Xavi named player of Euro 2008

Spanish midfielder Xavi was named player of Euro 2008 by UEFA on Monday.

The 28-year-old Barcelona dynamo – scorer of eight goals in 63 internationals – was judged to be at the heart of Spain's triumphant campaign which saw them top it with a 1-0 victory over Germany in Sunday's final ending a 44 year title drought.

“It was him (Xavi) who gave the team its tempo,” said UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh.

Xavi scored once in the tournament and also created the goal for Fernando Torres in the final.

Mon 30 June, 2008
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Spain end 44-year title drought, beat Germany in Euro 2008 final

Spain ended their 44-year wait for a major international title with a 1-0 victory over Germany at the Euro 2008 final here.

Fernando Torres scored the only goal of the game in the first half as football's perennial underachievers finally banished that unwanted tag to the history books.

It was the first time Spain had won the European title since 1964 and their first final since 1984.

For 69-year-old Spanish coach Luis Aragones there was a tinge of bitterness mixed with the moment of glory.

Approaching his 70th birthday he became the oldest coach to win the European title but he must have shed half his years as he watched captain Iker Casillas hold aloft the coveted Cup which Spain has only held in its hands once before in 1964.

However, in the immediate aftermath of the match he was repeating the mantra on the eve of it, of how disappointed he was at not being asked to stay on.

“We did things well, we won, period. I will not be staying on as coach because I have been given no possibility to,” said Aragones.

Aragones had warned bleakly on the eve of the final that “no one remembers who comes second” – well he needn't have worried as Fernando Torres's first half goal ensured the world and his wife will recall his Spanish team for many a year to come.

For Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas it was a dream come true.

“This is great,” said the 21-year-old Arsenal star.

“This is the best day of my life as a player.

“I don't think we are conscious yet of what we have achieved….44 years later.

“It has been one of my dreams and I made it.

“It is true we won it with style.

“We were trying to create chances and play beautiful football and we have at last had the success we deserved.

“I don't know why it has taken this long and I don't want to think about that anymore as we have achieved it and we are a young team and will fight for the World Cup in two years time.”

For Torres too it was a dream realised.

“For me, it's a dream come true,” said Torres.

“Victory in a Euro, is almost as big as a World Cup. I think that we have played very good football throughout the tournament and it was justice done when we won the final.”

German coach Joachim Loew professed his admiration for his side, who defied expectations to reach the final.

“I have to compliment the team for what they have achieved over the past few weeks,” said the 48-year-old.

“It has been fantastic. The players are obviously disappointed, but they have every reason to hold their heads up high.”

For German captain Michael Ballack it was more disappointment in a major tournament.

“It is very sad to lose when one has come such a long way,” said the 31-year-old, who missed the 2002 World Cup final because he was suspended and has also lost two Champions League finals.

“All the team battled away. This tournament has come at the end of the season and physically it has been tough. However, today (Sunday) we have made too many errors.”

Spain seemed to start tentatively and a mistake from Sergio Ramos gave Miroslav Klose a glorious opportunity after just four minutes, but after taking the ball past Carles Puyol his next touch was too strong and he ran the ball out of play.

Spain gradually started to settle but three-time champions Germany still had the next chance, Thomas Hitzlsperger hitting a tame shot straight at Spain captain Iker Casillas.

Just before the quarter-hour mark Jens Lehmann came to Germany's rescue as a cross from Andres Iniesta deflected off Christoph Metzelder's boot and only a stunning reaction save from the Arsenal stopper prevented a goal.

Spain were starting to take control and Torres headed a Xavi free-kick over the bar.

On 23 minutes Ramos cut in from the right and crossed to the back post where Torres climbed above the considerably taller Per Mertersacker; his downward header beat Lehmann but unfortunately for Spain not the base of the post.

Up the other end Spain's slightly suspect defence was struggling to cope with the direct running of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski but Germany created little despite Ballack's volley being blocked by Ramos.

