Messi: Joining Barcelona not an easy decision

25 May 2016 01:34

While he has gone on to sweep all team and individual honours at Barcelona, Lionel Messi admitted it was a difficult decision leaving his native Argentina for Camp Nou.

Messi and his family relocated to Barcelona at the age of 13, having spent his youth career with Newell’s Old Boys.

The rest is now history, with 28 trophies to Messi’s name, including eight La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns, not to mention the five Ballon d’Or awards.

But despite Barca’s global stature, the 28-year-old revealed it was not easy uprooting himself from South America to Catalonia.

“It was a complicated time,” Messi told Sports Illustrated, recalling a time when Barca had initially been reluctant to sign the teenager, whose family had grown impatient following a trial.

“On one hand it was nice, because to come and play in Barcelona was something spectacular.

“On the other hand it was difficult, because I left everything behind. I left my friends, part of my family, my childhood.

“Arriving in a country where I had nothing, starting practically from zero was very difficult.”

Messi, who will represent Argentina at next month’s Copa America Centenario in the United States, added: “One day I would like to go back to Argentina because I left my country at such a young age.

“I couldn’t enjoy Rosario, my city, my people that much.”

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AFC Champions League Review: Jeonbuk, Shanghai SIPG progress

24 May 2016 20:03

Jeonbuk Motors progressed to the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League following a 2-1 second-leg win and 3-2 aggregate victory over Melbourne Victory.

Brazilian attacker Leonardo gifted Jeonbuk the lead at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium in the 29th minute, before netting his second goal of the game with 20 minutes left.

Besart Berisha pulled one back for Melbourne late on after some good work from Jai Ingham, but there was not enough time left for the visitors to level as they crashed out of the competition in the round of 16.

Shanghai SIPG booked their place in the last eight in dramatic fashion as they defeated Tokyo on away goals.

Sven-Goran Eriksson’s men lost the first leg 2-1, but did just enough in the return at Shanghai Stadium to advance, recording a 1-0 win courtesy of a 90th-minute goal from Wu Lei.

Lokomotiv Tashkent beat Al Hilal 2-1 to reach the quarter-finals after their goalless draw in the first leg.

Islom Tuhtahujaev opened the scoring halfway through the first half, with Sherzod Fayziev doubling the hosts’ lead after the break.

Mohammad Al Shalhoub pulled one back when he converted a penalty late on, but it was too little, too late.

Al Nasr are also through, despite a 3-1 away loss against Tractor Sazi, having won the first leg 4-1.

Salem Saleh opened the scoring after 16 minutes to give his side a comfortable 5-1 lead on aggregate.

Tractor Sazi refused to give up, though, and a brace from Farzad Hatami and a Mohammad Iranpourian effort got them right back in the tie with 17 minutes to play. 

But they were unable to complete their comeback as Al Nasr held firm in the closing stages of the game to progress. 

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David Silva praises Iniesta´s Copa del Rey heroics

24 May 2016 14:26

Andres Iniesta’s man-of-the-match performance in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey win on Sunday night was news to many, but not to his national compatriot David Silva.

The 32-year-old was at the heart of Barca’s impressive display at Vicente Calderon, Luis Enrique’s side running out 2-0 winners after extra time against Sevilla.

Speaking in Madrid ahead of Spain’s Euro 2016 preparations, Silva led the praise for Iniesta, but not simply on the basis of his performance at the Vicente Calderon.

“For us, it’s not news that Andres played like he did. We’re no more optimistic because of his performance against Sevilla,” said Silva.

“We’re always aware of the quality he has, and we’d be just as optimistic if he hadn’t have performed at such a level.”

Iniesta’s performance in the Spanish capital helped Barcelona complete the double, having picked up the Liga title on the previous weekend.

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Van Gaal didn´t deserve United sacking

24 May 2016 06:48

Louis van Gaal did not deserve to be sacked by Manchester United, according to Netherlands coach Danny Blind.

