bringing his overall tally to 20 goals in 83 appearances for Kansas City and RSL. Movsisyan turned down what McCabe termed a strong effort to keep him by RSL, going to Randers FC.

Movsisyan soon committed to play for Armenias national team, just before Krasnodar was gaining promotion. There were unusual circu mstances Krasnodar had finished in fifth place, but higher-placed clubs could not meet first division standards. Krasnodar needed a striker and Galitskiy tapped into his Armenia connections to recruit Movsisyan.

So, Movsisyans life has gone nearly full circle, as he moved to Krasnodar, near the Black Sea, less than 1,000 miles from his birthplace in Baku.

Last season, Movsisyan hit 14 goals in 37 appearances as Krasnodar finished in 10th place.

I knew if I came in and scored goals things would be good for the club and myself, Movsisyan said in a phone interview. And now, for me as footballer, a soccer player, basically Im scoring and Im used to scoring goals.

It is very competitive. There are world-class teams and there are good strikers playing in this league - Aleksandr Kerzhakov [Zenit], Roman Pavlyuchenko [Lokomotiv]. Any of them could be the top goalscorer, so I am happy to be on top alone. Its enjoyable to see, especially pl aying in a club like this, which is a new club.

I would say I am getting extra attention from teams. Im playing well and they know who I am and my ability. Every game I try to be more precise with my chances. Maybe, before, I would get three or four chances and score one. Right now, one or two is enough to score.

This could be a breakthrough season for Movsisyan. He has displayed potential since emerging as a 17-year-old playing for Arsenal FC in Los Angeles. The next year, after performing for Pasadena City College, Movsisyan became the No. 4 pick in the 2006 MLS draft.

In his first season with the Wizards, Movsisyan produced 0 goals in 10 appearances. Movsisyan had five goals in 18 games before being sent to RSL in 2007.

No one predicted he would have come as far as he has, McCabe said of Movsisyan. His game has developed over the past two years, playing on the national team, Euro qualifying I think he got a regular run of games . The first year, he didnt play at all in Kansas City. Only in Salt Lake did he get regular playing time, and even then he wasnt starting every game because Findley and [Fabian] Espindola were there, and that frustrated him.

At Randers he played January to December, basically the full game, 90 minutes, every game, and with the national team. His confidence was high. He played as a lone striker with Randers and Armenia, and they were not that strong, offensively, and so they play on the break. And that suits his strengths. His hold-up game has improved, hes developed his finishing. He always had speed and one-on-one ability. But a lot of people didnt think Yura would pan out he showed flashes of speed and strength, athleticism, but was he going to be consistent enough? His goals to games ratio was not that great.

He had to put it all together and, now, his maturity as a person has helped. When he was young he was prone to frustration and wanted to play all the time. He didnt understand what he needed to do.

Fate, politics and socio-economics have taken Movsisyan on some long journeys.

The Movsisyan family moved to the U.S. seeking asylum, which was not approved until Movsisyan turned 19. Before that, Movsisyan was a person without a state he didnt have a passport, only a refugee travel document, McCabe said.

But Movsisyan was all right with staying in southern California for football and he was planning to play for the USA.

Then came the draft. Chivas USA would have selected Movsisyan with the fifth pick, according to McCabe.

(Former Chivas coach) Bob Bradley was a big fan of his, McCabe said.

Bradley then became national team coach. But Movsisyan lost patience awaiting citizenship and also felt the pull of his homeland.

Definitely, I did have a chance to play for the U.S., it was a matter of time, Movsisyan said. But I just decided I wanted to p lay for Armenia, just because I like to represent my country, and I think Armenia could use help, they could use my services a lot more than the U.S. Thats why it was the right decision to play for Armenia.

Movsisyan's wife and two children, could someday re-trace the steps which brought him to the U.S.

Yuras an adventurer, McCabe said. Hell go where the interest is. Hell take a risk and he bets on himself he doesnt lack confidence. He would like to come back to MLS, and not too late in his career.

But stability is not a bad idea, either. The Russian league is healthy financially. The Winter Olympics will be held at nearby Sochi and the country is preparing for the 2018 World Cup.

For weather, this is probably one of the best places in Russia, Movsisyan said. Of course, with the Olympics and World Cup, things will definitely progress and cities will become more developed and things will get better. There will be newer buildings. R ight now, its pretty nice just because the football is going good. No complaints at the moment.

Armenia is placed in a difficult World Cup qualifying group and will meet Italy in Yerevan October 12.

Weve got a win and a loss, which is not too good, Movsisyan said of qualifying.

But we have a very young team and these games against Italy, Denmark and the Czechs are just going to make us better. Its a good group and a talented group of guys. Now, everyone has a chance in football football is so diverse and any team can beat any team at any time.

"Playing at home gives us a boost. There will likely be a lot of people in the stands cheering us on. We want to make a good showing but we cant forget they were a finalist for the Euros.


Anzhi Makhachkala's Eto'o in line for Cameroon return

Samuel Eto'o

Samuel Etoos exile from the Cameroon national side appears to be over after an intervention from the countrys Prime Minister.

The Anzhi striker was banned for eight months after organising a players revolt against the Cameroon Football Federation over issues regarding appearance fees.

However it looks as though the suspension is over after PM Philemon Yang personally asked the former Barcelona man to return to the squad as their place in the 2013 African Cup of Nations hangs in the balance.

The head of state has taken the situation personally and has given us instructions, said Cameroon coach Jean-Paul Akono.

We then met in a working session to pave the way forward and all is fine.

"For now he's ok but he could still miss out because of injury. We will keep our fingers crossed and await the final days leading up to the game."

Cameroon trail Cape Verde 2-0 from the first leg, with Etoo likely to feature in the second l eg in Yaounde on October 13.

Awesome Arshavin can play significant part in Arsenal push for trophies

League Cup: Jordan Clarke - Andrey Arshavin, Arsenal vs Coventry City

It was only a matter of time before Olivier Giroud got on an Arsenal scoresheet, while a steadily-improving Theo Walcott was never going to endure too barren a patch in front of goal. In contrast, last nights re-emergence of Andrey Arshavin at the Emirates would have been foreseen by very few.

Having spent the second half of last term on loan at Zenit St. Petersburg and the whole summer hawked around a variety of European clubs, even Arshavin himself would have been forgiven for expecting another dismal season in north London.

On his first start of the season, however, the mercurial Russian ran the show as the Gunners romped to a 6-1 win over League One Coventry and offered a hope that there might yet be a glittering swansong to his Arsenal career.

In a game Arsenal dominated, Arshavin was at the heart of all Arsenals attacking endeavour. The Russian started the sweeping move that led to Girouds opener and won the second half penalty the Fre nchman then fluffed.

He teed up Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Arsenals third, scored the fourth himself after gracefully plucking Girouds lofted pass out of the air and prodding home and completed an impressive evening's work by plonking the ball straight on Ignasi Miquels head for the fifth.

"His best position looks to be behind the striker now, Arsene Wenger noted after the match. That's where his vision and creative side of game becomes most efficient. When he is central, he can influence the game.

Arshavin did not merely influence the game, he dominated it - the change in his output remarkable when tasked with unlocking defences tucked in behind a centre forward, rather than shuttling back and forth on either flank.

With the passing swagger the Gunners have rediscovered this year a consequence of the flourishing partnerships between Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla in the middle of the park Arshavin has surely stumbled across the ideal scena rio from which he can force himself back into Wengers reckoning.

With a variety of neat flicks, round-the-corner balls and deft touches, the artful manner in which Arshavin orchestrated proceedings last night points towards a potentially mesmeric partnership with Arteta and Cazorla, with firepower supplied by Giroud, Walcott, Lukas Podolski, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho.

Of course, few Gunners fans will need reminding that the Russian has enjoyed false dawns before and one match, against opposition who are rapidly plummeting down the football league ladder hardly represents a renaissance.

Yet, this was an opportunity seized and healthy competition in a squad that is gaining momentum following a seven-match unbeaten run in all competitions this season is nothing but a massive bonus for Arsenal.

If Arshavin can follow up last night's display with a performances even a fraction as potent in both the Premier League and the Champions League, he could prove an invaluable asset to the club in a season where many had totally written him, and them, off.

With two very indifferent years behind him, this could well be the last chance Arshavin has to salvage a reputation the playmaker previously had as one of Europes finest before joining the north London club.

He will still be dependent upon both his own temperament and Wengers trust in him to execute in more important matches but with last night's show-stopping 90 minutes under his belt, Arshavin has proved himself a viable option in a role in which he has found scant opportunity before.

Chelsea this weekend may be too big, too soon for the Russian but with the Gunners facing three matches in a week from Saturday, it would be criminal for Wenger not to give last nights key man another go.

