Pellegrini almost took charge at Barcelona

Manchester City-bound Manuel Pellegrini has revealed he was almost hired by Barcelona instead of Pep Guardiola.

The La Liga champions went on to enjoy incredible success under the Spaniard – including winning two Champions League trophies – while Pellegrini spent a year in charge at Real Madrid before being ousted in favour of Jose Mourinho.

Pellegrini’s reputation has grown since his move to Malaga in 2010 and ahead of his last game in charge of them against Tito Vilanova’s Barca, the Chilean said the past few years could have turned out very differently for him and Guardiola.

“Before Pep Guardiola took charge of Barcelona, I was very close to signing,” he told Television Nacional de Chile.

“I’m very happy that it isn’t currently possible for me to manage Barcelona, because if it were, it would mean that Tito Vilanova was in poor health.”

Malaga can seal sixth spot and a Europa League place with a win at Camp Nou on Saturday, while Barcelona are aiming to finish the season with 100 points.

Fri 31 May, 2013
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Mourinho thanks Real fans

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has sent out a message of thanks to the club and their fans ahead of his final game in charge on Saturday.

The Portuguese trainer and Spanish giants reached a decision to tear up his contract at the end of the season, meaning he is free to return to Chelsea in the off-season.

Mourinho will take charge of his last game as Real coach against Osasuna on Saturday and wished everyone at the club all the best going forward.

“I wish everyone associated with Real Madrid much happiness in the future,” he said in a statement on the club’s website.

“I appreciate the support of lots of fans and respect the criticism of others. Once again, a lot of happiness to everyone and, above all, good health. Hala Madrid!”

Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes and Carlo Ancelotti are favourites to replace Mourinho.

Heynckes is being replaced by Pep Guardiola in the off-season despite having won the Champions League this season while Real have enquired to Paris Saint-Germain about Ancelotti.

Fri 31 May, 2013
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Coupe de France: Bordeaux 3 Evian 2

A late goal from Cheick Diabate sealed victory for Bordeaux in a dramatic Coupe de France final against Evian on Friday.

Diabate gave Bordeaux the lead late in the first half before missing a second-half penalty. Evian levelled matters through Yannick Sagbo before Henri Saivet restored Bordeaux’s advantage.
Brice Dja Djede notched a second equaliser before Diabate stepped up again to score a dramatic late winner and clinch glory for Francis Gillot’s men.

Bordeaux made five changes to the side which beat Evian in the last league fixture of the season. Carlos Henrique, Benoit Tremoulinas, Gregory Sertic, Jaroslav Plasil and Ludovic Obraniak came in for Marc Planus, Florian Marange, Andre Biyogo-Poko, Adbou Traore and Fahid Ben Khalfallah.

Evian, by contrast, made just two alterations to their team, Milos Ninkovic replacing Cedric Barbosa and keeper Betrand Laquait taking the place of Johann Durand.

Gillot’s charges made a superb start and would have taken the lead if not for Laquait, who produced a fine stop to deny Diabate after the Malian forward powered a wonderful delivery from Obraniak towards the bottom corner.

Bordeaux continued to push forward, midfielder Gregory Sertic twice going close from long range as the three-time winners dictated the game.

Both sides traded chances in what was a frenetic encounter, but it was Bordeaux who grasped the advantage, Diabate rounding Laquait and slotting into an empty net after collecting a superb long ball from Mariano.

Gillot’s side nearly doubled that lead as Laquait pulled off a flying stop to prevent Saivet’s volley from finding the back of the net.

Evian were able to survive the consistent Bordeaux pressure until the interval, but their chances of victory appeared slim when their opponents were awarded a penalty after Ninkovic felled Diabate.

However, the striker was unable to convert the chance as Laquait made an excellent diving save to his left to keep Evian in the game.

That save gave Evian renewed confidence, and they quickly levelled matters, Wass controlling a ball over the top from Berigaud before pulling the ball back for Yannick Sagbo to tap-in past Cedric Carrasso.

Pascal Dupraz’s men were not level for long, however, as Saivet pounced just two minutes later to steer home an Obraniak free-kick and restore Bordeaux’s advantage.

Diabate would twice go close to making the game safe, denied by another fine save from Laquait before seeing a header cleared off the line by Cedric Cambon.

Bordeaux were made to rue those missed chances 20 minutes from time, as Dja Djede slid in to score from point-blank range after great work down the left from substitute Cedric Barbosa.

