Downhearted Barcelona face tough Villarreal test

(GSM) – Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola should encourage and lift his players from their Champions League heartbreak for the weekend trip to Villarreal in La Liga.

Barca won all six trophies available to them last year but they are in danger of ending 2010 empty-handed unless they can put Wednesday night’s disappointing Champions League semi-final exit to Inter Milan behind them.

Currently, the reigning champions are a point ahead of Real Madrid at the top of the Primera Division standings with four games remaining.

However, Barca look to have the much trickier task this weekend as, while Madrid look to make it 17 home wins out of 18 when they host mid-table Osasuna, Guardiola’s men have to go to improving Villarreal.

Villarreal, who have lost just twice at home this season, have won five of their last six matches to climb up to sixth in the standings.

“We now have to pick ourselves up, get ourselves right psychologically and plan for Saturday’s game,” said Guardiola.

“We have not had a long time to prepare but now we have to concentrate on finishing the season well,” he said about Villarreal clash.

President Joan Laporta went down to visit the players after training to give them his support.

“To win the league we must now win the four games and we are going to do it,” Laporta said.

“While it is easy to say it, you win the league on the pitch and we will have to give everything in order to achieve it. We are best placed but we now have to raise the spirits of the players,” he added.

Villarreal will pose a tough test as they have rediscovered their form under coach Juan Carlos Garrido and are pushing for a place in Europe.

Midfielder Xavi Hernandez is the main injury doubt for Barca after picking up a calf strain.

Fri 30 April, 2010
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Ferguson tips Hodgson for managers´ award

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed Fulham?s progression to the Europa League final as “one of the best performances of all time,” tipping their coach Roy Hodgson to be named manager of the year.

Hodgson?s men came from behind to beat Hamburg at Craven Cottage on Thursday evening to confirm their place in the first European final in the small west London club’s history.

Ferguson sent Hodgson a text message before the game wishing him luck and was full of praise for the Fulham manager.

“Roy should be manager of the year, there is absolutely no doubt about it,” he said.

“I sent Roy a text message and everyone at the club was wishing them all the best.

“When you go 1-0 down to a German team you say to yourself it is going to be hard but the comeback was fantastic.”

Fulham?s season began back in mid-July against FK Vetra of Lithuania and nine months later they are still going strong, much to Ferguson’s amazement.

“I heard people on the radio this morning saying that they didn’t play well. It was their 59th game of the season and people were talking about their performance,” he added.

“He was doing well to get those players onto the pitch because he can only have about 16 players in his squad.

“They still have another four games to play yet. That will be 63.

“They started in that tournament in July. July! Crikey. I was on the beach.”

Fri 30 April, 2010
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Neville pens new United deal

(GSM) – Manchester United captain Gary Neville has signed a new one-year contract at Old Trafford. Neville’s deal was due to expire this summer and there were suggestions that the 35-year-old would retire at the end of the season.

The defender, who will soon reach 600 appearances for the club, follows veterans Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in extending their stay on for another year with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

“His contribution to the club has been fantastic,” Ferguson said.

“As I have said time and time again certain players make careers out of their determination and will to do it and I think Gary is one of those players and we are really pleased with that.”

Neville’s good form this season has re-established him as United’s first-choice right-back. Many have called for Fabio Capello to include Neville in his World Cup squad to serve as back-up for Glen Johnson.

Fri 30 April, 2010
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Zamora desperate to play final

(GSM) – Fulham striker Bobby Zamora is determined to be fit for his team’s Europa League final against Atletico Madrid. The England hopeful has been suffering from Achilles tendon injury.

Zamora is the club’s leading goalscorer needed a painkilling injection to play the second leg semi-final tie against Hamburg on Thursday night.

However, he only lasted until the early stages of the second half and watched the rest of the game from the sidelines as goals from Simon Davies and Zoltan Gera helped guide Fulham to the final of the tournament.

The English striker will possibly not play in Sunday’s Premier League game against his former club West Ham United. But Zamora is ‘desperate’ to be fit for the final clash against Atletico Madrid.

“I am desperate to be out there for the final, so the next couple of weeks will be really important for me.

“Maybe it was a bit of a gamble for me to face Hamburg, but I really wanted to play and would have done anything to do so.

“It was not the best performance by myself, and I am pleased to have been able to play some part.

“I can’t see me making West Ham, but we will see. I just want to make sure I am fit for the final.

“It is the tendon in my Achilles which I have got a bit of trouble with, so it will just be a case of looking after it.”

Fri 30 April, 2010
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Viola ready to sale Mutu

(GSM) – Fiorentina will sell enigmatic striker Adrian Mutu for the right bid in this summer, according to whispers in Tuscany.

Although the Romanian is contracted to the Viola until June 2012, Viola will reportedly sell if the right bid is made.

Mutu was signed by the Serie A side in the summer of 2006 after he left demoted Juventus for €8m.

Since then he has become the club’s fifth highest scorer of all-time thanks to his 65 goals in 123 games.

However, the striker is currently serving a nine-month ban after taking a banned appetite suppressant and won’t be eligible to play again until October 29, 2010.

