Mazzarri hails Napoli´s year of plenty

Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri does not want his club’s upturn in fortunes to end with 2011.

Mazzari’s men battled to a third-placed finish in the 2010/11 Serie A season, qualifying for the Champions League for the first time since the 1990/91 campaign. They then qualified for the knockout stages of the competition out of a group containing Manchester City, Villarreal and Bayern Munich.

Speaking on Saturday, Mazzarri could only praise his men for their effort and commitment, and said the year had progressed beyond his wildest dreams.

“An extraordinary year for us is coming to an end, third in the league, a Champions League place and then qualifying for the knockout rounds. We went beyond the most optimistic expectations. I can only thank the whole team,” he told reporters.

“The boys have shown great commitment and spirit. Whoever has been playing has given his all, especially in the dressing room.”

Asked what he was hoping to see in 2012, the coach wished for more of the same.

“I hope to continue in the same fashion as in 2011, to keep improving and giving more joy to our fans, both in the league and the Champions League,” he stated.

“Reaching the first knockout phase is already a great achievement, but our philosophy is to not give up on anything until the very end, and to always do our best.”

Mazzarri took over at Napoli in October 2009, leading the club to sixth place in Serie A during his first season at the club.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Lambert hails ´terrific bunch´ at Norwich

Norwich City boss Paul Lambert hailed his team after they rescued a point in a last-gasp 1-1 draw with Fulham on Saturday.

Orlando Sa’s terrific strike from outside the box after seven minutes fired Fulham into a lead they held until Simeon Jackson’s header found the back of the net four minutes into injury time.

The result saw the newly promoted Norwich enter 2012 in the top half of the English Premier League table and Lambert was full of praise for his troops after the match.

“They are a terrific bunch to work with,” Lambert told Sky Sports.

“We have our ups and downs like everybody else, but collectively we hope to stick together. If we can do that here, then it will be good.”

Jackson also came in for special praise after he scored his second goal in three matches, having had to wait to be involved in regular action at Carrow Road this season.

“He just seems to be a threat,” Lambert said.

“He has got that knack – he can get ugly goals and good goals. He has been great for us since he came to the football club. He was a huge player for us towards the tail end of last season. He has waited patiently for his chance and that is his second goal for us. I’m delighted with him.”

Fulham manager Martin Jol was disappointed with only getting a draw in a match in which they dominated early, with youngster Kerim Frei impressing again.

“Frei is an exciting talent and the future is his,” Jol said.

“But in the second half, as with some other players, he has got some tired legs. He was not the same as he was in the first half and that is probably because he has just turned 18. But I feel he is giving us a few qualities.”

With Fulham sitting 13th at the turn of the year, some transfer activity in January is expected.

Experienced strikers Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson have fallen out of favour at Craven Cottage and Jol hinted at departures – which could allow Fulham to add to their squad as well.

“We are always looking to strengthen, because you never know what happens,” he said.

“Maybe one or two players will leave the club and then you have to do something.”

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Martinez happy with elementary Watson

Wigan manager Roberto Martinez sang the praises of Ben Watson after his late penalty saw them draw 2-2 at Stoke on Saturday.

The visitors took the lead through Victor Moses on the stroke of half-time, but a Jonathan Walters spot-kick and a Cameron Jerome header – both scored in the last 15 minutes – looked to have won it for Stoke, especially with Wigan reduced to 10 men.

But Ryan Shotton was judged to have tugged the shirt of Hugo Rodallega in the penalty box with the just three minutes to play and Martinez acted immediately by introducing Watson in place of David Jones.

The midfielder’s first action was to convert the penalty, and he buried the opportunity to give Wigan a late point and move up to 18th on the English Premier League table.

“Taking a penalty is something of a specialist (area) and we have two specialists, Jordi Gomez and Ben Watson,” Martinez said.

“Jordi wasn’t on the pitch at that time and it would have been very unfair or a big gamble to put another player in that position.”

“Ben Watson for me is one of the best technical players in English football and that’s his forte, the big thing for me is that he showed he was ready to step up for team.”

