Tag Archives: surroundings

Joe Cole"s fall from grace at Liverpool

Subbed at half-time and lambasted by his manager and fans alike, how Cole became Ordinary Joe

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UPDATED:

22:45 GMT, 1 November 2012

Leaving familiar surroundings behind and heading north to Merseyside was always going to be a journey into the unknown for born-and-bred Londoner Joe Cole.

He is unlikely, however, to have expected the list of new experiences to include being ridiculed by his own supporters and told a supermarket trolley would have fared better down Liverpool’s left, on a rare appearance in the starting line-up.

An ignominious 3-1 Capital One Cup home defeat by Swansea was never likely to elicit a sympathetic response from Anfield patrons, but it must still have been galling for Cole to read one tweet that claimed he should be replaced in Brendan Rodgers’s squad by ‘an upside down shopping trolley’.

Off the pace: Cole (right) made his Liverpool comeback on Wednesday night

Off the pace: Cole (right) made his Liverpool comeback on Wednesday night

JOE COLE BY NUMBERS

100 number of minutes of football he has managed this season

3.1m cost per goal scored by Cole, who has managed only three for Liverpool

16 the number of passes he has made in two Premier League appearances this season

2 shots in the Premier League, both of which were off target

90,000 Cole’s weekly wage

36 appearances in two years since joining Liverpool

10.7m Cole’s earnings since arriving at Anfield. Liverpool have paid 9.4m, with the rest funded by Lille

Rodgers himself set the tone for
widespread condemnation of the former England forward’s first start
since August 2 by substituting him at half-time and bluntly telling him
he had blown his big chance.

The Liverpool manager even turned the
spotlight on Cole’s 90,000-a-week wages, saying: ‘The club have
invested an astronomical amount of money in a talented player, and Joe
had the opportunity to show what he could do.

‘But the way we started was too slow and not what I expected from a team I tried to set up to be dynamic.’

While managers tend to be mindful of players’ sensitivities, fans tell it like it is, and the tweeters did not hold back.

One claimed he could not imagine a
worse performance by a Premier League footballer, another suggested he
should be fined two weeks’ wages for playing so badly, while there was
the inevitable vitriol about his salary being a ‘real waste of money’.

All this about a player Steven
Gerrard hailed as better than Lionel Messi when he arrived from Chelsea
on a Bosman free on July 2010.

Disappointed: Cole was hauled off by Rodgers at half-time

Disappointed: Cole was hauled off by Rodgers at half-time

The Liverpool skipper knew Cole from
their England days and said: ‘Messi can do some amazing things, but
anything he can do, Joe can do as well, if not better.

'He used to shock us in training by
doing footy tricks with a golf ball that most players can’t even do with
a football. I really fancy Joe for Footballer of the Year this season.’

It was a view not universally shared,
not even by Cole, who subsequently confessed he was at a loss to
explain why Liverpool signed him.

Or who wanted him, for that matter.
With Rafa Benitez having left a month earlier, managing director
Christian Purslow appeared to be the driving force behind a deal that
raised eyebrows among the Fenway Sports Group when they took over soon
after. Cole was approaching his 29th birthday but had been awarded a
four-year contract worth almost 20million.

Cole was almost as perplexed as he
reflected on a summer that began with Benitez’s departure and ended with
Roy Hodgson’s appointment.

He said: ‘I have racked my brains
trying to think, but I don’t know who signed me for Liverpool, whether
it was Rafa or the board. I really don’t know.

False dawn: Cole got some spark back while on loan at Lille but has dropped off

False dawn: Cole got some spark back while on loan at Lille but has dropped off

False dawn: Cole got some spark back while on loan at Lille but has dropped off

‘But under Roy, I got the impression
straight away I was not his type of player. He was asking me to do
things that were not natural to me. When pressure starts to build up on a
manager, it is usually young players or flair players who get the
hook.’

Such uncertainty perhaps explains why
he failed to shine at Anfield and looked a shadow of the player whose
wonder goal for England against Sweden was one of the talking points of
the 2006 World Cup.

A season-long loan at Lille restored
not only some zest to his game but a belief that he could yet prove
himself at Anfield. Three months on and after a calamitous 45 minutes,
he has been forced to accept that Rodgers may be no more enamoured with
him than Hodgson was.

Amir Khan: Lose Carlos Molina fight and Floyd Mayweather dream is over

Lose against Molina and dream of Pacquiao or Mayweather fight is over, admits Khan

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UPDATED:

17:47 GMT, 31 October 2012

Amir Khan believes he must score a convincing win in his comeback against unbeaten Carlos Molina next month or kiss goodbye to any chance of super-fights against the likes of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather.

Khan's career has lurched dangerously off course in the past 11 months, with his deeply controversial points defeat to Lamont Peterson last December followed by a crushing fourth round knockout loss against Danny Garcia in July.

Those twin setbacks have left Khan with no margin for error as he prepares to face Molina in the American’s backyard at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on December 15.

