Curbishley relieved as Hammers ease the pressure

Alan Curbishley admitted he was a relieved man after West Ham's 4-1 win over Blackburn eased the pressure on the Hammers manager.

Curbishley has suffered increasingly vociferous abuse from his own supporters after an erratic start to the campaign. Reports that he had to start winning quickly to save his job only added to the tension around Upton Park.

But Saturday's rout of Rovers lifts the club to their best start in nine years and Curbishley hopes to build on the success.

“It has been a difficult week,” he admitted. “That is down to the defeat at Manchester City, not just the League Cup performance against Macclesfield. I've not heard of fans having a go at a manager after two games before.

“These fans are second to none at times, though when they are not happy they let you know about it. But I'd rather they have a go at me than the players.

“I'm delighted to get this result but everyone in the dressing room knows we can play even better than this.”

The focus was on both managers in this Upton Park encounter, as home supporters have still not forgotten about the way Paul Ince left them as a player almost 20 years ago – when he was pictured in a Manchester United shirt before completing his move.

West Ham raced into a two-goal lead inside 20 minutes thanks to a Calum Davenport header and Mark Noble's cross, which diverted into the net off Blackburn defender Christopher Samba.

Forward Jason Roberts scored for Blackburn on 22 minutes, but then had a penalty saved at full stretch just after half-time by the impressive Robert Green.

Yet injury-time goals from substitute Craig Bellamy and Carlton Cole ensured it was a miserable return for Ince.

“It was a disappointing result and not a real reflection of the game for us because we played well,” Ince said. “It's like a circus when I come back here with the reception, but ten or 15 thousand of the supporters here were not even born when the incident happened!

“I still love this club and I am pleased for Alan because this gets people off his back. He is a class man.

“However, we deserved more here and had several chances to score before their goals in injury-time.”

There was further bad news for Ince, as his Paraguayan forward Roque Santa Cruz has an Achilles problem that will rule him out for up to two weeks.

It was Bellamy's goal in the first minute of injury-time for number three killed off Blackburn, but Curbishley is now concerned about his front man.

Bellamy has just returned from a hamstring injury, and played his first 20 minutes of the season here. He will now join up with Wales for international duty.

“I've spoken to John Toshack (the Wales manager) as there is no way he is ready for international football,” Curbishley explained.

“Craig has obviously been out for four weeks with a hamstring injury and 20 minutes was as much as he could play. It was good to have him back and he gives us something different out there.

“Wales will call him up but I hope sense prevails. Ideally we'd like him to train some more. I just think it's a bit early for him.”

The international break now sets in and gives Curbishley a chance to relax a little before he heads to West Bromwich Albion on September 13.

Sun 31 August, 2008
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Derby debuts for new signings

Celtic and Rangers go head-to-head for the first time this season at Parkhead on Sunday with both teams expected to hand derby debuts to some of their new summer signings.

The sides go into the game with Celtic topping the Scottish Premier League on goal difference from their fiercest rivals.

With a two-week international break following the match both teams will want a win to give their fans early season bragging rights.

The Old Firm have been busy in the transfer market lately with Rangers bringing in Pedro Mendes, Maurice Edu and Steven Davis for a new look midfield. Rivals Celtic have added former player Shaun Maloney and central defender Glenn Loovens to the squad which won the SPL last season.

Former Portsmouth player Pedro Mendes is likely to play a key part for Rangers on Sunday and the Portugese playmaker is targeting three points from his first Old Firm derby.

“People always tell you about games against Celtic but I think you probably need to play in one to really live it,” Mendes said.

“They are special fixtures for the supporters and I really hope I get the chance to take part and that my team-mates and I do as well as possible.

“I have enjoyed my time in Scotland so far and everything is going well, both on and off the pitch.

“The lads in the squad have been fantastic and my family are here so I am happy with life as I'm playing well too.”

Mendes added: “We will work hard and make sure we are ready for Celtic. I can only speak about how we've done since I joined Rangers but I think we have done well.

“Based on the last couple of performances, I think the team is improving and we just need to keep looking to do that. Now I'm looking for three points against Celtic.”

Celtic have some injury worries going into the game with strikers Scott McDonald and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink facing late fitness tests.

However, Greek forward Georgios Samaras is full of confidence following his double against Falkirk last weekend.

“It was a good performance against Falkirk and sets us up mentally for the Rangers game,” Samaras said. “I played three times against Rangers last season and the atmosphere at both Celtic Park and Ibrox is fantastic.

