International News - Issue 291




Louis Van Gaal: I Will Not Resign As Manchester United Manager

Louis van Gaal vowed to fight on as Manchester United manager after his team's goalless draw against Chelsea. United stretched their winless run to eight matches after their seventh goalless stalemate of the campaign. The Red Devils are in their lowest position at this stage of the season in 26 years, but there were enough encouraging signs for Van Gaal to deny he would quit, as he suggested he might after the 2-0 loss at Stoke on Boxing Day. United put on their best display of the season in the first 45 minutes, rattling the woodwork on two occasions and drawing two superb saves from Thibaut Courtois. United were unable to find the net, but Van Gaal, who was applauded as he entered and left the pitch on Monday, was in a boisterous mood post match. "Inside of the club the players are willing to fight for every metre, the manager is willing to fight, the members of staff are willing to fight and the board is very confident in the staff and the manager so it (the negativity) is not inside Manchester United," he said. A few United fans made it clear they wanted Jose Mourinho in the home dugout, rather than Van Gaal. Red scarves with Mourinho's face on them were being sold by unofficial vendors outside the stadium before kick-off. A handful of fans snapped them up for the asking price of £10 and inside the stadium, one fan held up a placard that read: "Leave, Vanish, Go". But for the most part, the United fans appreciated the attacking football on display in the first half. The full-backs overlapped the wingers, the forwards ran at Chelsea's defence and the tempo was much higher. Van Gaal admits he is powerless to stop the board acting if they want to make a change, but he did not seem terribly worried about his future. "I cannot have any influence on that," he said. "I can only work with my players and you have seen that the players are fighting for me; they have given a good performance. "After this result the fans were applauding. I cannot say that I am very much concerned, but in this football world you never know. "When the players can give such a performance with this lot of pressure then it is not any reason to resign for me. "I am under contract so it's not a question of staying, it is a question of fulfilling my contract." Van Gaal was happy on the whole with his team's display. "I think it was a very good performance, but you have to score a goal and we didn't," he said. "Against Stoke in the first half we didn't dare to play, but that's a big difference today - we dared to play and pressed a lot. We were the dominant team, we created chances, we shot on goal and only gave three chances away. Against a team like Chelsea, with such attackers, that's not bad." The Dutchman's only disappointment was with referee Martin Atkinson, who failed to award United two penalties. The first came when Juan Mata went down in the box following a challenge by Cesar Azpilicueta and then Willian's handball went unnoticed by the officials. "We had two penalty cases, one the foul on Mata, the other the handball of Willian," Van Gaal said. "When I was on the bench I thought it was not on purpose but when you see on the video, you see the hand is going to the ball and not the ball is going to the hand and then you can only say we are unlucky."

Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Luis Suarez are “incredible” – but Lionel Messi is still better. This is according to Messi’s former Barcelona teammate, Xavi Hernandez. For the past half-a-decade or more, the debate has always been around Messi and Ronaldo when football fans and pundits argue as to who is the world’s best player. But Barcelona’s attacking flair has brought Neymar and Suarez into the frame as well during 2015. Boasting a strike force of Suarez-Messi-Neymar, Barca recently won the Club World Cup a record third time, making it a clean sweep for 2015 with the Spanish championship, the Uefa Champions League, the Copa Del Rey and the European Super Cup also going their way. And while Xavi believes Suarez and Neymar are worthy of the plaudits, he believes neither they, nor Real Madrid’s Ronaldo are on a par with Messi. “Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Suarez are extraordinary and incredible players, but they are below Messi,” he says. “It is now more difficult to attack and dribble. Players are more physical ... but Leo creates spaces, scores goals, and makes a difference in every game.” Unsurprisingly, Xavi – who now plays for Al Sadd SC in Qatar – believes Messi deserves to reclaim the Ballon d’Or ahead of Ronaldo and Neymar (Suarez was left off Fifa’s shortlist, presumably because of his disciplinary record). “I think Leo is the clear favourite,” Xavi recently told Fifa.com, “and he deserves it too for everything he’s achieved at Barcelona. “There’s no comparison … he has total command of every aspect of the game. He’s the best at everything and he shows that in every match. He deserves this Ballon d’Or.”

Arsenal legend Thierry Henry believes coach Pep Guardiola would "dominate" the Premier League. Guardiola has announced he will leave Bayern Munich when his contract expires at the end of the season, with Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea all thought to be coveting his services. Henry won two La Liga titles and the Champions League playing under Guardiola at Barcelona, and he has complete faith in the Spaniard's abilities. “If I was chairman of any club in the world looking to change its manager, Guardiola would be my No1 pick. No contest,” Henry wrote in his column for The Sun. “For me, he is already one of the greatest coaches of all time. His teams don’t just win the league, they totally dominate it. “For me, he is already one of the greatest coaches of all time. His teams don’t just win the league, they totally dominate it. “He arrives with a plan, takes complete control of a club and puts a lasting legacy in place that survives long after he’s moved on to his next challenge. “I was fortunate enough to be at Barcelona right at the start of Guardiola’s coaching career and was blown away by the man and his methods. “Now I can only assume that he has become even better during the past five years at Barca and Bayern.” Guardiola claimed 14 titles in a four-year spell in charge of Barca ending in 2012. The 44-year-old is now chasing a third straight Bundesliga triumph with table-topping Bayern.

Radamel Falcao hopes to be given more opportunities at Chelsea to show his worth in the Premier League. The Colombian striker disappointed in his maiden campaign in England last season, netting just four goals in 26 appearances for Manchester United. Falcao then joined the Blues on another loan deal from Monaco, and has scored once in nine outings for the misfiring champions with injuries hampering his progress. "Chelsea are the team who bet on me, and I took that opportunity," he told Hola Colombia. "However, it has been complicated because the team hasn't started the season the best, nor have I been given the opportunities I want. "But I'm very grateful, very happy. As for the future, I hope to have more opportunities to show what I can do in the second half of the season." The former River plate, FC Porto and Atletico Madrid man has notched up 196 goals in 333 games at club level.

Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery is hoping his injury woes will be a thing of the past come the new year. The Frenchman scored on his return from a nine-month lay-off in a loss to Borussia Monchengladbach in December. However, Ribery subsequently picked up a muscle problem in a Champions League win against Dinamo Zagreb, and was ruled out for the rest of 2015. Asked for his new year's wish by Bayern's official website, he said: "That I am fit again as soon as possible. I am really motivated to return. "The two or three weeks in which I was fit in December were lovely and it's where I belong. "I hope all the injured players are fit again soon. We want to fight together for many titles." The 32-year-old added: "My head was ready but the muscle was still weak. "It's important that my ankle no longer causes me any problems. Now it's just a muscle injury. I need rhythm and matches."

Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has revealed he could join a club in Qatar when his contract with the French champions expires at the end of the season. The 34-year-old, who tops the Ligue One scoring charts with 15 goals, has also been heavily linked with a move to MLS and the Premier League. "My current situation is new to me. I have an expiring contract and that is a new experience. I am free to do what I want," Ibrahimovic told L'Equipe. "I am focused on PSG for now. I still have six months to go on my current contract and I want to give my best for the team. I do not have a next destination in mind. "I have a good relationship with PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and with the people of Qatar, but I cannot say anything at this stage. Let's just say that a move to Qatar is an option. "I am enjoying my football at the moment and I'm feeling well both mentally and physically. I am enjoying myself each game. We will see what happens." Ibrahimovic has plundered 123 goals in 151 outings for PSG since his arrival from AC Milan in July 2012.

Toni Kroos says there is definite room for improvement at Real Madrid, yet insist it’s too early to evaluate the club’s season already. Los Blancos sit third in the La Liga table, two points adrift of joint leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, and have qualified for the Last 16 of the Champions League, yet have looked far from convincing under coach Rafa Benitez. Yet German midfielder Kroos is confident of an upward trend next year. "We want to do a lot better - for ourselves and for our fans,” he told his club’s official website. “We've failed to be at our best at certain points of the season. "But I’m optimistic. There's some room for improvement and I'm certain we'll get better. We work our socks off every day and the pay off for that hard work will end up being reflected in the results. "I'm positive that we'll find that consistency that is not only demanded of us by our fans, but that we want too." Kroos feels the sceptics must wait until the end of the season before making an evaluation on their campaign. “We're not even at the halfway point in the league and we performed very well in the Champions League group stage to make the last 16," he said. "It's too early to be making evaluations. We’re Real Madrid - and being successful is part of our DNA. We're going to fight for everything and will go out to win all our matches."

Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink has not ruled out a top-four finish for the ailing champions. Hiddink was appointed manager of the Blues until the end of the season following Jose Mourinho's sacking. The Londoners are 15th in the Premier League standings with 18 points from 17 games - 11 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham, and three above the drop zone. "Generally, I set targets," Hiddink said. "The target is, because mathematically it's possible, to get in fourth position. "To do that, we have to be exclusively good. If the target is impossible, don't set it, but I did put that to them. "Then the Champions League; and then the FA Cup. There are three targets still to go for. "On top of that, or as a foundation of that, the players must show now what they're capable of. As a consequence then, you go to those targets." The former Netherlands, Real Madrid and PSV tactician previously coached Chelsea in a caretaker capacity following Luiz Felipe Scolari's exit in 2009.

El Salvador's most-capped footballer Alfredo Pacheco has been shot dead at a petrol station in his homeland. The 33-year-old was chatting with a group of friends when an unknown assailant opened fire on the group. Two people who were travelling with Pacheco were hurt in the attack, which took place in Santa Ana, 66km west of the capital San Salvador. "The attorney general's office in Santa Ana processed the crime scene of the murder of Alfredo Pacheco at 3.30am in a petrol station," an official said. Defender Pacheco played for the Salvadoran sides Club Deportivo FAS and Asociacion Deportiva Isidro Metapan. The left-back also played for MLS outfit New York Red Bulls and won 86 caps for his country, scoring seven goals, but his career ended in controversy. Pacheco was banned from football by the Salvadoran Football Federation in September 2013 when it was found he had been involved in match fixing. El Salvador has seen its murder rate rocket this year, with homicides up 55 per cent compared to 2014. So far this year, there have been 6,068 murders, according to police data. Earlier this month, Honduran international and former Rangers midfielder Arnold Peralta was murdered in a drive-by shooting in his hometown. A post-mortem examination showed Peralta died from "multiple gunshot wounds to the skull, face and chest" but those responsible have still not been caught. 

Petr Cech set a new Premier League clean sheets record with his shutout in Arsenal's 2-0 win over Bournemouth. The goalkeeper has now kept 170 clean sheets in 352 Premier League appearances, putting him clear of second-placed David James (169 clean sheets) and Mark Schwarzer in third (152). Cech joined the Gunners in a £10m deal last summer and his eighth clean sheet for the club helped them return to the top of the Premier League. Cech had previously kept the opposition at bay on a remarkable 162 occasions during his 11 years with Chelsea. As well as Cech and Schwarzer - Leicester City's reserve goalkeeper - Everton's Tim Howard is the only other current player in the top 10 Premier League clean sheets list. Cech said: "It's a great personal achievement and I felt really proud at the end of the game because if you look at the names in the clean sheet numbers and you see all those fantastic goalkeepers who had been playing and are still playing in this league then obviously it is a great achievement to top the list. "I'm very pleased after the game we had at Southampton that the clean sheet brought three points as well because we won 2-0."