Comeback: Amir Khan (second left) fights Carlos Molina (second right) on December 15

Comeback: Amir Khan (second left) fights Carlos Molina (second right) on December 15

Fighting talk: Khan speaks during a media conference for his upcoming fight

Fighting talk: Khan speaks in Los Angeles on Wednesday during a media conference for his upcoming fight

'There’s always pressure when I fight but I definitely have to win this because if I lose, I’m done,' Khan said. 'This is a fight I need to win, 100 per cent. If I don’t win it I’m done. It’s that simple. The big super-fights I’ve always dreamed about won’t be there if I lose this. Pacquiao, Mayweather — forget it'

In an attempt to revitalize his fortunes, Khan took the bold step of ditching revered trainer Freddie Roach in favour of the quietly-spoken San Francisco-based Virgil Hunter.

The 25-year-old Bolton light welterweight has been in camp at Hunter’s gym in Oakland and is reveling in the austere surroundings, where Hunter’s house rules a ban on swearing.

'It’s a very tight community in that gym. You need to have people there you trust. Virgil keeps it very limited and that’s what I like about it,' Khan said. 'You’re not bothered about who’s watching, you’re not training for a crowd, or fans.'

A whole lot of glove: Molina signs autographs at the Los Angeles Sports Arena on Wednesday

A whole lot of glove: Local boy Molina signs autographs at the Los Angeles Sports Arena

Khan was forced into an impromptu sparring session in early October when a gang of thugs attempted to steal a Ranger Rover he had been driving with his brother in Birmingham.

The confrontation ended abruptly with one of the would-be thieves being knocked out cold by Khan.

'I walked out of this caf and I opened the car door and these guys jumped in the car ahead of me and said “This ain’t your car mate,”' Khan said.

'It was a courtesy car I’d be given so at first I did a double take and thought, “Maybe it’s not my car”. Then I saw something in the back seat that I’d put there and I knew it was my car. Then the guys started saying – “We’re not getting out the car. You’re going to have to buy it off us”. I had the car keys so I wasn’t too worried. I thought it was a joke. But then it got a bit serious and one guy came out aggressively and said “What are going to do” And he jabbed me in the face. It wasn’t hard. He barely scratched me really. He tried to swing again and I knocked him out.

Golden Boy: Fight promoter Oscar De La Hoya builds up the light welterweight fight

Golden Boy: Fight promoter Oscar De La Hoya builds up the light welterweight fight

'I hated it to be honest with you. I never fight outside the ring. We’re born fighters, we’re taught how to fight.

'So when someone tries to fight you they’re making a big mistake. That’s when it got messy because they came out with baseball bats and sticks and smashed the rear window. They must have been drunk or high or something.'

Meanwhile Khan, who is engaged to New York student Faryal Makhdoom, has shrugged off revelations about his private life after allegations in The Sun he had been partying hard with other women in Marbella in August.

Khan insisted his fiance trusted him.

The wrong man to mess with: Khan revealed how he was forced to fight off a gang who tried to steal his car

The wrong man to mess with: Khan revealed how he was forced to fight off a gang who tried to steal his car

'She’s cool, she knows the truth because I didn’t do anything honestly,' Khan said. 'She doesn’t believe anything that the papers say because I’m honest to her. I don’t lie and she knows there’s always going to be stuff written about me.

'It’s a distraction when you’re preparing for a fight. But my fiance and my family haven’t really spoken to me about it.'

Wilfried Zaha not for sale, says Palace chairman

Zaha not for sale even if the big clubs come knocking, says Palace chairman

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UPDATED:

13:56 GMT, 15 October 2012

Crystal Palace co-chairman Steve Browett has taken to a
fans’ forum to insist that Wilfried Zaha will not be sold – despite reports of strong
interest from Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal.

The 19-year-old winger, who has four England Under-21
caps to his name, has been the subject of intense press speculation after string
of impressive displays this season.

But Browett, writing under the name CPFC2010, wrote that
he believed Zaha will be playing in the Premier League for Palace next season.

Not for sale: Wilfried Zaha is staying at Palace, says co-chairman Steve Browett, despite interest from the Premier League

Not for sale: Wilfried Zaha is staying at Palace, says co-chairman Steve Browett, despite interest from the Premier League

He said: ‘I can assure you that Wilfried is not ‘for
sale.’ We hope that he’ll be playing Premier League football next season. For
us.

‘Even if that doesn’t happen, he’s only 19 and still
learning his trade in surroundings where he is comfortable and happy. He’s on a
five-year contract and we really don’t need the money.’

Browett, who owns Palace with co-chairman Steve Parish,
Martin Long and Jeremy Hoskin, continued: ‘The four of us bought the club so
that we could enjoy watching Palace play football, not to cash in as soon as
the moneybags clubs come waving their cheque books. I hope that’s clear enough.

‘PS – and if he [Zaha] keeps developing the way he has so
far you’ll be reading plenty more rubbish in the Sunday papers.’

Recognition: Zaha has also featured for England Under-21s, including in the play-off against Serbia on Friday

Recognition: Zaha has also featured for England Under-21s, including in the play-off against Serbia on Friday

Zaha has scored four goals in his last two appearances, the
2-1 away win at Wolverhampton Wanderers and the 4-3 success over Burnley.

