Croatian coach Bilic to prolong his contract

Croatia football coach Slaven Bilic is to prolong his contract for another two years, the country's football association (HNS) said Wednesday.

“The HNS has accepted the programme of cooperation with Slaven Bilic and his assistants and we will sign on Friday a two-year contract with them,” Zorislav Srebric, the association's secretary general, told AFP.

“That means that Bilic will stay at the helm of our squad during the qualification matches for the 2010 World Cup,” he added.

Srebric refused to disclose the details of the contract. According to local media, Bilic will have a monthly salary of 10,000 euros (15,500 dollars), which is twice his current salary.

In March, the 39-year-old former Croatian international said he turned down a “fantastic offer” to replace Dutchman Huub Stevens at the helm of German club Hamburg.

The former West Ham and Everton defender has also been approached by several English clubs, notably Fulham, and French side Paris Saint Germain.

Bilic became Croatia coach in 2006, leading the national team to the Euro 2008 finals.

His assistants are three other former internationals, Aljosa Asanovic, Nikola Jurcevic and Robert Prosinecki.

Bilic replaced Zlatko Kranjcar, who was sacked after Croatia was eliminated in the first round of 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Wed 30 April, 2008
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Copa Libertadores: Atlas and Liga de Quito close to next round

Atlas and Liga de Quito are close to a spot in the quarter finals of the Copa Libertadores, after a particularly bad day for Argentinian football.

The Mexican side Atlas Guadalajara travelled to Argentina to face CA Lanus, and walked away with a 0-1 victory. The only goal of the match was scored by Marioni.

Liga de Quito meanwhile, achieved a somewhat surprising victory over Estudiantes la Plata in Ecuador’s capital city.

Guerron broke the deadlock three minutes after the hour mark, and Manso added a second important goal in the 77th minute, 2-0.

Estudiantes will have to do without Diaz in the return leg, as result of a double yellow card.

The remaining six round of sixteen clashes are scheduled for tonight.

Wed 30 April, 2008
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Thaksin´s son says Eriksson to lead Man City to Thailand

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s fate at Manchester City may be unclear but the Swede will lead the English Premier League side on their Asian tour in mid-May, the son of club owner Thaksin Shinawatra said Wednesday.

Reports have suggested former Thai premier Thaksin could sack the Swedish manager following City’s disappointing form in the second half of the season.

But Thaksin’s son Panthongtae Shinawatra said Eriksson would still be on board when City tour Thailand and Hong Kong.

“He will lead the squad to Thailand,” Panthongtae, who is a director of the club, told reporters.

Jimmy Heosontaty, marketing director of the local Manchester City Marketing Company, said he could not confirm or deny reports of Eriksson being sacked.

“We do not have any details or received any information about the team manager’s future,” he said.

The Swede’s agent Athole Still has said Eriksson is determined to stay as manager. “There is no way he will quit after the successful job he has done,” Still said earlier this week.

Manchester City will arrive in Thailand on May 14 to open a club store and hold a clinic before playing against Thailand Premier All-Stars on 17 May.

The team will take a quick trip to the resort of Pattaya before leaving on May 20 for two matches in Hong Kong.

Wed 30 April, 2008
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Rooney set for West Ham return

Wayne Rooney is set to return to action for Manchester United against West Ham at Old Trafford here Saturday according to manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

England forward Rooney missed United’s 1-0 win at home to Barcelona on Tuesday, which saw the club into the Champions League final, because of a hip injury sustained during last weekend’s Premier League defeat against Chelsea.

United boss Ferguson, who will keep a close eye on Rooney’s fitness over the next few days, said Wednesday: “He (Rooney) may have a chance for Saturday.

“We just cancelled him out yesterday (Tuesday), he was in a lot of pain.

“It was his hip joint, he was never close to playing. It was out of the question,” the Scot added.

“He will be a lot better in a few days and involved on Saturday somewhere along the line.”

Patrice Evra is expected to recover from a knock but his fellow defender Nemanja Vidic remains doubtful with a facial injury sustained during a collision with Chelsea striker Didier Drogba at Stamford Bridge.

“Vidic is under the control of the doctor. He got a bit of concussion, so we have to be careful of that,” said Ferguson. “He may have a chance for Saturday.”

Reigning English champions United top the Premier League on goal difference alone after second-placed Chelsea drew level on 81 points with two games to go after their 2-1 win over Freguson’s men last Saturday.

Victory for United over the Hammers would up the pressure on Chelsea as the Blues don’t play in the Premier League again until Monday, when they are up against Newcastle.

