Germany shines spotlight on lower league “fixing”: TV

More than 60 matches have been fixed in Germany’s second division and lower leagues, broadcaster ARD reported on Monday, citing a witness while a third division player was sacked after admitting to wrongdoing.

The public prosecutor in the western city of Bochum had earlier this month indicated that 32 suspect matches had been identified.

However, ARD’s investigative programme Fakt quoted a witness from Hamburg of Serbian origin that more matches were involved and that a second division side had been relegated as a result.

Third division side SV Sandhausen said meanwhile it had dismissed a player, Marcel Schuon, following the Bochum investigation which indicated wrongdoing while he was playing for Osnabruck.

“Sandhausen has never been mired in scandal and can have nothing to do with this,” manager Tobias Gebert said.

Schuon’s lawyer told the press that his client had agreed to influence game scores but added that the player had not gone through with the plan.

According to the ARD witness, the matches under the spotlight include five from the second division while “in 80 percent of cases the manipulations succeeded and we got the outcome we wanted.”

The witness said he was close to Ante Sapina, a German of Croatian origin who is alleged to have helped to instigate a betting ring.

He added that one club was relegated from the second division after two matches in a row were rigged.

The four teams who went down were Essen, Unterhaching, Burghausen and Braunschweig.

Aside from Schuon, the skipper of regional league side SC Verl, Patrick Neumann, has also been caught up in the Bochum dragnet. His club suspended him last week.

Spiegel Online magazine said earlier that UEFA had suspended a Ukrainian referee believed to have been caught up in the affair.

Last week, the German Football Federation (DFB) and the German Football League (DFL) announced the creation of a task force here to probe the betting scandal, which has rocked European football.

The DFB and DFL said they would join forces to probe the affair.

“A sports federation has a duty to fight organised crime with international implications,” DFB president Theo Zwanziger said.

Police have since raided addresses across Europe, smashing what they believe is a 200-strong band bribing players, referees and coaches in nine countries to influence matches that they would then bet huge sums on.

Around 200 games played this season in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Hungary, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Austria are now under suspicion.

None of the 200 suspected matches were in top flight European leagues like England’s Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s La Liga or Germany’s Bundesliga.

But the gang is still thought to have earned as much as 10 million euros (15 million dollars) in huge bets with bookmakers in Europe and Asia, primarily in China. Fifteen people were arrested in Germany and Switzerland in the raids.

Two of those arrested reportedly include two Croatian brothers living in Berlin – Ante and Milan Sapina – who were at the centre of a match-fixing scandal that rocked Germany in 2004.

The German scandal saw referee Robert Hoyzer jailed in 2005 after admitting receiving almost 70,000 euros (104,000 dollars) and a plasma television from the Croatian brothers to throw games.

Mon 30 November, 2009
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Benzema escapes injury in car crash

Real Madrid and France striker Karim Benzema has reportedly escaped injury from a minor car accident on his way home after his team’s 1-0 defeat to Barcelona on Sunday night.

According to Spanish sports daily Marca, the Frenchman’s vehicle was seriously damaged when he hit a barrier while travelling in the Madrid suburbs, but the player was not hurt.

The 21-year-old former Lyon striker was introduced with half an hour remaining at the Nou Camp last night as Manuel Pellegrini’s side surrendered top spot in La Liga.

Mon 30 November, 2009
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Italian players’ union chief: Stop game if chanting is racist

The chief of Italian players’ union has stated that next Saturday’s Serie A game between Juventus and Inter Milan must be stopped if racist chanting is heard,

Juventus were forced to play a game behind closed doors last season after fans racially abused Inter’s Mario Balotelli but their supporters have again chanted against the black striker in recent matches ahead of the clash in Turin.

“It’s always difficult to suspend a match but if we want to beat this evil we shouldn’t fear doing it,” Sergio Campana told reporters.

“We have to give the captains the right to ask for the suspension of the game.”

Italian football federation chief Giancarlo Abete has said the referee, with the help of the police, will be able to stop the match for 10 minutes if there is racist chanting.

However, it is unclear what role the captains can play.

But Inter skipper Javier Zanetti has said he would not hesitate to approach the referee following racist abuse with his coach Jose Mourinho being wary of unilaterally pulling off his players in case his side is penalized.

Balotelli, born in Palermo, might not even be in Turin after being left out of Inter’s squad for Sunday’s 1-0 win over Fiorentina which sent the champions seven points clear.

Third-placed Juve, fined last week for the latest chants, are trying to control their fans but Italian football is rife with racism and reports says Juve’s own midfielder Mohamed Sissoko was abused by Cagliari supporters in Sunday’s 2-0 defeat.

Mon 30 November, 2009
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Are Chelsea certainties for the Premier League title?

Didier DrogbaChelsea faced a tough test when they faced Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. They past the test with flying colours by beating the Gunners 3-0 on their home turf. It seemed so clinical.

