Rodgers determined to keep Suarez

Brendan Rodgers hailed the performance of Luis Suarez and said his star man is going nowhere after Liverpool’s 2-1 win at Aston Villa.

Suarez won a penalty, converted by Steven Gerrard, as the visitors came from behind to take all three points from their trip to Villa Park on Sunday.

Liverpool manager Rodgers singled out Suarez for special praise, expressing his admiration for the forward’s ability to perform despite exerting himself on international duty last week.

“He (Suarez) is a wonderful player and I’ve got to say; he’s been away with Uruguay, he’s come back late on Thursday, he was in training on Friday. I was looking at him and how tired he was; his face, his body, he just looked totally shattered from all of the travel and the exertions of the games,” Rodgers said.

“But when you look at him today; his energy and his willingness to work for the team and just his sheer quality and imagination in the game was incredible. He really frightens defenders and obviously that led to the penalty,

“We don’t have to sell him. I think he’s very happy and we don’t need to sell him for the money or anything like that. Our job is trying to build a group here and add to it. We’ve bought; front players, midfield players and we want to keep striving forwards. There’s no need to sell him.”

Villa manager Paul Lambert was adamant his team will escape relegation, after their first loss in three matches left them 18th on the Premier League table.

“It’s a collective thing,” he said.

“Everyone is in it together and we move along to the next game. We are certainly playing well enough to win games.

“We’re certainly playing well enough and we don’t look like a team who are down the bottom at the minute. If we keep going we’ll win more games than not.

“Confidence is a big part of the game. We are not lacking in that. We are making errors because we’re young but the confidence is there.”

Sun 31 Mar, 2013
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Zanetti unhappy with penalty decision

Inter Milan captain Javier Zanetti was frustrated after his side were denied what he perceived to be a clear penalty against Juventus.

Esteban Cambiasso went to ground in the penalty area in the second half of Inter’s 2-1 defeat at San Siro on Saturday, but referee Nicola Rizzoli dismissed the protests of the home side.

Zanetti slammed the official behind Gianluigi Buffon’s goalmouth but praised his side for showing heart in pushing Antonio Conte’s men all the way until the final whistle.

“There were things that we saw differently but he decided otherwise,” the Argentine told Inter’s website.

“It looked like a clear penalty on Cassano in the second half.

“The goal-line ref was put there to help out in situations like this. If he doesn’t do that then there’s not much point.

“It was a good performance in the end. We’re disappointed to lose because they scored their second when we were having our best spell.

“We threw the kitchen sink at them trying to find an equaliser but we just couldn’t get it despite creating some great chances. It’s a shame but at least we can take heart from the performance that we produced against a great team like Juventus.”

Goals from Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri secured an away win for Juve, despite Rodrigo Palacio’s equaliser just after half-time.

But the main talking point after the match was Cambiasso’s red card for an awful challenge on Sebastian Giovinco in stoppage time – a tackle which Zanetti was quick to condemn.

“It was just a nasty foul, he made a late challenge,” the Argentine said of his compatriot. “It’s the first time he’s been sent off in his career, though.

“I heard that somebody on TV said he deserves a five-match ban. Let’s not blow it out of proportion, come on.”

Sun 31 Mar, 2013
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Cahill relieved as Red Bulls open account

New York Red Bulls forward Tim Cahill says his team can ‘just relax and play football’ after claiming their first win of the MLS season.

The Red Bulls defeated Philadelphia Union 2-1 on Saturday thanks to Thierry Henry’s 82nd-minute winner and Cahill argued it was no less than the team deserved after a frustrating start to the 2013 campaign.

Cahill, who played against doctors’ order and was given the captain’s armband, bemoaned his team’s failure to keep a clean sheet for the fourth time from five matches this season but was otherwise thrilled to get off the mark, especially for head coach Mike Petke.

“I think for us, now we can just relax and play football,” Cahill said.

“This is finally the win we needed and come next week, we are going to have a good week training.

“Bit disappointed with the way we conceded the goal but we can go into this week relaxed, there’s no pressure.

“We played some great football in the first half, setting balls up, interlinking the play, going long, staying short.

“The game plan’s working well but for the manager (Petke), we’re so happy for him because he works night and day…out of everyone he deserves it and you can see his passion for it.”

