Babbel rues dropped points

Stuttgart boss Markus Babbel admitted his team missed an opportunity after only drawing their Champions League match against Romanian side Unirea Urziceni.

The Bundesliga side opened the scoring in Bucharest through Serdar Tasci after just five minutes, but were made to pay for a succession of missed chances when Dacian Varga made it 1-1.

The draw left Stuttgart with just two points from their opening two Group G games, although they still lie second in the pool behind Sevilla.

Speaking after last night’s match, Babbel told the club’s official website: “We have lost two points.

“We gave away the goal too easily, then we were punished clinically.

“Unfortunately one chance or another were not taken. In the first half we were too passive and after taking the lead allowed ourselves to fall back too deep.

“We talked about that in the break and it was better in the second half.

“We still have everything in our our hands. That is a good starting position.”

Unirea coach Dan Petrescu was pleased with his side’s point, their first in the group.

“Normally you have to win your home games in the Champions League, but we have to be happy with a point,” said the former Chelsea player.

“Stuttgart was a strong opponent. I am proud of my team, that they came back again after going behind.”

Stuttgart’s next game in the group is at home to Sevilla, while Unirea are away to Rangers.

Wed 30 Sep, 2009
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Partizan ‘Humiliated’ by fan’s death

Partizan Belgrade have expressed their “anger” and humiliation after the death of Toulouse fan Brice Taton.

The 28-year-old was injured in clashes in a bar ahead of the two sides’ Europa League opener on September 17 and died in a Belgrade hospital on Tuesday.

Toulouse angrily called for justice following the news of the death, warning: “The time will come when this outburst of violence on the outskirts of sport has to be severely punished.”

Partizan have now echoed those calls, and a statement on their official website read: “Our anger, as sports people of good will, is enormous.

“Brice Taton is no longer with us. Brice will leave Belgrade in a coffin, while we remain here in shame, leaving us to face ourselves with our own being and consequences.

“Partizan FC expresses hope that Belgrade and Serbia will never again witness such tragedy, which at this evil hour left us all silent and humiliated human beings.”

In an open letter to the French Embassy in Belgrade, club general secretary Darko Grubor added: “We are shaken by the news of Brice Taton’s death and we plead with you to accept our sincere condolences.”

Those sentiments were repeated in a second open letter to Toulouse, in which Grubor also stated: “Our club would like to attend Brice’s funeral and we plead with you to inform the Taton family of our intentions. We will respect any decision coming from Brice’s family.”

Wed 30 Sep, 2009
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Cross city rivals hoping to reverse fortunes

Cross city rivals AS Roma and SS Lazio are hoping to overturn their dismal starts in the Europa League on Thursday as the under-achieving Italian capital chases a rare European title.

Winner of the defunct Fairs Cup back in 1961, Roma tumbled 2-0 at FC Basel in Group E. Lazio, which won the last Cup Winners Cup in 1999 followed by the lightly-regarded Super Cup, lost 2-1 at home to Salzburg in Group G.

Roma is reviving in Serie A, however, after Claudio Ranieri replaced Luciano Spalletti at the beginning of September and hopes to bounce back from its Europa League defeat with a home victory over CSKA Sofia.

Meanwhile, Lazio visits another Bulgarian club, Levski Sofia, which also lost its opening game 1-0 away to Villarreal.

Group A leader Anderlecht, winner of two Cup Winners Cups in the 1970s and the 1983 UEFA Cup, is facing injury problems against four-time European champion Ajax.

Argentine midfielder Lucas Biglia is struggling with a hip injury and the Belgian club might miss defender Jelle Van Damme, whose wife Elke Clijsters could deliver a baby any moment. Clijsters is the sister of tennis star Kim Clijsters.

Anderlecht has had the best possible start to Group A with a 2-0 victory at Dynamo Zagreb, while Ajax stuttered to a goalless home draw against Romania’s Timisoara. Anderlecht beat Germinal Beerschot 1-0 to extend its Belgian league lead to two points over FC Brugge while Ajax comes off a morale-boosting 3-0 win over ADO Den Haag.

Germany has not won European football’s second tier cup competition since 1977, Werder Bremen losing in last season’s final to Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine. The Bundesliga has three teams chasing the trophy at this stage.

Bremen began Group L with a 3-2 victory at Portugal’s Nacional and hopes to make it two wins in two games by beating Athletic Bilbao at home.

Hertha Berlin, which qualified for the competition after finishing fourth in last season’s Bundesliga, fired coach Lucien Favre on Monday after six straight domestic losses and now goes to Group D leader Sporting Lisbon.