Not outstanding

I didn’t think Chelsea’s performance against the Gunners was especially outstanding. However Chelsea have that in their locker under Carlo Ancelotti, the fact that they don’t have to be at their best to claim maximum points.

They have produced some outstanding performances this season and won. However they have produced some poor performances and still managed to pick up points.

Drogba brilliant

Chelsea striker Didier Drogba is currently in superb form. The powerful striker is one of worlds best on his day. His histrionics with the diving and acting in certain games can be infuriating but I think most people would still love him in their team. He has every quality necessary for a top world striker. He has pace, strength and fantastic heading ability. He also does a great job helping out in defence when his side are under pressure.

Different side

Chelsea look like a different side from last season thanks to boss Carlo Ancelotti. Last season’s Chelsea finished third and only started playing well when Guus Hiddink was brought in as boss. Ancelotti has carried that momentum on into this season and I cant see Chelsea losing.

Ancelotti has brought those great Italian football attributes of discipline and organisation. The squad of players is basically the same squad as last season but they look like a different team. I have always thought of Ancelotti as a top boss and he is only enhancing his previous good reputation at the Bridge.

His career stagnated slightly at Milan. This was down to some of his squad being older than the Chelsea pensioners. His stay at San Siro was trophy laden. He won two Champions League trophies and lost another final against Liverpool in the famous 2005 final in Istanbul. Ancelotti has just the pedigree needed to make Chelsea Premier League champions again and challenge for the Champions League trophy.

Absentees in January

Chelsea will lose four players to the African Nations in January. The Blues will be the hardest hit of the top Premier League sides. They will lose the previously mentioned Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou to the Ivory Coast, Michael Essien to Ghana and John Obi Mikel to Nigeria. Chelsea will miss Drogba and Essien as they are key players but their fixtures in January aren’t as hard as they could be. They can cope without the four stars for a month and still be well in the Premier League title race.

Two horse race

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp have both recently claimed the league title will be a two horse race. I have to agree with the two veterans. How can you see past Chelsea and the champions for the Premier League crown?

Arsenal are eleven points behind Chelsea and Liverpool are a further two points behind. The likes of Tottenham, Aston Villa and Manchester City are just not consistent enough. I thought Liverpool would put in a realistic title challenge this season but their awful season so far has surely ruled that out now.

Chelsea good tip

In my view Chelsea are the strongest team in the Premier League this season and will probably claim the title come the end of the season. The Blues would have to slip up big time to let United back into the title race. However you can never write off Sir Alex Ferguson and his team.

Chelsea also still have to visit Old Trafford which could prove the pivotal game of the season. What is clear is that every other team in the league is lagging behind the top two. Arsenal are just a few tough players away from being a top team but unfortunately they are still vulnerable to physical sides. If Arsene Wenger sorts that out next summer then they could be a real force next season. It would make be nice to see a different name on the Premier League trophy but it looks like we will have to wait another season for that.

Mon 30 November, 2009
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Marquez extends Barca contract until 2012

Mexican international defender Rafa Marquez on Monday extended his contract with Barcelona until 2012, becoming the eighth player to renew with the European champions so far this season.

“I?m very happy to renew with a club where I?ve felt very wanted, where I?ve enjoyed myself and where I?ve suffered. I have to enjoy these moments, they pass very quickly,” he said after signing his new contract.

“Now I need to recover full match fitness to try and win back a place in the starting eleven, though competition is tough. I think I still have a good chance of being in the starting line-up.”

Marquez, whose contract was due to expire in June 2010, joined Barcelona in 2003 from French side Monaco.

Various injuries have restricted his appearances this season and he faces stiff competition to regain his place from the likes of Barcelona captain Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique who put in strong performances during the club’s 1-0 league win on Sunday over arch-rivals Real Madrid.

Barcelona gave no financial details except to say that Marquez’s buy-out clause remains unchanged at 100 million euros (149 million dollars).

He joins Eric Abidal, Yaya Toure, Victor Valdes, Pedro Rodriguez, Lionel Messi, Puyol and Andres Iniesta in renewing their contracts with Barcelona.

Mon 30 November, 2009
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Koller poised to join Cannes

Former Czech international striker Jan Koller, out of contract with Russian first division side Samara, said Monday he is in talks with French third division side Cannes.

“I’m negotiating a transfer to Cannes. Things should become clearer in the first week of December,” Kollder told Czech website www.sport.cz.

The record goal scorer for the Czech Republic with 55 goals in 91 matches, Koller played for French first division side Monaco in 2006-2008 and lives in the Principality along the coast from Cannes.

“Cannes interests me and I would still like to be useful,” said the 2.02m striker. “At 36 years, I no longer have big ambitions, I want to play football for fun.”

Koller played his last match for the Czech Republic on September 5 in a 2-2 draw against Slovakia in Bratislava, as they failed to make the 2010 World Cup finals.