Then on 33 minutes Torres put Spain ahead with a moment of sublime quality. He latched onto a piercing through ball from Xavi, outpaced Philipp Lahm and chipped the ball over the advancing Lehmann with a flicked shot that could have threaded the eye of a needle.

Spain were suddenly rampant and Iniesta crossed to the back post where the unmarked David Silva had a rush of blood to the head and lashed a volley wildly over.

Spain seemed brimming with confidence at the start of the second period and both Xavi and Silva went close with long range efforts before Torres again outpaced the German defence but couldn't quite reach the ball before Lehmann came out to smother.

Germany coach Joachim Loew responded by sending on a second forward in Kevin Kuranyi to replace midfielder Hitzlsperger.

That immediately shifted the momentum of the game and on the hour a mistake from Puyol was almost punished as Ballack fired just wide; moments later Casillas came storming out of goal to take a cross from Ballack off Kuranyi's head.

Spain remained dangerous and Ramos forced Lehmann into a fine block with a powerful header from a Xavi free-kick before Torsten Frings cleared a shot from Iniesta off the line.

Brazil-born Marcos Senna came within inches of settling the game in the final 10 minutes but he couldn't quite stretch his leg out far enough to meet substitute Daniel Guiza's downward header with the goal at his mercy.

Mon 30 June, 2008
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Obafemi Martins to swap Newcastle United for Arsenal

According to the Sun, Newcastle’s Obafemi Martins has been told he can leave St James’ Park if any of his suitors should match or better his ₤15million price tag. However, the 23 year old Nigerian international could go for less if he hands in a transfer request, which would trigger a ₤13million release clause.

Arsenal has long been linked with Martins, but manager Arsene Wenger has so far refused to budge from his ₤11million evaluation of the former Internazionale star. However, the Frenchman may well give up an extra ₤2million as his squad will look desperately low on firepower if he does not make some key purchases this summer.

The Gunners will be without Eduardo da Silva for the first few months of next season, while Robin van Persie is yet to prove he can regain the form he had before injury and Emmanuel Adebayor appears certain to leave the Emirates for Barcelona or Milan.

Having recently agreed a new ₤80,000 per week deal only to have it scrapped at the last moment as the Magpies seek to cut their wage bill, Martins may be well inclined to look for work elsewhere.

[Source: The Sun]

Mon 30 June, 2008
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Robinho to join Chelsea

According to a report in the Times, Real Madrid playmaker, Robinho, has emerged as the latest target of Luiz Felipe Scolari, the new Chelsea manager. Scolari, has been quick to formulate his plans for next season and views his fellow Brazilian as an important acquisition.

According to reports in AS, the Madrid-based sports newspaper, Scolari has discussed the potential move with Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, and Frank Arnesen, the club’s chief scout and director of youth development.

Scolari believes that 24 year old Robinho could provide the flair that Abramovich wants in the team. The Brazilian cost Real £16.5 million when he moved from Santos three years ago. However he is rumored to be unhappy with his £30,000 a week wages (tax free) at the Bernabéu. Real are reported to have placed a valuation of around £36 million on the player.

In related team news, Alcides, the Brazilian Chelsea defender who has been on loan with PSV Eindhoven, claims that he will replace Ricardo Carvalho when the Portugal centre back joins Inter Milan this summer.

[Source: The Times]

Mon 30 June, 2008
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Gareth Barry upset with Martin OÂ’Neill

Gareth Barry, the twenty seven year old England and Aston Villa midfielder is becoming rather agitated with the fact that his desired transfer to Liverpool is no closer to being resolved.

Liverpool had offered ₤15 million for his services but Villa rejected the offer.

Speaking to News Of The World Barry said that he was still desperately keen to join the Merseysiders. He currently feels that he needs to make a switch from the club with which he has spent his entire career. He stated that the prospect of playing Champions League football is the determining factor that is luring him away from Villa Park.

