sâmbătă, 28 decembrie 2013

Rodgers relishing Chelsea test

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has no complaints as his side heads to Chelsea for the second part of a double-header he claims could not be harder.

Liverpool, which topped the Premier League at Christmas, travels to Stamford Bridge to face another title challenger just three days after a battling loss at Manchester City.

Liverpool impressed at the Etihad Stadium but was edged out 2-1 in a thrilling game of chances and controversy and the challenge is now to maintain that intensity against Jose Mourinho's men.

Rodgers said: "For us it couldn't be any tougher. We're playing against the two teams who arguably have the two best squads in the league.

"They can change all 11 players and still have a team that challenges at the top of the table.

"We'll go into the game and do our best, that's what we have done.

"Of course this period is always difficult, no matter what way you look at it.

"It's not ideal but it's what happens and it's what makes it exciting to be in the country at this time. We embrace it and we'll look to get a result."

Rodgers knows Mourinho well having worked under him as a youth-team coach during the Portuguese's first spell with the London club.

Mourinho returned in the northern summer amid high expectation but his team has been criticised of late for playing without spark and lacking a cutting edge.

Yet it remains firmly in title contention and Rodgers feels that could be an ominous sign for rivals.

He said: "They have a lot of quality. Over the last 10 years they have been one of the most successful clubs in the country and in Europe.

"How they have been building up that squad and changing it has been remarkable.

"They have got a host of talented players and a world-class manager. We understand how difficult it will be.

"They are getting the results and that is all that will concern Jose and the supporters.

"Every team will always look to improve their performance level.

"Certainly with him coming into a new group of players, it will take him time to understand the method of how they work.

"But they are up there in that top four, where they would expect to be."

Liverpool is short on numbers with forward Victor Moses ineligible to play against his parent club and the likes of Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Joe Enrique and Jon Flanagan sidelined.

But Rodgers is happy with the standards being set and found many positives in the Boxing Day reverse to City.

The result may have left it fourth after the game but the platform is still there for a possible title challenge.

Rodgers said: "The last game gives us confidence and belief, but we arrive into this game knowing it's going to be equally difficult.

"Over my time here, whatever squad we are working with, we have always been able to galvanise the group.

"The team has been able to go again and that's something that we'll look to do for the weekend.

"We've been improving as the season has gone on. If you look at the last number of weeks, the performance level and the standard has been at a real high level.

"I think we're a team that shows great confidence and belief in how we're training and how we're working.

"We're taking that confidence into any stadium, home or away, and that's always difficult for an opponent.

"I think you've seen the aggression, the charisma, the confidence and the consistency over these last 12 months.

"I think (our position) will fluctuate between now and the end of the season - one day you're first, then you're fourth.

"But as long as we're in the conversation with 10 games to go, then it will be all to play for.

"That's the idea, to arrive at that point in a position where we are going to be able to challenge."

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Wenger: We must stay focused

Arsene Wenger has warned his side their championship ambitions will be "in trouble" if they lose focus on the Premier League title race.

The Gunners head to Newcastle on today looking to maintain their place at the summit after coming from behind to beat West Ham 3-1 on Boxing Day.

However, there is now little room for error if they are to keep ahead of the chasing pack, with Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea all looking to exploit any weakness heading into the new year.

"We want to stay in the race," said Wenger, who could be without midfielder Aaron Ramsey for several week's if scans confirm a serious thigh injury which forced the Wales midfielder off at Upton Park on Boxing Day.

"We have won at West Ham and we go game by game with a big ambition - but we know as well that in the Premier League you always set high standards, and as soon as you drop a fraction, you are in trouble."

The Gunners boss continued: "It is down to consistency and until now we have been consistent.

"You are always judged on your last result, but at the end of the day it is down to how consistent you will be.

"We have just had some games that were very difficult because we played against Everton at home, we played in Naples (in the Champions League), we played at Manchester City and against Chelsea, so you know that you could drop some points there.

"But the most important thing is to come back and be consistent, as you would expect from us."

Arsenal secured a place in the top four and another shot at Champions League football with a 1-0 victory at Newcastle on the final day of last season, a result which was greeted with jubilation by the players and fans alike.

Wenger, though, maintains the stakes are different this time around.

"We celebrated because it was that or play in the Europa League, so when you see the players today, they extended their contracts on condition that we play in the Champions' League," he said.

"What you want is to fight for the championship and at the moment we are in the race and what can keep us in the race is consistency."

Wenger now has some real options within the squad.

German international Lukas Podolski returned from a four-month hamstring injury lay-off to score the third goal at West Ham, while Czech playmaker Tomas Rosicky rested completely on Boxing Day.

England international Jack Wilshere is back from his two-game ban on today, which will go some part to offset the loss of Ramsey.

Nevertheless, Arsenal are expected to bring in some reinforcements in January, and have been linked with a move for Atletico Madrid forward Diego Costa.

Wenger, though, again refused to be drawn on any of his plans for when the sales open up again next week.

"I am happy with what I have and at the moment the transfer market is closed," he said.

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luni, 23 decembrie 2013

Joe Hart to keep his place for Manchester City against Liverpool

After returning to Manchester City’s starting XI for the first time in eight Premier League games, Joe Hart will keep his spot for Thursday’s game against Liverpool, the England international having done enough on Saturday at Fulham to win over Manuel Pellegrini.

Satisfied with his former No. 1′s performance in the Citizens’ 4-2 win at Craven Cottage, Pellegrini is ready to give Hart his first back-to-back starts since benching him after Oct. 27′s loss at Stamford Bridge.

“Joe did well and it was not easy,” Pellegrini said after Saturday’s . “The pitch was very quick and there was a lot of wind but he had a very good game.”

“He deserved to play and he also deserves to continue.”

Back in October, the 2-1 defeat at Chelsea was decided when Hart’s late misread allowed Fernando Torres to win a ball at the edge of the penalty area. New the end of regulation time, the Spanish international was granted an empty net for the match-winner. Since Hart had only made three appearances before Saturday’s start: two games in Champions League, one in League Cup. Though Hart allowed five goals in that span, City went 3-0-0, a run that featured a win in Germany over Bayern Munich.

Hart conceded two more goals against Fulham, but one came off the foot of City defender Vincent Kompany, whose shanked clearance looped into the Citizens’ net in Saturday’s second half. When not being scored on by his teammates, Hart made three saves and only conceded when Kieran Richardson was given a sitter in the 50th minute. Had Pantilimon been in goal, Fulham would have still been left with two goals.

In his nine matches, Pantilimon conceded nine times and kept four clean sheets, that Citizens going 7-1-1 in that time. The 26-year-old Romanian’s last appearance was Dec. 14 against Arsenal, a game Manchester City won, 6-3.

As for whether Pantilimon might be back in net after Thursday’s match, we can only assume Pellegrini sees the situation as evolving.

“In every match, we could play with 11 different starters, but at the moment Joe will continue to play.”

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sâmbătă, 21 decembrie 2013

Anigo seeks first Marseille Ligue 1 win

Jose Anigo will bid for the first Ligue 1 victory of his spell as caretaker boss of Marseille when Bordeaux visit the Stade Velodrome on Sunday.

The sporting director took charge of the side for the third time earlier this month following the sacking of Elie Baup.

In Anigo's first league game, OM fought back from two goals down to draw with Lyon while, midweek, they defeated Toulouse in the Coupe de la Ligue.

After the win, the Marseille native revealed he could continue in the role for the rest of the season.

"The president spoke to me for a long time before the game. He's going to take his time to pick a new coach. It could take five months. I'm here until Christmas and I'll be here when we start again.

"I don't know what will happen after the season resumes. It wasn't what I had planned, but I'm at the service of the club. I expect the second half of the season to be difficult, but it's a great challenge."