Petke, who claimed victory for the first time as New York’s head coach, argued his team’s performance against Philadelphia was far from the best of the season but claimed the Red Bulls deserved the three points.

“Compared to all the other games I wasn’t happiest with the way we performed for large chunks of the game but we got the result, I’m very happy about that,” Petke said.

“The guys worked for it and they earned it.”

Sun 31 Mar, 2013
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Gerrard pleased with fighting spirit

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was pleased with the response to manager Brendan Rodgers’ half-time address in their 2-1 win over Aston Villa.

The visitors went behind after 31 minutes at Villa Park when a well-worked move was finished off by Christian Benteke, but Jordan Henderson and Gerrard scored second-half goals to turn the game on its head after the break.

The England midfielder felt Liverpool were unfortunate to be trailing at half-time and believes Rodgers’ advice put them on the right track to bagging an equaliser soon after the restart.

When asked what the manager told his team at half-time, Gerrard told Sky Sports: “Keep doing what you’re doing, play with more belief and take a few more risks in their final third and it came off today.

“After the manager spoke, that’s what you need to do, go out and score straight after half-time and that gave us the belief and confidence to go on and win the game.

“We had to show a lot of character and raise it a little bit after half-time but we felt a bit hard done by to be behind at the break.

“We thought we should have been at least level but found ourselves one down so we had to give an extra 10 percent.”

Gerrard made a vital goal-line clearance to deny Benteke a second goal and said that incident was just as important in sealing victory as dispatching the penalty won by Luis Suarez.

“One of my close friends before the game gave me stick about my hair and said I might score the winner with my head today,” he said.

“The penalty was the winner but I think the headed clearance won us the game so he was right in the end. That’s what the celebration was about.”

The Reds now sit three points behind their Merseyside rivals Everton in the race to secure European football and Gerrard hopes his team-mates can mount a late push.

When asked about his targets for the rest of the campaign, he replied: “Just to win every game, finish as high as we can and maybe nick fifth or sixth. That’s what we’ll try and do.”

Sun 31 Mar, 2013
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Eredivisie wrap: Fischer fires Ajax past NEC, PSV held

Danish starlet Viktor Fischer has scored his first goals since February to lead Ajax Amsterdam to a 4-1 win over NEC Nijmegen.

Ajax moved back to the top of the Eredivisie with their fourth-straight win, extending their lead to three points after PSV Eindhoven were held to a 2-2 draw away to Roda JC.

Fischer scored Ajax’s first and third goals on Sunday as the capital club completed a comfortable victory over NEC, who have lost their past four games in a row.

Ajax had 61 percent possession and 15 shots on target as they completely dominated NEC, with Fischer giving the home side the lead in the 21st minute after impressive build up involving Lasse Schone and Siem de Jong.

It was Fischer’s ninth goal of the season but his first since February 3, breaking a goal drought of almost two months.

Just four minutes later and it was 2-0 thanks to an own goal from NEC defender Rens van Eijden and in the 77th minute, Fischer extended Ajax’s lead further with a delightful chip.

Christian Eriksen fed Fischer outside the area and with NEC goalkeeper Gabor Babos well off his line; the 18-year-old Dane chipped the ball over the Hungarian and into the top corner of the net.

NEC struck back right from kick-off with Nick van der Velden scoring after a fine pass from Victor Palsson but Ajax regained their three-goal buffer when Ryan Babel added his team’s fourth of the game in the 81st minute.

Ajax moved to 60 points for the season and increased their lead over second-placed PSV, while Vitesse Arnhem joined the Eindhoven club on 57 points after a 2-1 triumph over PEC Zwolle.

PSV looked on track for victory away to Roda, which would have kept them within one point of Ajax, but for a late equaliser from Sanharib Malki.

After Roda took the lead in the 13th minute through Frank Demouge, PSV led at half-time thanks to a brace from Ola Toivonen.

But PSV were denied three points when Syrian striker Malki scored in the 87th minute to earn Roda a draw.

In other Eredivisie results, RKC Waalwijk thumped ADO Den Haag 4-0 and AZ Alkmaar won 2-0 away to Heracles.