The results have left Palace fourth in the Championship,
three points off leaders Cardiff City.

Manchester City players in confident mood ahead of Real Madrid test

City players in high spirits as they prepare for one of the biggest games in the club's history against Real

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UPDATED:

14:40 GMT, 18 September 2012

It is one of the biggest games in their history, but Manchester City's players betrayed no signs of nerves as they prepare to take on Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday night.

The squad were in an upbeat and confident mood as they were put through their paces at Real's Ciudad training complex on the morning of the game.

Mario Balotelli, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and company took part in some light ball control and passing drills on an astroturf pitch at the impressive 1.2m square metre facility.

And the players were all smiles as they signed autographs for local admirers and frolicked around with the ball.

Phone home! Mario Balotelli checks his messages during Manchester City training at the Ciudad Real Madrid complex on Tuesday

Phone home! Mario Balotelli checks his messages during Manchester City training at the Ciudad Real Madrid complex on Tuesday

City meet Real at the Bernabeu looking
to make the perfect start in a tough Group D which also contains Ajax
and Borussia Dortmund, the champions of Holland and Germany
respectively.

Manager Roberto Mancini is boosted by
the return of striker Sergio Aguero from injury as the Argentina
international returns to a city where he spent five years with Real's
rivals, Atletico.

And Spaniard David Silva further
lightened Mancini's mood by agreeing to a new five-year contract despite
speculation he may join the Spanish champions.

Silva is like to play off Aguero in a 4-3-2-1 system that won't be short on attacking potential.

But with Real likely to enjoy long
spells of possession and plenty of territory in City's half, much will
depend on the three-man shield in front of the defence – likely to be
Gareth Barry, Yaya Toure and Javi Garcia.

Familiar surroundings: Sergio Aguero spent five years in Madrid... but for Real's cross-city rivals Atletico

Familiar surroundings: Sergio Aguero spent five years in Madrid… but for Real's cross-city rivals Atletico

Despite facing the Group of Death, Mancini was brimming with optimism ahead of their second Champions League campaign.

Last night, he said: 'If you drive a
Ferrari you can win. We used to drive a Fiat or Cinquecento (at his
former club Inter Milan) and it is not so easy. But now we drive a
Ferrari.

'We have a good team and we play
together for a few years. I am sure we will win the trophy in the
future. I don't know when, but at some stage, the club will win.'

Last season's European campaign
brought disappointment as City were eliminated to the Europa League
after finishing third in a group also featuring Bayern Munich, Napoli
and Villarreal.

They were then knocked out of the Europa League by Sporting Lisbon at the Last 16 stage.

Euro Star: Carlos Tevez prepares for City's opening Champions League group stage match with Real Madrid

Euro Star: Carlos Tevez prepares for City's opening Champions League group stage match with Real Madrid

Despite that chastening experience,
Mancini said City had grown in confidence and promised to take the game
to Madrid, who have had a shaky start to the season amid speculation
over Cristiano Ronaldo's future.

He said: 'If you get a chance, you
have to score. A draw could be a good result, but our mentality is not
to defend, we don't have that mentality.

'If you want to do well, you have to attack very well and play football. That is what we will do.

'I think it was a good experience last
year – we did a good group but it was not enough. I think the group
will be stronger this year but it will be difficult for all the teams.

'I think it is important now that we
go to the second stage. After February anything can happen, but now it
is difficult to say what we can do.'

It's mine! David Silva, back in his home country, shields the ball from Joe Hart (centre)

It's mine! David Silva, back in his home country, shields the ball from Joe Hart (centre)

For the thousands of City fans in
Madrid, watching a City side crammed with world class talent capable of
winning the biggest club prize in Europe walk out in the Bernabeu will
represent a surreal moment.

On this week just 14 years ago, City
required an 86th minute winner from Shaun Goater to beat Macclesfield
Town in the third tier of English football, a result followed up with a dire
1-1 home draw against Chesterfield.

Tightly knit: City's players, including Gareth Barry (left), know tonight represents the toughest challenge for the club in many years

Tightly knit: City's players, including Gareth Barry (left), know tonight represents the toughest challenge for the club in many years

If there is ever a good time to play Real, then this is probably it. The La Liga champions have already lost twice this season in four games and trail Barcelona by eight points.

Manager Jose Mourinho was also criticised over the weekend for putting the boot into his players for not trying hard enough.

Mourinho is likely to start with former Tottenham midfielder Luka Modric and he came out fighting on Monday night.

He said: 'My conviction is tomorrow that we will have a proper team. I'm absolutely convinced of this.

'We will have a compact team full of solidarity where the team is the most important thing, where everyone wants to work for everyone else's sake, a team where everyone wants to play at 100 per cent, regarding personal and professional principles.

'I think we will be at the top of our game. We may be missing calmness and self-confidence, perhaps missing these. And it is not easy to play against a team like Manchester City.

