Honest to a fault
Giorgio Chiellini has admitted that Juventus could not cope with Bayern Munich’s intensity after the Italian side was beaten 2-0 at the Allianz Arena in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final.
Juventus’ 490-minute European spell without conceding a goal was brought to a sudden end when David Alaba struck after just 25 seconds – the second fastest goal in the history of the competition.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult match for us, Bayern played at an incredible tempo and we struggled to keep possession when we were trying to build our game from the back,” Chiellini told Sky Sport Italia after the game.
“We hoped to earn a better result tonight, but there are 90 minutes left; we will have to play with more intensity, like Bayern did today.
“We know we can play better than today, and I’m sure we will. We will continue to dream and we will make sure that we won’t have any regrets after the return leg.”
It was something of a reality check for the Italian side, who could count themselves fortunate to still be in the tie after a chastening evening in Munich.
Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon added that Bayern deserved the victory and felt that his side was fortunate to escape with a two-goal deficit.
“It’s clear we had some certainties about ourselves, but there’s nothing to say tonight, as they thoroughly deserved the victory and had even more chances to hurt us,” Buffon said.
“Our opponents were better on the night, that is the truth. At times we had less sharpness under their pressure and I tried to alternate passes with longer kicks.”
Juventus coach Antonio Conte was another who acknowledged that the better team won.
“Bayern played a great game. We just came up against a great team tonight. I have to be honest and admit that we simply faced a better side,” Conte said at a press conference.
“We knew it would be a difficult game but we also know that football is unpredictable and that we’ll have to do something great against such a strong team in the return leg.
“Bayern have great quality but also a great physical condition and a great fighting spirit. They are up there with Barcelona and Madrid in terms of quality yet they are also very angry after losing last season’s final at home on penalties. And they proved all their grit tonight.
“Bayern played with great tempo, they won almost every challenge and did not allow us to play our game. Our project started only 16 months ago, so this can be an important lesson, especially to understand what it takes to play at this level. We can just be proud to already be here at this stage.”
In the night’s other semi-final, Barcelona were forced to play 45 minutes without their talisman, Lionel Messi, who picked up a hamstring injury late in the first half.
By then, the Argentinian maestro had already given the visitors the lead against big spending Paris Saint-Germain, but a plucky fightback by the French side, aided by an errant linesman, saw the hosts emerge with a 2-2 draw.
Inevitably, the question on everyone’s lips was the extent of Messi’s injury. ‘Three weeks out!’, wailed the Spanish press, but the little man was more hopeful of a speedy return.
”I will return soon, thankfully it was not so serious,” Messi said on his Facebook page. ”We are so sorry for Masche (Mascherano), we will give our support.”
Mascherano left the field on a stretcher, his season possibly ended by a ruptured a right knee ligament.
The home side, who secured a draw with the last kick of the game, will take heart from a performance during which they saw little of the ball, but arguably carried the greater attacking threat.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti was unhappy with the award of a second half spot-kick to Barcelona, claiming that Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez had procured the penalty via a dive.
“Alexis looked for the goalkeeper, it was not a penalty,” he told Canal + after the match.
“It was a gift from the referee. We have experience with Alexis, in the friendly in August he also dived. We know him. He likes to dive. It is nothing new.”
But, overall, the Italian was reasonably pleased with the way his side had played.
“It was a good game,” he said. “We played well in the first few minutes but it got complicated. We used a lot of energy to level the score.
“We have opportunities for the return game. It is still open, even if it will not be easy. We showed that we can compete against Barca. We will have to score twice there. We did it tonight, let’s do it the same way in the second leg.”
Ancelotti, whose position at the club has come under scrutiny in recent months, received a resounding vote of confidence from PSG’s director of football Leonardo.
“We are very, very proud,” said the Brazilian. “We conceded when we were at our best in the game, and to come back in the game against Barcelona is not easy.
“Carlo was amazing today. He studied Barcelona hard, and it is true that if you look at the game, we had a nearly perfect strategy. We had one goal when we were the best. But if you leave a few millimeters to [Lionel] Messi, this is what happens.
“I believe that after all we’ve been through in the past few months, today is truly a wonderful thing, because it is not easy to build a team. We are very proud of our game, our behaviour, our approach to the game.”
The French government has reaffirmed its commitment to introduce a new 75% supertax on the wealthy.
The tax will apply to companies who pay salaries over €1 million and, contrary to statements issued earlier this week by Noël Le Graët, head of the French Football Federation, football clubs will not be exempt.
