Saturday, October 18, 2008

Messi Bests Eto’o And Henry

Messi Bests Eto’o And Henry
It has been revealed that FC Barcelona’s Ballon d’Or hopeful Lionel Messi has become the club’s best paid player, edging out his seniors Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o.

Henry and Eto’o had long been regarded as the club’s top earner strictly in terms of wages alone. Now, it appears that Lionel Messi has surpassed both of them, thus becoming the highest paid player.

The Argentine actually signed a new, improved contract all the way back in July this year, but the details had not been disclosed until several days ago, when Catalunya Ràdio made the announcement public and it was subsequently confirmed by the club.

The 21 year old, six years Eto’o’s junior and ten years younger than Henry, is only in his fourth year as a professional footballer with Barcelona, but is already one of the world’s top-earning sportsmen.

Although the exact figures of his contract were not released, it is speculated that his terms will run until 2014 and he will earn anywhere between €10-14 million gross per annum, with a buy-out clause of €150 million.

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Walcott Has Edge On Messi

Wenger: Walcott Has Edge On Messi

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is convinced that Theo Walcott can go on to become a better player than Barcelona's Argentine prodigy Lionel Messi.

While Messi, 21, is widely regarded as one of the very best players on the planet, Walcott, 19, is just coming into his own, and has shot to superstardom courtesy of his hat-trick against Croatia last month.

“He’s different [to Messi at that age] and I think he’s more,” Wenger said at a press conference on Friday.

“If you have to look for a weakness in Messi you would say it is his ability to run without the ball, behind the defender.

“When he takes the ball to his feet he’s like a Ferrari. But Theo is more a guy who has the timing to run off the ball and that is something that is difficult to find.

“We had Marc Overmars who was especially good at that and I’m a great, great lover of movement off the ball.”

Wenger went on to credit Walcott's rapid development to a weight training regime they put him on since he first arrived as a very scrawny 16-year-old.

"He is a man now in the fight," he said. "You feel he has much more power than a year ago, or six months ago.

"We do a bit of strengthening of the upper body but not weights, because I believe in football it's more about coordination.

"Weights make you more rigid and coordination makes you more flexbile and Walcott is a guy who has natural power. He will naturally become a strong upper body player."

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People Should Keep Their Virginity Until Marriage - Kaka

Kaka, Milan
Milan and Brazil playmaker Kaka believes his decision to stay a virgin until he gets married should be an example to every youngster around the world...

Although the Rossoneri star is active on the training pitch, the same cannot be said in the bedroom department following his latest revelations.

Kaka, who is a very devoted Evangelist, believes it's right not to have sex before marriage and he has a message for all those who have their doubts.

"I am a great example. The majority of people say that after marriage, they don't like jumping into bed with their partner because there is no desires. However, this is not true, my wife is the person I love and it was worth waiting," Kaka told Fohla de Sao Paulo.

"A lot of people were surprised and shocked with me but I think it's the best decision. I am an evangelist and I believe in those values. I think people need to prevent themselves from making love before marriage.

"Of course, everyone has their own opinions but I think it was worth the wait."

The Milan star has been away on international duty with Brazil but he will be back in action for his club on Sunday when Sampdoria make the trip to San Siro.

The Rossoneri are three points off the pace in Serie A.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Emile Heskey - The Makélélé Of Forwards

Emile Heskey
England's striker crisis may well be at an end courtesy of the most unlikeliest of heroes, and's Sulmaan Ahmad argues just why he should keep his place on merit...

For the majority of his career, Emile Heskey has only ever been famous for an apparent resemblance to former heavyweight boxer Frank Bruno. On the pitch, the Leicester-born frontman has been branded something of a donkey - leading to the unfortunate nickname of 'Emule' - and far out of his depth in the England set-up.

He made his name in the late 1990s as part of a Leicester City side on the rise, before sealing a high-profile transfer to Liverpool in 2000 for a club record fee of £11 million. He was by and large thought at best to be a foil for strike partner Michael Owen and little more, eventually leaving the Reds for Birmingham City - a significant backwards step - and failing to build on his promising start at St Andrews before switching to Wigan Athletic, where he has rediscovered his confidence and forced his way back into the England set-up.

