Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Under-fire Moyes holds Manchester United crisis talks

Under-fire Moyes holds Manchester United crisis talks

Under-fire Moyes holds Manchester United crisis talks

The beleaguered Scot spent Monday locked away with his backroom team following the Premier League champions' humiliating defeat to fierce rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford
By Paul Clennam

David Moyes spent Monday locked in crisis talks with his backroom team as the pressure mounts on the under-fire Manchester United manager, Goal understands.

Moyes' standing reached a new low on Sunday after the champions were humiliated by Liverpool at Old Trafford. Two penalties from Steven Gerrard and a late Luis Suarez strike condemned United to their ninth loss of the league campaign and left them a staggering 14 points adrift of fourth placed Manchester City, who have two games in hand, and Champions League qualification.

Moyes responded to this latest setback by holding crunch talks with members of his coaching team at the club’s Carrington base on Monday, hoping to create a siege mentality and mastermind a Champions League comeback against Olympiakos.

The United boss has presided over a wretched season that has seen his side go out of both domestic cup competitions against teams currently among the bottom six in the top flight, while United’s league campaign is now restricted to scrapping with his old club for a Europa League place.

The Scot has spent close to £65 million on two new players, Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata, both of whom have struggled to make any sort of positive impression since moving to Old Trafford.

Indeed, both expensive signings failed to complete the 90 minutes against Liverpool, after which Moyes admitted he was finding the job of succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson “harder” than he had anticipated.

The fixture list, however, does not afford Moyes any semblance of respite. After United host Olympiakos on Wednesday they then travel to West Ham on Saturday evening before the Manchester derby against City the following Wednesday. ----------------

Messi: I hope the 'good Barcelona' turn up in the Clasico

Messi: I hope the 'good Barcelona' turn up in the Clasico

Messi: I hope the 'good Barcelona' turn up in the Clasico

The Catalans are lying four points behind Real Madrid at the top of La Liga but their newly-crowned record goalscorer is eager to seal a positive result at Santiago Bernabeu
Lionel Messi is relishing lining up against Real Madrid in El Clasico this weekend and hopes the "good version" of Barcelona turns up.

Messi became Barcelona's all-time leading scorer with 371 goals on Sunday as he netted a hat-trick in the 7-0 hammering of Osasuna.

Barca travel to Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday four points behind their rivals and although the Catalan giants have not been at their fluent best this season, Messi has no doubt they can claim an important victory as the title race hots up.

"I hope we see a good version of Barcelona and we can get a positive result, which we need to still be in there fighting for La Liga just a point behind," he told the club's official TV station.

"We have a unique opportunity to cut the gap on Madrid. It will be a very difficult game because we are playing away from home and Real Madrid is a great team playing with a lot of confidence.

"It will be difficult, but it all depends on us." ---------------

Barcelona slam Martino exit rumours

Barcelona slam Martino exit rumours

Barcelona slam Martino exit rumours

Fresh reports emerged on Monday suggesting the Argentine has already decided to leave the club this summer, but the Blaugrana strongly deny the reports
Barcelona have hit out at rumours that coach Gerardo Martino has decided the leave the club at the end of the season.

Fresh reports surfaced on Monday in the Spanish media which suggested the Argentine has taken the decision to step down from his role during the summer after just one year in charge.

The club have moved to condemn the speculation as false, however, with Manel Arroyo - vice-president in charge of the Blaugrana's media and communications - making it clear they had no intention to allow Martino to leave.

"We have no record of this," he said at a press conference following a meeting of the board of directors. "Tata has a contract with the club and is dedicated this week to what's important [Sunday's Clasico].

When asked if there is a condition in Martino's contract which would allow an exit this summer, he added: "I don't know if there's a deadline. There is a clause on his part and ours, but there is no intention to use it.

"The question over his future is a recurring one but it is not a topic for today. It's not something we have on the table. We can see he is focused on the sporting concerns of the first team, that is what he's concerned with."

Arroyo also added that Lionel Messi's future would be at Camp Nou and stressed that a contract renewal should be a priority for the club.

"Right now there is nothing," he said of potential interest in the Argentine from other clubs. "Leo himself has said his only intention is to continue here for many years. His renewal is a topic which must be covered." -----------

Mourinho: One day Drogba will return to Chelsea

Mourinho: One day Drogba will return to Chelsea

Mourinho: One day Drogba will return to Chelsea

The Ivorian left Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2012 having won the club's first Champions League trophy and his former manager believes he will come back in the future
Jose Mourinho believes Didier Drogba will return to Chelsea one day as the Ivorian prepares to take on his former club with Galatasaray on Tuesday evening.

Drogba will take the field at Stamford Bridge for the first time since leaving the Blues in the summer of 2012, immediately after scoring the winning penalty to clinch the club's first Champions League triumph.

The Ivorian's feats have established him as one of Chelsea's greatest ever players, and Mourinho thinks he will return to the club in some capacity in the future.

When asked whether he could see Drogba coming back, the Portuguese told reporters: "That's not for me [to decide]. That's for Chelsea [to decide]. I think it has to happen one day.