The game looked to be heading for extra time, but it was Diabate who would prove to be the hero, rounding off a vintage performance with a cool finish two minutes from time to secure Bordeaux’s first silverware since 2009.
Fri 31 May, 2013
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Puyol: I want to play until I am 40

Barcelona captain Carles Puyol wants to come back stronger from his injury and play until he is 40.

The Spain international defender has missed the last two-and-a-half months with a knee problem, sparking rumours he may retire.

However, the 35-year-old has insisted his recovery is going well and he plans to be back representing the La Liga champions next season and beyond.

Puyol also reiterated his desire to see out his contract, which expires in 2016, and play until he reaches 40 years of age.

“My future is at Barca,” he said.

“I have three years remaining on my contract and I want to play competitively until I’m 40, I’m going to fight for it.”

Puyol has been absent for Barca’s run-in, which saw them lift the La Liga title but bow out of the UEFA Champions League, and he insists he will be ready for training ahead of the 2013-14 campaign.

“The idea is to keep on working. I have a plan prepared so that I can by at 100 percent for the pre-season,” he explained.

Barcelona announced the departure of Frenchman Eric Abidal yesterday and Puyol was full of praise for his team-mate.

“He’s the example we should follow, he’s a friend and Cule for life,” he said.
Fri 31 May, 2013
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International Friendly: Italy 4-0 San Marino

Italy strolled to a convincing 4-0 win over San Marino in an international friendly at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara on Friday.

Italy, looking to make it four games unbeaten, named a strong side which included the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Ranocchia and Andrea Pirlo.

Anyone watching will have expected a comprehensive win for the home side, and the first half saw almost non-stop pressure from Cesare Prandelli’s men.

Alessandro Diamanti tested San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini while Alberto Gilardino saw a goal ruled out for offside.
It took until the 28th minute for the Euro 2012 runners-up to take the lead and it was Andrea Poli who put his side ahead.
The Sampdoria man latched on to a loose ball just outside the San Marino box before riding a tackle and slotting the ball between Simoncini’s legs.
From there it seemed as though the floodgates may open and, sure enough, six minutes later, Italy were two goals to the good as Alberto Gilardino grabbed his 19th international strike to put them in a commanding lead at the break.
Five minutes into the second half, Italy got their third as Andrea Pirlo curled a delightful free-kick into the top right-hand corner of the net before Alberto Aquilani got his name on the scoresheet with a tap in on 79 minutes after a dangerous Pirlo free-kick was fumbled.
After a comprehensive and straightforward win, Italy now travel to Czech Republic for a World Cup qualifier in Prague.
Italy currently top group B while the Czechs sit in third, five points behind.
Fri 31 May, 2013
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Ibrahimovic staying at PSG; Marcos Alonso joins Fiorentina

The agent of Paris Saint-Germain talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic has confirmed the player will not be leaving the Parc des Princes this summer.

The agent of Paris Saint-Germain talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mino Raiola, has confirmed the player will not be leaving the Parc des Princes this summer, ESPN understands.

Ibrahimovic, who joined PSG from AC Milan in a deal reportedly worth €20 million last summer, has been linked with a sensational return to Italian champions Juventus in recent weeks.

The Sweden international has won a league title in nine of the last 10 years, with six different clubs: AFC Ajax Amsterdam (2003-04), Juventus (2004-05, 2005-06), FC Internazionale Milano (2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09), FC Barcelona (2009-10), AC Milan (2010-11) and Paris Saint-Germain (2012-13).

Only in 2011-12 was Ibra denied the league title after former club Juventus went the entire season unbeaten (23-15-0).

“He will remain at PSG, I can rule out a return to Italy,” said Raiola. “I hear that he would cut his wage, but he has never spoken about it.”

Ibrahimovic, who likes “guys who run red lights, not pedantic and strict rules,” bagged 35 goals and 15 assists in 45 competitive appearances for Paris Saint-Germain last season.

In other news, AC Milan forward Robinho — who is also represented by Mino Raiola — will be staying at the San Siro this summer despite reported interest from former club Santos.

“Robinho stays at AC Milan, this is his desire. I don’t care about what Santos want, and I know that AC Milan want to keep him,” added Raiola. “It’s easier that he extends his contract rather than leaving Milan.”

