International News - Issue 249

Evans and Cisse Handed Hefty Bans
Manchester United defender Jonny Evans and Newcastle United striker Papiss Cisse have been handed lengthy bans by the Football Association for their spitting incident. Video footage spotted the two having a go at each other during Wednesday night’s game, which United won 1-0 thanks to Ashley Young’s last-minute strike. Evans has been banned for six matches, while Cisse gets seven – the extra one coming about after he was sent off for elbowing Everton's Seamus Coleman in December. Cisse apologized for the incident the following morning, but Evans denied the charge, saying: "I would like to make it clear that I did not spit at Papiss Cisse. Having woken up this morning, I am shocked to have seen the media coverage from last night's match.”

Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema has spoken out over his patchy relationship with former boss Jose Mourinho. The French striker, who joined Los Blancos in 2009, said he felt under pressure as soon as he signed for the capital club. “I have had criticism ever since I signed for Real Madrid,” the 27-year-old told Al Jazeera Sport. “I really think it is something that has happened since I came to Real where I cannot make a bad pass or have a bad game.” Benzema endured a strained relationship with the now Blues coach Jose Mourinho, who joined the Galacticos in 20101, and often had harsh words for the France international. “At the start, it hurt me, but I am used to it now,” Benzema reveals. “It affects my family more. I knew that I was being criticised, that Mourinho criticised me, but it was his way of making me react.” Benzema, who has scored 13 league goals thus far this season, says the criticism has helped him improve, and he now spends extra time honing his skills at Madrid’s training ground. “Actually, after that, I became mad,” he said. “I worked as much as I could. Now, I come in before everyone else, I have treatment, I go to the gym, and I am the last to leave after training.”

Andres Iniesta says he sometimes feels he and Barcelona teammate Xavi are incompatible as a midfield pairing. The duo have played together since breaking into the first team under Louis van Gaal in 2002-03, and were also regular fixtures in the Spanish national side until Xavi's international retirement after the 2014 World Cup. "Sometimes I get the feeling that it seems we can't play together," Iniesta was quoted as saying by Marca. "But it is always a privilege to be by his side because not only does he make your job easier, but he also makes the team work better. Sometimes, as with all players, things don't work out. We have been together for a long time now and the feelings are always very good, though." Meanwhile, Iniesta is naturally hopeful Barca can extend their narrow lead at the La Liga summit following their 6-1 hammering of Rayo Vallecano on the weekend. "More important than being at the top or not is the general feeling of the team after the game we just played. We feel good and have to continue along that line. We have two or three months left to go - not long, but the most complicated part. It's always better having that edge than not having it, obviously. But until then we have an uncomfortable game away to Eibar and then the Champions League. There are two games before Real for us to think about. When we do get there, we'll try to maintain our lead or even increase it."

Former Chelsea defender David Luiz feels there is nothing special about current Blues boss Jose Mourinho. The Brazilian left Stamford Bridge last season in a big-money move to Paris Saint Germain, and faced his former side in the first leg Last 16 Champions League 1-1 draw in the French capital. Luiz, who Mourinho said would not be missed after moving to France last year, had very few kind words to say of his former manager – the self-appointed ‘Special One’ – ahead to the European second leg tie. "He is special for you, not for me," said the Selecao defender, who spent three-and-a-half years at Chelsea, told L’Equipe. The 27-year-old however claimed that he had enjoyed his stay in London. "I had some great moments at Chelsea and won a lot of titles,” he said. “I was very happy.” Luiz acknowledged that Mourinho’s men are enjoying an impressive run this season, yet is optimistic of his sides changes against the Premier League leaders. "They are having a great season, defend well and have great players but above all I know my team,” he said. “We will try to score there and play like we know how. We will have a good game plan and implement it the best way possible to achieve a great performance. Both can still qualify".

Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng said he rejected the chance to join Spanish heavyweights Barcelona last year. The Catalans were looking to reinforce their backline last term and had earmarked the German international as a possible addition to their squad, yet settled with Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen and Sevilla’s Jeremy Mathieu after Boateng rejected their offer. "I do not know the exact details of how much Barcelona offered for me, but it is true that they wanted to sign me," Boateng said. "It's hugely flattering when a club like Barcelona show an interest in signing you. But these days, you no longer leave Bayern Munich for Barcelona when you want to win the Champions League. At Bayern, I play for one of the four best clubs in the world. There is no better club for a German player.” The 26-year-old feels extremely comfortable in Bavaria, and hinted at possibly finishing his career with the German giants. "I would be delighted if I could stay at Bayern for a long time and end my career here after winning many trophies,” he said. Boateng, who joined from Manchester City in 2011, has a contract with Bayern until 2018.

Five Nigerian players were injured in an attempted robbery on Thursday. The incident happened as League champions Kano Pillars were on their way to face Heartland in Owerri. The club took to Twitter after the shooting, saying: “Five players were injured from gunshots - Gambo, Ogbonaya, Eneji Otekpa, Murtala Adamu, and Moses Ekpai. The gunmen also snatched handsets and other valuables from the players.”

Cristiano Ronaldo will keep taking free-kicks for Real Madrid, despite not finding the back of the net on almost a year. The World Player of the Year has been unsuccessful in his last 51 attempts and last scored from a free-kick in April. However, Real coach Carlo Ancelotti says his top player is still in charge. "It’s pretty clear. Cristiano takes the ones on the left of the goal and Bale the ones on the other side," the Italian said.

Former Kaizer Chiefs striker Knowledge Musona bagged a brace to help Belgian club KV Oostende to a 4-3 victory over Waasland-Beveren. The Zimbabwean marksman – who had been linked with a return to Chiefs during the January transfer window – has scored three goals in his last three games for Oostende, who have been through quite a shocking run of form of late. The team that also employs former Orlando Pirates midfielder Andile Jali has lost six of its last nine Jupiler Pro League matches, including a 1-7 home defeat to Darren Keet's Kortjijk in January. Oostende are placed 10th in the 16-team Pro League, 11 points from the relegation places but 23 points behind the leaders Club Brugge.

Former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes has taken a dig at Premier League side Arsenal, while also aiming criticism at midfielder Mesut Ozil. Since last winning the League in the 2004/04 season, the Gunners have finished fourth in six of the last nine seasons, a position which Scholes feels Arsene Wenger’s charges are content with. "It is hard when you have a recent history as successful as Arsenal were under Arsene Wenger in his first 10 years at the club,” the Red Devils icon wrote in the Evening Standard. “Hard in that you will always be compared to great teams of the past – as the current United team are just finding out now. My issue with Arsenal is that I don’t think they are striving to be like the great teams of theirs who used to battle us for the league title. They seem happy to finish fourth every year." The former England international then took a swipe at German midfielder Mezut Ozil, claiming the 26-year-old “took the easy option” by joining the London club. "Over the years, the big players who were really ambitious – Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie – have all left," he wrote. "They left for the simple reason that Arsenal are not in it to win league titles any more. Those players have realised that if they want to win championships then they have to move elsewhere. It’s why I think Mesut Ozil took the easy option joining Arsenal.” Scholes feels Ozil, who has scored four goals in 19 matches for the Gunners this season, has not been at his best at the Emirates, and feels he stands very little chance of winning silverware in London. "Since he has been there you cannot doubt his quality but at times he looks like he is going through the motions, however much ground he covers,” he said. "He needs a leader around him to get him going. At Real Madrid he had a chance of winning league titles. At Arsenal that is not on the cards."

Manchester United coach Louis van Gaal has hit out at claims that he has a turbulent relationship with assistant coach Ryan Giggs. Following Ashley Young’s last-minute winner against Newcastle last week, television pictures showed Giggs showing no emotion after the goal while van Gaal shouted in celebration, as rumours circulated of a bad relationship between the pair. "No. We have a very bad relationship. I cannot answer that. I want to have those rumours," Van Gaal said sarcastically when asked about his relationship with his second-in-command. I am very irritated at this question because everyone can see we have a very good relationship,” he continued. “We work very hard together. Not only with Ryan but with all the staff and the players. It is a way of suggesting things. I am very irritated. I take my measures against the media. I am not pleased."