Rabu, 26 September 2012

Arshavin is a 'victim of competition', says Wenger

Nani, Arshavin

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has praised Andrey Arshavin's passion for football, putting his lack of involvement in the first-team squad this campaign down to the club's strength in depth.

The 31-year-old winger has made just one appearance in the league so far this season, coming off the bench as a late substitute during the 0-0 draw with Sunderland on the opening day.

And Wenger conceded that it was normal for a player to be unhappy with seeing so little playing time at this stage of his career, before revealed that the Russia international be involved in the side's upcoming League Cup game against Coventry City.

"I have personally a great respect for Andrey Arshavin because sometimes some wrong ideas are circulated about him - that he doesnt care, but its completely the opposite," Wenger told Arsenal Player.

"Hes a 200 per cent professional who works very hard in training every day.

"At the mom ent hes a victim of the high level of competition that exists for places. He has a huge respect from everybody in the dressing room, and especially from the staff.

"I feel hes unhappy that he doesnt play because deeply he loves football and he practices every day with 100 per cent commitment. Im happy to give him some competition on Wednesday night.

With concerns to the make-up of his side for the cup game against the League One outfit, Wenger revealed that he expected to integrate some of the younger members of the squad at the same time, granting them some much-needed playing time in the process.

"Hector Bellerin, Kris Olsson, Serge Gnabry, Nico Yennaris and Craig Eastmond could be [involved], Wenger admitted.

"All these players could have an opportunity to play. Ignasi Miquel will play. We will have a good mixture of experience and professional top-class players.

"We want to put out a talented side that has a good chance to win the game. We will give a chance to some players who have not played as many games recently.

"The players that did not play on Sunday [at Manchester City] will get a chance and its a good opportunity for them to show they can do well."

Senin, 24 September 2012

Hulk & Witsel are not Messi or Ronaldo, says unhappy Denisov

Russia captain Igor Denisov has voiced his dismay with Zenit St Petersburg's policy to pay foreign stars such as Hulk and Axel Witsel higher wages than their Russian players.

The 28-year-old midfielder asked for a pay rise after the capture of the Brazil and Belgium internationals, but was demoted to the reserves rather than get the improved deal he was after, much to Denisov's dismay.

"Why would foreigners earn three times more than the best players in the team? That's why I asked for a pay rise. But I was axed by the coach instead," Denisov stated to Sport Express.

"f Hulk and Witsel were at the same level as Messi and Ronaldo it would be fine, but they are not. So why do we have this imbalance in wages then?

"It's not about money, it's about respect. I couldn't even sleep well a few nights in a row waiting for the club's decision."

Denisov then went on to stress that there's no truth in the reports sug gesting that the Zenit squad is deliberately making life difficult for their new players.

"Why do people say we don't pass the ball to Hulk too often? We do. We didn't give a warm welcome to him upon his arrival? We did.

"But it's hard to communicate with him and Witsel through interpreters. They are supposed to try talking to us themselves."

Zenit have won only one out of their last six games.

Minggu, 23 September 2012

Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti appeals for calm despite poor run of form

Luciano Spalletti - Zenit (Getty Images)
Zenit St Petersburg coach Luciano Spalletti has appealed for calm after the Russian side's poor run of form continued.

Despite the late signings of Brazil international Hulk and Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel in the summer transfer window, Zenit have only won once in five games, culminating in the Champions League defeat to Malaga, and the 2-2 draw to Kryliya Sovetov on Saturday.

Spalletti, who steered Zenit to the Russian Premier League title in 2010 and 2011-12, has insisted that the team will bounce back, and that "everything will be alright".

"The fact is that the team isn't calm mentally, because some players feel that it's the right thing to be upset right now," the Italian trainer told the club's official website.

"They need to understand that the way they're thinking isn't fair. But after what I saw today in the second half, our fans can be rest assured, that everything will be alright.

"I said last season , that if we don't win the championship, then I'm leaving. Considering that a situation has taken shape now which I don't like, I'll tell you honestly, I get pleasure from such difficult situations.

"Now, I'll tell you that I won't leave until Zenit fires me. I have a contract for three years. And I'm going to work at our training facility from nine in the morning, until five-six-seven or eight in the evening."

Spalletti's side sit fourth in the Russian Premier League, four points behind CSKA Moscow.

Jumat, 21 September 2012

Besiktas official: Quaresma rejected moves because of the climate

Portugal - Ricardo Quaresma
Ricardo Quaresma has been blamed by officials at Besiktas for his proposed transfers collapsing, after the Turkish outfit failed to offload the international winger in the summer.

Director Ahmet Piper has explained that the former Porto and Barcelona player rejected several moves because of the climate at his potential destinations.

A move east to the Russian Premier League was initially dismissed by the 28-year-old as he regarded Russia to be too cold, Piper told Milliyet.

"Offers came after Russia, this time from Qatar and Dubai, but these proposals were rejected because the countries are too hot," Piper added.

Piper has s aid that further talks with between the Super Lig club and the player will aim to reach a conclusion where "all parties benefit".

Tito makes his Champions League bow - what can we expect from Barcelona?

Pep Guardiola, Tito Vilanova, FC Barcelona
By Ben Hayward Spanish Football Writer

It seems a long time ago now. Barcelona beat Wisla Krakow 4-0 in a European qualifier at Camp Nou on August 13, 2008 to all but confirm the Catalans' place in the Champions League for 2008-09. It was Pep Guardiola's debut as coach and the former midfielder went on to win 14 trophies in four seasons at Camp Nou. Little did we know it at the time, but history was in the making.

Now it's Tito's turn. Vilanova was sat alongside Pep as he made his European bow and accompanied his friend all the way, apart from taking a few months off to recover from surgery to remove a tumour. Just over four years on from that Wisla win, the 44-year-old is the man in charge now - and he is determined to start with a victory in the continental competition.

So while the players were given a day off, Vilanova spent Monday - his 44th birthday - watching videos and analysing Barca's first grou p rival, Spartak Moscow, ahead of Wednesday's clash at Camp Nou. He wants everything to be just right for his first European night.

Barca have been handed what looks like a straightforward sector in this term's Champions League (Benfica and Celtic make up Group G) and Tito's team will be expected to beat Spartak at Camp Nou with consummate ease. But Vilanova was maintaining the same caution preached by Pep as he spoke on Tuesday. "In the Champions League," - he said - "you can be punished for one mistake."

It may seem a dull discourse from a man lacking the charisma and charm of his predecessor, but Vilanova is not the least bit interested in media attention - and he is happy to leave the dazzling displays to his players.

Barca lost out narrowly to Real Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa earlier this season, but La Liga has been an altogether different story. Four fixtures, four wins and an amazing eight-point advantage over Jose Mourinho's men already - it's an impressive initiation. Now, Vilanova will look for his side to carry that form across to the Champions League.

Softly spoken and much less animated than Guardiola, Vilanova has won the respect of the Barca dressing room with a series of difficult decisions since taking over in the summer. It was his choice to opt for a pre-season in Europe, not in the United States or Asia, as he wanted his side to enjoy optimum preparation for the current campaign. Tito also chose to leave out Lionel Messi against Hamburg in a summer friendly, a decision which proved unpopular with the Germans and saw Barca miss out on 400,000 in appearance money. But he wanted no unnecessary risks. And after returning from international duty, the Argentine was left out again at the weekend. In fact, with the exception of Victor Valdes, the whole squad have been rotated and the new coach is seen as both firm and fair by his players.

Tactically, they have never doubted hi m and the switch to 4-2-3-1 at Osasuna saw Barca overturn a deficit when it looked as if they would lose out in Pamplona. Save the away-goals loss to Madrid, which was more down to individual errors than poor planning, the Catalans have been almost flawless so far under their new leader. And quietly, success is breeding confidence at Camp Nou.

Spartak boss Unai Emery told Marca in an interview this week that his side would need 'divine intervention' to win in the Catalan capital, but Vilanova remembers how Barca surprisingly lost out at home to Rubin Kazan in the group stages in 2009-10 and is also wary of the Basque coach, who caused problems for Guardiola's side on several occasions with astute tactical variants in his time at Valencia.

The football, then, may be much the same as it was before. Slowly but surely, however, Vilanova is stamping his personality on this Barcelona side. He cannot compete with Guardiola, he has already said that, b ut the new man's European vision starts now. As the Catalans set off once again on the road to Wembley, it's very much Tito's team now.

Follow Ben Hayward on

Kamis, 20 September 2012

TEAM NEWS: Tello starts in attack for Barcelona's clash with Spartak Moscow

Christian Tello - Barcelona
Tito Vilanova has handed Cristian Tello a starting berth upfront alongside Lionel Messi and Pedro for Barcelona's Champions League clash with Spartak Moscow at Camp Nou this evening.