He added that he is becoming increasingly agitated as he has not heard anything from manager Martin OÂ’Neill for seven weeks.

According to Barry he has not had any counter offers from Villa for him to stay.

Mon 30 June, 2008
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Euro 2008 – It’s all over, who was HOT and who was NOT?

Euro 2008 finished last night with a final fitting of the entire excellent tournament. Spain beat Germany 1-0 in a thoroughly deserved victory and the best team in the competition, who scored more and conceded less than anyone else, won the whole thing. Germany were good, but just not good enough.

For this sixth and final article in the Euro 2008 who’s HOT and who’s NOT series I am going to look back at the whole tournament and hand out the overall awards.

Hot team
It is obviously not possible to award this title to anyone other than Spain. They scored the most goals, conceded the fewest and played with a breathtaking brilliance at times. Their midfield play was as good as anything I have ever seen and they weren’t bad at the back or up front either!

Their victory was a victory for football because it showed that skillful, adventurous, attacking teams can still win major tournaments.

Not hot team
A few countries staked a claim for this award with Poland, Greece and Austria, amongst others, all making a good case. However, the tawdry performances of Italy, particularly the truly dreadful quarter-final display against Spain give them a well deserved second place.

The winners of this award, however, by some distance, have to be France. They performed poorly in each of their three games and could not have been more disappointing. In Abidal and Thuram, Makelele and Malouda and Henry and Anelka, they had some of the worst performers in the whole tournament. In Benzema and Ribery they had two of the biggest let downs.

All in all they were dreadful and are worthy winners of this title. (Yes, I know they beat England a few weeks ago!!)

Hot keeper
Iker Casillas didn’t put a foot wrong in the whole tournament. At twenty-seven with possibly another ten years in the Spanish goal, he is already one of the world’s most experienced keepers. The sense of reassurance he gave to the players in front of him was worth an awful lot to the team.

Not hot keeper
Petr Cech has to win the award although I would love to give it to Jens Lehmann! The absolutely calamitous mistake made by Cech in the game against Turkey will live long in the memory and no other keeper can stake a justifiable claim to this title.

Hot defender
Italy were very poor in this tournament and their defence came under more pressure than they would have liked. There was a major blow for them prior to the start of the tournament when inspirational skipper Fabio Cannavaro was ruled out through injury.

There was a great deal of pressure on the young centre half Giorgio Chiellini. After a nervy start, he went on to perform admirably. In his final appearance against Spain he totally nullified the threat of the dual strikeforce of David Villa and Fernando Torres.

Not hot defender
Eric Abidal was very poor at left back in France’s first game. He was rightly dropped, but in their make or break match against Italy he was brought back into the starting line-up. He lined up at centre-half and looked like a fish out of water.

He failed to do anything well and then with Toni getting the wrong side of him after just twenty minutes or so, he made the decision to bring him down, give away a penalty and get sent off. Obviously, the whole incident led to France being eliminated.

He should have let Toni shoot. He wouldn’t have scored! (see not-hot striker)

Hot midfielder
How do you choose between Xavi, Fabregas, Iniesta, Senna and Silva? All five of the Spanish midfielders were superb.

I am going to select the least hyped of them all. Senna was was a constant, consistent and excellent presence in the side, allowing many of the other players to express themselves. Without Senna, many of the others wouldn’t have looked so good.

Not hot midfielder
Two French players are vying for this award. Claude Makelele and Florent Malouda were both so poor in this tournament it is difficult to know how to put it into words. Makelele looked off the pace and devoid of ideas. He argued every decision and committed two or three deliberate fouls that would have seen red cards in other competitions.

Malouda played the first two games and produced absolutely nothing. He didn’t even flatter to deceive. He looked as though he would be unable to do anything worthwhile and he didn’t.

Makelele has been a great player so it would be unfair to hand him this title. Malouda has performed abysmally all season at Chelsea and is definitely a worthy winner.

