International News - Issue 300

Gianni Infantino Elected FIFA President 

Gianni Infantino has been elected as FIFA president after a second round of voting in Zurich. UEFA general secretary Infantino won the election with 115 votes, with Sheikh Salman receiving 88 votes. Prince Ali received four votes and no votes were recorded for Jerome Champagne. In his victory speech, Infantino said: "I told you I went through a journey, an exceptional journey and a journey which made me meet many fantastic people - many people who love football and believe in football, and many people who deserve FIFA to be respected. "We will restore the respect people have in FIFA and everybody will applaud us, and they will applaud all of you for what you do. "We have to be proud of what we do for FIFA. I would like to thank all of you and all of the other candidates. "It was a great sign of democracy of FIFA. I want to restore a new era in FIFA where we put football at the centre of the speech." South African candidate Tokyo Sexwale withdrew before the first round of voting. Infantino insist the next two World Cup in Russia and Qatar will remain in those countries, but has called on the hosts to deliver. Both the 2018 and 2022 events are still under investigation by the FBI, with rumours rising that a new bidding proves could be launched to replace the current host nations. Yet in his first day of office since being announced as the new FIFA president, Infantino has dismissed such claims, and backs Russia and Qatar to both put on a world-class spectacle. "Concerning Qatar and Russia, the decisions were taken in 2010 by the executive committee, but since 2010 there has been speculation and allegations and noise,” he told reporters. "It's now necessary to organise the best World Cup in history in Russia in 2018 and in 2022 in Qatar." Prior to Infantino’s election, a series of reforms were taken, one of them being the provision to reveal the salaries paid to senior officials, including Infantino himself. Yet the Swiss said the issue of his salary had not yet been discussed, insisting he did not take the job for the money. "I have no idea yet,” he said when asked how much he’d be paid. “I know you can't believe it but it's not (for the) money that I was candidate to become FIFA president. "I have not discussed with anyone about my pay or what my pay will be. We will see."

Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech admits Arsenal’s defeat to Manchester United was a step back in the title race, but believes all is not lost. Despite coming up against an injury-ravaged Red Devils outfit, the Gunners couldn’t capitalise as they went down 3-2 at Old Trafford to slip further down the EPL log, five points behind leaders Leicester City. The fixtures come in thick and fast for Arsene Wenger’s men, who managed a 2-1 win over Leicester City last week, and Cech believes two successive victories will put his side right back in the mix. "This was a big disappointment for us and is a step back after last week where we managed to overcome a deficit against Leicester at home," the goalkeeper said. "This is a step back but we need to keep working. We have two important games coming up this week and if we manage to win both the table might look better again." Arsenal face London rivals Tottenham Hotspur – who sit three points ahead of them in the League standings – on Saturday afternoon.

Gerard Pique says his love for former club Manchester United over-rides his relationship with Pep Guardiola to follow his former coach to Manchester City. The Barcelona defender spent four years at Old Trafford before returning to Catalonia, winning three La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey’s and two Champions League medals under now-Bayern Munich coach Guardiola. Yet with the Spanish tactician now confirmed as the new Manchester City boss next season, rumours are mounting as to which of his former players he will lure to the Etihad … but Pique insists his love for their rivals will prevent him from joining his former coach. "My love for [Manchester] United is too strong to go to City," he said on Periscope. "I don't see myself in their shirt even though Pep is a great coach." Pique then weighed in on the rumours linking Brazil sensation Neymar with a move away to rivals Real Madrid, believing the talented forward will remain at Camp Nou for years to come. "I'd bet an arm or a hand that Ney will never join Madrid," he said. "He likes Barcelona very much, he's in love with the club and I think he'll stay here for many years."

Midfielder N'Golo Kante looks set to miss Leicester’s next two matches because of a hamstring injury. The Frenchman was substituted after 70 minutes of Leicester's 1-0 win at home to Norwich City with the problem. Kante, who has been in superb form in his first season with the Foxes, was replaced by fellow midfielder Andy King, with whom Ranieri was impressed. And the Italian is positive King can quickly gel with Daniel Drinkwater in the absence of the 24-year-old. Ranieri said: "Kante I think will lose the next two matches. I hope only two. It is a little painful in his hamstring. He has been suffering all the season and now it's a little more charged, so we want to give him some rest. "All the season he had a problem in the other leg, and now in the new leg. Maybe he made some compensation. It's extraordinary but I am very confident because we have King to play with Drinkwater, and I am very confident in him. No other injuries.

Veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon reached a personal milestone last Sunday, as he kept yet another clean sheet for rampant Serie A club Juventus. The Old Lady continued their impressive run in the league, beating title rivals Inter Milan 2-0 to continue their 17-match unbeaten run in domestic league competition. The win was the Bianconeri’s 16th in their last 17 matches, yet for Italy skipper Buffon, it was his eighth clean sheet in a row, managing 746 minutes without conceding a goal – beating his previous mark of 745 minutes. Should he shut out Juve’s next opponents Atalanta on Sunday, Buffon will tie the club record of nine clean sheets in a row, set by the Italians in the 1972/73 season. Buffon’s record of 746 minutes without conceding takes him to seventh on the all-time list in Italy, still some way off the 928-minute record set by AC Milan Sebastiano Rossi in the 1993/94 campaign. Juventus are still on track to claim their fifth Serie A title in a row as they currently top the Serie A standings, four points ahead of Napoli who have a game in hand.

Chelsea will announce Antonio Conte as their new manager after he holds a face-to-face meeting with Roman Abramovich in Monte Carlo. Conte is close to joining the Blues on a three-year deal worth £18million. The Italian national team coach's representatives have been in London discussing a deal for him to take over at Stamford Bridge since last Friday. The switch will be completed when Conte meets Chelsea owner Abramovich on one of his yachts in Monte Carlo, where they will shake hands on the deal. The Italian is hoping for confirmation of the move before he meets up with his Italy squad ahead of their clash with Spain next month. After winning three consecutive Serie A titles as Juventus manager, Conte, 46, is ready to pick up the baton from Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink at Chelsea.

18-year-old Marcus Rashford scored twice and set up the third as Manchester United beat Arsenal 3-2 in a Premier League clash at Old Trafford. A brace within four minute from Rashford and a third from Ander Herrera in the second half was enough to propel United to victory despite goals from Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil on either side of half-time. The teenager, who starred for The Red Devils in their 5-1 win over Midtjylland in the UEFA Europa League in midweek, pounced on a loose ball in the 29th minute before doubling the home side's lead with a header three minutes later. Ex-United striker Danny Welbeck then pulled on back for The Gunners five minutes before half-time to make for an entertaining close to the first stanza. Midway through the second half, Rashford's lay-off was curled in by Herrera to restore their two-goal cushion. Ozil vollied home in the 69th minute, however, Louis van Gaal's side held on for their first win in three Premier League outings, and moved back into fifth place. The defeat sees Arsenal remain in third position, five points adrift of leaders Leicester City, with Manchester City four points behind them but with a game in hand.

Cristiano Ronaldo apologised to his Real Madrid team-mates ahead of a training session on Monday and attempted to clarify comments he made following the derby defeat to Atletico Madrid. Some 40 hours after losing 1-0 to rivals Atletico, Real's player were reunited on Monday in the Valdebebas training complex. Zinedine Zidane had scheduled training for 11am following a day off, and in the meantime plenty had been said since match official Clos Gomez blew for full time at the Bernabeu.  Almost all was negative, and much had to do with Ronaldo's outburst in the mixed zone. "If all my team-mates were at my level, we might be first," he said. There was also criticism for the club's medics, their preparations in pre-season and the team's current performance, as well as a rousing defence of his own talent and statistics. The consensus was that Ronaldo had shown arrogance and disrespect to his team-mates in his attempt to highlight his own performances. Ronaldo himself tried to explain on Saturday night that he had been taken out of context, despite the strong words he used. But Monday was the day when he would see those faces he apparently disrespected just 36 hours prior.  And before training, Ronaldo sought to 'justify himself' to the dressing room, claiming that he "expressed himself poorly" and did not "wish to annoy any team-mates." Ronaldo's Madrid team-mates, meanwhile, are understood to have played down the significance of the Portugal international's outburst.

