In-form Cagliari dent Juve title hopes

Serie A’s in-form team Cagliari stunned Juventus 3-2 at Turin’s Stadio Olimpico to put a huge dent in the Italian giants’ title hopes on Saturday.

Goals from Momo Sissoko and Pavel Nedved gave Juve the lead at half-time following Davide Biondini’s opener, but Brazilian Jeda and Alessandro Matri struck after the break to record a famous victory for the Sardinians.

It means second-placed Juventus, who lost their second game in a row, could fall to nine points behind leaders Inter Milan if the champions win at home to Torino on Sunday.

Juve coach Claudio Ranieri was magnanimous in defeat but admitted he didn’t know what was wrong with his team.

“They deserved it. They played great, they were organised and that’s not a surprise when you saw how they played against Inter and Lazio,” he said.

“In the last two games we’ve conceded five goals so naturally there’s something that’s not right. We were hoping to create goalscoring chances but we didn’t.”

For Cagliari it was a fourth straight victory and leaves them unbeaten in five matches — their only dropped points where in a 1-1 draw at Inter — since the turn of the year.

It also means that since the first five games of the season — all of which they lost — only Inter have won more points than Cagliari, who are now challenging for a Champions League qualification finish.

But Cagliari coach Massimiliano Allegri said his team couldn’t rest on their laurels.

“We have a great capacity to work hard but if we lose this desire to work, regardless of our technical qualities, we will become a normal team again, or worse still, the one we were at the beginning of the season,” he said.

Juventus came close to breaking the deadlock on 12 minutes as the excellent Sissoko played a one-two with Amauri before poking wide as he stretched for the return.

Cagliari sprung a surprise on 16 minutes, though, as they took the lead following some shoddy defending by the hosts.

Michele Fini sent over a deep cross from the right to the back post where the dimunitive Marco Marchionni was left to mark Biondini who easily climbed above his man to head powerfully past Gianluigi Buffon.

The lead lasted only a quarter of an hour before Sissoko levelled matters, rising highest in the box to head home an Alessandro Del Piero corner.

Things got even better for Juve on 38 minutes as Nedved’s cross into the box was only half cleared and the Czech veteran himself followed up to smash home a half-volley from just inside the area.

Juventus were looking good at the break but Cagliari turned the match on its head after the restart with two clinical counter-attacks.

On 54 minutes, Andrea Cossu ran down the left flank and crossed into the centre where Jeda beat the onrushing Buffon.

Del Piero came within inches of giving Juventus the lead from a free-kick but on 78 minutes two Cagliari substitutes combined to stun the home crowd.

Matri played a one-two with Andrea Lazzari before finding himself in the clear and he comfortably slotted past Buffon. Earlier, Napoli gave up a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw with Udinese in Naples.

Argentina forward Ezequiel Lavezzi gave the hosts the lead on 24 minutes with a deflected shot that wrong-footed Slovenian goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.

Just three minutes later highly-rated Slovakia midfielder Marek Hamsik headed home a Walter Gargano free-kick.

But Udinese were level by half-time, thanks in no small part to a controversial penalty decision when Christian Zapata threw himself to the ground despite no contact from Paolo Cannavaro.

Antonio Di Natale scored from the spotkick before Fabio Quagliarella scored a stunning leveller on the stroke of half-time with a first-time volley from outside the box.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Bilbao´s cup heroes triumph again

Athletic Bilbao followed up their midweek Kings Cup heroics with an inspirational 3-2 comeback win over high-flying Malaga on Saturday.

Bilbao reached the semi-finals of the cup on Wednesday with a 2-1 victory over Sporting Gijon and rounded off a memorable week by ending Malaga’s six-match unbeaten run in the league.

Malaga twice went ahead through Albert Luque – back in his homeland again after a disastrous two years at Newcastle – and Manuel Lolo but were undone by a determined Bilbao side.

Francisco Yeste and Spain international striker Fernando Llorente twice restored parity for the hosts before substitute Markael Susaeta struck an 86th minute winner.

Athletic climb to ninth with the victory and are suddenly challenging for a European spot when a month ago they looked set to be involved in the relegation dogfight.

The cup, where they face Sevilla in the semi-final, also offers Bilbao hope of their first piece of silverware since winning a league and cup double back in 1984.

Malaga stay seventh rueing a missed opportunity to go into the top four.

Later on Saturday reigning champions Real Madrid travel to Numancia trying to cut Barcelona’s advantage at the top to 12 points.

All eyes will be on captain Raul who is looking to make history in Soria by scoring his 307th goal for the club to join Alfredo di Stefano as the club’s all-time leading scorer.

Madrid’s number 7 has taken over 14 years to amass his 306 goals for Real and di Stefano said he would have no qualms about Raul taking his record.

“How can something like this bother me?” asked di Stefano. “I am very happy for Raul. He is a wonderful kid and a true club player. He is a formidable player, a great professional that takes care of himself.”