Earlier this year, France’s constitutional court ruled that a proposed 75% tax was unconstitutional as it applied to individuals rather than households and another court ruled any rate above 66% could be rejected as confiscatory.
But president Francois Hollande revived the scheme last week, saying that it would now apply to companies who will have to pay the state a sum equivalent to 75% of employees’ salaries in excess of €1 million.
On Monday, Le Graët, said: “The prime minister, to whom I have already asked the question, was clear: only large companies will be taxed. And professional clubs are considered as small and medium-sized businesses, so they will not be affected by the 75% tax.”
However, twenty four hours later, the office of Jean-Marc Ayrault, the prime minister, made clear that: “The new system will apply to all businesses that pay salaries of more than €1 million [£850,000].”
In response, Frédéric Thiriez, president of the French Football League (LFP), warned: “This new tax will cost first division teams €182 million (£154 million). With these crazy labour costs, France will lose its best players, our clubs will see their competitiveness in Europe decline, and the government will lose its best taxpayers.”
Currently France’s top marginal tax rate is 49%, which kicks in at €500,000 a year.
Nasser al-Khelaifi, chairman of PSG, the club most affected by the tax changes, told France Info radio: “I don’t think it’s good for French football, it’s not good for French clubs and it’s not good for the place of (France’s) Ligue 1 in the world.”
It is believed about a dozen of PSG’s players earn over €1 million a year, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is reportedly on €15 million, with a few players at other clubs also over the threshold.
Ironically, Hollande has stated that he does not want to tax at 75%, but would much prefer to see wage restraint among executives and the super rich. Now, we all know that this is not going to happen.
One player who emerged from Tuesday’s matches with his reputation enhanced, is Paris Saint-Germain’s Thiago Silva who produced a defensive masterclass against Barcelona.
The near-faultless display was timely as the Brazilian had been dismissed beforehand as “over rated”, by Britain’s cultural attache to France, Joey Barton.
“Thiago Silva,”tweeted the always charming Barton. “That the same pussy thats been injured all season. Another over rated Brazilian. Sort your hamstrings out FatBoy…”.
On hearing Barton’s comments, Thiago Silva delivered a riposte laced with sarcasm.
“I can hear a lot of people criticising the Selecao [Brazilian squad],” he said. “There is even a Marseille player, I can not remember his name, an Englishman, who has said bad things about Neymar, and Brazilian football, but also about Beckham and Ibra [Ibrahimovic]. As no one is talking about him, it seems fun to him to criticise great players for people to know he exists.”
Silva continued: “That person must never forget on Auriverde [gold and green] shirt there is more stars than on any other shirt. Five World Cups. That deserves some respect. But it gives me much more desire to win to silence that Englishman. What does he know about Brazilian football? I don’t remember having played against him in the national team.”
After watching the Brazilian’s man of the match performance against Barcelona, Barton recanted somewhat, although he couldn’t resist the temptation to mock the defender’s weight.
“Have to take back what I said about Thiago Silva being over rated today. Been immense tonight. Still looks like a overweight ladyboy though!” he tweeted.
More was to follow, most of it puerile, all of which Barton will come to regret when his club Marseille request he issues an apology.
“2 questions for Thiago Silva. Firstly, Why are YOU talking about ME, in your press conference before PSG v Barca? Very strange.”
“Secondly, Are you Pre-Op or Post-Op? #transsexual#thiagosaladyboy”
“Baffles me, which way he’s going. Is he a man changing to a woman or a woman changing to a man? Can’t work it out.”
Match fixing latest
Three Lebanese football officials have been dropped from refereeing an AFC Cup match in Singapore.
The Corrupt Practices Investigations Bureau in Singapore (CPIB ) arrested the trio just hours before the match between Indian outfit East Bengal and Singaporean side Tampines Rovers, according to reports today.
Lebanese match officials Ali Sabbagh, Ali Eid and Abdallah Taleb, who were supposed to officiate the AFC Cup tie between Tampines and East Bengal FC at Jalan Besar Stadium this evening were taken into custody for investigations.
Neither the CPIB nor the Football Association of Singapore said if they were booked on suspicion of match fixing or any other football-related incident.
A new set of match officials from Malaysia and Thailand have been brought in to officiate the Group H match.
Asia, particularly Singapore, has been in the focus of match-fixing investigations after details about coruption emerged earlier this year.
When in Rome…
Roma could be back winning titles within five seasons, according to club president James Pallotta, who arrived at the Stadio Olimpico in August of last year.