Sun 31 Mar, 2013
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Dortmund unhappy with physical Stuttgart

Borussia Dortmund duo Sven Bender and Neven Subotic have slammed Stuttgart’s physical approach after their 2-1 win on Saturday.

A late strike from Robert Lewandowski ensured that Juergen Klopp’s men delayed Bayern Munich’s inevitable lifting of the Bundesliga title, after Alexandru Maxim cancelled out Lukasz Piszczek’s opener.

However, the game was marred by a number of aggressive tackles, with Marcel Schmelzer substituted with a suspected broken nose – prompting Dortmund defender Subotic to criticise the home side.

The 24-year-old told the club’s official website: “Mens’ sport must always be fair. I don’t try to ram an elbow into an opponent, because that’s not manly, everyone can do that, a woman can do that.”

Bender was equally unimpressed with Stuttgart, but praised his team-mates for their fighting spirit.

“It was a very difficult game,” the 23-year-old said. “VfB gave their all, they were committed and pushed the limits of what’s allowed. But I think we fought back well – but within the rules of the game.”

Former Dortmund star Michael Zorc defended the referee for his part in proceedings but believes a pattern is emerging in clashes between Dortmund and Stuttgart.

He said: “In the first game it was (Sebastian) Kehl, now it was Schmelzer who suffered a broken nose.

“I don´t think it was intended but a foot doesn’t belong there. After the game everyone was lying on a massage table. The referee is not to blame, he had a tough job. We are happy about the three points.”

Dortmund face Malaga on Wednesday in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Sun 31 Mar, 2013
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Premier League: Aston Villa 1 Liverpool 2

Steven Gerrard’s penalty helped Liverpool come from behind to beat Aston Villa 2-1 in the English Premier League on Sunday.

Christian Benteke had given hosts Villa a first-half lead, but Jordan Henderson equalised immediately after half-time before Gerrard then stepped up, after Luis Suarez had been felled in the box, to convert what would prove to be the winning spot-kick.

Paul Lambert named an unchanged Villa side from the win over Queens Park Rangers last time out, while Brendan Rodgers welcomed back Pepe Reina and Jamie Carragher, although Daniel Sturridge had to settle for a place on the bench.

Gabriel Agbonlahor squandered a glorious opportunity to give the hosts the lead in the 16th minute as he side-footed an effort from just seven yards out straight at Reina after Matthew Lowton had delivered a delicious low cross from the right.

Four minutes later and Suarez came close to adding to his 22 league goals this season as he picked up on a clever reverse pass from Glen Johnson and smashed high towards goal, forcing Brad Guzan to parry over the top of the bar.

But it was Villa who would take the lead after 32 minutes courtesy of Benteke. Agbonlahor provided the assist for his strike partner as he took down a long pass from Ashley Westwood with his thigh before the Belgian smashed a first-time half volley at goal that Reina could only help into the corner of his net.

Villa were nearly the architects of their own downfall shortly after, though, as Barry Bannan’s wayward pass toward his own goal only served to put Suarez through but the Uruguay international was denied by Guzan as he looked to slot his effort through the goalkeeper’s legs.

Liverpool again came close to forcing an equaliser before half-time as, in the 43rd minute, Stewart Downing and Philippe Coutinho worked a short corner between them before laying off for Gerrard to send a dipping right-foot shot towards goal that Guzan again did well to push away with his left hand.

The visitors didn’t have to wait long after the break to get back into the game, however, as, two minutes after the restart, Henderson raced onto a delightful through pass from Coutinho before steadying himself and lifting a composed effort over the advancing Guzan and into the net.

Liverpool then came close to taking the lead as Coutinho first struck wide following a clever run across Villa right-back Lowton before Johnson struck the post with a bending right-foot effort that flicked off Bannan before rattling the woodwork.

With the next attack, though, the Reds were in front. Suarez, so deadly in and around the 18-yard box, jinked inside Nathan Baker, tempting the young defender into a challenge and referee Lee Mason had little choice but to point to the spot, with Gerrard making no mistake in slotting low to Guzan’s right.

Gerrard was then instrumental at the other end as he reacted superbly to head Benteke’s powerful header off the line before Lowton had Reina scrambling with a cross-shot that forced the Spaniard to tip over the crossbar.