Marseille are already 15 points behind leaders Paris St Germain and trail Sunday's opponents Bordeaux by two points.

Les Girondins have recovered from a poor start to climb to fourth on the table and are bidding for a fifth straight league win.

Goalkeeper Cedric Carrasso said on ligue1.com: "We almost couldn't have hoped for it when you see the start to the season we made.

"There's a certain pride. We're going to Marseille without too much pressure. We've been able to pick ourselves up and we have a bonus match to play against OM."

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Benitez pleased with Napoli results

Rafa Benitez is proud of Napoli's achievements this season but is demanding focus ahead of Saturday's Serie A clash against Cagliari.

Benitez's men collected 12 points in the UEFA Champions League but failed to get out of its group.

It is third on the Serie A table and Benitez stressed the importance of another victory before the winter break.

"We know that this is a special game (against Cagliari)," he said.

"Obviously it is a difficult one, as we know that the last game before Christmas always is.

"We have spoken about this, especially during the last two training sessions, which the team has performed wonderfully in, and even today we tried to reiterate the point to our players.

"So both the team and the manager are completely ready and we will see during the match how it goes, but we know for certain that it is going to be a very, very difficult match."

Pressed on his side's hopes of winning the Serie A this season, he replied: "Well, it's not really (easy to predict) because in the end we are talking about a path we are undertaking, not a single match.

"Obviously if we win it will be even better but I think that achieving what we have in the Champions League where we collected 12 points against great teams, but also in the league, in only five months is very positive.

"Could it be better? Obviously, but we have faith that the next year will be even better."

Benitez revealed he will explore his options ahead of the January transfer window but knows it will be difficult to find players better than he already has.

"I think that all managers at this time of the year say the same thing: 'We expect a few gifts'. It is normal," he said.

"In our case we have worked a lot to be prepared for this transfer window because the winter transfer window is not an easy one.

"It is hard to find players that are better, or can do certain things better, than the ones we currently have in our squad.

"But we are currently still working and we will see if someone comes. If not, we will work even harder."

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Key clash for Schalke coach

Schalke coach Jens Keller will discover after Saturday's trip to Nuremberg whether he still has a future at the Gelsenkirchen club.

Pressure is mounting on the Royal Blues' coach with five points currently separating them from fourth place and qualification for the Champions League next season.

Furthermore, they have already been knocked out of the DFB-Pokal and face a challenge to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League after being drawn against Real Madrid in the last 16.

Schalke's director of sport Horst Heldt has admitted the coach's position is hanging in the balance, and that a decision one way or the other can be expected this weekend.

"We live in a performance society and we've made ourselves open to attack by not obtaining the desired results," he said in the Bild newspaper.

"Speculation is therefore inevitable.

"I don't want to give any false promises or lies, but I'd rather just be respectful with everybody.

"We're sticking to the plan, which is to make an analysis on Sunday after the Nuremberg game.

"Every single player will be examined, and that includes the coaching team too. It will all come down to how we summarise the first half of the season."

Roughly translated, Heldt's words indicate that Keller is dependent on how his side performs at the Frankenstadion, whereas the result rather than the actual performance is the priority.

The under-fire coach seems to have understood that, making his one wish for the festive season "three points in Nuremberg".

"We want to end the year on a high and that means we'll put all we can into getting the three points," he added at a press conference.

Getting three points in a single game has remained elusive to Nuremberg so far this season, so there are no prizes for guessing what their aim will be on Saturday.

"We want to win the game," said coach Gertjan Verbeek. "I'm convinced that the first game we win will open the floodgates."

Verbeek is without the suspended Emanuel Pogatetz, but Verbeek says there will be "no other change" to the team he sent out against Hannover a week ago.

There may be a change to the squad this winter, though, with the Dutch coach revealing his interest in signing defender Jan Kirchhoff from Bayern Munich.

"Everybody knows we need a player for this position and one of the names we've looked at is him," said Verbeek.

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vineri, 20 decembrie 2013

Free In-Play bet on Arsenal v Chelsea

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duminică, 8 decembrie 2013

Everton set crosshairs on leaders Arsenal

The strength of Arsenal's grasp on top spot in the Premier League will be tested on Sunday when Manchester United's latest conquerors Everton visit the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal have bounced back from their 1-0 loss at United last month with three consecutive victories, culminating in Wednesday's 2-0 win over Hull City, but the chasing pack remain on their tails.

The London club could have had their lead whittled down to a single point by the time they take to the field on Sunday, if second-place Chelsea emerge victorious from their trip to Stoke City 24 hours earlier.

Third-place Manchester City and fourth-place Liverpool also have opportunities to close the gap, while Everton themselves know that a win would take them to within just four points of Arsene Wenger's side.

"They have played many of the big teams in the league and overall are in a very strong position in the league," said Wenger of Sunday's opponents.

"They have just come out of a win against Manchester United. We are lucky this season a little bit, because there is always a big warning before we play these teams, because they have exceptional results.

"That keeps us on our toes. We know for us it is a big game."

While Arsenal have twice tasted defeat this season, and both United and City have been beaten on four occasions, Everton have lost just once, at City on October 5.

Allied to their successes over Chelsea and United, it has seen Roberto Martinez's side emerge as the team most likely to muscle in on the traditional heavyweights' tussle for Champions League qualification.

Wednesday's 1-0 win at Old Trafford was Everton's first league success at United since August 1992 and will give them the belief that they can end a similar run of 17 games without victory at Arsenal that stretches back to January 1996.

Bryan Oviedo was Everton's match-winner at United, netting in the 86th minute to claim his second goal since coming into the team at left-back in place of injured England international Leighton Baines.

Baines has been linked with a move to United but manager Martinez rejected suggestions that the Costa Rica international was being groomed as his successor.

"Nothing changes," said the Spaniard. "We are in the middle of the season, we have just gone 14 games and the only thing we are thinking about is finishing the season with the strongest squad possible.

"The last thing we want is to lose experienced players, players who mean a lot to Everton and who represent a lot in terms of what we want to achieve."

While Martinez hopes to see Baines -- who has a broken toe -- return to action before Christmas. He has admitted that Ivorian striker Arouna Kone's knee injury is likely to keep him out for the whole season.

Wenger, meanwhile, is likely to restore Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud to his starting XI, having made five changes for the victory over Hull.

However, right-back Bacary Sagna and forward Lukas Podolski are not yet ready to return from their respective hamstring injuries.

Former Everton midfielder Arteta has been impressed by his old side's recent form and believes that their victory over United suggests they could be on the verge of a breakthrough campaign.

"Everton are having a great season and they have got great results against top teams, which is not easy," he said.

"It was a big result (at United), it was massively important for them and will boost their confidence, so we are going to face a really difficult team for sure."

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duminică, 1 decembrie 2013

Man United out to prolong Spurs pain

Manchester United will be hoping to move back into the top four of the Premier League as they head to White Hart Lane to take on under fire Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas.

Spurs haven’t been on the best of runs in the league of late, and this was epitomised by their 6-0 loss at home to City last weekend, they did win in Europe on Thursday though, beating Tromso 2-0.

United on the other hand are in a rich vein of form despite throwing away two points in the league last weekend. On Wednesday they went to the BayArena and demolished Leverkusen; a side who were previously unbeaten at home since March.

Manchester United could welcome back a trio of players from injury today, including star striker Robin van Persie who has been out with a groin problem. Nemanja Vidic could also return after his spell on the sidelines due to concussion, and Rafael da Silva is in line for only his third start of the season in all competitions. Michael Carrick is definitely out of the game as he continues his recovery from a calf issue.

Our hosts have a few senior injury problems of their own. Christian Eriksen will definitely miss the game with an ankle problem, meaning Lewis Holtby will probably continue in the #10 role. Danny Rose will also miss out, with Jan Vertonghen probably staying at left-back in his place. There are also doubts about the fitness of Emmanuel Adebayor and Harry Kane.