“He’s missed the past two penalties, but if you’ve got a job to do then I will pick my specialist. If I could have brought Jordi Gomez back on then I would have done. In the end, that kick meant the point.”

Martinez still felt aggrieved his side only got the one point, with Stoke making the most of their few opportunities on goal.

“Looking at the whole performance I’m disappointed with getting just one point,” he said.

“We limited Stoke to only three attempts on target, only one of those is the goal and the other two are the actions in the penalty. On top of that I feel that we were a real threat on the counter. The goal from Victor Moses from open play, which is that hardest thing in football, was delightful.”

Stoke assistant manager Dave Kemp felt the late penalty was not the correct decision.

“I’ve only looked at it again briefly, I suppose you would argue there was some kind of tug that no one else managed to see,” Kemp said.

“It’s not a penalty. For me, when penalties are given you expect them to be clear-cut. It was one of those phantom ones and we were on the wrong end of it.”

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Coyle praise for departing Cahill

Bolton boss Owen Coyle praised Gary Cahill after what could be his final game for the club in a 1-1 draw with Wolves on Saturday.

Cahill is set to sign with Chelsea in the coming days after the two clubs agreed a fee of seven million pounds, with only a difference in personal terms standing in the way.

But Coyle had no hesitation in throwing the defender into his side as Bolton continue their fight for survival in the English Premier League.

“I’ve always spoke to Gary sensibly and everyone knows his footballing abilities,” Coyle said.

“I know him as a man and his character as a man and I thought his performance was terrific today.”

“I knew mentally he would be fine with the game because what you have to remember as well is that Gary Cahill is a Bolton Wanderers player and he will be until anything changes on that.”

Bolton took a 22nd-minute lead through defender Sam Ricketts, who made his first appearance since February after a long injury lay-off.

In-form Wolves striker Steven Fletcher equalised four minutes into the second half, as Bolton missed a golden chance to notch just their second home win of the season and slipped to the bottom of the league table as a result.

“I think it was a terrific performance from him (Ricketts) when you consider he has been out for 10 months,” Coyle said.

“He scored a wonderful goal. I’m delighted for Sam to be back and he showed great quality and great pace.”

Wolves manager Mick McCarthy was pleased with his side’s response in the second half but only because his side’s start was so awful.

“At half-time I wondered whether we turned up,” McCarthy said.

“That was the proverbial game of two halves if ever there was one because we were hopeless, we didn’t turn up.”

“We played much better second half, a much better performance but we needed to because we were bang awful before then.”

McCarthy also confirmed Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong would be coming on loan at Molineux.”Yes, Frimpong is coming in,” he said.

“It is already done. I hope for him to be available for the game against Chelsea on Monday because I need fresh players – you have seen the shifts the players have been putting in, so this should help.”

The 19-year-old midfielder’s short-term move will go through as soon as the transfer window opens at midnight in the UK on Sunday.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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We deserved a point, says Rodgers

Swansea City manager Brendan Rodgers has credited his side for not being ‘heroic losers’ after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham.

English Premier League title challengers Tottenham looked on track to capitalise on slip ups by Chelsea and Manchester United elsewhere when Rafael Van der Vaart lashed home in the first half.

But Scott Sinclair’s equaliser with six minutes remaining ensured the points were shared, and Rodgers believed it a justified result.

“I felt it was the least we deserved. We are coming up against a team who is the form team in the country and regarded as one of the best passing teams in the country,” Rodgers said.

“I thought we were brilliant today and we were very unfortunate to be behind. A deflection took the ball onto (Rafael) Van der Vaart and he finished well. I said to the players at half-time that we have just got to keep going and eventually the opportunities will come.”

“We thoroughly deserved it, like I say. Tactically they were fantastic, I felt we needed to be brave enough to press the ball high up the field and have good organisation behind the ball, so to restrict players like Luka Modric and Gareth Bale to the games that they had was a great sign of a wonderful team performance. It was really good psychologically as you say because we don’t want to be heroic losers, play so well and people talk about our football and then we lose the game.”