"When? I don't know. As a player, as a coach, as an ambassador? Next year, in four to five years, in 10 years? I don't know. But when a person represents so much to a club and when a club represents so much to a person I think he has to be welcomed back.

"Undoubtedly he's one of the most important players of the history of this club. That's not a doubt.

"All Chelsea supporters agree with that. We don't say the most important one because that's not fair for other people that was in the same level and in the same generation.

"Is he the same player at 36 than he was at 26? I think nobody is but he is one of the best strikers in the world. That's for sure." --------------

Brazil minister sees no mass movement to halt World Cup

Brazil minister sees no mass movement to halt World Cup

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 10:11
Brazil minister sees no mass movement to halt World Cup
London: Mass protests against inequality are unlikely to disrupt the World Cup in Brazil, the country`s sports minister Aldo Rebelo said on Monday.

Crime rather than terrorism posed a greater threat to soccer fans heading to Brazil for the June-July tournament, the minister added at a speech in London.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets during the Confederations Cup last year to protest against spending on the World Cup and insufficient investment in public services such as transport, health and education.

There are concerns that such protests could flare again in large cities during the World Cup but Rebelo said there was no union, church group or social organisation seeking to foment unrest.

"Protesting is a right but destruction and threats to life, this is not protesting, this has to be combatted," he added.

"We all know that Brazil is an unequal country. Football has no responsibility for inequality in Brazil," Rebelo told an audience at London`s King College.

Disparate protest groups used social media last year to coordinate their plans. Rebelo said that they could have halted the Confederations Cup - a dry run for the World Cup - had that been their aim.


Brazil is racing against time to complete stadiums, airports, communications infrastructure and transportation systems as the June 12 opening day approaches.

Such concerns are typical of major sports events but Brazil`s preparations have been plagued by delays and controversies and five of the 12 venues missed a December 31 completion deadline originally set by FIFA.

"We will have all the stadia ready," Rebelo said.

High crime rates in Brazil are another worry and here the minister offered limited reassurance.

"The country will be prepared to welcome the tourists, the delegations with all the care necessary," Rebelo said.

He played down the threat of a terror attack but said that visitors had to be wary of street crime.

"There is the common crime - the police, the military, everything is being done," he said.

However, Rebelo said he believed that more fans would decide to go to Brazil, the spiritual home of skilful soccer, as tour operators put more rooms back on the market and prices fell.

"I think these tourists will go back to the idea of participating, both domestic and foreign fans. There will be places for people to stay."
Reuters ----------------------

Totti makes instant impact on Roma return

Totti makes instant impact on Roma return

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 10:38
Totti makes instant impact on Roma return
Milan: Francesco Totti made an instant impact on his return from a buttock injury when he scored one goal and helped set up another in AS Roma`s 3-2 Serie A win over Udinese on Monday.

Second-placed Roma were also helped by an outstanding display from goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis as they stayed three points clear of third-placed Napoli, who rode their luck to beat Torino 1-0 with a controversial late goal by Gonzalo Higuain.

Roma made only a small dent in Juventus` lead as the champions stayed 14 clear points clear at the top and on course for a third successive title following their 1-0 win at Genoa on Sunday.

But it was an important win in the battle for a Champions League place, with only the top two going directly into the group stage. A third place finish earns a place in the two-leg final qualifying round.

One club-man Totti, in remarkable 22nd season at Roma, is still hugely influential and his side had failed to score in their last two games without him.

The 37-year-old put them ahead in the 22nd minute when he fired in a rebound from 12 metres for his sixth goal of the campaign after Udinese`s teenage goalkeeper Simone Scuffet parried Gervinho`s shot.

Roma went further ahead after half an hour with a lethal counter-attack.

Totti released Gervinho with a raking diagonal ball and the Ivorian showed superb control as he controlled the pass, beat his marker and flicked the ball inside for Mattia Destro to add the second.

De Sanctis, who had already denied Emmanuel Badu, then made a brilliant one-handed stop to turn away a goalbound shot from Antonio Di Natale, earning him a congratulatory pat from the Udinese striker.

Giampiero Pinzi pulled one back six minutes after the re-start before Greek international Vassilis Torosidis restored Roma`s two-goal lead with a low shot from the edge of the area.

Dusan Basta made it a nervous final 10 minutes for Roma when he hooked home after another De Sanctis save.

"Not playing was difficult but the important thing tonight was to win and maintain the pace. We have Napoli on our heels," Totti told Sky Sport Italia.

"De Sanctis produced some great saves tonight. He has so much experience and directs the defence so he is a goalkeeper who makes a difference."


Napoli survived two shots against the woodwork before Higuain got clear of Kamil Glik and fired his shot past Daniele Padelli in the 90th minute.

The furious hosts claimed that Higuain had tripped Glik but the referee allowed the goal to stand.

Midtable Torino had plenty of chances and Cesare Bovo smashed a 25-metre shot against the post just before the half hour with Pepe Reina well beaten.

Riccardo Meggiorini also hit the post with only Reina to beat after he sprung the offside trap as Torino slumped to their fourth successive defeat without scoring.