Latics boss Steve Bruce is convinced that Emile is the best striker of his type that the country has to offer - a claim met with much derision from the majority of England fans - but old Bruno is going some way towards defying his critics, in his own way, with every passing game for both club and country.

England's striker dilemma has haunted them ever since Michael Owen's career became blighted by injury. Though it did not take long for Wayne Rooney to emerge as the new prodical son, the Manchester United ace is far from a striker in the mould of Owen or Alan Shearer before him. England needed something, or someone, new.

Every name under the sun has been banded about in preference to the very thought of Heskey leading the line for the Three Lions, but they have all fallen short. With Wayne Rooney rightfully a fixture in the forward line, it is simply an issue of finding the perfect partner.

The consistent rejection of Michael Owen has been the most contentious selection issue during Fabio Capello's reign so far, but the Newcastle United front-man still hasn't hit top fitness, and the thought of him being stretchered off in an England shirt - again - is probably one Don Fabio is keen to avoid. Furthermore, Owen is one that has always functioned at his best playing alongside a more imposing strike partner (such as Heskey) - something Rooney is not. Dean Ashton remains every idealist's choice, but remains in far too poor a physical state to put himself in contention. Jermain Defoe, much like Owen, has always been at his most effective playing alongside a targetman. The same can be said of the in-form Gabriel Agbonlahor. Darren Bent has shown all the qualities necessary to be the perfect man for the job, but has thus far failed to perform consistently enough to get the nod.

What rapidly became obvious is that many of the best available strikers would not fit into the team setup. While Capello is at least for now persisting with the highly criticised midfield pairing of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, up front, he has learnt his lessons and gone for a far less remarkable player, in Heskey, who has already begun bringing out the best in everyone around him. Peter Crouch was the final option, and of a similar mould to Bruno, but lacking in his strength, positional sense and selflessness.

Against Belarus yesterday evening, Heskey notched up his 50th England cap, and with a measly five goals to his name, it's not hard to see why he has been written off by the vast majority of casual observers. However, one of his greatest achievements as an England international was bringing out the best in Michael Owen, whose goal-scoring record for England alongside Heskey is greater than a goal every other game. Old Bruno made up for his own inability to score by ensuring his strike partner scored twice as many as would usually be expected.

He is now bringing out a similar instinct in Wayne Rooney and proving a formidable outlet up front for Capello's men, even if not the most remarkable or impressive player in possession or in front of goal. In that respect, he is very much comparable with former Real Madrid, Chelsea and France stalwart, Claude Makélélé. While Makélélé sits in front of his own defence, Heskey perches alongside the opposition's, and facilitates the rest of the team's play with a quintessentially English physical approach to forward play.

"I had hardly played for four years so it has been nice to be back," said Heskey after winning his 50th cap, insisting he never gave up hope of reaching the milestone, despite what was almost a complete absence from the national fold for four years. "It's been pleasing the way it has gone and England are going in the right direction now and it has been good to work up a partnership with Wayne [Rooney]."

Though it may only be cosmetic in comparison to the successes of the team, Heskey has admitted he is itching to improve his goal-scoring record for the national team. "I don't think I've changed my approach - although I am a bit more relaxed - and I am keen to improve my goal tally with England," he continued. "I know I played on the left a few times, particularly during Sven [Goran Eriksson]'s spell in charge and I've also moved around a bit when playing club football. But strikers are judged on their goals so I would like to make the record a lot better. I have never been a prolific scorer but I always want to improve on that." True, even when he rose to prominence in the 90s he did not score at a particularly impressive rate, nor is he now at club level with Wigan, though he is - as he does with such ease - bringing the best out of the newly recruited Egyptian goal machine, Amr Zaki.

Though the obvious limitations of such players means they will disappear out of games, targetmen like Heskey, poachers like Filippo Inzaghi or even lightweight wingers Diego Capel will always offer a team a whole new dimension single-handedly, and that cannot be underestimated in the increasingly competitive and pressurised environment of modern football.

Don Fabio has always insisted it is not an individual's talent which concerns him, but their commitment to and synergy with the team. In that respect, Heskey was not such a surprise selection as it may have been under more media-conscious coaches of past England eras. It was nevertheless a brave and justified choice that looks well worth persisting with, certainly up until the World Cup.