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp had nothing but praise for Rodgers’ Swansea, and refused to accept the notion that the result may be fatal for Spurs’ title chances.

“I like the way they play. I think (Rodgers has) done a fantastic job here with them, getting them (to play like that),” Redknapp said.

“I think the way they play and pass the ball is amazing really. You know, the belief that is instilled into the players to play football like that, I think, is top class.”

“I don’t look at it like that (whether the result is two points dropped in the title race). There’s a long way to go. It shows you how difficult it is to win football matches. You know, if you’d have said to me today that Man United were not going to beat Blackburn? How could you see that? That’s football isn’t it.”

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Wenger reveals left leaning

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger will dip into the loan market to source a new left-back after Thomas Vermaelen’s calf injury on Saturday.

The Belgian defender had been deputising on the left side of defence with regular options Andre Santos (ankle) and Kieran Gibbs (groin) on the sidelines.

But Vermaelen left the field after 54 minutes in Arsenal’s 1-0 win over QPR in the English Premier League with his calf problem and Wenger said it would be ‘stupid’ if he did not look for a short-term fix.

“We lost Vermaelen for two or three weeks, so I have to look if I can find somebody (but) only a loan,” Wenger said.

“It (Vermaelen’s injury) is serious enough for him not to play on Monday against Fulham or against Leeds (on January 9).”

“We now have three left-backs out. Francis Coquelin came on in this position and did quite well, but he is a central midfielder. It would be stupid for us to drop points because we don’t have a left-back.”

Arsenal’s win came thanks to a Robin van Persie strike on the hour mark, with the Dutchman wrapping up a sensational 2011 with his 50th goal in all competitions and his 35th in the Premier League.

The Gunners moved up to fourth with the win, a remarkable achievement for a side who lost four of their first seven matches of the season, including a 8-2 humiliation at Manchester United.

“We were 17th after five games, now we’re fourth after 19,” Wenger said.

“It’s a fantastic achievement for the players who have come in, been under a lot of pressure and gelled well together. We keep going and try to become stronger.”

QPR boss Neil Warnock pointed the finger at the Arsenal captain after the match, insisting he was not happy with his tactics.

“He gets away with murder does van Persie,” Warnock said.

“I wish we had him. His arms are everywhere. He gets away with it because he’s van Persie but we need to educate our players a little bit more because he gets away with it.”

Warnock’s side slipped to 17th after the defeat and he feels QPR need several new signings to strengthen in the January transfer window.

“We’ve learned quickly but we need some new additions and we’re working on that,” he said.

“I’m hoping to get one in for Monday and then three or four before the end of the window – hopefully before our next game at Newcastle.”

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Villas-Boas sets Chelsea sights lower

Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas feels that wherever his side finish up this English Premier League season, it will ‘not be good enough’.

After Saturday’s surprising 3-1 loss to Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge, Villas-Boas was forced to re-evaluate the goals of his side, stating that a top-four finish and Champions League qualification will be the new aim.

Didier Drogba had fired Chelsea into an early lead but a quick response from Stephen Ireland ensured the match would go down to a nervy finish, with the visitors scoring late goals through Stilyan Petrov and Darren Bent to seal a famous win.

“Our reality is a fourth place finish, but that’s not good enough,” Villas-Boas said.

“We will have to continue to pursue the best finish possible. It’s disappointing because in December all of the teams have dropped points. We spoke about how December could be decisive in the running of league.”

“What we regret is missing big opportunities to reduce the gap with the leaders. If it were a good month we would have been running for title. It’s a thin line.”

Villas-Boas’ men were booed off the pitch after the defeat that saw them drop to fifth, with just goal difference separating them from sixth-placed Liverpool.

The rookie Portuguese manager was not disappointed with the Chelsea fans, however, and added that he hoped good performances from his side could repay them.

“The fans have a right to show disappointment,” he said.

“We want to repay the fans their trust. They have been magnificent through this period.”

