Mourinho takes a swipe at English football

Inter boss Jose Mourinho claims it was far more difficult to win a Scudetto in Italy than it was to win the Premier League with Chelsea.

The Special One claims that there is a lack of quality and tactical awareness outside the top three clubs in English football.

He told News of the World: “I would say that at the top the level of English football is higher than in Italy.

“Manchester United are better than Inter, Liverpool are better than AC Milan and Chelsea are better than Juventus, to give three examples.

“But from there down Italian football is much stronger. In England I won a lot of easy games, by margins that leave no room for doubt. Here (in Italy) this has never happened. On the contrary, the smaller teams were always capable of causing us problems.”

“In 2004-05 with Chelsea it was a different success to all the others. It was a more emotional title for me because I saw the emotions surrounding me. Chelsea hadn’t been champions for 50 years and people felt the success in a way which I’ll never forget.

“By the following season the title was a one-horse race. The impetus achieved the previous season made us unstoppable, a bit like when I won my second title with Porto.

“The best example was when we played at Old Trafford 11 points ahead of Manchester United. We lost and came away with an eight-point advantage. We didn’t become champions when I said, it’s true, but I wasn’t far out.

“At no time was any direct opponent less than seven points behind us. I would say it was a very easy title. We won it without suffering.”

He added: “I remember a game against Genoa at home. We started with 4-3-3 and they closed up with four defenders.

“I changed to 4-4-2 and they responded with three centre-halves. I changed it again and they reacted automatically as if they had been expecting every change we made.

“We drew 0-0. They blocked the game in such a way that we could still be playing and not score a goal. The teams from the lower half of the table who come to the San Siro all have very strong tactical and physical trumps.

“Serie A has very unique characteristics which make it extremely difficult.”

[Source: News of the World]

Sun 31 May, 2009
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Espanyol join race to sign Nakamura – reports

Spanish league strugglers Espanyol have joined the race to sign Japan and Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura, media here reported.

There will be no transfer fee required to get Nakamura, who turns 31 in late June, when his contract with Celtic expires next month.

“It is true they (Espanyol) have approached us,” Nakamura’s agent Roberto Tsukuda told the Daily Sports newspaper, which also reported that Celtic have formally offered to extend their deal with the left-footed playmaker.

But Nakamura is widely reported to be on the verge of signing with his old J-League home club Yokohama Marinos.

Espanyol have promised Nakamura an annual wage of about 200 million yen (2.1 million dollars), compared with 150 million yen offered by Yokohama, Sports Hochi reported.

Nakamura has spent the past seven seasons in Europe, the first three with Italy’s Reggina and the rest at Parkhead.

There have also been approaches from clubs in England, France and Italy to get Nakamura and he will make a final decision in June, according to the daily Asahi Shimbun.

Sun 31 May, 2009
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FA Cup final – Chelsea 2-1 Everton

The FA Cup final went pretty much according to how most people thought it would for almost twenty-five seconds! When Fellaini headed across the box and Louis Saha hit an exquisite shot past Petr Cech for Everton to take the lead, those of us who had predicted a 1-0 win to Chelsea started to feel pretty silly!

Planning

The Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink is well known for his organisation and matriculate planning and preparation. However, it is doubtful if even he had planned for what to do if they went 1-0 down inside half a minute.

As it turned out, Chelsea immediately started to dominate possession and dominate the game. Everton battled bravely, but they looked to be facing an uphill struggle right from the moment Chelsea kicked off after the goal.

World class

Chelsea’s left hand side looked absolutely world class with Ashley Cole, later named man of the match, storming down the wing in attack and looking as solid as a rock in defence and Florent Malouda looking like the great left winger that he must have been before he joined Chelsea and produced nearly two seasons of absolute rubbish.

With Mikel, Lampard and Essien probing and Anelka and Drogba looking to be in the mood, it was only a matter of time before Chelsea got back into the game. In fact it took until the twenty first minute until we saw the equaliser. Chelsea worked the ball to Lampard who picked out a pass to Malouda in acres of space on the left. Given time to pick out the right cross Malouda floated the ball in for Didier Drogba to power a header past Tim Howard.

Resolute

The rest of the first half belonged to Chelsea but they couldn’t find a way past a resolute Everton defence. It was noticeable that Everton were playing Chelsea in much the same way that Chelsea had played Barcelona. Knowing they were an inferior team they sat back in numbers and tried to hit Chelsea on the break and from set pieces.

Chelsea again dominated the second half and the only real surprise was that it took them until the seventy first minute to take the lead. When the goal came it was a fine strike from the remarkable Frank Lampard on his left foot. OK, Tim Howard probably should have made a better effort at keeping it out but he has had a fine season and nobody could begrudge Chelsea or Lampard the goal.

