Liverpool to finally let cut-price Crouch go

Liverpool have finally backed down over their asking price of £15 million for striker Peter Crouch according to The Sun newspaper. The move may see the England international complete his well publicised deal to Portsmouth later this week.

Pompey reportedly had a £7 million bid for the striker turned down previously and may have to offer around £10 million to land the target man.

The striker has already had a spell at Fratton Park back in 2001 but, was then sold only a season later to Aston Villa -who are also reportedly interested- for £5 million after an impressive season for Portsmouth.

After Crouch’s initial price tag scared potential buyers off, Crouch was said to be unhappy at the clubs valuation of him and made it well known that he was ready to leave in order to gain first-team football.

Crouch, 27, is the tallest man to ever play for both Liverpool and England at 6 ft 7, and would prove a valuable target man for any club. His height and style of play would be seen especially beneficial to Portsmouth as a partner for pacey striker Jermain Defoe.

[Source: The Sun]

Sat 31 May, 2008
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Euro2008 Preview – get ready for the greatest of summer parties – Euro2008 Babes!

Football lovers around Europe and the rest of the world – listen up! It’s time to start planning. Maybe it’s time to invest in that 40 inch flat screen TV just about now. Consider where to send your non sport-loving girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband on a three-week holiday. Make sure to make room in the refrigerator for cold drinks. Don’t forget to start coming up with excuses to leave work early or stay at home on match days. Remember to place your bets. No disrespect to all the Olympic enthusiasts who will have their party coming up in a couple of months, but this is the summer event at least I’ve been looking forward to for the last two years. Ladies and gentlemen – the European Football Championships 2008 are here!

The championship will for the first time be held in the Alps, with Austria and Switzerland sharing the honor of hosting the tournament. As central as it gets in Europe, people will come from the north, south, east, and west to take part of the festivities. Football leagues across Europe are now over or have taken a break for the event. Coaches and managers have made their picks and nominated their squads. Fans are planning where and how to maximize the experience. Entrepreneurs in Austria and Switzerland are getting ready to welcome the world with open arms, Alpine hospitality, and boosted prices. Companies are competing for the best and the most clever advertisements on the football theme. Bars and restaurants are competing for the crowds. And the teams are preparing to get ready for success in one of the most difficult football tournament there is to win.

Sixteen teams are battling it out, but in the end there can be only one. Four years ago Greece surprised a whole world when they defeated team after team with their disciplined strategy on their way to glory. Who will lift the trophy this year? For the first time in many years the tournament will be held without British participation. England and their island neighbors failed to qualify, and the event will now be decided between the mainland countries. But let’s not talk about the teams who are not there; let’s focus on the countries that made it to the sweet sixteen.

Czech RepublicGroup A consists of Czech Republic, Portugal, Switzerland, and Turkey. Portugal must be seen as favorites with their impressive squad, and with Cristiano Ronaldo unarguably being the best player in Europe this season.

Czech Republic have a history of playing disciplined and efficient football in the big matches, but the injury on the skilled Tomas Rosicky could have a major negative impact on the team.

The Swiss team doesn’t contain many big names. However, host nations usually perform well, and given the modestly difficult opposition in the group, they could advance to the next round carried forward by the home crowd. Turkey could find themselves struggling, but have surprised before.

GermanyAustria, Croatia, Germany, and Poland make up group B. The Austrian team doesn’t look very impressive on paper, and will have to play at the top of their game to advance. But again, the home field advantage could give them that extra motivation that can decide a tight game.

Croatia impressed in the qualifying rounds, including a solid win at Wembley against England. With their brilliant technique and team spirit, they can beat any team, but on a bad day they can also lose to any team.

Germany will, as always, be mentioned as one of the favorites to win the title. They didn’t make it all the way two years ago when the World Cup was on their own ground. With basically the same team being two years stronger and wiser, it could be a pleasant summer for German fans.

Poland topped their qualifying group ahead of Portugal, a strong indication of some serious capacity. However, the Polish team doesn’t have the tradition of advancing very far when it comes down to the final stages, and may have to travel back home early once again.

