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Andrew Flintoff claims Ashes double-header may be England swansong for Kevin Pietersen

Ashes double-header may be Pietersen's England farewell, says Flintoff

PUBLISHED:

11:54 GMT, 18 April 2013

|

UPDATED:

14:49 GMT, 18 April 2013

Former England all-rounder Andrew Flintoff believes Kevin Pietersen may consider his England future early next year.

Pietersen has only been back in the fold for two series following last summer's dramatic exile from the international set-up and is due to miss the forthcoming home Tests against New Zealand due to a knee injury.

England's star batsman was left out of the final Test against South Africa last year having sent 'provocative' messages to friends in the Proteas side and given a confrontational press conference at Headingley.

Fore! Freddie ejoys a round at the Colin Montgomerie Golf Clinic at The Devere Mottram Hall Hotel in Cheshire

Fore! Freddie ejoys a round at the Colin Montgomerie Golf Clinic at The Devere Mottram Hall Hotel in Cheshire

Fore! Freddie ejoys a round at the Colin Montgomerie Golf Clinic at The Devere Mottram Hall Hotel in Cheshire

Fore! Freddie ejoys a round at the Colin Montgomerie Golf Clinic at The Devere Mottram Hall Hotel in Cheshire

Farewell Kevin Pietersen could quit the international stage after this year's Ashes double-header, according to former England team-mate Andrew Flintoff (below)

Farewell Kevin Pietersen could quit the international stage after this year's Ashes double-header, according to former England team-mate Andrew Flintoff (below)

Pietersen's last Tests

THE ASHES IN ENGLAND 2013
July 10-14 – First Test, Trent Bridge
July 18-22 – Second Test, Lord's
August 1-5 – Third Test, Old Trafford
August 9-13 – Fourth Test, Riverside Ground, Chester-le-Street
August 21-25 – Fifth Test, The Oval

THE ASHES IN AUSTRALIA 2013-2014
November 21-25 – First Test, The Gabba, Brisbane
December 5-9 – Second Test, Adelaide Oval
December 13-17 – Third Test, WACA, Perth
December 26-30 – Fourth Test, Melbourne Cricket Ground
January 3-7 – Fifth Test, Sydney Cricket Ground

He was initially left out of the touring party for India but returned to the fold after a much-discussed period of 'reintegration' and enjoyed a superb run of form with the bat.

But Flintoff, who called time on his own England career in 2009, believes Pietersen could be tempted to depart the scene again after back-to-back Ashes series at home and abroad.

'I wouldn't read too much into his not playing New Zealand, Kevin will be ready (for the Ashes),' he told Sky Sports News.

'There are 10 Tests against Australia in the next few months, I expect England to win and expect Kevin to be part of that.

'But
I would be quite interested to see if Kevin tries to play Test cricket
after that. We'll see what happens after that, if he is lured away to
play IPL and Twenty20 cricket around the world.

Old pals: Pietersen and Flintoff together for England during the winter 2008 tour of India

Old pals: Pietersen and Flintoff together for England during the winter 2008 tour of India

'I've got a sneaking suspicion he'll be looking at those 10 Tests and then consider his future.'

Pietersen took to Twitter on Wednesday to insist he would play internationally for another four years.

Responding to a question from another user asking: 'Do you think/want to play for England for a few more years', Pietersen replied: 'At least 4 years…'

I'm staying: Pietersen insisted he would play for England for another four years on Twitter yesterday

I'm staying: Pietersen insisted he would play for England for another four years on Twitter yesterday

No evidence Rio Ferdinand was racially abused by England fans during World Cup qualifier in San Marino, say Football Association

FA finds no evidence that England fans racially abused Ferdinand brothers during San Marino qualifier

fixture in Moldova.

A football banning order means an individual must surrender their passport, excluding them from all travel abroad around England international fixtures.

'We've been asked to supply our
submission to Fifa by Tuesday, which we will do,' said FA Managing
Director of Club England Adrian Bevington.

'We have gone through all of the video evidence that our security team recorded on the evening of the game.

'I do want to make clear that while
the journalists who have reported this have done so in good faith, they
clearly have heard chanting of a particular nature, and we're not
disputing that, but we haven't been able to identify any of that from
the recorded evidence that we've gone through.'

Fare, who did not have their own
observers at the match, have collated the evidence on the basis of
'hearsay', according to the Football Supporters Federation.

Having been selected for an England squad for the first time since June 2011 for the Brazil 2014 qualifying double-header with San Marino and Montenegro, Ferdinand withdrew after telling Roy Hodgson he had to follow a pre-planned programme of treatment on his back trouble.

He then attracted ridicule by flying to Qatar to appear as a pundit for the match on the Al-Jazeera television channel.

It was widely reported the morning after the game that England fans had sung derogatory songs about Rio and his brother Anton, with the FA promising to investigate the claims.

Ferdinand said on Twitter at the time: 'You expect and accept banter from
fans on the terraces as it's part of what makes the game great, but
racism is not banter and from your own fans. WOW.

'Always a small minority who ruin it for others.'

He added: 'Let's not jump to
conclusions and assume though as it might just have been banter. We'll
see after the investigation.'