"Emile Heskey is very important for us," said Capello following the win in Minsk. "He has good movement, he is strong, he is quick - and Heskey and Wayne Rooney do very well together." The 'Bespectacled One' was keen to add that Heskey had earned his place by improving his performances at the start of this season, following a poor finish to the last, in which he was held back by injuries.

Heskey's inclusion has done such wonders for the fluidity and freedom of the team, not to mention their newfound ability to grind out results by any means necessary. Now, it just remains a matter of time until Capello is forced to make a similarly brave call in midfield...

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Prem Parody: England The Best In The World - McClaren

UEFA 2008 Qualifying: Steve McClaren , England
Former England coach Steve McClaren has launched a scathing attack on the English Football Association for what he believed was a premature dismissal and believes the fine form being enjoyed by the side is due in no small part due to his spell in charge...

McClaren, now in charge of Dutch side FC Twente, was sacked following his failure to qualify England for Euro 2008. The Three Lions were turned over by Russia, and despite being handed a lifeline that meant they simply needed to avoid defeat at home on the final day of qualification, they lost 3-2 to Slaven Bilic's already-qualified Croatia side.

His dismissal was thought by many to be long overdue - his appointment as a token English boss itself received heavy opposition in itself - but despite watching on helplessly under an umbrella in that infamous Wembley downpour as his side capitulated in front of his very eyes, he refused to resign.

The decision came, then, that the FA would dismiss the former Middlesbrough boss and appoint in his place the most prolific coach in recent times, Fabio Capello. In ratio to the number of clubs of which he has taken charge, seasons he has coached and trophies won, few in the history of the game can compete with Don Fabio on paper. McClaren, though, has other ideas. "I respect the achievements of Mr. Capello, but it must first and foremost be established that his achievements were in club football in Italy and Spain," explained McClaren.

"The Premier League is the best league in the world - everybody knows that. Maybe I didn't win league titles like Fabio, but I took Middlesbrough to the UEFA Cup final before my appointment as England boss. People forget that. My lot beat teams from all over the continent.

"I was never afraid to innovate. I would bring on four strikers if I had to, but they would never do that in Italy. They are too defensive. Will Capello have the tactical nous and nerve to put all his eggs in the attacking basket if the chips are ever down? I'm not so sure.

"He will find out the hard way that things are not the same when you're in charge of the greatest footballing nation in the world."

When asked to consider Capello's two reigns in charge of Real Madrid, the biggest club in the world, McClaren replied, "It's not the same. That's club football, and it's not even England. England is different; it's special. You know, Real Madrid only wear white because they want to be like England - not many people know that."

McClaren, speaking after England's win in Minsk that gave them a perfect start of four straight wins in their World Cup qualifying campaign, continued, "I'm very proud of the boys and I think they can go all the way." To the tournament? "No, no. I believe England can win the World Cup. We're talking about the best players in the world here. On our day we're a match for anyone.

"The team is in great form and I'm proud of the contribution I was able to make in that regard. I laid all the groundwork, and though I am immensely disappointed to have been ejected as I was, I now feel, like a mother hen, it was the right time to let my chicklets fly away to more prosperous lands," continued a poetic and emotional McClaren.

"I mean, for example, I gave David Nugent his chance. One cap and one goal - his goal-scoring record is better than Romario's, Gabriel Batistuta's and Marco van Basten's. Think about that. He has the potential to be better than all of them, but no one's giving him the chance.

"I made the headway for Stewart Downing, who is now enjoying a thrilling international career under the new regime. He's a world class player. I also made the brave choice of John Terry as skipper, which Mr. Capello copied. People forget these things - I was made the scapegoat - but that's life I suppose.

"Also, I initially omitted David Beckham, just like Fabio. We're a lot alike, except I've managed in the tougher environment of the Premier League. You never know: if I had been in charge of AC Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid everyone might be calling me Don Stevio," he smiled.

As the evening wound down, conversation meandered onto different matters. The infamous scenes that saw McClaren watch on under his umbrella in the Wembley downpour as his side capitulated against Croatia earned him the unfortunate nickname, the Wally with the Brolly. "It's my hair," he explained. "If it even gets so much as damp it becomes wild and unmanageable."

Lastly, the coach revealed how well he is settling into life in the Netherlands. "Yes, it's been very good," he affirmed. "I've been practising my Dutch and the locals tell me I'm getting very good.