'Yes, we come from a poor match, where people know it was a terrible game. But I believe the team believes and has the ambition and the professionalism, I think they will be a the top of their game. Perhaps I'm wrong but this is my feeling.'

Michael Owen ready to make Stoke debut against Manchester City

I'm ready to play against City! Former Liverpool and Manchester United striker Owen prepares for Stoke debut

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UPDATED:

09:57 GMT, 13 September 2012

Michael Owen feels fit and ready to play for Stoke but must wait to find out if he has a part to play in Saturday's Barclays Premier League clash with Manchester City at the Britannia Stadium.

The Staffordshire outfit completed the signing of former England star Owen, a free agent after his release over the summer by Manchester United, last week on a one-year deal.

The 32-year-old has had a catalogue of injury problems during his career and only played four times in 2011-12, with his last first-team appearance for United coming in November.

New surroundings: Michael Owen during training at his new club

New surroundings: Michael Owen during training at his new club

Owen is keen to make his return to action as soon as possible and says he is in good enough condition to do so, although the decision about Saturday's match lies with Stoke boss Tony Pulis.

Speaking on Thursday at a press conference where he was officially unveiled to the media, Owen said: 'I'm not sure what the manager has got in store. I feel as if I am fit enough to take part in a game. I'm not quite 100% confident or happy in my general touch and different bits and bobs, but that will come.

'So we'll see what the manager has got in mind, but I'd like to think I'll improve as the weeks go on.'

Smile, Michael: Owen could make his Stoke debut this weekend

Smile, Michael: Owen could make his Stoke debut this weekend

Pulis was keeping an open mind on the matter, but said he was pleased with what Owen had demonstrated so far fitness-wise.

'From what the lads say, he has come back a lot fitter than what we thought he would,' Pulis said.

'He needs a lot more work with the ball and being in small-sided games for his sharpness, but we are pleased with the way he has come back.'

Asked if he felt he could use Owen straight away in a game, Pulis said: 'It is too early to say yet. We have got two more days.'

On the ball: Owen joined Stoke after leaving Manchester United in the summer

On the ball: Owen joined Stoke after leaving Manchester United in the summer

England once again rely on Old Guard of Gerrard, Lampard and Terry on the Road to Brazil World Cup

England once again look to the Old Guard as the Road to the Maracana starts in Moldova

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UPDATED:

12:07 GMT, 4 September 2012

The Road from Moldova to the Maracana is not well trodden – but this is the long and winding route England must take if they are to end their long wait for World Cup success.

On Friday evening, their adventure will get underway in Chisinau, a city at the heart of its country not only geographically, but economically, socially and historically.

In front of 10,000 fans at the Zimbru Stadium, England will start off on a journey they hope will end in 22 months’ time in the rather more salubrious surroundings of the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro. Roy Hodgson’s mission is to guide England from Chisinau to the Copacabana.

The Road to Brazil: Roy Hodgson is preparing to lead England into another World Cup qualification campaign

The Road to Brazil: Roy Hodgson is preparing to lead England into another World Cup qualification campaign

MOLDOVA TO THE MARACANA – ENGLAND'S QUALIFYING SCHEDULE

2012

Sept 7 – Moldova (A) – 2,688 mile round trip

Sept 11 – Ukraine (H)

Oct 12 – San Marino (H)

Oct 15 – Poland (A) – 1,804 miles

2013

Mar 22 – San Marino (A) – 1,568 miles

Mar 26 – Montenegro (A) – 2,138 miles

Sept 6 – Moldova (H)

Sept 10 – Ukraine (A) – 2,660 miles

Oct 11 – Montenegro (H)

Oct 15 – Poland (H)

Just 75 days after that nightmare of the quarter-final penalty shoot-out exit recurred against Italy, a new cycle of qualification begins for the national team.

Along the way, they must negotiate a group which carries some potentially tricky assignments – even for a team officially (and laughably) ranked third best in the world.

For the supporters who followed England to Poland and Ukraine for the European Championships in the summer, they can book a return ticket because both host countries lie in wait.

There is also a swift return to Montenegro, who gave England problems in the last qualification campaign, as well as games against San Marino and the aforementioned Moldova.

If the experience of Euro 2012 exceeded many people’s expectations, it has not proved especially cathartic. The complexion of England’s squad looks very similar to one that started the last cycle of qualifying and in many cases the two or three before that.

It’s a mockery of England’s lofty third place in the world that Hodgson can find no reason to take an axe to the senior members of the squad to make way for talented, up-and-coming young players.

The manager admitted this week that he was not prepared to toss the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard on to the scrapheap – because there is nobody to replace them.

/09/04/article-2198062-14D1FB57000005DC-607_634x445.jpg” width=”634″ height=”445″ alt=”Old Guard: Frank Lampard and John Terry continue to hold down unchallenged places in the England team” class=”blkBorder” />

Old Guard: Frank Lampard and John Terry continue to hold down unchallenged places in the England team

To some, it is comforting to have the remnants of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ (one that has not got past the last eight of a major tournament) but it is just no longer inspiring.

