Time to act

The acting head of Asian football says all interested parties throughout the Continent must work together to eliminate the “cancer” of match-fixing.

Opening a two-day seminar in Kuala Lumpur organised by FIFA and Interpol and attended by more than 200 representatives from 43 countries, China’s Zhang Jilong said everything was being done to tackle the problem but that it had turned into a “pandemic” that was too big for one organisation to tackle alone.

Zhang told delegates: “We need to admit that match-fixing is a real danger to football’s ethical values and needs to be eliminated to preserve the sanctity of the sport.

“Match-fixing is too complex and widespread for one organization to fight it alone. To fight this, we need a joint and coordinated effort.”

Zhang, acting president of the Asian Football Confederation until elections are held in May, vowed to do his utmost to eradicated the problem.

“No continent is now left untouched by this disease. Match-fixing is now a pandemic in the world football,” he said.

“I can assure this conference that AFC will not rest until this blot is completely stamped out in Asia. We need to understand how match-fixing works in order to prevent it. We need more information on how crime syndicates operate. We want the result of a match to be beyond the shred of a doubt and we will do everything possible to make this happen.”

The worry though, as articulated by Interpol’s director of capacity building and training, Dale Sheehan, is that corruption extends so wide and its tentacles run so deep, that it is threatens not just sport, but the entire fabric of society.

“Criminals can make millions in illicit profits from match-fixing with little risk of being detected and will exploit every opportunity. By bringing together partners we are raising awareness and understanding of the problem,” Sheehan said.

“Sports and fair play are the very fabric of our society and youth and the impact of match-fixing, including murder, suicide, assault and threats has the ability to undermine that very fabric.”

All alone

Arsene Wenger reacted to Arsenal’s humbling Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich, by spending 25 minutes after the match sitting alone in the dressing room.

The 3-1 home defeat effectively ended Arsenal’s hopes of silverware for yet another season and for Wenger, it was a time for contemplation prior to facing his now bi-weekly grilling at the hands of the media.

The Garboesque reaction was in stark contrast to his bullish mood before the game when he took to task a journalist who had the temerity to ask Wenger a question he didn’t want to hear.

When he finally did emerge on Tuesday, gone was the defiance, and in its place a gracious acknowledgement that his side had been outclassed by a superior Bayern team.

“Look, we’ll have two battles but maybe the easier battle will be to be back in the Champions League,” he said.

“But we have to give everything to try and change things in the second leg. Let’s not hide the truth: it will be extremely difficult [to overturn the 3-1 deficit] against a team of that quality. They didn’t play two finals in the last three years without having that quality. We have to give our best and hope we have built our confidence up a bit more by the time the second leg comes around because that belief will be needed. We have to try to make the impossible possible.

“My players gave absolutely everything but we played against a side who have no doubt at all.

“They have a history in the last six months where everything is positive, every player is confident to play with full power. That’s not the same for us at the moment. You have to give them credit for their class. They are a team of pure class. In patches in the first half it was a difference of quality in their display to ours.”

A candid assessment on what must have been a painful night for the Frenchman.

Smug and smugger

Insufferable beforehand, Bayern Munich’s smugness went into overdrive after their admittedly impressive Champions League performance at the Emirates.

Bild summed up the mood in Germany when it heralded Bayern Munich as royalty: “Queen, did you see that? Bayern are the Kings of London! Arsenal is now too small!”

The newspaper’s Felix Seidel got a little carried away when wrote that the team were now on an “unstoppable march” towards Champions League and Bundesliga glory.

I’m not sure how the local Blackburn press reacted to their shock FA Cup win at the Emirates last Saturday, but one can assume that their response was a mite more measured than this.

Frankfuerter Allgmeine singled out Karel Podolski (a German, no less) for his ‘passionate’ performance, and said that he played with ‘bite and energy’, unlike his team-mates.

The paper said while the first half of the match “belonged” to Bayern, the second half belonged to ex-Bayern player Podolski. That was until he was substituted with 20 minutes remaining.

Die Welt confidently predicted: “Bayern will win the Champions League”.

The newspaper was critical of Arsenal’s form, saying it was no longer a significant club in Europe. True, but nor has it been for a number of years. Recent history suggests that while qualification for the knockout stages is a formality, elimination when they first meet a decent side, is inevitable.

Julien Wolff wrote: “The Londoners have lost their lustre and quality, are no longer on a level with the big teams in Europe.”

Der Spiegel dismissed any suggestion that Arsenal might stage a second-leg comeback next month.

“Bayern Munich have confidently won at Arsenal and can now plan for the quarter-finals,” predicted the paper. “The club sees no reason for the trauma of last season.”

Best of all time?

Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani has claimed Lionel Messi has earned the right to be called the best player of all time, ahead of the his side’s Champions League clash with Barcelona.