Ciro Immobile, dropped from the Torino starting line-up, forced Reina to save with his legs after coming on and then fired over from 12 metres when it seemed easier to score after Jasmin Kurtic dispossessed Valon Behrami and rolled the ball to him.
Reuters ---------------------

Now I belong to Galatasaray: Didier Drogba

Now I belong to Galatasaray: Didier Drogba

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 10:52
Now I belong to Galatasaray: Didier Drogba
London: Galatasaray striker Didier Drogba admits he is unlikely to celebrate if he scores on his emotional return to Chelsea in the Champions League.

Drogba will be back at Stamford Bridge for the first time since leaving the Premier League club in 2012 when Galatasaray face Chelsea in a last 16 second leg clash on Tuesday.

The 36-year-old, whose final act as a Chelsea player was scoring the decisive penalty in the 2012 Champions League final win over Bayern Munich, returns to his old stomping ground with the tie delicately poised at 1-1 after the first leg.

The Ivory Coast international, who remains a hero to Chelsea fans and is still a close friend of Blues boss Jose Mourinho, is sure to get a warm welcome back in west London.

And, speaking at a pre-match press conference on Monday, Drogba conceded he would feel mixed emotions when he was asked if he would celebrate scoring the decisive goal at the Bridge.

"With all the respect that I have for this club, for the fans and for the players, I might not celebrate, but if we win I`ll be happy," Drogba said.

"I`m really happy to come back and to see some familiar faces.

"It`s a big game. The Champions League is a big competition and it means a lot for my team. I`ll find a way to play.

"It`s very difficult to play against Chelsea, but it`s not going to be difficult for me to put myself into the competition mode.

"Now I belong to Galatasaray. I need to be professional.

"Of course there will be emotions. Like the first leg to see my ex-team-mates and also the Chelsea fans in the stadium was special.

"But then there was the game and the game as you could see was tough, was good, with high intensity. I think it`s going to be the same tomorrow."

Mourinho, who signed Drogba for Chelsea from Marseille in 2004, was given a rousing ovation when he made his return to the Blues dugout in August after a near six-year absence and hopes the Ivorian will experience similar acclaim.

"To leave Chelsea on a high like I did, if I could do it I would do it again the same way," Drogba added.

"But then I always say that I believe in destiny and if I ever wanted to play again for this team, I think it could have happened a long time ago. As it didn`t there`s no problem with that. I`m really happy at Galatasaray.

"I`m focusing on this game tomorrow, because for me it`s an important one and I want it to be the best one."

Ronaldo, Romario in World Cup spat over free tickets

Ronaldo, Romario in World Cup spat over free tickets

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 11:06
Ronaldo, Romario in World Cup spat over free tickets
Rio de Janerio: Brazilian legends Ronaldo and Romario on Monday indulged in a World Cup war of words as the former accused his compatriot of blaming him for a promise of free tickets for handicapped fans which has not materialized.

"It is deplorable to see Romario, once again, make me publicly responsible for things which are outside my remit," World Cup Local Organization Committee member Ronaldo wrote on his Facebook page.

Romario, 1994 world champion and now a lawmaker, himself took to social media in recent days to to say that 2002 World Cup star and record tournament scorer Ronaldo "publicly promised free entrance for handicapped people".

"And so far, nothing."

One post shows the pair at a 2011 press conference during which Romario announced a promise on behalf of the Brazilian football Confederation (CBF) offering 32,000 free tickets or 500 per match for disabled people.

"Is it opportunism piggybacking on my image or ignorance?" asked an aggrieved Ronaldo.

"I do not know. What I do know is that instead of wasting time and energy trying to denigrate me, we would all gain if the congressman dedicated himself to seeking out good opele or institutions."

Ronaldo went on: "I did what I could as a citizen, to get a positive response from the institution (the CBF), and as local organizing committee spokesman I was proud to share the news with the public, with Romario.

"But I am not a politician, I do not represent the CBF, and I did not promise anything I could not deliver," Ronaldo insisted, aghast that Romario was painting him as "the author of the promise" for the free tickets.

In reality, "it is a commitment of the CBF".

Romario, who is standing in senate elections in October, has been a vociferous critic in recent months of the organization of the World Cup and the multibillion public investments accompanying the event -- a source of public ire.

He has often made Ronaldo the target of some of that criticism and also last week made trenchant televized criticism of FIFA president Sepp Blatter and the body`s secretary general Jerome Valcke.
AFP -------------------

Monday, 17 March 2014

Iniesta: Barcelona braced for Clasico 'war' with Real Madrid

Iniesta: Barcelona braced for Clasico 'war' with Real Madrid

Iniesta: Barcelona braced for Clasico 'war' with Real Madrid

The 29-year-old is confident the Blaugrana can triumph at the Bernabeu, while he thanked fans, team-mates and Blancos players for their support during a difficult week
Andres Iniesta is confident that his Barcelona side can win their "war" with Real Madrid on Sunday to narrow the gap at the top of the Primera Division.
The Blaugrana are currently four points behind the Liga-leading Blancos, but a 7-0 win over Osasuna on Sunday has breathed new life into the Catalans' bid to defend their Spanish title.
"Now comes the most difficult game of the season but also the most beautiful one,” the midfielder told Sport.