Tottenham will be looking to bounce back today, and United will be looking to continue their good form.

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sâmbătă, 30 noiembrie 2013

Simeone insists Elche a tough test

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone says his side are in for a tough time against Elche despite 20 points already separating the sides.

Atletico are flying in La Liga to be second on the table, just three points behind pace-setters Barcelona.

Simeone's men have won 12 of their 14 league games this term, with only one loss to their name, to have 37 points with the season not even halfway done yet.

The capital outfit's next assignment is on the road to 10th-placed Elche, who were only promoted to Spain's premier division this season.

Elche have only managed four league victories so far in 2013-14 and Atletico have won five of seven away games already.

But despite all of that, Simeone insists the impending encounter will be challenging for his rampant side.

"It's going to be hard for us," he said.

"Elche are a good team with a coach who gets the best out of his players.

"It's going to be a completely different match to Villarreal (a 1-1 draw on November 10) - I think it might be a bit tighter than that.

"They have a squad that can adapt to different styles of play, and are good in all sorts of different situations."

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Gunners wary of Cardiff threat

Arsene Wenger insists leaders Arsenal will learn from the mistakes of their Premier League title rivals when they face Cardiff on Saturday.

Wenger's side head to Cardiff looking to extend their advantage at the top of the table before the rest of the main title challengers play on Sunday.

A win would move the Gunners seven points clear of second placed Liverpool, who face Hull 24 hours later, but success at the Cardiff City Stadium is far from a given for Arsenal because Malky Mackay's men have already frustrated Manchester City and Manchester United in south Wales this season.

City were beaten 3-2 in August, while United had to settle for a 2-2 draw last weekend and Wenger has no intention of underestimating the Bluebirds in Arsenal's first league fixture at Cardiff since 1961.

"They beat City at home and they played a very good game against Manchester United where possession was 50-50, so that is the challenge for us - to do better than these teams," Wenger said.

"We have the warning of their performances against the big teams, so we are in a position where we have a difficult challenge, but also a very exciting challenge because we can do better.

"Cardiff look to have good solidarity, good togetherness and fantastic support as well.

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vineri, 29 noiembrie 2013

Dortmund boosted by midweek win

Borussia Dortmund will hope their impressive record against Mainz can secure them a first win in three Bundesliga matches on today.

The sides meet at the Coface Arena and it is the hosts who are in better domestic form, having won three of their last four top-flight games, with Shinji Okazaki finding the net on four occasions in that time.

However, Mainz have not beaten today's opponents in their last six attempts, as Jurgen Klopp returns to a club where he both played and managed.

Klopp's Dortmund have stalled somewhat in the Bundesliga recently, losing 2-1 at Wolfsburg prior to the international break before going down 3-0 at home to champions Bayern Munich last time out.

Despite injuries to the likes of Marcel Schmelzer, Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic, Dortmund kept their hopes of UEFA Champions League qualification alive on Tuesday with a 3-1 win over Napoli.

Sven Bender sustained a broken nose in that match but was able to finish the game, although Klopp is keen to leave any decisions on selection until as late as possible.

"We still have two days to make a decision," Klopp said.

"We will look carefully to know who can cope with the burden (of playing twice in five days). We will deal with the issue of rotation and look for who is fit."

Klopp signed Manuel Friedrich in an attempt to bolster his depleted defence and revealed his pleasure at how the 34-year-old has fitted in at Signal Iduna Park.

"Manny embodies all that makes up our game and what we have shown in recent years," he said. "He has an exceptional character."

Dortmund have dropped points in half of their Bundesliga matches on the road this season, while Mainz have not lost at home in their last three.

Their last two matches in Mainz have yielded 2-0 and 1-0 wins over Eintracht Braunschweig and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively, while they were 3-2 winners over Werder Bremen at the Weserstadion on Sunday.

Mainz coach Thomas Tuchel has also been handed a boost with the news that Zdenek Pospech is fit despite being taken off in the win over Bremen, while Christian Wetklo is available for a return after serving his suspension.

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joi, 28 noiembrie 2013

Montella: Fiorentina Want To Finish First

Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Montella is confident the Viola will perform to their usual standards against Pacos de Ferreira on Thursday despite already qualifying for the next round of the Europa League.

The Gigliati have already booked their ticket to the next round but Montella stated that his side have reason to push for first place in Group E.

“Certainly finishing first is extra motivation in order to avoid the club’s that are coming from the Champions League in the next round,” he stated at his pre-match press conference.

“We must five our response on the pitch after a defeat in the championship [against Udinese]: we must get on the right path and win.

“It is important to analyse Sunday’s defeat and understand where we went wrong. We had the wrong approach on how to get back into the game and worked hard, but in an inefficient fashion.

“We played an ugly second half while doing well in the first. And I even told that to the squad on Sunday.”

Giuseppe Rossi and Borja Valero have been left at home in order to rest but the tactician is confident his side will play well regardless.

“Our position allows us to rest some players, but I am absolutely confident the team will play its usual level of football

“I am satisfied with what I have seen so far. Our objective in the Europa League is to go as far as possible, ideally to the final.”

Striker Mario Gomez had hoped to make his comeback for the Viola but a recent check-up in Germany confirmed an inflammation of the knee after his recent surgery.

“We know that there can be complications with some injuries.

“I won’t cry about it. We know there are players who can benefit from his forced absence.”

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Owen Coyle wants big fish in knock-out stages

Owen Coyle is already dreaming of landing one of Europe's big fish as Wigan attempt to clinch qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League.

The Latics meet Belgians Zulte Waregem on Thursday night knowing victory would be enough to send them through to the last 32 providing Maribor do not beat table-toppers Rubin Kazan in Russia.

Wigan manager Coyle said: "We're the only second-tier team operating in the Europa League and we have a fantastic chance with two games to go to qualify for the knock-out stages, which would be an incredible achievement. We want to do everything in our power to try and achieve that goal.

"We want to stand toe-to-toe with some good players and good teams. We've done that to this point but we want to take that to the next stage.

"The incentive is there not only for ourselves but also Zulte Waregem, because it could be a Milan, an Ajax, a Napoli - there's going to be some fantastic teams coming out of the Champions League never mind the quality that's already in the Europa League.

"For us to be able to reach that 32 would be a great achievement but we're going to have to go and earn it. This is a very good side, very attack-minded, they've got some terrific players."

Rubin's game is an early kick-off so Wigan will know by the start of their match whether they can clinch qualification on Thursday or whether it will go down to their last group game in Maribor next month.

Rubin have been the class act of Group D and look certain to secure top spot, but Wigan have acquitted themselves well in their first European campaign and only suffered their first defeat last time out in a narrow 1-0 loss to the Russians.

Zulte were Wigan's first opponents in Europe when the teams shared a goalless draw in Bruges in September.

Franck Dury's side are second in the Belgian league and their standout player is on-loan striker Thorgan Hazard, who, along with his better-known brother Eden, is on Chelsea's books.

History is on Wigan's side, with no Belgian team having beaten an English club on these shores in 29 attempts, dating back to Antwerp's win over Aston Villa in 1975.

Defender Leon Barnett is keen for Wigan to complete the task, and he said: "As someone who hasn't played in the Europa League before, it's very important for me.

"It's a chance to progress and maybe get a bigger team in the next round. It's something I want to do and I want to do it the right way."

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Laudrup highlights Valencia threat

Swansea City manager Michael Laudrup has warned his side not to underestimate Thursday's UEFA Europa League opponents Valencia.

Laudrup's men secured a 3-0 victory over Valencia at the Mestalla in September, with Miroslav Djukic's side currently 11th in La Liga following defeat against Elche on Sunday.

