International News - Issue 233

Equatorial Guinea Step Up To Host AFCON 2015
Equatorial Guinea, one of Africa’s smallest countries, is to host the 2015 African Nations Cup finals, the Confederation of African Football said last Friday. The oil-rich Spanish-speaking nation hosted the 2012 finals with neighbours Gabon, but will take on the 16-team tournament on their own from January 17 – February 8, despite the fact they have only two major stadiums in the capital Malabo and Bata. Previous hosts Morocco wanted the tournament postponed over fears of a spread of the Ebola virus, but CAF refused and last Tuesday stripped the north African country of the right to host the event. It appears the new hosts will now be allowed to play in the tournament despite being disqualified from the preliminaries for fielding an illegible player. CAF said the decision on the new hosts was made after a meeting in Malabo between Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang and CAF president Issa Hayatou. “The head of state of Equatorial Guinea agreed to host the competition. As a result, the CAF executive committee confirm that the tournament will go ahead and Equatorial Guinea will compete as the host nation,” a statement from African soccer’s governing body said. The draw for the finals will be in Malabo on December 3. Matches will be held at four venues in Bata, Ebebiyin, Mongomo and the capital Malabo. In 2012, the tournament was hosted at Malabo and Bata. “CAF wishes to express its sincere thanks to the Equatorial Guinean people, its government and particularly president Obiang,” the statement concluded.

Former Brazil striker Romario believes compatriot Neymar has what it takes to make a greater impact on world football than Argentine star Lionel Messi. Neymar, 22, has been donning the national team’s captain’s armband of late, and has been in sensational form for the Selecao, scoring six goals in their last two encounters. And legendary striker Romario, who played for Brazil for an impressive 18 years from 1987 to 2005, believes the Barcelona superstar is destined to over-take his club teammate. "He [Neymar] has everything to be bigger than Messi," the 48-year-old told Revista Trip. Messi is already a part of history but Neymar can make an even bigger impact. Messi may not have another World Cup in which to compete and win, but Neymar has three or four more to contest." Neymar is fast-approaching Romario’s tally of 55 goals for the Selecao, with the youngster having already notched up 42 goals for the senior national side in his 59 appearances. Romario has already conceded defeat to his successor, yet still believes he is the greater player. In relation to goals with the national team, he will go beyond me," the retired forward said. "But Romario is unsurpassable! He will only get more goals. He may reach 1,000 goals but nobody will ever be like Romario!"

Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manual Neuer has taken a slight dig at Ballon d’Or rival Cristiano Ronaldo, saying he does his talking on the pitch and not in underwear. The two are among the shortlist for the top individual honour, with Neuer, a World Cup winner with Germany, in with a big chance given his heroics for club and country. However, Real Madrid star Ronaldo is still seen as the favourite, and Neuer believes that is because very little attention is paid to goalkeepers. "I am an athlete, no ambassador of a brand, besides being the first goalkeeper of Adidas," he told Kicker. “I'm not the sort of person who poses in their underwear. I hate the red carpet, I prefer the green grass. I feel better on the pitch, trying to improve myself. After the games the highlights show mostly the goals, scoring chances, assists. The spectator tends not to remember that as a goalkeeper I make difficult saves at great risk and start moves with my efforts."

Men’s shortlist for the Fifa Ballon d’Or 2014 (in alphabetical order):
Gareth Bale (Wales), Karim Benzema (France), Diego Costa (Spain), Thibaut Courtois (Belgium), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Angel Di Maria (Argentina), Mario Goetze (Germany), Eden Hazard (Belgium), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden), Andres Iniesta (Spain), Toni Kroos (Germany), Philipp Lahm (Germany), Javier Mascherano (Argentina), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Thomas Mueller (Germany), Manuel Neuer (Germany), Neymar (Brazil), Paul Pogba (France), Sergio Ramos (Spain), Arjen Robben (Netherlands), James Rodriguez (Colombia), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany), Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast)

Luka Modric will not play again this year after picking up an abductor injury on international duty. The Real Madrid midfielder played just 28 minutes of Croatia’s 1-1 Euro 2016 qualifying draw with Italy, and is said to be out for up to five weeks. "Modric felt pain in his adductor and will undergo tests in Madrid to determine the extent of the knock. We will know more on Monday or Tuesday," Croatia coach Niko Kovac said.  The 29-year-old former Tottenham Hotspur man has been one of the star performers for Real Madrid this season, making 17 appearances in all competitions and scoring one goal and setting up three more.

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is heading up a panel looking into the possibility of introducing ‘sin-bins’ in football. Ferguson is currently in charge of a UEFA panel of elite coaches, with one of the agendas being a sin-bin similar to what they have in rugby, where a player spends a certain amount of time on the sidelines. “I chair a forum of elite coaches that meet every year and I'm a member of the technical study group of the Champions League and the European Championship so I'm still involved in football at the highest level,” the Scot said. "Right now we're looking at the possibility of introducing sin-bins like they have in rugby – a 10-minute suspension during the match – but we want to be careful that somehow it isn't exploited if it's introduced."

Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez believes club teammate Lionel Messi would find the back of the net even more if he played in England. The Argentine wizard is in his tenth season with the Catalan senior side, having made his debut in 2004, and has amassed 250 goals in 288 La Liga appearances over the last decade. Yet veteran teammate Xavi believes the goal-scoring machine would be even better if he plied his trade in the English Premier League. "I think he'd be even better in the Premier League because it is not so defensive," the 34-year-old told BBC Sport. "When defending against Barcelona, they [English clubs] play on a 1 v 1 basis, defending with passion, a lot of energy. But Leo would find more spaces than in La Liga." The Spanish midfielder, who has been at the Camp Nou for his entire career, then gave his backing to current Manchester United coach Louis van Gaal, who gave him his debut as Barcelona coach in 1998. "I think that Louis van Gaal is an extraordinary coach," Xavi said. "He works very well in the tactical and technical side of the game. He is very capable of succeeding with a great challenge. I think Manchester United should be patient with him so he can achieve the goal with his system and be able to transmit his coaching values."

Gareth Bale's agent claims his client is a better player than Neymar and is on his way to winning the Ballon d’Or one day. The former Tottenham Hotspur star is now playing amongst a host of world-class players at Real Madrid after turning down Manchester United and Barcelona at the start of last season. His agent, Jonathan Barnett, now tells Spanish daily AS that Madrid's directors laughed when he told them Bale can become the best player in the world. "I'm sure he is going to be the best player in the world. He will win the Ballon d’Or. He's 25. I told the president [of Real Madrid] and [marketing director] Jose Angel Sanchez and they laughed. They are not laughing so much now," Barnett said. "I said that Bale was a better player than Neymar and has more of an impact. In Wales there are far fewer people than in Brazil, unfortunately. But in the world I think Gareth is better known and important." Barnett also revealed that United offered Bale more money than Madrid, and continued: "He always wanted to play for Madrid. He could have gone to United and other clubs, but he wanted to go to Madrid. I know that at one time Barcelona were also interested in him, but he said he did not want to go there."

A new survey has revealed that the average Barclays Premier League player earns £43 000 (R743 900) a week – the highest in the game. This means the salary average in the most popular league in the world is £172 000 (R2.9-million) a month, or £2.3-million (R27.6-million) a year. England is the highest earning league in the world followed by the German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A, Spanish La Liga and French Ligue 1. The Daily Mail report reads: "Players in Germany's top division earn £1.46m a year on average, or £28 011 a week, with players in Italy's Serie A next best remunerated on £1.3m a year [£25 263 a week], followed by those in Spain's La Liga on £1.2m a year [£23 327 a week]. France's Ligue 1 follows La Liga, with players averaging £988 000 a year, then the Russian Premier League is next on £902 000 before a drop to the only other league where players earn more than £500 000 a year - Brazil's top division, where average yearly pay is £583 000." Last in the table is the Nigerian Premier League, where players can expect to earn just £130 (R2 250) a week, or £520 (R9 000) a month.

Ex-Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has been appointed as the new boss at his former club Inter Milan in place of Walter Mazzarri. Mancini has been out of a job since leaving Turkish-side Galatasaray in June after just one season at the helm, and has now returned to Inter for a second spell. Inter announced the sacking of Walter Mazzarri after the the former Italian footballer's 17-month stint at the club, leaving them at ninth spot on the Serie A table after 11 matches this season. The appointment of Mancini is backed by his recent achievements with Premier League club Manchester City, who he led to league success in 2012 for the first time in their history, said Inter president Erick Thohir.

France and Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane has called former Brazil striker Ronaldo "probably the best player I ever played with". Ronaldo's name is being overtaken by Cristiano these days, but those who saw him play will agree that he was the best striker, maybe player, of his generation. A series of serious knee injuries hampered him throughout his career, but Ronaldo's legacy lives on. Zidane played with Ronaldo at Real Madrid between 2002 and 2006 during the 'Galacticos' era when the club assembled some of the biggest names in the game in one team. "I've always seen Ronaldo as the best because I played and trained with him," Zidane told "He's probably the best player I ever played with. He did what he wanted with the ball and didn't have any weaknesses. When he decided to express himself with the ball, he did whatever he wanted. Technically, no player has impressed me more than Ronaldo. On a good day, it was impossible to stop him." Ronaldo – who was the all-time leading scorer in World Cups until Miroslav Klose (16) broke his record at the 2014 World Cup – won two Ballons d'Or during his playing career. "There was no system or tactics that could stop him," Zidane explained. "It's like that with a few players and he was one of them - he was fast and skilled. When Ronaldo had the ball, he ran at 2 000 miles per hour. In most cases, you're fast without the ball. He was fast with it."