“For me it is one of the best derbies in the world and I'm just really glad I'm part of this. I'm very happy here and the team's confidence will be up ahead of the Rangers game.

“Whether I score against Falkirk or Rangers it's a goal and it helps my team. The most important thing is just to win the three points.”

Sun 31 August, 2008
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Scolari reveals Chelsea´s revenge mission

Luiz Felipe Scolari has warned Tottenham that his Chelsea stars will be motivated by revenge in Sunday's London derby at Stamford Bridge.

Scolari spoke to John Terry, Frank Lampard and company about their meetings with Spurs last season and quickly realised they are still sore over the 4-4 draw that dented Chelsea's title charge.

Although Chelsea lost the League Cup final to Tottenham it is the painful memories of their March visit to White Hart Lane which will fire up Scolari's players this weekend.

The Blues led three times before conceding a last minute equaliser to concede crucial ground on Manchester United. They eventually lost the title by just two points and the momentum squandered at Spurs proved crucial.

“They have talked to me about the 4-4 game, not the League Cup. One mistake in the last two minutes meant they lost the Premier League.” Scolari said.

“They also told me they respected some of the Tottenham players and at this moment it is important for Tottenham not to lose another game.

“They want their first three points in the league so we have some problems, we know this. We need to respect them even more.

“If you win a derby it is fantastic. When I arrived here some people said to me 'you need to win three derbies – Tottenham, Fulham and West Ham'.”

Tottenham have made a dismal start to the season but Scolari isn't taking another victory for granted.

“Tottenham thought they would have a better start to the season than they have done because they have lost both games,” he said.

“But I know Juande and the players at Tottenham. They made one or two mistakes in the games before ours but we need to remember this is a big chance for Tottenham because it is a derby.”

Chelsea's 100 percent winning record under Scolari has showcased two completely different sides of the team. They turned on the style to rout Portsmouth in his first match, the ground out a 1-0 victory at Wigan.

The impressive play of Scolari's five-man midfield has been the highlight of those wins but the Brazilian could be missing three key players in the centre as Michael Ballack, John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien are all struggling with injuries.

While Chelsea will be driven by their revenge mission, Spurs make the short trip across London with an equally pressing need for a positive result.

Defeat on Sunday will condemn Tottenham to their worst start to a season since 1979. The omens aren't good for Ramos's side as Spurs are without a win at the Bridge since 1990.

Ramos also has to cope with the unwanted distraction of Dimitar Berbatov's attempt to force a move to Manchester United. The Spanish coach dropped Berbatov from last weekend's defeat to Sunderland after he handed in a transfer request and was unsure whether to bring the Bulgarian back at the Bridge.

In the meantime, Ramos has told the rest of the squad they must improve.

“At the momemt we owe something to our fans but we can and we must give a lot more and that's what we are working on,” he said.

“The team have to improve. We need to be ambitious and keep our concentration for the full 90 minutes.

“We are more concerned with the errors we have made in the last few games rather than obsessing about achieving our first victory.

“Chelsea are a great team but we also have a very solid base. I have no doubt in my mind that Tottenham are capable of beating any team.”

Sun 31 August, 2008
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Portuguese giants Benfica and Porto share points

Portuguese giants Benfica Lisbon and FC Porto held each other to a 1-1 draw in the country’s capital city on Saturday.

Argentinian Lucho Gonzalez, who extended his contract with Porto earlier this week, opened the score from the penalty spot after just ten minutes.

Benfica came back though, and equalised through Cardozo eleven minutes into the second half.

Another two minutes later, Benfica went down a man as Katsouranis conceded a red card. Porto did not take advantage though, and the two sides ended up sharing the points.

Having earned four points from two games, Porto are currently first in the Liga Sagres but this is with Sunday’s games still ahead.

Sun 31 August, 2008
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Mandanda saves keep Marseille top in France

Marseille keeper Steve Mandanda made two crucial saves in the last five minutes to ensure a 2-1 victory at home to Sochaux, keeping them top of the French league championship on Saturday.

Marseille were cruising to victory through goals by Karim Ziani and Baky Kone but Mevlud Erding pulled one back on a counter attack and the same player, through and one-on-one with Mandanda with a chance for an equaliser, saw his shot brilliantly saved by the leg of the France international keeper.

Then just before the final whistle, Mandanda made a reflex save low down to his right on the goalline, from an Erding header, to once more keep Marseille's one-goal advantage.