This season’s UEFA Europa League draw took place in Nyon last Friday, with the Round of 16’s biggest match-up pitting English giants Liverpool and Manchester United against each other. With no seeding or country restriction, all 16 remaining teams were picked out of the same pot and as luck would have it, the two most successful teams in English domestic football were drawn against each other, in what will be their first-ever meeting in European competition. The third English club in the draw, Tottenham Hotspur, will have a tough test against Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund. It’s an all-Spanish affair as Athletic Bilbao take on Valencia while FC Basel, whose home stadium will play host to this year’s final, take on holders Sevilla, who lifted the trophy following a 3-2 victory over Dnipro last year. The Last 16 match-ups will take place on 10 and 17 March.

Full Europa League Round of 16 draw:

Shakhtar Donetsk v Anderlecht
Basel v Sevilla
Villarreal v Leverkusen
Athletic Bilbao v Valencia
Liverpool v Manchester United 
Sparta Prague v Lazio
Dortmund v Tottenham
Fenerbahce v Braga

Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek has signed a new contract with the club, keeping him at Stamford Bridge until 2021. Loftus-Cheek has made 13 appearances for Chelsea, nine of them coming this season, and scored his first goal for the club in last month’s FA Cup third round win over Scunthorpe United. The highly-rated England Under-21 midfielder made his debut against Sporting Lisbon in December 2014. “I’m delighted to sign a new contract at Chelsea and my focus is on working hard in training every day in order to push on and establish myself in the team,” Loftus-Cheek told Chelsea’s club website. “It really means a lot because this shows the club believe in me so I’m really happy. The club have done so much for me since I started here as an Under-8 and now I want to repay the faith they’ve shown in me with my performances on the pitch.” The new contract reflects a period of progress for Loftus-Cheek, who was subjected to criticism by Jose Mourinho in pre-season and was also replaced by Chelsea’s ex-manager after 45 minutes of October’s win over Aston Villa with Mourinho expressing doubts about his defensive work.

Paul Merson has claimed that his former boss, Arsene Wenger should be axed by Arsenal should the club lose out to Leicester City or Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League title race. The ex-England international-turned Sky Sports pundit believes that there is no excuse for the Gunners not to be able to finish higher than north London enemies Spurs, or the over-achieving, table-topping Foxes. The Emirates Stadium outfit are five points behind Leicester, and three points behind second-placed Spurs, with 11 games to play, and Merson believes Wenger should lose his job if he cannot guide his team to the summit, particularly as he did not sign any senior outfield players last summer. 'If Man City don't win the league and Tottenham or Leicester do then Arsene Wenger has to go,' he told Sky Sports. 'If you're sitting there telling those fans – loyal Arsenal fans – that they don't need any new players at the start of the season and then you don't win the league in front of Leicester or Tottenham then I don't see how you can justify it,' he added. 'If Man City win the league he can turn around and say 'they've got all the money in the world and can go and buy whoever they want, so would whoever I bought have made much difference?'. 'But if Leicester or Tottenham win the league after he said they didn't need any players then I don't see how he can keep his job. Merson played under manager Wenger regularly during the 1996-1997 season in which Arsenal finished third but then left the club for relegated Middlesbrough in a £4.5million deal after Wenger offered him just a two-year contract. Arsenal have not been crowned champions since 2004, and following Sunday's 3-2 defeat away at an injury-hit Manchester United they lost ground on their rivals, with Spurs beating Swansea City 2-1 at White Hart Lane, and Claudio Ranieri's side overcoming Norwich City 1-0 at the King Power Stadium. And 47-year-old Merson, who played 423 times for Arsenal, scoring 99 goals in all competitions, is bitterly disappointed that Wenger has failed to capitalise on the fact that the league's so-called bigger clubs are seemingly out of the title bidding. 'People may say there's nobody better than him, but there's a thousand managers who could come in and get Arsenal in the top four. 'A thousand managers would come to Arsenal and say 'don't give me a penny, but if I get Arsenal in the top four then pay me 10 million quid'. 'Every football manager in the world would take that deal. Arsenal are always going to get in the top four. 'If Leicester or Tottenham win the title then I just don't see how he can keep his job.' Wenger's men take on Spurs on Saturday in one of the biggest games of the 66-year-old's 20-year tenure at Arsenal.