International News - Issue 253

Real Madrid Snap Up Danilo
Real Madrid have signed Brazilian fullback Danilo for €31.5 million from FC Porto. The 23-year-old, who will join Real this summer, has penned a six-year contract with the European champions. "Porto hereby informs the market that it has reached an agreement with Real Madrid for the permanent transfer of Danilo for the value of €31.5m," the Portuguese club said in a statement to the stock market. Los Blancos also confirmed the deal in a statement.

The Turkish Super Lig has been suspended for at least a week following gun attack on the Fenerbahce team bus. The incident took place on Saturday as Fener were driving to the airport following their 5-1 win against Rizespor. The players and officials escaped unharmed, but the bus driver is being treated in hospital with a head wound. FA Chairman Yildirim Demiroren announced: "The Super Lig clubs asked us to postpone the games for one week and we have taken this decision accordingly." 

Real Madrid are keeping a close eye on Liverpool sensation Raheem Sterling – that’s according to club legend and youth coach Zinedine Zidane. The 20-year-old has enjoyed a fine season at Anfield thus far, scoring 10 goals and providing nine assist in 44 matches in all competitions which has attracted the attention of some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Talks have continued over a possible extension of his deal with the Reds, which expires in 2017, yet La Liga giants Real Madrid are keeping close tabs on the youngster, as revealed by Zidane. "We know who Raheem Sterling is, and of course we are monitoring him as a player," Zidane, who is part of the Galacticos coaching staff and heads up the reserve team, said. "There are very few players in the world who can improve the Real Madrid squad, so it is going to make sense we monitor the progress of the best young players in the world.” The French icon says similar action was taken with the transfers of current Los Blancos players Gareth Bale, Isco and Raphael Varane ahead of their moves to the Spanish capital. "We monitored Bale for over a year, the same with Isco and also Varane,” he said. "We monitor many of the best young players in Europe, then if we feel they have something to offer Real Madrid we will contact their club and try and make the next step."

CAF Champions League round-up: Holders ES Setif of Algeria advanced to the second round of the CAF Champions League after a 2-0 home victory over Gambian side Real Banjul on Saturday. That gave the North Africans a 3-1 aggregate win and sets up a mouth-watering regional derby with Raja Casablanca of Morocco, who rode their luck to defeat Kaizer Chiefs. TP Mazembe of DR Congo capitalised on home advantage to seal a 3-2 aggregate win over PSL champions Mamelodi Sundowns in Lubumbashi on Sunday. Egyptian giants Al-Ahly eased into the second round as they claimed a 2-0 home success over Rwandan side APR to win 4-0 on aggregate and set up a meeting with Moroccan side Moghreb Tétouan in the next stage. The Moroccans advanced 5-2 on aggregate, despite losing their second leg 2-1 at Nigerian side Kano Pillars. Cameroon giants CotonSport succumbed to a 2-0 aggregate loss to DR Congo club SM Sanga Balende after losing the second leg by the same scoreline. The Congolese side now face Sudanese club Al-Hilal in the next round after they dispatched Malawian club Big Bullets. Perennial challengers Esperance of Tunisia advanced with a comfortable 4-1 aggregate success over Cosmos de Bafia of Cameroon and now tackle another Sudanese side in Al-Merrikh for a place in the pool stages. The winners of the second round ties advance to the group stages of the competition, while the losers drop into the CAF Confederation Cup competition.
Second round fixtures:
USM Alger (Algeria) vs AS Kaloum (Guinea)
SM Sanga Balende (DR Congo) vs Al-Hilal (Sudan)
Al-Merrikh (Sudan) vs Espérance (Tunisia)
MC El Eulma (Algeria) vs CS Sfaxien (Tunisia)
AC Léopards (Congo) vs Smouha (Egypt)
Moghreb Tétouan (Morocco) vs Al-Ahly (Egypt)
Raja Casablanca (Morocco) vs ES Sétif (Algeria)
Stade Malien (Mali) vs TP Mazembe (DR Congo)

Morocco will be allowed to take part in the 2017 African Nations Cup qualifiers, the Confederation of African Football confirmed on Sunday. A meeting of its executive committee in Cairo said it would allow an entry from the North African country, even though it disagreed with some of the interpretations made by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which last Thursday upheld Morocco’s appeal against a ban from the next two tournaments after the country was stripped of the right to host the 2015 finals. Morocco will now form part of Wednesday’s draw for the next finals. The annulment of the sanction ends a turbulent saga that began when Morocco asked for a postponement last October of the 2015 finals it was due to host in January for fears of a spread of the Ebola virus by visiting supporters from West Africa. But this was rejected by CAF, who gave the Moroccans an ultimatum to withdraw their request and, when this was not forthcoming, stripped them of the hosting of the 16-team tournament, which was then hastily put together by Equatorial Guinea. As punishment, CAF’s executive committee in January banned Morocco from the next two editions of the Nations Cup and fined their federation $1-million. But CAS last week upheld an appeal by Morocco, removing the ban and reducing the fine to $50 000. A statement from CAF on Sunday quibbled with CAS over the interpretation and wording of their original decision, but said they recognised the authority of the Swiss-based tribunal over the case and would comply with the ruling “despite the contradictions”.