“We want to get a good feeling at the Bernabeu and we believe that we can win there.
"The Madrid-Barca game is a war of football, but what has happened in the past has stayed there.”
While they can propel themselves right back into the title race with a win in the Spanish capital, Iniesta admitted that things have not gone according to plan for Barca this term.
"It has not been a comfortable season," the World Cup winner confessed. "At all levels, there are many reviews, changes to be made - it has been difficult."
Iniesta scored in Barcelona’s 7-0 thrashing of Osasuna and celebrated the goal by sending a kiss up to the sky in memory of the child he and his wife lost last week.

"When one bad thing happens and you have a low moment, you realise the love of anonymous people and that gives you a lot of strength. My wife and my family appreciate all the love of these people," he said.
“I have received expressions of affection from the players of Real Madrid; there are more important things than a football game.” ----------------

Arsenal have stomach for title fight says Wenger

Arsenal have stomach for title fight says Wenger

Last Updated: Monday, March 17, 2014, 09:42
Arsenal have stomach for title fight says Wenger
London: Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal`s hard-fought 1-0 win over north London rivals Tottenham proves they won`t crack under the strain of the Premier League title race.

Wenger`s side have often been accused of lacking the mental strength and physical power to survive the gruelling battle for supremacy at the top of the table.

There has never been any questioning the Gunners` technical ability and that class was clear for all to see as Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky took just 72 seconds to open the scoring at White Hart Lane on Sunday with a sublime half-volley from an acute angle.

But Wenger`s players spent the remaining 88 minutes engaged in the kind of trench warfare from which they rarely seem to emerge unscathed.

This time it was different.

Arsenal centre-backs Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker subdued fired-up former Gunners striker Emmanuel Adebayor, while the rest of their team-mates threw themselves into the fray with abandon.

"The two centre-backs were exceptional. I think they are one of the best partnerships in the country," Wenger said.

"Today we had to be tough because Adebayor was sharp like he always is against us. We needed a good defensive performance and we got it from Mertesacker and Koscielny.

"Mentally in the last three games against Everton, Bayern and Tottenham, we have had to be absolutely focused and that is where our defenders have done very well. They kept their focus for 90 minutes.

"In the dressing room now you can see it means a lot. We had a disappointing result against Stoke and that was still in our minds. To stay in the race it was vital to win here."

By the time the dust had settled on the 999th match of Wenger`s Arsenal reign, the Gunners were firmly back in the title shake-up.

They trail leaders Chelsea by just four points, with a game in hand, and a titanic showdown with Jose Mourinho`s men looms at Stamford Bridge next weekend.

And Wenger acknowledged Rosicky`s brilliant strike had set the stage for one of the most important games of the season.

"It will go in my collection of great goals, I told Tomas that," Wenger said.

"It gets us a bit closer to Chelsea and makes the game next week even more interesting.

"It is a four point gap and we have a game in hand. We will see what happens but the next game is a very big one."

While Arsenal have renewed hope of a first league title since 2004, fifth placed Tottenham were left to rue a lack of cutting edge as they suffered a third defeat at the hands of their hated neighbours this season.

There were few dissenting voices when boss Tim Sherwood claimed his side deserved at least a point from a strong showing that saw them dominate possession and have 17 shots to Arsenal`s seven.

But Sherwood conceded their bid to qualify for the Champions League looks destined to end in failure.

"I think it was difficult (to make the top four) anyway," he said.

"I`m a winner, I want to win every match, but anyone who has seen this game knows we didn`t deserve to lose.

"This was always going to be a tough period for us but there`s no crisis."

Just three months after taking over from Andre Villas-Boas, Sherwood has had to endure mounting speculation that he could be replaced in the close-season.

But he believes the club`s chairman Daniel Levy needs to have more realistic expectations about Tottenham`s ability to compete with the league`s superpowers.

"Liverpool are a great example. In Brendan Rodgers` first season they finished seventh, but look at them now, challenging for the title," Sherwood said.

"It is a building process and requires patience. Whether that is something Tottenham want to do and whether they think I`m the person to rebuild it I don`t know.

"I`m always on trial. I knew that would be the case and it`s a challenge I relish."
AFP --------------------------

Manchester United job harder than I thought: David Moyes

Manchester United job harder than I thought: David Moyes

Last Updated: Monday, March 17, 2014, 10:50
Manchester United job harder than I thought: David Moyes
Manchester: Manchester United manager David Moyes conceded that he was finding his job harder than he could have ever envisaged after a chastening 3-0 home defeat by bitter rivals Liverpool.

The loss on Sunday was United`s ninth of the Premier League campaign -- five of which have come at home -- and carried echoes of the 4-1 humiliation at Manchester City in September that foreshadowed the club`s current struggles.

The defending champions mustered just one shot on target in the entire game, while Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers claimed with some justification that his side "could have scored five or six".

In the end the visitors had to content themselves with a brace of Steven Gerrard penalties and a late Luis Suarez strike.

