Tag Archives: pivotal

David Beckham"s move to Monaco is one I want, says manager Claudio Ranieri

Bring me Beckham! Ex-Chelsea boss Ranieri confirms interest from Monaco

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UPDATED:

23:56 GMT, 18 December 2012

Monaco coach Claudio Ranieri has confirmed his desire to bring David Beckham to the ambitious Ligue 2 club.

Ranieri, who is backed by Russian billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev, also wants Chelsea's Frank Lampard and believes Beckham can play a pivotal role in the development of Monaco's emerging squad.

Beckham, 37, is considering his options after leaving MLS side LA Galaxy.

Star quality: David Beckham is wanted by Monaco, and manager Claudio Ranieri

Star quality: David Beckham is wanted by Monaco, and manager Claudio Ranieri

Paris St Germain are also interested but coach Carlo Ancelotti, Beckham's ally, is under severe pressure to keep his job.

Ranieri said: 'Beckham keeps a passion for football, that's what interests me. It would be helpful in all aspects of the development of the club.

'He could share his passion with our young players, at 37 years old, he continues to improve and be professional.

'All young players need an experienced coach but also references in the locker room.'

French fancy: Claudio Ranieri has plenty of financial clout to strengthen Monaco

French fancy: Claudio Ranieri has plenty of financial clout to strengthen Monaco

Old friend: Ranieri has never managed Beckham, but has been beaten by him

Old friend: Ranieri has never managed Beckham, but has been beaten by him

On Tuesday, Sportsmail revealed the interest in Lampard.

Ranieri signed the midfielder from West Ham for 11million in 2001. Although the Italian was fired by Roman Abramovich in May 2004, Lampard retains a healthy respect for him as a coach.

Ranieri wants to take advantage of Lampard’s fading star at Chelsea after the London club failed to open talks with the player over a new deal.

Meanwhile, Robbie Keane says he intends to rest rather than take in a loan spell in the Premier League.

Winston Reid to sign new West Ham deal

EXCLUSIVE: Hammers defender Reid poised to ink new contract

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 12 November 2012

West Ham defender Winston Reid is set be rewarded for his impressive displays this season with a new contract.

The New Zealand international has played a pivotal role in the Hammers' excellent return to the Premier League.

And the central-defender is in advanced negotiations with Upton Park chiefs over a deal extension.

Winston Reid

Reid all about it: The West Ham defender is set to sign a new deal

Reid, 24, is out of contract at the end of the season, but manager Sam Allardyce has made tying the defender down to fresh terms a top priority.

Both parties are understood to be confident of reaching an agreement very soon.

Reid, who represented Denmark at junior level, has been an ever-present for the Hammers this season – starting all their Premier League games.

Rio Ferdinand undecided over new Manchester United deal

Rio ready to drop United bombshell as defender remains undecided over new deal

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UPDATED:

22:40 GMT, 12 November 2012

Rio Ferdinand has told Manchester United there is no guarantee he will sign a new contract to continue playing next season.

Ferdinand's current deal runs out in the summer but Sir Alex Ferguson believes the former England defender can perform at the highest level for another 'two or three years' and has indicated that he will be offered a 12-month contract to extend his Old Trafford career into an 11th season.

However Ferdinand, who turned 34 last week, has battled against a back complaint in recent years and will take his time over the next few months before deciding whether to play on.

No guarantees: Ferdinand is out of contract at the end of the season

No guarantees: Ferdinand is out of contract at the end of the season

'It's always good to hear the manager say things like that but you have to take every week and month as it comes,' Ferdinand told Inside United magazine.

'The best thing I can do is to look at it at Christmas, and then again in the summer to see how I'm feeling and go from there.

'But hearing the manager say things like that definitely puts the spring back in your step.

'I'll have a better idea of that in December or January time when the games start coming thick and fast. That is when it really hits you and you know the hard work really has to start.

'I'll probably get a better gauge of where I'm at fitness wise and the benefit of having the summer off then.'

It would be a surprise if Ferdinand decided to hang up his boots, and club sources believe he will be persuaded to carry on.