England coach Roy Hodgson says Tottenham Hotspur sensation Harry Kane is ready for a national call-up, yet is not guaranteed his spot. The 21-year-old has enjoyed a stellar season thus far, and is the leading English goal-scorer in the Premier League, with 14 goals in 23 matches for Spurs. And with two international friendlies coming up for England at the end of the month, Three Lions coach Roy Hodgson believes Kane is ready to don the national jersey, yet is not guaranteed of his place in the side. "Kane is ready; if he wasn't ready, he wouldn't be playing for Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League and scoring lots of goals,” Hodgson said. "The factors that always are taken mostly into consideration is has the player got the quality, and the talent we are looking for and is there a space for him because we have other players too. Often if someone like Kane is going to come into the squad, then someone is going to drop out and up until now most of the players that we've had, at least in the forward area of our squad, have done quite well for us during the autumn, so you can't include everybody unfortunately.” Hodgson said he has been monitoring the youngster, especially after his impressive form with the England U-21s, yet kept tight-lipped over his possible selection for the senior team. "He's in my thoughts of course, he deserves to be scoring goals for one of our top teams in the Premier League,” he said. “I am delighted for him and we will see when I select my squad at the end of the month whether he is in it or not." England face Lithuania in their first friendly of 2015 on 27 March, before taking on four-time World Cup winners Italy in Turin four days later.

Egyptian winger Mohammed Salah continued his free-scoring form in Italy, scoring a brace against league leaders Juventus in Fiorentina’s 2-1 Italian Cup semi-final victory last Thursday. Salah, who joined the Italian side on loan from Premier League giants Chelsea with Juan Cuadrado going the other way, has enjoyed a stellar start to his loan stint, scoring six goals in seven matches for La Viola. His two goals against the Bianconeri at the Juventus Stadium means Fiorentina take a 2-1 lead into their second-leg semi-final tie, with Fernando Llorente getting the hosts on the scoresheet. Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Montella has been delighted with the Egyptian’s performances since joining his side in January. "Salah is in a state of grace and we hope he can continue,” Montella told Rai. "He has settled in very well. We knew that he was strong, but honestly his immediate impact has gone beyond expectations. The whole team is growing, not just Salah, though he is scoring a lot of goals.”

Barcelona striker Luis Suarez and Bayern Munich midfielder Xabi Alonso are set for a return to their former home ground Anfield at the end of this month. The former Liverpool duo will return for a charity match, which has been arranged by the Liverpool FC Foundation, in honour of their former skipper Steven Gerrard who departs for the MLS at the end of the current Premier League season. According to a statement released on the club’s official website, Gerrard and former Anfield teammate, Jamie Carragher will captain to All-star teams to go head-to-head at The Red’s home ground in Merseyside. The two teams will boast other stars, which Gerrard and Carragher have invited to the charity showpiece, including other Liverpool greats, Dirk Kuyt, Pepe Reina, Fernando Torres, as well as Thiery Henry, Didier Drogba and John Terry, amongst others. “The event, which has been organised by Liverpool FC's official charity, the Liverpool FC Foundation, will bring together two teams that will be selected by Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher as some of the most influential players they have played with or against,” reads the statement on the club’s official website. “Gerrard will take on the role of captain for one team, while Carragher will take on the same role for the other All-Star side. Managers and the final line-up of each All-Star team will be announced in the coming weeks. Player recruitment is well underway, and players confirmed include Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina, Dirk Kuyt, Xabi Alonso, Thierry Henry, John Terry and Didier Drogba, to name a few.” 

Liverpool forward Mario Balotelli has once again grabbed the headlines for his off-the-field antics, this time proclaiming someone doesn’t like him. After scoring his first League goal for the Reds against Tottenham almost a month ago, ‘Super Mario’ has not featured in the league since and was again an unused substitute as Liverpool overcame Burnley last night to extend their unbeaten EPL run to 12 matches. After the game, the maverick forward posted a cryptic Instagram post which many feel may be directed towards coach Brendan Rodgers, who two weeks ago claimed the Italian needs to work harder at Anfield. "Someone doesn't like me,” the 24-year-old wrote on Instagram, captioning a picture of his teammates celebrating Daniel Sturridge’s goal in their 2-0 victory last night. “But differently of what they say about me, I’m a team player and I’m so proud of my team, of this win and of these fans! Let's keep going, bravi ragazzi [well done boys]!!! YNWA!!!" Since joining from AC Milan last year, Balotelli has played 23 matches in all competitions for Liverpool, scoring four goals.

Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho has confirmed that skipper John Terry will remain at Stamford Bridge next season. The 34-year-old is yet to sign an extension with his boyhood club, and has revealed his concern for his family’s future having not secured an extension with the Blues. Yet after scoring the winner in Sunday’s Capital One Cup Final victory against Tottenham Hotspur, Jose Mourinho has confirmed that the club will extend the centre-back’s stay in London. "Terry is going to get his contract," the Portuguese coach told reporters. "What I can guarantee is that John Terry will be a Chelsea player next season. I can guarantee that. Before the end of the season it will be sorted for sure but what I can guarantee is he will be a Chelsea player next season because I know what my board tells me and the player tells me so no doubt he is going to get his contract." Since his debut for Chelsea in 1998, Terry has made 625 appearances for the London club, scoring 60 goals.

The son of Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba said he would prefer to play for England than the Ivory Coast. Drogba, who is Ivory Coast’s all-time top goal-scorer, has lived in England since first signing for Chelsea in 2004, and his 16-year-old son Isaac, who is part of the Chelsea youth set-up and was born in Paris, says he would choose the Three Lions over the Elephants if he becomes an international footballer. “When I asked him (Isaac) which country he would like to play for as an international, he told me neither Ivory Coast nor France but England,” Drogba senior told Sports Illustrated. The 36-year-old said he does not know the reasoning behind his son’s decision, yet will leave the choice up to him should he reach that level. “I cannot tell why he doesn't want to play for my country Ivory Coast if he had to choose a national team someday,” the striker said. “That would be his choice.” Drogba retired from international duty last year, ending a glittering career with the African giants having scored 65 goals in 104 appearances for the newly-crowned African Cup of Nations champions.

Brazilian attacking midfielder Ronaldinho has selected Lionel Messi but rejected Cristiano Ronaldo in his Champions League all-time dream team. The former PSG, Barcelona and AC Milan man who won league titles in Spain and Italy as well as the coveted Champions League with Barca, was asked by the Daily Mail to pick his preferred starting line-up in a European Cup dream team.  Unsurprisingly, the former Selecao star chose four of his Brazilian compatriots in the side, as well as former Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi, yet there was no place for current Ballon d’Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo but rather his namesake, the Brazilian Ronaldo. Here’s Ronaldo’s Dream team, and what he had to say about each player:

Gianluigi Buffon - “Most of the goalkeepers have had times when their form has not been so good, but Buffon has been at such a high level for so long.”

Cafu – “You don’t become the most capped player in Brazil’s history, without being very special.”
John Terry – “He is very tough to play against, but he is a fantastic leader, the leader you need in those sorts of games.”
Paolo Maldini – “He was one of the best defenders in Champions League history, but what was so impressive about him is that when he was on the ball he didn’t look like a defender, but like an elegant midfield player.”
Roberto Carlos – “Would be worth having in any team for his ability to take free kicks, but as well as being one of the best free kick takers ever, he is also one of the finest left backs ever.”

Claude Makelele – “Defenders feel safe knowing that he is ahead of them, the attackers feel safe knowing he is behind them, for me he is the best I have ever seen doing the job of protecting the defence.”
Frank Lampard – “I told Frank Rijkaard that we (Barcelona) should sign him, but he didn’t want to leave Chelsea. His goal record from midfield was what really impressed me.”
Kaka – “For two, maybe three seasons he was the best player in the world, there was nothing he couldn’t do.”

Lionel Messi – “There are no words to describe him; he just has magic in his feet.”
Thierry Henry – “Just a nightmare for defenders, was quick, had skill, and was strong.”

Ronaldo – “He was my idol and then I end up playing and winning a World Cup with him. The most complete striker there has ever been, the most complete striker there will ever be, it is almost unbelievable to think that he never won the Champions League.”