Van Gaal was officially let go by United on Monday, two days after guiding the club to a record 12th FA Cup crown with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace. 

The Dutchman lasted just under two years in the role, and is expected to be replaced by former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho in the coming days. 

However, Blind – father of United defender Daley – believes the Premier League club were wrong to sack Van Gaal a year before his contract was due to expire. 

“I’m closer to the situation than many other people,” Blind told reporters at the Netherlands training camp in Portugal. 

“And I can tell you that his departure came as a surprise. I feel for him. He doesn’t deserve this.

“I’ve worked with him for so many years. I played under him for years at Ajax, I was his captain, I was his assistant at the last World Cup. He’s a great coach.

“We all know that, as a manager, you will face the sack at some stage in your career. It happens to every manager.

“In this case I find it very disappointing. I know in which way this sacking was done and it’s not the way it should go.”

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Silva plays down injury worries ahead of Euro 2016

24 May 2016 02:08

Spain attacker David Silva insists he is over his injury worries and remains hopeful about his chances of being fit for his nation’s Euro 2016 opener.

Vicente del Bosque’s men are aiming for a third straight European Championship and open their tournament against the Czech Republic on June 13.

Silva was limited to 24 Premier League appearances for Manchester City this season due to ankle and hamstring injuries.

But the 30-year-old said he was nearing full fitness and eyeing Spain’s Group D opener.

“I’m fine,” Silva said, via Marca.

“I hope to reach the first game. I’m not sure. The feelings I have are good.”

Silva is a veteran of 96 international caps for Spain and understands why his nation are favourites to win a fourth European title.

He is also eyeing a century of caps, saying: “I am thrilled to be close to 100. I’m on 96.

“Reaching that figure would be very nice.”

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FIFA sacks deputy secretary general Kattner

23 May 2016 20:14

Deputy secretary general Markus Kattner has been sacked by FIFA following “breaches of his fiduciary responsibilities”.

The German has been reported to have been aware of the “disloyal payment” made by then-president Sepp Blatter to Michel Platini in 2011 which resulted in the pair being banned from all football-related activity for six years – the Frenchman’s suspension has since been reduced to four following an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Kattner joined FIFA as the finance director in 2003 and had been serving as acting secretary general since January after Jerome Valcke was hit with a 12-year ban after FIFA’s Ethics Committee found him guilty of numerous acts of misconduct.

However, Kattner has now been dismissed by world football’s governing body after an internal investigation uncovered wrongdoing on his part.

“FIFA’s deputy secretary general Markus Kattner has been dismissed from his position effective immediately,” an official statement read.

“FIFA’s internal investigation uncovered breaches of his fiduciary responsibilities in connection with his employment contract.”

Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura was announced as the next secretary general at the 66th FIFA Congress this month, assuming the role in June.

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Gotze talk intensifies as Bayern Munich forward leaves agent

23 May 2016 14:31

Speculation over the future of Mario Gotze is set to intensify after the agent of the Bayern Munich forward announced they had ended their agreement.

The 23-year-old has been heavily linked with a move away from the Allianz Arena after failing to establish himself in Pep Guardiola’s regular first-team plans since joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2013.

Reports in England have claimed that Gotze would be keen to reunite with former boss Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, while a return to Dortmund has also been mooted.

And talk of the World Cup-winner’s next move is likely to increase following the news that he has left agent Volker Struth, whose company SportsTotal represent a number of Germany and Bundesliga stars, including Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos and Dortmund forward Marco Reus.

“After extensive deliberations and discussions in the past few weeks, we have together decided to terminate the cooperation,” a statement released on Monday read. “We met for a joint discussion and have parted by mutual agreement.

“I thank him for his many years of trust and wish him success in the future.”

Gotze himself added: “I thank SportsTotal for a very good cooperation, with many highlights and some great memories that have shaped my career decisively.”

Gotze, whose season has been blighted by injury problems, was forced to miss the DFB-Pokal final win over Dortmund on Saturday due to a broken rib.

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