Simeone expects ´beautiful´ Barcelona tie

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone refused to label his team favourites ahead of Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League clash with Barcelona.

Simeone’s men face Barca at Camp Nou in the first leg of the quarter-finals in a meeting between two sides competing in an enthralling La Liga title race.

Atleti lead the way in Spain’s top flight, but are just one point ahead of defending champions Barca – who they will play on the final day of the domestic season – with seven matches remaining.

The duo played out a goalless draw in the league back in January, and Simeone is expecting another tight contest as Atleti aim to reach the semi-finals of Europe’s premier club competition since their run to the 1974 final.

“Barcelona is in top shape. They are used to these kind of matches,” the Argentinian said.

“The match will be very difficult. The two teams meet in a great moment. I expect the best Barcelona, they will want to settle it here, in their home stadium and not wait for the return leg.

“If we say we are favourites, they will say that we are arrogant. If not, they will say that we are underdogs.

“What is certain is that we are going to compete and that it will be a beautiful tie.”

Striker Diego Costa could well be crucial to Atleti’s fortunes in the tie having scored 33 goals in all competitions for the Spanish capital club.

And Simeone believes that Costa is as important for Atleti as superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are for Barcelona and Real Madrid.

He added: “Diego Costa for us, Messi for Barca and Cristiano for Madrid, each in their own way with their style, are highly momentous for the teams.”

Mon 31 March, 2014
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Howard hungry for Arsenal revenge

Tim Howard insists that Everton will seek motivation from their FA Cup exit against Arsenal when they meet in the Premier League on Sunday.

Since Arsenal ran out 4-1 winners in the quarter-final clash earlier this month, Everton have won four league games in a row to move to within four points of Arsene Wenger’s men in the table.

The race for fourth place looks set to go down to the wire and Howard admits that Everton are out for revenge this weekend, although the Merseyside club have not beaten Arsenal since 2007.

The veteran goalkeeper, though, is confident that Roberto Martinez’s side can end that wait for a victory.

“We are looking forward to playing Arsenal,” said the United States international.

“We still have a sour taste in our mouth about what happened at the Emirates in the FA Cup, so we will try and put that right at home.

“We’re not favourites to finish fourth because the gap is still four points.

“It’s in our hands because we have a game in hand and we have to play them, but they still have that four-point lead so it is difficult.”

Mon 31 March, 2014
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International Friendly Preview: United States v Mexico

Jurgen Klinsmann will be without DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco for Wednesday’s international friendly with Mexico.

The pair’s domestic club Puebla have refused a request to release the players for the game in Phoenix.

US head coach Klinsmann is less than impressed, but will not be calling up additional players to his squad, which is now comprised of 20 names.

“We are very disappointed in the decision by Puebla,” he said.

“When the match was scheduled, it was with the spirit that both teams would have access to their domestic-based players for what is a very important game for those competing for spots in the World Cup.

“Both MLS and most clubs in Liga MX honoured that idea. While we understand their position, it’s a huge opportunity lost for DaMarcus and Michael and doesn’t contribute to the continuation of this respected rivalry.”

With Wednesday’s game the first of four friendlies for Klinsmann’s side before their opening World Cup match against Ghana on June 16, the German knows that time is running out for his players to show their worth.

The US, who will be without all of their European-based stars with the exception of Bayern Munich forward Julian Green, were comfortable in qualifying for the tournament in Brazil later this year, finishing top of the final CONCACAF section with seven wins from 10 matches.

Klinsmann, who appointed compatriot Berti Vogts as a special advisor on Sunday, got the better of the Mexicans in qualifying, drawing 0-0 in the Azteca Stadium before goals from Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan earned a 2-0 success at home.

After a mixed qualifying campaign in which Mexico failed to qualify automatically for the finals in Brazil, head coach Jose Manuel de la Torre lost his job, and what followed was a period of serious instability.

Both Luis Fernando Tena and Victor Manuel Vucetich came and went in a short space of time, with current boss Miguel Herrera being appointed on an interim basis for the intercontinental play-off with New Zealand.

Herrera was an immediate success as Mexico thrashed their opponents 9-3 over two legs and he was subsequently given the job on a permanent basis as the Mexican Football Federation looked to belatedly create a feeling of continuity ahead of the World Cup.

Herrera has named an 18-man party for Wednesday’s friendly, comprised entirely of players from Mexico’s domestic league, although Jose Juan Vazquez and Oribe Peralta have withdrawn over respective visa and personal problems.

Mon 31 March, 2014
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We are confident in Prandelli – Abete

Italian Football Federation president Giancarlo Abete has lauded the work done by coach Cesare Prandelli ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Prandelli signed a two-year contract extension last week – a deal that will see him remain in charge of the Azzuri until after the 2016 UEFA European Championships.

And as preparations continue ahead of this year’s showpiece in Brazil, Abete believes Prandelli – who took over after the last World Cup and led Italy to the final of Euro 2012, where they were beaten by Spain – can continue to enjoy success in the top job.

“The renewal of Cesare’s contract is a signal for the future,” Abete said.