Rio Ferdinand

Future: Rio has interests outside of the game

The former West Ham and Leeds defender has been an pivotal figure at the back for United this season in the absence of Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, playing in 11 of the club's 15 Premier League and Champions League games.

But it has been a difficult year for Ferdinand whose omission from England's squad for Euro 2012 and recent fallout with Ferguson over his refusal to wear a T-shirt supporting the Kick It Out campaign came in the wake of his brother Anton's race row with John Terry.

He is a wealthy man with a growing number of interests outside the game and Sportsmail revealed last month that he is also involved in plans for a breakaway union to protect the interests of black players.

Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney should be fit for United's trip to Norwich on Saturday despite pulling out of England's friendly with Sweden tomorrow with a cut on his ankle.

Rooney suffered the injury in a challenge with Aston Villa's Matthew Lowton on Saturday but the wound is expected to have healed in time. United will carry out further tests on teammate Robin van Persie who has withdrawn from Holland's squad with a thigh strain.

Lewis Hamilton will put the breaks on Sebastian Vettel"s charge to the title

Hamilton will put the brakes on Vettel's charge to his third straight Formula One title

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UPDATED:

21:04 GMT, 27 October 2012

Lewis Hamilton's own title race may
be run, but he expects to play a pivotal role in the title duel between
Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso at the Indian Grand Prix.

After winning the three previous
races, Vettel has leapfrogged Alonso to lead the championship by six
points ahead of the showdown at the Buddh Circuit outside Delhi.

With just four races left – in India,
Abu Dhabi, Texas and Brazil – Vettel's search for a third consecutive
world title was undeniably improved yesterday when he claimed pole
position, while Alonso had to settle for fifth in his Ferrari.

Still a role: Lewis Hamilton is hoping to overhaul the Red Bull drivers in India

Still a role: Lewis Hamilton is hoping to overhaul the Red Bull drivers in India

Alonso's only good fortune is that Hamilton, running the clock down on his days as a McLaren driver, feels that from third place he can cause some discomfort for Vettel and his team-mate, Mark Webber, who secured the front row for Red Bull for the third consecutive race, a new milestone for the team from Milton Keynes.

Last night, Hamilton said: 'We are not quick enough to be ahead of these guys, but we can definitely challenge them in the race. Our race pace in practice was as good as theirs, so I am excited about that.

'If we can get a good start and have a good fight with these guys, then hopefully [we will have] a better race than the last few ones we did. I think third position gives us a fighting chance to win tomorrow. Seb has more to worry about than I do.'

Helping hand: Fernando Alonso will have to be at his best to win the championship

Helping hand: Fernando Alonso will have to be at his best to win the championship

Alonso, who spent an acrimonious year alongside Hamilton at McLaren in 2007, has to hope his old nemesis is as good as his word, for Vettel has once again benefited from the genius of Englishman Adrian Newey, the technical director of Red Bull. Under Newey's direction, the upgraded Red Bull cars have assumed an unassailable advantage in double-quick time.

'At the moment, we are not fighting only against Sebastian,' said Alonso, whose relationship with Hamilton will put the brakes on Vettel's charge to the title Hamilton is based on mutual respect these days.

'We are also fighting against Newey. Red Bull has finished first or second in the last four races. I think it is more challenging for us, but I remain 100 per cent confident that we will fight for this championship, and we will win it.'

Pole position: Sebastian Vettel is aiming for a third consecutive championship

Pole position: Sebastian Vettel is aiming for a third consecutive championship

Ferrari have alienated India's public by displaying the flag of the Italian navy on their cars in solidarity for two of their marines being held in custody in southern India after shooting two local fishermen when mistaking them for pirates.

Alonso will be oblivious to the political fall-out, however. He just hopes through his own devices, and possible assistance from Hamilton and his McLaren team-mate Jenson Button, to keep Vettel in sight.

For Hamilton, this is a race offering an opportunity to deliver his 21st grand prix win as a parting gift to McLaren.

Unfortunately, Hamilton's performances have been compromised this season, at times by poorly managed pit-stops, or, perhaps worst of all, through a calamitous misjudgment over short-fuelling him in Barcelona which relegated him from pole position to last on the grid. Mechanical gremlins have harmed him, too.