The 31-year-old apparently has admirers in Russia, England and Turkey. It is believed Fiorentina could sell for around €6m.

Earlier today, Albinoleffe boss and Viola fan Emiliano Mondonico intimated that any player in the squad could be suitably replaced with the exception of Stevan Jovetic.

Fri 30 April, 2010
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Roo and Rio boost United as Neville gets new deal

Manchester United could be boosted by the return of both Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney for Sunday?s crucial Premier League encounter with Sunderland, Sir Alex Ferguson revealed on Friday.

The duo have both been struggling with groin problems and Rooney has only just recovered from an ankle injury.

Rooney missed the 3-1 victory over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend while Ferdinand has been absent for the last two encounters of what has been an injury-plagued season for the England captain.

However, both have trained and United?s physio team will monitor their reaction before deciding if they can face Steve Bruce’s side.

Ferguson said: “We expect Wayne to join us in training and possibly Rio Ferdinand as well.

“We will see how they do but we have a couple of days.

“Wayne missed last week’s game against Tottenham to allow the ankle to settle. We don’t have any issues with that now. Hopefully he is okay.

“Groin injuries can be a problem at this time of year when the grounds start to get firm but hopefully if he comes through today it gives us something to think about on Sunday.”

Ferguson also announced that right-back Gary Neville has signed a 12-month contract extension at Old Trafford.

The 35-year-old has made 598 appearances for United since making his debut in 1992 and has joined fellow veterans Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Edwin van der Sar in extending his playing career at United.

“We have agreed a contract with Gary Neville for another year and it is something we have been working on for a couple of weeks,” Ferguson said.

“We are delighted with that and we think he deserves it for his contribution at the club. He has been fantastic.

“I have said time and time about certain players, they make careers out of determination and will to do it and Gary has been one of those players.

“We have the three senior players, plus Edwin signed up to new contracts now.

“You can keep a player with experience and not play him of course, but I don?t think Gary would enjoy that. I don?t think any of the three would enjoy that.”

The right-back suffered a serious ankle ligament injury which forced him out for 13 months in 2007 but he has played 27 games this season and Ferguson praised his mental strength and resilience.

He added: “The amazing thing about Gary is that he has come back from a serious injury in his thirties.

“To get to the level he is playing at today is astonishing. The man is doing it because of his determination and drive within himself not to give in.

“He is getting the rewards for that and his performance levels recently have been outstanding.”

The race for the Premier League title is closer than ever but United will need a helping hand from arch-rivals Liverpool if they are to overtake Chelsea at the weekend.

United will have a chance to return to the top of the table if Chelsea fail to beat Liverpool in their lunchtime match at Anfield.

The Merseyside club and United have both won 18 league titles each — the joint highest in English football — and although the rivalry between the clubs is perhaps the strongest in the English game, Ferguson does not expect Rafa Benitez?s men to give Chelsea an easy ride.

“Great clubs don’t throw their histories away,” he said. “They don’t throw their traditions away for one game.

“I think Liverpool will do their best on Sunday, they have to, there is no doubt about that.”

Fri 30 April, 2010
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Awards double for Rooney

Wayne Rooney has completed an awards double after being voted the English Football Writers’ Association (FWA) player of the year.

Rooney, 24, claimed 81 percent of the votes cast to follow up an equally convincing win in the ballot for the Professional Footballer’s Association player of the year award.

FWA chairman Steve Bates said Rooney’s dominance of the voting reflected the huge impact he has had for United in the wake of Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure for Real Madrid, which has resulted in him being deployed as an out-and-out striker.

“His tally of 34 goals so far this season is certain to have captured the attention of our members, but I am sure the overall improvement in his game at Manchester United has been of equal significance,” said Bates.

“Wayne’s enthusiasm, hunger and desire mark him out as a special player and we hope he can carry his club form onto the international stage in the World Cup this summer to help England achieve their dream.”

Didier Drogba and Carlos Tevez were, respectively, second and third in the FWA poll.

Fri 30 April, 2010
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United Duo return for Sunderland clash

(GSM) – Manchester United Duo Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand could have available for the Premier League clash with Sunderland on Sunday.

United striker Rooney missed last weekend’s game against Tottenham Hotspur with a groin injury, and he has also been playing through the pain barrier with an ankle problem. But Sir Alex thinks a weekend off has solved the issue.

Another United defender Rio Ferdinand picked up a groin injury in the 0-0 draw with Blackburn earlier this month and hasn’t played since. But, like Rooney, he’s in contention for the trip to the Stadium of Light if he comes through the next two days’ training unscathed.

“We expect Wayne to join us in training today,” Sir Alex Ferguson said.

“And we hope the same goes for Rio. We will see how they do.

“We’ve got a couple of days [before Sunday's game]. The fact that Wayne missed last week’s game allowed the ankle to settle. We don’t have any issues with that now. But groin injuries can be a problem at this time of year when the ground is hard,” United boss expressed his opinion.

Fri 30 April, 2010
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Hodgson hails Fulham´s European fairy tale

Roy Hodgson believes Fulham’s fairy tale run to the Europa League final should be acknowledged as the one of the best achievements by an English team in recent memory.