The Portuguese club won its opening game against Heerenveen while Hertha drew its first game against Latvia’s Ventspils.

“We have to stop the drop,” said interim Hertha coach Karsten Heine. “I can’t believe we’ve fallen so low.”

Captain and central defender Arne Friedrich has a bruised thigh but is expected to make the trip.

Hamburg, which hosts Hapoel Tel Aviv and is last in Group C, has been boosted by a 1-0 victory over Bayern Munich 1-0 on Saturday. Midfielder Ze Roberto, the outstanding player in that game is resting a sore ankle but the Brazilian is expected to train Wednesday and should be able to face the Israeli team which beat Celtic in its opening game.

Wed 30 Sep, 2009
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Mourinho confident despite second slip

Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho is confident his side will progress to the knock-out round of the Champions League despite their failure to win a game so far in the competition.

The Nerazzurri were held 1-1 at Rubin Kazan on Tuesday, a result that followed their goalless draw against Barcelona in their Group F opener.

The outcome has left Inter third in the standings, two points behind leaders Barcelona.

“If we win our two home games against Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Kiev we will qualify,” said Mourinho.

“There are still four games left to play.”

Dejan Stankovic’s 30th-minute equaliser cancelled out Alejandro Gonzalez’s opener for the hosts.

But Inter made things harder for themselves when Mario Balotelli was sent off with 30 minutes remaining and the Nerazzurri were forced to defend in order to hold on for a point.

“We could have lost this match but considering how the game developed, I believe this result is a positive one,” said Mourinho.

“Rubin played well.

“They pressed, they had a big incentive as they were playing at home and were making their debut in their own stadium in this competition.

“I prefer to talk about the efforts of my team rather than certain individuals.

“I already spoke to Balotelli and told him what I needed to tell him.”

Wed 30 Sep, 2009
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Benitez furious at Liverpool´s Florentine flop

Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez slammed his side for a shambolic showing after they compromised their hopes of advancing to the knockout stage of the Champions League with a 2-0 loss Tuesday at Group E rivals Fiorentina.

The five-time European champions had done the minimum in seeing off Hungary’s Debrecen to open their campaign at Anfield but the English Premiership giants were undone by two first-half goals from teen Montenegrin striker Stevan Jovetic.

With French side Lyon crushing Debrecen 4-0 away they now lead the group and can travel to Anfield for their next game full of confidence.

Benitez said Liverpool had to pull their socks up if they wanted to advance.

“If you want to win you have to score. We were not the best in any part of the pitch. We were giving the ball away all the time,” he told Sky Sports.

Arsenal gave the English contingent some cheer with a 2-0 home win over Olympiakos of Greece with Robin Van Persie and Andrei Arshavin on the mark after the break as coach Arsene Wenger vowed to wrap up passage to the last 16 “as quickly as possible.”

Group H rivals AZ Alkmaar and Standard Liege, whom the pool-topping Gunners have already seen off away, parted 1-1.

But Scottish fans suffered a horror show as Rangers, having started with a gutsy draw at Germany’s Stuttgart, went down 4-1 at home to a rampant Sevilla of Spain in Group G.

Stuttgart again drew, this time at Romania’s Unirea Urziceni, who held them 1-1.

In stark contrast to woeful Liverpool, Lyon were on fire in Budapest.

Kim Kallstrom scored after just three minutes, firing home a half volley home following a Miralem Pjanic corner from the left and the French doubled their lead when Pjanic netted a freekick after 13 minutes.

Lyon were running riot and Sidney Govou headed in a third on 24 minutes after another Pjanic corner kick routine caused havoc in the home back-line.

Bafetimbi Gomis lobbed home the fourth after the break.

“I think we made the game look easy,” concluded Lyon coach Claude Puel.

Liverpool preferred to make things hard for themselves as Fiorentina stepped through the gears to bounce back from their loss at Lyon.

And the Italians earned swift reward when Montenegrin striker Jovetic, only starting in the absence of the suspended Alberto Gilardino, stunned the visitors with two goals inside nine minutes on his competition debut.

Cristiano Zanetti picked him out with a neat through ball and Jovetic, who netted Saturday’s winner in Serie A at Livorno, slipped the ball expertly past keeper Pepe Reina after 28 minutes.

The 19-year-old then struck again on 37 minutes, nudging home instinctively as Juan Vargas fed him from out on the left flank.

Lucas Leiva headed millimetres over as Liverpool tried to rally after the interval but they never looked capable of a comeback of the kind they produced to come back from three goals down in the 2005 final in beating AC Milan on spotkicks.

