Selasa, 27 November 2012

Welliton unlikely to move to Fenerbahce

Russian Premier League: Welliton (Spartak Moscow)
By Volkan Agir

Fenerbahce have not made a move for Spartak Moscow striker Welliton, can exclusively reveal.

The Brazilian has a bad relationship with sporting director Valery Karpin, and rumours had stated that the Istanbul giants were interested in snapping up the player.

However, a source close to the Russian outfit has confirmed that those suggestions are false, and Fener have not registered an interest in the player.

Other sides within Turkey are thought to be weighing up a bid for Welliton, who moved to Europe from his homeland in 2007.

A more likely destination for the 26-year-old could be Ukrainian outfit Metalist Kharkiv, who are known to be interested in the former Goias player.

Welliton has scored 60 Russian Premier League goals for Spartak since moving there in 2007, but is yet to find the back of the net this season.

Hiddink to retire at the end of the season

Guus Hiddink, Anzhi Makhachkala
Anzhi Makhachkala boss Guus Hiddink has announced that he intends to call time on his coaching career at the end of the season.

The 66-year-old took charge of the Russian outfit in February, agreeing an 18-month contract, and has decided to retire when his current deal expires.

"I wasn't planning to stay at Anzhi for a longer period," the Dutchman told NOS.

"Even if we make it to the Champions League, I think I will quit after this season. I'm 66, and you can say that it's enough now.

"You have to watch yourself. You don't want people to say: 'There's that guy again'."

Hiddink's coaching career began at PSV in 1987. Since then, he has taken charge of Netherlands, Valencia, Real Madrid, Russia, Chelsea and Turkey amongst others.

Minggu, 25 November 2012

Spartak sack Emery after derby thrashing

Unai Emery - Valencia
Spartak Moscow have sacked coach Unai Emery just six months after the Spaniard was put in charge of the Russian side.

The former Valencia boss has not had the best of times at the capital club, who currently sit in sixth place in the Premier League after 17 games, outside the European places.

They suffered a 3-0 home defeat to Barcelona in midweek, leaving them in fourth place in their Champions League group and eliminated from European competition.

That was followed up with a crushing 5-1 loss to local rivals Dinamo Moscow on Sunday, and general director Valery Karpin confirmed Emery's dismissal at the post-match press conference.

"I have one announcement. It has been decided by shareholders of the club that Emery will no longer coach Spartak," he revealed.

"What happens next will all be announced tomorrow [Monday] or the day after."

However, when questioned on whether he would take control of the tea m once more, Karpin simply replied: "No idea."

Sabtu, 24 November 2012

From the king of the Euros to Emirates flop: The sorry story of Andrey Arshavin

EPL - Arsenal v Liverpool, Andrey Arshavin
By Alex Young

Cast your mind back to 2008 and Andrey Arshavin was one of the most sought-after playmakers in football. His searing displays during Zenit St Petersburgs successful Uefa Cup run ignited whispers around Europe, but his displays for Russia at Euro 2008 completed the midfielders rise in prominence.

After serving a two-match suspension for the opening group games, Arshavin returned to his recognised second-striker role to set up the first goal and score the second as Russia ran out comfortable 2-0 winners against Sweden. A repeat showing in the quarter-final against Netherlands saw his country advance to the semi-finals, where they were beaten by eventual winners Spain.

But the two man-of-the-match displays were just the start for Arshavin, and a number of Europes elite clubs were to come calling.

Zenit were, understandably, not prepared to let their star man g o. In the previous two seasons Arshavin notched 24 goals and 38 assists in 82 appearances and the club subsequently rejected offers from both Barcelona and Tottenham, holding out for a 22m fee.

In the end, the then 27-year-old had to wait until the final hour of the 2009 January transfer window, amidst an uncharacteristic snow storm in Hertfordshire, to make the switch to one of the clubs sat at Europe's top table as Arsenal agreed a reported club-record fee of 15m.

For Zenit and Russia, Arshavin was deployed either as a second striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation or on the left of a front three in a 4-3-3. He was pushed further wide and deeper at Arsenal, with Robin van Persie or Nicklas Bendtner taking a lone striker role as Cesc Fabregas supported, so a position much closer to the touchline was thrust upon him.

However, the Russian hit the ground running at the Emirates, notching six goals and creating seven in his first 12 Premier League games including the incredible four-goal haul in the 4-4 draw with Liverpool at Anfield to boost his new club's flailing bid for a top-four finish.

However, Arshavin never repeated those lofty first impressions. His continual presence on the wing was detrimental to both player and team alike.

One of the midfielder's key attributes is his dribbling ability. This is what propelled him above the parapet for Zenit and Russia. Without question, Arshavin was far more productive when operating directly behind one or more strikers.

But, playing on the wing forced Arshavin to cut inside to look for a shot rather than enjoying the more direct passage to goal he was used to. Arsene Wenger was reluctant to accommodate Arshavin in his desired role due to the presence of his two key personnel; Fabregas and Van Persie.

Moving Arshavin inside would have crowded the centre of the pitch and restricted the influence of the Spaniard by increasing the atte ntion of opposition defenders onto the pair, especially with Van Persie opting to play deeper than a normal No.9.

Wenger even admitted as much following Arsenal's 6-1 demolition of Coventry City in the Captial One Cup in September a game in which Arshavin scored twice and assisted another.

He told reporters: "Arshavin's best position looks to be behind the striker now because thats where his vision, the creative side of his game, can be very efficient.

"When he has to work on the flank it is sometimes working against him because he has to work too hard up and down. But when hes central he always had an influence on the game."

Unfortunately, that realisation comes three-and-a-half years too late.

But all the blame cannot be placed on Wenger. Arshavin's frustrated reaction to his fading star and influence both domestically and on the international stage was alienating fans and further depleting his stock.

Arsh avins reputation in his homeland has particularly nosedived, where he has gone from talisman to a seemingly lazy, egotistical big-head.

A popular Russian joke epitomises that notion: Arshavin comes home late, and his wife asks him where he was. "I was playing football," he says. "But your shirt is completely dry," screams the wife. "Well, I was playing for Russia," Arshavin replies.

Four years on from his stand-out displays in Austria and Switzerland, Arshavin and his Russia team-mates failed to advance from the group stage at Euro 2012. When faced with claims that the team did not appease the fans' expectations, the captain replied: "How is it our problem? That's their problem."

So what is the reason behind Arshavin's downfall? His attitude.

Arshavin should have known that moving to a bigger club would mean he would no longer be top dog anymore. He would not be able to command the same pull in London as he did in Saint Petersburg.

Once at the Emirates, the midfielder seemingly failed to cope with the reduced dependency and the consistency of his performances depleted in line with his minutes on the pitch. This, in turn, further reduced his ability to contribute. It was a vicious circle and Arshavin did not have the will to correct his failings, instead he continued to dwindle.

Perhaps a change of scenery will be the push he needs to shine again and, as exclusively revealed by, a potential move to interested parties Fulham and Zenit could be the answer.

Follow Alex Young on

Jumat, 23 November 2012

Rubin Kazan 3-0 Inter: Karadeniz & Rondon condemn Nerazzurri to runners-up spot

Marko Livaja - Inter
Inter have finished in second place in Group H after they crashed to a 0-3 defeat at the hands of Rubin Kazan in the Europa League on Thursday.

Karadeniz Gokdeniz's second-minute opener and Salomon Rondon's double in the latter stages of the match highlighted the gulf in efficiency between the two teams in Russia.

With qualification already wrapped up, Andrea Stramaccioni opted to field a youthful XI for the trip to the Tsentralnyi Stadion, handing the likes of Andrea Romano, Marco Benassi and Isaac Donkor their Nerazzurri debuts.

However, it was one of their first-team stars who was guilty of gifting Rubin the go-ahead goal. With just two minutes on the clock, Alan Kasaev's cross was guided onto the post by Juan Jesus, allowing Karadeniz to tap home the rebound.

Philippe Coutinho was given another chance to stake his place in the Inter side, but could not string together a clear-cut chance for the visitors in the first half, while Marko Livaja again failed to convince he is an able deputy for Diego Milito.

A scrappy opening period soon came to an end, with little in terms of enterprise being demonstrated by either outfit, and Stramaccioni threw on captain Javier Zanetti and European goal hero Rodrigo Palacio in an attempt to inject some much needed dynamism.

It looked like an inspired pair of substitutions as Inter began to take control of the match, and in one instance the Argentine forward interchanged with Andrea Ranocchia in a probe towards the Rubin box, but saw his lot shot cannon off the post.