Just over 50,000 tickets have been sold for England’s second qualifier against Ukraine at Wembley on Tuesday, on course to be the lowest crowd for a home international since a World Cup qualifier with Andorra in 2009 held on the night of a Tube strike.

The public are not convinced – and this is one of the more attractive fixtures in the group.

Hodgson has infused a hint of youth in his squad for the Moldova and Ukraine double header, but few of them are actually going to feature.

Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand is the heir apparent to Cole, who will miss at least the Moldova game with an ankle injury, but it’s unlikely Hodgson will install him ahead of Leighton Baines. Nor will Kyle Walker unseat Glen Johnson for the moment.

Back in the fold: Jermain Defoe is likely to feature in the opening qualifiers with Moldova and Ukraine in the absence of Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll

Back in the fold: Jermain Defoe is likely to feature in the opening qualifiers with Moldova and Ukraine in the absence of Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll

The midfield just looks exactly the same – Michael Carrick has been recalled, but is there any place for his Manchester United teammate Tom Cleverley Not ahead of the more established names.

We should see a little more of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, one of the few players in the squad who is genuinely exciting to the punters, but who has much to prove. Ditto Theo Walcott.

Up front, Hodgson’s hand is forced by the unfortunate absences of Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll, but he has turned down the chance to call up another young replacement for them.

At least this situation allows us to peer a little way in to the future with Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge surely likely to feature.

Break through to Brazil: Daniel Sturridge (left) is one of the young England stars hoping to make an impression in this set of qualifiers

Break through to Brazil: Daniel Sturridge (left) is one of the young England stars hoping to make an impression in this set of qualifiers

However, the manager was clearly not enamoured enough with Jack Rodwell, Steven Caulker, Jordan Henderson and Martin Kelly to veto their immediate return to the Under-21 squad.

We pray that one or two of these young talents makes a breakthrough during this qualification campaign, otherwise we will once again have Terry, Cole, Lampard and Gerrard as our axis in a World Cup finals – with a creaking combined age of 136.

And how many genuinely world class players will England have on the plane to Brazil Joe Hart, Wayne Rooney… erm, any more

At least the trip shouldn’t be too turbulent. England will take maximum points from Montenegro, San Marino and Moldova.

And it’s hard to be too terrified by Poland side who failed to win a match in their home Euros and were dumped out bottom of a comparatively weak group, nor a Ukraine team who were reliant on the goals of Andriy Shevchenko, a man who currently canvassing for a seat in the Ukrainian Parliament.

Having said that, England were exceedingly fortunate to beat them in Donetsk – saved only by a short-sighted additional official as Terry hooked the ball off the line.

But by the time England travel to Ukraine in a year’s time, they should already be browsing through the Brazil hotel brochures, a point or two away from qualification.

Do it like this: Hodgson has made it clear that England will not be playing fashionable possession football

Do it like this: Hodgson has made it clear that England will not be playing fashionable possession football

Those few who are convinced England can triumph there might reconsider after some of Hodgson’s other comments from the other day – ‘No one has yet succeeded in convincing me that you win games by what is perceived to be possession.’

I sense there may be a few teams on the continent and in South America who beg to differ. Hodgson is obviously no follower of football fashion.

But if England are going to approach this qualification mission by following the tried and tested (or should that be tired and detested) formula of asking the cossetted Old Guard to seek out the head of the tall front man to knock down for the little front man to score, then all we can hope for is to get to the Rio departure gate with the minimum of fuss and drama.

Get there first and try and sort out the problems later.

YOUR ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO ENGLAND'S GROUP

POLAND

When and where October 16, 2012 in Warsaw
and October 15, 2013 at Wembley

Euro form Qualified as hosts; Fourth
in Group A, drew with Greece and Russia, lost to Czech Republic

Coach Waldemar Fornalik Captain Jakub Blaszczykowski FIFA Ranking 54

Last meeting Qualification for the 2006
World Cup – England won 2-1 home and away

Danger man Robert Lewandowski –
Prolific Borussia Dortmund striker

Prediction Have the potential to
challenge England for top spot in the group, but will probably have to settle
for the play-off berth.

Polish predator: Robert Lewandowski in action for Borussia Dortmund against Nuremberg at the weekend

Polish predator: Robert Lewandowski in action for Borussia Dortmund against Nuremberg at the weekend

UKRAINE

When and where September 11, 2012 at
Wembley and September 10, 2013 in Kiev

Euro form Qualified as hosts; Third in
Group D, beat Sweden then lost to France and England

Coach Oleh Blokhin Captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk FIFA Ranking 45

Last meeting Euro 2012 – England won 1-0
thanks to Wayne Rooney’s header

Danger man Tymoshchuk – Vastly
experienced captain and deep-lying midfielder who packs a fierce shot

Prediction Can challenge for the
play-off place but aren’t as good as they used to be.