Barca are without their talismanic captain Carles Puyol tonight, after the veteran defender picked up a knee injury during their 4-1 win over Getafe on Saturday while Andres Iniesta also misses out after damaging an adductor muscle in his right leg whilst on international duty with Spain last week.

Javier Mascherano replaces Puyol at the back, while the home side's midfield three consists of Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas. Alexis Sanchez, who has been struggling with a thigh injury, has passed a late fitness test and is named as a substitute.

Unai Emery has introduced Emmanuel Emenike to his starting line-up, after the striker came on as a substitute at the weekend and scored to help Spartak earn a 2-2 draw against Kuba n.

The visitors line up in Emery's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, but look slightly more defensive than usual, as the Brazilian defensive midfielder Rafael Carioca partners Kim Kallstrom in central midfield, while Romulo plays as one of the attacking three supporting Emenike.

Barcelona (4-3-3):
Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Tello

Subs: Pinto, Montoya, Bartra, Song, Thiago, Villa, Alexis

Spartak Moscow (4-2-3-1): Dykan; Kombarov, Insaurralde, Suchy, Kombarov; Rafael Carioca, Kallstrom;McGeady, Romulo, Ari; Emenike

Subs: Pesyakov, Bryzgalov, Makeev, Jurado, Bilyaletdinov, Dyzuba, Yakovlev

Inter 2-2 Rubin Kazan: Nagatomo rescues dramatic late point

Marko Livaja scores a goal in Inter-Rubin Kazan
Inter had to thank Yuto Nagatomo for his efforts, as the full-back snatched his side a last-gasp 2-2 draw with Rubin Kazan in the Europa League on Thursday.

The Russians took the lead through Aleksandr Ryazantsev indirectly from the penalty spot inside the first 17 minutes, before Marko Livaja, on his full Nerazzurri debut, restored parity shortly before half-time.

Salomon Rondon seemed to have stolen all three points with a fine finish in the latter stages, but it was not to be as the Japanese defender volleyed home in the second minute of stoppage time.

An absorbing clash was witnessed at the Giuseppe Meazza, with both teams keen to get their European campaigns on the road, and it was Inter who began most positively, with Antonio Cassano especially lively from the off.

However, arguably against the run of play, Rubin were presented with the chance to strike first blood - Jonathan fouled Karadeniz Gokdeniz in the a rea, and although Bibras Natcho saw his penalty well stopped by Samir Handanovic, Ryazantsev applied the rebound.

The hosts were then gifted a pair of decent chances to redeem themselves, but Jonathan could not place his shot past Sergey Ryzhikov from several yards out, while Livaja failed to make a glorious chance count off his head.

Still, they continued to chip away at the Rubin resistance, and they were good value for their respite, as Cassano's through pass was read by Esteban Cambiasso, who curled in a ball for ex-Primavera prospect Livaja to nod in.

A similar story unfolded after the break, as Inter continued to rifle in shots at will, but without any luck. Philippe Coutinho and Fredy Guarin being most guilty of speculative drives. It appeared the Italian giants had begun to run out of ideas.

It allowed Rubin to regain control of the tie, and they seemed to have found the winner with only fo ur minutes to spare. Salomon Rondon was released in the clear by Roman Eremenko, before overcoming Andrea Ranocchia and coolly tucking a finish away.

But Yuto Nagatomo had other ideas. The likes of Diego Milito and Alvaro Pereira were hauled on as the Milanese side went to look for the all-important second goal, and the Argentine's cross was struck with aplomb by the full-back.

The result means all the sides in Group H are level on a single point, as Partizan Belgrade and Neftchi Baku also registered opening-day draws. Next up for Inter is a home match against Siena in Serie A.

Barcelona 3-2 Spartak Moscow: Messi bails out hosts with second-half double

Messi barcelona Spartak
Barcelona produced a thrilling comeback to edge past Spartak Moscow 3-2 at Camp Nou in their opening Champions League match on Wednesday.

Lionel Messi was once again the difference for the Catalans, scoring twice in the last 18 minutes to reverse a 2-1 deficit and give his side an early lead at the top of Group G.

Cristian Tello opened the scoring after 14 minutes, but the home side were pegged back just before the half-hour mark by an own goal from Dani Alves following a Spartak break.

Barca struggled to create many opportunities, and were carved apart on the break once more in the second half as Romulo stunned the home crowd into silence with a goal in the 59th minute to send the visitors ahead.

But Messi popped up with two close-range strikes in the 72nd and 80th minutes to put the Catalans back in the lead for good, though question marks remain after they were given a run for their money by the determined side from Russ ia.

Tito Vilanova opted for Cesc Fabregas in midfield, while Adriano filled in at left-back in the absence of regular starter Jordi Alba.

Tello was also handed a chance to impress with a start in the Barca front three, and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands with the opening goal after 14 minutes.

The 21-year-old beat his marker by cutting in off the left flank, and with Spartaks defence slow to react, he had time to pick his spot and drill low into the far corner.

The goal came as a welcome boost for Barca, who had seen defender Gerard Pique forced off moments earlier through injury, with summer signing Alex Song coming on to replace him.

Messi nearly doubled the advantage in the 20th minute when he turned to face goal at the edge of the box, but a wicked effort curled past the post by inches.

The Argentine would soon rue that miss, thanks to a catastrophic defensive sequence that saw Spartak, who had barely had a kick up until that point, stun Camp Nou by drawing level.

Emenike did the hard work, racing past Javier Mascherano on the left before sliding a cross towards goal. The ball was missed completely by Song, and Alves, under no pressure, inexplicably side-footed into the corner of his own goal.

Barca, despite dominating possession, found it hard to find a route through to goal in the face of a determined rearguard effort from the Russian side, but they managed to give the away side a few scare in the closing stages of the first half.

Fabregas thought he had made a breakthrough in the 37th minute when he lifted Xavis clipped pass towards goal with his head, but goalkeeper Andriy Dykan was alert to prevent it from sneaking in under the crossbar.

The Spain midfielder saw an appeal for a penalty go unacknowledged moments later after a tussle with Marek Suchy, before Xavi drove just off target with one of the last kicks o f the half.

Alves nearly made amends for his first-half mishap moments after the restart with an arrowed drive into the top corner, but his goal was correctly chalked off after he had strayed inches offside.

Spartak were soon able to break towards the Barca goal, but Emenike could not make the most of Aris cutback, and fired over the bar from the edge of the box.

The visitors would make no such mistake with their next counter attack though, and stormed into the lead in the 59th minute, just seconds after coming mightily close to conceding.

Messi was denied from point blank range by a great save from Dykan, and Spartak stormed straight down the pitch. Ari led the charge down the left and teed up Aiden McGeady at the edge of the box, whose clever slipped pass allowed Romulo to skip past Adriano and slot neatly under Victor Valdes.

But Barca would not be down for long. Tello was the architect, wriggling past two defenders on the left flank before cutting back to Messi from the byline, who made no mistake in front of an open net.

Suddenly, Camp Nou was back in full voice as Barcelona, with their tails up, found themselves with 18 minutes to find a goal to give them all three points.

Substitute David Villa nearly achieved that objective when he faced an unguarded net after a scramble from a cross, but Rafael Carioca produced a superb block to deny the Spain striker.

But Messi once again would step up to answer the call, and arrived at the far post to head home an Alexis Sanchezs cross with authority to put the hosts in front.

Sanchez fashioned a similar opportunity moments later for Pedro, but he could not match Messis exploits as he sliced across the face of goal from a good position.

Barca played out the closing minutes with ease, as Spartak, worn out from tireless defending all game, simply had nothing left to respond .

Defenceless Barcelona escape in game of Russian roulette - but they may not be so lucky next time

Daniel Alves; Ari; Cesc Fabregas, Barcelona, Spartak

By Ben Hayward Spanish Football Writer

It started with a win. Tito Vilanova's team kicked off their Champions League with victory at home to Spartak Moscow on Wednesday, coming from behind to win 3-2, just as Real Madrid had done 24 hours earlier against Manchester City. As usual, Barcelona's midield was majestic, and their attack astonishing. But it was hard to make a case for the defence.

Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique are two of the world's best centre-backs, but when they are missing, it shows. The Barca captain is sidelined with a knee injury and unlikely to return for over a month, so when Pique departed with a knock in this game, it left the Catalans with a back line made up of Dani Alves, Alex Song, Javier Mascherano and Adriano. No wonder Victor Valdes looks nervous.