Yet Hamilton, 27, has also made mistakes. What did he imagine he would gain from tweeting the telemetry from his qualifying lap, drawing comparisons to the performance of Button's car on his flying lap, at the Belgian Grand Prix

That action isolated him within McLaren and deeply disappointed Button. But a victory in Formula One changes much, not least the memories of those involved.

And Hamilton's message before he went to work was upbeat and unequivocal: 'We have the race pace to be able to stay with the Red Bulls, so, as I say, a win is definitely possible.'

Vettel made a rare driving error. He strayed from the racing line on his first qualifying lap, missed the apex at Turn Four completely and looked for a moment like a rookie, not a man with an astonishing 25 victories from just 97 races in Formula One.

The burden of history Vettel is carrying as a passenger in his car is the realisation that only Juan Mauel Fangio and Michael Schumacher have ever won three F1 titles in consecutive years.

'I was a bit too greedy into Turn Four,' said Vettel, after returning to the circuit with nerve unaffected to take pole from Webber.

Outwardly calm, he knows there is still much to play for – and much to lose.

'I know McLaren and Ferrari will be pushing hard,' said Vettel, an old head on young shoulders.

Darren Fletcher says he is getting back to his best

I'm getting back to my best now, insists Man United star Fletcher

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 24 October 2012

The year started with a dark shadow over Darren Fletcher’s playing career and a makeshift coaching role with the reserves.

Now, however, it looks like ending with him restored not only to full health but a pivotal role in Manchester United’s quest for European and domestic honours.

Struck down by debilitating ulcerative colitis, the Scotland midfielder wondered where his next game was coming from after being told last January he wouldn’t play again that season but could keep his hand in assisting reserve-team boss Warren Joyce.

On the ball: Darren Fletcher in Champions League action on Tuesday

On the ball: Darren Fletcher in Champions League action on Tuesday

Even in the summer, as his team-mates reported back for pre-season training, he wondered whether he would ever recapture the form and fitness that once made him a vital cog at the heart of United’s midfield.

Not any more. Doubts may have been raised about United’s defensive stability, after going 2-0 behind before rallying for a 3-2 Champions League win over Braga, but not about Fletcher nearing the end of a long, gruelling route back to peak condition.

He is not quite there yet, but the contented smile told its own tale, as he reflected on a full shift, just a month after launching his comeback as a substitute against Galatasaray.

‘I am back quicker than I expected, a lot quicker,’ he said. ‘Maybe experience helps with that. Perhaps you don’t have the sharpness in your legs yet, but in your mind, you have. You can react quicker because you have been in the situations before.

‘Anyway, I think my legs are coming back. I can feel it, and I really do feel great. If you had said I would be in this position back in June or July, playing a full 90 minutes in a Champions League tie, I wouldn’t have believed you.

‘But here I am, and it is all going well. It is quite hard to assess where I am up to, and if I am back to my old self. I feel fantastic, but when you have been out so long, it is going to take time before you are 100 per cent.

Back in the fold: Fletcher, (right, back row), with his team-mates

Back in the fold: Fletcher, (right, back row), with his team-mates

'The manager and I have spoken about that. But I feel I am closing in on it. Each game, each training session and each week I am feeling better and stronger. After all I have been through, it is great to be able to say that, and hopefully I will carry on getting stronger and stronger.’

Just to be involved again, to be back among his team-mates, on the pitch, in the dressing room, is giving him enormous satisfaction.

‘When you have been up against it, like I have, you are just happy to be making some sort of contribution,’ he said. ‘Of course, I want to be involved as much as I can. The more minutes under my belt and hours on the training pitch, the better it will be. That is going to help me improve drastically.’

Fletcher wishes to thank Sir Alex Ferguson for not only standing by him but believing in him. ‘I always had faith in myself,’ he said. ‘But it helps to hear the manager’s words of encouragement. That gives you extra confidence.