MONTENEGRO

When and where March 26, 2013 in Podgorica
and October 11, 2013 at Wembley

Euro Form Play-offs; Lost 3-0 on
aggregate to the Czech Republic

Coach Branko Brnovic Captain Mirko Vucinic FIFA Ranking 50

Last meeting Qualification for Euro 2012
– A 0-0 draw at Wembley and 2-2 draw in Montenegro

Danger Man Stevan Jovetic – Talented
Fiorentina second striker or winger who has been compared to Roberto Baggio

Prediction Could be the Dark Horses and
pip Ukraine and Poland to the play-off place, as they did in the last round of
qualifiers.

Montengro's main man: Stefan Jovetic takes on the Udinese defence

Montengro's main man: Stefan Jovetic takes on the Udinese defence

MOLDOVA

When and where Friday in Chisinau and
September 6, 2013 at Wembley

Euro Form Second bottom in qualifying
Group E

Coach Ion Caras Captain Alexandru Epureanu FIFA Ranking 137

Last meeting Qualification for World Cup
1998 – England won 3-0 away and 4-0 at home

Danger Man Alexandru Suvorov – Striker
who plays for Cracovia in Poland

Prediction Six points in the bag for
England and plenty of goals to boot.

SAN MARINO

When and where October 12, 2012 at Wembley
and March 22, 2013

Euro form Bottom of qualifying group E
behind Moldova

Coach Giampaolo Mazza Captain Andy Selva FIFA Ranking 206

Last meeting Qualification for World Cup
1994 – 6-0 at Wembley and 7-1 in Bologna which, famously, wasn’t enough for
England to qualify

Danger Man Andy Selva – his nation’s
all-time top scorer

Prediction Whipping boys.

Rio Ferdinand: Shinji Kagawa will be a Manchester United hit

Red alert: Rio backs 17m United new boy Kagawa to take Premier League by storm

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UPDATED:

07:35 GMT, 24 July 2012

Fantasy football 2012

Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand is backing Japan international Shinji Kagawa to be a big hit in the Barclays Premier League.

The 23-year-old former Borussia Dortmund midfielder, currently in China with the rest of the United squad, has already impressed his new team-mates.

Ferdinand said: 'I've been very, very impressed. I'd seen him play for Dortmund on TV and I looked on YouTube.

Big hit: Rio Ferdinand is backing Manchester United new boy Shinji Kagawa (C) to take the Premier League by storm

Big hit: Rio Ferdinand is backing Manchester United new boy Shinji Kagawa (C) to take the Premier League by storm

'He's been fantastic. He's quick, he's sharp, he has great awareness, he plays off both feet. I'm excited about playing with him and getting the season started.

'He's been one of the better players in Germany for the last few years. I think he will bring that form to Manchester United. I think he'll be a great acquisition.'

Kagawa arrived at Old Trafford on a four-year deal last month and has taken little time to adapt to his new surroundings.

Impressive: Ferdinand has taken to Kagawa

Impressive: Ferdinand has taken to Kagawa

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has been delighted with how quickly he has got to grips with life at his new club despite not yet having a grasp of English.

The Scot told a press conference in Shanghai: 'The thing that's quite impressed me is that every exercise we do on the training ground, he's never needed it to be explained.

'After one demonstration, he joins in as if he's known the language forever. Of course, we know he doesn't speak the language, but it isn't a problem.

'It just goes to show that a good footballer can pick up exactly what's needed. He's been fantastic in that respect. I've been quite surprised at that.'

Kagawa and his team-mates will play their latest pre-season friendly on Wednesday when they take on Shanghai Shenhua, the latest destination for Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba.

The Chinese game is proving a lucrative market for big-name players approaching the end of their careers, although England defender Ferdinand has insisted it is not yet on his horizon.

He said: 'I think when you get to my age, if you look too far ahead, your legs can get taken beneath you.

'All I'm interested in is playing for United. It's what I enjoy.

'Pre-season began well. I'm just thinking about this season and playing for Manchester United. I'm obviously very happy here and not looking at going anywhere else.'

Meanwhile, Ferguson admitted finding a long-term replacement for 37-year-old midfielder Paul Scholes, who came out of retirement last season to star for United once again, is an ongoing concern with illness preventing Darren Fletcher from staking his own claim.

Talking a good game: Ferdinand is set to reacquaint himself with Shanghai stars Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka

Talking a good game: Ferdinand is set to reacquaint himself with Shanghai stars Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka

Ferguson said: 'Darren has a medical situation that he's trying hard to keep under control. We don't expect him back immediately, but hopefully he does come back at some point.

'Paul Scholes a year ago was coaching my reserves – now he's back playing, and everybody attached to United is delighted. He's such a fantastic player.

'In the long-term, trying to replace Scholes is very difficult. To replace a great player like him would be hard for anyone.'

London 2012 Olympics: Ryan Giggs delighted to play at major tournament

Giggs delighted to finally make it to a major tournament as Team GB captain prepares for Games

|

UPDATED:

19:28 GMT, 15 July 2012

Even with a record 13 league titles and countless other high-profile accolades in his staggering trophy haul, Ryan Giggs insists his Olympic experience has already offered something new.

The 38-year-old Welshman has been named skipper of Team GB, who open their campaign in the familiar surroundings of Old Trafford when they take on Senegal on July 26.