“They know they can make a difference and we need them with full belief. We will have to face our challenges in 2012 in a different way. There is no running away with excuses.”

Villa boss Alex McLeish was delighted with his men’s effort throughout the match, as they moved inside the top half of the table.

“We persevered and that was the great thing about our team performance today,” McLeish said.

“The players never gave up trying to create openings and get forward when the time was right.”

The Scot also dished out special praise to Ireland for his all-action display.

“All Villa fans will be delighted with Ireland’s performance because his running off the ball was great,” he said.

“His touch was great. His interception for the third goal was fantastic. He’s really good at that you know. He’s not so much a big heavy tackler, but he does read the game very, very well.”

“That’s his Manchester City form of two seasons ago and we need that from Stevie because he’s come to Villa as a big player and he hasn’t really justified himself, but today goes a long way towards that.”

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Reasons revealed for Suarez ban

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez gave ‘unreliable’ in the investigation into claims he racially abused Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.

The English FA announced on December 20 that the 24-year-old would be banned for eight matches and fined 40,000 pounds for racially abusing the France international during the English Premier League encounter between the two clubs. The ban was suspended pending an appeal by the Merseyside club.

In a 115-page document was published on the FA website on Saturday, the independent commission charged with conducting the investigation explained in detail the conversation between the two players during the match at Anfield on October 15 and all the surrounding events to the case.

The report found that both players were unable to remember everything that happened on the field, but Evra came across more composed as he gave his evidence.

The summary stated: “Mr Evra was a credible witness. He gave his evidence in a calm, composed and clear way. It was, for the most part, consistent, although both he and Mr Suarez were understandably unable to remember every detail of the exchanges between them.”

The reasoning behind the ban was due in part because Liverpool forward was unreliable as his claims were inconsistent with video footage and other evidence. Furthermore, the report rejected his claims that the use of the word ‘negro’ could be seen as friendly.

“Mr Suarez’s evidence was unreliable in relation to matters of critical importance. It was, in part, inconsistent with the contemporaneous evidence, especially the video footage,” the report said.

“For example, Mr Suarez said that he pinched Mr Evra’s skin in an attempt to defuse the situation. He also said that his use of the word ‘negro’ to address Mr Evra was conciliatory and friendly. We rejected that evidence.”

“To describe his own behaviour in that way was unsustainable and simply incredible given that the players were engaged in an acrimonious argument. That this was put forward by Mr Suarez was surprising and seriously undermined the reliability of his evidence on other matters.”

“There were also inconsistencies between his accounts given at different times as to what happened.”

The report concluded that Suarez was guilty of using insulting words, but that he is not a racist. It added that the Uruguayan said he would not use the word on a football pitch in England again.

The conclusion read: “The charge against Mr Suarez was that he used insulting words which included a reference to Mr Evra’s colour. We have found that charge proved on the evidence and arguments put before us. ”

“The FA made clear that it did not contend that Mr Suarez acted as he did because he is a racist. Mr Evra said in his evidence that he did not think Mr Suarez is a racist. ”

“Mr Suarez said in evidence that he will not use the word ‘negro’ on a football pitch in England in the future, and we believe that is his genuine and firm intention.”

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Premier League: Arsenal 1 Queens Park Rangers 0

Arsenal moved into fourth place in the Premier League on Saturday with a 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers at Emirates Stadium.

In a tight affair, Dutch striker Robin van Persie sealed victory on the hour mark after Andrey Arshavin’s assist allowed him to tap home, with the away side giving a good account of themselves against their London rivals.

In a quiet opening 10 minutes, both teams kept the ball well without really threatening, until Jay Bothroyd struck the first shot of the match from 20 yards out, forcing a save from Wojciech Szczesny low to his left.

Rangers quickly responded as Adel Taarabt’s through ball was latched onto by Shaun Wright-Phillips, but Szczesny was out quickly to block his effort.

After a positive opening from Neil Warnock’s side, Arsenal quickly laid siege to their goalmouth as van Persie came close three times in quick succession, while Theo Walcott dragged an effort across goal.