Gerrard squandered a chance to complete a rare hat-trick of penalties when he sent a third spot-kick against the post, but the scoreline was still enough for United striker Wayne Rooney to brand it "one of the worst days I`ve ever had in football".

With United 12 points below the Champions League places, having played two more games than fourth-placed City, their hopes of reserving a berth in Europe`s premier club competition via the league have been all but dashed.

They also trail Greek champions Olympiakos 2-0 ahead of the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie on Wednesday, making their chances of qualifying by winning the tournament appear almost equally remote.

It is only 10 months since Alex Ferguson stepped down as manager after overseeing the club`s 20th league title triumph, and Moyes admits that the pace of United`s decline has taken him by surprise.

"The job was always going to be hard," he said. "Is it harder than I thought it would be? Yeah, I would say so."

United have beaten only one of the teams currently in the Premier League`s top nine -- Arsenal, in November -- but despite the damning statistical evidence, Moyes played down suggestions of a malaise.

"That tells you we`re not doing as well as we should be," he said.

"We have to play better and make ourselves harder to beat, harder to play against, and we are also going to have to make sure we are creating and taking more opportunities."He insisted that his players remain "confident" and "hard-working" and said that they would approach the game against Olympiakos at Old Trafford fully believing in their chances of reaching the quarter-finals.

"I think everyone wants to win, no matter what game you play, and give the supporters something to shout about," he said.

Moyes took umbrage with some of referee Mark Clattenburg`s decisions and Rodgers conceded that Liverpool`s third penalty, awarded for a foul on Daniel Sturridge by Nemanja Vidic, was "harsh".

Vidic was shown a second yellow card and angrily accused Sturridge of taking a dive, but despite Gerrard`s subsequent miss, there was no disguising the extent of Liverpool`s superiority.

They are now four points behind leaders Chelsea with a game in hand, but Rodgers remains reluctant to talk up his side`s title chances.

Asked if he had forbidden talk of the title, he told journalists: "I`ve not banned it. We have better things to talk about.

"It is about improving and getting better. I don`t lose sleep over it. We are up there on merit, so of course we have an opportunity -- I didn`t say no chance. If you think we have a chance, then write it."

Rodgers also expressed bewilderment at Moyes`s pre-match admission that Liverpool were probably the favourites to win the game.

"I was probably surprised when I heard we were supposedly coming to Old Trafford here as favourites," said the Northern Irishman.

"I would never say that at Liverpool, even if I was bottom of the league."

Moyes responded: "I just thought Liverpool were above us in the league and playing well and I thought any average person would have said the same thing."
AFP ---------------------

Draxler: Schalke don’t have much chance against Real Madrid

Draxler: Schalke don’t have much chance against Real Madrid

Draxler: Schalke don’t have much chance against Real Madrid

The midfielder isn’t holding out much hope of making it to the next round and, while he is happy with his side’s third place position in the league, he is hoping to finish second
Schalke starlet Julian Draxler has admitted that his team face an almost impossible challenge to overturn a 6-1 deficit in their Champions League round of 16 second leg against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday.

The Germany international, who has been linked with a move to the Liga leaders in the past, is excited about playing in the Spanish capital and says that he and his team-mates are desperate to give a good account of themselves, even though their dismal showing in Gelsenkirchen has left them with too much to do.

"Playing at the Santiago Bernabeu is the place where all the players want to play," Draxler told AS.

"However, our situation is comical. We are realistic enough to assess that after the 6-1 defeat we don’t have much chance against Real Madrid, however we will make it a good match."

The 20-year-old is happy with his side’s current third place position in the Bundesliga, but he is hoping his team can surpass Borussia Dortmund, who are second, in order to guarantee Champions League football next season.

"Victory over Augsburg [at the weekend] was almost perfect," Draxler enthused. "At this stage of the season we have confidence in ourselves, especially now that we have overtaken Leverkusen in the standings.

"Now we do not want to miss third place and, if possible, we want to get to second place. We should not make the mistake of watching what our opponents are doing." ---------------

'It's very interesting' - Wenger predicts tight end to title race

'It's very interesting' - Wenger predicts tight end to title race

'It's very interesting' - Wenger predicts tight end to title race

The Frenchman was impressed with his side's victory over Tottenham and believes the result blew the battle for the Premier League wide open
Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal made the title race “very interesting” by defeating Tottenham on Sunday.

An early goal from Tomas Rosicky gave the Gunners a narrow 1-0 win at White Hart Lane and kept them level on points with second-placed Liverpool, who thumped Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford.

The results mean the two sides sit four points behind the Blues with a game in hand each – while Manchester City lurk in fourth with three games in hand on the leaders – and Wenger is sure the race for the trophy will go to the wire.

"We wanted to get back in the race and the defeat of Chelsea, the win of Liverpool and of Man City away makes the final sprint very interesting,” he told Arsenal's official website. "It put us back in a good position.

“It's not in our hands because even if we win our game in hand we are still a point behind but if we continue to win our games that will of course be very important. Then it is in our hands.

“Then it's just focus, recover, focus and try to win the next game."

Arsenal needed to be at their best to win at White Hart Lane, with a spirited Spurs intent on victory, and Wenger was impressed by the focus his defenders displayed during the game.