United’s defeat of Spanish giants Barcelona has ensured the first final between two English clubs in the combined 52-year history of the European Cup and Champions League.

They will face the winners of the other semi-final between Chelsea and Liverpool, who play the second leg of their tie at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, in Moscow on May 21.

Chelsea have a slender advantage over Liverpool after scoring an away goal during a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Anfield.

Wed 30 April, 2008
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The Premiership battle: Chelsea

The English title race is one of the most exciting in years, with three teams still battling for the top spot with two games to go. Which opposition do Chelsea face? Here’s an overview.

By beating Manchester United last weekend, Chelsea are all back in the Premiership title race. The Blues do still have a big problem though; they depend on United to drop points in one of their remaining matches.

Chelsea play their penultimate match against Newcastle United on Monday. The extra day allows them to get some rest after the undoubtedly nerve-wrecking Champions League match with Liverpool tonight.

Newcastle are twelfth in the Premiership and have actually done rather well in recent matches. The last time the Magpies were beaten, was at Liverpool, no less than eight matches ago.

But against Chelsea, Newcastle haven’t won a match since May 2006. The last four meetings had one draw and three Chelsea wins as result. In December, the Londoners won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.

Newcastle have little to play for on Monday, as they are too far away from both the UEFA Cup zone and the relegation zone.

Therefore, Soccerway’s prediction is:

Newcastle United 1-2 Chelsea

Chelsea’s Premiership campaign ends on Sunday, May 11th. Bolton Wanderers will be visiting Stamford for what could decide this year’s championship.

Bolton have had a disappointing season and occupy the 16th place, but did earn two wins and a draw in their last three games.

Unlike Newcastle, Bolton will show motivation as they still risk relegation at the end of the season.

But Chelsea have proven to be tough opponents for the Wanderers. Of the last eight meetings, Chelsea won six and two ended in a draw. Bolton’s last win – which was at Stamford Bridge – was in December of 2003.

Based on those facts, Soccerway’s prediction:

Chelsea 2-1 Bolton Wanders

It’s likely to be a narrow and hard-fought win for Chelsea. Whether it’s enough to take the Championship, remains to be seen. Main rivals Manchester United have a better goal record and should be expected to win their last two games as well. However, we’ll only know on May 11th.

Visit us again tomorrow to see what we think will happen to Arsenal in the coming two games.

You have a different opinion on the outcome of these matches? Use the ‘discuss’ option below!

Wed 30 April, 2008
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Rijkaard nudges Chelsea as Barca axe looms

Frank Rijkaard insists that he has no plans to quit Barcelona but that did not stop him highlighting his credentials as a purveyor of the beautiful game to potential employers that include Chelsea's Roman Abramovich.

A Champions League semi-final defeat by Manchester United here on Tuesday has left Barca's coach facing the sack at the end of another trophy-less season but it is certain the amiable and articulate Dutchman will not be without work for long.

Avram Grant may have guided Chelsea to within sight of both the Premier League and Champions League trophies but even his closest friends would not claim that he has got close to delivering the fluid, attacking football that Abramovich craved sufficiently to ditch Jose Mourinho one month into the season.

Silverware may yet save Grant's skin but the odds on there being a vacancy at Stamford Bridge this summer remain short, and Rijkaard looks increasingly like the favourite to fill it.

In that context, it was notable that, in the wake of Tuesday's defeat, he opted to qualify his praise for English clubs' current domination of the Champions League with an expression of regret that they do not play with more flair. Rijkaard regrets that the entertainment value of England's domestic competitions is not matched by performances of the country's leading clubs in Europe.

“Results are very important of course, but I think they also have a lot more to give on the pitch to the public,” he said.

“Their style is different in Europe and that is why it is successful. I think it started with the foreign coaches who have organised things very well and they have great players.

“But sometimes it is a pity because it is not the most beautiful way of football.”

“The level of the English teams now is very high,” Rijkaard acknowledged. “If it were not for the fact they had to play against each other, we could easily have seen four teams in the semis.

“They are very difficult to beat, very strong and very disciplined. In European games they all get behind the ball when they lose it, they are very well organised and play on the counter attack. It is really tough to beat English teams.”

Despite that gracious acknowledgement of how the balance of power in European football has shifted,Sir Alex Ferguson, did not dispute Rijkaard's suggestion that United's tactics over the two legs of the semi-final had been cautious, admitting he had stressed to his players the importance of denying Barca space in midfield.