Despite the impending record, Real will want the points more to put pressure on Barcelona who are at Racing Santander on Sunday.

Barca reached the semi-finals of the Kings Cup in midweek overcoming derby rivals Espanyol in a tense affair and are now the only Spanish side fighting for silverware in the Champions League, domestic cup and league.

“If it was that easy to win the treble, we’d have done it several times over our 109 years of history, but it hasn’t been like that. Things are not that easy,” explained coach Pep Guardiola.

Barcelona will face Real Mallorca in the last four of the cup and are strong favourites to lift the trophy.

Holders Valencia were dumped out by Sevilla and hope to bounce back with victory over Almeria on Sunday.

Valencia sit fourth, four points behind their cup conquerors who travel to Sporting Gijon on the same day.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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PSG victory boosts morale before president switch

Paris Saint Germain’s 2-0 home victory over Caen at the Parc des Princes on Saturday shot them up to provisional third spot in the French league, days before their club president departs.

Guillaume Hoarau and Peguy Luyindula scored in the second half for a symbolic victory for PSG in the interim period between the announcement of the resignation of Charles Villeneuve and the General Assembly on February 3 when his successor, expected to be Sebastien Bazin, will be officially nominated.

PSG coach Puel Le Guen said on the off-pitch matters: “Things need to be cleared up and they will be. We have tried hard to protect the squad and a real group effort has managed to do that. We have just tried to focus on a our footballing goals.”

Luyindula is anxious to extend his contract, which runs for the next 18 months, and his goal against Caen will not have done him any harm on that score.

PSG thereby leapfrog Marseille, Rennes and Toulouse into third spot from sixth though that situation could soon change as Rennes and Toulouse meet in Saturday’s late match and Marseille travel to Sochaux on Sunday.

The new man at the helm arrives with PSG riding high in four competitions.

They beat Ajaccio in the last 32 of the French Cup at the weekend, meet Bordeaux in the League Cup semi-final on Wednesday, and continue their UEFA Cup run in early March.

Once more, 24-year-old Hoarau got on the scoresheet, firing home his 13th goal of the season in the 48th minute before Luyindula doubled their score in the 58th minute.

Other matches saw Monaco beat Grenoble and Valenciennes beat Nice, both by 1-0, Nantes won 2-0 at Le Mans, Nancy had a 3-2 away victory against Le Havre and Auxerre and Lorient played out a goalless draw.

Apart from Sochaux versus Marseille, Sunday sees games between Bordeaux and Lille, and Lyon and St Etienne.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Blunder sinks Pirates hopes of league win

Title contenders Ajax Cape Town, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates drew Saturday and missed the chance to intensify pressure on South African Premiership pacesetters SuperSport United.

Ajax and Chiefs failed to score in a Cape Town thriller while a blunder by Pirates goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa allowed lowly Bay United to equalise and take an unexpected point away from Johannesburg.

Title holders SuperSport were inactive as they host Curepipe Starlight of Mauritius Sunday near Pretoria in an African Champions League first round qualifying fixture.

United have 34 points after 18 rounds of the richest national football league in Africa, Ajax 31 and arch rivals Pirates and Chiefs 30 each in the chase for a million-dollar first prize.

Chiefs striker Kaizer Motaung junior, a son of the club owner, came closest to breaking the deadlock as his shot eluded Ajax goalkeeper Andre Petim three minutes from full-time only to rebound off a post.

Pirates were ahead after 26 minutes courtesy of a Siphelele Mthembu header and debutant Bay striker Jean Njoh from Cameroon levelled soon after with a tap-in as Meyiwa allowed a back pass slip from his grasp.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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United stretch lead as Van der Sar sets record

Manchester United went five points clear at the top of the English Premier League with a 1-0 win over Everton at Old Trafford here Saturday.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s first-half penalty secured victory in a match where United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar set a new English league record for most minutes without conceding a goal.

The 38-year-old Dutchman, who has now not conceded a goal in domestic league action to 1,121 minutes – more than 18-and-a-half hours – broke the record 17 minutes from time on his way to a 12th straight clean sheet.

Victory also piled the pressure on English, European and world champions United’s nearest domestic pursuers, Chelsea and Liverpool, who meet at Anfield on Sunday.

Though United never scaled the attacking heights they reached in Tuesday’s 5-0 demolition of West Browmich Albion, they comfortably held Everton at bay and had little trouble ending the visitors’ run of nine matches without defeat.

In pursuit of the record, van der Sar suffered few, if any, anxious moments during a one-sided first half, with the champions dominating possession throughout and regularly forcing Tim Howard into action.

First to test the United goalkeeper was Park Ji-Sung, his teasing right wing cross after seven minutes requiring Howard to scramble across the six yard box and push the ball away to safety as Ronaldo loomed large.

Next up was the lively Carlos Tevez, who thought he had scored in the 12th minutes but, somehow, former United keeper Howard managed to stick out an arm after the Argentinean forward had instinctively got a shot away from inside the penalty area.