Holders Barcelona, having held Group F rivals Inter Milan in Italy in their first game, swatted Dynamo Kiev with Lionel Messi bagging the opener and Pedro Rodriguez hitting the clincher.

“That’s a really important win for us – it’s crucial to win your home matches,” said Pedro afterwards.

In the same group Jose Mourinho’s Inter could only manage a 1-1 draw at Russian newcomers Kazan, who had the temerity to take an early lead courtesy of Argentine striker Alejandro Dominguez’s meaty drive.

Inter levelled after 25 minutes, with the unmarked Dejan Stankovic heading in but were grateful to survive the final half hour with 10 men for a point after striker Mario Balotelli was dismissed for a second bookable offence.

Mourinho’s men are now third in the table two points behind Barca and one adrift of Kiev.

Wed 30 Sep, 2009
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Santa Cruz: City can win title

Roque Santa Cruz insists Manchester City are capable of winning the Premier League this season.

The Paraguayan striker was one of City’s major summer signings and he made his debut in Monday night’s 3-1 victory over West Ham.

The Eastlands outfit have started the season in fine style with five wins in six league games and Santa Cruz believes City are now very much in title contention.

“We’re not only looking for that to happen in the future,” said Santa Cruz.

“We’re looking to do it now. It’s happening already.

“The boss looks absolutely confident in every aspect of the job and he also makes you feel that you can always perform at your best, by doing what he tells you in training.

“And I think players believe that what the manager tells them will actually help them to perform at their best.

“We all came here to help the team get to the top and everybody has been doing a fantastic job.

“It’s been frustrating for me, sitting on the sidelines, but it makes things easier when the team is playing great and you’re seeing things are going in the right direction.”

Santa Cruz knows he will have a battle on his hands to gain a first-team slot with Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Craig Bellamy and Robinho all competing for a place.

“Every player will need to push himself to the best of his capability, because there are a lot of people on the bench who are keen to get in,” he continued.

“That situation will help everybody to produce his best. But it also has a lot to do with the individual character of the players.

“Adebayor is a happy lad and I’m sure he won’t be too happy if he isn’t playing. But you can tell he won’t be moaning and will perform just the same when he does get selected.

“Carlos is the same. You know that at some point you will be sitting on the bench and everybody has to be ready and at his best at all times.

“Everybody knows the type of player Carlos is, so it was no surprise to see him scoring twice against West Ham.

“His English is getting better but, because he and I speak Spanish, we’re closer than some other members of the team.

“My situation is different because I need a lot of games to get my fitness. I’ll try to get that by playing in the reserves but I’ll be working hard to try to get into the first team.

“It was clearly my decision last season to be involved with a team that can do great things.

“At this club you’ll always have a chance to be involved and influence things, and you need to be focused on trying to perform whenever you’re chosen.

“With the facilities and the players we have at this club, you have the best opportunity to show what you can do.

“I feel very, very happy to be here and I think I’ll perform fantastically. I’m pleased to be back and I just want to keep playing from now on.”

Wed 30 Sep, 2009
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Gillett rubbishes F6 takeover talk

Liverpool co-owner George Gillett has played down speculation that a buy-out of the Premier League club is imminent.

Widespread reports suggested Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdullah al-Saud’s F6 investment vehicle had been given the go-ahead to carry out exclusive due diligence with a view to buying into the club after he attended Liverpool’s 6-1 win over Hull at Anfield on Saturday.

However, Gillett insisted the future ownership of the club was not on the agenda at the meeting, while F6 director Barry Didato confirmed the due diligence process taking place relates to other commercial opportunities and “does not involve the possibility of an immediate investment in Liverpool”, with any possible transaction being “several months away”.

Gillett said: “We had a marvellous meeting with them on Saturday and they were impressed with the club, but the academies in Saudi Arabia and North Africa and their possible involvement in NASCAR-type racing in the Middle East were the only items on the agenda.

“We have entered into a period of exclusive discussions regarding the possibility of introducing NASCAR-type racing to the Middle East, but the memorandum of understanding does not cover anything else.”

Gillett and co-owner Tom Hicks confirmed on Tuesday that they had “retained Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Rothschild to evaluate the possibility of new investors injecting equity into Liverpool FC”.

A joint statement added: “The process is at an early stage, there is no agreement with any party and reports to the contrary are wholly inaccurate.”

Didato, F6’s director of strategic investment, said that the agreement signed at the weekend focused on the creation of football academies in Saudi Arabia and North Africa as well as an opportunity in stock car racing, while the prospects of a possible investment in Liverpool lagged behind the first two projects as a “distant third”.

Didato said: “As far as investment in Liverpool is concerned, that would be a long way off. A lot of people have jumped the gun and any possible investment would be several months away.

