International News - Issue 238

Real Madrid Crowned Club World Champions
Real Madrid have added yet another trophy to their collection in the form of the FIFA Club World Cup. Los Blancos cruised to a 2-0 win over Argentine side San Lorenzo, with Sergio Ramos heading in a first half opener, before Gareth Bale got the second on 51 minutes – thanks to some horror goalkeeping. It was also Real Madrid’s 22nd consecutive victory. In the third-placed play-off, South African Ryan de Vries scored for Auckland City as they beat Cruz Azul 4-2 on penalties following a 1-1 draw.

Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp waved goodbye to 2014 with yet another defeat, and after slammed his team for being “complete idiots”. Last season’s Bundesliga runner-up suffered their tenth defeat of the season – against Werder Bremen – to end the year second-from-last. Klopp lashed out afterwards, promising the club’s fans that they will spend the festive season break doing their best to “repair what we have done”.  “The best news today is that football is over for 2014. Any criticism that we receive now is justified. We are standing here like complete idiots and it's completely our own fault. We now have three weeks of preparation ahead of us. Then we will repair what we've done."

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart has penned a new deal with the Premier League big-spenders, which will see him remain at the Etihad until 2019. England’s number one agreed a deal worth £120,000 (R2,2 million)-a-week with the reigning English champions, with teammate James Milner also set for a contract extension soon. Hart was delighted at signing a long-term deal with the club, insisting he always wanted to stay with the Citizens.

French defender Eric Abidal has announced his retirement from football with immediate effect. The 35-year-old Olympiakos defender, whose current contract with the Greek club runs until June 2016, called a press conference on Friday to make his announcement, citing “personal reasons”. The French centre-back had previously spent six years at Spanish giants Barcelona, before undergoing a liver transplant in 2012. He then spent a year at French club Monaco, before joining Olympiakos at the start of this season, featuring inconsistently in their League campaign, yet playing in all six Champions League fixtures as the Greeks finished third in their group. Abidal added that he may join his former Spanish club in a coaching role, but is yet to confirm the position. "I have an offer from Barcelona," he added. "But I will make a decision later. I first want to rest and spend time with my family." The veteran earlier this year announced his retirement from international football, having earned 68 caps for France since his debut in August 2004.

Reigning La Liga champions Atletico Madrid will face city rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Cup following their 5-2 aggregate win over L’Hospitalet. Diego Simeone’s men were 3-0 winners in the first leg, yet were held to a disappointing 2-2 at home on Thursday night against their third-tier opposition. The win sees Atletico paired with fellow giants Real Madrid in the Last 16 of the competition. Spanish heavyweights Barcelona have been paired with top-tier rivals Elche, who pipped Real Valladolid 1-0 on aggregate, in their Last 16 clash next year.

Angel Di Maria has beaten compatriot Lionel Messi to the 2014 Argentina Player of the Year award. The 26-year-old enjoyed a fantastic season last campaign with Real Madrid, helping them win their tenth European Cup crown, as well as the Copa del Rey and Uefa Super Cup. The Argentine speedster then helped his country to the runners-up spot at this year’s Fifa World Cup, before becoming the most expensive signing in British history when he joined Premier League club Manchester United for 59.7 million (R1 billion) pounds. Despite various injury set-backs, Di Maria has been in fine form for the Red Devils thus far, scoring three goals and contributing six assists in his 11 matches under Louis van Gaal. Di Maria’s victory means it is the first time since 2006 that fellow Argentine Lionel Messi fails to win the prized Olimpia de Plata award, despite being voted the World Cup’s best player and scoring 56 goals for club and country so far this year. Meanwhile, Lucas Pratto – a striker for local club Velez Sarsfield who has already scored 11 goals in 17 appearances this season - won the award for the best player in Argentina's top flight.

Spanish midfield maestro Xavi Hernandez has admitted his body cannot handle the busy club football schedule, hinting at hanging up his boots soon. The 34-year-old is in his 17th season with La Liga club Barcelona, and admits that the hectic football calendar is taking its toll on his body. "I have little football left, it is clear,” he said. “I can feel it in my body, I find it harder to recover, I meter out my effort, I don’t have the spark to play every three days. I can feel it.” The talented midfielder, who has 81 and assisted 155 goals in 695 matches with the Catalans, singled out various players who play in the mould of his footballing style. "If you look at Barça, there are those who can make a career for 10 years: [Sergio] Busquets, Sergi Samper, [Andres] Iniesta, Rafinha,” he said. "It would be difficult for Thiago [Alcantara] to make a comeback. It is always difficult returning after you have left the club. But there is an extraordinary level and if you look at the Spanish national team, the quality has grown to an incredible level." Xavi also hinted at a possible coaching role at the club, saying he wishes to remain at his boyhood club. “I want to remain in this house in whatever capacity that is,” he said.