Euro 2008Group C is the “Group of Death” with France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Romania.

France and Italy were in the same qualifying group, and had to put on their strongest effort to keep Scotland out of the top two to qualify. Eventually they managed to qualify, and once in the tournament we have seen before what they can accomplish. France is difficult to judge on beforehand, but with Franck Ribery, Thierry Henry, and the new star player Karim Benzema in the team, anything can happen. Italy lost Francesco Totti since their victory in the World Cup two years ago, but strikers Luca Toni and Alessandro del Piero finished as top scorers in the German and the Italian leagues respectively. Along with their traditionally experienced and solid defense and creative midfield, the team is bound to stick around when the less fortunate teams have been eliminated.

Except for recent Champion’s League hero Edwin van der Saar, the Dutch defensive line probably doesn’t instill any fear among opponent forwards. This could however be significantly compensated by their attacking forces. Kuyt, Babel, Huntelaar, van Nistelrooy, Robben, van der Vaart, van Persie, and Sneijder are all players with the ability to make a difference and score important goals.

The Romanian squad doesn’t have the star player names as do their group opponents, but finished on top of their qualifying group. If the other teams cancel each other out, the Romanians could possibly sneak up behind and grab a spot in the second round.

SpainGroup D with Greece, Russia, Spain, and Sweden looks interesting. Can the Greek team copy their achievement and go all the way again? This time around they will not be able to surprise their opponents with their tactics. They are also challenged with injuries on key players, and could face a difficult time in Austria.

Russia doesn’t look like a potential quarter-final candidate, but led by their brilliant coach Guus Hiddink they can steal points from any team. A few of the Swedish key players are racing against time to recover from their injuries. Defensive midfielder Linderoth hasn’t played for several months, but will make a difference if he can join the team. Imperative for Swedish success is a Zlatan Ibrahimovic in top shape, although his knee injury is worrisome for the team. Maybe the return of veteran Henrik Larsson to the big scene could be the boost that gets the team to the quarter finals.

Spain looks like the clear favorite to win the group. The team traditionally chokes when it comes to the big tournaments, and are usually already on vacation when the other teams race for the final. This year though with Fernando Torres and David Villa up front and the brilliant Fabregas on the midfield, it could be the year when the Iberians take it to the next level.

When it comes down to the final eight and the quarter-finals, it’s wide open. Maybe it will be possible to spot some trends from how practice games and the group stages, but in a single knock-out game anything can happen.

Euro 2008The bookmaker favorites to win the title are Germany, followed by Portugal, Spain, Italy, and France. I would consider gambling against any of these teams to win the title would be rather bold. Naturally I hope that my native country Sweden will do well, and I would also like to see my current country of residence Holland go far.

This time around though I think it’s finally Spain that will overcome the mental block, beat their big tournament monster, and go all the way. Spain defeating Germany in the final in Vienna will be my more or less informed and qualified speculation.

The beauty of sports is that there is always room for surprise. The element of chance can determine the outcome of a game; the human factor, weather and wind, goalposts, injuries, referees, and the crowds are all factors that can tip the scale in one direction or the other. What it always comes down to in football though is team spirit, motivation, discipline, the right amount of luck, and naturally the individual skills of the coaches and players.

In about a month we will know the result. Regardless of the outcome, let’s agree that we have a great month of June to look forward to, hoping for some great summer entertainment. Let’s get in gear join the party of the year!

Sat 31 May, 2008
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Steve McClaren for FC Twente – what have they done to deserve that?

I don’t know any FC Twente fans. If I did, I would be perfectly happy to offer a shoulder for them to cry on. After the joys of a fourth placed finish in the Eredivisie, the fans must have been dreaming about their sortie into the Champions League qualifiers for the first time in their history.

Now, all the euphoria and celebrations will have come to an abrupt end. Club Chairman Joop Munsterman has announced that he is hopeful that former England manager Steve McClaren will shortly take over as team manager.

There is much opposition to this possible appointment from the clubs fans. Even the Chairman recognises their concerns. “Ninety per cent of fans think why McClaren?” he said.

Munsterman then went on to answer his own question. “But he is used to working with top players,” he added.

