Thierry Henry happy with joker role

Thierry Henry may be France’s all-time top scorer and leader of his country’s attack for over a decade yet he is set to fill an unaccustomed role as ‘super sub’ at the World Cup in South Africa.

Henry reportedly agreed to be deployed as what L’Equipe on Monday described as a ‘joker de luxe’ when national manager Raymond Domenech paid him a visit in Barcelona this month.

And sure enough Henry, who has scored 51 international goals, has started on the bench in both of France’s warm-up matches in the past dew days.

He came on for Nicolas Anelka at the start of the second half in the 2-1 win against Costa Rica in Lens last Wednesday, and entered the fray at the same juncture, again replacing Anelka, in the 1-1 draw with Tunisia in Rades on Sunday.

Domenech was his usual guarded self when tackled on his reported tete-a-tete with the former Arsenal striker in Barcelona before he unveiled his provisional World Cup squad on May 11.

“I am at Tunisia-France, other people’s gossip is just gossip…” he said in Rades after Sunday’s game.

Henry himself appeared relaxed with his newfound role.

“I had a chat with the coach, he told me that I wouldn’t be starting the game. As I’ve often said, the most important thing is the team. I try to come on and to give something when I’m called on to be of service to the team,” he told French television.

Henry, who has only produced two goals for Barcelona since January, added: “We’re not here to know who will play and who won’t play. No one is above the team, we’re all in this to go as far as we can together.”

The 2006 World Cup finalists fell behind to an early goal in Rades before William Gallas headed home a second half leveller, the Arsenal central defender’s performance one of the few positives from this latest warm-up.

France have one remaining friendly scheduled against China in Reunion on Friday.

They open their World Cup campaign against Uruguay on June 11.

Mon 31 May, 2010
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Cole unsure over England World Cup place

(GSM) – Blues midfielder Joe Cole admits he is no certainty to make England’s final squad for the World Cup finals this summer.

Cole endured a frustrating, injury-blighted club campaign, and was used mainly as a substitute during the league run-in by manager Carlo Ancelotti. The former Hammers winger made the cut for Fabio Capello’s 30-man provisional squad and now he’s waiting to make the 23-man party.

However, a second-half substitute Cole played a significant role in England’s unconvincing 2-1 win over Japan in Austria on Sunday, after which he said: “Do I have any nerves? You’ve got to be pragmatic about it.

“I came here ten days ago to try to enjoy my time back here, train well, and it’s in the manager’s hands about the squad.

“There are a lot of players who will be hoping, a lot of players have got a good case. But, whatever happens, we are all right behind England and hopefully this will be our time.

“Have I done enough? I don’t want to go into that. I had a good finish to the season, I wasn’t starting but I was having an impact coming off the bench.

“I came here and did my thing and I’ve enjoyed it because it has been such a long time. Croatia was my last game and I ended up with ten stitches in my head. It is just nice to be back around the lads and it feels great.

“I don’t know what I will do on Tuesday. I’ve never been in this position. I don’t know. It is a funny atmosphere. There is nothing you can do.

“We’ve done everything we can do, we’ve trained hard, everyone has had an excellent week’s training and that’s all you can do. I’ll wake up, have my breakfast and there we go,” the 28-year-old revealed.

Mon 31 May, 2010
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Buffon and Casillas concern over World Cup ball

(GSM) – Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas have slammed the new World Cup ball ‘Jabulani’. “It’s a bit like a beach ball.”

Earlier Brazil goal keeper Julio Cesar and England stopper Joe Hart raised their concerns over the new World Cup ball and now Italy and Spain goalkeepers joined the chorus of disapproval.

“So far preparations are going well, apart from one negative aspect that I feel the need to underline, just as my colleagues have done before me,” Buffon said.

“I am referring to the football that is used in all the games for this tournament.

“The new model is absolutely inadequate and I think it is shameful that such an important competition as a World Cup with so many champions should be played with a ball like that,” the Juve stopper criticized the Jabulani.

“As for the rest, even if people don’t consider us to be favourites, I remain optimistic. After all, we are still the world champions,” he said.

Spain are one of the favorites at the World Cup this summer in South Africa but skipper Casillas is unhappy with the World Cup ball.

“It’s a bit like a beach ball,” the Spain goalie was quoted as telling Spanish media on Sunday.