“There is great confidence in his work and in his staff.

“We are aware of the work that he has done in recent years – second at Euro 2012, third at the (2013) Confederations Cup.

“He’s also done tremendous stuff in terms of initiatives put in place and positive messages to the players and the media.”

Italy will play Uruguay, England and Costa Rica in Group D at the 2014 World Cup.

Mon 31 March, 2014
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Rummenigge adamant Kroos will stay at Bayern

Bayern Munich chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has insisted that Toni Kroos will remain with the club next season.

Kroos’ contract with the Bundesliga champions expires at the end of next season and has so far not agreed to a new deal.

A potential transfer away from the Allianz Arena has been mooted, with Premier League side Manchester United – who face Bayern in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals first leg on Tuesday – linked with the midfielder.

The 24-year-old has previously hinted that he would be keen to play in England, but Rummenigge has moved to end the speculation over Kroos’ future.

“Toni Kroos is sure to play in a Bayern Munich shirt next year as well,” Rummenigge said ahead of Bayern’s clash at Old Trafford.

Kroos has established himself as a regular with Bayern and was a key part of the side that won the Bundesliga, Champions League and DFB-Pokal last season.

The Germany international has made 41 appearances in all competitions for Bayern this term, scoring three goals.

Mon 31 March, 2014
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Poyet predicts Uruguay success

Uruguay will cause several problems for their opponents at the upcoming FIFA World Cup, according to former midfielder Gus Poyet.

Poyet – who is now the manager of Premier League outfit Sunderland – surprisingly only won 26 caps for his country despite an excellent career at club level.

He never played for Uruguay at a World Cup but is confident the South American nation can repeat their feats from the 2010 event.

Uruguay, who only qualified for this year’s World Cup after beating Jordan in a two-legged play-off, finished fourth in South Africa before going on to win the 2011 Copa America, and Poyet believes the unity of the squad will come to the fore when spending an extended period of time together.

“I think Uruguay is a special team (when) we get together,” Poyet told Radio Yorkshire.

“I think before these kinds of competitions – World Cup, Copa America, Confederations Cup – the team gets together and the group really click together and we become very difficult to play against.

“Sometimes when it’s just international games and you get together one or two days, I don’t think the team performs the same way.

“So it’s going to be important how the players, they finish their seasons and they get together and spend those three or four weeks (together) before the World Cup.

“And of course, having the main players available, Luis Suarez, (Edinson) Cavani even Diego Forlan (who) is going to be there.

“To be in that possibility to go and create something is special…we will be a difficult team to play against.

“Having those players up front, you will always have a chance to do well.”

Poyet singled out Suarez as the nation’s main man with the forward set to enter the tournament on the back of an outstanding Premier League campaign.

Suarez has scored 29 goals in 27 league appearances for Liverpool this season and looks set to play a starring role at the World Cup.

“He’s a player that you don’t want to play against – he’s a player you want to play with,” the Sunderland boss added.

“He’s a player that if you want to buy one player now in England, most of the teams…you would probably want to buy him because you know that he is going to give you something extra that you cannot get now.

Uruguay will face Costa Rica, England and Italy in Group D in Brazil.

Mon 31 March, 2014
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UEFA Champions League Preview: Paris Saint-Germain v Chelsea

Jose Mourinho’s first European game as Chelsea boss was against Paris Saint-Germain and he will be hoping for the same outcome on Wednesday.

The Portuguese masterminded a 3-0 victory at Parc des Princes in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League in September 2004, and the two clubs then played out a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge just over two months later.

However, the prospect of facing PSG in the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier club competition will be much more daunting for Mourinho when the sides renew their rivalry a decade on in Paris this week.

Laurent Blanc’s side look set to retain their Ligue 1 title, as they hold a seven-point lead over Monaco with seven games remaining, and come into the game on the back of a nine-match winning streak in all competitions.

Big-spending PSG have also lost just one of their last 38 home games in all competitions, and possess two of the most dangerous strikers in world football in Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who played under Mourinho at Inter, and Uruguay star Edinson Cavani.

Blanc guided the Parisian outfit to the quarter-finals of the competition last season, but agonisingly failed to secure a place in the last four as they lost on away goals to Barcelona.

They look more than capable of making up for that disappointment this time around, though, as was evident in a 6-1 aggregate win over Bayer Leverkusen in the round of 16.

While PSG are riding on the crest of a wave, Chelsea head into the tie on the back of a shock 1-0 Premier League defeat at Crystal Palace, which led to Mourinho writing off their domestic title hopes.

The former Real Madrid coach has maintained throughout the season that his side are a work in progress in his first campaign back in England, but they are only two points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool as well as still being in the hunt to win the Champions League.

The London club beat Galatasaray 2-0 in the second leg of their round-of-16 tie to progress 3-1 on aggregate, but facing the French champions will be a different proposition altogether.

Captain John Terry put Chelsea in front when they won at PSG in 2004, but that must seem a distant memory as he attempts to banish the memory of a headed own-goal that proved costly at Palace at the weekend.