Yes Mr. Munsterman he is. The problem is that he has worked badly with them, failed to get the best out of them and totally failed. It may just be those facts that your club’s fans are ever so slightly concerned about!

I have never met Steve McClaren but I know that people who have worked with him or as players underneath him speak very highly of his abilities as a coach. He organises excellent training sessions and he is a damn fine bloke. The trouble is that he has no presence, no respect, no authority and sadly, limited tactical awareness.

His only managers job prior to the England debacle was with Middlesbrough. When he took them over they were a mid-table Premier League team. When he left them, he had changed little, spent millions and turned them into everybody’s least favourite team to be the live game on the television!

His sides have played predictable, boring football with no ‘plan B’. They have failed to entertain or be successful. I’m sure McClaren would point to taking Middlesbrough to the Uefa Cup Final, but in reality, they only got through two of the rounds by a desperation measure of putting several strikers on the field at the same time when it was all going wrong. I suppose that was a ‘plan B’ of sorts, but it certainly wasn’t very sophisticated.

Not many England fans wanted McClaren to get the job of managing the national team. The FA ignored the concerns and gave him the job. It turned out to be the unmitigated disaster that most pundits had predicted it would be. McClaren was so far out of his depth that the average lifeboat couldn’t have got anywhere near to being able to save him.

McClaren recently announced that he was feeling fresh and ready to get back into football management. He said he would be prepared to drop down into the lower leagues in England or go abroad in order to get a job. He said this, I’m sure, because he knew that the chances of an English Premier League side giving him a job as the main man were non-existent. He may be employable as a coach or an assistant, but I don’t see any English Chairman employing him as their manager.

Now it seems he has travelled out to Holland and been shown around the FC Twente ground and facilities. It appears to be entirely up to him now as to whether he takes the job or not.

My suspicion is that he will take it as I think he realises that he is very unlikely to receive any better offers. My suspicion is also that this is very bad news for FC Twente.

This is not the first time I have written in a very critical manner about Steve McClaren and in some ways I feel guilty for doing so again. He comes across as a nice, likeable man and he doesn’t personally deserve to be rubbished by hacks like me. However, professionally, he has shown himself to be incompetent and by putting himself back into management it is fair game to look back at his previous record.
McClaren is a successful coach and assistant manager, but a total disaster as a number one. FC Twente have done nothing to deserve this and the fans must continue to lobby the club to make their concerns known.

If Steve McClaren gets the job and leads FC Twente to success I will happily write an article full of praise for him and referring everyone back to the total rubbish I have written here. I will happily explain that Steve McClaren has shoved my words back down my throat.

I will do this happily because he is a top bloke and he deserves some success. I am also happy to make that guarantee because it is just not going to happen!

Sat 31 May, 2008
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Joey Barton cleared and then sent back to prison

Troubled Newcastle United midfielder Joey Barton was cleared of all charges relating to the vandalising of a taxi in Manchester last year.

On Friday he was found not guilty in the Liverpool MagistrateÂ’s Court of an incident that occurred in Manchester in March 2007 whilst he was still playing for Manchester City.

Barton, 25, who was last week jailed for six months for admitting assault and affray, left court to return to prison after a half-day trial.

Sat 31 May, 2008
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Player boycott by Bosnia ahead of Azerbaijan friendly

Bosnian coach Denijal Piric has had to replace his Bosnian squad with players from the Bosnian Under Nineteen team.

This comes after nineteen senior players refused to play in a friendly against Azerbaijan tomorrow (Saturday).

The Bosnian players have are protesting against the sacking of the national coach Meho Kodro by the Bosnian Football Association.

Instead of honouring their countryÂ’s commitment the players have accepted invitations by former coach Kodro and BosniaÂ’s top striker to play in a charity match scheduled to be played at the same time as the international friendly.

Meho Kodro was sacked when he refused to lead the team in their friendly against Iran saying that he had not been informed of the match in good time.

In Zenica where the match is due to be played, have urged the public not to support the match. In Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, the public have been urged to support the charity match.