Remarkable

Lampard’s goal made it twenty for the season and one hundred goals in five seasons for Chelsea. That is a truly remarkable record for a midfielder.

There was still time for Florent Malouda to open the debate about whether technology should be used to assist referees when he struck an unstoppable shot from thirty yards that hit the underside of the Everton bar and bounced down over the line. There was no way that the officials could give the goal but the TV replays were conclusive.

Rightful

There was also time for Frank Lampard to be tripped in the area by Pienaar and turn round expecting to see the referee Howard Webb awarding the rightful penalty but instead saw himself being given a yellow card for diving.

In the final few minutes when Everton were desperate to fight back with an equaliser they simply couldn’t get the ball as Chelsea gave them a frustrating masterclass in possession football. The final whistle saw great celebrations from the Chelsea players and the usual despair from the losing side, but even the Everton players knew that Chelsea had deserved their victory.

Confidence

The FA Cup is nice to win but it won’t make up for their third place finish in the Premier League and their controversial semi-final exit in the Champions League. It was a lovely way for Guus Hiddink to say goodbye as he heads back to Russia and a lovely way for the club to go into next season under a new manager full of confidence.

As for David Moyes and Everton, they live to fight another day and once the disappointment of defeat has worn off, they will know that they have produced another exceptional season that has confirmed them as the ‘best of the rest’.

Sun 31 May, 2009
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Hiddink dances into sunset with message for Chelsea

Guus Hiddink admitted Chelsea’s riotous dance party after the FA Cup final was the perfect way to end his brief reign, but the departing Blues manager wants his side’s victory over Everton to signal a more sedate period at Stamford Bridge.

Hiddink joined Chelsea’s stars in a wild dressing room celebration at Wembley on Saturday, which saw even Roman Abramovich lose his inhibitions and throw a few shapes alongside Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel and company.

A first trophy for two years does that kind of thing to a club who had grown used to such occasions during Jose Mourinho’s reign.

But, while Hiddink was delighted to savour every moment of a perfect farewell before resuming his role as Russia coach on a full-time basis, the Dutchman believes it is the Mourinho era that Abramovich must recreate if Chelsea are to enjoy more champagne-soaked celebrations in the future.

Since Mourinho was eased out after a bitter power struggle in September 2007, Chelsea have been through three managers and Abramovich is set to appoint a fourth, most likely AC Milan’s Carlo Ancelotti, in the next week.

Hiddink believes that constant change has had a negative effect on the players and he wants Abramovich to stick with his new man for the good of the squad.

“We had a nice dance party with everyone participating, the players and the staff,” Hiddink said. “We have a multi-cultural squad and you must see the African players; to see Essien break-dance is a joy.

“I did some good moves, the African way. At least that’s what I was thinking!

“Roman danced with us. He is not a man of many words but he was in the middle of the party.

“It was emotional in the dressing room because we were aiming for this cup.

“We had this beautiful African dance, then I gathered the players and technical staff in another room because I won’t get another opportunity now to speak to them.

“I gave a five minute speech to thank them in a rather emotional way for the way we have worked together in the last four months.

“Now I think stability is a big need for the club. They have had too many changes in the past years and they recognise that themselves.

“They need a long-term strategy so that they can build a team and keep up their high performance.

“The players know what they are capable of. This victory might be the foundation for the future. They have shown they can do it.”

After falling behind to Louis Saha’s 25 second opener, the fastest goal in FA Cup final history, Chelsea gradually overpowered Everton.

Didier Drogba equalised with a header from Florent Malouda’s cross in the 21st minute and Frank Lampard gave Chelsea their fifth FA Cup when he drove a long-range shot past Tim Howard after 72 minutes.

Hiddink refused to rule out managing another Premier League club, or even Chelsea, in the future, but for now he will visit his father before focusing on leading Russia to the 2010 World Cup finals.

He will always have a place in the hearts of Chelsea’s players and fans after one of the most successful caretaker manager spells of all-time.

When Hiddink replaced Luiz Felipe Scolari in February he took over a squad in danger of stagnating, but his direct, open approach produced a run of just one defeat in his 22 matches.

And were it not for some dubious decisions by referee Tom Henning Ovrebo in the Champions League semi-final second leg against Barcelona, Hiddink would have taken Chelsea to two finals.

He admitted that controversial defeat was the only disappointment of his time in England.

“It would have been even more perfect if we had been somewhere a few days ago playing in another big final,” Hiddink said.

“That is the only regret I have. I would have loved to play Man Utd in the Champions League final, but it did not happen.

“I feel sadness to be leaving because the attitude from everyone was superb. On the other hand leaving with silverware gives a feeling of satisfaction.