For Giggs, it will finally fulfil the dream of appearing in a major tournament.

Delight: Ryan Giggs is glad to have made it to a major tournament

Delight: Ryan Giggs is glad to have made it to a major tournament

English football's most decorated player never got closer than a couple of near misses with Wales.

And as part of that famed 'Class of 92', it hurt to spend his summers watching when David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers were part of the action.

Now he is experiencing it for himself. And, after a week in Spain, he already sees the differences.

'My career for my country has obviously been the total opposite to the one for my club,' said Giggs.

'I've been so successful with United but not so with Wales.

'I would always watch the other lads, especially those ones I grew up with, go away on international tournaments and wish that I could do the same.

'Unfortunately I never got the chance.

'But now I have even in the first few days together I've seen things that I haven't seen in my career.

'It's been an eye opener, and really enjoyable as well.'

Leader: Giggs (centre) is the Team GB men's captain

Leader: Giggs (centre) is the Team GB men's captain

And, unlike those who have rejected the tournament, purely on the basis of the British aspect of a sport traditionally split across the Home Nations, Giggs insists victory would rank alongside anything he has won before.

'Right up there,' he said. 'I don't like to prioritise medals because every single one means something special.

'But of course, this would be different because you never thought you'd be competing in an Olympics. To win a gold medal would be special.'

Giggs will be asked to supply valuable experience as an over-age player.

Yet the brutal truth is that Jack Butland has seen more of what goes on at a major tournament.

Some believe it would have been so different if Giggs had followed the route of his schoolboy career, when he turned out for England, in the misguided belief that path was open to him.

'There was a lot of confusion about the situation because I played for England Schoolboys,' he said.

Threat: Giggs warned of the danger Neymar (left) poses

Threat: Giggs warned of the danger Neymar (left) poses

'Then because of the problems England had on the left of midfield, people would say to me you should have chosen England.

'But I was never able to choose England. Being asked is not something that has bothered me. You just try and explain as best as you can the reasons why.'

Finally, Giggs gets his opportunity, albeit not in the situation he might have imagined.

And before the competitive action starts, there is that little matter of Friday's friendly with Brazil at the Riverside Stadium.

The presence of United team-mate Rafael in the Brazil squad offers a familiar face for Giggs.

However, there is little doubt who the star attraction is; superstar in waiting Neymar.

'Neymar is one player that Rafa and Anderson have told me about,' said Giggs.

'They say he's something special. With the next World Cup being played in Brazil these players will be trying to impress, looking to put a marker down that they can play tournament football.

'It's great for the fans coming to Middlesbrough to see Brazil play live, purely because of the history they have in the game.'

Irish Open 2012: Darren Clarke makes halfway cut

Clarke cutting it on home turf as Open champion finally makes it to the weekend

|

UPDATED:

20:54 GMT, 29 June 2012

For the first time in almost a year at a full-field European Tour event, Darren Clarke has made it through to the weekend play. Bad news for Guinness, of course, whose Friday-night takings must have taken an almighty hit.

But how nice to see the Open champion hanging round and spreading bonhomie after his second round rather than trying to break his own land speed record for the quickest exit.

Perhaps all that was required was the salty seaside air and the sight of his own bed. What a day this was for another remarkable 28,000 sell-out crowd at the Irish Open.

In the mix: Clarke has made the halfway cut at Portrush

In the mix: Clarke has made the halfway cut at Portrush

Everywhere you looked the Irish boys, north and south, revelled in these stunning surroundings. Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Paul McGinley all tiptoed to the fringes of contention on five under while Padraig Harrington, following two rounds of 67, stands on 10 under, two shots behind the leader, Frenchman Gregory Bourdy.

Harrington rates his victory in this event five years ago a small step below his three major triumphs. No need to ask what it would mean to win it again here, on his favourite course.

What a reception he and his playing partner McDowell received on the 18th, one worthy of the winner of the Claret Jug itself.

The Portrush patriarch Clarke embellished his small landmark by holing a 20-foot putt on his final hole to draw another resounding cheer. But if the sound was tinged with relief – imagine how awful it would have been for the locals had he not been round all four days here, of all places – Clarke wasn't sharing the sentiment.

'I've played this course hundreds of times, and I've got my sights set higher than just making the cut,' said the 43-year-old.

Yet you had to go back to the European Masters in Switzerland last August to find the last time he qualified on merit for the final two days of a European Tour event.

His year in office has largely been spent tiring himself out, either charging around the world accepting lavish appearance fees, or working too hard on the driving range at Portrush.

Eventually, his body protested, and he has spent the last month at home, nursing a groin injury.

'A blessing in disguise,' he describes it, and that much has been in evidence here, with a renewed enthusiasm and decent rounds of 71 and 69.

'I have had the most wonderful time as Open champion off the course but on it my time spent travelling has taken its toll,' he added.

'I've been tired and it has shown with silly mistakes that have affected my scoring. I've hardly been at home, so the last four weeks have been a great break. It came at the right time.'