New Real Sociedad coach David Moyes believes he has similar attributes to Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho as he begins his first managerial stint in Spain. Moyes was announced as the new Sociedad boss this week after replacing Jagoba Arrasate at the helm of the La Liga outfit, who currently lie 15th in the Spanish standings.  At his presentation at his new club in Spain, Moyes was asked whether his coaching style was more like current Bayern coach Pep Guardiola or former Madrid boss Jose Mourinho, to which the Scot replied: "Probably more like Mourinho. I'm tough with the players and I like to work hard. I want to enjoy the challenge of getting towards the top of La Liga. I joined a club similar to Real Sociedad in Everton around 12 years ago and I left them challenging near the top. I hope to do the same here." The former Manchester United boss, who lasted just 10 month in charge at Old Trafford, said he is looking forward to the challenge of coaching abroad for the first time, saying he is relishing the opportunity of managing in “the best league in the world”.  Moyes’ first game in charge will be against 17th-placed Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday, 22 November.

Chelsea have recorded their biggest profit since Roman Abramovich bought the club 11 years ago. The Blues, comfortably leading the English Premier League standings, made a profit of £18.4-million – their second profit in three years. The club also generated a record turnover of £319.8-million for the year ending 30 June, 2014. “The £18.4-million profit follows the £1.4-million generated two years ago with strong revenue increases during the 12-month period contributing to the figures,” a club statement read. The turnover figure demonstrates that business growth continues in seasons without trophy success as well as in years when silverware is won. The new FAPL broadcasting deal contributed significantly as did commercial income. There was a small rise in match-day income but with Stamford Bridge filled to capacity year after year there was no scope for significant financial growth in this area. The latest financial results combined with those from the previous two years mean that for the second monitoring period for FFP we will fall comfortably within the limits set by UEFA.”

Manchester United are in the midst of an injury crisis, with 10 first-team players currently unavailable. The international break has been particularly unkind to Louis van Gaal, with Michael Carrick, David De Gea and Daley Blind joining the wounded within the United squad.  It's not complete doom and gloom, as five of the 10 players injured could return in time to face Arsene Wenger's side at the Emirates on Saturday, but even in a best-case scenario and those players do come back, they are not going to be at full fitness. The 10 players are... David De Gea, Rafael da Silva, Jonny Evans, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Jesse Lingard, Michael Carrick, Phil Jones, Ashley Young and Radamel Falcao.

Arsenal's big-money signing Mesut Ozil has revealed that he still has seven weeks on the sidelines before he can return from injury. The Germany international has been in rehabilitation for a partial ligament tear on his knee and has already been missing for more than a month. Ozil, who has come under criticism from many quarters for not living up to his £45.5-million transfer fee, is enduring his second lengthy injury absence since joining the Gunners at the start of the 2013/14 season. “I have already been out for five weeks and will be out for another seven weeks,” Ozil said at a Laureus event in Germany. That is a really long time but that is the way it is in football sometimes. My head is held high and we look forward.” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, under pressure after his side's inconsistent start to the season, is also missing key French duo Olivier Giroud and Mathieu Debuchy with long-term injuries. Meanwhile, Ozil has reached an out-of-court settlement with his father and former manager Mustapha after he claimed for lost earnings of £494 000 following his dismissal.  Ozil replaced his father with his brother Mutlu as chief executive officer of his marketing company, an off-field issue that has caused the player much stress for the past few months.

World football governing body Fifa have cleared Russia and Qatar from any wrong-doing in their bid to host the next two World Cups, while slating England for their misdemeanours in the bidding process. An independent committee was set-up to investigate the bids of all nine countries attempting to host the 2018 and 2022 events amid allegations of corruption. German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, the chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of FIFA's independent ethics committee, released a 42-page report clearing both host countries of any wrong doing. However, England have been heavily criticised for their misdemeanours in a bid to host the 2018 tournament after “damaging the integrity of the ongoing bidding process”, according to the document. It is believed that England’s bid to secure the votes of Fifa’s executives were controlled by ex-vice-president Jack Warner who violated bidding rules, having secured a job for a family friend while "showering" the England 2018 bid team with "inappropriate requests" which were "often accommodated", thus violating bidding rules.

The Russian Football Union has admitted they cannot afford to pay national head coach Fabio Capello. The experienced tactician, who has been at the helm for the past two years, has not received his salary since June as the national football governing body simply cannot afford his £6.8million (R121 million) annual salary. “I can declare that the money to pay Capello is not there,” Sergei Stepashin, a member of the RFU’s executive committee, said. “Clearly it’s wrong to fail to pay the salary of your national team’s coach, but when they signed the contract they should really have thought about how to fund it. Today we’re still looking for a source of funding.” Other members of the Russian technical team have also not received their pay, leading two members of the coaching staff - Christian Panucci and Massimo Neri – to refuse to travel with the side for their upcoming Euro 2016 qualifier in Austria. Russian politician Oleg Pakholkov took a dig at the former England, Real Madrid, Milan and Juventus coach, saying the Italian manager had only taken the job for the money. “I think Capello knew very well he would achieve nothing with our team, but he simply decided it was a good way to make money, he wanted to hoover up bundles of cash for his retirement,” he claimed. Capello’s contract with the Russians runs out in 2018, when Russia are set to host the next World Cup.