“This is the best way. You can say goodbye easier with a cup.”

Sun 31 May, 2009
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Joy as Bordeaux end 10-year French title wait

Bordeaux clinched their first French league championship title in 10 years after winning 1-0 at Caen on a dramatic final day of the season on Saturday.

Former Caen striker Yoan Gouffran scored in the early stages of the second half to earn Laurent Blanc’s side a record 11th consecutive league win and secure a second trophy to go alongside the League Cup they won in April.

The result sparked scenes of wild celebration both in the stadium and at Bordeaux’s Esplanade des Quinconces, where 50,000 fans had gathered to watch the match on a big screen, while defeat condemned Caen to relegation.

Second-placed Marseille knew that only defeat for Bordeaux would allow them to snatch the title and they won 4-0 at home to Rennes.

Senegal striker Mamadou Niang netted a brace, while Ivorian Bakari Kone scored once and also saw a long-range shot hit the post and rebound into the net off Rennes goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez.

Caen will be joined in Ligue 2 next season by Nantes, who went down despite a 2-1 victory over Auxerre, but 10-time French champions St Etienne spared themselves from the drop by thrashing Valenciennes 4-0.

Sochaux and Le Mans joined Les Verts in preserving their top-flight status, Sochaux winning 1-0 at Grenoble thanks to a first-half goal by Mevlut Erding and Le Mans drawing 1-1 at Lorient.

Hundreds of Nantes fans streamed out of their Stade de la Beaujoire ground in protest at their plight before kick-off, returning after 15 minutes having missed Ivan Klasnic’s 12th-minute opener.

Jeremy Berthod finished adroitly from close range in the opening stages of the second half to bring the visitors level before Mamadou Bagayoko struck to earn Nantes an ultimately futile victory.

St Etienne took the lead in fine fashion at home to Valenciennes when Araujo Ilan slid in to thump home a volley from Kevin Mirallas’s right-wing cross and they made sure of victory thanks to Bafetimbi Gomis, who scored twice in the second period before laying on a goal for Mirallas.

Lyon, their record-breaking seven-year stint as French champions having come to an end, had already secured third place and a berth in the qualifying rounds of next season’s Champions League prior to their 0-0 draw at Toulouse.

Lyon centre-back John Mensah saw red after two first-half bookings, the second for a rash sliding challenge on Ligue 1 top scorer Andre-Pierre Gignac, making it easier for the home side to collect the point that guaranteed fourth place and entry into next season’s Europa League.

Lille will also compete in the re-branded UEFA Cup after a 3-2 victory at home to Nancy, who fought back to equalise after going 2-0 down, but Paris St-Germain’s dreams of European football melted away in a disappointing goalless draw at home to Monaco.

In the night’s other game, already-relegated Le Havre drew 0-0 at Nice.

Bordeaux took to the field at the Stade Michel-d’Ornano, where they had failed to win in nine previous attempts, with only suspended full-back Mathieu Chalme and injured midfielder Abdou Traore unavailable.

Gouffran spurned an early chance to settle Bordeaux’s nerves when he fired straight at Vincent Plante in the Caen goal after haring onto a through ball from Jussie.

Visiting goalkeeper Ulrich Rame then clawed a near-post effort by Steve Savidan off his goal-line as Caen threated to poop the title party, before Brazilian midfielder Fernando saw a prodded attempt parried by Plante at the other end.

Gouffran registered the title-winning goal four minutes after half-time, heading home Benoit Tremoulinas’s cross from the edge of the six-yard box, with Rame denying Sambou Yatabare late on to safeguard Bordeaux’s moment in the sun.

Sat 30 May, 2009
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Forlan scores as Atletico net Champions League spot

Atletico Madrid secured the final Champions League spot and the millions of euros that accompany it with a 3-0 home win over Almeria on Saturday in the 1,000th game at the Vicente Calderon.

Atletico needed just a draw to clinch fourth but they cruised to a 3-0 victory to qualify for the Champions League for the second successive season.

Argentine Sergio “Kun” Aguero and Raul Garcia put Atletico 2-0 up before Diego Forlan scored for the eighth successive match to take his season’s tally to 32 and wrap up the ‘pichichi’ crown for the league’s top-scorer.

Atletico join champions Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla as Spain’s Champions League representatives and coach Abel Resino, originally seen as a stop-gap, has staked his claim to continue in the job next season.

Forlan’s old club Villarreal, runners-up last season, won 3-2 at Real Mallorca but Atletico’s win meant they had to settle for fifth and a Europa league place.

Villarreal must now concentrate on trying to hang onto their highly-rated Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini, 55, who has emerged as a strong candidate for the Real Madrid job.