The Rossoneri host the Spanish league leaders at San Siro on Wednesday, and the 68-year-old highlighted the threat the opposition midfield, along with the Argentine, will pose.

“It will be a great event, a great game. It is beautiful to be in a position to be a part of this game,” he told reporters.

“We’ll be up against the best side in the world. Look at their midfield – it’s the one with which Spain won the World Cup and European Championship.

“[Plus], Messi is the best player of all time. He is even better than Diego Maradona and Pele.”

Galliani admitted that the Catalans are heavy favourites going into the tie, but stressed that his side is intent on causing an upset.

“I won’t make any prediction as I can’t see into the future, but we believe,” he said.

Which would make him one of the few senior figures in Italian football not to be aware of the outcome of a match before it started.

Goal of the day

A stunning strike from Ángel Reyna, followed by an unconventional celebration for Pachuca against Cruz Azul.

Quote of the day

“But we mustn’t underestimate Arsenal, they have some very good players, and we’ll have to give it 100 per cent in the return. Arsenal aren’t just dropping by as tourists. It’s a good result, but it’s not over yet.” 

Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger insists his side’s Champions League tie with Arsenal isn’t over yet. And who said German people lacked a sense of humour?

End in sight?

Indonesia’s feuding football associations have agreed to resolve their long-running dispute and discuss a merger, in a move that would ward off the threat of suspension by FIFA.

Djohar Arifin Husin of the FIFA-sanctioned All-Indonesia Football Association (PSSI), and La Nyalla Mataliti of the breakaway Indonesian Soccer Rescue Committee (KPSI), have agreed terms after a meeting with the country’s Youth and Sports Minister Roy Suryo. The two bodies will now meet on March 17; three days before a deadline set by world football’s governing body.

“Hopefully, everything will go well and the KPSI will merge into PSSI,” said Suryo, according to the Associated Press.

However, Halim Mahfudz, secretary general of the PSSI, seemed unconvinced by talk of a breakthrough, arguing that FIFA has left the settlement of the dispute to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

“The step was different to what the AFC told us,” Mahfudz said. “I have to consult first with AFC regarding the letter from FIFA to the sports minister.”

Indonesia at one stage had two national teams and still has two rival domestic leagues through the dispute that dates back to April 2011.

FIFA has threatened punishment and even expulsion from international competition, but has offered several extensions to allow the rival factions to sort out their differences.

“I think it was quite a Christmas or end of year gift to Indonesia that they haven’t been suspended,” president Sepp Blatter told a news conference after FIFA’s executive committee meeting in Tokyo in December extended the deadline once again.

Anderson shelters at United

Manchester United midfielder Anderson has denied reports that he tried to quit Old Trafford on several occasions and claims he would only leave the Premier League leaders for either Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Neither of whom will be beating a path to his door.

Anderson has been hampered by injuries and concerns over his overall fitness since joining United for £17million from FC Porto nearly six years ago. More recently, there have been suggestions that he is angling for a move in order to improve his (slim) chances of making Brazil’s 2014 World Cup squad.

“It’s not true,” he said. “Everyone knows I’m happy at the club. I’ve had a lot of injuries but I’ve never let the smile go from my face. I try to help the team all the time.

“When I want to leave I will have to talk to the boss first. I don’t have any issues.

“The only places you could go to from here are Real Madrid and Barcelona. You can’t have another choice. The level at Manchester United is so big. You come here and you are definitely going to win titles. I have won the Premier League three times. I have won the Champions League once and lost two finals. I have always been there.”

Well, there in a physical sense. You’ve mainly been sitting on the substitutes bench or lying in the treatment room, while your team-mates do the actual work.

Laying it on the line

Pele has warned Neymar that he should concentrate less on his haircut and focus more on his football.

“We think that he is the best in the world, but he is more concerned about appearing in the media than playing for the team,” Pele said.

“Neymar has a lot of responsibilities on his shoulders. Right now his major concerns are fashion and his haircut.”

The three-time World Cup winner also had some advice for the 20-year-old should he decide to leave his current club Santos.

Pele said: “The game is tougher in England, Italy and Germany because the referees usually let play go on. Barcelona would be ideal for him.

“Santos need him and for that reason I don’t think he should leave but if he must go it should be to Barcelona.

“He is an excellent player but he doesn’t have any experience outside Brazil. In every game he plays outside Brazil, he doesn’t do well. Everybody thinks Neymar can solve the national team’s problems, but he isn’t ready for that burden.”

Finally…

A week ago we brought you news of the start of the new football season in Syria.

Today brings rather sadder news with reports that 2 bombs have exploded inside a stadium in central Damascus, killing one player and injuring several others.

The mortars landed today in the Tishrin Stadium in the central Baramkeh district during training.

Syrian state media says one player from the Homs-based al-Wathbah club was killed. The Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported one player was killed.

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