“It is truly sad that we have to play in a World Cup with such a horrendous ball,” the goalkeeper Casillas commented after his side’s 3-2 warm-up win against Saudi Arabia.

Mon 31 May, 2010
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Sacchi praises new Italy boss Prandelli

(GSM) – Arrigo Sacchi is full of praise for Cesare Prandelli, as “he is a great Coach and a great man.”

Fiorentina boss Prandelli will take over from current Italy coach Marcello Lippi after the World Cup.

“Cesare has proved numerous times, first with Parma and then Fiorentina, that he is a great Coach and a great man,” said Sacchi.

Sacchi also worked alongside Prandelli at the Stadio Tardini when he was a director for Parma.

“He was excellent with Parma, as we finished fifth twice and even battled for a Champions League spot.

“Above all he got the best out of many players. My recollection of him as a Coach and a human being are wonderful. I respect him a great deal and wish him all the best.”

However, Sacchi warns that it is quite a big step to go from club football to the Squadra Azzurra.

“The work is different, as you are above all a selector rather than a Coach. He must hope all of Italian football works well throughout the season and that clubs use their youngsters more than they currently do. Then it’s up to him to find that touch of class to complete the squad.

“Prandelli must make the most of his experiences at club level, but in general international football lacks two important elements: time and day-to-day work.”

Marcello Lippi will leave after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but the team already knows Prandelli is set to take over.

“It absolutely won’t be a distraction for the side, as the World Cup is too important and every player will try to give their best.

“There can be no alibis or excuses. If Italy don’t do well, it certainly will not be because Prandelli was appointed before the tournament.”

Mon 31 May, 2010
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‘Two-goal’ Tulio lifts Japan despite England loss

Defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka is being hailed in Japan after scoring against England despite a third straight defeat for the national side in the run-up to next month’s World Cup.

The Brazilian-born player netted early for Japan in their clash against Fabio Capello’s side in Austria but two own goals — including one from Tanaka — allowed England to escape with a narrow victory.

“I am sorry for standing out on both sides,” the 29-year-old centre back said after Sunday’s game in the city of Graz.

“I really enjoyed it as I could go full out and we could demonstrate how much we can do against such a strong side,” he said in a televised interview.

Despite another defeat for the Blue Samurai the Japanese press was full of praise Monday for the attack-minded defender after Japan went two matches without a goal.

“Leave it to Tulio!!” cried a banner headline in the Nikkan Sports. The Sports Nippon said: “A bit of light is beginning to shine on Okada’s struggling Japan.”

Japan slumped to a 3-0 defeat to a second-string Serbia in April and lost 2-0 to Asian arch-rivals South Korea last week, both at home. Tulio missed both matches due to suspension and injury.

Tanaka put his side ahead early in the first half but own goals from him and Yuji Nakazawa in the second half helped an unconvincing England salvage a win.

Tanaka welcomed his eighth international goal since his debut in 2006 when he missed the World Cup in Germany but was named J-League player of the year.

“It’s all right if I score when it matters. It’s fun to play European powerhouses,” he told the Sankei Sports daily.

Under-fire coach Takeshi Okada, whose goal of a semi-final spot in South Africa has been widely ridiculed as unrealistic, said his team had focused too much on defending after opening the scoring.

“What we need to do from here is to raise our condition and boost the thrust of our attack,” he said.

Japan, dogged by a lack of firepower and physical strength, face Cameroon on June 14 in Bloemfontein, followed by other Group E matches against the Netherlands and Denmark.

They will play Ivory Coast in their final warm-up match on Friday in Sion, Switzerland.

Former Japan coach Ivica Osim told Japanese media that the England match was positive for Japan.

“They played in a way which made it difficult at times to tell which side was England,” said the 68-year-old Bosnian, who coached the former Yugoslavia to the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals.

Mon 31 May, 2010
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Moratti confirms Real interest in Maicon

(GSM) – Internazionale president Massimo Moratti has confirmed Real Madrid’s interest in Maicon.

The chairman confirmed that Jose Mourinho’s new club have asked after the Brazilian full back. Maicon has also been linked with Manchester City.

Moratti revealed: “We’ll see about Douglas Maicon, but Real Madrid aren’t the only club interested in him.”

Mon 31 May, 2010
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Sneijder backs Hiddink for Inter job

(GSM) – Wesley Sneijder would like Guus Hiddink to become the new coach at Internazionale.