Despite their mixed league form, Valencia have won three consecutive Group A fixtures to secure qualification for the knockout stages.

Laudrup is aware of the challenge Valencia pose and believes Thursday's game will be a different proposition from their previous meeting in Spain.

"When we played Valencia in the Mestalla, it was in very special circumstances," he said.

"They had just had three defeats, but it changed just after we played them. They got back on track and won three or four games.

"Now, unfortunately, they have lost a couple of games in the last week, but I think it's different this time because they have already qualified.

"In Valencia, I think we played a great game, but we have to remember they played nearly 80 minutes with a player less. It would be nice to repeat it, but it won't be easy.

"My players all realise that it will be much more difficult to beat Valencia than it was in the first game."

Swansea could progress past the group stages prior to their game with Valencia, if St Gallen fail to beat Kuban Krasnodar in Russia.

Laudrup is not only keen to secure qualification, but also overhaul Valencia at the top of the group.

"I think we are in a very good position. Now we just have to finish it," he added.

"Whether you finish first or second in the group, the team you face (in the next round) is more or less of the same quality.

"Of course, there are a couple of teams that are really good sides, but, for me, the only difference is, if you are top of the group, you will play the second leg at home."

While Wayne Routledge, Michu and Garry Monk are ruled out of Thursday's fixture at the Liberty Stadium, Pablo Hernandez could make return from a thigh injury against his former club.

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miercuri, 27 noiembrie 2013

Conte Admits Juventus Must Defeat Copenhagen

Juventus coach Antonio Conte is confident ahead of his side’s vital Champions League Group game at home to Copenhagen on Wednesday.

The 44-year-old also revealed that Andrea Barzagli will not be back in time to face the Danish side after suffering an injury on international duty but may be in contention for the game against Udinese on December 1.

“The fact that we have to go out and win makes things difficult for us,” Conte told the press.

“I am calm, I have some great guys here with whom we have tackled challenges from both inside and outside over the past two and a half years.”

Conte also responded to the suggestion that the fans could possibly protest against a ban for offensive chants against Neapolitans at the Champions League game by sitting in silence for the entire 90 minutes:

“I’m not worried, I’ve always said that the fans are our secret weapon and I find it hard to even imagine a game without them,” he continued.

“It seems difficult to me to believe that they will abandon us in such a time of need.”

The Bianconeri tactician also sounded coy when asked about tactics.

“I don’t have a point of reference for the Champions League,” he said.

“We have used two different systems that have left us with one defeat and three draws.

“We play with the formation that gives us more security at the back and now it seems to me that the old system gives us more defensive stability.”

Conte also praised striker Fernando Llorente for his contributions after a difficult start to the season.

“Fernando has been very good,” he admitted.

“He arrived here a world and European champion and had the patience and desire to believe in his work.

“He is improving in every way and he can continue to improve even more.”

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Man United target Bayer win to help focus on league

Manchester United travel to Germany knowing that a victory against opposition Bayer Leverkusen will guarantee qualification to the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

David Moyes’ side are unbeaten in Europe this season but have failed to win away from home in the competition so far with two tepid draws against Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Sociedad, which leaves Bayer Leverkusen and Shakhtar in touching distance in Group A should United slip up on Wednesday.

United currently sit a point ahead of Leverkusen and three in front of third placed Shakhtar but qualification is not seen as something of a formality just yet, with United tentative on the road in Europe under David Moyes. Leverkusen, managed by former Liverpool defender Sami Hyppia, are also in impressive form going in to the fixture.

After United were victorious against the German outfit in the opening game of the group, Hyppia’s men have taken seven points from their last three in Europe and have won their last eight Champions League group games at the BayArena.

United’s task is complicated somewhat with a number of first team players unavailable for selection. Maroaune Fellaini is suspended following his dismissal against Real Sociedad last time out while Michael Carrick is still recovering from an Achilles problem. Robin van Persie, so often United’s talisman also missed training this morning and is unlikely to feature.

Wayne Rooney is the highest scoring Englishman in Champions League history with 29 goals and a man in a rich vein of form this campaign. He could tip the balance in Manchester United’s favour and there are great odds of 6-1 for Rooney to score any time with a United win.

Danny Welbeck made a surprise return to action against Cardiff on Sunday while Phil Jones, Shinji Kagawa and Rafael all trained with the first team and may push for selection.

For Leverkusen, Sidney Sam’s absence will be a big blow with the German international scoring a remarkable 11 goals from out wide so far this season. Hyppia is also likely to be without defender Robert Hilbert and midfielder Stefan Rienhartz but Stefan Kiessling, match-winner for Leverkusen at the weekend, should lead the line and the big 29-year-old has already found the net 12 times this campaign.

The two sides met on Match Day One of the competition and United took the spoils with an exciting 4-2 early season victory. A similar outcome on Wednesday would be the perfect tonic for David Moyes who suffered anguish at the weekend with Cardiff City scoring a last-minute equaliser to snatch a deserved 2-2 draw.

United are without an away win in their last four Champions League group games, which is their worst run since 2005, but have only conceded eight goals in their last 15 away matches in Europe. Leverkusen have never beaten United in five meetings but have never kept a clean sheet either.

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luni, 25 noiembrie 2013

Barcelona seek group supremacy in Ajax

Barcelona can ensure they finish top of Champions League Group H with just a point when they travel to face Ajax on Tuesday.

Gerardo Martino’s men have already qualified for the last-16 and shrugged off the absence of Lionel Messi and Victor Valdes among others to maintain their place atop La Liga with a comprehensive 4-0 win over Granada on Saturday.

Cesc Fabregas was on target once more at the weekend and he has echoed his coach’s calls for there to be no excuses despite the absence of a number of key players.

“We want to be prepared for everything that is coming,” he said. “There is total unity in the group and understanding with the coach.

“We need to try so that the other players aren’t missed and we managed that against Granada, but we are talking about very important players.”

The Catalans will be boosted by the return of Xavi Hernandez after he sat out the Granada match with a hamstring problem.

However, Adriano has joined Jordi Alba and Adriano on the sidelines, leaving Martin Montoya as the only senior full-back available to Martino.

Their absence could see Carles Puyol make a return to right-back, where he began his career, or 20-year-old Barca B prospect Patric may be handed his debut after being included in Martino’s 19-man squad for the trip to Amsterdam.

Despite his side’s injury problems, Martino has still selected a strong squad and the likes of Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Alexis Sanchez and Neymar are all expected to start.

Ajax, meanwhile, still have aspirations of joining Barca in the last-16 as they lie third in the group, but just a point behind AC Milan with the Dutch champions still to travel to Milan on matchday six.

However, Frank de Boer’s men could be without two of their more influential attacking players as Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Siem de Jong are doubtful after picking up injuries on international duty last week.

Both men missed Saturday’s comfortable 3-0 home win over Heracles that kept Ajax just two points behind Vitesse Arnhem atop the Eredivisie.

Danny Hoesen and Davy Klaasen made their claim to be included as both scored in De Jong and Sigthorsson’s absence.

However, De Boer knows that much more will be required if they are to take something from Barcelona on Tuesday.

“It’s good for their confidence that they scored. They did their best, but I know they can both still do much better,” he told.

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Dortmund braced for must win Napoli clash

Borussia Dortmund must win game against Napoli as last season’s Champions League finalists face a group stage exit.

Dortmund’s 1-0 defeat at home to Arsenal three weeks ago left them third in Group F on six points, three behind joint leaders Napoli and the Gunners and heading for the Europa League.

Both Napoli and Dortmund come into their penultimate group stage game after suffering defeats in their respective leagues.

Dortmund have lost their last three games in all competitions, including Saturday’s comprehensive 3-0 home defeat to Bayern Munich in a repeat of May’s Champions League final.