Bad start: United went 2-0 down against Braga

Bad start: United went 2-0 down against Braga

‘Do I appreciate time out in the middle even more now Well, I’ve always been one who did appreciate the game and how fortunate I have been to be part of things here.

‘But I think you do appreciate it all the more after going through something like this. Without a shadow of a doubt, you take it all in and savour every moment. It’s funny, because I was so desperate to get back playing, I had to be kept in check a bit. I couldn’t wait, but the manager told me I had to be patient, and all his staff made me fully aware of that.

‘When you have been out for a long time, you are desperate to play and maybe push yourself a bit too much. But I had good people around me, like the sports science staff, the manager, Warren Joyce.

‘They were there with the reins, and they would just hold me back. Deep down, I knew they were right, but it is hard when you just want to make up for lost time.’

Lewis Holtby – Schalke star coming for Arsenal

Lewis Holtby – England lost a young star to Germany… and now he's coming for Arsenal

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UPDATED:

11:00 GMT, 24 October 2012

LIVE: Arsenal v Schalke

Click here to follow all the action during Wednesday night's Champions League clash

When Schalke walk out at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal fans will scan the teamsheet for some familiar names.

They’ll find the Dutch hotshot Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who has already helped himself to six club goals this season. There’s Jefferson Farfan on the right flank, the Peruvian who's been in Germany for four years and PSV before that, and Ibrahim Afelay opposite him, on loan from Barcelona.

And in between them, in the pivotal role behind the striker, a player called Lewis Holtby. A man with a very English name whom the English know very little about.

We would know all about him if the FA and Fabio Capello hadn't let him slip through the net.

The one that got away: Lewis Holtby (left) in training with Schalke at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday

The one that got away: Lewis Holtby in training with Schalke at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night

The one that got away: Lewis Holtby in training with Schalke at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday

The one that got away: Lewis Holtby (left) in training with Schalke at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday

In the aftermath of England’s disastrous World Cup in 2010, as a beleaguered Capello tried to rebuild and restore our credibility on the international stage, there was a brief thought that Holtby could be part of the solution.

But Holtby had committed himself to playing for Germany – the side who had thrashed the Three Lions, 4-1, at the tournament. It was too late.

The 22-year-old was born in Erkelenz near Monchengladbach and has represented Germany at youth and Under 21 level. So far, so German.

Lewis Holtby – the story so far…

2007-2009
Alemannia Aachen
33 league appearances, 8 goals

2009-present
Schalke 04
37 league appearances, 7 goals

2010
VfL Bochum (loan)
14 apps, 2 goals

2010-11
Mainz 05 (loan)
30 apps, 4 goals

INTERNATIONAL

Germany Under 21
20 caps, 12 goals

Germany
2 caps, 0 goals

But dig a little deeper and you’ll find
that Holtby’s father, Christopher, is a Liverpool-born,
Everton-supporting British Army soldier who served in the Falklands War
and married a German girl, Heidi.

Until Joachim Low handed Holtby his first senior cap against Azerbaijan in June 2011, this was enough to qualify him for England.

Holtby freely admits he dreamed of playing for England as a kid and he cheered when Michael Owen led the Three Lions to that 5-1 win in 2001. But Germany showed greater interest and affection for him, and he repaid their loyalty.

‘Before I played for Germany, there was a slight hope [of an England call-up],’ Holtby told the BBC in the run-up to Wednesday night's Champions League group stage match in north London.

‘But when Germany called me up and I had my first game, I learned the German FA was absolutely fantastic and I’m really enjoying playing for Germany now.

‘I didn’t want to be a traitor [having played for Germany Under 21s] and if England called I probably would have said no. If you want to play for a country, you stick to that country and do your best for them. That’s my point of view.’

Holtby’s position has never wavered – in an interview with Sportsmail two years ago he said: ‘I have both countries in my heart. I supported England as a child, but I’m not a traitor. I must have honour and respect for Germany.

‘I love the country of England, but Germany have given me the honour of the captaincy at Under 21 level and I have to give them back that respect.’