Alves spends most of his time in the opposition half as an unorthodox winger and handed Spartak an equaliser as he inexplicably turned the ball past Valdes, while Mascherano's lack of pace had allowed Emmanuel Emenike to escape down the right in the first place. Song, to his credit, did a decent job after coming on for Pique but picked up a yellow card and is not a natural defender. Adriano, meanwhile, allowed Romulo to waltz past him on the way to the Russians' second goal, which saw the visitors lead 2-1 before Lionel Messi struck twice to turn it around. It was a sorry show from the Barca back line.
With Jordi Alba missing through illness and Eric Abidal still making his way back from a liver transplant, Barca were admittedly short of numbers at the back, but the Catalans missed a golden opportunity in the summer to bring in a defensive reinforcement. Having suffered similarly last season with Mascherano falling short in the big games, Sergio Busquets and even Thiago asked to fill at the back at times, it is a lesson they should have heeded.

The priority, then, should have been to b ring in a centre-back, especially as Marc Muniesa picked up a serious injury in pre-season and will be sidelined for around six months.

Barcelona have looked virtually flawless in La Liga this term, but Mascherano and Pique were shown up against Real Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa and Chelsea highlighted the Catalans' troubles at the back in last season's Champions League semi-final. Away from home, Guardiola's side were given plenty of problems too in 2011-12, and much of that was down to their makeshift back line. In the end, 18 points dropped on the road cost them the title. Nevertheless, the problem has not been properly addressed.

Alba's arrival is a positive step, while Mascherano has adapted amazingly, but this summer the Catalans could have signed a specialist. Thiago Silva moved to Paris Saint-Germain from AC Milan but, given the chance, he would have moved to Barcelona. Instead, Vilanova signed Song, a midfielder who can play at the back. Wit h Mascherano able to revert to his role as a defensive midfielder and Thiago back from injury, though, surely it would have been wiser to recruit an actual defender.

Tactically, Barca like to field footballers who are comfortable on the ball and who can operate in a number of different positions, but if the Guardiola and Vilanova sides have one fault, it is the insistence on playing midfielders in defence. At this stage, it seems like a tactical obsession gone too far.

Against Spartak at home, they got away with it. But against superior sides later in the competition and even in La Liga, they may not. Yes, all is well when Puyol and Pique are in the team, but the former is available less and less, while the latter has had his dips in form and problems with injuries, too. An alternative is needed - a specialist defender.

If they have luck with injuries and players return for the big games, Barca may get away with it, but if not, failure to sig n a specialist centre-back in the summer could cost them the biggest prizes - just like it did last season.

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Vilanova praises reaction of players following Spartak Moscow triumph

Tito Vilanova - Barcelona
Tito Vilanova has voiced his satisfaction with Barcelona's 3-2 Champions League win over Spartak Moscow on Wednesday, but stressed that they were by no means at their best just yet.

The Catalans grabbed the lead early in the first half via Cristian Tello, but an own goal from Dani Alves and a strike from Romulo put the away side in front.

However, Lionel Messi then came to the rescue for Barcelona as he netted a double to help them to victory in their Group G opener.

"The performance was good, but not the best. We played well, opening up the pitch. The best thing was the reaction of the players," Vilanova stated at a press conference.

"It's a good feeling because it's important to start with a win. They were difficult to unlock and made things hard for us with a couple of counterattacks.

"We had a lot of chances. Teams only employ this kind of approach when they play us."

Vilanova then went on to discu ss the fitness of Gerard Pique, who was forced off after 12 minutes of play due to injury, and stressed that Barca will use youth players to replace the centre-back during his absence.

"We will use players from the reserve team [to fill the void created by Gerard Pique's injury]. Hopefully he recovers soon, but, if not, we will use our young players."

Barcelona resume match action on September 29 when they lock horns with Sevilla.

Rabu, 19 September 2012

'It is not easy to win a game like that,' says Messi after Barcelona snatch late win

Messi barcelona Spartak
Lionel Messi praised Spartak Moscow after his late double helped Barcelona to a 3-2 win over the Russian club in their Champions League group stage opener.

Cristian Tello had made it 1-0 early on in the match, before a Dani Alves own goal levelled the scoreline at the break.

Spartak then took a 2-1 lead on the hour mark courtesy of a well-taken finish from Brazilian midfielder Romulo, but Messi's second-half contribution proved decisive in the match, as he scored twice to win the game.

"It's not easy to win a game like that when the other team sits back and defends," Messi told Uefa.com

"They have very fast forwards and played well on the counterattack."

Messi also expressed his sadness at the injury Gerard Pique picked up in the 12th minute, but stressed there were players capable of covering for the Spain international.

"It's a shame about [Gerard] Pique's injury. He is important for us, ju st like Carles Puyol is, but we have plenty of players in the squad, plus the reserves," he added.

Pique himself sent a message on Twitter following the final whistle, displaying his happiness at the result, and saying his injury was not as serious as first feared.

He said: "Great comeback from the team! It's really important to start winning! Thanks to all of you for the support. I hope to be playing again soon."

Barcelona sit top of Group G following their win tonight, as Celtic drew 0-0 with Benfica in the other group game.

McGeady would definitely consider offers from the Premier League, claims agent

Aiden McGeady of Spartak Moscow
Spartak Moscow attacker Aiden McGeady would be open to a move to the Premier League if the club received a serious offer, according to his agent.

The 26-year-old made his move to the Russian outfit from Celtic two years ago and, after a slow start last season, has netted twice in nine games so far this term.

The Ireland international was consistently linked with a move to England during his career in Scotland, with Aston Villa and Sunderland the main clubs reportedly interested.

The player's agent, Jan Dreyer, suggested there are still clubs monitoring his client's situation with his form in Russia picking up, while also revealing McGeady would listen to Premier League sides.

"There has been interest in Aiden from English clubs going right back to when he played for Celtic, so it's nothing new," he told the Daily Record.

"Now Aiden is doing well in the Russian Premier League and is about to play in the Champions League, so that will only add to interest in him.

"If Spartak received a serious offer, Aiden would definitely consider it."

The Glasgow-born winger will face his former side in the Champions League qualifying stages this year, with Benfica and Spanish giants Barcelona making up Group G.

Barcelona - Spartak Moscow Betting Preview: Why at least four goals look likely at the Camp Nou

Cesc Fabregas, Lionel Messi, Barcelona
It has been nearly three years and 17 matches since Barcelona last lost a home game in the Champions League.

On that occasion, Rubin Kazan stunned the Catalans to claim a 2-1 victory, and this evening's opponents also hail from Russia in the form of Spartak Moscow.

Perhaps the biggest asset to the side from the Russian capital is their coach Unai Emery, whose Valencia side last season caused Barcelona some real problems at the beginning of the campaign.

Nevertheless, Spartak are huge outsiders tonight, priced by Panbet at 17/1 (18.00) to claim a win, while Barca are offered at just 11/100 (1.11) and the draw can be backed at 13/1 (14.00).

Barcelona have started the season in impressive fashion, not necessarily dazzling constantly wit h their play, but in their ability to win games.

They are the only side in Spain with a 100 per cent record in their first four four games, situating them at the top of the Primera Division, and in Sunday's 4-1 win at Getafe they had the luxury of resting Lionel Messi for the majority of the match.

The Russians, by contrast, have begun their season poorly with a solitary win in their last five matches, and Barcelona will surely be far too strong for them.

Serious punters may be interested by the price of 12/25 (1.48) for Barca to score in both halves, a bet which has paid out in seven of their last nine home matches in the Champions League.

But for slightly more universally appealing odds, backing over 3.5 goals to be netted in the game at 4/5 (1.80) loo ks like a better option.

This bet has proved the correct selection in six of Barca's last seven home games in the competition, and with the Catalans firing on all cylinders, goals look almost guaranteed.

For a value bet, Panbet are offering the extremely generous price of 59/20 (3.95) on any player to score two goals in the game and given the attacking options on offer to Barca this could prove to be an excellent investment.

Sign up with Panbet and back Phil's selections for this game

Phil Kitromilides is a sports broadcaster working on radio and TV in London and Madrid. You can also follow Phil on Twitter.

Thiago: Champions League the most important competition for any footballer

Thiago Alcantara, Barcelona
Barcelona midfielder Thiago Alcantara has claimed that the Champions League is more important than any other competition.

The Catalans are currently preparing for their Group G opener at home to Spartak Moscow, and their Spain Under-21 international is eagerly anticipating the encounter with the Russian giants.

"The Champions League is the most important competition for any footballer. There arent a lot of games and thats why it is valued so highly," Thiago said at a press conference.

"However, we play all in competitions with the intent of winning them."

The 21-year-old then went on to say that he cannot be compared to any of his team-mates because they each have their own unique characteristics.

"Every player is different. Some score more goals, others have better vision of whats going on. Barca make us feel comfortable with each other."

Wednesday's match at Camp Nou is scheduled to kick off at 20:45C ET.