A fourth straight defeat would further erode confidence and, if Arsenal draw or beat Marseille in London, end their hopes of reaching the Champions League’s knockout stages ahead of their final match at Marseille on December 11.

Dortmund now find themselves seven points adrift of Bayern in the Bundesliga and Weidenfeller has said his team must improve their finishing and take their chances against Rafael Benitez’s Napoli.

“I think Tuesday’s game is much more important than [the defeat to] Bayern,” said Weidenfeller, who was sent off in Dortmund’s 2-1 defeat at Napoli in September.

“We have to win against Napoli at home, it’s as simple as that. As I have been saying for a few weeks now, there is a lack of single-mindedness and determination with us at the moment

“Our problem is that we are not finishing our chances. There are too many times when we play the ball across the penalty area and don’t go directly for goal.

“We have to take our chances, because football is decided by goals and at the moment we’re not scoring them.”

Dortmund’s star-studded attack were left frustrated by Bayern’s defence as both attacking midfielders Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marco Reus squandered clear chances.

Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund have only scored one goal in their last three games and, to make matters worse, they have lost their entire back four to injury in recent weeks.

Both Mats Hummels and Marcel Schmelzer returned from international duty with Germany carrying leg injuries and new signing Manuel Friedrich was thrown in at centre-back alongside Greece’s Sokratis.

A second defeat in four days would put a significant dent in Dortmund’s ambitions, but Weidenfeller insisted there is still all to play for.

“Nothing is decided yet. Neither in the Champions League or in the Bundesliga,” he said.

“We can’t just assume that we’ll be German champions again after a year’s break [when Bayern were Bundesliga winners last season].

“We’re seven points behind Bayern, but the season is still long enough.”

Napoli only need to avoid defeat at the Westfalenstadion to seal progress to the knockout stages.

They will be without playmaker Marek Hamsik, who suffered a foot injury during Saturday’s shock 1-0 defeat to Parma.

The Slovakia international is likely to be replaced by Lorenzo Insigne, who normally operates on the left, or versatile Belgian Dries Mertens.

Benitez has said he expects a much better performance in Germany with the prize of a place in the knockout stage at stake.

“Tonight we played badly, especially in attack. In the end, we didn’t execute the plan we’d made for this game,” he said after the Parma defeat.

“Now we have to turn our focus to Dortmund, we’ll be looking to recharge our physical and mental batteries for a match which is crucial to us.

“I’m sure the urgency of the game will give the lads the required incentive.”

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vineri, 22 noiembrie 2013

Wenger warns Arsenal to fear surprising Southampton

Arsene Wenger has warned his Arsenal stars not to underestimate Southampton as the Premier League's surprise package try to claim another scalp on Saturday.

Wenger's team return to action after the international break with a two-point lead over second placed Liverpool at the top of the table, but third placed Saints can draw level with Arsenal if they win at the Emirates Stadium.

While Arsenal will be favourites this weekend, Mauricio Pochettino's side have already won at Liverpool and drawn at Manchester United this season and the Argentine insists his side, beaten just once in 11 league games, have no reason to fear the Gunners.

"We believe that we can play a very good game and we can get a very positive result in this game -- we always believe that," Pochettino said.

With the likes of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez all receiving England call-ups this seasons on the back of their impressive club form, Wenger is well aware that his side, beaten by champions United in their last league game, will have their hands full to see off the defensively solid Southampton side.

"If they can keep the defensive record they have then they can be very ambitious," Wenger said when asked if Southampton were genuine contenders for a top-four finish.

"All the teams want to press and to win the ball back quickly - there's nothing special in there, but Southampton do it well and that is why they are efficient defensively."

Meanwhile, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard heads into the Merseyside derby against Everton admitting there will be a "huge hole" in his career if he retires without winning the Premier League.

Gerrard has enjoyed a magnificent career with Liverpool and is already regarded as one of the club's all-time greats after almost single-handedly inspiring their 2005 Champions League final win over AC Milan.

The England midfielder cherishes the memory of his heroics that epic night in Istanbul and also a year later in the FA Cup final victory against West Ham.

But he knows the absence of a Premier League winners medal from his glittering CV is a major blemish.

After a strong start to the season lifted Liverpool to second place, Gerrard finds himself in with a chance of finally mounting a serious title challenge

And, speaking before Saturday's clash with hated city rivals Everton at Goodison Park, Gerrard made it clear he won't give up fighting for the crown.

"There'd be a hole missing in my career (without a title win) but I don't think I'd spend the rest of my life being irritated or annoyed or frustrated," Gerrard told ESPNFC.

"Since I broke into this team at 18 years of age I've tried to win the title but it hasn't happened.

"I've got a couple more chances and I'll continue to fight for it."

The 221st Merseyside derby will be Everton manager Roberto Martinez's first taste of one of English football's most frenetic fixtures and he knows the key to taking the bragging rights is stopping Liverpool strikers Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

"They have had a very good start to the season and are very influential," he said.

Chelsea, four points behind Arsenal in fourth place, can't afford another slip when they make the short trip across London to face West Ham at Upton Park.

Jose Mourinho's men have failed to win their last two league matches, losing to Newcastle and drawing with West Bromwich Albion.

On Sunday, champions Manchester United face Cardiff in south Wales for the first time since 1974.

United went into the international break boosted by a 1-0 win over Arsenal which revived their flagging title defence, but they still have little margin for error in the race to catch the leaders.

Manchester City take on Tottenham in one of the weekend's most eye-catching fixtures between a pair of title contenders both struggling to live up to that billing.

City slumped to a shock defeat at Sunderland in their last match and are six points adrift of Arsenal, while Tottenham are only one point and one place better off after a 1-0 home loss against Newcastle.

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miercuri, 20 noiembrie 2013

Johnson relishing away trips to Stoke and Villa

Adam Johnson insists Sunderland travel to Stoke City and Aston Villa in their "winnable" next two games with confidence high.

Back-to-back home Premier League wins over Newcastle United and Johnson's former club Manchester City since Gus Poyet took charge have lifted Sunderland off the foot of the table.

Next up is a trip to the Britannia Stadium to face a Stoke side three points above Poyet's men in the table, before Sunderland head to Villa Park the following weekend.

Stoke and Villa have each lost five out of 11 league games this season, fuelling Johnson's belief that Sunderland can continue their recent revival against the duo.

"We've got a couple of good games coming up now," he told the Sunderland Echo.

"The home games haven’t been kind in recent weeks, but now we've got some winnable away games.

"If we can keep a clean sheet, we know we can cause problems with our attack.

"I think it's important to go to Stoke and carry on what we've been doing and then we should come out with a good result."

On Sunderland's upturn in fortunes under Poyet, the winger added: "Now we're back in touching distance.

"If we can get another three or four points over the next few games, people won't be writing us off again.

"There's so much more football to be played. We didn't get carried away by where we were at the beginning of the season.

"We're still in a bit of trouble, but it looks a lot better now.

"The two home wins (against Newcastle and Southampton in the League Cup) before Man City lifted us massively anyway. But that win gave us an extra lift going into the international break. That win was huge for us."

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Jarvis issues rallying call ahead of Chelsea clash

Matt Jarvis believes West Ham will need to be at the top of their game if they are to repeat last season's feat of beating Chelsea at home.

The Upton Park club are currently 16th in the Premier League, outside the relegation zone on goal difference, but may feel capable of overcoming Jose Mourinho's men this weekend having picked up a 3-1 win in the equivalent fixture last term.

Jarvis is well aware, however, that his side will need to produce a standout performance to cause an upset on Saturday against a Chelsea side who have won four of the last five encounters between the two clubs.

"You have got to be on song and playing your best football," he is quoted as saying by London24. "You have to make sure that in every position, you are beating your opponent and hoping that they are not having as good a day as normal.