Too late: Holtby may be an Everton fan, but England have lost him to Schalke (above) and Germany (below)

Too late: Holtby may be an Everton fan, but England have lost him to Schalke (above) and Germany (below)

Too late: Holtby may be an Everton fan, but England have lost him to Germany

His use of the word ‘traitor’ is
interesting – few football fans in England will have heard of Holtby and
know his back story, let alone claim he has betrayed them.

But with Schalke riding high in the Bundesliga – a 2-1 away win at defending champions and fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund at the weekend took them to third – and Holtby impressing with his passing and movement, it could be a matter of time before we do finally get to see more of him.

He is in the final year of his contract with the Ruhr club and his performances have Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool on alert.

Flying the flag: Holtby exploded into stardom in the Bundesliga after his star showings on loan at Mainz

Flying the flag: The midfielder exploded into Bundesliga stardom after his star showings on loan at Mainz

Like his father, Holtby supports Everton
– an early memory is of watching Paul Rideout win the 1995 FA Cup final
against Manchester United at Wembley – and he’s on record as saying a
Premier League move would be a ‘dream’.

He first caught the eye in the autumn of 2010, when his excellent performances while on loan helped Mainz 05, an unfancied side from Germany’s Rhineland, set a German top flight record by winning their first eight games.

Holtby returned to Schalke in March of that season and is on track to become one of their most influential players. His pass to release Marco Hoger for the decisive second goal against Dortmund on Saturday was yet another example of his class.

In the Gunners' sights: Holtby is set to line up behind striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (above, centre) against Arsenal

In the Gunners' sights: Holtby is set to line up behind striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (above) against Arsenal

In the Gunners' sights: Holtby is set to line up behind the main striker in Schalke's front line against Arsenal

‘It was a great result to win against
our biggest rivals,’ he said. ‘And it gave us so much confidence to
play against Arsenal on Wednesday.

‘I think it will be a similar game to the one against Dortmund. We are ready for the challenge and happy to play there.’

A characteristic Holtby performance against Arsenal will only increase his stock further and the German is hoping Jack Wilshere completes his return from injury so they can have a test of strength in the midfield.

It’s not beyond the realms of
possibility that Holtby and Wilshere could now be sparring for a place
in England’s midfield had things turned out differently.

The stage is set: England could discover at the Emirates Stadium that they have let a great talent slip away

The stage is set: England could discover at the Emirates Stadium that they have let a great talent slip away

‘For me it was always a dream to play in the Premier League and it was always a team like Arsenal that I would like to play for,’ added Holtby. ‘Now I play for Schalke and I am happy to be here.

‘My agent is there to handle the rumours. I want to put all my concentration on football. I cannot be fussed in my head with other clubs who want to sign me or whatever.’

For England, the match at the Emirates could be a glimpse of what might have been. For the Premier League, it could be a glimpse of what is still to come.

Jimmy Kebe back in training for Reading

Kebe hands Reading timely boost as midfielder returns to training

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UPDATED:

22:12 GMT, 12 September 2012

Reading midfielder Jimmy Kebe has resumed training with his team-mates.

Mali international Kebe played a pivotal role in the Royals' npower Championship triumph last season but has yet to feature this term due to a hamstring problem picked up in pre-season.

Back in action: Jimmy Kebe (right) has returned to training with Reading

Back in action: Jimmy Kebe (right) has returned to training with Reading

The 28-year-old appears to be closing in on his comeback, although it remains to be seen whether it will come in Sunday's Barclays Premier League game against Tottenham.

Kebe posted on Twitter: “First training with the group today since my injury… Such a great feeling to be back on the pitch 🙂 I missed football so much !!”

Jimmy Kebe nearing return

Kebe hopes to be back training soon as Reading winger recovers from hamstring injury

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UPDATED:

18:18 GMT, 5 September 2012

Fantasy football 2012

Reading midfielder Jimmy Kebe has revealed he hopes to be back in training in 10 days.

The 28-year-old Mali international played a pivotal role in Brian McDermott's npower Championship winning side last year but is yet to feature for the Royals this season due to an ongoing hamstring issue.