Legendary former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has expressed his opinion on the use of more technology in football. Following goal-line technology’s introduction at the end of last season, suggestions of video replays during matches have been brought forward to help clarify decisions made by the on-field match officials. Yet Ferguson, who was known for his many run-ins with referees over his 27-year tenure in charge at Old Trafford, believes it will be a “shambles” if more technology was to be introduced in the beautiful game. "Technology will advance the game, I suppose,” the 73-year-old said. “But you can't have too many things because then it takes a lot of power away from the referees, at which case it becomes a bit of a shambles because the game is stop-start, stop-start and you cannot have that.” Ferguson, who won 13 Premier League titles, two Champions League crowns and five FA Cups with the Red Devils, feels goal-line technology should be where it stops in terms of advancing with the times. Goal-line technology is fine,” he said. “Let's just leave it there. I don't think you can introduce it for things they are talking about like free kicks, or yellow and red cards. I think it becomes really difficult."

Emmanuel Emenike says he is still trying to come to terms with what happened after the bus he and his Fenebache teammates were travelling on was shot at. The Nigeria striker was on the bus that was attacked in Turkey on Saturday night after Fenebahce had beaten Rizespor 5-1. "The incident left several players in shock on a day we should be celebrating a big away win," Emenike said. "I was on the phone with my brother when I heard the loud sound and I thought one of our tyres had busted because the bus was swerving on the road. But when I found our security officer in front of the bus I knew something must have gone awfully wrong. "It's unbelievable that some people actually fired shots at our bus and the driver was badly hit, a bus conveying footballers and officials. It's strange, but it's also an indication that things happen in life and no one can be guaranteed complete safety.”

Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola has refused to accept a suggestion that he is the best coach in world football right now. Guardiola etched his name into Barcelona folklore when he won three consecutive La Liga titles, two UEFA Champions Leagues and two FIFA Club World Cup trophies. He also won the German Bundesliga title in his first season in charge, as well as the Fifa Club World Cup when Bayern beat Raja Casablanca of Morocco in the 2013 Final. Guardiola prefers to credit his players ahead of a defining period in Bayern's season as they chase down a historic treble. "I am not the best coach in the world. I am only here to help my players. I am very motivated and have a lot of faith in my players," he said.

Sir Alex Ferguson says the jury is still out on Neymar, who he believes is still some way off the level of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Ferguson, asked whether Neymar can emulate the feats of Messi and Ronaldo, referred to others in their assessment rather than his own. "The boy Neymar gets a lot of publicity about the potential he's got, but I think that's still to be seen, still to be fulfilled," Ferguson said. "Certainly, most people I speak to speak highly of the boy. When I had Anderson at United, he spoke volumes about the boy's ability. So hopefully he'll be the next one who'll produce the type of talent we see in Messi and Ronaldo. You'll always look at clubs like Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United to produce that kind of player you're talking about, but to be honest, I'm not sure there's one sticking out at the moment." Neymar has scored 26 goals in all competitions for Barcelona this season, with four assists to his name.

Liverpool attacker Raheem Sterling said he "does not want to be perceived as a money-grabbing 20-year-old" after rejecting a new £100,000-a-week deal at the club. The England international's existing contract - worth £35,000 a week - expires in the summer of 2017. "It's not about the money at all," Sterling said. "It's never been about money. I talk about winning trophies throughout my career. That's all I talk about." He added: "I don't want to be perceived as a money-grabbing 20-year-old. I just want to be seen as a kid who loves to play football and to do the best for the team."

Cristiano Ronaldo has equalled Lionel Messi’s record for most La Liga hat-tricks – but has done so in 114 less games! The Portuguese superstar scored five goals as Real Madrid thumped Grenada 9-1 at the Bernabeu on Saturday, taking his tally to 36 goals, four ahead of Messi. The hat-trick was his 24th, level with the Barcelona talisman, but Ronaldo’s feat was achieved in 190 matches, while Messi got his in 304. Interestingly, Alfredo di Stefano, a Real legend and considered one of the greatest players of all time, netted 22 La Liga hat-tricks in 329 matches. Ronaldo also moved level with Di Stefano for the most ever Real Madrid hat-tricks, 28.