"I think there is always a chance – we did it last year.

"The league has shown already that everyone is beating everyone else.

"No-one has been dominant at the moment, so hopefully we can show the qualities we did last year and get a good result.

"We are at home, we have our fans behind us, we need a good result and so hopefully we can get one."

Reflecting on last season's win over Chelsea at Upton Park, the winger added: "I think it was the highlight of last season really.

"It was a fantastic win and it was just a really good time for us and it was fantastic for the fans.

"We came out second half and played some fantastic football and dominated to score three goals. The whole team played well that day."

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Messi relaxed over return

Lionel Messi has refused to put a timeframe on his return from injury.

The Barcelona star was ruled out for between six and eight weeks after sustaining a hamstring tear in the first half of his side's 4-1 La Liga victory over Real Betis on November 10.

This represents Messi's third muscular injury of the season, and means he will not play again this calendar year.

His return had been pencilled in for Barca's first Liga game after the mid-season break against Elche on January 5 but, speaking after being presented with the European Golden Shoe in Barcelona on Wednesday, Messi said that while his condition is improving, he is not setting a particular target for a comeback.

"It's getting better - it's not hurting anymore," the 26-year-old stated.

"I'm not putting any specific dates (on his return). If everything goes to plan, I'll be back (against Elche).

"I just want to get fit again, I don't want to force my body. I just want to be able to play relaxed again."

Messi - who is now the first player to ever be awarded the Golden Shoe, which was inaugurated in 1967-68 and is awarded to Europe's top goalscorer, three times - went on to insist that criticisms over Barca's style of play under new coach Gerardo Martino are wide of the mark.

Even though the defending champions sit top of La Liga having taken 37 points from a possible 39 this term, Martino has been slammed in some quarters for supposedly abandoning Barca's renowned tika-taka approach.

However, Messi stated: "We haven't changed our philosophy. We have different options, but we are faithful to Barca's style."

Messi won the 2012-13 Golden Shoe after netting 46 league goals to help Barca reclaim the title from Real Madrid and dedicated his award to his family, friends and team-mates.

"Obviously I'm really happy, it's a really nice prize. (But) it's a prize for the whole team - it's a group award," he added.

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marți, 19 noiembrie 2013

Bento hits back at diving accusations

Portugal head coach Paulo Bento has lashed out in defence of his team after Sweden's Sebastian Larsson accused his side of diving.

Sweden will host Portugal in the second leg of their FIFA World Cup qualifying play-off on Tuesday with the visitors leading after a 1-0 triumph in Lisbon.

Ahead of the match in Stockholm, Larsson, one of Sweden's key midfielders, has claimed the appointment of English referee Howard Webb will ensure Portugal will not get away with 'the same tricks' as they employed in Lisbon.

But Bento has bristled at the suggestion that his team dive, throwing the accusation back at Sweden for an incident involving Norwich City striker Johan Elmander.

"I don't believe referee Howard Webb won't see a situation like Elmander in the Portuguese penalty area and a pretend foul that Elmander tried to invent in the first leg - he dived," Bento said on Monday.

The focus of the two-legged tie has been on both teams' star men - Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Ronaldo made the difference on Friday, scoring an 82nd-minute header to hand Portugal victory and the lead heading into the contest in Stockholm.

But Bento has reiterated that the key is not to focus on individuals when coming up against players like Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic.

"There is no way to try to stop a single player though, we have to do it on a collective term," Bento said.

"I think Sweden will try to stop us as a team and try to block Cristiano Ronaldo.

"What we will try to do is attack well and not only count on Ronaldo.

"If there is special marking on Ronaldo that maybe gives us the chance to find opportunities for other players from other areas of the pitch."

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Croatia vs. Iceland - Betting preview WC Qualification Europe - betxpert.co.uk

Croatia vs. Iceland - Betting preview WC Qualification Europe - betxpert.co.uk
croatia-icelandWho wants this 1.36 on the home win? So the bookmakers have decided, this second leg will be a one sided affair. It did not look like that in the first leg, not when Iceland had eleven players on the pitch.
Croatia vs. Iceland 
Match Date: 19 November 2013 (local time) 
Venue: Stadion Maksimir (Zagreb)
- See more at: http://www.betxpert.co.uk/betting-previews/297-croatia-vs-iceland-betting-preview-wc-qualification-europe#sthash.p0YfQHgz.dpuf

France vs. Ukraine - Betting preview WC Qualification Europe - betxpert.co.uk

France vs. Ukraine - Betting preview WC Qualification Europe - betxpert.co.uk
france-ukraineFrance are in trouble again. Losing by the odd goal would still have been OK, but 0-2 down against Ukraine, France have to show more character than ever before and they must up their physical game.
France vs. Ukraine 
Match Date: 19 November 2013 (local time) 
Venue: Stade de France (Paris)
- See more at: http://www.betxpert.co.uk/betting-previews/296-france-vs-ukraine-betting-preview-wc-qualification-europe#sthash.6Z4qGKiE.dpuf

Sweden Vs Portugal - Betting preview WC Qualification Europe - betxpert.co.uk

Sweden Vs Portugal - Betting preview WC Qualification Europe - betxpert.co.uk
sweden-portugalC Ronaldo played and Ronaldo made the difference in the first leg. Ibrahimovic also played, but he was never really involved in the game.
Sweden Vs Portugal 
Match Date: 19 November 2013 (local time) 
Venue: Friends Arena (Solna)
- See more at: http://www.betxpert.co.uk/betting-previews/294-sweden-vs-portugal-betting-preview-wc-qualification-europe#sthash.EmoD6kEW.dpuf

Romania vs. Greece - Betting preview WC Qualification Europe - betxpert.co.uk

Romania vs. Greece - Betting preview WC Qualification Europe - betxpert.co.uk
aromania-greeceBeaten fair and square in the first leg Romania must go on believing in their cause. A 2-0 home win and they will go to Brazil next year.
Romania vs. Greece 
Match Date: 19 November 2013 (local time) 
Venue: Arena Națională (București)
- See more at: http://www.betxpert.co.uk/betting-previews/295-romania-vs-greece-betting-preview-wc-qualification-europe#sthash.WBvXMrrv.dpuf

luni, 18 noiembrie 2013

Prandelli set to experiment against Nigeria

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli may experiment with his side to face Nigeria in a friendly on Monday, given his short preparation time.

Prandelli's men played Germany on Friday, earning a 1-1 draw in Milan, before heading to London ahead of their battle against Nigeria at Craven Cottage.

Prandelli rued the closeness of international matches, claiming it forced him to experiment with the side.

"I perform many experiments because I haven't got much time. I'm not saying it's a problem that we don't have training camps, but it is a fact," he said.

"If I'd had more time then I wouldn't have needed to call so many players and we wouldn't have run into some embarrassing results. It's not club coaches who are the problem, but the fixture list and the directors.

"The truth is that right now everyone is thinking about Serie A or the Champions League, but come June they will all be huge Italy fans. I'd like a little more enthusiasm around us now."

Prandelli also called on Serie A clubs to show more interest in the fate of the national side.

"When we played the first match of qualifying there was only one club president who came over to watch the match, and he was a friend of mine, the Parma president Tommaso Ghirardi," he said.

On their set up to tackle Nigeria, Prandelli said Giuseppe Rossi would return from tonsillitis, although Mario Balotelli, Riccardo Montolivo and Daniele De Rossi all need to be assessed.

Fiorentina forward Rossi can sew up the second striker spot behind Balotelli against Nigeria, with the Serie A leading scorer fit again.

"I have some pretty clear ideas on the systems, even if we have to establish which is the best one," Prandelli said.

"Balotelli is the first choice centre-forward, but now we have to find out who is the ideal second striker."