Fri 30 May, 2008
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Scots defeated 3-1 by Czechs in a football friendly

The Czech Republic ran out comfortable 3-1 winners over Scotland here on Friday, but big question marks still remain over the home side’s midfield ahead of next week’s Euro 2008 finals.

Two goals from former Rangers misfit Libor Sionko and one from Michal Kadlec were enough to sink the Scots on a stifling hot evening, with a goal from debut boy David Clarkson all the away side could muster in reply.

But the victory did nothing to please Czech coach Karel Bruckner with his weakened midfield — minus Arsenal’s maestro Tomas Rosicky — failing to exert enough dominance in this their last warm-up match before Euro 2008.

It was the home side who piled on the early pressure, and they could have scored when Rudi Skacel’s cut-back found its way to Jan Koller, who fired over.

A Gary Caldwell foul on Koller 30 yards out provided the Czechs with another opportunity, but Tomas Galasek’s free-kick was comfortably held by Craig Gordon.

The towering Koller missed another chance to break the Scots resistance after Sionko set him up with a great cross from the right.

The Scots, in this their first away match under George Burley, managed a few ventures forward but failed to put their hosts under too much pressure.

Gordon was again called into action to block a thunderous long-ranger from Jan Polak, with Marek Jankulovski pouncing on the rebound only to blast it into the side netting.

At half-time, the 1,800-strong Tartan Army in the less-than-full AXA Arena were beginning to fear the worst.

And their fears were to be realised on the hour-mark when the former Ibrox man gathered Zdenek Pospech’s pass on his chest before firing home from a few yards out.

The Czechs doubled their lead with 83 minutes on the clock when Michal Kadlec – once linked with a move to Celtic – rifled low into the net.

Scotland immediately bounced back from that shock when two minutes later substitute Clarkson celebrated his first international goal when he deftly switched from his right to his left foot and fired home past Petr Cech.

But Sionko claimed his second of the night with a minute to go when he looped a shot over Gordon, giving the Euro 1996 runners-up a hard-fought victory.

The result means Burley is handed his first defeat as Scotland coach, and he will have plenty to think about ahead of September’s World Cup qualifier in Macedonia.

But it is his counterpart on the night who will have the biggest cause for concern, after a labouring performance that little justifies their ranking as the sixth best side in the world.

The Czech Republic start their Euro 2008 campaign with a Group A match against hosts Switzerland on the first day of the June 7 to 29, 16-nation tournament.

Fri 30 May, 2008
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Croatia´s Da Silva set to return after horrific injury

Arsenal’s Croatian striker Eduardo Da Silva, who suffered a horrific leg break earlier this year, said doctors had given him the all-clear to return to action in August, Croatian sports daily Sportske Novosti reported on Friday.

The 25-year-old Brazilian-born Croatian has been recovering since mid-April in a clinic in Rio De Janeiro and his return is good news as just in March, he had believed his recovery would take 15 months.

Eduardo suffered a compound fracture of the left leg following a tackle from Birmingham defender Martin Taylor at St Andrews in February.

“I am returning to Europe from Brazil at the beginning of August, perhaps even the end of July,” Da Silva told Sportske Novosti. “Doctors tell me by then I will be fully recovered and able to play football again. I hope so too.

“I’m feeling well and my rehabilitation is going better than I would ever have hoped.”

Croatia are in Group B of the June 7 to 29 Euro 2008 finals and will face Austria on June 8, Germany on June 12 and Poland four days later.

The recent absence of Eduardo, who has scored 13 goals in 18 matches for his country, has been a huge disappointment for coach Slaven Bilic. His replacement in the meantime has been 28-year-old Dortmund striker Mladen Petric.

A modest Eduardo had faith in his colleagues at the 16-nation tournament in Austria and Switzerland.

“I think the boys will play very well without me,” Da Silva said. “They’ll get through the group and, after that, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Fri 30 May, 2008
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Adriano è contento che Mancini se ne è andato

La notizia dell’esonero di Roberto Mancini ha fatto felice Adriano. “Ho avuto problemi con lui per uno-due anni. Che sia andato via per me è meglio, sì”, ha detto l’attaccante brasiliano dal ritiro della sua nazionale, intervistato dal portale Terra.