Pallotta has admitted that he is seeking €75 million in investment as he attempts to turn the club into a global sporting brand.
The American entrepreneur, who is a member of the executive board of the NBA’s Boston Celtics, only took charge of the Giallorossi last August, but his tenure has already been left with egg on his face as a result of one notorious hoax he fell for earlier this year.
The Roma chief was duped by ‘fake sheikh’ Adnan Adel Aref Al Qaddumi Al Shtewi who promised investment, but despite that embarrassing gaffe Pallotta insists he knows what he is doing.
“Two of our consultants recommended him, so we went ahead [with the planned investment deal],” Pallotta explained to Gazzetta dello Sport.
“But when we presented the contract, the money never arrived. We did all the relevant research; we are certainly not stupid. So, we lost only time, not money.
“But in just a few months I have stuck to everything that I have said. We have agreements with giants such as Disney, Volkswagen and now Nike. Few clubs in the world have done better than us in terms of sponsors.
“Ours is a 20-year investment, because such projects take time. As they say, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ But don’t worry: with the Celtics, I won after just five seasons.”
Pallotta added that he is also hoping veteran club captain Francesco Totti will still be plying his trade at the Stadio Olimpico when Roma start winning titles again.
“Personally, I cannot even imagine going to see Roma and not finding Totti on the field,” he admitted.
Which is good news for Totti, but possibly not for supporters waiting for the trophy drought to end.
Goal of the day
The finish from Lionel Messi was predictably clinical, but it was the sumptuous pass from Dani Alves that took the breath away.
Quote of the day
“How was he positioned? He seemed like a pensioner. Alaba shot from 120 metres away… I don’t want to upset him, but he should have kept that shot out.
Honorary Bayern Munich President Franz Beckenbauer was less-than-charitable when discussing Gianluigi Buffon’s efforts to deny David Alaba
Match made in heaven, played on earth
The Italian football federation has announced plans for a friendly match in Rome with Argentina in honour of Pope Francis, who was elected head of the Catholic Church last month.
“The FIGC today (Tuesday) officially invited the Argentine federation (AFA),” read a statement that specified “a letter was sent to AFA general secretary Miguel Silva”.
The original idea came from Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, as a tribute to the recently appointed Argentinian-born Pope, who is the first pope from South America.
“It would be good to have an audience and to then go to the stadium in the same bus, the two teams together,” suggested Prandelli.
The Pope is a long-time supporter of Buenos-Aires based outfit San Lorenzo. Indeed, he was pictured holding a replica shirt shortly after his investiture.
The club’s fans have responded enthusiastically to the new pope’s affiliation, producing a giant banner in his honour and, as you can see below, even taking to attending matches dressed in papal attire.
Paolo Di Canio has decided to place career advancement ahead of his political beliefs by issuing a statement renouncing his adherence to fascist ideology.
The statement read: “I have clearly stated that I do not wish to speak about matters other than football, however, I have been deeply hurt by the attacks on the football club.
“This is a historic, proud and ethical club and to read and hear some of the vicious and personal accusations is painful. I am an honest man, my values and principles come from my family and my upbringing.
“I feel that I should not have to continually justify myself to people who do not understand this, however I will say one thing only – I am not the man that some people like to portray.
“I am not political, I do not affiliate myself to any organisation, I am not a racist and I do not support the ideology of fascism. I respect everyone.
“I am a football man and this and my family are my focus. Now I will speak only of football.”
Coincidentally, there had been some discussion in the British press about the wisdom of conflating Paolo Di Canio’s cuddly brand of Italian fascism with racism.
Amid the furore surrounding his appointment as Sunderland boss Di Canio, who in 2005, stated: “I am a fascist, not a racist” has been at pains to stress his anti-racist credentials.
Elements within the press have been happy to go along with that line, so it falls to me – among others – to remind the Italian of his words from 2005 after he was banned for one match for celebrating a goal with a sieg heil gesture.
“I expect a robust defence from my club and this time I’m not going to settle for anything less,” he said at the time. “I expect my president to defend me, just like presidents do in other clubs, otherwise I’m going to be really pissed off. If we are in the hands of the Jewish community it’s the end.”
At Monday’s press conference when he was unveiled as Sunderland boss, Di Canio was adamant that he be judged by his actions.
“My life speaks for me so there is no need to speak any more about this situation because it is ridiculous and pathetic,” he whined.
He shall be continue to be judged by his actions, both past and present.