The Turkey boss has been linked with Inter as they are looking for a successor for Jose Mourinho, who left the Champions League winners to join Real Madrid.

“They (Mourinho and Hiddink) both have a great capacity to motivate the group, but the most important thing is that they both focus on the tactical aspect, giving the players great courage,” Sneijder said.

“It’s thanks to that attitude that you are able to gain trust in yourself.

“Hiddink has great experience, having coached at Real Madrid and Chelsea, and let’s not forget that he is the man that led PSV Eindhoven to win everything in 1988. He would do great at Inter.”

Mon 31 May, 2010
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England football squad hopefuls wait for Capello

Joe Cole may well have done enough to earn himself a place in England’s World Cup squad following an influential display as a substitute in his team’s 2-1 friendly victory over Japan on Sunday.

But the midfielder is still on tenterhooks, along with so many of his team-mates, as manager Fabio Capello maintains radio silence on his final selection.

It is fair to say Chelsea midfielder Cole, after a season dogged by injury, was a candidate on the list of players who could be left behind when Capello reduces his squad from 30 to 23 on Tuesday.

However his display ?in the hole’ behind Wayne Rooney in the second half against Japan, in which he helped England come from 1-0 down to win 2-1, has now catapulted him to the ranks of ?probables’ to travel to South Africa.

With rivals such as Tom Huddlestone and Darren Bent failing to take their chances in similar fashion and others such as Stephen Warnock, Matthew Upson, Michael Dawson, Adam Johnson and Scott Parker not even getting on the pitch it looks good for Cole, who began to recover his form at the end of the season at Stamford Bridge, helping Chelsea win the Premier League and FA Cup ?Double’.

But the winger, one of few England players to perform well at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, refuses to believe he is on the plane to South Africa just yet.

“I don’t want to go into that,” he said.

“You’ve got to be pragmatic about it. I came here 10 days ago to try and enjoy my time back with England and train well, and now it’s in the manager’s hands.

“There are a lot of players who will be hoping; a lot of players have got a good case. Whatever happens, we are all right behind England and hopefully this will be our time.

“The main thing for me is I feel fresh at this stage of the season and I want to go and have a good as tournament as I had last time and hopefully even better and try and help us win it.”

Cole admits it will be a nervous time on Tuesday morning when Capello has promised to personally phone the seven players who will not travel to the World Cup with him.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” said the midfielder.

“I’ve never been in this position. I don’t know. It is a funny atmosphere.

“There is nothing you can do.

“As players we’ve done everything we can do, we’ve trained hard, everyone has had an excellent week’s training and that’s all you can do. I’ll wake up, have my breakfast and there we go.

“You’ve got to put football into perspective otherwise it will drive you mad because there is so much importance put on it but at the end of the day it is only a game of football.

“Constantly you have to do that as a footballer because there is so much pressure and importance put on whether you win a game.

“What will be will be but the main thing is it will be great for the country and the people to have a great World Cup and go and win it.”

Cole’s Chelsea teammate Frank Lampard has insisted he will continue to volunteer for penalty duty, even at the World Cup where England have suffered so badly in shoot-outs in 2006 and 1990, despite missing his last two.

Lampard, who shot wide in the FA Cup Final and then saw his penalty against Japan saved, said: “I always want to take penalties. It wasn’t a great one today, to be honest, which is disappointing because I practised loads this week.

“Perhaps it’s better to miss them now. I was under the spotlight because I missed the last one I took. But I’m always confident in taking them, and that will make me work harder and if the manager wants me to take one I will step up.”

Mon 31 May, 2010
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North Korea bank on surprise element

Isolated on the global stage, North Korea travel to the World Cup in South Africa with an intriguing air of mystery swirling around the squad.

The only other time the secretive nation reached football’s showpiece was in 1966 when a team of unknowns delivered a seismic shock by defeating fancied Italy 1-0 on a memorable run to the quarter-finals.

But the 105th-ranked “Chollima” lack the same capacity to upset this time around after a gruelling qualifying campaign involving 16 matches over 20 months.

It’s a far cry from 1966 when only Australia stood in the North Koreans’ way of reaching the finals in England after the African nations withdrew, protesting the decision to allow only one qualifier from Africa, Asia and Oceania. South Korea also pulled out.