"It's a very good day for us because we were under pressure to win this game and we won it," he added.

"The pressure of Tottenham was great but we absorbed it well with a great focus, great performance from our defenders and on the break we always looked dangerous.

"But we couldn't finish the game off. So we needed zero mistakes at the back and did that in a very convincing way.” --------------

Schweinsteiger: I'm not yet back to my best

Schweinsteiger: I'm not yet back to my best

Schweinsteiger: I'm not yet back to my best

The midfielder is happy with his form following a three-month injury lay-off but acknowledges that there is still much room for improvement
Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger is delighted to have returned to competitive football after a three-month absence but says that his performances are not yet as good as they should be.

The Germany international, who was sidelined for three months with an ankle injury, made his comeback in February and since then he has scored two goals in seven appearances, including the winner in a 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.

However, he still believes he has more to give and is working hard to reach top gear as soon as possible.

"I'm glad I no longer hurt as much. I feel a lot better." Schweinsteiger told his club’s official website.

"I am trying to reach my absolute top level as fast as possible. I'm not yet where I want to be [in terms of my level of performance], but I am glad that things are looking up."

Bayern’s sporting director Matthias Sammer is happy with Schweinsteiger’s recovery, but he has urged the midfielder to be patient and give himself time to get back to full fitness.

"I’ve known him for 20 months now and his whole movement is getting better,” added the 46-year-old. “He looks physically very stable.

“We should not forget that he wasn’t able to train really free after his operation.

“The timing is everything now. The last percentage of fitness will come with training and games.” -----------------

Lukman positive on World Cup place

Lukman positive on World Cup place

Lukman positive on World Cup place

The Dynamo Kiev midfielder believes he can still make the Super Eagles squad to the 2014 Fifa World Cup
Nigeria’s Lukman Harunahas not completely ruled himself out of the 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil as he believes he can still make the squad to the quadrennial football showpiece. The Ukraine-based player who is one of only two players to have represented Nigeria at all Fifa organised competitions last featured for the national team at the 2010 World Cup staged in South Africa.
According to him, he hopes his performance at club level gets him an invite to battle for a shirt in the star-studded squad.
"I understand my injury history had a role to play for a period of time but I'm in great shape right now," Haruna told BBC Sport.
"It's not an easy job for a coach to manage Nigeria with a lot of quality players in Europe, Asia and Africa.
"I just hope I've done enough at club level to be given a chance to fight for a place in the squad.
"When I played in South Africa I was very young and a little inexperienced, since then there have been highs and lows in my career but I'm more mature and hope to fulfill a dream by working extra hard to earn a recall.
"It's a massive two months for me to prove myself again because if it goes well then I'll have another chance,” concluded the former AS Monaco player who boasts of three goals in 15 league appearances for the Bilo-Syni this season. --------------

Seven up for Barcelona as Lionel Messi breaks another goal scoring record

Seven up for Barcelona as Lionel Messi breaks another goal scoring record

Last Updated: Monday, March 17, 2014, 09:51
Seven up for Barcelona as Lionel Messi breaks another goal scoring record
Madrid: Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick to become Barcelona`s all-time record goalscorer as they cut the gap on La Liga leaders Real Madrid to four points ahead of their meeting next weekend with a 7-0 thrashing of Osasuna.

After a slow start, the hosts were sparked into life by Messi`s opening goal as he flicked home at the near post from Alexis Sanchez`s cross.

Sanchez was next on the scoresheet as he finished off a similar move involving Andres Iniesta and Jordi Alba before Iniesta`s wonderful strike from 25 yards made it 3-0.

Messi then broke another record by registering his 370th Barca goal to overtake Paulinho Alcantara as the club`s record marksman before rounding off his hat-trick in between further strikes from Cristian Tello and Pedro Rodriguez.

"To enter into the history of this club is spectacular," Messi told Barca TV.

"If you play in this team it is much easier. This group continues to do great things and I think it deserves to continue winning things."

Next up for Barcelona is a trip to the Santiago Bernabeu next Sunday and Messi is sure they can get themselves back into the title race by ending Madrid`s five-month unbeaten run in all competitions.

"I hope we see a good version of Barcelona and we can get a positive result, which we need to still be in there fighting for La Liga just a point behind.

"We have a unique opportunity to cut the gap on Madrid. It will be a very difficult game because we are playing away from home and Real Madrid is a great team playing with a lot of confidence. It will be difficult but it all depends on us."

Amazingly, Barca had to withstand a bright opening from Osasuna as Victor Valdes produced a great save to deny Emiliano Armenteros and Oriol Riera was rightly flagged offside as he put the rebound into the net.

However, the Catalans opened the scoring 10 minutes later when Sanchez was fed by Xavi and Messi got across his man to delicately touch home the Chilean`s low cross.

Sanchez should have doubled his side`s advantage two minutes later when he chipped over with just Andres Fernandez to beat, but the former Udinese man made amends when he side-footed home after a lovely one-two between Alba and Iniesta opened up the Osasuna defence.