Unfortunately for the Italians, the hosts had an ace of their own up their sleeves in form of Rondon. Berbas Natcho's hooked pass over the Inter defence was latched onto by former Malaga striker, and he outmuscled Donkor to net for 2-0.

And later on yet more salt was rubbed in the wounds of Stramaccioni's young side, as Karadeniz drifted into the box from the right-hand side and drilled in a low cross for Rondon to tuck home from a matter of yards out.

The result leaves Rubin top of Group H and three points clear of the Serie A giants with one round of matches remaining, but their superior head-to-head record means they progress as leaders of the pool.

Stramaccioni happy to have given debuts to Inter youngsters

Andrea Stramaccioni - Inter
Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni does not regret fielding a number of youngsters against Rubin Kazan, despite his team suffering a resounding 0-3 loss and ultimately finishing second in Group H of the Europa League.

Players like Vid Belec, Marco Benassi, Andrea Romano, Marko Livaja and Isaac Donkor all took to field as the Nerazzurri fell victims to an early opener by Gokdeniz Karadeniz and a second-half double salvo by Salomon Rondon.

Nevertheless, Stramaccioni believes the game would prove a valuable learning experience for the squad and will greatly benefit the younger players.

"Right now it does irritate me to have lost this way. We took the initiative for 70 minutes in a difficult arena against a team that was at full-strength. We conceded the goals at the very start and at the very end," the Inter coach told reporters.

"We fielded a very young team and gave a debut to our ninth Primavera youth team player this season, proving our academy is prolific and sending a good sign for all of Italian football.

"I therefore compliment [Andrea] Romano, [Marco] Benassi and [Isaac] Donkor. We are happy to have given so many youngsters their debut in Europe," the 36-year-old added.

Inter now go into their final Europa League group stage game, a home tie with Neftchi, with nothing to play for as second place has been guaranteed for the Nerazzurri while first is out of reach.

Fulham and Zenit make moves to sign Arshavin

Andrey Arshavin
By Wayne Veysey Chief Correspondent

Fulham and Zenit St Petersburg have made enquiries to sign Arsenal outcast Andrey Arshavin in January, can reveal.

Arsene Wenger is willing to listen to offers for the Russian, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

Arsenal value the 31-year-old between 5 million and 6m, and would prefer a straight sale rather than another loan in order to recover some of their estimated 17m outlay on the wide forward during the 2009 January window.

Despite rumours of interest from Reading, understands that the two clubs who have contacted Arsenal about Arshavin are Fulham and Zenit.

Although the former Russia captain spent his entire career at Zenit before joining Arsenal, and returned to Saint Petersburg for a second spell on loan in the second half of last season, his preference is to remain in London.

Arshavin and his f amily are settled in the capital and would prefer to extend their time in England rather than head permanently back to Russia.

Craven Cottage manager Martin Jol is in the market for a wide midfielder in January after losing Clint Dempsey in the final hours of the August window and is a big admirer of Arshavin.

Jol believes he could offer the enigmatic wide player the same kind of opportunity to restore his reputation that the Londoners gave Dimitar Berbatov in the summer after he had fallen down the Manchester United pecking order.

However, any deal would require some lengthy negotiation, given Fulhams strict 50,000-a-week wage ceiling.

Zenit boss Luciano Spalletti, who has guided the club to consecutive league titles, admitted in the summer that Arshavin was one of his top targets and it is understood that the big-spending Russian champions are still keen on bringing him back to his homeland.

Kamis, 22 November 2012

Europa League Results: Groups A-F - Marseille crash out, as Napoli, Atletico and Bordeaux qualify

Leonardo: Lavezzi is extraordinary

Ezequiel Lavezzi - Paris Saint-Germain
Leonardo has describedEzequiel Lavezzi's recent form as extraordinary.

The 27-year-old scored both goals in Paris Saint-Germain's 2-0 Champions League win over Dynamo Kiev on Wednesday night and the club's sporting director was quick to heap praise on him.

"It was not an easy game but Lavezzi was extraordinary. His first goal changed the game and his second wrapped it up," he told RMC.

The result ensures the club qualify for the knockout phase of the competition for the first time in nearly two decades and Leonardo highlighted the importance of the achievement.

"Qualifying for the knockout stage very important to us, this is the first time in 17 years it has happened," he added.

"We are now competing against Porto for first place and will strive to win the group. We now know we will be in the competition until March at least, which means that our aim is just to focus on Ligue 1.

"Everything is very exciting around the club, we are new and learning all the time. There are many things that are not perfect but the qualification will accelerate the process of becoming the best."

Europa League Treble: Home wins for Anzhi, Hannover and Monchengladbach

UEFA Europa League, Anzhi Makhachkala v Liverpool, Lacina Traore, Mbark Boussoufa

After overcoming Liverpool last time out, Anzhi have the opportunity to book their place in the next round of the Europa League when they play host to Udinese this afternoon.

A win for the Russians could well spell the end for the visitors' European campaign, so it is no surprise that both teams plan to field their strongest possible line-ups for this crucial encounter, and we should see an open game.

This will probably suit Guus Hiddink's men, who have been imperious at home so far in this competition, winning all five matches without conceding a single goal, a run stretching back to July 19, 2012.

The Zebrette, on the other hand, have only won two of their last 11 away ties in this competition, and have lost six of those matches on the road.

The Italians were sligh tly fortunate to snatch a late equaliser in their home game against Anzhi, but should have no such luck this time, as the hosts look like great value at 8/13 (1.62) with William Hill to secure a place in the final 32 here.

For the second season in a row, Hannover have exceeded themselves in the Europa League, and are already sure of a place in the next round thanks to three wins and a draw so far in Group L.

However, they cannot afford to take their foot off the gas just yet, as they will be keen to collect all three points in order to secure top spot before their tricky final group game away to Levante.

Twente need a win to have even a small chance of progressing. But, they will not be confident considering the hosts have won seven of t heir last eight in this competition, and have only ever lost once on home territory in the Europa League - against eventual winners Atletico Madrid last season.

Although Mirko Slomka is set to rest a couple of players in anticipation of this weekend's league match against Bayern Munich, the hosts will still field a fairly strong line-up, and whoever plays should be keen to impress their coach for the upcoming games.

This squad rotation means that Hannover are available at a mouth-watering 23/20 (2.15), and with key men Jan Schlaudraff and Mohammed Abdellaoue still expected to feature, the Germans should certainly have enough to see off a side that have not won a game in this year's competition.

It is make or break for Borussia Monchengladbach on Thursday evening, as anything less than a win against AEL would see them staring elimination in the face should Marseille beat Fenerbahce in the other Group C game.

However, three points would seal qualification for the Germans should the Turkish side do them a favour and win in France, so with everything to play for, the Foals will be completely fired up when the Cypriot minnows come to town.

The team from Limassol have no chance of progressing after picking up a solitary point from their four matches, and they missed a 98th-minute penalty in the home tie against tonight's opposition which ultimately resulted in a goal-less draw.

However, Lucien Favre's men have been in much more prolific form since that stalemate, scoring two goals in each of the last three Europa League ties, so should be able to knock a few in against a team that have lost their last three away fixtures in this competition by an aggregate scoreline of 11-1.

Considering Limassol are also missing several players through injury, this looks like a solid home win here, at odds of 1/3 (1.33).

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Al Hain-Cole is a Liverpool fan, experienced tipster and avid follower of European football. He specialises in accumulators and if you would like to read more from Al you can follow him on Twitter here.

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Capello believes under-fire Fernando Torres 'is slowly losing it'

Fernando Torres
Russia coach Fabio Capello believes Chelsea striker Fernando Torres is slowly losing it and highlighted his lack of unpredictability and speed for his slump in form.

The under-pressure Spain international has struggled to establish himself since moving to Stamford Bridge for 50 million (62m) in January 2011.

Blues boss Roberto Di Matteo recently revealed he is considering dropping Torres for their vital Champions League game against Juventus, with Daniel Sturridge tipped to take his place as the focal point of their attack.

Capello told Italia 2: "Fernando Torres is slowly losing it. I don't know what is happening because he was very good when Rafael Benitez was the Liverpool manager.

But he has not found inspiration [at Chelsea] and scored the goals that used to distinguish him. Before, he was unpredictable with Liverpool, but now defences manage to beat him for speed and this is worrying."

Chelseas tri p to Juventus is important to both sides chances of progressing, and Capello thinks the Bianconeri are capable of beating the current European Champions.