The visitors were then dealt a slice of luck as referee Martin Atkinson turned down a huge penalty appeal.

Luke Young flung himself into the path of Laurent Koscielny’s volley, with the ball ricocheting off his leg onto his outstretched arm, and the 32-year-old could consider him lucky to have gone unpunished.

Aaron Ramsey went close just before half-time, but his volley from the edge of the area was headed off the line by QPR skipper Joey Barton after van Persie’s corner.

The second half began with a flurry of chances at either end, with Alejandro Faurlin coming closest to opening the scoring for QPR, but he fluffed his shot with the goal gaping.

Walcott was put through by a fabulous ball from Ramsey as Arsenal looked to break from a QPR corner, but as he reached the area with only Rangers’ goalkeeper Radek Cerny to beat, the former Southampton man dragged his shot well wide.

Arsenal did not have to wait too long for a goal though, taking the lead with half an hour to go through van Persie.

QPR seemed to have won a corner but a goal-kick was indicated by Atkinson, not linesman Simon Beck, and the Gunners used the opportunity to break up the field, with the much-maligned Arshavin finding van Persie in space to slot past Cerny at his near-post.

It was to be Arshavin’s last – and only – moment of note as he was substituted for Gervinho soon after.

The African winger was quickly involved in the action, but missed an absolute sitter as he shot wide from in front of goal having been set up by van Persie.

QPR were spurred on and began to attack as the game ebbed away, but looked likely to be caught on the counter-attack.

While Rangers had plenty of possession towards the end, they could not find a way past the Arsenal defence, with Per Mertesacker in particular putting in some important blocks and headers to preserve the lead and the precious three points.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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Premier League: Stoke 2 Wigan 2

Stoke had to work hard for a share of the points against a dogged Wigan, with the sides playing out a 2-2 draw at Britannia Stadium on Saturday.

A sloppy first half was highlighted by Wigan’s opener just before the break, with Hugo Rodallega’s low cross finding Victor Moses, who toe-poked the ball past Thomas Sorensen.

Jonathan Walters levelled for Stoke from the penalty spot after 77 minutes, before substitute Cameron Jerome put them ahead seven minutes later.

However a cameo appearance from Ben Watson, who slotted home an 87th-minute penalty, saw the points shared.

The first 10 minutes of the game was all about the battle for possession, but it was Wigan who found the most success with their share of the ball as both Jordi Gomez and Rodallega forced saves out of Sorensen.

Robert Huth tried to offer Stoke some encouragement with a header that glided just inches wide of Ali Al-Habsi’s goal while Jermaine Pennant looked as energetic as ever down the right wing.

Rodallega made Sorensen work again, with the striker pacing through the offside trap and getting his foot to a loose ball before the ‘keeper, but the Colombian was denied by a well-placed Ryan Shawcross who anticipated the chip.

Good running down the right-flank from Rodallega saw him set up Wigan’s opener.

The attacker’s run led to a driving pass into the area for a waiting Moses at the front post, and he poked the ball past Sorensen just before half-time.

As the game got back underway a misty rain descended on the Britannia Stadium and the teams continued the scrappy affair with neither side able to hold onto the ball for long.

Stoke created their best chance of the game so far, as Rory Delap launched the ball into the Wigan box from the touchline for Huth to get his head to, but the defender agonisingly nodded the ball onto the post and into the hands of Al Habsi.

Stoke eventually took the initiative as Jerome arrived on the scene. A long throw into the area by Delap saw the striker’s header handled on the line by Gary Caldwell, who was then sent off.

Walters took the resulting penalty and brought Stoke back into the game.

A break for Stoke just moments later saw the ball headed in the path of former Birmingham man Jerome, who slotted the ball past Al Habsi and into the far corner.

But at the other end Wigan were handed the second penalty of the afternoon and substitute Watson powered the ball past Sorensen to bring the score back to level terms in a flurry of action.

The game hung in the balance until the end, with Stoke pushing for a winner while Wigan were content to see the honours remain even.

Sat 31 December, 2011
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