The Brazil international was on the verge of teaming up with Neymar at the Estádio Vila Belmiro in January, but no deal materialised.

With Neymar set to leave the club for Barcelona after the Confederations Cup, Santos will likely revive their interest in Robinho, but Raiola does not seem to care.

Robinho tallied two goals and five assists in 23 league appearances, including just 11 starts, for Milan last term.

Marcos Alonso joins Fiorentina

ACF Fiorentina have completed the signing of Bolton Wanderers left-back Marcos Alonso on a three-year contract, according to Sky Sports.

Alonso, whose contract at the Reebok Stadium was set to expire in June, rejected an offer from Bolton before deciding to take his talents to Serie A and the UEFA Europa League.

The former Spain youth international, who joined Bolton from Spanish giants Real Madrid for an undisclosed transfer fee in July 2010, was reportedly attracting interest from a number of English Premier League clubs, including newly-promoted Hull City as well as Stoke City, who appointed Mark Hughes as manager earlier this week.

“Yes, Fiorentina are very, very close to Marcos,” revealed Alonso’s father and agent Marcos Alonso Peña in mid-April.

“We were in Florence for the first time in December, to speak with the Viola.

“But now Marcos wants to finish this season quietly with Bolton, trying to do his best professional job to bring the club into the Premier League.”

With his current deal at Bolton set to expire at the end of next month, Alonso, 22, has officially opted to join Fiorentina.

The 22-year-old left-back netted four goals in 30 appearances in all competitions for Bolton Wanderers in 2012-13.

Fri 31 May, 2013
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International Friendly: Turkey 0 Slovenia 2

Slovenia earned their first win since October as they overcame a determined Turkey outfit in a tight encounter on Friday.

Srecko Katanec’s men took the lead early in the first half through Milivoje Novakovic before Tim Matavz made sure of the win midway through the second period at Arminia Bielefeld’s Shuco Arena in Germany.

Turkey manager Abdullah Avci opted to leave Galatasaray star Burak Yilmaz out of the starting line-up, with Mevlut Erding preferred up front.

Meanwhile, Katanec left PSV hitman Matavz on the bench, as Novakovic headed the Slovenian attack.

Slovenia started the better of the two sides and they found a way through after 11 minutes when Novakovic showed great movement and awareness to head past Sinan Bolat at the near-post after latching on to a left-wing cross from Bojan Jokic.

Turkey struggled to find a response and their first real chance did not come until the 23rd minute, Caner Erkin blasting over the bar after Jan Oblak had failed to deal with a Mehmet Topal free-kick.

Erkin went close again six minutes later with a cross-shot that arrowed just wide of the far post.

Rennes’ striker Erding provided the Slovenia defence with another scare when he sent a close-range header narrowly wide of the mark and, although Erkin drew another save from Bolak right on half-time, Avcı’s men never really looked like levelling the scores.

Avci brought on Veysel Sari in place of Serdar Kurtulus at the interval, but it was Erkin who continued to be Turkey’s most creative outlet, the Fenerbache man delivering a wonderful far-post cross into the path of Olcay Sahan, but the Besiktas winger could only head straight at Bolak.

Yilmaz was thrown into the fray on the hour mark for the injured Alper Potuk, with Matavz replacing Novakovic for Slovenia.

It was Matavz who would have the greater impact, though, as the 24-year-old raced on to a through ball from Andraz Kirm before cutting inside Gokhan Zan to curl a superb strike beyond Bolat to double Slovenia’s advantage.

Turkey continued to dictate the play as they tried to get back into the game, but it was the counter-attacking style of Slovenia which created the better opportunities, 22-year-old Red Bull Salzburg midfielder Kevin Kampl forcing a fine save from Bolat after good work from Andraz Struna.

Yilmaz did have a late chance to try and earn a consolation for Turkey, but his efforts proved futile as Slovenia held on to seal the win.
Fri 31 May, 2013
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Falcao joins Monaco on five-year deal

Radamel Falcao has joined Monaco, it has been confirmed.

The Colombian striker, who had been linked with a move away from Atletico Madrid for some time, has agreed a five-year contract with the newly-promoted Ligue 1 side.

Monaco’s president Dmitry Rybolovlev told the club’s official website: “We are absolutely delighted that Radamel Falcao has accepted the challenge of coming to play for AS Monaco FC.