He added: "Juventus can beat Chelsea, they have to pay attention to the three Blues offensive midfielders. [Mirko] Vucinic can make the difference, he's the best Juventus striker but we have to be patient with [Sebastian] Giovinco, he can become like Zola."

The 66-year-old also spoke of his sudden exit as England coach earlier this year, adding: The reason I left England was to defend Terry. English people are too moralist - they want people to behave in a certain way, and then they take hasty decisions like that [Terry] who was later acquitted.

"My intention is to end my career when my contract with Russia terminates. If theres an interesting project I could change my plans but nowadays I can't see nothing interesting."

Rabu, 21 November 2012

TEAM NEWS: Fabregas and Busquets return for Barcelona against Spartak

Cesc Fàbregas profile pic
Barcelona have made a few switches for their crucial clash with Spartak Moscow, though the hosts will be relieved they can welcome back their first choice shot-stopper Andriy Dikan for the match in Russia on Tuesday evening.

Javier Mascherano returns to the Catalans starting line-up to replace skipper Carles Puyol, and will join Gerard Pique at the heart of the back four which also sees Dani Alves reinstated.

The other two changes from Saturday's victory over Zaragoza are that Sergio Busquets comes back into the midfield in place of Alex Song, while David Villa sits out to make way for Cesc Fabregas.

The departing Puyol, Villa, Song and Martin Montoya are joined on the bench by Jose Manuel Pinto, Jonathan Dos Santos and Gerard Deulofeu.

Andriy Dikan returns for Spartak Moscow, who at one stage were struggling to find a fit goalkeeper when third-choice Artem Rebrov joined Dikan and Sergei Pesyakov on the injury list.

Barcelona: Valdes; Dani Alves, Pique, Mascherano Alba; Busquets, Xavi, Fabregas; Pedro, Iniesta, Messi.

Spartak Moscow: Dikan; Kombarov, Insaurralde, Suchy, Makeev; Carioca, Kallstrom, Jurado, Kombarov; Ari, Emenike.

Stramaccioni to use youth against Rubin

Andrea Stramaccioni - Inter

Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni has indicated he will start some of his younger players for Thursdays Europa League encounter with Rubin Kazan.

The Italians travel to Russia for the Group H clash having already qualified for the latter stages, and the former Primavera trainer is looking forward to giving some new faces a chance to impress.

This match against Rubin is an important moment for our youth academy," he confirmed at a press conference.

We've got 10 lads here under the age of 21, some of them will definitely play. It's an opportunity to see if some of these youngsters might be ready if they're called upon.

If in the early stage of the Europa League we made changes through choice, now we're doing it out of necessity.

Since the draw was made we knew that we'd have three long away trips. We've done two and tomorrow we're up against Rubin, who are top-class opposition, the best in the group along with us.

< p>We'll give it a go tomorrow, but once we get to the knock-out phase it will definitely be more difficult to change so many players because the team as a unit will be important.

Both teams have already qualified from the group, having taken 10 points from their four games played.

Soulless but successful: Abramovich deserves recognition not rebuke despite harsh Di Matteo sacking

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By Liam Twomey

Even after a run of one win in eight matches, reports of heated exchanges in the dressing room and pressure emanating from board level, it remained the news Chelsea fans feared rather than the news they expected.

Roberto Di Matteo has been sacked by Chelsea after just eight months in charge. He is the seventh manager to be relieved of his duties since Roman Abramovich assumed control of the club in June 2003; there was another, Guus Hiddink, who wisely elected to jump before he could be pushed.

Di Matteo leaves a young, exciting but developing team on the verge of Champions League group stage elimination after Tuesday's comprehensive defeat at the hands of a superb Juventus in Turin, and four points behind Manchester City in the Premier League. Unlike with previous managers, this was no crisis point, only the merest hint of one on the horizon.

It is a decision utterly mystifying i n its timing, and another moment for Chelsea fans and neutral observers alike to contemplate with incredulity the irrepressible ruthlessness of Abramovich. Only six months and two days ago Di Matteo was celebrating delivering the first Champions League crown in the clubs history. Today he is packing his belongings and saying his goodbyes.

For what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? It may appear crass to use a phrase uttered by Jesus in Marks Gospel in reference to football, but the sentiment expressed could scarcely be more apt.

Under Abramovich, Chelsea have ascended to the top of the English and European game, at the cost of all credibility and integrity. They have spent ludicrous sums, sacked managers on an almost yearly basis, alienated club legends such as Steve Clarke and Ray Wilkins, and kept a man found guilty of racist abuse as their captain because he is still a valuable asset. At some point, every discernin g follower of this club must have asked themselves: Is it worth it?

As far as exacting change goes, however, it is irrelevant no more than a moral quandary. For Chelsea under Abramovich are the most absolute of dictatorships, with a lone voice barking orders from the darkness. When the likes of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar are brought in for a combined 80 million, being a billionaires play-thing feels pretty good. Only on days like this is the heartlessness and senselessness of it all dwelt upon.

The anger of Blues fans towards their owner will always be tempered by a feeling of intense gratitude. Had Abramovich elected to buy Tottenham back in 2003, Chelsea would almost certainly have been consumed by their crippling debts in the manner of Leeds United, becoming yet another cautionary tale for chairmen willing to live the dream with somebody elses money.

Instead, they promptly embarked upon the most successful era of the clubs history. Three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and the miracle of Munich. Those who frequented the Kings Road in the dark days of Bobby Campbell and Ian Porterfield could never have imagined such a golden age in their lifetimes.

Throughout, Abramovich has never made false promises or assurances. He has never claimed to back a manager when he does not. Invariably he elects to remain silent, contemplating the current state of affairs with his secret band of advisers and forcing those around him to react to his actions rather than his words.

Unlike his many managers Abramovich is accountable to no one. He will never take responsibility for the vain purchases of Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres which have made Chelsea a laughing stock in the transfer market, nor the decisions to employ Luiz Felipe Scolari or Avram Grant, or to invest almost 30m in Andre Villas-Boas on the strength of one excellent season at Porto.

But then, he ha s earned the right not to be not only as a result of some 1bn of investment, but also because he has brought an amount of silverware to Stamford Bridge unprecedented in the clubs 108 years of history. There remains the nagging sense that Chelsea would have achieved even more without this now infamous sacking model, but we can only remark on what is, not what might have been.

Abramovich can do what he wants and he knows it, and anyone who objects can, to paraphrase the words of Fulham owner Mohamed Al-Fayed at the unveiling of that notorious Michael Jackson statue outside Craven Cottage, Go to hell or go support Fulham.

For Chelsea fans there is no choice to be made, and they await his next move.

Follow Liam Twomey on

Dani Alves praises Barcelona defence

Dani Alves celebra en el Spartak de Moscú-Barcelona
Dani Alves praised Barcelona's defensive performance following their 3-0 Champions League win over Spartak Moscow on Tuesday evening.

The right-back opened the scoring in the 16th minute before Lionel Messi put the match to bed with two more goals, but Alves was particularly pleased with his side's first clean sheet since their 1-0 victory over Valencia on September 2.

"Sometimes were exposed at the back when we all attack at the same time, but we defended their counterattacks well. We did a pretty good job," the Brazil international was quoted as saying on the official Barcelona website.

"It had been a while since we'd kept a clean sheet and were happy that we managed to do that against Spartak. Im especially pleased for Vctor [Valdes].

"We played really well going forward and we put in a good defensive performance, but the important thing is how the whole team played."

The Blaugrana sit atop of Champion s League Group G with 12 points from five games, and have a five-point lead over Celtic and Benfica, who are level on points in second and third spot.

Zenit St Petersburg - Malaga Betting Preview: Back a home win for the Russians

Aleksandr Kerzhakov , Zenit
Whatever happens from here on in, this season will go down as a legendary one for the supporters of Malaga.

Their first ever campaign in the Champions League has seen them surpass all expectations and qualify from an extremely challenging looking group with two matches to spare.

The feat is made all the more impressive given the fact they lost arguably their two best players in the summer, yet somehow Manuel Pellegrini has managed to galvanise his team into producing some memorable European performances.

A victory for the team from Andalusia this evening is priced by William Hill at 15/4 (4.75) while a draw, which would also represent an excellent result for Malaga, is priced at 13/5 (3.60).

Yet it is the price of 3/4 (1.75) for a win for Zenit St Petersburg which should hold the most appeal for punters.

In the last few weeks the slightest of cracks have begun to appear in Malaga's domestic performances, with a 2-1 defeat at home to Rayo Vallecano followed by an uninspiring 0-0 draw with Osasuna.

