International News - Issue 223

Ronaldo Destined To return To Manchester United
Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo has revealed that Manchester United are “in my heart” and will not rule out a possible move back to Old Trafford in future. The Portuguese captain enjoyed a successful spell with the Red Devils between 2003 and 2009, scoring 117 goals in 290 matches as he won the FA Cup, three Premier League titles as well as the 2007/08 UEFA Champions League crown. And the 29-year-old insists he still has strong affection for his previous club, who he secretly hopes he may return to one day. "I love Manchester United,” the World and European Player of the Year told the Daily Mail. “Everyone knows that - I have said it many times. Manchester United are in my heart. I left many good friends there, the supporters are amazing and I wish I can come back one day. I am happy here at Real Madrid and have four more years, but in the future you never know because they treated me unbelievably at United. I really did love being at Manchester United." United have endured an inconsistent start to the new season, yet Ronaldo is confident Louis van Gaal will get the best out of his charges, especially his new recruits. "Believe me, they will be a good team again, I’m sure of it,” he said. “They are a great club. This sort of blip can happen. Bad moments and good moments. Manchester are passing through a bad moment.

Title holders Spain and England boosted morale after their World Cup meltdowns when they started Euro 2016 qualifying with victories on Monday. Valencia forward Paco Alcacer scored Spain's second on his debut and set up Sergio Busquets for the 3-1 scoreline, with Sergio Ramos, David Silva and Pedro adding the other goals in a big 5-1 win over Macedonia in Group C. Spain went out in the group stage at the recent World Cup in Brazil as holders, and lost a friendly in France last week, but got back on track in Valencia. England grabbed an important 2-0 win in their Group E opener in Switzerland from Danny Welbeck's double. A total 23 teams will qualify from the nine groups, and playoffs, to join directly entered hosts France for the 2016 edition which is the first with 24 teams instead of 16.

Ivory Coast defender Didier Zokora announced on Monday in an interview with the national press that he is calling time on his international career. The 33-year-old, who plays for Turkish club Akhisarspor, retires after winning 117 caps with the national side. "After giving 15 years of my life with six CAN (African Cup of Nations) appearances and three World Cups, I think you have to know when to stop," he said. "I think I've given a lot to my country. Everything comes to an end, and you have to know when to go. It's my decision," he continued. "I've informed FIF (Ivorian Football Federation) bosses of my decision. And it's true they tried to change my mind. But I no longer have the desire and the same motivation. It's time to leave the way open to young players." Zokora made his international debut in 2000 and played his final match for the Elephants at the World Cup on June 19 in a 2-1 defeat to Colombia. He started his club career at ASEC Mimosas in Abidjan, before heading for Europe where he played in Belgium with Genk (2000-2004), French side Saint-Etienne (2004-2006), England's Tottenham (2006-2009) and Spanish outfit Sevilla (2009-2011) before heading to Turkey and Trabzonspor (2011-2014) followed by Akhisarspor. He becomes the second Ivorian stalwart to retire in recent weeks after emblematic captain Didier Drogba who called time on his career last month.

New Chelsea striker Loic Remy has warned Diego Costa that he will not settle for a spot on the bench. The Frenchman joined the Blues from QPR on the final day of the transfer window after Fernando Torres left for AC Milan, but he insists he will not be happy with a role as a substitute.  “I know I won’t start out as first-choice striker at Chelsea, but nothing is set in stone. I have my aims,” he told The Mirror. "I didn’t sign for them in order to sit on the bench. I will try to improve as much as I can alongside their great players, and the rest will happen naturally." Costa, who arrived in the summer from Atletico Madrid, has got off to a flyer, scoring four goals in his first three League matches.