The FA issued a statement confirming they had launched an investigation and would review video footage taken by their officials.

They also promised to ban any England fan found guilty of racist abuse and vowed to 'do all we can to eradicate racism from football'.

And the FA also issued a strong call for an end to the 'No Surrender' chants.

The statement read: 'We will not accept any racist chanting and we also call on those attending England matches at home and abroad to stop the “No Surrender” chanting during the singing of the national anthem, both before and during games.'

The prospect of Fifa sanctions was then raised after Fare flagged up to world football's
governing body the vile songs which suggested the pair be burned on a bonfire.

The chant in San Marino was: 'Build a bonfire, build a bonfire, put Rio on the top, put Anton in the middle, then burn the f****** lot.'

Football Supporters’ Federation chief executive Kevin Miles, who was at the game, said: ‘Leaping to formal complaint on the basis of second-hand and hearsay information without engaging with supporters’ organisations who were present or the FA is not an approach designed to create the best possible outcome.

‘The Football Supporters’ Federation stand firmly against any manifestations of racism within football. On this occasion, I personally have not heard any of the anti-Rio Ferdinand sentiment being expressed in a way that could be construed as racist.

‘Anger about Rio Ferdinand’s absence from the squad and presence in Dubai in an Al Jazeera studio was strongly felt and clearly expressed. But I heard no racist content. If there were songs sung with racist undertones, then that is a matter for concern. But even then the response needs to be measured, proportionate and constructive.’

Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley today called at the time on the FA to take a stance on the 'vile' and 'abusive' chants by England fans aimed at the Ferdinands.

It has been suggested the song had racist overtones because Anton Ferdinand was the target of racist abuse from former England captain John Terry.

Abuse: England supporters chanted that Rio (above) and Anton Ferdinand (below left) should be 'burned'

Abuse: England supporters chanted that Rio (above) and Anton Ferdinand (below left) should be 'burned'

Anton Ferdinand (left)

Who are FARE

Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) is an international network of groups active in over 40 countries.

Their aim is to help support and coordinate efforts across borders and strengthen activity at national level.

According
to their mission statement: ‘We want to see the beautiful game played
without discrimination and used as a social tool to unite communities,
overcome exclusion and create social change.

'Our
focus is on tackling racism of all kinds, homophobia, and to empower
minorities and women to realise their personal and collective
potential.'

The general objectives of the FARE network are:

To
promote a commitment to fight discrimination at all levels of football
across Europe – in stadiums, on the pitch, in administration, in
coaching and sport education and through the mediaUse the appeal of football to tackle societal discriminationTo foster networking and exchange of good practice transnationallyTo
undertake activities to capacity build and empower marginalized and
discriminated groups, in particular young people, migrants, ethnic
minorities, members of the LGBT communities and women.

Where do they get their money from

Funding has come from the European Commission, UEFA and smaller bodies such as Stand Up Speak Up, a campaign launched by Thierry Henry and Nike to fight racism.

Did FARE have anyone at the match

No. They operate as a conduit for complaints of racism.

So why are they getting involved

Despite having no direct experience of the chanting, FARE claim they are duty bound to lodge a complaint after collating evidence sent to them and after studying media reports of the match.

And why do they think the chant was racist

That is far from clear. The bonfire song is sung at football stadiums across Britain without any suggestions of racism. Some suggest the inclusion of Anton Ferdinand as well as his brother Rio has turned the song into a racist attack. FARE have talked only of an ‘undercurrent of race’. Others point to connotations of the Ku Klux Klan.

What happens next

FIFA will assess the complaint next week. If the allegations are proved it is possible, but unlikely, that England could end up being forced to play their next match behind closed doors. Hungary and Bulgaria played in empty stadiums as a result of FIFA punishments.

Ouseley told BBC Radio 5 Live:
'Whether it's racist or not, it's certainly unacceptable. It's vile and
it shouldn't be part of sport. Something needs to be done about it.

'These
are the supporters of the England national team who are travelling
abroad and singing songs like that. What messages does it send out about
the type of people we are and who we represent

'The
Football Association should be taking a stance on this about the people
it wants supporting the England team, the image it wants to send
abroad.

'I've already
contacted the chairman of the Football Association and said this has to
be looked at, investigated and dealt with. Do you want to be having an
army of fans who call themselves the England fans travelling abroad,
being abusive to their own players like that, or indeed other people

'FIFA will determine (whether it is racist) but clearly we can take a stance on that. We have policies

on anti-racism, homophobia and all other forms of unacceptable behaviour. Why are we so quiet about it'

FIFA said in a statement: 'We can
confirm that FIFA has been contacted by FARE regarding the FIFA World
Cup qualifier match between San Marino and England last Friday.

'FIFA will now analyse the content of the documents and next steps will be determined in due course.'

The ultimate sanction, if FIFA take action against England, is playing a World Cup qualifier behind closed doors.

FARE, headed by Piara Powar, did not have
observers at the game as it was not expected to be 'high risk', but were
supplied with information about the chants by people who were and they
have decided to act.