E’ noto che l’Imperatore non avesse un gran rapporto con il tecnico jesino. Specialmente nei mesi che hanno preceduto il suo trasferimento al San Paolo. Ma ora che Adriano farà, pare, ritorno alla Pinetina, le cose cambiano: “Per me l’Inter, come ho detto sempre, è una seconda casa – ha aggiunto Adriano -. Spero di poter tornare e fare bene. Mourinho? Il suo arrivo mi dà molta tranquillità, so che lui mi voleva al Chelsea. La serenità di un giocatore è maggiore quando sente la fiducia dell’allenatore”.

Fri 30 May, 2008
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China and NKorea sweep into Asian Cup semis

Asian heavyweights China and North Korea took their places in the Women's Asian Cup semi-finals Friday with comprehensive wins over Thailand and Vietnam respectively.

Qu Feifei scored twice for China as they inched closer to defending their title with a 5-1 victory while the Koreans, who won the tournament in 2001 and 2003, swept past the host nation 3-0.

They play each other to determine who tops Group A on Sunday.

China dominated their game and went in front after 10 minutes when Bi Yan's corner from the left was headed back across goal and Liu Sa was on hand to stab home at the back post.

They kept the pressure on and another two quick goals sealed the match.

Firstly, Liu broke free and although her shot was well saved, Qu was on hand to slot in the rebound.

Xu Yuan then found space on the right-hand side of the box and drilled a low shot into the bottom corner to give China a 3-0 lead with just 21 minutes gone.

Thailand grabbed one back in the 37th minute through Nisa Romyen but the second half belonged to China with Qu bagging a second and Pu Wei putting it beyond doubt with four minutes left.

North Korea stormed into the semis with two goals from Ri Kum-Suk and another from Ri Un-Gyong.

They took the lead after 11 minutes when Nguyen Thi Ngoc Ahn collided with Kim Yong-Ae in the box and Ri Un-Gyong calmly converted the penalty in front of a partisan crowd at Thong Nat Stadium.

The Koreans pressed forward but found it hard to break down a solid Vietnamese defence, before inevitably extending their lead in the 39th minute.

Om Jong-Ran whipped a ball in from the left and it was headed home from close range by an unmarked Ri Kum-Suk.

Ri collected her second after 67 minutes, producing a quality diving header that flew in at the near post from Kim Kyong-Hwa's corner.

In Group B, Taiwan need three points against Japan while Australia are up against South Korea on Saturday.

The semi-finals are on June 5 with the final three days later.

Fri 30 May, 2008
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Iranian-American coach quits after triumph

Iranian-American football manager Afshin Qotbi quit as coach of Iranian side Persepolis, just a week after guiding the club to the league title in his first year back in Iran, officials said Friday.

Qotbi, who returned to Iran last year after spending much of his life in the United States, is set to leave the country in the next few days with his South Korean wife.

“After talking it over with his family, Qotbi officially told us that he does not want to remain in Iran any longer and to work with Persepolis,” Habib Kashani, the director of the Persepolis, told the student agency ISNA.

“The reason for Qotbi's departure, according to him, is special family circumstances and has nothing to do with financial differences,” Kashani also told state news agency IRNA.

Qotbi took Persepolis, traditionally one of Tehran's top two clubs, to its first league title in six years despite being docked six points mid-season on a technicality.

The team clinched the title on the last day of the season on May 17 with a thrilling 2-1 win over rivals Sepahan.

During his one year in charge, Qotbi endeared himself to Iranian football fans with his tactical thinking, smart dressing and animated comments to the media.

His return to Iran provoked great interest given Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic relations for almost three decades and remain arch-enemies.

He was seen as a leading candidate to become national team manager until the football federation stunned observers by suddenly naming the relatively inexperienced former striker Ali Daei.

Qotbi, born in Tehran, attended university in the United States and won an engineering degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.

He later worked with the US national team and football academy before working with Guus Hiddink when the Dutchman was coach of South Korea's national team. Qotbi has also worked with LA Galaxy and South Korean club sides.

Fri 30 May, 2008
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