Selasa, 18 September 2012

Isco: It was a perfect match for Malaga and for me

Isco, Malaga, Zenit
Spanish playmaker Isco spoke positively following Malaga's commanding Champions League group win over Zenit St Petersburg, in which he scored two goals.

The 20-year-old was named as man of the match for the cash-strapped club, who convincingly dispatched the big-spending Russian giants, despite selling several key players over the summer.

"It was a perfect match, for me and all the team," Isco announced, speaking to reporters.

"We acheived this result with the hard work we do every day. The coach gives us a lot of confidence, the team is united and this was the key to this victory.

"We know that we have to go game by game, step by step. This shirt [from today] is for me - I don't want to give it away as a present," he explained.

Malaga boss Manuel Pellegrini was keen to thank the fans for their support following the 3-0 win, and praised the spirit in his squad.

"I'm very happy with the support of our fa ns," Pellegrini said, speaking to Canal+.

"During the first half, we've missed some opportunities and we let them create their own. It's important to get defensive security.

"We had not only good performances from Isco and Portillo, but from Camacho and our central defenders.

Pellegrini also spoke of the difficult situation that the club has found itself in, in recent months.

"This team has been suffering tough moments. I'm very happy with the spirit we showed. It was important for us not to let the project go down, and also for the club itself, and for the people too," reasoned the Malaga boss.

Malaga 3-0 Zenit St Petersburg: Isco stars as Spanish side enjoy dream Champions League debut

Pedro Ríos, Ignacio Camacho, Portillo - Málaga v Levante
A blistering Champions League double from Isco meant the youngster stole the show in Malaga's 3-0 win over Zenit St Petersburg, as the Andalusians took home all three points against their under-par rivals.

The 20-year-old midfielder scored one in each half to ensure an impressive victory, while veteran hitman Javier Saviola also got in on the act with an incisive finish for his new club.

Appearing in their first-ever Uefa Champions League group stage clash after battling past Panathinaikos, the Spanish side made an early statement of their intentions with a goal in almost the first attack of the match.

Great play down the left by Eliseu opened up the Zenit defence, and Isco took full advantage as he left Aleksandr Anyukov for dead before releasing a curling shot past the keeper. With just three minutes on the clock, the Andalusian team had taken a 1-0 lead.

Hulk crashed a shot against the bar to remind t he hosts they were still in a match, but Malaga were on a high and soon doubled their lead. Ragged defending and patient build-up play gave Jesus Gamez space on the wing, and his low cross was expertly converted by Javier Saviola to send Malaga into dreamland.

From that explosive start the game developed into an intriguing, high-octane encounter. With less than exemplary work from either backline, both sides had the opportunity to further add to the scoreline. Saviola for one was guilty of squandering a close-range effort after Joaquin expertly turned the beleaguered Anyukov, while at the other end Willy Caballero had to be alert to get down to Aleksandr Kherzakov's snap shot.

Zenit finished the half searching determinedly for the goal that would cut the deficit. Caballero was once again called into action to snaffle Roman Shirokov's header, before a Nicolas Lombaerts effort went just wide of the post.

Both attempts were t aken blissfully free of marking from the home side, a warning for Malaga that they would have to tighten up if they wanted to preserve their lead at the end of 90 minutes.

The hosts went within inches of repeating their excellent start to the match in the first few minutes after the interval. Joaquin released Eliseu with a nicely-placed pass, but the midfielder was denied one-on-one by Malafeev when he looked destined to add Malaga's third. At the other end, Caballero was again impressive as he just managed to scoop the ball out of the path of substitute Vladimir Bystrov.

Manuel Pellegrini's men finished the game in buoyant mood, getting behind the Zenit defence at will as the visitors fruitlessly pushed forward in search of a goal. The final nail was driven home with 15 minutes left when Isco netted his second and Malaga's third with a storming strike from the edge of the area. It was no less than the youngster deserved for an all-ac tion performance, and likewise for the Champions League newboys who took home a conclusive, historic victory on their debut.

The win means that the Boquerones go straight to the top of Group C at the end of the first round of matches, after AC Milan were held to a draw by Anderlecht in the other clash. The Spanish side will return to Champions League action on October 3, with a visit to Brussels.

Barcelona will find things complicated, says Jurado

FC Schalke 04, Jose Manuel Jurado
Spartak Moscow midfielder Jose Manuel Jurado is enjoying a new chapter of his career in Russia, but is wary of Barcelona ahead of their clash in the Champions League on Wednesday.

The Schalke loanee has admitted that Spartak manager Unai Emery was a large factor in his switch across Europe, and is focused on the task at hand ahead of their opening group stage fixture.

"I had a minor knee problem, but I've overcome it. I was able to recover upon arrival to Moscow, so the coach can deem me ready to play. He is the main reason I'm in this new adventure," explained the 26-year-old, speaking to AS.com.

"He requested my transfer, placed trust in me and Schalke ended up transferring me for one year."

Jurado is under no illusions with regard to the task that faces Spartak tomorrow, insisting that Thiago is a worthy replacement for Andres Iniesta, if as expected he misses out.

"It will be very difficult, but we are not giving up anything. We know we must work to complicate their life to the fullest, although we certainly want to have a big game against them." he said.

"Their way of playing is to sit and enjoy it. They play one or two touches. In the middle Xavi and Iniesta work as one. Although Andres is a loss, Thiago can replace him well, he was very successful at the Coliseum."

Barcelona host Spartak at Camp Nou tomorrow, with Jurado likely to feature a major part in the Russian side's plans.

Vilanova: Players are not thinking of Champions League final

Tito Vilanova, Barcelona

Barcelona boss Tito Vilanova has claimed the team are focused on beating Spartak Moscow on Wednesday, despite talk of them already being favourites to lift the Champions League trophy in May.

The 44-year-old was in bullish mood when asked about the game at Camp Nou against Unai Emery's side, calling the Russian Premier League team 'difficult and dynamic'.

It is too early to be thinking about the final at Wembley, he told a press conference today. In the Champions League, any team can beat any other. There are no easy games.

The Champions League is basically the most important competition, besides our league. The first game of the tournament is a very important one you have to give it your all because of its importance.

It will be a tough game. Spartak will not be easy, they are a dynamic team that want to succeed. Unai Emery always makes it difficult for us, he's always brave with his selections. I'm sure they will put us under pressure.

Vilanova then commented on the pressure he feels under being the number one at the Blaugrana, and also fitness updates on some of the squad.

The pressure I feel is from myself, he said. Not from anyone on the outside.

[Carles] Puyol will be out. But it's clear that [Javier] Mascherano and [Gerard] Pique can't play every game for us. We'll also see how Jordi Alba and Alexis [Sanchez] are tomorrow at training.

He concluded by remarking on the mood inside the camp, following their successful start to the season.

I don't think the players are euphoric, they're accustomed to winning four games in a row.

Midfielder Thiago Alcantara also confirmed his fitness ahead of the game, telling reporters: "Yes, my recovery [from injury] has gone well. I am ready to play 90 minutes."

The 21-year-old also weighed in on the Cesc Fabregas issue, following the former Arsenal man's comments that he is unhappy sitting on the bench for the club.

He said: "I think the Cesc debate is unfair. As we saw the other day [against Getafe], when he plays he makes the difference."

Emery hopes Spartak can beat Barcelona 'without divine intervention'

Unai Emery - Valencia
Spartak Moscow coach Unai Emery insists his side do not need "divine intervention" to beat Barcelona in the Champions League.

Even though the trainer understands the difficulty of the task at hand, he believes there are ways to defeat the Catalans, and is determined to leave the Camp Nou victorious this week.

"When you take on Barcelona, you have to call on divine intervention or luck to beat them. But there are teams that have managed to defeat them," Emery told Marca.

"So there are certainly ways to win against Barca. We all try to achieve it, but only the few chosen ones indeed beat them. We are working to become one of them."

Emery then went on to praise Lionel Messi, and stressed that the Argentine always seems to be in fine form.

"Whenever Messi is on top of his game, which always appears to be the case, he makes the difference and can decide a game all by himself."

Messi has already nett ed 61 goals in 2012, and will be looking to add to his tally against Spartak.

Senin, 17 September 2012

Iniesta targets Champions League glory with Barcelona

Andrés Iniesta - FC Barcelona
Barcelona midfieler Andres Iniesta has set his sights on Champions League glory this season as the Blaugrana prepare for their competiton opener against Spartak Moscow on Wednesday.

The Spanish schemer has been crowned a champion of Europe with his club on three occasions, but suffered semi-final heartbreak last season when his side lost to Chelsea.

"I think we basically did everything well," he said to Uefa.com. "The only thing was that [Chelsea] scored their goals in stoppage-time, both away and at home.