Despite Pellegrini's assurances that he will field a strong side, with Malaga's place in the knockout stages secure, some of the team's natural intensity will be diminished.

It could also be worth noting that temperatures in Russia this evening will be close to 20 degrees centigrade cooler than in the south of Spain.

Zenit have hit some form at home winning each of their last three games in St Petersburg, including their last Champions League tie there against Anderlecht. With the Russians knowing only a win will keep their ho pes in the competition alive, backing them at 3/4 (1.75) looks like an excellent option.

For a value bet try backing Zenit striker Hulk to pay back some of his eye watering transfer fee by netting the first goal at 5/1 (6.00).

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

Pique hails Messi magic

Barcelona celebrating Spartak Messi
Gerard Pique hailed Lionel Messi's brilliance in the wake of his two-goal display in Barcelona's 3-0 Champions League win on Tuesday evening.

The Argentina international help the Blaugrana seal top spot in Group G, and sealed qualification to the knockout stages, and Pique was impressed with the forward's impressive showing.

"Messi was fantastic, like he always is. I think he is the best player in the world," the defender was quoted as saying on the Uefa website.

"When you have this type of player you have to use him and this is what we do. We play for him because he knows how to score and how to play and how to win and today it was the same."

The Catalan club struggled in the home match against Spartak, but cruised to a comfortable away win on Tuesday, much to the surprise of Pique.

"I didn't think it would be as easy as it was, but we played a really good game. We were lucky that we managed to score thr ee goals in the first-half and we controlled the game quite easily.

"But there's no denying that they are a really good team, because at Camp Nou they had us in a bit of trouble."

Barcelona resume La Liga action on Sunday when they travel to Levante.

Selasa, 20 November 2012

Barcelona are more important than Muller's record, says Messi

Messi; Spartak - Barcelona; Champions League 2012/2013
Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has insisted that his focus remains with his team's ambitions, rather than equalling Gerd Muller's record of 85 goals in a calendar year.

The Argentine star scored twice as the Blaugrana beat Spartak Moscow 3-0 on Tuesday, taking his annual tally to 80, but winning trophies remains his priority.

"We knew we had to start strong today, to avoid what happened against Celtic," he told reporters.

"It wasn't easy on this pitch, but we did well. It was important not to concede tonight, for all of us.

"Muller's record? The team are more important, in the second half we preferred to keep control."

Barca coach Tito Vilanova was also upbeat after his team's win in Russia, and maintained that Messi plays for the team as a whole, not as an individual chasing a record.

"We played in a very vital game. The players adapted well to the artificial pitch and the cold.

"I t was important not to concede, but sometimes it just depends on the opponents' finishing. Celtic had fewer shots than Spartak.

"Messi getting closer to Muller's record? Messi doesn't play to break records, he plays to help the team to win.

"It's the same every game. His ambition, his motivation to score, to help the team ... tactically he is a very complete player," he admitted.

Spartak Moscow 0-3 Barcelona: Brilliant Blaugrana book last-16 berth

Dani Alves celebra en el Spartak de Moscú-Barcelona
Barcelona qualified for the Champions League Round of 16 with a comfortable 3-0 victory at the Luzhniki Stadium over Spartak Moscow, who crashed out of the competition.

A double from Lionel Messi, his 79th and 80th goals in 2012 saw him come within five of Gerd Muller's 85-goal record in a calender year, while racking up his 56th Champions League strike, trailing only Raul's 71-goal tally and equalling Ruud Van Nistelrooy's haul.

Dani Alves opened the scoring with a fine half-volley, and despite a few opportunitires for Spartak, Messi made it 2-0 just before the half-hour mark with an opportunistic finish from a rebound.

The Argentine finished off a quintessential Barca passing move to score his second of the night towads the end of the first half, with only the heroics of Andriy Dykan preventing the Blaugrana from adding to the scoreline after the interval.

Barcelona now move onto 12 points in Group G, meaning th at they cannot be caught by third placed Benfica, while Spartak sit bottom of the standings on three points, but still have a chance of overtaking the Portuguese side and qualifying for the Europa League.

Fit-again Carles Puyol was dropped to the bench from the side that defeated Zaragoza 3-1 on the weekend, with Javier Mascherano replacing him. Alves Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas also returned to the starting XI in place of Martin Montoya, Alex Song and David Villa.

Spartak meanwhile readied veteran Dykan just in time to mind the net against the Catalans, after injuries to Sergei Pesyakov and Artem Rebrov had left them scrambling to find a fit goalkeeper.

The home side set up in a deep 5-4-1 formation to prevent Barca from playing in behind, but that only seemed to invite attacking pressure from the Catalans, which in turn left gaps to be exploited in the midfield.

A sublime clip from Xavi eight minutes in was taken brilliant ly by Pedro on his chest, but his volley was parried at point blank range by Dykan. Not long after, a well worked move from a corner saw Dmitriy Kombarov blast over the bar from 10 yards out.

Barca were ahead just after a quarter of an hour though, as Messi, despite being surrounded by a throng of defenders, did enough to ping to Alves on the edge of the area, who drilled a precise half-volley into the bottom corner.

Spartak nearly struck back within minutes, but after Emenike did well to send a cross right onto the penalty spot, Marek Suchy should have done a lot better than slicing harmlessly over the bar from an unmarked position.

The Russians were given a lesson in ruthlessness 27 minutes in, as Barca raced into a two goal lead. Iniesta saw a shot saved by Dykan after cutting in near the byline, but Messi was first to the rebound, and lashed into the corner.

But still Spartak had their chances to get back into the game. Kombarov found space on the left flank on the break, and sent an early cross behind the defensive line towards Emenike, but the Nigerian skied over the bar, a recurring theme for Spartak.

And true to form, Barca soon made the Russians rue their missed chance. The Blaugrana toyed with the Spartak midfield with a series of sublime, quick passes, before Pedro released Messi for the dagger blow, the Argentine rounding Dykan to slot home.

The chances continued to fall Barca's way in the second half. A one-two with Cest Fabregas and Iniesta saw the former denied by Dykan from close range, before Messi's cross found Pedro unmarked in the six-yard box, but his header was straight at the kepeer.

Spartak were floored throughout the second half, and simply could not get much going as the tiki-taka machine from the Catalans kept them perpetually on the back foot.

Messi and Pedro each had lat e chances to add a fourth goal, but Dykan was alert on both occasions to prevent the Blaugrana from scoring further. It mattered little though, as Barca breezed through to the final whistle and took their place in the knockout stages for yet another season.

Barca beware: Introducing the Spartak star developing into one of Europe's best left-backs

Dmitri Kombarov, Lionel Messi, Barcelona, Spartak
By Michael Yokhin

Rising Spartak Moscow star Dmitriy Kombarov and Barcelona defender Jordi Alba have at least two things in common. Firstly, both are naturally attack-minded midfielders turned defenders. More interestingly, though, they are both prodigal sons, costing their first clubs quite a fortune to re-sign.

The Catalan born Alba was sent packing from La Masia aged 16, only to be bought this summer from Valencia for 14 million. Kombarov left Spartak's academy with his twin brother Kirill when they were 14 in 2001, with both told they would never make it as professionals, only for the pair to return nine years later for a combined 10m from Dinamo Moscow.

The twins may seem to be a little slight in build, but nothing could be further from the truth. They competed in kickboxing with great success as children, beating every opponent apart from one another. Their father wanted them to abandon foot ball and concentrate on fighting, but Dmitriy and Kirill begged him to change his mind.

And, even though they were not considered bright prospects at first, his decision eventually paid dividends. Sergei Silkin, their coach at Dinamo Moscow, who was later put in charge of the senior squad, recalls: "I couldn't say the Kombarovs were the most gifted players, but their work rate was phenomenal."

At Dinamo, the twins were more or less equal. Kirill mainly played on the right, and occasionally filled in as a defensive midfielder. Left-footed Dmitriy naturally flourished on the flank. After switching back to their former club, though, they endured contrasting fates. While Kirill remained a hard-working, but average player, Dmitriy suddenly began to make big progress. Two years after signing for Spartak, he is now considered their most valuable asset, thanks in part to his impressive versatility.

Kombarov still enjoys playing on the left of midfield, but injuries forced coach Valery Karpin to use him at the back many times last season, and he responded supremely well. Then, towards the end of 2011, he was surprisingly switched to central midfield, a move he made with equal efficiency. "He was even better there than in his regular position on the flank," said Karpin.