Mourinho, who is attempting to become the first manager to win the Champions League with three different clubs, criticised the mentality of some of his players after the Palace defeat and looks set to make changes.

Ramires has been serving a domestic suspension, but is set to return in Paris, although it remains to be seen if Ashley Cole (knee) will be back in the squad.

Striker Samuel Eto’o (hamstring) is doubtful once again, while Marco Van Ginkel (knee) is definitely out.

Blanc, meanwhile, will be without Netherlands right-back Gregory van der Wiel (knee) and also has a concern over forward Jeremy Menez (illness).

Mon 31 March, 2014
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Giggs: United are not underdogs

Ryan Giggs has rejected claims Manchester United are underdogs for their UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg with Bayern Munich.

After an inconsistent season, the challenge ahead of United is a daunting one given reigning European and German champions Bayern’s stunning form this season, but player-coach Giggs does not feel Pep Guardiola’s side are necessarily favourites for Tuesday’s clash at Old Trafford.

Premier League champions United have lost seven games at home in all competitions this term, while Bayern have lost just once in 41 outings.

However, Giggs was bullish about the Old Trafford outfit’s prospects of springing a surprise.

“We don’t see ourselves as underdogs,” said the Welshman on Monday. “We see ourselves as Manchester United, playing at home in the Champions League.

“These are two huge clubs with two great histories, two teams who have played football the right way.”

Giggs was also quick to deny reports his rapport with manager David Moyes was beginning to feel the strain over his lack of first-team action, and insisted he was prepared to wait for his opportunity.

“The relationship is good, there is no problem with the manager,” he added. “I know a lot of stuff has been said (in the media) but I don’t know where it has come from.

“Of course, as a player you want to play all the time but I know I’m not going to play every game. The last time I played (against Olympiacos) was my first start in six or seven weeks but we have a lot of players to choose from.

“You’ve seen from the performance against Olympiacos that I’m always ready to play. That’s what you have to do, not sulk because you’re not playing.

“You’ve got to be ready to play for the team and I was.”

Mon 31 March, 2014
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Menez expecting to leave PSG

Paris Saint-Germain winger Jeremy Menez expects to leave the Ligue 1 leaders after failing to agree terms for a contract extension.

Menez joined PSG from Roma in July 2011 and scored the goal that secured the league title for the capital club in last season’s 1-0 win at Lyon in May 2013.

However, the France international has found opportunities limited under coach Laurent Blanc in 2013-14, making just nine starts in all competitions.

Juventus, Liverpool and Arsenal have all been linked with a move for Menez, whose contract with PSG expires in June.

And the former Monaco and Sochaux man, who underwent back surgery before the start of the season, admitted that he is unlikely to remain at the Parc des Princes beyond this term.

“I’m at the end of my contract, and we haven’t been able to reach an agreement. So, it’s going to be difficult to stay,” Menez told Canal+.

“For my good, I have to get back onto the pitch, enjoy myself and get my confidence back.

“I still have objectives to achieve. For that, I think I’m going to have to leave.

“My objective will be Euro 2016. It’s a little complicated. I have never found myself in a situation like this. My season started badly, I had an operation. After that, there were games in which I should have played but didn’t.

“That’s due to things other than football, but that’s part of it. You have to deal with it, and I am digging in. There are two months left. We’ll see after that.”

Mon 31 March, 2014
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Kehl: Dortmund facing different Real

Sebastian Kehl accepts Borussia Dortmund will be underdogs against Real Madrid, despite beating them in the UEFA Champions League last season.

Dortmund overcame Real 4-3 on aggregate to secure a place in the 2012-13 final, with a 4-1 first-leg triumph at Signal Iduna Park arguably the highlight of a marvellous European campaign for Jurgen Klopp’s men.

Captain Kehl and his team-mates ultimately suffered disappointment in the Wembley showpiece, losing 2-1 to German rivals Bayern Munich, who have already clinched this year’s Bundesliga title.

Klopp’s side are in contention to make another run towards the latter stages of the competition and will renew acquaintances with Real in the quarter-final first leg at the Bernabeu on Tuesday.

The Spanish side crushed Dortmund’s neighbours Schalke 9-2 on aggregate in the last 16 and Dortmund head into the game without striker Robert Lewandowski – scorer of all four goals in last term’s first-leg success against Real.

And Kehl knows that Real will present a different proposition this time around.

“We’re in an excellent condition physically, but of course we know that Real are not the same side we faced last year,” Kehl told Kicker.

“They are the absolute favourites, together with Bayern Munich, to win the Champions League.

“But we showed last year that we can beat them and they won’t have forgotten that.”

Dortmund can at best achieve a second-placed finish in Germany’s top flight, but can reach the final of the DFB-Pokal by overcoming Wolfsburg in the last four in mid-April.

Kehl insists that meeting those targets takes precedence over Dortmund’s exploits in the Champions League.

“Then we would have reached all of our goals (by finish second and reaching the DFB-Pokal final),” Kehl added.

“We have already gone as far as we planned in the Champions League, and all that comes next is a bonus.”

Mon 31 March, 2014
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