"But we were close to making it to the final, just that bit of luck was missing. It just wasn't going to happen. Chelsea did an exceptional job and took advantage of their chances. If nothing else, we can learn from this."

London's Wembley Stadium has played host to two of the four finals that the Catalans have won in their history, and Iniesta revealed that he was looking forward to another shot at glory in the English capital.

"It is a place, a stadium that is important to Barcelona, in this case because of the Champions League trophies we won there. So we have our minds focused on that, but there is still a very long road ahead of us.

"Football today is so balanced out that it's pretty difficult to make it into the final and to achieve things, but we take it with anticipation. We had a lot of joy to make it to the final and we will fight to the end."

When asked about the differences between new coach Tito Vilanova and former boss Pep Guardiola, the reigning Uefa Player of the Year said that the duo had completely different approaches.

"Everybody's different. It's not just Tito Vilanova and Guardiola, but everybody's different. Everybody has their own way of expressing themselves and saying things and working.

"The philosophy and the method of working are basically pretty s imilar. But we have a new coach, a new form of doing things.

"We're very happy about him being with us, he knows us very well and I'm confident that things will go well."

Malaga - Zenit Preview: Spanish club prepare for group stage debut

Javier Saviola, Joaquín - Málaga

Having led his team to an impressive 3-1 victory over Levante at the weekend, Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini must decide whether to stick with the same players who have delivered 10 points in the opening four rounds of La Liga or rest weary legs. Argentine striker Javier Saviola netted for his new club on Saturday, and will vie with Roque Santa Cruz for a place in the starting line-up.

Brazil international Hulk appeared in the second half of Zenit's 2-0 capitulation at home to Terek, and the powerful forward will be hopeful of gaining the nod to start in attack as the Russians attempt to start their Champions League campaign on a positive note.

  • Malagaare making their first ever appearance in the Champions League group stages. The Andalusian club earned the ir passage with a 2-0 aggregate victory over Panathinaikos.
  • The club's last taste of European football came in 2002-03, with a run to the Uefa Cup quarter-finals that ended with defeat to Boavista.
  • If Javier Saviola makes an appearance on Tuesday he will have achieved the distinction of playing in the Champions League with five different clubs, having previously done so with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Monaco and Benfica.
  • Zenit currently lie top of the Russian Premier League, having won five of their seven games to date with just one reverse, to Terek.
  • The club lifted the Premier title in 2011-12 for the fourth success in their history; three of those having come after the takeover by energy giant Gazprom.
  • New Zenit idol Hulk (pictured) completed a 40 million move from Porto at the start of September. The Brazilian netted four goals in six Champions League appearances during 2011-12, as the Dragao side exited at the group stage.

Kamis, 13 September 2012

Capello warns AC Milan against Zenit threat

Fabio Capello
Russia boss Fabio Capello has warned AC Milan that a difficult test awaits against Zenit St Petersburg in the Champions League.

The former England manager has urged the Rossoneri to be cautious when they travel to the Russian champions as he believes Zenit have the quality to shock Milan.

"It's hard to say anything about Milan. They have lost their two best players, so they'll have suffered. They desperately need to get off to a good start in the Champions League in the home game versus Anderlecht," Capello stated to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"The Brussels side are no longer the team they were before, plus Milan travel to St. Petersburg for their next match. They will have to be very cautious versus Zenit.

"They have seven Russian internationals and just added true champions like Hulk and [Axel] Witsel. Plus they are tactically very strong under [Luciano] Spalletti.

"They might play with only one striker, but always have four or five players arriving in the area at the right moment."

Milan host Anderlecht on September 18, before taking on Zenit on October 3, and Malaga three weeks later.

Capello: Only Falcao has impressed me as much as Messi

Fabio Capello
Russia coach Fabio Capello has taken the time to praise Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao, saying that the Colombia international has impressed him as much as Lionel Messi when he saw him for the first time.

The 26-year-old has been in sublime form in the opening weeks of the 2012-13 campaign, netting hat-tricks against Athletic Bilbao and Chelsea, and his good performances have earned him positive words from the former England boss.

"Throughout my entire career, there has been only one player who impressed me as much as Messi when I first saw him against my Juventus at the Joan Gamper trophy, and that is Radamel Falcao," Capello was quoted as saying by La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"He is a fantastic striker, without a doubt the best around at the moment."

Falcao has been linked with clubs such as Real Madrid and Manchester City in recent weeks, but is under contract with Atletico until June 2016.

Capello: Only Falcao has impressed me like Messi

Fabio Capello
Russia coach Fabio Capello has taken the time to praise Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao, saying that the Colombia international has impressed him as much as Lionel Messi when he saw him for the first time.

The 26-year-old has been in sublime form in the opening weeks of the 2012-13 campaign, netting hat-tricks against Athletic Bilbao and Chelsea, and his good performances have earned him positive words from the former England boss.

"Throughout my entire career, there has been only one player who impressed me as much as Messi when I first saw him against my Juventus at the Joan Gamper trophy, and that is Radamel Falcao," Capello was quoted as saying by La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"He is a fantastic striker, without a doubt the best around at the moment."

Falcao has been linked with clubs such as Real Madrid and Manchester City in recent weeks, but is under contract with Atletico until June 2016.

Rabu, 12 September 2012

Celtics Efe Ambrose: I'll stop Lionel Messi in the Champions League

Efe Ambrose (Nigeria)

By Sam Ade Oguns, Abuja

New Celtic defender Efe Ambrose is relishing his teams forthcoming Uefa Champions League match against Barcelona and has vowed to do his best to stop Lionel Messi.

As well as hoping to halt the worlds best player, he has also promised Spartak Moscow striker and compatriot Emmanuel Emenike a tough game when their clubs meet in the group stages of this years competition.

The Nigerian moved to Celtic from Israeli side Ashdod in the summer transfer window and is looking forward to playing in Europe's elite club competition.

Lionel Messi is not a stranger to me because I was in Nigerias Under-23 team that played in the final against Argentina in the 2008 Olympics, Ambrose told Goal.com.

I also played against him in our friendly match in Bangladesh last year. So he wont pose many problems to me because I will do my best in marking him out when Celtic and Barce lona slug it out in the Champions League.

I have also told [Spartaks] Emenike that he should watch out for me because I will give him a serious challenge when our teams meet.

Ambrose expressed happiness at joining the Scottish giants and has promised to make the best use of his stay at the club.

I want to prove to Celtic that they can rely on me and the only way I can do so is to play well for the team and help them achieve both league and European competition success. At least that would send signals to Celtic fans that I have come there to help the team achieve success.

So I had to rush back to the club immediately after the Liberia match. Now I am in Israel to pack my luggage and travel with my wife and my new-born baby as we hope to be in Scotland this weekend and start a new life in Celtic.

My mission is to first adapt to the environment and the teams philosophy on time. I need to adapt to the style of play, the weather, food and everything that is associated with the club.

I just have a couple of days before the Champions League but the league is on already. It is a pity time is not on my side but I am a very resolute and determined person so I believe I will cope.

I just have to go there and prove myself and justify my inclusion in the team as well as make the coachs first-team list for all matches, a determined Ambrose said.

He also told Nigerian fans to believe in the Super Eagles, ahead of their next match against Liberia on October 12.

We are condemned to beat Liberia in Nigeria and by the special grace of God we will be among the teams in the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. Nigerians should believe in us, pray for us and support us. We wont disappoint them, he concluded.

Criscito disappointed to miss Euro 2012 chance

Domenico Criscito - Italy
Domenico Criscito has revealed that the Italian court's decision to drop the match-fixing chances against him due to a "lack of evidence" has brought him a mixture of emotions.

The Zenit St Petersburg left-back was excluded from Cesare Prandelli's Euro 2012 squad after he was alleged to have taken part in theScommessopoli scandal during his time at Genoa.

And, after hearing that he will not face further sanctions, Criscito expressed his disappointment at not being involved in his country's run to the competition's final.

"I am very happy as this is a good day for me. At the same time, I remain very angry at losing the chance to go to the Euros, especially as I always maintained my innocence," he told Sky Italia.

"Will I request compensation? No, that's not even an option. I am trying to take this situation in a calm manner, even if I have been scarred by the experience.

"It's only natural to be tense in these situations, especially straight after the dawn raid but as a professional I would've left those thoughts outside the pitch."

Criscito failed to make the squad for Italy's 2014 World Cup qualifying matches against Bulgaria and Malta, but insisted that he is only focused on matters at club level.

"Why am I not called up to the Nazionale now?" he said. "I don't know, but I am very concentrated on Zenit. If I continue to do well in Russia and Europe then I think the Italy call will come."

Italy's next qualifier is away at Armenia on Friday October 12.