After coming from behind to defeat Hamburg 2-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals, Hodgson’s club will play in a European final for the first time in their 131-year history when they face Atletico Madrid on May 12.

The unfashionable Premier League outfit looked to be on their way out with 21 minutes to play in the second leg at Craven Cottage on Thursday as they laboured to recover from Mladen Petric’s first half goal and the loss of Bobby Zamora to injury.

But the Cottagers have delivered some remarkable performances in Europe this season and once again they defied the odds thanks to two goals in seven minutes from Simon Davies and then Zoltan Gera.

Just two years after avoiding relegation from the Premier League with a win at Portsmouth on the last day of the season, Hodgson has led his team into uncharted territory.

A magical journey which started way back in July has now seen Fulham overcome holders Shakhtar Donetsk, Italian giants Juventus, German champions Wolfsburg and now Hamburg, who had the extra motivation of knowing the final was to be played at their own Nordbank Arena stadium.

It is undoubtedly the feelgood story of the season and Hodgson insists it is just as significant a feat as any success enjoyed by the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea.

“The club has had some bad times and we have looked into the abyss a few times,” Hodgson said.

“I think everyone is pretty proud we will start our 10th Premier League campaign next season but to reach the Europa League final, I don’t care if you are Fulham or one of in the top four in the country, I think that is an achievement to be acknowledged.

“We are in the final because we have played very well in every round and knocked out some very good teams, none more than Hamburg who are one of the biggest European teams of all time.

“I can only enjoy the moment and ensure the players don’t have any credit for their achievement deflected off them.”

While his players will rightly be lauded for their feats, Hodgson deserves tremendous credit for the way he has transformed a threadbare squad into one of the most well-organised units in England.

Several bigger clubs will be casting envious glances at Fulham’s success and it would be no surprise if Hodgson found himself linked with higher-profile positions – and possibly even the England job – in the near future.

The much-travelled coach has unfinished business in this competition after losing the 1997 final to Schalke when he was in charge of Inter Milan.

But for the moment, he was just savouring this latest milestone.

“It’s been a wonderful journey and an achievement as a coach I am really proud of,” he said.

“I’ve been lucky to have some great moments in my career and the next one is always the best.

“When I look back on my career I will think of nights like this when the team has produced better football and results than we are entitled to ask for.”

Now the focus will turn to ensuring leading scorer Zamora is fit for the final after he was substituted when the painkilling injection he had taken to numb an Achilles problem finally wore off.

“The injection worked quite well but at the start of the second half he was beginning to feel the effects,” Hodgson added.

“Now we have got two weeks to try to get him fit for the final. The problem will exist until he can get more serious treatment but if I can rest him in one or two matches perhaps he will be fit for the final.”

Hamburg caretaker boss Ricardo Moniz admitted there was a sombre atmosphere as the reality of missing out on a final on home soil began to sink in.

“It is a sad evening for us but we just didn’t do what we needed,” he said.

“It was totally quiet. Nobody spoke or blamed each other. Maybe we wanted it too much. But if you lose a game you didn’t do well enough and that is that.”

Fri 30 April, 2010
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Seoul´s 2002 hero returns to World Cup squad

South Korea’s national coach Friday named a 30-strong advance roster for the World Cup that includes 2002 World Cup hero Ahn Jung-Hwan and 11 other foreign-based players.

“Our team is as strong as any other team in the World Cup finals, because each player has confidence and a fighting spirit,” coach Huh Jung-Moo told a press conference.

“They have a dream and passion and are ready to display their combative spirit.”

Park Ji-Sung of Manchester United, Lee Chung-Yong of Bolton Wanderers, Park Chu-Young of AS Monaco and Ki Sung-Yueng of Celtic were among those included in the preliminary roster.

Ahn is currently in good form with Dalian Shide in the Chinese professional league.

The 34-year-old striker scored three goals in his two World Cup appearances, including the game-winning header in the second-round game against Italy in the 2002 tournament.

South Korea made it to the semi-finals of the 2002 tournament, which the country co-hosted with Japan. In 2006 they were knocked out after a 2-0 loss against Switzerland.

Lee Dong-Gook of Asian champions the Pohang Steelers, who scored the most goals in the Korean professional league last year, also made the list after failing to make the squad in 2002 and 2006.

Former Fulham striker Seol Ki-Hyun missed out due to a knee injury.

Younger players also got the call.

“The combination of young and old players has improved ahead of the World Cup in South Africa,” Huh said.

The youngsters include Kim Bo-Kyung, Koo Ja-Cheol and Lee Seung-Yeoul, who lifted South Korea’s Under-20 team to the quarter-finals at the U-20 World Cup last September.

Drawn in Group B, South Korea will play their first World Cup match on June 12 against Greece. They will meet Argentina on June 17 and Nigeria on June 22.

“Every match will be competitive and a scorer will be important,” said Huh, quoted by Yonhap news agency. “We have Ahn Jung-Hwan, Lee Dong-Gook and Park Chu-Young to score goals.”

A final 23-man roster will be named around May 24 when South Korea have a friendly with Japan, before heading to Austria for a week of training and warm-up matches with Belarus and Spain.

Fri 30 April, 2010
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