The organisation is a pan-European
network that aims to rid racism from football. They also reported racist
or xenophobic incidents at Croatia v Serbia and Poland v Ukraine,
matches where members were present.

The FA did not know
an official complaint had been made when Sportsmail enquired but they
are aware of the songs.

English fans also sang about the IRA and 'German
bombers' during the World Cup qualifier but FARE made it clear the
Ferdinand chanting was the reason FIFA had been notified.

A FARE spokeswoman said: 'It refers to the racist abuse Rio Ferdinand received, along with his brother Anton.

'We don't make the judgement. We send a
report to FIFA but in the end its their decision whether they open
proceedings or not. And whether they issue a fine or not.'

An
FA spokesman said: 'We have not been notified on this matter and until
we get a full report it would not be appropriate to say anything.'

Powar told Sportsmail:
‘It’s not really the sort of thing we are generally attuned to looking
at – fans abusing players of their own country who may not have been
picked.

'Nevertheless if it happens at a game, even if the focus of the abuse isn’t there it’s still happening.

‘One
of the things we want to underline straight off is that sometimes
racism doesn’t only take the form of monkey chants or bananas being
thrown. Sometimes there are things that are more subtle at play.

‘In the end we are not responsible for
making a decision on whether England fans are guilty of racism here but
we do have a duty to report things that are said to us because
individuals have reported them as racist or xenophobic within the
context.'

Pulled out: Man United defender Ferdinand was called up but withdrew from Roy Hodgson's squad

Pulled out: Man United defender Ferdinand was called up but withdrew from Roy Hodgson's squad

Discussions: Hodgson says that if he calls Rio up again he will need to speak to him about his fitness first

He added: ‘If someone says to us, “We think
this is a big issue”, and there doesn’t seem to be malicious intent from
their perspective then we are obliged to report it.

'We have people who look at this
stuff and they have a fairly clear idea of the standards required by
governing bodies.

'It’s then put to them and it’s their process. In this
case it’s FIFA’s process. They see whether the evidence hits the
standard to take forward a prosecution.

'FIFA, in the last couple of
incidents they’ve dealt with, have shown a stronger side. They banned
Hungary and Bulgaria from playing with fans last Friday. Forced them to
play behind closed doors.

'That’s quite rare to have a major tournament
qualifier behind closed doors. The last two incidents we reported FIFA showed a very strong hand.'

FARE feel the use of the ‘You know
what you are’ chant also has a racial element, given the history of the
chant in the Terry case.

Peter Herbert, chairman of the
Society for Black Lawyers, insists the bonfire chant does have racist
overtones, adding: ‘We’re uncovering a hard core of racist fans out
there and it doesn’t take very much to trigger their abuse.

‘Some England fans, in that sense,
would claim the Ku Klux Klan are not racist. I think anybody with any
sense and understanding of how racism operates will see that this is
clearly racially motivated and is directed at him. It would not have
been said if it had been a white footballer in the same situation.’

Sam Allardyce confirms he wants to keep Andy Carroll at Upton Park after two-goal display

I want him to stay: Allardyce confirms desire to keep Carroll at Upton Park after his two-goal display against West Brom

By
John Drayton

PUBLISHED:

19:44 GMT, 30 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

19:50 GMT, 30 March 2013

Sam Allardyce cautiously underlined his desire to keep Andy Carroll at Upton Park next season after watching the striker fire West Ham to a vital 3-1 victory over West Brom.

Carroll has endured a difficult time in east London since he arrived on loan from Liverpool last summer, but he looked back to his menacing best today, scoring a fine brace which eased any lingering fears of relegation for Allardyce's men.

The 24-year-old fired a bullet header past Ben Foster to put West Ham 1-0 up and he then sealed the victory with one of the goals of the season following Gary O'Neil's strike.

Flying : The on-loan striker celebrates his goal

Loan ranger: Carroll notched his third goal of the season with a thumping header

Carroll watched the ball come over his shoulder after James Collins had sent a long punt up field and he volleyed past Foster with his right foot from a tight angle.

When asked whether he would like to retain the 6ft 3in striker's services next season, the West Ham manager said: 'The answer to that would be yes.

'There is always a possibility. We will look at the end of the season and we will se what negotiations can be done.'

Carroll's time in London has been blighted by injury, but he is now fully fit and judging by today's performance, it will only be a matter of time before he earns an international recall.

Opener: Carroll (centre) heads home O'Neil's cross to give West Ham the lead

In the air: Carroll headed home to give the Iron an early lead

Roy Hodgson omitted Carroll from his squad for the double-header against San Marino and Montenegro, but when the England manager comes to watch the footage of today's game at Upton Park, he will be impressed, Allardyce reckons.

'That was the best we have seen of him here,' Allardyce added.

'Because he has put two goals in, on top of a good performance.

'I hope this kicks him on to being a regular scorer for us in the next eight games.

'He is in a good frame of mind now and finally after a long wait his fitness is good and that's why you are seeing these performances and the goals are coming.'

West Ham are now two points short of the 38-point mark Allardyce thinks the club will need to avoid relegation.