Iniesta then made it 3-0 with just his second goal of the season 11 minutes before half-time with a sweetly struck left-footed effort that flew into the top corner.

Fernandez was forced into fine saves from Dani Alves and Xavi to ensure Barca didn`t go in even further ahead at the break.

Osasuna should have got themselves back in the game early in the second-half as Riera and Roberto Torres failed to hit the target when presented with clear sights of goal.

They were soon further behind, though, as Messi slammed home Iniesta`s cut-back just after the hour mark to surpass Alcantara`s 369 goals in 357 games between 1912 and 1927.

Substitute Tello got his side`s fifth goal with virtually his first touch as he whipped the ball into the far corner from just outside the area.

Messi fittingly sealed his hat-trick as he received Dani Alves` pass before easily side-footing in from close range for his 31st goal of the season.

And Messi then teed up Pedro to make it 7-0 in stoppage time with a neat low finish past Fernandez.
AFP ----------------------

Didier Drogba vows to pile on the misery for Chelsea

Didier Drogba vows to pile on the misery for Chelsea

Last Updated: Monday, March 17, 2014, 10:56
Didier Drogba vows to pile on the misery for Chelsea
London: Galatasaray striker Didier Drogba has warned Chelsea not to expect any favours when he makes an emotional return to his old club for a decisive Champions League last 16 clash on Tuesday.

Jose Mourinho`s side are reeling after a tempestuous 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa on Saturday ended their 14-match unbeaten run in the Premier League and cast doubt about their ability to cope with the pressure of the title race.

The Blues imploded in spectacular fashion as Willian and Ramires were sent off, while Mourinho got his marching orders from referee Chris Foy after stepping onto the pitch to protest during the row that followed Ramires`s dismissal.

The FA will examine Foy`s match report before deciding whether to charge Mourinho, but there was no escaping the sense that Chelsea need to quickly recover their equilibrium to stop a promising season going up in smoke.

Mourinho`s men remain four points clear at the top of the table, but they have less margin for error in Champions League, where a win or high-scoring draw for Galatasaray in Tuesday`s second leg at Stamford Bridge would send the Turks into the quarter-finals following a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Istanbul last month.

In the circumstances, it will be something of a bittersweet reunion with Drogba, who is certain to be greeted as a returning hero by Chelsea fans before the match but could end up shattering their European dreams by the end of the night.

Drogba, who remains close to Mourinho and is reportedly considering an offer to return to Chelsea as a striker coach next season, won every major prize during a glorious eight-year stay in west London.

He was the hero of the club`s 2012 Champions League final victory against Bayern Munich, scoring a late equaliser and then netting the winning penalty in the shoot-out to seal Chelsea`s first ever European Cup.

On the eve of his first appearance at the Bridge since his departure immediately after that unforgettable night in Munich, Drogba admitted he is nervous about how he will react to being the centre of attention.

"First of all I was happy to play against my ex-club, against my friends. But at the same time it is a very special moment because I do not know what my reaction will be," Drogba told

"You know that I spent eight years at Chelsea, so I really don`t know, I am quite apprehensive about it.

"It`s the club where I experienced everything. It allowed me to get closer to the best players in the world."

Drogba makes no attempt to hide his love for Chelsea, but he would relish another run to the latter stages of the competition, even if it comes at the expense of his old friends.

"I hope that Galatasaray qualify. It will be difficult, but I think that regarding the welcome, I think I`m allowed to say that I will receive a warm welcome, because I know Chelsea`s fans and our relationship is really special," Drogba said.

"It will be great to see them again, I am looking forward to it."

There was one piece of good news for Mourinho after the Villa match as it emerged that Samuel Eto`o is expected to be fit for the Galatasaray tie.

Eto`o sat out the Villa game, but Fernando Torres gave a lacklustre performance in his place and Mourinho is likely to throw the Cameroon striker back into the fray.

Despite Saturday`s troubling defeat, Chelsea are still firm favourites to advance to the last eight in Europe, which would be a welcome tonic for Mourinho, who has never hidden his dislike for Galatasaray coach Roberto Mancini.

"In Istanbul we saw each other and only said `hello`. We certainly aren`t friends," Mancini was quoted as telling Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

"I don`t think Mourinho wants to have friends, or maybe that`s just the way he likes to appear."
AFP ----------------------

Andrea Pirlo free kick punishes Genoa, AC Milan lose

Andrea Pirlo free kick punishes Genoa, AC Milan lose

Last Updated: Monday, March 17, 2014, 11:13
Andrea Pirlo free kick punishes Genoa, AC Milan lose
Milan: Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon saved a penalty and Andrea Pirlo curled in a trademark free kick late in the game to give the Serie A leaders a dramatic 1-0 win at Genoa on Sunday.

Germany forward Mario Gomez scored for the second match running to help Fiorentina beat Chievo 3-1 and AC Milan`s crisis deepened when they lost 4-2 at home to Parma after playing for almost the entire match with 10 men.

Lazio eased their problems with a 2-0 win at Cagliari, Livorno`s 2-1 win over Bologna pulled them out of the relegation zone and Sassuolo came from behind to beat Catania 3-1 in the meeting of the bottom two.