It was a very long season, lasting more than a year, and Kombarov was the most used Spartak player, almost irreplaceable as his side made a late run to snatch second place ahead of CSKA Moscow. He finally forced his way into Dick Advocaats Russia squad, making his debut in February, before going to Euro 2012 as Yuri Zhirkovs understudy.

He did not get a single minute of playing time at the tournament, and Advocaat paid for it. An error from Zhirkov allowed Greece to score a sensational winner and sent Russia packing at the group stage.

Fabio Capello, who replaced the 65-year-old in the summer, discarded the former Chelsea utility man, and installed Kombarov as his first-choice left-back. "He is a very important player for us," said the veteran Italian coach. Ever-present in the World Cup 2014 qualifiers so far, he has been highly praised, especially after winning his duel with Nani in a 1-0 win over Portugal.

The future is certainly looking bright for Kombarov. Last season he turned out to be a star by Russian Premier League standards, but 'only' scored six goals in 40 games. This season his progress is even more significant and he looks destined for European stardom.

Spartak owe him their place in the Champions League group stage for his man-of-the-match performance versus Fenerbahce in the qualifying round. In the first-leg at the Luzhniki, Kombarov set up the opener for Emmanuel Emenike with an exquisite low cross and after Dirk Kuyt equalised, he produced the winner with a stunning volley.

He has produced that form in the league too, hitting six goals already. He has played 90 minutes in every game but one, the trip to Zenit St Petersburg in August, and it is no coincidence that his team were thrashed 5-0 by the Russian champions without him. In the last fixture at Volga on Saturday, Kombarov astonished even his biggest fans by scoring an unstoppable free kick.

Unai Emery has branded Kombarov his side's leader and the former Valencia coach will need his star to be on top of his game against Barcelona on Tuesday, in a bid to help him improve his dismal record against the Catalans from his time in La Liga. After impressing at Camp Nou in a 3-2 defeat in September, the 25-year-old must be even better on Tuesday night in order to keep his sides slim hopes of advancing from Group G intact.

He will enjoy his time on the big stage. And while Barcelona appear to have found their solution to the left-back position for years to come in Alba, there could be other suitors waiting in the wings for Komb arov.

Who knows, if Ashley Cole does leave Chelsea this summer, a certain Roman Abramovich could be interested in a move for his countryman.

Follow Michael Yokhin on

Senin, 19 November 2012

'There are no easy Champions League games' - Vilanova wary of Spartak threat

Titio Vilanova
Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova has told his side to expect a difficult match against Spartak Moscow on Tuesday.

The Catalans beat the Russian side 3-2 in the first meeting of the two sides at Camp Nou, and the 44-year-old is wary of the threat they pose, particularly with former Valencia boss Unai Emery in charge.

Russian teams have made it difficult for us in the past," he told reporters at a press conference. These days you cant beat anyone easily in the Champions League.

There are no easy games. We have a lot of respect for Spartak and I believe that it will be a hard game just like the one at the Camp Nou.

"We know Unai Emery well and he has always caused us difficulties. He is a coach who always has a very organised defence and attack."

He added: "We will have to play well. I, of course, expect maximum commitment from all the players. Maybe if we had beaten Celtic we woul d have left some players at home, but this is a very important match. We need to play well and win to finish top of the group."

However, Vilanova then stated that a loss in the Russia capital would not be the end of the world due to their remaining group fixture against Benfica at Camp Nou.

"Against Spartak we will try to win so that we can qualify, but if we dont, we still have a game at Camp Nou."

Tuesday's clash between Barca and Spartak kicks off at 18:00 CET.

'Our target is three points' - Spartak boss Emery targets Barcelona scalp

Unai Emery - Valencia
Unai Emery has revealed that he wants nothing less than a win for Spartak Moscow in their upcoming fixture against Barcelona.

The fixture comes on the back of four wins from six for Emery's men and the 41-year old coach believes that their good form could provide a springboard for Spartachi to claim victory, despite their opposition's intimidating stature.

"The fact that we are playing Barcelona means it will be a difficult game," he admitted to

"However, we have reason for optimism because we are also a strong team and have won two of our last three games. We will try to take any opportunities that we have and play our own game.

Our goal is to get three points because are desperate to qualify and be playing in Europe in the spring.

In recent times we have gone through a bad spell with injuries piling up but we have to deal with this. We know we will be without Artem Dzyuba and A iden McGeady, which will make things harder."

Fabregas: No excuses, we must beat Spartak

 Cesc Fabregas
Cesc Fabregas believes there are no excuses for Barcelona not to beat Spartak Moscow in their upcoming Champions League fixture.

The two sides will meet on Tuesday at Luzhniki Stadium in Russia and despite the strength of the opposition, the artificial pitch and the freezing temperature that the Catalan side will be up against, the Spain international is determined not to let it affect their performance.

"The artificial pitch and the cold will not be a problem, or an excuse," Fabregas told the club's website.

"It will be a hard game, but we are not thinking about holding out for a draw, although that will be enough to see us through.

"We want to win, we always play our way and we will just have to adapt that to whatever they do.Every team in the Champions League will always be dangerous, but it is always a tough task to go to Russia."

When questioned if he expects to be in the starting line-up on Tuesday, Fabregas insisted it is up to Camp Nou head coach Tito Vilanova to decide whether the ex-Arsenal skipper should start.

"I always try to give my best and then the boss has to decide," he said. "I am playing a lot lately and I am happy about that.

"We have players who can compete and come in and freshen up the team, but this is always a good thing.

Spartak Moscow - Barcelona Preview: Injury-hit hosts face tall order against Catalan giants

Emmanuel Emenike, Spartak Moscow

Spartak Moscow have an injury crisis ahead of their crunch match with Group G table-toppers Barcelona.

The Russians have a goalkeeping dilemma, with third-choice Artem Rebrov now also ruled out having suffered an injury in Unai Emery's men's 1-1 draw with Volga at the weekend. He now joins Andriy Dikan and Sergei Pesyakov on the sidelines.

Also missing for the hosts is strikers Artem Dzyuba and Welliton while skipper Sergei Parshivlyuk, Russia international Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, Brazil midfielder Romulo and Republic of Ireland winger Aiden McGeady are unavailable.

Argentine defender Nicolas Pareja is suspended for the bottom of the table side who need a good result here to have any chance of reaching the knockout stages.

Meanwhile, Tito Vilanova will be looking for a response from his Barcelona team after falling to a shock 2-1 defeat to Celtic on Matchday 4.

The Catalans welcomed back Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol at the weekend where the Blaugrana disposed of Zaragoza 3-1 and it would be surprising if the pair did not start in the Russian capital.

One defender who is definitely ruled out is 21-year-old Marc Bartra, while attacker Alexis Sanchez is missing for up to four weeks after returning from international duty with Chile injured.

  • Spartak Moscow coach Unai Emery has the unenviable record against Barcelona having not won in his last 14 attempts versus the visitors.
  • The hosts 2-1 victory over Benfica on Matchday 4 was just their second win in 16 attempts at home in the Group stages.
  • The hosts' record in the last 12 home games against Spanish opposition reads W3 D 6 L3.
  • Barcelona's Lionel Messi (pictured, right) is now just seven behind Gerd Muller's record of most goals in a calender year, having scored a double against Zaragoza at the weekend which takes his tally to 78.
  • The Argentina international is the fourth top goalscorer in Champions League history behind Andriy Shevchenko Ruud van Nistelrooy and Raul.
  • The Catalan giants with their win on Saturday equalled Real Madrid's 1991-92 record of 34 points from a possible 36 in La Liga - the best ever start to a Primera Division campaign.

Barcelona have the best players in the world, says Jurado

FC Schalke 04, Jose Manuel Jurado
Spartak Moscow midfielder Jose Manuel Jurado feels that Barcelona have the best players in the world on their books and fears his side could be in for a tough game on Tuesday.

The Russian powerhouse were beaten 3-2 at Camp Nou earlier this Champions League campaign, and will be gunning for revenge when both teams meet again this week.

"Barcelona have not really changed much since Tito Vilanova has taken over. They still have the best players in the world and it will be very difficult to beat them," he was quoted as saying by EFE.

"We will obviously try to beat them, but it will be very tough. They are one of the best teams in the world and play some great football.

"We have some great players as well, though, and we have been in fine form in the league."

Tuesday's encounter is scheduled to kick off at 18:00CET.

Barcelona want to seal qualification against Spartak, says Zubizarreta

Andoni Zubizarreta, Barcelona
Barcelona are determined to seal qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League by beating Spartak Moscow on Tuesday, but they realise that the Russian giants will not be pushovers.