Happy Hammers: West Ham players celebrate Carrol's early effort

Happy Hammers: West Ham now sit six points off the relegation zone with 36 points

The only disappointment for the West Ham boss today was the fact that he is likely to be without George McCartney for the rest of the season after he hobbled off with the same knee injury that had kept him out of the previous four months.

'I would have thought (he will miss the rest of the season),” Allardyce said of the left-back.

'It's a recurrence of the same injury, his medial ligaments, which is a very big disappointment for him and for us.

Downcast: Steve Clarke was disappointed with his side after the 3-1 defeat

Downcast: Steve Clarke was disappointed with his side after the 3-1 defeat

'That was the only downside for us today. Otherwise, it was a great day for us.

'It was a great performance and it takes us ever closer to that safety margin.'

West Brom were poor throughout
today's encounter. Aside from a deflected Romelu Lukaku free-kick in the
first half, Jussi Jaaskelainen barely had a save to make.

The only time the Baggies beat the Finn was three minutes from the end courtesy of a Graham Dorrans penalty.

West Brom boss Steve Clarke said: 'I can have no complaints about the result. West Ham deserved to win.

'It was a difficult afternoon but we haven't had too many of those this season.'

Clarke will speak to Youssouf Mulumbu tomorrow about his red card for petulantly kicking the ball at O'Neil in injury time.

'I said to the group after the game that they must control their frustrations,' the Scot said.

'It doesn't affect today's game but it affects our group and our squad and the next three games.
“We have a small group and it's a big loss for us.

'The time to speak about it is tomorrow. He probably did it out of frustration.'

Rio Ferdinand pulls out of England squad for San Marino and Montenegro

Ferdinand farce! Now defender pulls out of England squad over fitness fears leaving Hodgson with headache for Montenegro

and a few months later was fined 45,000 by the FA for acknowledging a tweet which referred to Ashley Cole – who gave evidence in defence of Terry in his trial after the Chelsea player was accused of racially abusing Ferdinand's brother Anton – as a 'choc ice'.

It's been a while: Ferdinand last played for England in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland June 2011

It's been a while: Ferdinand last played for England in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland June 2011

Selection poser: Roy Hodgson will have to do without Rio Ferdinand for England's World Cup double header

Selection poser: Roy Hodgson will have to do without Rio Ferdinand for England's World Cup double header

Low blow

Mouthy chat show host, former journalist and celebrity Arsenal fan Piers Morgan was quick to have a dig, tweeting: 'Sorry to see you've binned England on medical grounds, Sicknote @rioferdy5 -presumably they'll stop you playing in next few Utd games too'

Ferdinand last played for England in June 2011 in a World Cup qualifier against Switzerland at Wembley.

Meanwhile, left-back Leighton Baines is determined to take maximum points from San Marino and Montenegro.

England's next competitive match after the double header is in September and Everton defender Baines told told FATV 'The first game is one that everyone expects us to win and is a game we must win. And then it's a tougher game after that, one that's going to be really difficult and one that we really need to win.

'We want to finish the season in terms of qualifying on a high and in the best possible position to pick it up at the start of next season.

'The two draws (against Poland and Ukraine) put us under more pressure to win this one and the worst case is that we don't lose the game. Because there are plenty more games to come.'

RIO FERDINAND FACTFILE

1978: Born November 8, Peckham.

1995: Turns professional with West Ham.

1996: May – Makes West Ham debut as substitute in draw with Sheffield Wednesday.

1997: February – Scores first West Ham goal in defeat at Blackburn.

November – Becomes youngest defender to play for England when he makes debut against Cameroon at Wembley.

Debut: Ferdinand made his international bow as a substitute against Cameroon

Debut: Ferdinand made his international bow as a substitute against Cameroon

1998: Named in Glenn Hoddle's England World Cup squad but does not play at tournament in France.

2000: Left out of the England squad for Euro 2000 by Kevin Keegan. Makes British record 18million move to Leeds in November.

2002: Scores first England goal in 3-0 win over Denmark in World Cup second round.

July 21 – Leeds agree to sell Ferdinand to Manchester United for 29.1million, making him the world's most expensive defender.

2003: May – Earns first Premier League winner's medal.

October – Reported to the Football Association for failing to attend a drugs test, and left out of England squad for Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey because of the controversy.

December 18 – Receives eight-month ban and 50,000 fine over missed drugs test.

Big stage: Ferdinand (No 5) scored for England against Denmark at the World Cup in 2002

Big stage: Ferdinand (No 5) scored for England against Denmark at the World Cup in 2002

Big stage: Ferdinand (No 5) scored for England against Denmark at the World Cup in 2002

2004: January 20 – Ferdinand begins his ban, which means he misses Euro 2004.

2005: August 8 – Agrees new four-year deal with United.

2007: November 21 – Absent through injury as England lose 3-2 to Croatia at Wembley and fail to qualify for Euro 2008.

2008: March 26 – Captains England for the first time and wins his 65th cap in 1-0 defeat in France.

May 15 – Signs new five-year United deal.

May 21 – Captains United to a Champions League final victory over Chelsea in a penalty shoot-out in Moscow.

2009: May 16 – United wrap up third successive Premier League title.

May 27 – Part of United team beaten 2-0 by Barcelona in Champions League final.