Fifa has revived the possibility of staging the 2022 World Cup in January and February after president Sepp Blatter previously ruled out the idea last year. Three possible time slots were discussed for the tournament as a Fifa task force, set up specifically to decide once and for all when the finals should take place, met for the first time at the headquarters of world soccer's governing body on Monday. Qatar was awarded the World Cup on the widely held understanding that it would be staged in the summer despite the searing heat in the country. Although Qatar has insisted that a summer World Cup is viable thanks to cooling technologies it is developing for stadiums, training areas and fan zones, there is still widespread concern over the health of the players and visiting supporters. "Discussions centred around the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar, and participants were presented with information on the implications of staging the event in winter as opposed to summer, as proposed by the Fifa executive committee," Fifa said in a statement. Fifa secretary general Jerome Valcke clarified that, based on the hosting agreement, the Fifa World Cup must be held in 2022. "The options of January/February 2022 and November/December 2022 were put forward as alternatives to June/July 2022, and initial feedback received." Last November, Blatter categorically ruled out a winter World Cup that could clash with the Winter Olympics. "The Fifa World Cup can only be played in November/December 2022, no way it's going to take place in January/February," he told a news conference in Abu Dhabi at the time. "We have to see how we can have the Fifa World Cup played in winter, but only Nov/Dec are possible."


The International Olympic Committee, said on Monday it had received assurances from Blatter the 2022 World Cup would not clash with the winter Olympics, the world's biggest winter sports event.  "It is in the interest of both organisations (Fifa and the IOC) that there is no clash between our calendars," said IOC spokesman Mark Adams. "We have received assurances from President Blatter that this will not be the case. Monday's meeting included representatives from European clubs, leagues and the world players' union FIFPro as well as national association representatives. "This is the first meeting and there will be future meetings on this matter," said Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, who chaired the meeting. "As the Fifa executive committee has emphasised, the consultation process should not be rushed but instead be given the necessary time to consider all of the elements relevant for a decision. We have made progress at today's meeting and will continue to work together to find the best solution for football." However, Blatter, speaking in a taped interview shown to the Soccerex convention in Manchester, seemed to rule out a summer World Cup, even though it was put to the task force. "We have already said we cannot play in summer in this heat in Qatar," he said. "We have to play in winter. Now we are making this consultation but it is the first official one, so far. So far the Fifa secretary Jerome Valcke has made some contact by telephone with the different leagues and now we will bring them together and identify what is the best possible moment to play in Qatar. But that decision is not taken. Definitely not."

Fenerbahce have reportedly asked former Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt to try and convince compatriot Robin van Persie to leave Manchester United for the Turkish giants in January. According to Turkish publication Hurriyet, Fenerbahce are looking to bolster their squad with up to four players during the winter transfer window, and believe they may be able to land Van Persie following the arrival of Radamel Falcao at Old Trafford recently. The paper claims that Van Persie is the club’s top transfer priority, and have asked Kuyt to talk to the Netherlands striker about a switch to Turkey. Fenerbahce president, Aziz Yildirim, told Hurriyet: “This team is good enough for now, but if it is necessary, we can pick up three or four players in January.” United, however, are unlikely to sell Van Persie in the coming months despite the Red Devils having signed Monaco striker Falcao on loan for the coming season. It is thought that United boss Louis van Gaal is keen to keep Van Persie at the club after previously making the 31-year-old captain of the Dutch national team for their World Cup campaign in Brazil earlier this summer.

Borussia Dortmund have confirmed German attacker Marco Reus will be sidelined for about a month with an ankle injury. The 25-year-old sustained the knock in his country's 2-1 victory over Scotland in a Euro 2016 qualifier on Sunday night. Reus missed the World Cup with a serious ankle complaint but Dortmund have indicated the fresh blow is less severe. Reus now faces a race to be fit for the world champions' next qualifying ties against Poland and the Republic of Ireland in mid-October.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter has confirmed he will run for a fifth term in next year's elections. The Swiss, who has headed the footballing body since 1998, is expected to gain re-election following Uefa chief Michel Platini's decision not to stand. "I would make an official declaration definitely in September now when we have the executive committee," Blatter told the Soccerex convention by way of video interview. "I will inform the executive committee. It’s a question of respect also to say then to the football family, ‘Yes I will be ready. I will be a candidate.’" He continued: "You see a mission is never finished, and my mission is not finished. And I have told the Fifa Congress, I have told the congresses of the confederations. Then I got through the last congress in Sao Paulo not only the impression but the support of the majority, a huge majority of national associations asking ‘Please go on, be our president also in future.’" Blatter will formalise his candidacy when the Fifa executive committee meets in Zurich on September 25-26. Platini announced last month he would not pursue the Fifa presidency contrary to earlier speculation he may challenge Blatter for the top administrative job.