The Catalans were beaten 2-1 by Celtic in their last Champions League match, and Andoni Zubizarreta has insisted that they want to get back to winning ways against Spartak.

"Our goal is to qualify for the next round as soon as possible. We must win on Tuesday for that to happen," Zubizarreta was quoted as saying on the Barcelona website.

"We werent able to clinch qualification in Glasgow, but we are hopeful that we can do it in Moscow. Were aware of how difficult the match will be because Spartak are running out of options to get to the next round."

The club's director of football then went on to discuss Lionel Messi's form and hailed the Argentine's contribution to the team.

He added: "He doesnt play to break individual records. What he wants is to win with the team and contribute to the group with his work."

Messi has netted 22 goals in 18 official appearances for Barcelona this season.

Jumat, 16 November 2012

Messi has a special gene, says Unai Emery

Lionel Messi
Spartak Moscow coach Unai Emery has hailed Barcelona star Lionel Messi prior to their showdown on Tuesday night.

The Ballon d'Or nominee, who recently broke Brazil legend Pele's record for scoring the most goals during one calendar year with his 76th strike against Mallorca, is now only nine behind Gerd Muller's tally.

Having a tough meeting with Tito Vilanova's men ahead of him, Emery revealed his belief that the South American star is truly one of a kind.

"He has a special gene; it's unique." he told reporters.

"It's the essence of the game. He does everything so naturally, that, when he scores three goals in a match, it seems normal to us."

However, the Spanish coach insisted that, although they are blessed with an outstanding individual player, it is the whole team which makes Barcelona dangerous opponents.

He continued: "Barcelona are still centred around Messi, but they give a lot of importance t o the group and the contribution of all the players. It's a philosophy that has marked an age, that will stay with us but won't be repeated."

He then shared his view on his team's chances of beating the club that many consider Champions League favourites for this year, and after seeing his side come close to an upset in Camp Nou, he has refused to rely on Siberian conditions to get him an important victory.

He added: "We shouldn't look to the weather to give us more of a chance. We had a good match in the away game.

"It was Messi who decided things. We have to repeat what we did there, but playing as well in defence as in attack. If we do that we'll be close to winning."

Barcelona travel to Moscow on November 20, with the Champions League clash beginning at 18.00CET.

Rabu, 14 November 2012

Russia 2-2 USA: Capello's men denied by Diskerud

Mikkel Diskerud's stoppage-time equaliser rescued a 2-2 draw for a makeshift USA side as they fought back twice against Russia.

Roman Shirokov looked to have secured the victory for the home side when he converted a penalty with seven minutes from time, but Fabio Capello's side could not hold on to extend their four-game winning run.

Fyodor Smolov had earlier marked his maiden appearance for the national team with a goal but Michael Bradley equalised with a stunning volley.

Jurgen Klinsmann's team had goalkeeper Tim Howard to thank as the veteran made a number of crucial saves to keep his side in the game.

Russia forced a number of early corners and were rewarded for their dominance when the visitors gave the ball away midway inside their own half from a free kick and debutant Smolov took advantage to slot past Howard, though the winger suffered an injury in the process of scoring and was substituted soon af ter.

Capello's side were showing the form that has seen them pick up maximum points from their 2014 World Cup qualifying matches, and Maksim Grigorjev saw his shot well blocked by Geoff Cameron after neat interplay with Aleksandr Kerzhakov.

USA were struggling to have any time on the ball, but they almost equalised against the run of play as defender Clarence Goodsen shot straight at Vladimir Gabulov from the edge of the area after Danny Williams' touch.

Smolov's replacement Grigorjev was a constant threat for the home side and he almost doubled their lead with a first-time shot that was well held by Howard, following Williams' poor touch on the edge of his own box.

Roma's Bradley was attempting to pull the strings for Klinsmann's outfit and he created a chance for Herculez Gomez, but the latter's flicked header was punched away by Gabulov, though the goalkeeper didn't know much about it.

The visitors continued to grow i nto the game as half-time approached and the returning Jozy Altidore threatened for the first time with a powerful shot from distance that flew just over the bar.

Molde winger Joshua Gatt was lively on his debut, and he almost marked his first cap with a goal at the start of the second period as Jermaine Jones broke from midfield and the youngster curled a shot straight at Gabulov, who caught the effort well.

That didn't deter the Sbornaya and they almost doubled their lead as Aleksandr Kokorin forced Howard into a smart save low to his right with a powerful effort from just outside the penalty area.

With Kerzhakov substituted at the break, Kokorin was playing much more centrally, and he broke through the USA defence well and looked to have won a penalty after being tripped by Howard, but replays showed that Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli was right to book the attacker for a dive.

Alan Dzagoev was the man who repl aced Kerzhakov and his trickery created another opportunity for Kokorin, but he fired over from distance after coming under pressure from the opposition's defenders.

Dzagoev was a constant threat after his introduction, and he was again involved in the final third as he headed fellow substitute Renat Yanbayev's cross straight at Howard after getting in front of his marker.

Kokorin continued his quest for a goal as he brought the ball onto his favoured right foot around 25 yards from goal but his weak shot was simple for Howard to deal with.

Defender Yanbayev looked to get forward at every opportunity, and after exchanging passes with Denis Glushakov, his shot was parried by Howard, with the Everton goalkeeper having to recover quickly to tip over Dzagoev's dipping effort from the rebound.

Despite being on the back foot for much of the game, Altidore had a glorious opportunity to equalise but he failed to control Fabian Johnson's th rough ball when one-on-one with Gabulov.

With 20 minutes remaining of the match Klinsmann's team began to push for an equaliser and they almost got it as Bradley met Sacha Kljestan's knock down with a diving header, but he could only direct it over the crossbar.

It didn't take Bradley long to be involved again, though, and he made no mistake this time as he met Juan Agudelo's header with a sweet volley from 20 yards that cannoned in off the post.

The United States now looked more likely to grab a winning goal and Jones almost provided the crucial strike but he could only fire over from Altidore's low cross across the edge of the area.

The home side then delivered a sucker punch as the visitors' defence were caught out by a quick free kick and Goodsen brought down Artem Dzuba inside the six-yard box, allowing Shirokov to send Howard the wrong way from the spot.

Real Madrid youngster Denis Cheryshev almost made the game safe as he found space inside the box but was denied by Howard's legs. Then, with the game deep into added on time, substitute Diskerud latched onto a weak defensive header and saw his scuffed effort bobble past the despairing Gabulov.

Sneijder not leaving Inter for Anzhi, insists agent

Wesley Sneijder - Inter
Soren Lerby, the agent of Wesley Sneijder, has made it clear that there's no truth in the rumours suggesting that the Netherlands international could leave Inter for Anzhi Makhachkala in the January transfer window.

A number of recent reports stated that the Nerazzurri are ready to sell the Netherlands international this winter, with the Russian side supposedly sitting in pole position for the attacking midfielder's signature.

However, Lerby has insisted that a winter move is not an option for his client, before adding that Sneijder is happy with life at Inter.

"Wesley has no intention at all to go to Anzhi. All these rumours are false," Lerby told Sky Italia.

"I don't know where these stories originated. Perhaps someone should take the effort to ask Anzhi and [their head coach Guus] Hiddink about it.

"Sneijder remains an Inter player for now and he's feeling very well at the club."

Th e 28-year-old has a contract with the Serie A side until June 2015.

Selasa, 13 November 2012

Russia - USA Preview: Sbornaya should stretch undefeated run under Italian boss

FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifying  - Aleksandr Kerzhakov , Russia and Portugal

Jurgen Klinsmann's USA are expected to make a few changes to the squad as fans are given a glimpse into the future for this friendly with Russia in Krasnodar.

There are recalls to the side for AZ's Jozy Altidore, who missed the last two fixtures for the national team, while controversial young full-back Timmy Chandler - who is still to commit himself to the Stars and Stripes as he can also play for Germany - is named in the squad of 20 instead of the experienced Steve Cherundolo.

In come a flurry of potential young stars including Josh Gatt, who just won the Norweigan league title with Molde, 20-year-old Joe Gyau from Bundesliga club Hoffenheim, Mix Diskerud from Rosenborg and Chivas USA striker Juan Agudelo.

Tottenham's Clint Dempsey, LA Galaxy's Landon Donovan, Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi and Real Salt Lakes' Kyle Beckerman were all left out of this latest squad selection.

Fabio Capello's Russia, mean while, will be without Aleksandr Samedov who is suffering from an ankle ligament injury while starlets Denis Cheryshev (Real Madrid) and Fyodor Smolov (Anzhi Makhachkala) receive call-ups to the full team after excelling at Under-21 level.