The tactic worked well with the Catalans largely restricted to shots from outside the box in both legs of the tie.

“If you try and meet them too early they can open you up because they always have an extra man in midfield,” Ferguson reflected. “I think what Frank means is that we did not go hell for leather, trying to defend too early. I think he would have liked that if we had.”

Rijkaard's removal from the hot seat at the Nou Camp is now regarded as inevitable in Catalonia, but the Dutchman insisted he would not walk away from the club he guided to Champions League glory three years ago.

“That thought has not entered my head,” he insisted. “I have no intention of leaving.

“It would be a different case if the players were saying it was time to go but that is not the case. Barcelona are a massive club and there are people to take the decisions at the end of the season if decisions need to be taken.”

Rijkaard admitted his side's lack of a cutting edge had cost them the chance of a place in next month's final in Moscow.

“We did everything but score,” he said. “It was a very even game, if anything we had the better of the play. But the rules are that the team that scores goes through and they did that.”

Wed 30 April, 2008
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Liverpool´s Torres ready for Chelsea clash

Fernando Torres has been living a dream in the Champions League this season but the Liverpool striker wants one more fairytale in his side's semi-final second leg against Chelsea on Wednesday.

Torres has made a big impact in his first Champions League campaign and his goals have been instrumental in Liverpool's march to the brink of a third final in four seasons.

For years the Spaniard was consumed by the prospect of starring in Europe's elite club competition. Now all his dreams have come true.

He has already amassed a collection of memories that will stay with him for life, but the ultimate test lies in wait at Stamford Bridge as Liverpool try to inflict more semi-final misery on Chelsea.

After knocking out the Blues at this stage at Anfield in 2005 and 2007, Liverpool find themselves as the underdogs.

John Arne Riise's last-gasp own goal gifted Chelsea a 1-1 draw in the first leg last Tuesday and only a win or a high-scoring draw in west London will send Rafa Benitez's side through to the Moscow final against Manchester United or Barcelona.

It is a daunting proposition considering Liverpool have never scored at the Bridge in eight attempts since Benitez took charge in 2004.

But Torres's presence ensures they have every chance of ending that barren run. The former Atletico Madrid forward missed two good opportunities in the first leg but he is confident of making amends this time.

“I have wanted to play against guys like (Chelsea defenders) John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho for a long time, and they do me an honour by giving me a tough time,” he said.

“Now I'm going to try to respond to them by getting a couple of goals against Chelsea. Everybody dreams about playing in the Champions League and in the space of a few months I have gone from watching it on TV to having a part in it.

“I have already got plenty of memories. My goal at the San Siro when we beat Inter Milan 1-0, the 4-0 win over Marseille, and my goal in the 4-2 win over Arsenal.

“And now it is the turn of Chelsea. I don't ask myself questions. I just tell myself time and again that I have done the right thing to join Liverpool.”

Liverpool had the advantage of being able to rest a host of first-teamers for Saturday's trip to Birmingham, but Chelsea manager Avram Grant had no such luxury against Manchester United.

Not that Grant was complaining after Michael Ballack's penalty sent his side level on points with United. Suddenly, after months of criticism from fans and pundits, Grant is within touching distance of a Premier League and Champions League double.

Yet Grant is far from secure despite his team's fine end to the season and he can't afford to let a Champions League final slip through his fingers.

Chelsea have lost at this stage three times in four years but they have never been in such a favourable position going into the second leg.

To finish the job Grant needs his strongest side, so he will be desperate for Frank Lampard's return after the England midfielder missed the United match to mourn the death of his mother.

Lampard returned to training on Sunday, but will be allowed to decide if he wants to be involved against Liverpool.

If Lampard opts to stay with his family, Ballack will once again be the pivotal figure in Chelsea's midfield.

The German, who has gradually become more influential in the second half of the season, insists his side have the edge on Benitez's team.

“A win gives us confidence, we have it and we have shown that we can play very well but on Wednesday it is a very different game, it is the Champions League,” Ballack said. “So on Wednesday we are expecting a very different fight.

“But I think we look fresh, we look better than all other teams have in the Champions League now, so we will see. We want to get to the final.”

Wed 30 April, 2008
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Russia lifts visa barrier for Champions League fans

English football fans travelling to Moscow for the Champions League final on May 21 will be able to enter the country without a visa, Moscow mayor Yury Lyzhkov said on Wednesday.

The showcase game is certain to oppose two sides from England following Manchester United's 1-0 win over Barcelona on Tuesday night. The other semi-final, which will be decided later on Wednesday, sees Liverpool and Chelsea level 1-1 after the first leg.