“The agreement signed (at the weekend) leaves the door open for it (possible future investment in Liverpool), but that was certainly not the focus of it.”

Didato added that no talks have been staged between F6 and Hicks, who, like Gillett, owns 50 per cent of Liverpool.

“George has a partner there and has his own issues to work through,” Didato added. “Mr Hicks will also have his own issues and we are not sure what he wants to do.

“Another issue is the club’s debt (of around £245million). Prince Faisal will not put forward investment capital to just clean up a balance sheet. He would only want to use money to take the club forward. It would be long-term money.”

Didato said that Prince Faisal would have an open mind regarding the ultimate stake he could hold in the club.

“His Highness is open to anything and is open to being a minority shareholder, but he has tremendous favourability towards the brand and institution of Liverpool,” Didato added.

“His Highness would need to be invited by George and it would have to be at the right time for George. There would need to be a shared vision between all of the parties.”

Gillett recently agreed to sell the Montreal Canadiens National Hockey League ice hockey team for a reported $575million, but he insisted that transaction had nothing to do with any developments regarding the rest of his sporting portfolio, which includes the Richard Petty Motorsports NASCAR team as well as Liverpool.

Gillett also said that the Canadiens, arguably the most famous team in NHL history, were in safe hands under the new owners, the Molson family, who agreed to the takeover earlier this month.

“It was with great reluctance that I decided to sell the Canadiens,” Gillett added. “It is a fabulous club and I have been very fortunate to have had more than one love affair in sport.

“They (the Molson family) have a relationship with the club that goes back 50 years, and that’s awfully important. They are young and enthusiastic and will bring great energy to the Canadiens.

“They will also bring passion, new ideas and a fresh perspective, which is always good.”

Wed 30 Sep, 2009
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Tevez: I’ll celebrate against United

Manchester City star Carlos Tevez says he will celebrate if he scores against bitter rivals United in their next derby clash.

Tevez refused to celebrate despite netting twice against another of his old club West Ham on Monday night.

But after receiving a hostile reception on his Old Trafford return last week, he won’t show the Red Devils the same sort of respect.

The Argentine was booed and jeered by the fans who once adored him, and even had a coin thrown at him.

He told the Daily Mail: “I’ve decided not to celebrate my goals out of respect to West Ham. They were my first club in England and, in my heart, part of me will always be a Hammer.”

Tevez added: “In the derby against United I had also decided not to celebrate our goals but, after the bad treatment I received from the supporters that day, I have changed my stance on that.

“If I score in the next derby then I am sure that I will celebrate.”

Wed 30 Sep, 2009
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FIFA suspends Brunei for government interference

The Football Association of Brunei Darussalam (BAFA) has been suspended by FIFA for government interference in its affairs, soccer’s world governing body said Wednesday.

“It started with a decision by the Brunei authorities to dissolve BAFA and to replace it with a new federation in December 2008,” FIFA said in a statement.

The suspension, which applies globally, means Brunei and its clubs are unable to take part in international competitions.

One Brunei club, DPMM, currently plays in Singapore’s S-League, but will no longer be allowed to do so.

The suspension will only be lifted only when BAFA is reinstated by the government.

FIFA’s executive committee, meanwhile, said it was also closely monitoring the situation within a number of other associations, including Iraq, Kuwait, Togo, El Salvador and Peru.

Wed 30 Sep, 2009
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Toulouse call for punishment

Toulouse have called for “severe punishment” after one of their supporters died, two weeks after he was injured in violent clashes with Partizan Belgrade fans.

Brice Taton had been in critical condition in hospital in Belgrade after he was injured, along with another French fan and a Serbian, shortly before the Champions League clash on September 17.

A statement on read: “TFC are in mourning following the announcement of the tragic death of Brice Taton, victim of unspeakable violence.

“Our thoughts go first to his parents in Belgrade, his family, his friends, his Forza Viola partners and all the family that are the supporters of Toulouse Football Club.

“It is a time for contemplation. But the time will come when this outburst of violence on the outskirts of sport has to be severely punished.

“Toulouse Football Club will see to it that justice will be done, and will be an unfailing support to Brice’s family.”

Secretary of state for sports Rama Yade also assured the family that the French government will do everything in their power to ensure that those responsible are punished.

“We will fight against the criminals in sport,” she said in a statement. “I call for the strongest severity against those responsible for this murder and draw on the efforts of the Serbian authorities not to leave this crime unpunished.”

Since the incident 10 people have been arrested and currently face the possibility of 30-40 years apiece in prison.

Wed 30 Sep, 2009
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