“We are proud to have secured one of the best players in the world and confident that he will help AS Monaco FC regain its rightful status.”

The former Porto man is one of a string of signings made by big-spending Monaco since gaining promotion as they look to establish themselves in Ligue 1.

He joins Ricardo Carvalho, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho in also moving to the club as part of their close-season squad overhaul.

Fri 31 May, 2013
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Manchester City appointment to be made in ´next two weeks´

Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak has confirmed a new manager should be appointed “in the next two weeks”.

Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini has been heavily linked with a move to the Etihad Stadium as a replacement for Roberto Mancini, who was sacked after the club lost in the FA Cup final and failed to defend their Premier League crown.

While Al Mubarak indicated that a new boss should be in place sooner rather than later, he stopped short of naming any potential candidates.
“We’re pretty much done,” he told City’s official website.

“We’re very close. I expect to make an appointment probably in the next two weeks.”

Al Mubarak also explained his reasoning behind sacking Mancini, citing a need for change as the main motivation.

Mancini guided the club to the FA Cup in 2010-11 and first Premier League title 12 months later, but was fired after ending last season empty-handed.

Al Mubarak stated that the board were grateful for what the former Inter manager had achieved after joining in 2009, but were keen to opt for a new direction.

“I think we all felt it was time for a change. Roberto has done a great job for the club. He has won us the FA Cup and then a year later the Premier League,” Al Mubarak said.

“He will always be someone I deeply regard as a good friend and a great manager. But it was time for change. We need something new.”
Fri 31 May, 2013
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Italy 4-0 San Marino: Pirlo pearler the highlight of facile win for Azzurri

Italy warmed up for their crucial World Cup qualifier against Czech Republic with a predictably facile 4-0 win over San Marino at the Renato Dall’Ara on Friday night.

Andrea Poli broke the deadlock – and his international duck – with a smart finish before Alberto Gilardino struck his first goal for the Azzurri since 2010 shortly before the interval.

Andrea Pirlo added a stunning free kick in early stages of the second half and set up Italy’s fourth with another set-piece that led to Alberto Aquilani converting from close range with just over 10 minutes remaining.

Pirlo had been the best player on the pitch all evening, playing a key role in Italy dominating possession and territory right from the first whistle.

However, Aldo Junior Simoncini was in inspired form early on, denying Giacomo Bonaventura from close range, after the Atalanta man had latched onto a knockdown from Luca Antonelli, before pulling off an even better stop to thwart Alberto Aquilani, who must have thought that he had scored after connecting with a Pirlo cross just six yards out.

The Azzurri had the ball in the net moments later, but Christian Maggio was stood in an offside position when he stroked home from two yards out, seconds after Simoncini had pulled off another great stop, this time from Alessandro Diamanti.

Italy had another goal disallowed at the midway point of the first half, with Alberto Gilardino having failed to sufficiently check his run before turning in a low cross from Bologna team-mate Diamanti.

Gilardino did nearly everything right in the 25th minute, demonstrating fine technique in volleying Maggio’s right-wing cross goalwards, but Simoncini saved once again, before gathering the loose ball at the second attempt.

It was clear that a goal was coming, though, and it belatedly arrived 27 minutes in when Poli pounced on a loose ball on the edge of the area, lifting it over a trailing leg before coolly firing through the legs of Simoncini.

Cesare Prandelli’s men doubled their advantage 10 minutes later, Gilardino finally getting the goal he was so desperately craving when he was on hand to follow up, after Aquilani had drawn another wonderful reaction save out of Simoncini.

Italy unsurprisingly rung the changes in the second half, but it did little to upset their rhythm and they went three up courtesy of the most pinpoint 30-yard free kick from Pirlo five minutes after the break.

Mario Balotelli, who had taken over up front from hometown hero Gilardino, nearly repeated the trick on 65 minutes, but his low strike around the San Marino wall came back off the post.

However, Italy would get a fourth on 79 minutes when Aquilani deservedly got his name on the scoresheet by tapping home from barely a yard out, after San Marino’s substitute goalkeeper Federico Valentini had failed to hold another Pirlo set piece.

Balotelli very nearly added a fifth but he fired wide after a powerful surge from deep before then heading an Ignazio Abate cross against the bar.

As it was, Italy had to settle for just the four goals in a routine win that sets them up nicely for next weekend’s trip to Prague.

Fri 31 May, 2013
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