Hot striker
There were many great forward performances but probably the most stunning was that of twenty-seven year old Russian Andrei Arshavin. Although he didn’t turn up for the semi-final, his earlier performances were of such quality that he justifies taking this award.

Not hot striker
There are two major contenders for this title, both of whom were expected to be stars of the tournament. Luca Toni didn’t play too badly for Italy in terms of build up play and his general contribution, but in front of goal he was woeful. The number of chances he missed in this tournament was beyond belief. If Italy had played non-stop since they lost to Spain, Toni would still not have found the net.

For Germany, Mario Gomez arrived with a quickly growing reputation. I was expecting great things from him having never really seen him play. In the two games he played Gomez produced absolutely abject performances. He had no touch, no movement and no goal threat. In the game against Austria he missed the simplest chance you could imagine.

Gomez is a clear winner which when you look at how poor Toni was, shows you just how bad Gomez actually was.

Best of the tournament
There were two individual performances of such exceptional quality that it is almost impossible to choose between them. Andrei Arshavin against Holland and Ruud Van Nistelrooy against Italy, gave virtuoso performances in their particular roles that it would be difficult to better.

As I’ve already given Arshavin an award, I’m going to give this one to the phenomenal Dutch striker.

Stinker of the tournament
For reasons I have hopefully clearly outlined above, I can look no further than France when handing out this award. So many individual players from the side deserve special recognition. It is impossible to choose and I therefore declare that France win the stinker award. (How many times do I have to tell you, yes, I know they beat England!!!)

Do you agree with my nominations or do you think there are more deserving recipients for the HOT and NOT awards?

Mon 30 June, 2008
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Spain put their “black legend” to bed with Euro win

After 44 long years – virtually as long as the trophy drought still afflicting England – Spain finally threw off their chains on Sunday in winning the European Championship, beating Germany with a Fernando Torres strike.

The expression “Black Legend” normally goes hand-in-hand with the Spanish inquisition – but for fans of the Furia Roja it referred – until now – to the team's consistent showing of great promise only to fail, usually in the quarter-finals, ever since their only previous triumph at Euro 64.

A final appearance in Euro 1984 had been the closest a football-obsessed country had come since – old political rivals and neighbours France proving too strong.

On that occasion their chief tormentor was Michel Platini – so it was appropriate that the man who is now president of UEFA should hand over the winners' medals.

The dead weight of history finally dissipated after another old foe – Italy – had been bested on penalties in the quarter-finals, and on June 22 too, date of three previous Spanish shootout failures.

“We can get past the quarters” was the legend many fans wore on their t-shirts as they arrived in Austria for this summer's competition.

After beating a typically negative Italy in a competitive international for the first time in 88 years this had to be Spain's year with Fernando Torres and David Villa among the goals and a gifted midfield preparing a steady supply of ammunition.

Suddenly, the agony of last eight exits at the World Cup in 1986 and 2002 and Euro 96 had been cast aside.

“Forty four years later, we did it again! It's the best day of my life,” as Cesc Fabregas put it as Spain finally hit the jackpot after numerous promising showings in lower age-group competitions.

The European pendulum, had already swung in Spain's direction several times in recent years at club level with Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia regular star turns in the Champions League.

Now it has belatedly moved the same way at international level, away from Italy, Germany and a France side who bested Spain in the second round of the last World Cup after the latter's typically fine start.

The sporting “black legend” began a long time before that, following a 1934 World Cup loss to be precise to, who else, the Italians.

Turkey, who managed to spring a surprise or two of their own over the past month, then shocked Spain by knocking them out of the 1954 World Cup qualifiers.

In 1962, it seemed a team with the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano on board had to have a good chance of glory but the Real Madrid legend picked up an injury and another chance of glory went begging.

Then the 1964 Euros – when finally silverware arrived via a 2-1 win over the Soviet Union on home soil for a team coached by Jose Villalonga.

That win, until Sunday, was the exception which would prove the rule for 44 years – back to when grizzled current coach Luis Aragones was a sprightly 26-year-old.