Italian veteran Andrea Pirlo has said he will continue to make himself available for the Italian national team. Pirlo, who has amassed 111 caps for the Azzurri since his debut in September 2002, admitted he was considering international retirement, yet was swayed by new Italy boss and his former Juventus mentor Antonio Conte. "I have been talking with (new Italy coach Antonio) Conte who asked me if I was ready to play again for the Azzurri and I told him that I was," the Juventus midfielder told Gazzetta TV. "It was a difficult decision to take. I had wanted to stop playing for the national side but he (Conte) took over and he asked me to lend a hand. I am happy to do that and we are hopeful we can achieve great things together."  Conte, who took over from Cesare Prandelli after Italy’s poor showing at the World Cup, began his tenure at the helm with a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in an international friendly last Thursday evening, a performance which left Pirlo impressed. “I liked the look of the team,” the 35-year-old said. “You can already see the work of the tactician.” Pirlo is currently out with a hip injury.

Rio Ferdinand believes Manchester United have made a huge mistake in selling Danny Welbeck to Arsenal. The English striker made the move on transfer deadline day following the arrival of Radamel Falcao at Old Trafford. But Ferdinand, who also departed United during the summer, believes the Red Devils have made a huge mistake. “I cannot believe United let Danny go, especially to Arsenal," he told The Sun. “That seems mad to me. He's a real threat to defenders and, if Arsenal use him right, he will be very dangerous for them. Danny has everything to be a top player. English football has yet to see what he can really do because he hasn't been getting a run of games. I think he felt frustrated at United because, even if he did well, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney would be ahead of him. At Arsenal, he will be the main man and I have no doubt he will flourish.”

Bayern Munich attacker Xherdan Shaqiri has confirmed Liverpool made a bid for him before the World Cup. The Switzerland playmaker, however, says he is considering extending his stay with the Bavarians despite playing second fiddle to Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery at the Allianz Arena. "Liverpool made a bid for me before the World Cup but Bayern put their foot down and told me: 'We're not going to sell you'," Shaqiri told the press ahead of his country's Euro 2016 qualifying opener against England on Monday. “My contract runs until 2016 and I could possibly extend it. I will consider my decision during the winter break."

Brazilian club Gremio have been banned from the country’s main Cup competition, the Copa do Brasil, as punishment for racist abuse by their fans in a landmark decision in world football. The club was 2-0 down in their first-leg Round of 16 encounter against Santos, when the home fans began racially abusing their opponent’s black goalkeeper Aranha, with live television cameras depicting them shouting the word “monkey” to the player. A five-member disciplinary commission of the Superior Court of Sporting Justice - Brazil’s highest sports tribunal – has since made the decision to ban the club from the rest of the competition, as well as issue the club with a fine of 50,000 reais (R237 000). The commission has also ruled that the Gremio fans found guilty of the racial slurs will be banned from attending football matches in Brazil for the next 720 days. "This is a landmark ruling," said the commission head Fabricio Dazzi. Gremio, coached by former Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, is one of the most successful clubs in Brazil, having won the domestic league twice and the Brazil Cup on four different occasions.

Arsenal have a new official speed king – and it’s not £35million Alexis Sanchez... Nor has Theo Walcott regained the crown he lost in the summer to young right-back Hector Bellerin. Instead, 18-year-old striker Chuba Akpom has claimed the title of the Gunners’ fastest ever player after eating up 10 metres in just 1.56 seconds in training. So, should speedy Akpom (who scored 15 times in his 23 academy appearances last season) be rewarded with a chance in the first-team?

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge took to social media to play down concerns about his injury on Monday afternoon. The England striker missed the Euro 2016 qualifier in Switzerland after picking up a thigh problem in training on Friday following the friendly win over Norway 48 hours earlier. Sturridge has been sent for more scans to assess the full extent of the damage, but is a major doubt for Saturday's Premier League clash with Aston Villa. However, the former Manchester City frontman has vowed to return to action as soon as possible. 'Be back soon,' the 25-year-old posted on his official Instagram account. Liverpool kick off their Champions League campaign against Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets Razgrad at Anfield next Tuesday.