Bayern Munich defender David Alaba has been ruled out for seven weeks with a medial ligament tear. The Austrian sustained the knee injury in his country's 1-1 draw with Bosnia last Tuesday. Should Alaba's recovery go to plan he will return for Bayern's final two league matches of the season, and the Champions League and DFB Pokal finals provided his team advances accordingly. Alaba has been a key figure for the Bundesliga leaders this season, scoring five goals in 28 appearances in all competitions.

Tunisia will be eligible for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations after apologizing for labelling CAF ‘biased’ during this years Nations Cup. The North Africans were incensed after losing their quarter-final to hosts Equatorial Guinea following a very controversial last-minute penalty decision by referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn. The Mauritian official was banned for six months for his handling of the game, but CAF still set Tunisia a 31 March deadline to apologise and withdraw their protest with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which they have now done.

Former Bafana Bafana boss Carlos Queiroz has stepped down as Iran coach after the side's 3-1 loss to Sweden in a friendly last Tuesday night. "After four years of work with the national team, I am proud of the team and the individual players," Queiroz told the Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran (FFIRI) website. "Now I am sad to leave the team, but that's life and I'm happy to be moving forward." The 62-year-old took charge of Iran in 2011 and guided the nation at the 2014 World Cup.

Netherlands coach Guus Hiddink was unimpressed that Spain star Andres Iniesta was booed by Holland fans in last Tuesday's friendly at the Amsterdam ArenA. The hosts ran out 2-0 winners courtesy of goals from Stefan de Vriij and Davy Klaassen. While the victory eased the pressure on Hiddink, the ex-Real Madrid boss said it was a "disgrace" that Iniesta - who scored the winning goal against the Dutch in the 2010 World Cup Final - was jeered on his introduction in the 76th minute. "It's a disgrace," he told reporters. "He's a world class player and a wonderful person. At first I didn't notice it was about him. Was it because of his goal vs Netherlands in 2010? "It's unbelievable, this is about sport. What was he supposed to do? I can't understand this." Meanwhile, Hiddink dismissed suggestions he was under pressure to get a positive result given his struggles since returning to the hotseat after last year's World Cup. "I don't have the feeling that there is pressure on my shoulders. I don't want to fight against the media any more, I just want to stay focused on football. There are always stories in the press. I saw a Netherlands squad that had the guts to play football. Although we made some mistakes, I thought we were pretty good."

Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola paid special tribute to Brazilian defender Dante after their 1-0 victory at Borussia Dortmund. Former Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski scored the decisive goal in the 36th minute at his former home stadium. "I can only congratulate my team, especially Dante in defence. I would like to dedicate this victory to him. He is an incredibly important player for us. I'd love to have 1 000 Dantes in my team," Guardiola said. "In the first half things were unbelievably difficult; in the second period we defended well but didn't play well. Ideally, I would have liked to play differently to how we did in today's game. But I need to take into consideration who's available. I would have loved to have more physical power in midfield. But it's really not an easy feat to win in Dortmund."

The Confederation of African Football's important congress in Cairo this week is set to be overshadowed by the latest stop in the election campaign for the FIFA presidency. The three candidates vying to unseat incumbent Sepp Blatter will be all in Cairo for Tuesday’s CAF congress to canvas support on a continent expected to be solidly behind the Fifa president as he bids for a fifth successive term in office. FIFA vice-president Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, the Dutch football association (KNVB) president Michael van Praag and former Portugal international Luis Figo are not expected to make much headway among the 54 African countries who have traditionally been backers of Blatter since he ascended to the FIFA presidency in 1998. But they will attempt to persuade individual countries of their credentials while Blatter will be hoping for an enthusiastic acclamation at the congress to bolster his status as firm favourite for the poll in Zurich at the end of May. The CAF congress is the latest stop for all candidates, who have already swung through similar confederation congresses in Asuncion and Vienna. Next they will be in the Bahamas for the CONCACAF congress next week, followed by the Asian version in Bahrain at the end of the month. Blatter used a column in the latest edition of his organisation’s mouthpiece FIFA Weekly to call for respect for the African game. "The refreshing skills and technical finesse of the African teams are among the greatest attractions at the World Cup," he wrote. Figo responded on Sunday by saying: “Africa lives and loves football much as I do. I know that Fifa has been doing relevant things in Africa but Fifa can and should do much more to help develop African football. Solidarity payments, development projects and World Cup places are only two of the areas which I think should be improved. This is a moment of change and I wish African federations think [about] the future of the organisation and the future of football. There’s no need to fear change because change will be for the better of African and world football,” he said. The congress will elect two places to the all-important Fifa executive committee and also pass an amendment to the statutes, doing away with age limits for office bearers to allow CAF president Issa Hayatou to continue his long-standing tenure at the head of the organisation.  CAF will also decide the next host of the African Nations Cup in 2017, after the withdrawal of war-torn Libya, and hold the draw for the qualifiers on Wednesday.