2010: February 5 – Succeeds John Terry as England skipper after Chelsea defender is stripped of post by manager Fabio Capello following allegations about Terry's private life.

June 4 – Ruled out of World Cup after injuring ligaments in his left knee in training.

2011: March 19 – Loses England captaincy to Terry, ahead of Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales.

May – Wins another Premier League title with United – his fifth. United lose 3-1 to Barca in Champions League final at Wembley.

Crocked: Ferdinand's 2010 World Cup was over before it had started after he was injured during training

Crocked: Ferdinand's 2010 World Cup was over before it had started after he was injured during training

2012: February – Rules himself out of the running to captain England after Terry is stripped of the duty pending the outcome of a July trial. Terry is due to answer a charge of racially abusing Ferdinand's brother, QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, but is later acquitted.

May 16 – Left out of England's squad for Euro 2012. He later writes on Twitter: “Absolutely loved playing for england… to say I'm gutted is an understatement of the highest order…”

August 17 – Fined 45,000 by the FA for acknowledging a tweet which referred to Ashley Cole – who gave evidence in defence of John Terry in his trial – as a 'choc ice'.

December 9 – Struck by a coin thrown from the crowd at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium as United claim a 3-2 derby victory.

2013: March 5 – Escapes UEFA action after sarcastically applauding Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir at the end of home defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League.

March 10 – Escapes FA sanction for appearing to barge Chelsea striker Fernando Torres to the ground.

March 14 – Recalled to the England squad for World Cup qualifying matches against San Marino and Montenegro.

March 18 – Pulls out of the squad over fitness concerns

Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna set to miss Arsenal game at Bayern Munich through injury

EXCLUSIVE: Wilshere in race to be fit for England after being ruled out of Arsenal's showdown with Bayern

By
Sami Mokbel

PUBLISHED:

22:25 GMT, 11 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

00:09 GMT, 12 March 2013

Jack Wilshere could miss England’s crucial World Cup qualifying double header against San Marino and Montenegro.

Arsenal’s brilliant midfielder is out of Wednesday’s Champions League trip to Bayern Munich after failing to recover from the ankle injury he collected in the 2-1 defeat by Spurs nine days ago.

He will be left behind when the team flies to Bavaria today, and is not expected to recover in time for Saturday’s vital trip to Swansea.

Injury doubt: Jack Wilshere is in a race to be fit for England's trips to San Marino and Montenegro

Injury doubt: Jack Wilshere is in a race to be fit for England's trips to San Marino and Montenegro

Blow: Jack Wilshere is set to miss Arsenal's Champions League clash with Bayern Munich

Blow: Jack Wilshere is set to miss Arsenal's Champions League clash with Bayern Munich through injury

That puts England boss Roy Hodgson on a collision course with Gunners manager Arsene Wenger yet again over picking the 21-year-old for his country.

Hodgson names his squad on Thursday, and will want Wilshere in his side after his talismanic performance in last month’s friendly against Brazil – especially for the must-win trip to face Group H leaders Montenegro.

But Wenger, who sent the player on a mid-season break to Dubai to aid his recovery, will fear that he could break down on international duty and miss his club’s critical fight to retain their Champions League status for another season.

The Arsenal manager was angry last month that his star player was on the field for the full 90 minutes against Brazil at Wembley, when he believed he had an agreement that he would not play the entire game.

He also clashed with Hodgson in November over his selection for the squad for a friendly against Sweden when he had only just recovered from an injury sustained on Arsenal’s pre-season trip to America.

And England Under 21 coach Stuart Pearce also bowed to pressure from the Gunners to leave him out of his squad for last summer’s tournament.

Wenger has other injury problems as his side got to Munich searching for a way to overturn their 3-1 deficit from the first leg.

Bacary Sagna is out after failing to recover from a knee problem and is also a major doubt for Saturday’s trip to The Liberty Stadium.

Setback: Wilshere could be out for a few weeks

Setback: Wilshere could be out for a few weeks

It will leave the Gunners being forced to rush back Kieran Gibbs who has missed six weeks with a thigh injury.

With Nacho Monreal cup tied, Sagna's injury leaves Wenger short of defensive options for the clash against Jupp Heynckes men.

If the Gunners decide not to risk Gibbs, they are likely to line-up with a back-four of Carl Jenkinson, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, the club's only available recognised defenders for the clash at the Allianz Arena.

However, the Gunners have been boosted by news that Bayern forward Franck Ribery will miss the second leg with an ankle injury.

Influential midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and defender Jerome Boateng are suspended.

Crisis: Bacary Sagna is set to miss the last-16 clash against Bayern Munich through injury

Crisis: Bacary Sagna is set to miss the last-16 clash after failing to recover from a knee problem

Stewart Downing: Liverpool are starting to click into gear

I love it when a plan comes together! Downing hails Rodgers after Liverpool thrash Wigan

By
Carl Markham, Press Association

PUBLISHED:

13:49 GMT, 3 March 2013

|

UPDATED:

13:49 GMT, 3 March 2013

Liverpool winger Stewart Downing believes the side are starting to click into gear and while it may be just a little too late to snatch a Champions League place he is confident they can still finish the season on a high.