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Hodgson using Germany as blueprint for England

Roy Hodgson believes England's friendly with Germany will give him a chance to see how far his side have developed since 2010.

The sides will meet at Wembley on Tuesday for the first time since their FIFA World Cup second-round clash in South Africa that saw Joachim Low's charges romp to a 4-1 win.

Hodgson acknowledges that Germany are one of the best teams in the world - and one of the favourites for Brazil 2014 - but believes England have the ability to match them.

"We know that there has been a transition period and we are working towards improving our game, and Germany are one of the teams you look at," he told The Daily Telegraph.

"A lot of things they do are very praiseworthy

"We have players who are capable of doing it and hopefully we will be working on our game to reach that standard. It took them a few years and we are working on it."

The 66-year-old – who revealed on Sunday that he nearly took over as Germany manager in 1998 – has been impressed with the way the three-time world champions have regenerated their national team and hopes to replicate their blueprint with England.

"All the praise that has been heaped on them is very deserved," he added.

"They are really a very good team. Since 2006 and the World Cup they have spent those eight years very fruitfully to put this team together.

"Despite the fact that they are not particularly old, they have a lot of players who are used to playing with each other and have experienced a lot of success in the major tournaments."

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Bale could skip friendlies, Coleman claims

Gareth Bale will not be expected to play every game for Wales to ensure he remains fully fit, coach Chris Coleman has confirmed.

The attacker became the world's most expensive player during the close-season, moving to Real Madrid from Tottenham for a reported €100million, and Coleman acknowledged the 24-year-old has more pressure on him now he is part of Carlo Ancelotti's side.

With Madrid competing both domestically and on the European stage, Bale is likely to feature heavily, and Coleman insists he will only play if 100 per cent fit.

"I have to look at him long-term," Coleman said.

"He's going to get a lot of extra attention and if he's feeling fatigued or tired mentally as much as I want him on the pitch and we need him I'll have to look at it.

"We need to look after him as well.

"Maybe, depending on who we are playing against in a friendly (he could sit out)...but then he'll probably say he wants to play in every game."

Coleman also revealed he intended to build up a relationship with Madrid so there was no tension around call-ups in the future.

"I spoke with Gareth on Friday, we are going to go over and speak with their whole staff to bring ourselves closer to Madrid," he added.

"We have to build bridges. We need them with us. It's dialogue we have to have with Madrid.

"They have to know and be comfortable that when he comes with us, they know what we are doing and how we prepare because he has a special programme in Madrid regarding his rehabilitation.

"They have to feel comfortable that when he’s with us we are doing everything to send him back in one piece."

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duminică, 17 noiembrie 2013

Ivory Coast, Nigeria qualify for WC

Ivory Coast joined Nigeria in the World Cup finals on Saturday after a 1-1 draw against Senegal gave them a 4-2 aggregate win on a tense night in neutral Casablanca.

Ivory Coast reached a third successive World Cup but they had to survive a tense conclusion to their play-off second leg clash after Senegal had gone ahead 1-0 on the night through a 77th-minute penalty by substitute Moussa Sow after the lively Sadio Mane was fouled by Didier Drogba.

Another goal would have put Senegal through on away goals but Ivory Coast finished on top when Salomon Kalou drew his team level in stoppage time courtesy of a quick counter attack just moments after Kara Modji failed to double Senegal's lead from six yards.

Earlier on Saturday, Nigeria qualified for a fifth World Cup after beating Ethiopia 2-0 at home in Calabar for a 4-1 winning aggregate.

In a match played in Casablanca after Senegal were punished for crowd trouble at home, Ivory Coast attacked from onset, forcing the Senegalese to concede two corners in the first five minutes.

Idrissa Gueye of Senegal fired at the Ivorian goal from the edge of the box after 13 minutes, but the ball sailed wide.

In the 18th minute, goalkeeper Boubacar Barry did well to keep out a Senegal free-kick as the home team pressed for an opening goal.

Gervinho, from Italian club Roma, continued to be a serious threat to the Senegalese defence with his tricky down the flanks.

In the 34th minute, Papis Cisse fired at goal for Senegal, but his snap shot again did not trouble goalkeeper Barry.

Yaya Toure was denied a goal in the 42nd minute when he got into the box and fired at goal but a Senegal defender got his foot to block the shot for a corner.

Sadio Mane came close to giving Senegal the lead in the 63rd minute but his shot sailed wide off target.

Senegal continued to pile on the pressure after their penalty in the 77th minute for the goal that would have qualified them for the World Cup, but it was not to be.

"I am proud to be part of a team from a small country which has qualified for three World Cups in a row," said Ivory Coast star striker Didier Drogba.

"We want to do something special at the World Cup. The last two tournaments were difficult.

"In Brazil, we hope to have a greater chance of at least making it out of the first round."

In Nigeria, Victor Moses gave the home team the lead after 20 minutes when he tucked away a penalty after Anyalem Hailu handled the ball inside his box.

Substitute Victor Obinna doubled Nigeria's lead on 82 minutes when he fired home a free-kick to kill off the game and the tie.

The reigning African champions march on to their fifth World Cup finals having also featured at the 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2010 tournaments.

But the Super Eagles' display on Saturday inside the packed 15,000-capacity UJ Esuene Stadium in Calabar was laboured and, until Obinna's late goal, Ethiopia were still in with a chance.

CSKA Moscow forward Ahmed Musa said it was a dream come true to qualify for what will be his first World Cup, but he blamed the hot weather for the team's subdued outing.

"I thank God for the World Cup ticket, it is a dream come true for me. It has been my dream to go to the World Cup and I have made it," Musa remarked.

"We would have done a lot better today but the weather was hot and this worked against us."

Celtic defender Efe Ambrose came close for Nigeria right at the start of the game and goalkeeper Sisay Bancha then made a one-handed save from Emmanuel Emenike from 10 yards out.

Ethiopia's Saladin Said saw a shot from a tight angle flash across the face of the goal before Moses calmly dispatched his penalty to put Nigeria ahead after Hailu was penalised.

Bancha denied Nigeria when Onazi's left-footed shot in the 43rd minute was kept out by the outstanding Ethiopia goalkeeper and Ideye could not put away the rebound.

Ethiopia had a penalty appeal turned down in the 51st minute before Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama made a brave save at the feet of Shemeles Bekele.

Ethiopia played with a lot more urgency in the closing minutes but their hopes were ended when the power on Obinna's late free-kick proved too much for Bancha.

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joi, 14 noiembrie 2013

Sampdoria vs. Lazio - Betting Preview Serie A - betxpert.co.uk

Sampdoria vs. Lazio - Betting Preview Serie A - betxpert.co.uk
sampdoria-lazioDespite their dwindling performance, Lazio remains a strong club, Between the two, it is Sampdoria that should be worrying for the match might lead them to the bottom of the Serie A table.
Sampdoria vs. Lazio 
Match Date: 24 November 2013 (local time) 
Venue: Comunale Luigi Ferraros
- See more at: http://www.betxpert.co.uk/betting-previews/290-sampdoria-vs-lazio-betting-preview-serie-a#sthash.vpsAKTVo.dpuf

Livorno vs. Juventus - Betting Preview Serie A - betxpert.co.uk

Livorno vs. Juventus - Betting Preview Serie A - betxpert.co.uk
livorno-juventusJuventus will definitely exploit the chance to regain their stature in Serie A. Against Livorno, expect the defending champ to dominate the match and eventually settle in the top spot.
Livorno vs. Juventus 
Match Date: 24 November 2013 (local time) 
Venue: Armando Picchi
- See more at: http://www.betxpert.co.uk/betting-previews/291-livorno-vs-juventus-betting-preview-serie-a#sthash.dyCfCIYk.dpuf