Liverpool will take on English Premier League leaders Chelsea in the semi-finals of the League Cup, to be played early next year. The Reds overcame Tokelo Rantie’s Bournemouth 3-1 on Wednesday night to book a place in the Last four of the competition thanks to a brace from Raheem Sterling and another from Lazar Markovic. Rantie did not feature for the Championship side due to injury. Chelsea has booked their semi-final berth a day earlier, having beaten Derby County 3-1 after goals from Eden Hazard, Felipe Luis and Andre Schurrle put the Premier League leaders firmly in control of the tie. Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers refused to show any concern at being drawn with the Premier League’s in-form team. "It didn't matter who we got in the draw, it was just important to get there,” he said. "To win this competition you have to win games against big sides." In the second semi-final, Tottenham Hotspur, who trounced Newcastle 4-0 in their quarter-final, will face the only non-Premier League side left in the competition, Sheffield United, in their Cup clash. Sheffield overcame Southampton 1-0 in their match-up on Tuesday night, having already beaten Premier League side West Ham on their way to the last four of the tournament. The first legs of the semi-finals are scheduled for 19 January and the return legs a week later on 26 January, with the Final to be played on 1 March 2015.

Michael Garcia, the lawyer who led the investigation into the awarding of the controversial 2018 and 22 World Cups, has quit his role on Fifa’s Ethics Committee, citing a ‘lack of confidence’. The American was appointed in 2012 to probe the bidding contests as FIFA looked to address some of the countless allegations thrown their way. But on Wednesday he called it quits, saying he had lost faith in his colleague, German judge Joachim Eckert, whose 42-page report published by Fifa last month cleared them of any wrongdoing. Garcia said today: “[The] Eckert Decision made me lose confidence in the independence of the adjudicatory chamber, [but] it is the lack of leadership on these issues within Fifa that leads me to conclude that my role in this process is at an end. No independent governance committee, investigator, or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organisation.” Garcia added: “It now appears that, at least for the foreseeable future, the Eckert Decision will stand as the final word on the 2018/2022 Fifa World Cup bidding process.”
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal was surprised to be named Dutch Coach of the Year based on the country's third-placed finish at the World Cup. Van Gaal supervised Holland's run to the semi-finals in Brazil, with his side notably walloping Spain 5-1 in the group stages before suffering their only defeat on penalties to Argentina. The Netherlands were also named Team of the Year at a function in Amsterdam on Tuesday night, while Bayern Munich attacker Arjen Robben - who netted his 100th goal for the Bavarians on Sunday - became the first footballer to be named the Sportsman of the Year since Ruud Gullit in 1987. United striker Robin van Persie won the Dutch Sports Moment of the Year award for his stunning diving header against La Roja at Fifa's showpiece event. "What do you say? I'm standing here with mixed feelings," said Van Gaal, who took charge of the Red Devils in July. "We ended in third place, in a room full of eight Olympic champions and 28 world champions here tonight. Maybe I've won this award because of the media." Van Gaal added: "I wasn't sure if I should turn up here tonight because footballers usually never win these kind of awards but, in the end, I thought that you should always go if you are nominated and now I'm standing here as the winner."

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is expected back from a long-term injury in January, according to the club's manager Brendan Rodgers. Sturridge, a key figure in the Reds' title charge last term, has only played three times this season after damaging his thigh on England duty in September. The 25-year-old is currently receiving treatment in Boston. "The first phase of his rehab was out in LA where we did some specific work with him there," Rodgers explained. "He's gone to Boston to pick up the next stage, then he'll move on again to a specialist facility out there and hopefully in the early part of the new year he'll be back and be somewhere close to being fit and playing. At some stage in January, we'll look to get Dan back. That will be really exciting for this team. We'll put him into the mix again and go back to that flow of our game and results, hopefully."

Europa League Knockout Stages Draw: Thulani Serero's Ajax Amsterdam will tackle Legia Warsaw, Steven Pienaar's Everton will meet Young Boys, while Liverpool have been drawn against Besiktas in the last-32.
Draw results:
Young Boys - Everton
Torino - Athletic Club
Sevilla - Borussia Monchengladbach
Wolfsburg - Sporting
Ajax - Legia Warsaw
Aalborg BK - Club Brugge
Anderlecht - Dinamo Moscow
Dnipro - Olympiacos
Trabzonspor - Napoli
Guingamp - Dynamo Kiev
Villarreal - FC Salzburg
Roma - Feyenoord
PSV - Zenit
Liverpool - Besiktas
Tottenham - Fiorentina
Celtic - Inter

Arsenal legend Thierry Henry has announced his retirement from the game and revealed he will now work as a pundit for Sky Sports. Henry - who ended a four-year stay with New York Red Bulls earlier this month - is France's record scorer with 51 goals, having earned the last of his 123 caps in 2010 after making his international debut in 1997. The 37-year-old also plundered an unmatched 228 goals for the Gunners, while he won over 35 major individual and team trophies, including the World Cup, European Championship and Champions League.