The 4-0 demolition of Wigan at the DW Stadium came courtesy of a Luis Suarez hat-trick after Downing's second-minute header but there were other elements of the performance which impressed.

Since taking over in the summer manager Brendan Rodgers has spent his time trying to ingrain a new way of playing into the side, although he admits he will still require a number of transfer windows to bring the best out of his methods.

On the up: Stewart Downing celebrates after scoring against Wigan

On the up: Stewart Downing celebrates after scoring against Wigan

But the ease with which 8.5million January signing Philippe Coutinho seamlessly fitted in on only his third appearance – providing assists for the first two goals – suggests Rodgers' plan is working.

And despite their frequent difficulties in finishing off their dominance in possession results are starting to suggest when things go right they do so in impressive fashion.

The sequence of Liverpool's last six league victories since December 22 is 4-0, 3-0, 3-0, 5-0, 5-0, 4-0.

'I think it's coming together. We've had some good results of late. We're finishing teams off and defending ever so well,' said Downing.

'Pepe Reina made some great saves (against Wigan) and if we do our bit at the other end of the field, we've got a chance.

'It's all coming together. We've got 10 games to go and we've got to keep winning games.'

Liverpool's total of 53 goals from 28 matches is their second best at this stage of a Premier League season – bettered only by the 56 scored in 1995-96 – but Rodgers is not getting carried away.

He can see the progress being made but knows Champions League qualification this season remains some way off for his seventh-placed side at this point.

Treble: Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick as Wigan were put to the sword

Treble: Luis Suarez scored a hat-trick as Wigan were put to the sword

'We are not thinking about that. All we are looking at this moment in time is the next game – that is what we spoke about in the last few days,” said the Reds boss.

'We have played well a lot of this season, what has got us behind has been individual errors.

'Yesterday I could see the graft the players are doing on the training field being taken onto the pitch.

'There was a real focus and concentration in our performance.

'They are being very accustomed to how we are asking them to press as a team high up the pitch and when to drop in and build a block and control the game. That was wonderful for us.

'We have to give great credit to the players because it is very easy, especially after getting knocked out of the Europa League, to feel sorry for ourselves.

'We will focus on finishing as high as we can and look to finish the season strongly.'

Suarez stole the show again with a hat-trick which lifted him to 21 league goals for the season and past Manchester United's Robin van Persie as the country's leading scorer.

'It was another great performance,' added Downing.

Cruise control: Liverpool are finding their feet under Brendan Rodgers

Cruise control: Liverpool are finding their feet under Brendan Rodgers

'There were all types of different goals for his hat-trick.

'At the minute he's on fire and if you have a striker like that in your team, you always have a chance of winning games.

'We played some good football. Obviously getting the early goal helped.

'It settled us down and on a tricky pitch, I thought we dominated for large periods of the game.'

Of his rare header he said: 'It was nice to get a goal, no matter how they come.

'The manager said to me to try to get in a position to score goals and if you get in the box, you have a chance.

'It was a great ball from Philippe and I was able to make a good contact on it to get it past the keeper.'

Downing's goal set the tone for what was probably Liverpool's most comfortable victory of the season.

Coutinho's perfectly-weighted pass put Suarez through for a clever finish in the 18th minute and the Uruguayan then scored a deflected free-kick with 34 minutes gone and Wigan in disarray.

Four minutes into the second half right-back Glen Johnson charged 40 yards downfield before releasing Suarez to complete his treble with an angled shot through the legs of goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi.

We can upset champions Manchester City, insists Paul Lambert

We can cause upset at champions City, says Lambert despite growing relegation fears

By
John Curtis, Press Association

PUBLISHED:

14:55 GMT, 3 March 2013

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UPDATED:

14:58 GMT, 3 March 2013

Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert insists he is focused on trying to plot an upset against Manchester City tomorrow evening rather than forthcoming games with fellow strugglers Reading and QPR.

Lambert knows the significance of the Barclays Premier League double-header which will follow on from the meeting with Roberto Mancini's side with Villa in the bottom three.

But he has taken enough encouragement from Villa's performances in recent weeks – including last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Arsenal – to believe they can at least compete against the champions.

Progress: Aston Villa's Chief financial officer Robin Russell is happy that manager Paul Lambert is building a youthful first-team squad

Praise: Lambert is pleased to see Villa keeping faith in him despite the relegation battle

He said: 'I felt there were signs of encouragement against Arsenal but then I've felt that for a few weeks without getting the results.

'That's the frustrating thing, when you play well and don't get results especially the games at Everton, West Brom and Swansea.

'When you have a two-goal lead at Everton and West Brom and you don't see it through, or concede a late equaliser as was the case at Swansea, it's frustrating.

'If you had taken maximum points from those games, then you'd be sitting mid-table and, against Arsenal, we should have had at least a point.'

Lambert added: 'People are asking about the Reading and QPR games and I say to them, 'so there's no point in playing Manchester City then'

'I don't view it that way. We may as well just give it to them if we think like that. We want to beat Manchester City.