He started his career at Sparta Prague, also playing for Belgian sides Lokeren and Anderlecht and German clubs Borussia Dortmund and Nuremberg.

Cannes are 13th in the 20-team French third division.

Mon 30 November, 2009
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Group unity will underpin Italian campaign – Lippi

Italian coach Marcello Lippi said Monday that his country’s strong group identity would play a bigger role than individual talent as the Azzurri attempt to retain their world title in South Africa next summer.

“We are going to try (to win) even if we know that it will be difficult to pull it off,” Lippi said during a meeting with students in the northern city of Vicenza.

“Italy is a team comprising great players across the board, from the world’s best keeper (Gianluigi) Buffon onwards. We hope to arrive (for the World Cup finals) in good condition with all the players at their physical peak.

“Our strong point will once again be the group. That has been my secret ever since I began coaching in Serie C,” said Lippi, adding there was evidence that individual stars were not enough.

“Confirmation of the fact that the group is fundamental, is that a player such as (Sweden’s Zlatan) Ibrahimovic will not be at the World Cup while (Argentina’s Leo) Messi, who will probably be crowned world player of the year, and Cristiano Ronaldo only just qualified with their countries.”

Mon 30 November, 2009
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Drogba claims psychological edge over Chelsea rivals

Didier Drogba believes Chelsea have claimed a precious psychological edge over their Premier League title rivals by completing a full set of wins over Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal already this season.

Sunday’s 3-0 win over Arsenal at the Emirates left Carlo Ancelotti’s side five points clear of United in what most pundits now expect to be a two-horse title race.

Arsenal are now 11 points off the pace, albeit with a game in hand over the leaders, and Drogba, who scored twice on Sunday, was quick to underline the significance of the latest win over one of Chelsea’s direct title rivals.

“Arsenal played their game, but we were stronger than them,” the Ivory Coast striker said. “Every time we had the chance to score we did. We took our chances.

“Physically we defended well and were really strong, mentally as well. I don’t know about Arsenal, but it is our strength to perform when it matters.

“Even against Manchester United, when the game was really difficult, we won. We know how to go through difficult periods when the game is hard.

“That is why when we get a chance we know how important it is to score.”

Drogba acknowledged that the five-point advantage over United could be eroded quickly if Chelsea do not keep winning, but believes the pressure is greater for the chasing club.

“The lead is not enough, but at the same time it’s a good gap,” Drogba said. “We have to keep winning our games.

“When you are top of the league, it is good – the others have to chase us. They have to produce and do more than us to win games.

“It is true that Manchester are still there. We were in their position last year, behind and chasing. It is very difficult and now they have to come and catch us. I hope we have the team to stay ahead for the rest of the season.”

While Drogba scored two of Chelsea’s three goals, the contribution of former Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was just as significant with the England left-back providing the crosses that led to the striker’s opener and a Thomas Vermaelen own goal.

It was the perfect response to the boos Cole received from the Arsenal fans who have never forgiven him for his 2006 move across London and his team-mate Frank Lampard suggested Gunners fans might think twice before doling out the abuse in future.

“I don’t think booing ever works,” Lampard said. “I don’t know when people will learn that it’s not the way to do it.

“Putting all your efforts into just getting someone psyched up to do a good job against your team is obviously the wrong way to go about it.

“Ash is very experienced with dealing with it – he’s had it a few times now and it obviously spurs him on to put in performances like he did.

“He’s shown his quality for a long time. For probably the last two years he’s been completely out on his own as the best left-back in the world.”

Mon 30 November, 2009
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Racism not a problem in Italian football, says Lippi

Italy coach Marcello Lippi insisted Monday that racism was not a problem in Italian football but a problem of society.

The 61-year-old’s comments come after Juventus were last week fined 20,000 euros for racist chants their fans directed at Inter Milan’s Ghanian striker Mario Balotelli.

But questioned on the subject by students during a visit to Vicenza, in north-eastern Italy, Lippi, who lead Italy to the 2006 World Cup title, said: “In Italy there is no case of racism in football.

“Racism is a problem which isn’t part of our makeup. It’s part of civil society, but unfortunately you have to talk about it when ten or twenty idiots want to make themselves heard in a stadium.”

Mon 30 November, 2009
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Bayern Munich rules out Babel move

Bayern Munich insists they are not planning to make a move for Liverpool forward Ryan Babel.

The Dutchman was linked with a January move to the German side, in the Sunday newspapers in England.

Babel could be set to leave Anfield after declaring to manager Rafa Benitez that he needs more first-team action.

But Bayern Munich director of sport Christian Nerlinger has denied any interest.

“I do know anything about it,” he told Liga Total.

“If I do not know anything, you can easily assume there is no truth in this link.”

[Source: Liga Total]

Mon 30 November, 2009
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