Nearly there: Jimmy Kebe will be back in training soon

Nearly there: Jimmy Kebe will be back in training soon

Kebe used Twitter to predict he would return to training in a little over a week as he looks to recover in time for fixtures against the likes of West Brom and Newcastle towards the end of the month.

He wrote: 'Doctor seen this morning for an injection on my hamstring…it's getting better though, should be back for training in 10 days hopefully.'

Rugby League Challenge Cup: Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield reaction

Leeds skipper Sinfield stoical after suffering fifth Challenge Cup final defeat

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UPDATED:

14:24 GMT, 26 August 2012

Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield put on a brave face after picking up a fifth losers' medal from the Carnegie Challenge Cup final.

The 32-year-old England international stand-off has led the Rhinos to five Grand Final victories in eight years but is still waiting to get his hands on the Challenge Cup after yesterday's 35-18 defeat by Warrington.

It was Leeds' sixth defeat since their last triumph in 1999 and their third in a row at Wembley after losing to the Wolves in 2010 and Wigan a year ago, but Sinfield remained stoical in defeat.

Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield suffered the disappointment of a fifth Challenge Cup final defeat against Warrington Wolves on Saturday

Leeds captain Kevin Sinfield suffered the disappointment of a fifth Challenge Cup final defeat against Warrington Wolves on Saturday

'We're still alive,' he said. 'I think there are far worse things that can happen, certainly in and around the world at the minute.

'Ultimately it's a game and it does hurt a great deal. Obviously we're disappointed but I thought the best team won.'

The Rhinos had genuine hopes of ending their 13-year wait when Sinfield kicked the first of two penalties to edge his side 8-6 in front after 23 minutes, after earlier converting Ian Kirke's first try of the season.

They trailed only 12-10 at half-time and were desperately unfortunate to have a try from Brett Delaney disallowed by video referee Phil Bentham two minutes into the second half.

Warrington full-back Brett Hodgson had no complaints over the tackle from Kylie Leuluai that forced him to spill the ball but Bentham ruled out the score due to a knock-on.

It was the pivotal moment of the match, with the Wolves going on to dominate the last 30 minutes, but Sinfield was not looking for excuses.

Sinfield, 32, had hoped to end the Leeds Rhinos' 13-year wait for the Challenge Cup

Sinfield, 32, had hoped to end the Leeds Rhinos' 13-year wait for the Challenge Cup

'I'd like to see it again,' he said. 'Warrington seemed to get the ascendancy from it.

'But I'm not one to moan about refereeing decisions. I thought Warrington played that last 30 minutes really well.

'We struggled to get out of our own 40 and that shows how well they played. Sometimes you've just got to cop it on the chin.'

Leeds second rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan, who went off with a knee injury towards the end of the first half, collected a fourth losers' medal and admits time is running out for the team's older generation to get their hands on the elusive trophy.

Jamie Peacock is the only Leeds player to have won the Cup – he achieved the feat with Bradford – but Jones-Buchanan believes the crop of youngsters emerging through the ranks could enjoy more successful times in rugby league's famous knockout competition.

The Rhinos had 18-year-old Stevie Ward in their starting line-up and little-known Jimmy Keinhorst making only his fourth senior appearance alongside established youngsters Kallum Watkins, who scored two late consolation tries, Zak Hardaker and Ben Jones-Bishop.

Warrington took the trophy for the eighth time after a 35-18 win at Wembley

Warrington took the trophy for the eighth time after a 35-18 win at Wembley

'They've got another 10 or 15 years left in them and experiences like that are only going to make them stronger players as time goes by,' Jones-Buchanan, 31, said.

'That's what it's about. Myself and Kev and Rob (Burrow) and Danny Maggs are not going to play forever and at some point that ball is going to have to be passed down to the younger lads.

'Maybe they will win three or four Challenge Cups in the future.'

More immediately, Jones-Buchanan is hoping history will repeat itself before the end of the season.

The Rhinos bounced back from last year's Wembley heartache to win the Grand Final from fifth place and, currently sitting in fifth spot, he sees no reason why they cannot re-produce those heroics.