Selasa, 11 September 2012

Capello: Russia still have a long way to go to make the World Cup

Fabio Capello
Fabio Capello has conceded that there is still a long way to go for Russia to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, despite winning both of their opening qualifying games.

The experienced Italian trainer guided his team to an emphatic 4-0 win over Israel on Tuesday to ensure his side took maximum points from their first two fixtures. However, he refused to get carried away over his hopes for the campaign despite being elated by the display of his team.

"There's still a long road ahead of us if we want to fulfill our task of making the World Cup," Capello said to Sport-Express.

"We've started very well, scored two fast goals, but at the end of the half we've loosened the pressure and allowed the Israelis to create chances. But after our third goal it was all clear.

"The only thing that bothers me and is upsetting is that three players got injured [Vladimir Bystrov, Aleksandr Kokorin and Aleksandr Anyukov].

"At t imes weve shown truly spectacular football, with some beautiful passing, leaving all our effort on the field. Such a performance in Israel is great."

Israel coach Eli Guttman confessed that the Russians were too good for his side on the night, though the manner of the loss still hurt.

"I can only say that I'm sorry about the result. We've played against an amazing opponent, but losing by four goals is still too much.

"The Russian national team is great at combining skill and speed, and we have no reply to that."

International Treble: Wins for Russia and Scotland, and fireworks when Germany face Austria

UEFA EURO - Russia v Czech Republic, Alan Dzagoev

Fabio Capello took the reigns of the Russian national side after an ultimately disappointing Euro 2012 campaign and the Italian's first task is to guide them to the next major tournament in Brazil.

A 2-0 win over Northern Ireland was a good start to World Cup qualifying ahead of Tuesday's trip to Israel and the former England boss will expect his side to build upon that result and take charge of the group.

The hosts continued their winless streak in their last game, a 1-1 draw against Azerbaijan, and are now without a victory in five matches, a worrying development for boss Eli Guttmann and it appears that run could well continue in this game given the quality of their opposition.

Israel have tasted defeat against Germany, Czech Republic and Ukraine this year and with Russia available at a best priced Even money (2.0) with William Hill, the visitors look a well priced selection to start the treble.

Germany are sure to be on the "bankers" list for many multiple bets on Tuesday night, but the short trip to Austria looks as if it could be a high scoring match and over 2.5 goals at 1/2 (1.50) looks a worthy selection.

The last time these two sides met the match ended 6-2 to Germany, and while another eight goal thriller may not be forthcoming, this is a game that promises plenty of action.

Austria's home form has seen three of their last five matches go over this line, with Marcel Koller's side winning three of those, so they will harbour hopes of springing a shock against Low's men and look capable in front of goal.

Germany's last six ma tches have contained three goals or more and Low has spoken of his expectation of improvementfollowing the 3-0 win over the Faroe Islands last week. That clean sheet was Germany's first in six, so there could be goals at both ends.

Craig Levein's side were handed a tough qualification group for the World Cup and a 0-0 draw at home against Serbia, although not a disaster, does increase the pressure on this game.

The Scots must face Belgium, Croatia and Wales over the coming months so three points is imperative against Macedonia and the 47-year-old boss will be desperate for a performance to silence his critics.

The hosts are best priced with William Hill at4/5 (1.80)which looks to offer decent value. Although not brilliant on their travels, Scotland's form at Hampden is good.

The last six matches have seen four wins and two draws and considering Macedonia's away form, there's every chance Levein's side could secure another victory.

The visitors did claim a 0-0 draw against Portugal in May but their last six games on the road have yeilded just two draws and four losses, including defeats against Luxembourg and Armenia. Backing the Scots to secure a win that is vital if they are to have a good chance of qualification, looks a solid addition to the treble at 4/5 (1.80) with William Hill.

Two of these prices are industry bests with William Hill so why not take advantage of their free bet offer and get the best possible return.

Sign up with William Hill for a 25 free bet, using it f or this treble returns 135

Jim Knight is Betting Editor at Goal.com and has been tipping football games since he was old enough to place a bet. He is a Leicester City fan, writer and member of the We Are Going Up Podcast
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Paris Saint-Germain and Zenit watch on as Uefa gets tough over new Financial Fair Play ruling

UEFA President Michel Platini attends the UEFA 2012 Kick-Off RESPECT Campaign official launch press conferenc

Julian Bennetts

Every uprising starts with a show of defiance, and this morning UEFA gave notice to Europes top clubs that there is more to their demands for financial sustainability than words alone.

The announcement that 23 clubs have had their prize-money from last seasons European competitions withheld due to their financial issues will have drawn a mixed response from all four corners of the continent.

The likes of Atletico Madrid, Malaga, Fenerbahce and Sporting Lisbon have until September 30 to either settle their debts or explain to European footballs governing body exactly why they have not paid players, other clubs or the taxman.

If not, the punishment is simple; clubs that fall foul of the rules will be banned from the Champions League and Europa League.

And when Platinis ideas come to fruition, this will be seen as an important moment in this well-advertised sea-change.

Similarly, Zenit St Petersburg whose average attendance was 3,000 less than Reading last season have just spent between 64 and 80m (depending on who you believe) on Hulk and Axel Witsel.

These are not the actions of clubs who feel financial Armageddon is coming.

Yet Platini has never deviated, never changed from his insistence that the day of reckoning was near.

"These rules were unanimously approved by all clubs, politicians, judges and the European Union. There's no going back from here on, he told Gazzetta dello Sport at the end of August.

FFP is a hard rule for any team, regardless of whether we're talking about PSG, Juventus, or any other team.

"I have spoken with directors from all clubs. They have all stressed that they would follow the new rules. It seems that some worry a bit more about FFP than others, though.

"Financial Fair Play does not stop clubs from buying players. Clubs can still spend as much as th ey want as long as their budget accounts for it."

The question now is how PSG, Zenit and the rest can justify it. Over-inflated sponsorship deals have been discussed, as have an increase of equity for their owners in exchange for greater finance.

But the example of Malaga is one that Platini is sure to refer to time and again.

The list announced today gives the clubs named until September 30 to settle their debts or explain why they had not paid either players, other clubs or the tax authorities money that was owed.

In the case of Malaga, the answer is simple; because the billionaire owner, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser al-Thani of the Qatari royal family, seemingly lost interest and the funds dried up.

Santi Cazorla was then sold at a knock-down price to Wenger and Arsenal, solely so that the players could be paid. Withholding prize money will only exacerbate the situation, but Platini had to make a stand.

Clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint Germain and Malaga are all indebted to owners that they could not cope without.

The Frenchman, a football politician who is surely destined for Sepp Blatters chair at FIFA, will not countenance that.

And, under the leadership of former Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, CFCB have been told to crack down.

No-one has been banned from European competitions not yet, at least.

But Atletico Madrid could lose out on up to 7.9m in prize money, an eye-watering figure for any accountant.

And the message that is coming from UEFAs HQ this morning is loud and clear; Platini is watching, and the day of judgement is coming.

Diarra: I joined Anzhi because of Eto'o, not the money

Lassana Diarra (France)
Lassana Diarra says his move to Anzhi Makhachkala was driven by a desire to play alongside Samuel Eto'o rather than the prospect of earning a lucrative salary.

The 27-year-old left Real Madrid on transfer deadline day to sign a four-year contract with the Dagestan-based side, after falling out of favour at Santiago Bernabeu.

The deal came as a surprise to many, with the likes of AC Milan and Fenerbahce touted as potential suitors for the midfielder, but the allure of acquainting himself with the Cameroon striker swayed his decision.

"Spartak showed an interest in me this summer, but at that time I was only focused on Real Madrid," said Diarra at his official presentation on Monday.

"Overall, I would not talk about the clubs that were interested in me. Anzhi were interested more than the others, but the most important thing for me is that Samuel Eto'o is here.

"He's like a big brother to me. Why can't we succeed to gether?"

It had also been suggested that Diarra's transfer to Anzhi was motivated by the promise of a larger pay packet, but he poured scorn on such claims.

"It's a new challenge for me. So far I've only been here a few days, but I've had time to train," the ex-Chelsea and Arsenal man continued.

"I've been very well received and I thank you all. I believe Anzhi can push themselves to become champions, so why can't I be?

"During my career I have played for some very prestigious European teams and, trust me, I've won enough titles and been paid enough. I did not come here for the money.

"Those who believe that should come to the games, analyse my performances and then tell me why they think I came to Anzhi."

Russian football has been noted for a series of racist incidents over the past few years, but the Frenchman does not believe that he will be the target of such discrimination.

"Of course, there is no place for racism in football. Fifa and Uefa should take action to fight this disease, but in my career, I have not had any specific problems with this," he added.