The bulk of the 2010 World Cup squad play for domestic clubs in North Korea, better known for its nuclear weapons programme and dubious rights record, but a handful ply their trade overseas.

These include striker Jong Tae-Se, who plays in Japan’s J-League along with fellow Japanese-born ethnic Korean An Yong-Hak. Striker Hong Yong-Jo is on the books of Russia’s FC Rostov.

Star players in the squad who are based at home, where FIFA says there are nearly 15,000 registered players and half a million overall, include midfielder Mun In-Guk and goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk .

Coach Kim Jong-Hun is hoping his squad can match the exploits of the 1966 legends, even though they are locked in a tough group with five-time champions Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast.

“It was as a result of our hard work that we will return to the World Cup, 44 years after we reached the last eight at England 1966,” he said.

“I hope we can repeat the feats of our predecessors.”

Nick Bonner, associate producer of the 2002 film “The Game of Their Lives,” charting the story of the 1966 team, said North Korea were realistic about their chances.

“It’s even more of a challenge in that they’re representing a country that’s also vilified. They’re also aware of that,” said Bonner, who makes regular trips to the country with Koryo Tours, which runs tourism and cultural projects.

“Whereas any other team is of course playing for themselves and their country this has a greater importance in a way because it’s time for them to show ‘we’re here,'” he said.

He conceded that a relative lack of experience in playing teams outside North Korea would be a hindrance but the players would be tough.

North Korea, who have also reached the finals of next year’s Asian Cup, conceded just seven goals in their qualifying campaign to take one of the continent’s four automatic spots in South Africa.

Their return to football’s top table marks an upswing in their fortunes.

Football is the country’s most popular sport but Pyongyang’s leadership banned the national squad from travelling abroad after losing to arch-rivals Japan and South Korea in qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup.

They returned to international football at the Bangkok Asian Games in 1999 but did not compete in qualifying for the 1998 World Cup in France or 2002 in South Korea and Japan.

North Korea earlier this year scooped the AFC Association of the Year Award.

“The Korean association has produced a men’s national team that qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals despite having a fraction of the resources and facilities available to other economically better-off associations,” the AFC said.

“Their success at elite level is only the tip of the iceberg, with a solid grassroots structure that is producing scores of talented youngsters who are waiting for their chance at the top,” it added.

The players will be happy to arrive in South Africa with their tag of relative unknowns. But they are aiming to leave as household names.

Mon 31 May, 2010
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France fail to fire, draw with Tunisia in World Cup warm-up

France’s preparations for the World Cup suffered a reality check here on Sunday when the 2006 finalists had to come from behind to snatch a 1-1 draw against non-South Africa-bound Tunisia.

France turned up in Rades on the back of Wednesday’s confidence-boosting 2-1 win over Costa Rica in Lens.

As at Lens France’s top scorer Thierry Henry found himself on the bench with manager Raymond Domenech preferring to start Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka.

Hugo Lloris was back in goal after having ceded his place to Steve Mandanda who failed to advertise his claims against Costa Rica.

The rest of the side was the same as Domenech stuck with his new 4-3-3 formation.

The match was a personal milestone for Domenech, who drew level with former manager Michel Hidalgo’s record of 75 matches in charge of the national side.

The 58-year-old Domenech, who succeeded Jacques Santini after Euro 2004, is stepping down to be replaced by Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc after the World Cup.

France failed to assert as they had done last Wednesday and were behind by as early as the sixth minute when lax defending resulted in Isaam Jemaa tapping in past Lloris.

Tunisia had the French backline on the rack two minutes later when Ben Khalfallah charged goalbound unchallenged down the centre in a one-on-one with Lloris but the danger petered out after he elected to pass to his left with the move petering out.

France, notably with a searing shot from Franck Ribery which skimmed just wide of the near post, had their chances but went into the break trailing.

Domenech tinkered with his second half cast list, introducing Henry on the left and debutant Marc Planus for Ribery and Eric Abidal.

France got their much sought after leveller in the 62nd minute when William Gallas headed in Yoann Gourcuff’s floating 30m freekick from close range, a welcome fillip for central defender Gallas who is back in World Cup contention after a calf injury.

The Arsenal back and Gourcuff were two of the few bright points of France’s performance.

France have one remaining warm-up, against China in Reunion on Friday, before their World Cup campaign opens on June 11 against Uruguay.

Sun 30 May, 2010
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