More disasters would follow, such as the Argentina-78 World Cup, where there was no point in holding Brazil if the Spanish had already squandered the points against surprise package Austria.

Mexico-86 looked like a good time and place to bury such memories, especially with a second-round thrashing of Denmark.

But then June 22 came round once again and it was Belgium who kept their nerve in the quarter-final shootout.

The last eight again proved the terminus as Italy (them again) scored a 2-1 win which Roberto Baggio secured with his winner after Mauro Tassotti's elbow had broken Luis Enrique's nose.

At France-98, another World Cup catastrophe – in the form of a 3-2 loss to Nigeria, rendered academic a 6-1 flattening of Bulgaria in the opening phase.

In 2002, it was deja vu all over again – a shootout loss to co-hosts South Korea, with the added spice of two goals questionably disallowed.

But all bad things come to an end and if Austria meant World Cup heartache 30 years ago when push came to shove on Sunday, Torres' predatory qualities finally laid the hoodoo to rest as Spain deservedly brought the curtain down on Euro 2008 by dancing a victorious Viennese waltz.

Mon 30 June, 2008
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Spanish PM sets sights on World Cup after Euro 2008 win

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is dreaming of glory for Spain at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after his side beat Germany 1-0 to win Euro 2008, its first major title in over 40 years.

“They deserved to win and this is only the beginning. The best is yet to come. We have to go for the World Cup now,” he told private Spanish television Cuatro from Vienna, Austria after congratulating the squad.

“I am happy, really happy. Its a privilege because I believe I am the first premier of the democratic era who has presided over a title win. My generation had the right to enjoy seeing its national team win a championship like this,” he added.

Spain last lifted the European Cup in 1964, when right-wing General Francisco Franco ruled the country with an iron grip, with victory over the former USSR in what was its only triumph at a major tournament to date.

Spain was ranked fourth in the world by FIFA before the Euro 2008 final while Germany was ranked fifth.

Mon 30 June, 2008
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Liverpool´s Alonso says Euro win rivals 2005

Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso said Sunday night's Euro 2008 win over Germany was just as good as the Reds dramatic Champions League victory over AC Milan in 2005.

The 26-year-old played a key role in the 1-0 win over Joachim Loew's Germany team to claim Spain's first European title since 1964.

He said the win in Vienna was just as good, if not better as Liverpool's dramatic fight back from 3-0 down to level the 2005 Champions League final 3-3 before they won the title on penalties.

“I don't know if it is bigger than that win, but it is definitely one of the happiest moments of my career,” said Alonso.

“It is a moment to savour, just like it was in the Champions League final.”

Three years ago, Alonso played a crucial role as Liverpool completed an incredible comeback from 3-0 down at half-time.

At 3-2, Liverpool were awarded a penalty, which Alonso stepped up to take.

The penalty was saved, but Alonso fired the rebound into the roof of the net to make it 3-3 and complete one of the greatest fight-backs in European history and Alonso said he enjoyed the taste of European success again.

Mon 30 June, 2008
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Hats off to Spain, says Metzelder

Real Madrid's German defender Christoph Metzelder praised Spain's Euro 2008 winning-performance which inflicted a 1-0 win over Germany in Vienna on Sunday night as Fernando Torres's first-half strike settled the matter.

In the build-up to the match, Metzelder had said the Spanish would struggle under the pressure of attempting to win their first European title for 44 years.

But Liverpool's Torres hit the winning goal on 33 minutes after slipping his marker Philipp Lahm and Metzelder says the Spanish have a bright future.

“You have to congratulate this Spanish team which has a great future,” said the 27-year-old, who almost gave the Spanish the lead when a ricochet off his body produced a fine save from Jens Lehmann.

“It is hard to say we are satisfied with being second, but I am sure in the next few weeks it will sink in what we achieved by making the final.

“We have to be realistic, the Spanish are a very good, very mobile team.”

Mon 30 June, 2008
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