There had been fears that the cumbersome and complex visa application process for foreigners to enter Russia could hit travelling fans, but Luzhkov said this would not be the case.

“The UEFA chief Michel Platini asked us for maximum support in obtaining Russian visas for the fans of the Champions' league finalists,” he said.

“We decided that the 21,000 supporters of each club playing in the final could attend the match without obtaining Russian entry visas.”

Luzhkov said that a passport and a ticket for the final would give fans the right to enter Russia.

“We have resolved a great deal of problems ahead of the final and do not expect any more difficulties,” he said. “I can promise that it will be a real football holiday on May 21 in Moscow.”

Wed 30 April, 2008
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Lucio rules out a Bayern Munich departure

Bayern Munich's Brazilian defender Lucio on Wednesday ruled out any chance of a summer switch to Barcelona and says he is happy to stay in Bavaria.

“I have made my decision, I have no reason to leave here, I will stay with Bayern,” he told German tabloid Bild on Wednesday.

Lucio, one of the best central defenders in the Bundesliga, is under contract with Bayern until 2010.

Last month, he implied he may join Barcelona at the end of the season in a deal worth up to 20 million euros to the German giants.

With 65 appearances for his country, the 29-year-old has spent most of his career in Germany having been at Bayer Leverkusen from 2000-04 when he left to join Bayern Munich.

He has 203 Bundesliga appearances and scored 21 league goals, winning two German league titles in 2005 and 2006, but is almost certain to win a third this season with Bayern 12 points clear at the top of the table.

Wed 30 April, 2008
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Man Utd prepare for Champions League final

Paul Scholes has scored dozens of crucial goals for Manchester United over the years but none of them has been quite as precious as the sublime strike that sent Sir Alex Ferguson's squad into the Champions League final.

Scholes, along with Roy Keane, famously missed United's triumph over Bayern Munich in the 1999 final through suspension and Ferguson admitted he was delighted to see one of his most loyal servants claim the opportunity to make up for lost time with a stunning long-range strike in Tuesday night's 1-0 win over Barcelona at Old Trafford.

“It is great for Paul to be in the final,” Ferguson said after watching the midfielder unleash a 14th-minute shot that ensured an all-English final in Moscow next month.

“He is one of the great players, he came through the ranks at the club and I am so pleased for him.

“It was a fantastic goal. You can't expect him to score 15 or 20 goals a season for you now like he did when was younger.

“But when he gets one like that it makes up for the ones he can't score because of his age. It was a marvellous moment for him.”

Scholes deserved to savour the moment, as did the rest of a United side who made light of the absence of Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney with a mature display which made Barcelona pay a high price for their failure to turn long periods of domination in terms of territory and possession into clear chances.

“We had to dig deep at the end because they put us under pressure,” said Rio Ferdinand, who was outstanding in United's back four.

“It was our discipline and a moment of quality from a fantastic player that got us through. We don't care who we play in the final. Whoever comes we will be ready.”

Ferguson added: “We needed a fantastic performance and we got one. We kept our concentration at the back, protected the space really well and our play up front was really good. We could have scored three or four goals.”

United started nervously but scored what proved to the decisive goal inside the opening quarter of an hour, Scholes latching on to a loose ball and unleashing an unstoppable drive from the best part of 30 yards.

Ferguson's men also had to endure some intense late pressure but they conceded little in the way of clear-cut chances, while both Park Ji-Sung and Nani came within inches of adding to the Scholes's strike.

“If you are 1-0 down you have got to give it a go and they did that,” Ferguson said before acknowledging: “It was a bit of a hang-on job at the end but they did not create many chances which is down to our defenders.”

Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard, who insisted he would not quit in the wake of the defeat, could not resist a dig about what he sees as a lack of adventure among the English clubs currently dominating the tournament.

But Ferguson declined to rise to the bait. “We are there in the final and that is an important thing in this year (the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster).

“It does not matter who we play, we deserve to be there. Our form throughout the tournament has been fantastic, we have shown good discipline and been tactically very good.”

Ferguson is also counting on the feelgood factor generated by Tuesday night's performance spilling over on to the domestic front, where United need to beat West Ham on Saturday and Wigan on May 11 to wrap up the Scot's 10th Premier League title.

“It certainly won't do us any harm, that is for sure,” he said. “And if the fans on Saturday are like they were for the Barcelona match, we have got a fantastic chance.”

Wed 30 April, 2008
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