Senin, 10 September 2012

TEAM NEWS: Hulk starts for Brazil as they face depleted China

Oscar - Brazil vs South Africa, International Friendly
Zenit St. Petersburg striker Hulk has been handed a place in the Brazil starting line-up as they take on China in Recife, the powerful forward rewarded for leading his nation to a stuttering victory in their last run-out.

Hulk's goal coming off the bench proved decisive in the Selecao's 1-0 win over South Africa on Friday afternoon, and the former Porto man will replace Leandro Damiao in Tuesday's team alongside Neymar in attack. His entry is the only change from coach Mano Menezes, who was subjected to fierce criticism in the Estadio Morumbi as his charges struggled to break down the Bafana Bafana.

The South Americans will face a decimated China squad, reduced to just 17 players due to injuries and club commitments. Captain and former Celtic midfielder Zheng Zhi is one notable absence, after he was called back to Guangzhou Evergrande following defeat to Sweden in the last friendly. Defender Sun Xiang has also returned to his club, fur ther weakening Jose Antonio Camacho's ranks.

Brazil (4-2-2-2): Diego Alves; Dani Alves, David Luiz, Dede, Marcelo; Romulo, Ramires; Oscar, Lucas; Neymar, Hulk.

China (4-4-2): Wang Dalei; Zhao Peng, Liu Jianye, Yu Yang, Tang Miao; Zhao Xuri, Hao Junmin, Lu Peng, Liu Jian; Gao Lin, Zhu Ting.

Roberto Carlos: Anzhi do not want to sign Cristiano Ronaldo

Roberto Carlos - Anzhi
Roberto Carlos has made it clear that Anzhi Makhachkala are not interested in signing Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid at this point.

The Portugal international recently revealed that he's unhappy at the Liga champions, and has since been linked with a move away from Madrid on more than one occasion.

Nevertheless, Roberto Carlos has stressed that the prolific attacker is not on Anzhi's wish-list for now.

"Lots of people have asked me whether Anzhi are after Cristiano Ronaldo. I haven't come here to sign Cristiano, though," the Anzhi director stated to Marca.

"Cristiano is happy here. If he doesn't want to celebrate his goals, then us, the people watching the games will celebrate them for him.

"He shouldn't worry, people like him a l ot. Problems can be resolved."

The former Brazil international then went on to stress that Anzhi do intend to add to their ranks in the next transfer window.

"We are, however thinking about signing some quality players for next season."

Sabtu, 08 September 2012

Premier League is paradise, says Pogrebnyak

Bournemouth v Reading, Pavel Pogrebnyak
Reading forward Pavel Pogrebnyak has hailed the Premier League as "paradise" following his impressive start with the newly-promoted side.

The 28-year-old made his debut in the English top-flight last season on loan with Fulham, racking up an impressive six goals in just 12 games for the Cottagers.

Pogrebnyak has already made an impression with the Royals, scoring against Chelsea in his second game for the club.

"My dream has always been to play in the Premier League," he told Sports.ru. "At the end of the 90s I liked watching English football very much so I wanted to sign [for a club] in England but I didn't think it would happen so late. But now I'm here and I'm happy about it.

"The first time I watched English football was in 2001 or 2002, I decided to go to a Premier League game. My favourite players - [Ryan] Giggs, [Paul] Scholes, [David] Beckham - were running around. That's why I always try to get the No. 7 shirt.

"It was impossible to get a ticket to the games of Manchester United so we went to a Chelsea - Newcastle game. Without [Roman] Abramovich and the star players Chelsea weren't such a big team as they are now."

Pogrebnyak explained why he was attracted to English football so much, rather than some of the other major European leagues.

He continued: "Because of the speed, fights and tough play. As a striker I always liked crosses from the wings.

"When I was sitting in front of the television in Russia I was amazed to see when someone heads the ball after a big jump or started to dribble, it was very fascinating for me to see.

"Scoring a goal like this and then running to the fans - it's like paradise for me."

Pogrebnyak also dismissed returning to the Bundesliga, with the former Stuttgart player adamant he wants to continue to ply his trade in the Premier League for the foreseeable future.

"In Germany the stadiums are packed and the infrastructure is good. But I couldn't become one with the rest," he explained.

"Here you don't have time for the training - game, regenerating exercise, training and game again.

"In England you're tired because you play football frequently, but in Germany you're tired because you train as much as a horse. But here everything is a joy and a satisfaction."

Jumat, 07 September 2012

Russia 2-0 Northern Ireland: Fayzulin & Shirokov secure first victory for Capello

Fabio Capello
Russia began their World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign with a routine 2-0 victory over Northern Ireland at the Lokomotiv Stadium in Moscow on Friday.

Viktor Fayzulin grabbed the only goal of the game in the first half after Alan Dzagoev had sprung Aleksandr Kerzhakov into space, the latter proceeding to pick out the goalscorer with a cut-back to the centre of the penalty area.

Fabio Capello's team dominated the Italian manager's first competitive game in charge but the Northern Ireland defence, led by Jonny Evans, held firm to restrict their chances.

They could offer nothing in an attacking sense, however, as an isolated Kyle Lafferty cut a frustrated figure in attack, and the result was made safe when Roman Shirokov scored from the penalty spot after Craig Cathcart's foul on Aleksandr Kokorin.

The Russian team had a familiar feel, with Dzagoev and Aleksandr Kerzhakov leading from the front, but with Andrey Arshavin out of fa vour and Yuri Zhirkov injured, Dmitri Kombarov and Vladimir Bystrov came into the starting XI.

Cathcart continued in an unfamiliar role at left-back for Northern Ireland. Lafferty was the lone striker, with Jamie Ward, Corry Evans and Chris Brunt closest in support from midfield.

There was a swift tempo to Russia's passing from the off, with Northern Ireland pressed heavily when in possession, but the centre-back partnership of Gareth McAuley and Jonny Evans was able to disrupt the hosts' play in the final third. Their first clear sight of goal came when Bystrov scrapped the ball across to Kerzhakov, who pulled a poor shot wide from 10 yards.

It seemed the visitors were growing more comfortable and Russia's early enthusiasm fading when Capello's team found their first-half breakthrough. A loose ball that had ricocheted in front of the Northern Ireland defence was picked up by Dzagoev, and after the playmaker slipped in Kerzhakov he cut the ba ll back for Fayzulin to finish into the top corner.

Matters could have become worse when Shirokov found himself in space in the penalty area after a superb flick from Bystrov, but Roy Carroll made an excellent save to deny the midfielder and Kerzhakov headed the rebound wildly over the crossbar.

Northern Ireland were restricted to one or two Corry Evans forway sfrom midfield and a long-range effort by Lafferty that was easily saved by Igor Akinfeev, with the Sion striker severely lacking help in the opposition half.

Capello's comfort was outlined by the way he withdrew Dzagoev not long into the second half in order to give 21-year-old striker Kokorin a run-out on the left side of attack.

Kerzhakov very nearly put the game to bed with a free-kick from the edge of the box which hit the post after Chris Baird had been harshly adjudged to have fouled Bystrov, but when Cathcart barged over Kokorin in the box there was l ess surprise when the referee pointed to the spot.

Shirokov stepped up and passed the ball to Carroll's left to end the game as a contest and secure Capello's first victory as national team coach.

Northern Ireland finally showed some attacking spark in the latter stages, however, with McAuley twice going close. The West Brom defender's header from a corner was cleared off the line before he saw a goal-bound volley similarly stopped.

Zenit targeted both Nani and Joao Moutinho before the close of the transfer window

Nani, Manchester United
Manchester United winger Nani and long-standing Tottenham transfer target Joao Moutinho were both in talks with Zenit St Petersburg on deadline day, the club's director-general has revealed.

The reigning Russian champions still managed to make a big splash in the market before the window closed by completing an 100 million combined double signing of Porto forward Hulk and Benfica midfielder Axel Witsel.

However, it has since emerged that they also tried to make another double swoop altogether, with the Portuguese pair of Nani and Joao Moutinho pursued if the aforementioned move failed to materialise.

"We really have been negotiating Nani and Moutinho, but Hulk and Witzel were top priorities," explained Zenit chief Maxim Mitrofanov.

"It must be understood that any transfer campaign is based on the list of players, ranke d by priority."

also stated that a move was possible for the Manchester United man until they spoke to the player and realised that his salary expectations were beyond even their resources.

"If Hulk had demanded 8m (6.4m) to 10m (8m) a year, these conditions would have been unacceptable for Zenit," Mitrofanov explained.

"The transfer of Nani failed mostly due to this reason, as he asked for an enormous salary and we would not pay him."

Nani has just two years remaining on his contract at Old Trafford, while Moutinho was reportedly just minutes away from completing a switch to Andre Villas-Boas' Tottenham Hotspur before the window closed.