Juventus forward Pablo Daniel Osvaldo had two first-half goals disallowed for offside with television replays suggesting that the first decision was correct and the second was not.

Buffon, equalling Dino Zoff`s record of 476 Juventus appearances, rescued the visitors when he saved Emanuele Calaio`s penalty in the 72nd minute after a handball by Arturo Vidal.

There was an air of inevitability about the outcome when Juventus won a free kick on the edge of the area with two minutes left and, sure enough, Pirlo curled a trademark effort over the wall and into the top corner.

Juventus, who have 75 points from 28 games and are almost certain to win their third successive title, are 17 clear of AS Roma who host Udinese on Monday (2000) when third-placed Napoli visit Torino (1800).

David Pizarro missed a penalty for Fiorentina but it did not matter as Juan Cuadrado, Alessandro Matri and Gomez, back in action after a knee injury, were on target against lowly Chievo, who replied through Alberto Paloschi.

Gomez also scored in the Europa League draw against Juventus on Thursday.


Milan slumped to a fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions and conceded four goals in a game for the second time in a week.

Milan, who had goalkeeper Christian Abbiati sent off in the fifth minute, came to life as they clawed back a 2-0 deficit, only for Parma forwards Amauri, with a brilliant back-heeled flick, and Jonathan Biabiany to win the game with late goals.

Milan, knocked out of the Champions League after an emphatic 4-1 defeat by Atletico Madrid, are stuck in 12th place with 35 points from 28 games after their 11th league defeat of a miserable campaign.

It quickly got worse when goalkeeper Abbiati clattered into Ezequiel Schelotto and suffered the so-called triple punishment of penalty, red card and automatic one-match suspension.

Midfielder Michael Essien was sacrificed to make way for substitute goalkeeper Marco Amelia, whose first job was to pick the ball out the back of the net as former Milan player Antonio Cassano fired home the penalty.

It seemed to be all over when Cassano was given too much space and added a second six minutes after halftime, but Roberto Donadoni`s team then relaxed.

Adil Rami headed one back from a corner five minutes later and Balotelli levelled with a 76th-minute penalty, harshly awarded after Riccardo Montolivo went down under Joel Obi`s challenge.

A heroic draw or even win was on the cards but it quickly turned to disaster when Schelotto fired over a low cross from the right and Amauri got in front of Nigel de Jong and brilliantly flicked the ball in with his heel.

Milan finished dispirited and demoralised, leaving the pitch to a howl of protests after Biabiany headed the fourth with the last move of the game.

Lazio, whose fans are furious with club president Claudio Lotito over a lack of investment in the team, won 2-0 at Cagliari with goals by Senad Lulic and Keita Balde to climb to seventh (41 points).

Teenager Balde`s goal came one minute after Mauricio Pinilla missed a penalty for Cagliari, who again played in front of less than 5,000 fans due to ongoing rebuilding work at their Sant`Elia stadium.

Sassuolo`s win lifted them off the bottom to 19th with 21 points, where they were replaced by opponents Catania (20). Bologna (23) dropped into the bottom three below Livorno and Chievo (24).

Sampdoria`s revival was abruptly halted with a 3-0 loss at Atalanta.
Reuters ----------------------

AC Milan ultras meet players, coach to air grievances

AC Milan ultras meet players, coach to air grievances

Last Updated: Monday, March 17, 2014, 11:28
AC Milan ultras meet players, coach to air grievances
Milan: AC Milan coach Clarence Seedorf and some of his players met a group of the team`s ultra supporters to listen to their grievances following the 4-2 home defeat by Parma in Serie A on Sunday.

"It was a very peaceful meeting, nothing in particular," the Dutchman told Sky Sport Italia. "After two years of suffering, they wanted to express their feelings.

"I just went to watch. There is great respect for the Milan shirt on the part of everyone. Sometimes it helps just to listen and give the fans a voice, so they know we hear them.

"I experienced something similar when I was at Botafogo (in Brazil)," he added. "If they feel the fans are helping, the team will react."

Local media said forward Mario Balotelli and playmaker Kaka were among the players who met the fans` representatives in a room inside the stadium.

Milan fans are angry with the team`s campaign after they dropped to 12th in Serie A and were knocked out of the Champions League following a 4-1 defeat at Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Seedorf`s side have lost their last four games in all competitions.

Around 300 fans waited outside the entrance before the game and jeered and protested when the team bus entered the stadium.

They also left part of the San Siro stadium`s Curva Sud empty in another protest at the team`s performances.

Chief executive Adriano Galliani, criticised for the club`s recent signings, and Balotelli were the main targets of the protests.

"Of course it hurts, especially as people ought to remember this team`s past," Galliani told Sky before the game. "Over the last decade we`ve been the only Italian side regularly in Europe.

"I am disappointed and I certainly don`t like to see the fans against the team and part of the club, but I continue smiling."

Seedorf, who abandoned his playing career to join Milan for his first coaching job January, told the post-match press conference that his team had to get out of a negative spiral.

"I continue believing that we can change course and finish the season on a high, then we can build a competitive Milan," he told reporters.
Reuters -------------------