Valencia clinched the final European spot with a 2-0 home win over defeated Kings Cup finalists Athletic Bilbao.

David Villa scored both goals to take his season’s tally to 28 in what could be his final game for the club.

Villa and fellow Spanish international David Silva will be hot property in the summer with the big clubs set to come calling with their chequebooks and Valencia may be unable to resist having missed out on the Champions League.

Valencia’s win meant Deportivo La Coruna, who drew 1-1 with Barcelona, missed out on Europe.

Barca were given the guard of honour at the Riazor Stadium to salute their historical league, Kings Cup and Champions League treble that no Spanish side had ever achieved.

Coach Pep Guardiola started with five of the starting XI that beat Manchester United 2-0 in Wednesday’s Champions League final and Samuel Eto’o, who scored the opening goal in Rome, netted a late equaliser with his 30th goal of the season.

Eto’o has led the scoring charts for most of the season but Forlan’s hot streak has taken him two goals clear of the Cameroon striker to steal the pichich crown.

The relegation battle takes centre stage on Sunday with five teams fighting for their lives on what will be a tense final day of the season.

Osasuna, third from bottom, host dethroned champions Real Madrid and need to win to be certain of survival.

“Real are not coming here to roll over and die,” warned Osasuna coach Jose Antonio Camacho. “They have some of the best players in the world and they will come here to play.”

Four other teams are fighting the drop and two meet each other with Valladolid travelling to Real Betis.

Promoted Sporting Gijon, level on points with Osasuna, face already relegated Recreativo Huelva while Getafe, a point above the drop, have a tough trip to Racing Santander.

Sat 30 May, 2009
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Bordeaux win French football title

Bordeaux beat Caen 1-0 on Saturday thanks to a second-half goal from Yoan Gouffran to secure their first French league title in 10 years.

Sat 30 May, 2009
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Atletico secure Champions League football

Atletico Madrid secured fourth place and the final Champions League spot with a 3-0 win over Almeria at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday.

Atletico needed just a draw to cement fourth but goals from Argentine Sergio “Kun” Aguero, Raul Garcia and the league’s top-scorer Diego Forlan helped Atletico qualify for the Champions League for the second successive season.

Sat 30 May, 2009
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Oezil goal hands Bremen German Cup silverware

Werder Bremen won the German Cup on Saturday, a a second-half goal from midfielder Mesut Oezil sealing a 1-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

Bremen’s Brazilian midfielder Diego, in his last appearance in Germany before his move to Juventus, signed off by creating the winning goal for Oezil after 58 minutes.

The 24-year-old Diego, who has signed a five-year deal worth 24.5 million euros to move to Italy, beat three defenders and slid a pass into the path of Oezil who fired home past Leverkusen goalkeeper Rene Adler to give Bremen the winner.

Leverkusen had their chance to equalise when, with just four minutes of normal time remaining, Germany striker Stefan Kiessling fired wide for Bayer as their attack failed to beat Bremen goalkeeper Tim Wiese.

Both Bremen and Leverkusen under-achieved last season, finishing mid-table in the Bundesliga, but after Werder lost last week’s UEFA Cup final to Shakhtar Donetsk in Istanbul, Bremen have finally won some silverware this season.

Leverkusen had Germany strikers Patrick Helmes and Kiessling up front while Diego lead the Bremen attack in style playing behind Portuguese striker Hugo Almeida and ex-Chelsea forward Claudio Pizarro, who both had good chances to score.

Bremen have now won the trophy six times and only Bayern Munich have a better record having lifted the competition 14 times.

Sat 30 May, 2009
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South Africa beat Mauritius in Confed warm-up

Hosts South Africa continued preparations for the FIFA Confederations Cup next month with a 2-0 win over Mauritius in a non-cap friendly match on Saturday.

Bafana Bafana (The Boys) included only one overseas-based professional, captain and central defender Aaron Mokoena from Portsmouth, and Brazil-born coach Joel Santana made a host of late substitutions.

It was the same old story from South Africa, who face Iraq, New Zealand and Spain in Group A, with numerous good scoring chances squandered against outclassed Indian Ocean opponents.

Orlando Pirates midfielder Benson Mhlongo got South Africa off to the perfect start before a small Germiston Stadium crowd by scoring with a sixth-minute chip.

But the home team did not clinch victory until midway through the second half when SuperSport United midfielder Lance Davids unleashed a drive past goalkeeper Ivan Jose.

South Africa will be in action again on June 6 when they host Poland at a revamped Orlando Stadium in Soweto when caps will be awarded and face Iraq eight days later in the Confederations Cup opener.

Sat 30 May, 2009
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