A modest Mandanda told Orange Foot television at the end of the match: “I just tried to play to my very best. At 2-0 we started to play at a lower standard. I think we were a bit scared and could have finished the match better.”

Paris Saint Germain put last week's stuttering draw with Sochaux behind them with a 1-0 defeat of Caen to place Paul Le Guen's side in sixth spot.

Le Guen and the capital side's supporters couldn't have wished for a better start when Guillaume Hoarau shot home from close range by the near post from Jerome Rothen's cross from the left in the fifth minute.

PSG should have doubled their advantage in the 33rd minute when Horau, back after a loan spell last season at Le Havre, was set up perfectly again, this time by Ludovic Giuly, but with the goalmouth gaping he conspired to miss the unmissable.

PSG new boy, Serbia international Mateja Kezman, made his debut as an 89th minute substitute for Horau.

“We had chances to make it a clearer win,” said Le Guen. “I regret not benig able to hold on to the ball better but overall I'm satisfied.”

He had praise for the goalscorer saying: “I admire Horau's defensive play and he gave us a precious lift with the set pieces.”

PSG jumped from 11th to sixth, two points behind second-placed Le Mans who handed out a 4-1 drubbing to Nantes to make it three wins from three.

Hosts Nantes, who sacked their coach Michel Der Zakarian this week, took the lead in the 21st minute via Guirane Ndaw, but that was cancelled out two minutes later by Norwegian Thorstein Helstad.

From then on it was all plainsailing for the visitors with Modibo Maiga, Mathieu Coutadeur, and Gervinho in injury time making it a night to remember for new manager Yves Bertucci's side.

Nice, 2-0 victors over Valenciennes, and Grenoble, who beat Monaco with a 19th minute goal from striker Daniel Moreira, are also unbeaten and lying third and fourth on goal difference.

Elsewhere Auxerre came away from their visit to Lorient with a 2-0 win and Nancy came from behind to see off Le Havre 2-1.

Sunday's programme features perennial champions Lyon taking on Saint Etienne in the local derby with Bordeaux making the trip north to Lille.

Sat 30 August, 2008
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Espanyol overcome problems to win curtain raiser

Espanyol shrugged off the loss of departing first team stars Albert Riera and Pablo Zabaleta to defeat Valladolid 1-0 on Saturday in the curtain raiser of the 2008/09 Spanish league season.

Espanyol's Luis Garcia, still recovering from the disappointment of being dropped from the Spain squad shortly before Euro 2008, had the honour of scoring the first goal of the new season a minute after the break.

It proved enough as Espanyol won their first league match since mid-March while new coach Bartolome Marquez enjoyed a winning start in his first match in charge.

Espanyol went into the match trying to reshuffle their team after deciding to sell Riera and Zabaleta despite having little time to find replacements.

Spanish international Riera is poised to join Liverpool while Zabaleta, part of the Argentina side that won Olympic gold, is bound for Manchester City in an eight-million-euro move.

Garcia was tipped to leave too but a move to Benfica fell through and his goal fires Espanyol top of the table although you sense they won't be there for long.

In Saturday's late match Valencia host Real Mallorca at the Mestalla aiming to get their painful Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid out of their system.

Valencia ran in 10th last season and new coach Unai Emery has the task of trying to get the team back among the big boys.

Reigning champions Real start their title defence at Deportivo La Coruna in Sunday's late match.

Brazilian international Robinho has spent most of this week angling for a move to Chelsea and coach Bernd Schuster confirmed he had left the winger out of the travelling party.

“I made the decision. He's under pressure from his entourage and not fit to play,” said Schuster.”He's got too much on his mind at the moment.”

Real are bidding for a third straight title but have not won at the Riazor since the 1991/92 season.

Barcelona are also away on Sunday travelling to promoted Numancia in Pep Guardiola's first league match in charge.

Last season Barca were a soft touch on their travels and Guardiola wants that to change.

“The opponents, pitch and referee are not important we just have to win,” said Guardiola.

Sevilla and Racing Santander, fifth and sixth last season, face off on Sunday in one of the games of the weekend.

Sat 30 August, 2008
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Mourinho´s Inter reign begins with stalemate

Former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was left frustrated in his first Serie A match in charge of Inter Milan as the champions were held to a 1-1 draw at Sampdoria.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic gave the visitors a first half lead but Samp fought back after the break to earn a point through Gennaro Delvecchio.