Clarke's four-under-par total has still left him a distant eight shots behind Bourdy, who instantly handed much of the credit to… well, Clarke, actually. Perhaps the Northern Irishman should go easy on the largesse. The joint first-round leader Jeev Milkha Singh is staying in his house.

Now here comes Bourdy, compiling the finest 36 holes of his career following an impromptu practice round with Clarke on Tuesday. What on earth did Clarke say to him

'I think I should keep that to myself,' said Bourdy, smiling. In fact, it mostly involved lines off the tees plus the places you can't go and hope to save par, and it had to be worth a couple of shots at least to the 38-year-old.

Given that he hails from Bordeaux, he must know exactly what would work as the perfect thank-you gift for Clarke, who has been known to sip a drop of red.

Meanwhile, Worksop's No 2 Mark Foster remains a shot adrift of Bourdy.

Euro 2012: Roy Hodgson"s remarkable football journey

How a freezing dressing room set Hodgson on his remarkable football journey

|

UPDATED:

21:13 GMT, 23 June 2012

When Roy Hodgson's remarkable football
journey began at non- League Gravesend & Northfleet 43 years ago,
there were none of the trappings associated with being England manager
at a major international tournament.

Even by Southern League standards,
the Kent club's Stonebridge Road ground was primitive. The unheated
dressing rooms were covered with cracked, dirty white tiles and housed
an unwelcoming single wooden bench that spread round three sides.
Occasionally, a spider would be seen in the bath.

Main man: Hodgson learned his earliest lessons lower down football's pyramid

Main man: Hodgson learned his earliest lessons lower down football's pyramid

A draught would often blow up from the Thames, leaving players to freeze as they trained at the ground on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

The highlight of the Thursday session would be to decamp to the supporters' club afterwards to receive their wages in a little brown packet from manager Alf Ackerman, in Hodgson's case about 20 a week.

ROY'S THANK YOU

Roy Hodgson has invited his agent Leon Angel to the quarter-final against Italy as a thank-you for the way he handled his ‘transfer’ from West Brom to England.

Angel negotiated a four-year contract for the coach with the FA but was not able to persuade Hodgson to include one of his other clients, Spurs’ Aaron Lennon, in the England squad for Euro 2012.

It was in such humble surroundings that Hodgson set out on the path that will see him carry the hopes of more than 20 million Englishmen watching on TV when his England team meet Italy in Kiev.

Hodgson arrived at Gravesend in 1969, having been released from Crystal Palace without playing a game. In his second and final season there as a no-frills wing-half, he helped Gravesend win promotion from the Southern League First Division to the Premier.

'Our training nights on cold damp evenings helped forge my future ideas,' said Hodgson in a contribution to the club's Golden Jubilee book.

'Distance has lent enchantment to my less-than-glorious playing career and I remember my time at Stonebridge Road warmly. I learned a lot as a young player there, the characters I played with and my geography improved as well because we played in a number of locations I never knew existed.'

During his spell, Hodgson grew close to teammate Colin Murphy, another future manager who tried to coach less than-enthusiastic colleagues. Ackerman, a fearsome South African, was known for the catchphrase: 'What is your problem, pal'

Hair we go: A young Hodgson (circled) at Gravesend

Hair we go: A young Hodgson (circled) at Gravesend

Fortunately for England's superstars, Hodgson is more diplomatic than Ackerman. But the 64-year-old can be demanding of his players, and remembers his first manager with affection.

'There was a shouting match in training because Murphy wanted to tell goalkeeper Brian Hughes where he should stand at a free-kick,' said Hodgson. 'While we stood around freezing, the manager walked out and ruled in Murphy's favour. When Hughes protested, Alf rolled up his trousers, placed the muddy ball down and told Hughes to stand where he wanted.

'Then he blasted the ball into the net and shouted at him “I told you effing Murphy was right”. Coaching at its most effective.'

Those who remember Hodgson at Gravesend recall an average player who nonetheless performed his duties as a foot soldier with diligence. But it was his personality off the pitch that suggested there may be better things ahead for the young PE teacher from Croydon who knew he would never be good enough to be a full-time professional player.

'He wasn't one of the singalong crowd but he was articulate and very intelligent,' said Gravesend's former vice-chairman Roger Easterby. 'While the other players played cards on the team bus, he'd quietly read a book or a newspaper.

'He worked hard and slotted into the team, although he wasn't particularly talented. It was far from a glamorous life but it was a good school. A few of them, like Roy and Colin, were always interested in the coaching because they knew they'd never reach the top playing the game.'

Hodgson played 59 times for Gravesend, scoring just once. But at the end of that 1970-71 season, he showed the first signs of the wanderlust that led him to a career that has so far taken in 26 different jobs in nine different countries.

The first move wasn't far – from Gravesend to Kent neighbours Maidstone – but it was controversial because the two clubs were fierce rivals.

Some Gravesend diehards still grumble about Hodgson's decision, but local photographer Phil Gunnill said: 'I was always told Roy was frustrated by Gravesend's lack of facilities, particularly when it was cold. Maidstone had heated dressing rooms. That was the clincher.'

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