World Player of the Year Ronaldo then toe-poked an effort against the post, and forced a routine parry from Howard with another long range drive.

It seemed Everton had weathered the storm and the visitors began to pass the ball nicely, Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines particularly catching the eye as they caused Gary Neville no end of trouble.

Frustratingly for David Moyes, Everton’s manager, there was no real cutting edge but they looked certain to head into the break on level terms until an aberration from Mikel Arteta undid alll their hard work.

When Michael Carrick skipped forward, he appeared to be heading down a blind alley but, for some reason, Arteta stuck out his trailing leg, clipped the midfielder and referee Mark Halsey was left with option but to point to the penalty spot.

It brought back memories of the teams’ Old Trafford meeting in December 2007 – Pienaar tripped Ryan Giggs that afternoon – and as was the case then, Ronaldo ensured Everton suffered maximum punishment by beating Howard from 12 yards.

And the game could have been ended as a contest had Halsey awarded another penalty when Carrick tumbled over Joleon Lescott’s outstretched leg.

Again, however, Halsey made the correct decision, waving away United claims.

Other than the odd free-kick from Arteta, which van der Sar comfortably gathered, Everton never looked like scoring let alone bringing their search for a first win on this ground since August 1992 to a successful conclusion.

Goalmouth action was scarce in the dying moments – the closest anyone came to scoring was when Arteta had a drive blocked by Carrick – but Everton had claims for a penalty of their own when Lescott seemed to be wrestled to the floor by Rio Ferdinand.

But it was not to be and van der Sar etched his name in the record books with the minimum of fuss.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Balotelli needs to learn from Santon: Mourinho

Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho blasted wayward teenage star Mario Balotelli again on Saturday, claiming the striker needs to learn from his team-mate Davide Santon.

Balotelli has found himself out in the first team wilderness this month after falling foul of Mourinho’s strict disciplinary code.

And now the former Chelsea boss has told him to learn from his fellow 18-year-old Santon, who recently broke into the team at left-back instead of Brazilian Maxwell.

“You need to be high profile on the pitch, not only off it,” Mourinho said about Balotelli, who has been making more noise off the pitch than on it recently.

Balotelli has been unhappy at his limited first team opportunities and wanted to move out on loan during January in search of a regular starting berth.

But Mourinho refused to let him leave, telling the forward he needed to stay and learn how to train properly. But during the week Balotelli walked out on the team.

“Fortunately Santon’s attitude helps him but that’s not the case with Mario,” Mourinho said. “Although, as I said, he’s a good kid. If anyone thinks I get some sort of enjoyment in leaving him out then they’d be wrong.”

Inter host Torino on Sunday hoping to extend their six-point lead at the top of the Serie A table.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Nigeria not ready to host world under-17 championship – FIFA

Nigeria was warned by a top FIFA official on Saturday that the country could be stripped of the 2009 world under-17 championship, due to take place here in October.

“If Nigeria doesn’t get its act together, Nigeria won’t host it,” warned FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, leading an inspection team.

“Technically speaking, only Abuja (the federal capital city) and (south west Ogun State) Ijebu-Ode stadiums are ready.”

Warner’s team has completed a 10-day inspection of facilities across the country.

Nine stadiums in as many cities were inspected by the officials.

Nigeria first staged a FIFA event in 1999, but Warner said that the standards expected of host countries now are a lot higher than they were 10 years ago.

According to the FIFA chief, some of the facilities in most of the grounds are not complete.

Warner said: “We have been given so many promises since February 28, 2007, but we are not pleased with the sanitation and some other things in some of the venues.”

The inspection team is expected to table its findings to FIFA at a meeting of the Local Organising Committee on February 5.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Roma sign Diamoutene on loan from Lecce

Mali international Souleymane Diamoutene will spend the rest of the current season on loan at AS Roma, who have en option to buy the player this summer.

The 26-year-old right-back joined his current side, US Lecce, in 2004. Since then, he scored six goals in 142 appearances.

If Roma choose to buy Diamoutene at the end of the season, he would reportedly cost the Giallorossi around three million Euros.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Hamburger’s Reinhardt out for three months

Hamburger SV will be without their defender Bastian Reinhardt for the coming three months. The player broke a bone in his foot during the side’s Bundesliga game with Bayern Munich on Friday.

Further tests on Monday will point out whether Reinhardt requires surgery or not.

This season, the 33-year-old giant (200 centimeters) played 15 games for Hamburg and scored twice.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Mexico launch World Cup bid

Mexico has officially launched a bid to host the FIFA World Cup in either 2018 or 2022. The central-Americans announced this on Friday.

The world’s most prestigous football tournament took place in Mexico twice before, in 1970 and in 1986. In the latter case, Colombia was originally chosen to host the tournament but safety issues eventually redirected the event to Mexico.

Other candidates so far are England, Australia, Indonesia, Russia, Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium. Qatar and China have expressed their interest.

The deadline to announce a bid is set to expire next monday.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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