Disappointment: Villa's players trudge off after their 2-1 defeat at Arsenal on Saturday

Disappointment: Villa's players trudge off after their 2-1 defeat at Arsenal last week

'You are there to win, regardless of whether it is City or QPR or whoever. We have to try and win. We are a threat going forward. We are not going into it just to draw or anything like that.

Villa won 4-2 at City in the Capital One Cup and Lambert felt their opponents were flattered by the 5-0 scoreline in the league meeting after a contentious penalty award.

He said: 'To go up there and beat them at any time, which we did in the Capital One Cup this season, is a hell of a result because of the players they have got.

'We also felt hard done by with the penalty they got against us in the league game when we were only losing 1-0 and in the game.

'It was never a penalty and a farce and there for everyone to see. That penalty incident at the Etihad will stick in the players' minds.

'Yes, We know how hard it is going to be. They are still a top side. They've just turned Chelsea over. They have some great players and are a top side.

Ready for action: Villa players in training earlier this week ahead of Monday's game

Ready for action: Villa players in training earlier this week ahead of Monday's game

'But I don't think we go into any game frightened of anyone. We have to take the challenge on.'

Villa are only one goal away from reaching the 1,000 mark in the Premier League.

But Lambert said: 'It will be only nice to reach that milestone if we win.

'Only if we win, does that statistic become relevant.

'There are 33 points available still and that's a hell of a lot of points to play for.

'I've said before it's going to be one hell of a ride to the end of the season, that's for sure. Never a dull moment, never is.'

Villa skipper and central defender Ron Vlaar is battling to overcome the calf injury, which forced him out of the Arsenal game.

Striker Darren Bent remains doubtful with a foot injury but keeper Shay Given has recovered from a groin problem in time to be part of the squad against his former club.

Iker Casillas major doubt to face Manchester United

United handed Champions League boost as Casillas fights to return from broken bone

By
Lee Bryan

PUBLISHED:

10:17 GMT, 24 January 2013

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UPDATED:

11:44 GMT, 24 January 2013

Iker Casillas is a major doubt for Real Madrid's Champions League double-header with Manchester United after breaking a bone in his hand.

The World Cup winner suffered the injury in his side's Copa del Rey quarter-final victory over Valencia on Wednesday when team-mate Alvaro Arbeloa kicked him while clearing a ball in the area.

Madrid will assess the injury before deciding what treatment is required while Adan Garrido is likely to deputise for the Spanish No 1.

Iker Casillas

Iker Casillas

Blow: Iker Casillas has broken a bone in his hand, making him unlikely to face Manchester United next month

Casillas will miss Sunday's La Liga clash with Getafe and the second leg against Valencia next week.

He is also also struggle to recover in time to face United at the Bernabeu on February 13.

'When I tried to close my fist it hurt. It's just the thumb. The fact that it has nothing to do with the wrist is good,' Casillas said.

Meanwhile, the club said in a statement: 'After carrying out initial x-rays…
it has been confirmed that the footballer Iker Casillas has suffered a
fracture at the base of the first metacarpal on his left hand.

'It will be assessed again by a specialist later today to decide what treatment will be followed.'

Real Madrid's goalkeeper Iker Casillas

Real Madrid's goalkeeper Iker Casillas

At war Casillas and manager Jose Mourinho have been at odds in recent weeks

The injury to a key figure comes at a delicate time for Mourinho with Europe's elite club competition resuming in just over two weeks.

Casillas has just been restored to the starting line up after the manager controversially dropped him for the league games either side of La Liga's winter break.

The decision provoked angry reactions from home fans and fuelled media speculation about possible dressing room rifts even though Real's defence has started to tighten up of late.

Casillas's injury follows reports in Spain that suggested he, along with team-mate Sergio Ramos, delivered an ultimatum to president Florentino Perez.

Main man: Casillas' injury will be a blow to the Spanish champions ahead of the Champions League last 16

Main man: Casillas' injury will be a blow to the Spanish champions ahead of the Champions League last 16

The pair want to see the back of the
Portuguese at the end of the season and have told Madrid chiefs that
they will seek their own move away should Mourinho be retained.

The 2011 Copa del Rey winners will face a high-profile clash with great rivals Barcelona if the holders can beat Malaga in their quarter-final second leg at the Rosaleda.

The scores are level at 2-2 after Malaga snatched a late equaliser in last week's first leg at the Nou Camp.

Harlequins 26 London Irish 15

Harlequins 26 London Irish 15: Exiles suffer late penalty try punishment

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UPDATED:

18:04 GMT, 29 December 2012

London Irish were dragged deeper into the relegation mire after champions Harlequins ground out a victory in front of 82,000 fans at Twickenham.

The Exiles were in touch for 78 minutes but left empty-handed after a late penalty try from Harlequins' dominant pack denied them a losing bonus point.

Harlequins had taken the lead after a scrappy first half with a try from scrum-half Danny Care and Nick Evans added 16 points with the boot.

Nice work: Chris Robshaw (right) of Harlequins celebrates with George Robson

Nice work: Chris Robshaw (right) of Harlequins celebrates with George Robson

London Irish are now just one point ahead of the Aviva Premiership's bottom side Sale Sharks, who closed the gap with their victory over Worcester on Friday.