Udinese vs. Fiorentina - Betting Preview Serie A - betxpert.co.uk

Udinese vs. Fiorentina - Betting Preview Serie A - betxpert.co.uk
udinese-fiorentinaFiorentina has the chance to keep a clean sheet in this match, unless Udinese resolves its scoring issues. But just the same, even if Udinese scores, Fiorentina’s overall strength will help them gain another extra points.
Udinese vs. Fiorentina 
Match Date: 24 November 2013 (local time) 
Venue: Comunale Luigi Ferraros
- See more at: http://www.betxpert.co.uk/betting-previews/292-udinese-vs-fiorentina-betting-preview-serie-a#sthash.QydS8ojH.dpuf

miercuri, 13 noiembrie 2013

Sevilla vs. Real Betis - Betting Preview La Liga - betxpert.co.uk

Sevilla vs. Real Betis - Betting Preview La Liga - betxpert.co.uk
Sevilla’s last 6 encounter with Real Betis saw the latter dominated their matches. fortunately, their current team form manifest a well-oiled machine that is ready to hit and dominate the pitch.
Sevilla vs. Real Betis 
Match Date: 24 November 2013 (local time) 
Venue: Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan
- See more at: http://www.betxpert.co.uk/betting-previews/286-sevilla-vs-real-betis-betting-preview-la-liga#sthash.YEz947YN.dpuf

Barcelona vs. Granada Betting Preview La Liga - betxpert.co.uk

Barcelona vs. Granada Betting Preview La Liga - betxpert.co.uk
Expect Barcelona to continue scoring even without Messi and Pique. However, rest assured that Granada will also take the opportunity to show off their scoring abilities against the host.
Barcelona vs. Granada 
Match Date: 23 November 2013 (local time) 
Venue: Estadio Camp Nou
- See more at: http://www.betxpert.co.uk/betting-previews/285-barcelona-vs-granada-betting-preview-la-liga#sthash.17Pzjxk9.dpuf

West Ham vs. Chelsea - Premier League Betting Preview - betxpert.co.uk

West Ham vs. Chelsea - Premier League Betting Preview - betxpert.co.uk
There is no question to the fact that Chelsea remains a heavy favorite in the match. But they have to be cautious as mistakes similar to the West Brom match may happen again.
West Ham United vs. Chelsea 
Match Date: 23 November 2013 (local time) 
Venue: Upton Park
- See more at: http://www.betxpert.co.uk/betting-previews/284-west-ham-vs-chelsea-premier-league-betting-preview#sthash.BuPIX6ZE.dpuf

Cardiff vs. Manchester United - Betting Preview - betxpert.co.uk

Cardiff vs. Manchester United - Betting Preview - betxpert.co.uk
Manchester United is back on their winning ways and will continue to do so when they meet Cardiff.
Cardiff vs. Manchester United 
Match Date: 24 November 2013 (local time) 
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium
- See more at: http://www.betxpert.co.uk/betting-previews/283-cardiff-vs-manchester-united-betting-preview#sthash.ia2Ibs5U.dpuf

Emenike warns against underestimating Ethiopia

Nigeria's Emmanuel Emenike expects his team's second leg against Ethiopia will be tougher than the first despite having home-ground advantage.

The 26-year-old striker will be one of the key players for Nigeria when they host Ethiopia on Saturday in Calabar for a spot at next year's World Cup in Brazil.

Emenike is in good form, having scored both goals as Nigeria won the first leg in Ethiopia 2-1 last month, while he was also the co-top scorer at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which Nigeria won in February.

Although Nigeria leads Ethiopia heading into Saturday's match, Emenike is not getting too carried away with his nation's chances.

"The game in Calabar will be tougher for us than the one in Addis Ababa (in Ethiopia). We have to be careful and get ready for another big business in Calabar," Emenike told FIFA.com.

"Ethiopia are very good and they will be coming here with more tricks. So, we shouldn't see the first victory as the end of road."

While Emenike has warned his teammates about Ethiopia, the striker is quietly confident about Nigeria's chances of qualifying for Brazil 2014.

"I am glad to have played in the Nations Cup and won but I am dreaming of playing in my first World Cup for Nigeria," Emenike said.

"That will be the first time I will be at the World Cup and to get to play in Brazil, where they are crazy about football, would be a dream come true."

The Fenerbahce forward has rejected comparisons with Rashidi Yekini, a legend of Nigerian football who holds the country's all-time international scoring record of 37 goals.

"Rashidi Yekini's shoes are still too big for me to wear. I am only trying to do what I know is best for my fatherland, and I have not done anything yet," Emenike said.

"I still have a lot to do to get to the heights reached by such a legend."

Emenike has scored nine goals in 18 appearances for Nigeria since making his debut in 2011.

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Sweden expect Portugal thriller

It is sad that either Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss the World Cup finals but the playoff between Portugal and Sweden will be a thriller, Sweden coach Erik Hamren told Reuters on Tuesday.

The sides meet in Lisbon on Friday in the first leg, with the return four days later at the Friends Arena in Stockholm.

"It's fantastic for all football fans. They are two world-class players. It's sad that one of them is going to miss the World Cup in the summer, but it's going to be really exciting," Hamren said.

"They are two players who can do the little extra and win the game for their country. But I'm sure it's going to be Zlatan who does that for us."

Hamren said he had a "good feeling" as soon as his side were drawn to play Portugal.

"It was strange. They were the highest-ranked and probably the toughest team to meet, but I had a good feeling when I saw Portugal-Sweden. I hope it was the right feeling. We'll see."

Hamren said that he would not be changing his preparations, but that his side will need to be "good for four halves" if they are to progress to Brazil.

"That's the big challenge," he added.

Given Ibrahimovic's form at the Friends Arena and the fact that the deciding game will be played there, Hamren has every right to be confident.

The Sweden captain has produced an array of spectacular goals at the team's new home ground, even if the winner against Austria that put Sweden into the playoffs was one of his simpler finishes.

Ibrahimovic has recently been bothered by a knee injury but following a hat-trick for Paris Saint Germain against Nice at the weekend it does not seem to hinder him too much.

Famed for his sharp suits and his penchant for victory cigars, Hamren revealed that he had not yet bought a celebratory cigar in anticipation of making it to Brazil.

"No, but I am going to buy some," he said with a smile. "We always make sure to have a supply in case we win."

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sâmbătă, 9 noiembrie 2013

Roma host Sassuolo on Sunday afternoon

Rudi Garcia's side look to get back to winning ways after dropping their first points of the season last weekend against Torino.

The Giallorossi's record winning run was brought to an end by the Granata last week despite taking a first half lead through Kevin Strootman, but after the game Garcia insisted that he was satisfied with the point as a draw away from home is "never a bad result".

Daniele De Rossi was a little more circumspect, saying that it was not drawing with Torino that had disappointed the team but rather allowing Juventus and Napoli to gain two points on them in the title race.

While Juventus and Napoli have to face each other this weekend though, Roma have what appears on paper to be a straightforward game to pick up three points.

Sassuolo, coached by former Roma midfielder Eusebio Di Francesco, have found life in Serie A difficult since winning promotion but have improved in recent weeks. After being hammered 7-0 at home by Inter, the Neroverdi picked up a point against Napoli and Lazio, and have picked up seven points from their last four games.

Roma will have to be wary of Domenico Berardi who scored a hat-trick last week as well as his strike partner Antonio Floro Flores: in the three games that Floro Flores has scored against Roma, the Giallorossi have lost all of them.

To combat the front two, Roma welcome back Leandro Castan after his suspension but have lost Mehdi Benatia to a one-match ban, so Nicolas Burdisso should retain his place in the starting lineup.

The key question for Garcia is whether to continue with Miralem Pjanic up front and Michael Bradley in midfield, or to push Pjanic back into his more natural role and allow Adem Ljajic to start.

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