Benteke did hit the net for a second time in stoppage time although the goal was rightly chalked off for offside and, as the final whistle blew, the result does little to ease Villa’s relegation fears, while Liverpool move to within three points of Merseyside rivals Everton.

Sun 31 Mar, 2013
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Robben thrilled with improved form

Arjen Robben says he is ‘in top form’ again after starring in Bayern Munich’s emphatic 9-2 Bundesliga victory over Hamburg on Saturday.

Although the Bavarians were not crowned champions, with Borussia Dortmund defeating Stuttgart, they did cruise to a massive win at the Allianz Arena to put them within touching distance of the league title.

Speaking after the match, the Netherlands winger claimed Jupp Heynckes’ rotation system was paying dividends for both himself and the rest of the squad.

“The fans saw a great game. It was one of those weird games that you don’t experience often. We played very well, but Hamburg were also very weak and, quite frankly, we exploited them,” Robben told reporters.

“It’s very good for the club now that there is a better squad (at the coach’s disposal). It’s not just about the team on the pitch.

“The players are demonstrating a better rhythm on the pitch and it makes you feel stronger. Now I am back in top form.”

Xherdan Shaqiri took full advantage of a rare start against Hamburg as he struck the opener and assisted another, and he hailed the versatility of the Bayern side after the game.

“You can see that almost every player is interchangeable. That has certainly been our key to success,” Shaqiri said.

“Sure, it would have been nice to become a champion today. But regardless if it was this or next week, we would not be able to celebrate anyway.”

Sun 31 Mar, 2013
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Benteke staying at Villa, says agent

Christian Benteke has no intention of leaving Aston Villa in the near future, according to his agent.

Benteke has been a revelation since arriving from Genk for 8.3 million euros last year, scoring 23 goals for club and country over the course of the campaign – including a terrific volley in Villa’s 2-1 loss to Liverpool on Sunday.

The 22-year-old’s displays have led to talk of a move to Serie A, with Inter believed to be keen on his signature, but agent Eric Kismet insisted his client is more than happy to remain at Villa Park.

“I keep hearing that Christian dreams of playing for different clubs,” he told the Sunday Mirror.

“But why dream when he is living a fantastic reality at Aston Villa? He is certainly not thinking about leaving.

“It is always impossible to predict the future, but at the moment I am 99 percent certain Christian will start next season with Aston Villa in the Premier League.

“Paul Lambert, the club and the fans have all been very good to Christian and that means a lot to him.”

Sun 31 Mar, 2013
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SPL: St Mirren 1 Celtic 1

A controversial penalty from Paul McGowan made it four away games without a win for Celtic as they were held to a 1-1 draw at St Mirren.

The Hoops had been comfortably ahead through a sixth-minute Kris Commons header but a red card to Victor Wanyama and McGowan’s spot kick ensured Celtic took just their fifth point in their past six matches on the road.

Celtic came out firing early on in Sunday’s match and after only six minutes they took the lead after the home team failed to deal with a corner, allowing Efe Ambrose to gain possession on the edge of the area and chip the ball to Commons, who headed into the net from close range.

For the remainder of the first half it was all St Mirren with Paul Dummett, Connor Newton, Marc McAusland and John McGinn all failing to beat Fraser Forster in Celtic’s goal.

The league leaders could have extended their lead with 10 minutes remaining in the half, as Beram Kayal cut the ball inside from the right to Commons but he was unable to trouble St Mirren goalkeeper Craig Samson.

As the game entered first-half injury time Neil Lennon was handed a blow as Commons suffered an ankle injury after a collision with Kayal.

With nine minutes gone in the second half, Celtic were reduced to 10 men when Wanyama was shown a straight red card after catching McGowan on the shin.

St Mirren finally drew level with 10 minutes left as Goncalves went down on the edge of the area under a challenge from Izaguirre, prompting the referee to point to the spot and McGowan fired home the equaliser.

The hosts could have snatched all three points late on but Gary Teale sent a long-range effort over the bar.

Celtic lead the Scottish Premier League by 13 points from Motherwell, while St Mirren moved above Hearts on goal difference and into 10th position.

Sun 31 Mar, 2013
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