"I err... how do you shay, apply myshelf? Yesh. I work, hard. Of courshe, the main importance of thingsh ish that we don't get complashenshy and approach gamesh with caushion. How do you shay... shtep by shtep? Yesh. That ish the key conshept in opinion of mine.

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Should Italy Scrap The Target Man & Copy Spain?

Italian Joy
Last night Italy defeated Monetengro 2-1 in their 2010 World Cup qualifying clash in Lecce. Carlo Garganese is not convinced by the Azzurri attack, and questions whether the target man system should be scrapped…

Results-wise Italy have made a solid start to their World Cup qualifying campaign as, with 10 points from their first four matches, they are currently top of Group 8, three points clear of the Republic Ireland, who have played a game less.

However, there is clearly something lacking from this Italy team at the moment, and without doubt it is in the attacking third. In the double-header against Bulgaria and Montenegro the three man trident of Antonio Di Natale, Alberto Gilardino and Simone Pepe did not shine, while none of these players particularly impressed on an individual level either.

Pepe did have an excellent first half-hour last night when he created Aquilani’s first goal, but he then disappeared off the radar. Time will tell if the Udinese man has the quality required at this level. The simple question to ask though is: Is this a World Cup-winning attack? I have no hesitation in saying that the answer is no.

I am a big fan of Di Natale’s style of play but, despite being an Italy regular for over a year now, I still can’t work out whether I like him or not. In some matches he has been a real livewire, while in others, such as the last three World Cup qualifiers, he has offered little. Di Natale turns 33 in 2010, and has still never played for a big club that regularly competes in the Champions League. Quite clearly there are question marks as we have never really seen him play at the highest level of European competition. He did compete with Udinese in the Champions League a few years back, but that was a brief romance.

My views on Gilardino are well known, so I won’t trawl through these again. What I would like to ask readers though is whether or not the employment of a target man striker is the best way forward for the Azzurri. Gilardino is not up to the job, Luca Toni, it seems, no longer is either, while the likes of Marco Borriello and Vincenzo Iaquinta are not of world class international calibre. The Brazilian-born Amauri is certainly an option, albeit a controversial one, but we will have to wait and see what happens with his passport situation, and there are also rumours today that Dunga will call him up for the Selecao anyway.

What Italy do have in abundance though are exciting support strikers and pocket dynamos, who may not physically hold up the ball and score many headers, but can frighten defenders with their creativity, skilful running and link-up play. Of course I am talking about the likes of Antonio Cassano, Giuseppe Rossi (who was called to the recent squad), Sebastian Giovinco, Mario Balotelli, and even Fabrizio Miccoli, who has possibly been the best Italian forward in Serie A so far this season. These are players who, despite still having much to prove in one way or another, certainly could be worth looking at.

There seems to be an obsession in modern football with playing a big target man-type centre forward. Chelsea have Drogba, Arsenal have Adebayor, Man Utd have Berbatov, Juventus have Amauri, Inter have Ibrahimovic. At international level, Italy have gone down this route with Toni in recent years, while even Fabio Capello’s England are relying on Emile Heskey to carry out this job.

Some even argue that two skilful centre forwards cannot play together any longer in the modern game, something I find absolutely horrifying, as it would mean the death of pure football. Thankfully, Spain proved at Euro 2008 with Torres and Villa that there is still room for two similar attackers working in tandem and, perhaps, as Giorgio Chiellini said earlier this week, this is the model Italy should follow.

The best football Italy have played in the last decade was at Euro 2000 when an injury to Christian Vieri forced Dino Zoff to scrap the big centre forward approach, and go for two smaller, but more intelligent, frontmen in Francesco Totti and Pippo Inzaghi. The Azzurri served up some delightful pass-and-move stuff and had the tournament in the bag until Sylvain Wiltord’s tragically fortuitous 94th minute equaliser for France in the final in Rotterdam.

Football may have changed a lot in the past eight years, but the current target man system that Lippi is employing just does not convince me at all at the moment. You can’t play a system if you don’t have the players for it, and at the moment Italy do not have a top class target man who is eligible.