However, Yuri Zhirkov has been snubbed and there are still no places for Andrey Arshavin, Pavel Pogrebnyak and Roman Pavlyuchenko.

  • Russia have had a superb start to their World Cup qualifying campaign having taken maximum points from their first four games including a 1-0 victory over Portugal.
  • Fabio Capello's men are ranked ninth in the world - the first time they have been in the top 10 since October 2010 while their opponents USA are listed in side the top 30 at No.27.
  • Russia have never lost to the USA in the four meetings between the sides, a run which stretches back to February 1993, not long after the Soviet Union was disbanded.
  • USA's Juan Agudelo (pictured right), at 17, became the youngest ever player to score for the national team in 2010 when a goal on his debut gave the Star & Stripes a 1-0 victory over South Africa.
  • Only three players from the MLS have been included in this clash with Sbornaya:Chicago Fire's goalkeeper Nick Johnson, Real Salt Lake's shot-stopper Nick Romando and Chivas striker Agudelo.
  • The USA will end this year with their best winning percentage in the modern era having a 9-2-2 record in 2012.

Sabtu, 10 November 2012

Hulk: Messi deserves to retain Ballon d'Or

Hulk, Zenit
Zenit St. Petersburg's recent signing Hulk has spoken openly of how, if he were given the chance, he would vote for Lionel Messi to win the 2012 Ballon d'Or.

The forward made a lucrative switch to the Russian side earlier in the season following an impressive spell at Porto, with his displays meriting him a place on the FIFA/FIFPro World XI shortlist.

In an interview with, the 26-year-old claimed that he would pick himself to play in such a team, while also giving his opinion that Messi should pick up the Ballon d'Or for the fourth time in a row.

"In my mind the best player around today is [Lionel] Messi," said Hulk.

"Cristiano Ronaldo is a match-winner too and scores a lot of goals, and when you talk about the best player in the world its between those two, though my vote would go to Messi."

When asked why he believes the Argentine should win the award, he said: "Hes got a great team by his si de but he also does things differently.

"The way I see it he deserves to win again, not least because of the amazing number of goals hes scored this season. He scores more than anyone."

The former Tokyo Verdy striker then cheekily revealed that he would include himself in a FIFA/FIFPro World XI team, adding: "There are so many good players around, and friendship comes into it too.

"All I know is that Id put Messi and Ronaldo in my team and eight others. Id also have Petr Cech in goal and Id play myself too. The three of us up there in the front line: Messi, Ronaldo and I."

Hulk also gave his thoughts on who should win the Fifa Puskas Award, which recognises the best goal of the year.

"Well, maybe it wasnt the most stunning goal but Id go for Ramires cracker against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. It was a fine strike and, above all, a decisive one," he concluded.

Hiddink: Anzhi take Europa League very seriously

Guus Hiddink, Anzhi Makhachkala
Anzhi Makhachkala boss Guus Hiddink has spoken of his pleasure at recording a 1-0 Europa League win over Liverpool on Thursday and claimed his side are treating the competition with respect.

The Dutchman signed an 18-month deal with the big-spending Russians in February and is enjoying his time in Russia following an unsuccessful spell in charge of the Turkey national team which ended in failure to qualify for Euro 2012.

"In the end I am very happy with the 1-0 victory over Liverpool. We're top of a very tough group," Hiddink wrote in his column for De Telegraaf.

"We take the Europa League very seriously and it's a nice experience for Anzhi. In the Russian league, things are going okay aswell. Right now we're second and that's above expectations.".

The 66-year-old recently missed an Anzhi match due to a build-up of fluids in his knee but has shrugged off suggestions in the wake of the incident that he should retir e or take a step back from football.

"When I was younger, I didn't expect I would still be coaching at this age," he added.

"But I've still got the energy. Right now we're playing games every three or four days, but I don't have to wipe the sweat off my forehead because I am able to do everything."

Anzhi's next match is a Russian Premier League fixture away to Lokomotiv Moscow on November 11.

Jumat, 09 November 2012

Zenit chase Real Madrid youngster Cheryshev

Denis Cheryshev, jugador ruso del Real Madrid Castilla
Real Madrid youngster Denis Cheryshev could be on his way to his homeland to join Zenit St Petersburg, the player's father, Dmitri, has revealed.

The 21-year-old joined Los Blancos in 2002 after spending seven years following Cheryshev senior through clubs like Sporting Gijon and Buros.

The winger has been so far unable to break into Real Madrid's first team, and his father has revealed that the player might be tempted to jump ship in search of regular football.

"We will wait and see what happens next. If talks between the clubs progress and we receive a contract offer, we will have to look at it before deciding what to do," Dmitri Cheryshev toldIzvestia.

"Of course, it is a great honour to be linked with Zenit. All I have heard is that Zenit are very interested in Denis.

"However, I must admit there have not been any talks or concrete offers yet."

Hulk & Witsel have ruined Zenit's game, says agent

Axel Witsel & Hulk - Zenit
Vladimir Abramov has criticised Hulk and Axel Witsel for impacting negatively on Zenit Saint Petersburg's fortunes since their arrivals from Portuguese football.

The Russians suffered a 1-0 defeat to Anderlecht in the Champions League on Tuesday, which saw them drop to last position in Group C with just three points to their name after four matches.

In an attempt to explain their recent poor form, the agent feels the pressure of the 80 million spent on both the Porto striker and Benfica midfielder is proving an excessive burden on Zenit's game.

Theres too much talk about money, he told reporters. "We all believed that Zenit would become stronger after buying Hulk and Witsel.

"They are really good players, but Hulk gets the ball and just rushes forward while Witsel tries to do something on his own. It must be said that with their arrival, Zenits game has fallen a part. They arent a unit anymore.

Abramov then reflected on how the team looked prior to Hulk and Witsel's arrival, highlighting facets of their play which were missing during the match against the Belgians.

Zenit was always known for their European style of play, with a lot of forward passes and high intensity, but during the game in Brussels, my only hope was that Vladimir Bystrov would race down the flank and cross the ball onto someones head, he concluded.

The Russian title holders, who sit third in the league, are currently preparing for their match against Volga on November 11.

Kamis, 08 November 2012

Europa League Results: Groups A-F - Marseille suffer Monchengladbach heartbreak, Young Boys dent Udinese hopes

Anzhi Makhachkala 1-0 Liverpool: Traore on target as Russians leapfrog Reds

Eto'o, Liverpool, Anzhi
Liverpool slumped to a closely-fought 1-0 defeat in their Europa League encounter away at Anzhi Makhachkala in the Stadion Lokomotiv on Thursday night.

The hosts took a barely deserved lead in the 45th minute when Lacina Traore dinked the ball over his head and past Sebastian Coates before calmly looping an effort over the onrushing Brad Jones for the only goal of the game.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers used the trip to Russia as a chance to rotate his squad, with only Jones and Andre Wisdom surviving from their 1-1 draw against Newcastle on Sunday.

This meant Joe Cole was handed a rare start, while Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Jonjo Shelvey all returned to the side, with youngster Connor Coady handed his first competitive start by the club and Jon Flanagan and Adam Morgan coming into the side.

Anzhi Makhachkala boss Guus Hiddink kept faith with a first XI which included the familiar names of Samuel Eto'o, Yuri Zhirkov and giant striker Traore.

After a bright start by the visitors, restricting Anzhi's movement, they fashioned their first opening in the 23rd minute when Morgan played in Henderson in behind the back four, but instead of electing to shoot, the England international tried to play it across the box and Joao Carlos got back in time to intercept and clear.

The game burst to life in the 35th minute, though, when Zhirkov broke away from Wisdom down the right before finding Eto'o inside the area, who brought a stunning save out of Jones high to his right to keep the scores level.

Anzhi didn't have to wait much longer to take the lead and it came right on the stroke of half-time when Traore flicked the ball over Coates when the ball was fired into him from Mbark Boussoufa before running onto it and lobbing Jones for a superbly well-taken goal just before the break.

The second period followed a similar pattern to the first, with Liverpool sitting deep and looking to break on the counter, but Anzhi almost extended their lead just before the hour mark, with Traore driving just past the post from well outside the area with a powerful effort on his left foot.

They missed a golden opportunity to grab another in the 75th minute when Traore nodded a fantastic ball in from the left by Rasim Tagirbekov straight at Jones, when it looked easier to score than find the goalkeeper.