The Sharks are in a state of upheaval after coach John Mitchell announced today he was returning to South Africa prematurely after just a month at the club.

But the Exiles have just two Premiership wins all season and they are not in a position to be relying on Sale shooting themselves in the foot.

Harlequins, meanwhile, finish a memorable 2012 top of the table.

Their record in this annual Christmas
extravaganza at Twickenham has not been great, with just one victory
from the four previous games.

But Conor O'Shea's men do not lose at Twickenham anymore.

Crunch: George Lowe is tackled by Jonathan Joseph of London Irish

Crunch: George Lowe is tackled by Jonathan Joseph of London Irish

Harlequins won their first Premiership title here in May and opened the new campaign with a stunning comeback victory over Wasps in the London double header.

There was nothing stunning about this victory, which was ground out in miserable conditions.

Harlequins did have the crowd on its feet in the opening minutes as they exploited the Exiles' notoriously weak defence, moving the ball quickly before Joe Marler charged through the gap.

The England prop was hauled down but the Quins pack kept the pressure on and earned a penalty which Evans converted after Exiles captain Declan Danaher slipped his binding.

Evans angled an intelligent kick into space behind the London Irish defence as Harlequins threatened to take control, but the Exiles were resilient.

Chris Hala'ufia carried the ball strongly and London Irish drew level with the first of Ian Humphreys' five penalties as the heavens opened.

Breaking through: Ollie Lindsay-Hague of Harlequins escapes from an Exiles challenge to score a try

Breaking through: Ollie Lindsay-Hague of Harlequins escapes from an Exiles challenge to score a try

The game worsened for it and became a scrappy affair, with both sides committing handling errors. Evans was the chief culprit for Harlequins, losing possession three times in the first half.

The Kiwi fly-half did kick his side back into the lead after Exiles prop Max Lahiff was penalised under pressure from James Johnson as Harlequins bossed the scrum battle.

London Irish, though, were gifted the opportunity to respond immediately when Maurie Fa'avasalu was penalised at a ruck straight from the kick-off and Humphreys accepted it.

Evans lit up the Twickenham gloom with one delightful reverse pass and then burst through a gap, only to spill the ball in the tackle.

Care had zipped across the field from a powerful lineout drive and offloaded to Evans, who went himself and should have lofted a pass out wide to Ugo Monye before he was tackled.

Harlequins produced another big scrum under the Irish posts but Fa'avasalu was penalised for playing the ball with the foot and the Exiles were able to clear.

Evans and Humphreys each missed two shots at goal before the interval and then nudged the score on to 9-9 after the restart when Harlequins began to up the tempo.

Sparks fly: Fans were entertained pre-match at Twickenham

Sparks fly: Fans were entertained pre-match at Twickenham

Monye coasted past Humphreys with ease and aimed for the corner before trying an inside ball to Mike Brown, which was knocked on by Humphreys.

Harlequins won another scrum penalty, went for touch and Care launched a 40-metre diagonal attack from the driving lineout before passing to Evans, who was hauled down five metres short.

Care darted for the line from the base of the ruck. He was half stopped by Jonathan Joseph but stretched through a forest of legs and the try was eventually awarded by television match official Geoff Warren.

Irish battled hard in the hope of a bonus point, with Humphreys slotting two more penalties, either side of one from Evans, to his side within four points.

But scrum-half Pat Phipps was sin-binned with four minutes remaining as his scrum struggled in their own 22.

Harlequins went for the scrum again and demolished the set-piece to earn the penalty try and deny their opponents the losing bonus point.

Michel Platini says Celtic are going out of the Champions League

The Bhoys are going out! Platini says Celtic have no chance of beating Juventus to progress in Champions League

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UPDATED:

14:50 GMT, 29 December 2012

Michel Platini has written off any chances Celtic may have of Champions League progress.

The UEFA president told delegates at the Globe Soccer Awards in Dubai that Neil Lennon’s next opposition – Serie A leaders Juventus – are guaranteed to be in the quarter-finals.

‘If we look at the Champions League draw, it’s clear that Juventus are already through to the quarter finals,’ the Frenchman said.

You're out! Michel Platini believes Celtic have no chance in the Champions League

You're out! Michel Platini believes Celtic have no chance in the Champions League

The Hoops have had a sensational run in the European competition so far, miraculously giant-killing both Barcelona and Spartak Moscow to earn a place in the last 16.

The Turin side, meanwhile, will be without defender Giorgio Chiellini for the double header.

Platini won six titles as an attacking midfielder, including the European Cup in 1985 and two Scuddetti.

All smiles: Tony Watt scored the second goal against Barcelona at Parkhead

All smiles: Tony Watt scored the second goal against Barcelona at Parkhead

The son of Italian ancestry, Platini’s father was an immigrant from Agrate Conturbia in the province of Novara, and the football chief has long-standing affection for Italian football.

‘Of course, Juve has always been and will always be the team of my heart, where among other things, I won everything at club level.

‘I have been very fortunate in football. I played in the strongest teams for both Nancy and Saint-Etienne, and finally in Juventus, which is the strongest team in the world.’