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Vieira: Gerrard Is Best Midfielder

 Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard wheels away in celebration, thinking he had netted the opening goal early on against Stoke City. It was contentiously chalked off and the game surprisingly ended goalless.
Patrick Vieira believes Steven Gerrard is currently the best midfielder in the world - and that Cesc Fabregas will become the best in the future.

Ahead of the 2001 FA Cup final between Liverpool and Arsenal, Steven Gerrard described it as an honour to be on the same pitch as the Gunners’ powerful midfielder Patrick Vieira. The Frenchman was the gold standard for other midfielders to aspire, reckoned Gerrard.

So there is a neat symmetry about Vieira now telling that he regards Gerrard as the best midfielder in the world today.

Ironically, Gerrard has recently been criticised for failing to reproduce his outstanding club form in an England shirt, and the Scouse idol could even be demoted to the substitutes' bench tomorrow night when England take on Belarus in their World Cup qualifier in Minsk.

But as far as Vieira, now at Internazionale in Milan, is concerned, 28-year-old Gerrard is one of the world’s greatest.

"The best midfielder I would say is Steven Gerrard. I really rate him as a player and as a man. I think he is still one of the best," Vieira said at an event run by Ford's Feel Football debate website

And asked who would one day rival Gerrard as one of the best midfielders, Vieira cited his former Arsenal team-mate, Cesc Fabregas.

"Fabregas [has the potential to be the best]. I think he is learning every year.

"Now he is a top quality player. He is one of the best. In the years to come he can be at the top."

And although Fabregas continues to be linked with a return to his boyhood club Barcelona, Vieira is convinced the 21-year-old Catalan can achieve all his ambitions with the Gunners.

"I think if the club matches the same desire as the player, then why not?" said Vieira.

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Milan Push And Shake For Agger

Daniel Agger - Liverpool
Milan are ready to launch an assault for under-fire Liverpool stopper Daniel Agger, according to Il Corriere Dello Sport.

The Danish central defender doesn't seem a part of the project 'Pool coach Rafa Benitez has planned and he is unlikely to renew his current deal, which expires in 2010.

Agger is a loggerheads with his coach as he has been used as a bit-part player at Anfield. He is now being looked at by the Rossoneri as a possible replacement for the injury prone Alessandro Nesta.

Il Corriere Dello Sport claims Milan are ready to make a move and they will insert French midfielder Yoann Gourcuff, currently on-loan at Bordeaux, as part of the deal.

The 24-year-old has been advised to the San Siro club by former Rossonero Tomas Helveg and the club is ready to move and shake by tempting the Premier League side with a bid during the January transfer window.

Milan's real objective is Spanish international Sergio Ramos but if that fails, Agger will be the alternative as Ancelotti goes for youth over experience as he pushes the pineapple and shakes the tree.

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Tevez A Real Madrid Target?

CL: Carlos Tevez , Olympique Lyon v Manchester United
With a degree of uncertainty still surrounding the future of Argentine forward Carlos Tevez, the Spanish media are saying that if Manchester United don't pay €37 million to MSI before 30th January, Real Madrid will make a move for the player.

Carlos Tevez is said to be a target for Real Madrid. The latest big 'story' to be splashed across the pages of Spanish football newspaper Marca is that the 24-year-old has been targeted by technical staff at the Bernabeu, including coach Bernd Schuster - who according to Marca "has made it clear that the signing of a world class striker must be a priority for next season - and Mijatovic agrees with him."

Of course, at this stage it is pure speculation and paper talk. But Tevez's situation is an intriguing one.

The Argentine 'belongs' to Kia Joorabchian's management company MSI, who have effectively loaned the star to Manchester United until the end of January 2009.

At that point United can take up their preferential option to make Tevez a permanent member of their playing staff by paying MSI €37 million.

It seems almost certain that United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will exercise that option to keep the hard-working Tevez at Old Trafford. True, Tevez has said this week that Ferguson's changes to the United forward line this season, including the introduction of Dimitar Berbatov, have blunted the goalscoring dimension of his game, but he has vowed to get back to his best for the Red Devils.

In the unlikely event that United chose not to sign Tevez in January, Real Madrid could conceivably make a move to sign him. But it seems a very long shot at the moment.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

England roll on, France fight back

Emile Heskey of England passes the ball during the match against Kazakhstan during the FIFA World Cup European Qualifying group 6 football match at Wembley Stadium in London on October 11, 2008.
shocks were thin on the ground on Matchday 3 of the European qualifying competition for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, as the favourites flexed their muscles. England, Spain and Greece are the only three sides to have won three out of three.