Mourinho will not have been happy that his team surrendered a lead but the differing aspirations of the two sides were apparent after the final whistle as Inter trudged off the pitch while Sampdoria celebrated as if they had won silverware.

Mourinho sprung a surprise by picking Argentina midfielder Esteban Cambiasso at centre-back while he opted for his favoured three-pronged attack, with Swede Ibrahimovic flanked by Brazilian Alessandro Mancini and Portuguese veteran Luis Figo.

Samp's Italy wild boy Antonio Cassano had the first effort on goal on six minutes but he failed to hit the target.

Inter gradually took control of the match and opened the scoring in controversial fashion on 33 minutes.

Ibrahimovic ran onto a flick from Mancini and took the ball down on his chest before scuffing a left-footed shot in off the post but television replays showed that he controlled the ball with his arm as well as his chest.

Despite the first half lead, Mourinho did not look impressed and often cut an impassive figure on the touchline.

However he was soon irked after the break following some sustained Sampdoria pressure as the home side equalised.

Substitute Marco Padalino crossed from the right for Daniele Franceschini who failed to make proper contact with a stooped header under pressure from Maicon but the ball fell kindly to Delvecchio who prodded home on 68 minutes.

Moments later and Cassano should have done better when sent free by a long ball but with a free run on goal he got the ball stuck between his feet, allowing Marco Materazzi to get back and clear.

In the day's other game an Antonio Di Natale inspired Udinese got off to a fine start with a 3-1 victory over Palermo.

The Italy forward was in scintillating form and the Sicilians found him unstoppable in the first period.

He opened the scoring on nine minutes after cutting in from the left and shooting past goalkeeper Marco Amelia.

His second effort on 34 minutes was sublime as the nippy winger scored with a sumptuous chip over Amelia.

Australian midfielder Mark Bresciano briefly gave Palermo hope of salvaging something from the match when he bundled the ball home with 20 minutes left but Swiss midfielder Gokhan Inler restored the two-goal advantage a minute later.

It was the perfect start for Udinese, who challenged for a top four finish last season and are considered dark horses for the title this year.

On Sunday Ronaldinho should make his debut for AC Milan as they host Bologna while the match of the day will be in Florence where Juventus are the visitors to Fiorentina.

Sat 30 August, 2008
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Fenerbahçe beat Istanbul to secure first points

Fenerbahçe earned their first points of the Turkish season with a 2-0 win over Istanbul BB on Saturday.

‘Fener’ had lost their opening game and Luis Aragones’ men needed a good result to satisfy their fanatic fans.

Kazim-Richards finally put the home side in the lead after 51 minutes and Senturk doubled the gap ten minutes later.

Both goals were scored against a nine-man Istanbul BB, as Depe received a direct red card after 30 minutes and Gülpinar followed his teammate with a second booking just after the break.

Sat 30 August, 2008
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PSV convince versus Utrecht, Ajax lose at Willem II

Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven got off to a good start with a convincing 5-1 victory at FC Utrecht, while rivals Ajax Amsterdam crashed to a 2-1 defeat at Willem II.

PSV’s match had been re-scheduled from the evening to the afternoon due to possible riots.

Midfielder Ibrahim Affelay scored twice for PSV, with Danny Koevermans doing the same. The remaining goal came from newcomer Amrabat.

Utrecht’s only goal of the match came from new signing Somers in stoppage time.

Ajax visited Willem II in Tilburg and Sulejmani put the side of new coach Marco van Basten ahead after 23 minutes.

But Demouge levelled just after the break and Akgün netted the 2-1 for Willem II in the 65th minute.

Ajax even went down to ten when newly signed Evander Sno conceded a red card in the 84th minute.

Sat 30 August, 2008
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Robinho to hold press conference on Sunday

Brazilian forward Robinho continues his conflict with Real Madrid and has scheduled a press conference for Sunday.

The player’s manager, Wagner Ribeiro, announced today that Robinho will be speaking to the press as Madrid’s Eurobuilding hotel at 12pm local time.

Although it remains unclear what it is exactly that Robinho will discuss, it is likely that it only adds to the current conflict with Real Madrid. The striker has been wanting to leave the Spanish side, preferably for Chelsea.

Madrid refused to accept an offer from the English club however, although chairman Calderón did promise to respect the players’ wishes should he really want to leave, albeit by terminating the contract.

Robinho has been left out of Real Madrid’s squad for their first Liga match on Sunday.

Sat 30 August, 2008
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