This prompted an instant response from the visitors, when Vladimir Gabulov spilled a vicious strike from Suso from long range before doing better with Cole's follow-up effort when the midfielder tried to dink it over.

With the game becoming increasingly open, Traore missed another excellent chance shortly afterwards after being played through one-on-one by a long ball over the top, but his arrowed shot just failed to find t he bottom far corner.

Despite trying their best to muster some sort of late attack, though, Anzhi were able to hold on comfortably for the win and are now top of Group A with seven points, while the Reds sit just below them on six.

Celtic must now kick on & five things we learned from the Champions League this week

CL - Chelsea FC v FC Shakhtar Donetsk, Victor Moses, Juan Mata and Gary Cahill
By Peter Staunton

Celtic's 125th anniversary was marked with one of the club's most startling results as the champions of Scotland beat Barcelona at Parkhead in the game which has grabbed the headlines after matchday four.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic produced one of the best individual performances of the season to confirm Paris Saint-Germain's status as contenders while two hat-tricks, and a relatively quiet week for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, showed that there is striking talent to be reckoned with in the Champions League.

The fourth matchday of the Champions League in the 2012-13 season will go down in the annals as one of the most awe-inspiring in the history of the competition. Gone are the days of tight, tentative play and instead we are wi tnessing an age of vim, intrepidity and goals; goals in all shapes and sizes.

Whether the reason for the recent cascade of goals is a dwindling standard of defending or a newly-discovered swashbuckling sense of fearlessness does not matter. The Champions League is coughing up lots and lots of goals. It's spectacular to behold.

In stark contrast to the current international arena, the Champions League is light years ahead in terms of entertainment and excitement. In the opening round of fixtures of the 2010 World Cup, for example, 40 per cent of the teams failed to score even once compared with just 19% on the fourth matchday of the Champions League this season. An astonishing 58 goals were rattled in this week, spread across 16 matches. It the World Cup's opening round, that total was just 25.

"We knew Madrid's weak points and how we could score against them," the Borussia Dortmund defender Mats Hummels said following the German champions' 2-2 draw at Santiago Bernabeu. The manner in which BVB scored, through flick-ons from Robert Lewandowski into the path of forward runners, proved a refreshing rebuttal of the theory that possession means wins. Manchester City were similarly agricultural in their plundering of an equaliser against Ajax, while Celtic sealed their win over Barcelona with a massive punt down the middle of Parkhead and a well-structured, and deliberate, set piece.

There was intricate stuff on offer elsewhere; you won't see many better through passes than Zlatan Ibrahimovic's for Blaise Matuidi or Isco's for Eliseu. There were direct free-kicks, from Bastian Schweinsteiger, one of the very best from Mesut Ozil, and a stunning long-range finish from Champions League natural Oscar for Chelsea in their pulsating win against a Shakhtar Donetsk side previously unbeaten in almost a year.

Only three teams are assured of their place in the last 16 while the likes of Arsenal, AC Mi lan, Juventus and Manchester City are teetering with only 180 minutes worth of football to play.

If Uefa could bottle the scent of matchnight four and sell it, it would be worth a fortune.

Let's not forget, Celtic are a European Cup-winning club. They are a high-calibre side in this competition; Ajax, in 2001, and Barcelona in 2004 and 2008, are the only teams to have beaten them in the Champions League proper at Parkhead in the last decade and a bit.

And as far as one-off results go, the win against Barca ranks as the best in the club's long, illustrious history. Neil Lennon's team were not lucky. They adhered to a near-perfect strategy and were, to a man, committed, hungry and ambitious.

From the outstanding goalkeeping of Fraser Forster, surely now a contender for Joe Hart's place in England's goal, to the clever, assured pla y of the excellent Miku, Celtic's players executed their game-plan coherently and purposefully.

But as long as the talk of heroism and David and Goliath continues, Celtic's status as usurpers and underdogs will perpetuate. To qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League on their budget from a league as poor in standard as the SPL would indeed truly be laudable. But Celtic's 2-1 win against Barcelona must initiate now a shift in perceptions.

This result showed they belong in the Champions League. Understrength, they have just beaten the best team in the world and they deserved it. But the two games which remain, against Benfica in Lisbon and Spartak Moscow in Glasgow, will define the club's season, not the Barcelona one.

Tony Watt's winner will mean pecisely nothing if no points are accrued from the last two cut-throat matches. Celtic owe it to themselves to capitalise.

If they can beat Barcelona, they can beat anyone and they should not forget that.

"He destroyed us," Josip Pivaric, the Dinamo Zagreb defender, sighed. "He is an immense footballer," gushed Blaise Matuidi. "He is an outstanding character," his coach Carlo Ancelotti said. The man to which they refer is the inimitable Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely has a landmark signing taken to his new surroundings with such ease, panache and authority as Zlatan has to Paris Saint-Germain. He immediately became the focal point of the team but not in a greedy, egotistical way. He has taken to his role as his side's bandiera player with gusto, his weekend red card aside, and his performance against an admittedly second-rate Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday showed the extent by which the Swede outranks, yet inspires, his new team-mates.

"I wouldn't have come here if I didn't believe PSG could win the Champions League," Ibrahimovic told in September. That belief has been transmitted to his team-mates.

The manner in which he dictated not only how his team-mates played, but also how they scored their goals against Dinamo shows that this team's successes will be defined by his blueprint. Aggression, skill, vision and control, this display had absolutely everything.

PSG, with Ancelotti in charge, have a coach with the nous to win this competition. They have been, it is fair to say, uneven thus far in the Champions League. As has Zlatan throughout his career to this point. But the stars could align for the Sweden captain at Parc des Princes.

If he believes PSG can win the Champions League, you had better believe it too. Last season, I predicted Zlatan would 'never' win the competition. His adaptation to PSG and the enormous potential which still remains untapped at the club brings fresh doubt.

Six to 10 years ago, there existed a Golden Age of striking talent. Flick through the top scorers' list of any edition of the Champions League from 2002-03 to 2006-07 and you will see household names; some of the greatest forwards the game has ever produced. Raul, Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Filippo Inzaghi, David Trezeguet, Roy Makaay, Hernan Crespo, Fernando Morientes, Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Adriano, Andriy Shevchenko and Samuel Eto'o are still names that can be recited off by heart in the discussion of all-time Champions League goalscoring legends.

The emergence, since 2008 or thereabouts, of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo has precipitated a steep gulp in class between what is now regarded as a great goalscorer - 70 goals a season - and the rest. But those two are on a relative cold streak. One goal in four matches between them, Messi's consolation against Celtic, has brought again i nto focus the exploits of the 'also-rans'.

And if you look beyond Messi and Ronaldo, there is no shortage of forward talent in the Champions League this season as matchday four proved. This week, Claudio Pizarro and Burak Yilmaz scored hat-tricks, the latter a perfect one, while Alan, Oscar, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Roberto Soldado, Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez were also again on target.

If Messi and Ronaldo were not attracting all the plaudits for their superhuman levels of goalscoring, then this chasing band would be considered the equal of their predecessors. Messi and Ronaldo are over and above anyone before or since. It's not right to regard their peers with the same scrutiny and judgement they command. We are witnessing an era of unprecedented goalscoring exploits from those two but in the context of historical precedents, those in the second band are not second-rate.

Through multiple editions of the Champions League in years gone by, the group stage has been a sprint, not a marathon. Bigger teams raced through the first three or four matches relentlessly and rested players for the fifth and sixth matchdays as the pools were completed as drab formalities.

This season has brought a continuation of the trend set last term with an uncomfortable shake-up leaving the groups on a knife-edge. The performances of the teams representing Germany's Bundesliga has been fundamental in the breaking of the English hegemony, with Manchester City and Arsenal both struggling as a result of the exertions of Borussia Dortmund and Schalke.

In all, only three teams have managed to book their places in the last 16 two matches ahead of schedule. Porto's win against PSG on matchday two was their key result and set them up for progression, secured with a draw eked o ut at Dynamo Kiev.

Malaga continue to defy the odds, drawing at San Siro and purveying some of the slickest football on the continent while also featuring the outstanding player of the tournament thus far in Isco.

Manchester United remain the only team on maximum points thanks to their 3-1 away win at Braga. Sir Alex Ferguson's side have clearly learned valuable lessons from last year's shambles.

To have reached the next stage two-thirds of the way through the opening phase, with the level of competition and the increased emphasis on the exploitation of defensive frailties is a feat worthy of adulation.

There is a long way to go, of course, but the fact that Porto, Malaga and United can afford to keep 180 minutes of Champions League football in their big players' legs could give added impetus in the knock-outs.