Game of the day
Germany 2-1 Russia
Goals: Lukas Podolski 9, Michael Ballack 28 (Germany); Andrei Arshavin 51 (Russia)

This Group 4 encounter between the UEFA EURO 2008 runners-up and one of the semi-finalists promised much. The Germans made their customary fast start, with Lukas Podolski opening the scoring early on and Michael Ballack doubling their advantage before the half-hour mark. The Russians never stopped running, however, and worked their way back into the game after the restart. It was Andrei Arshavin, somewhat inevitably, who reduced the arrears before Guus Hiddink's side laid siege to the German goal. But Rene Adler, the major success story for the hosts, was in inspired form in goal and made sure the Mannschaft clung on to the points.

Surprise of the day
Faroe Islands 1-1 Austria
Goals: Bogi Lokin 47 (Faroe Islands); Martin Stranzl 49 (Austria)

After overcoming France 3-1 in their first match in Group 7, the Austrians failed to overcome the side who famously beat them when they met back in 1990. The islanders were entertaining hopes of repeating that win when Bogi Lokin put them ahead at the start of the second half. The visitors hit back quickly, however, but could not prevent the Faroes from picking up their first point in the group.

The other games
Denmark lead the way in Group 1 after Portugal and Sweden drew a blank in Solna.

Greece put three goals past Moldova without reply, two of them coming from Angelos Charisteas. With nine points out of nine, the Greeks lead Group 2 ahead of Israel and Switzerland.

Poland and Slovenia are out front in Group 3. Missing three key midfielders, Czech Republic went down 2-1 away to the Poles and now find themselves six points behind the leading duo.

Andrei Arshavin scored once and almost grabbed an equaliser for Russia away to Germany, but it is Joachim Low's men who sit atop Group 4 after their 2-1 win. Finland beat Azerbaijan to stay in touch with the leaders.

Spain continued their serene progress in Group 5 with a routine 3-0 triumph in Estonia. The European champions have now gone 38 matches without defeat in FIFA World Cup qualifying matches and have yet to concede in this latest campaign, while scoring eight. Turkey and Belgium both won, however, to keep up the pressure on the leaders.

In Group 6, England thrashed Kazakhstan 5-1 to open up a five-point lead over Croatia, who played out a goalless draw with Ukraine. Fabio Capello's men have a 100 per cent record so far and scored their 200th FIFA World Cup qualifying goal when Alexandr Kuchma put through his own goal.

Lithuania came back down to earth, losing 3-0 in Serbia, but still lead the way in a wide-open Group 7, where five sides are in contention for first place. France were on the brink against Romania but fought back for a 2-2 draw.

Italy were content to come away from Bulgaria with a draw and stay in pole position in Group 8 on seven points, three clear of Republic of Ireland.

And in Group 9 Scotland shared the spoils with Norway in a disappointing 0-0 draw, a result that allowed the Netherlands, easy 2-0 victors against Iceland, to move two points in front with a game in hand.

The stat
7 -
The number of years Israel have now gone unbeaten away from home in FIFA World Cup qualifiers. The last time the Israelis lost on their travels was back in March 2001, when they went down 2-1 to Austria.

Goal of the day
Romania 2-2 France
Yoann Gourcuff, 69

The Bordeaux playmaker made the most of his latest international outing, putting France back on level terms with a 25-yard drive that caught out an otherwise-inspired Bogdan Lobont in the Romania goal.

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Kaka's return lifts Brazil

Brazil' striker Kaka (R) receives instructions from the team's coach Dunga, 15 November 2007, during a practice in Teresopolis, 200 Km from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Brazil will face Peru on November 18th for the FIFA WC South Africa 2010 qualifiers.
Eleven months is a long time for a team to be without its talisman. It is long enough, too, for the sceptics to raise their concerns, even if those in question are the record five-time FIFA World Cup™ winners and the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year.