Jamie Jones-Buchanan (left), Jamie Peacock (centre) and Darrell Griffin stand dejected after the final whistle

Jamie Jones-Buchanan (left), Jamie Peacock (centre) and Darrell Griffin stand dejected after the final whistle

'For sure, I don't see why not,' Jones-Buchanan said. 'You've just got to pick yourself up and carry on.

'Last year it was a bit of a catalyst for kicking on for the rest of the season. There's a bit of rugby to be played yet. The season is not written off.'

Leeds have only five days to pick themselves up for the visit of Salford but Sinfield was not yet ready to think about that in the immediate aftermath of his latest disappointment.

'I don't want to think about Friday, if I'm honest,' he said. 'We'll go back to work on Monday, roll our sleeves up and get ready to go.

'But, at this moment in time, being honest, rugby is the last thing I want to think about.'

Euro 2012: Spain and Croatia will be exciting – Xavi

Xavi expects high quality finale to Group C as Spain and Croatia fight for supremacy

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UPDATED:

12:47 GMT, 17 June 2012

Spain midfielder Xavi expects a very open game of football when the defending champions take on Croatia on Monday in Gdansk in a pivotal Group C game at Euro 2012.

Both sides are two points clear of Italy, who face the Republic of Ireland in the other pool game.

The Irish have already been eliminated after two defeats.

Let us entertain you: Xavi (right) expects an open game when Spain face Croatia on Monday

Let us entertain you: Xavi (right) expects an open game when Spain face Croatia on Monday

'I think it is going to be a beautiful game for the fans and for the players,' the Barcelona midfielder said.

'They will have to go all out and so will we.

'We depend on ourselves to qualify and we will try to win and be first of our group.

'However, Croatia are very good, they have a fantastic team, with great individual talent.

'I don't expect an easy game.'

All smiles: Spain manager Vicente del Bosque (left) jokes with his players during their training session

All smiles: Spain manager Vicente del Bosque (left) jokes with his players during their training session

Hopes are high: Spain are on the verge of reaching the quarter-finals

Hopes are high: Spain are on the verge of reaching the quarter-finals

There are fears amongst Italian fans
that the encounter could end in a 2-2 draw, a result that would see
Croatia join Spain in the next round at the expense of the Azzurri.

'Absolutely not,' Xavi said.

'We only know how to play attacking football so a draw would not suit us.

'We will go out determined to hold possession, to move the ball and to go forward.

Tiki Taka: Spain's passing game was in full flow as they tore Ireland apart in Gdansk on Thursday

Tiki Taka: Spain's passing game was in full flow as they tore Ireland apart in Gdansk on Thursday

Alone: Cesc Fabregas was dropped to the bench for Spain's convincing win over Ireland on Thursday

Alone: Cesc Fabregas was dropped to the bench for Spain's convincing win over Ireland on Thursday

'This is our style of game and the one that made us European and world champions.

'Our aim is always to go out for victory and against Croatia it will be no exception.

'We will play to get three points from the first minute until the last.'

Spain, who were held to a 1-1 draw by Italy in their group opener, already displayed that attacking flair in a 4-0 triumph over Ireland on Thursday.

Main man: Fernando Torres

Main man: Fernando Torres

'We have the same hunger that we had in Euro 2008 and at the 2010 World Cup,' Xavi said.

'We are among the favourites and we have the possibility to make history and win another Euro title.

'But we know that only through hard work and humility that will be possible.'

Fernando
Torres is set to lead Spain's attack for the second consecutive game
with the Chelsea striker having scored twice against Ireland.

Rivals Croatia face Spain for the first time in a major competition and coach Slaven Bilic knows his side will have to step up their game.

The Croats beat Ireland before holding Italy to a 1-1 draw on Thursday.

'We will need to play the best game of our lives,' said Bilic, whose side hope to reach the quarter-finals of the competition for the second straight time.

'We must be concentrated for 90 minutes.

'We have to work as a team and we are going to have to take our chances.'

Tottenham playmaker Luka Modric will play in support of striker Mario Mandzukic, who is the joint-top scorer of the competition with three goals.

Spain will be at full strength with midfielder Sergio Busquets having recovered from a minor foot injury.