But this doubt pales in comparison to the pyrrhonism that once clouded Kaka's future in football. The Brazilian was 18 and on the books at Sao Paulo when, in 2000, he slipped on a water-toboggan slide and thumped his head on the bottom of a swimming pool, suffering a fracture of the vertebra; an injury which often leads to paralysis. He was told he may never play the sport again.

Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite nevertheless refused to languish in self-pity. Instead, he composed a list of ten goals he wished to realise in football. They included returning to action; signing a professional contract at Sao Paulo; earning a Brazil cap at senior level; joining a major club in Italy or Spain; and appearing at the FIFA World Cup.

It appeared preposterously ambitious. It proved comfortably attainable. Central to Kaka's accomplishment was his ability to cruise past opponents with the balance and elegance of a champion racehorse, the passing that made his virtual second sight lethal, and the capacity to consistently score from distance with shots as precise as they were powerful.

"He's got everything. When he plays like that he's unstoppable," said then Ecuador coach Luis Suarez after his side had succumbed 5-0 to a Kaka-inspired Brazil in a South Africa 2010 qualifier one year ago.

Missed in absence
Dunga can certainly corroborate the attacking midfielder's irrepressibility. Under his reign, Brazil have lost just once in 16 matches with Kaka on the field, during which period he has scored eight goals, while they have failed to win seven times in 15 attempts without him. Moreover, the Seleção have won - and scored in - just one of their last five matches in the 26-year-old's absence.

A series of niggling injuries have kept the canary-yellow jersey off Kaka's back since a 2-1 win over Uruguay on 21 November 2007, but his return to the squad for Brazil's forthcoming qualifiers against Venezuela and Colombia has evoked palpable relief. This feeling is reciprocated.
I missed being part of the squad so much and I'm happy to be back. Now I want to transfer my happiness on to the pitch
Kaka is aiming to make up for lost time.

Brazil sit second in the ten-team South American qualification group, four points behind Paraguay and above Argentina and Chile on goal difference. They could, however, mathematically find themselves third-bottom come Wednesday night.

I will do everything within my capability to help. I'm 100 per cent fit and ready to serve the Seleção
Kaka is eager to help Brazil post victories over Venezuela and Colombia.

La Vinotinto beat Brazil 2-0 in a friendly in the USA in June, and will have home advantage to their benefit on Sunday. "Venezuela are no punching bags. It will be a tough game but Brazil live by results," said Kaka. "I'm not the saviour of my homeland. It's not only my responsibility but I will do everything within my capability to help. I'm 100 per cent fit and ready to serve the Seleção."

The long-suffering Brazil supporters are equally ready to chant the name of Kaka, which derives from the inability of his brother, Standard Liege defender Digao, to pronounce Ricardo during his infancy. Its inscription on the FIFA World Player of the Year trophy results from the inability of defenders the world over to nullify him throughout 2007.

This year has not gone according to plan for Kaka. His crack at making up for lost time with Brazil begins against Venezuela. Will the relationship between player and team be as consummate as it was before?

Absence, as the say, makes the heart grow fonder, and Kaka will be determined to mark the reunion by taking another step towards the crowded pantheon of Brazilian greats.

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Buffon And Kaka Now On City’s Wish List

Buffon And Kaka In City's Sights
Gianluigi Buffon and Kaka are the latest names to be linked with Manchester City as transfer speculation surrounding the Sky Blues continues apace.

The club have become the richest in the Premier League following their takeover in September which has led to a whole host of top names being linked with a move to Eastlands.

According to the News of the World, Juventus stopper Buffon and Milan’s Brazilian playmaker Kaka are the latest players thought to be tempting manager Mark Hughes.

The Sky Blues’ manager will also reportedly be handed £100 million to spend in the January transfer window as he looks to strengthen his squad.

The paper claims that a bid of £25 million would secure Buffon from Juventus where, they claim, the goalkeeper is unsettled and searching for a new challenge.

Kaka, meanwhile, would reportedly cost twice as much to prise away from AC Milan. The World Player of the Year was heavily linked with a move to Chelsea over the summer, although opted to remain at the San Siro.

Whilst luring both players to Eastlands, mid-way through the season. may represent something of a challenge. The fact that Robinho was signed from Real Madrid for a British record fee shows the club’s intent.

Buffon and Kaka now join a long list of players linked with City following their takeover and including such names as Thierry Henry, Antonio Cassano, Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres and Ronaldo.

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