The main event
If European football is ever looking for a Don King-like character to promote the Champions League, then they could do a lot worse than hire Jose Mourinho for the role. They may need him to tone it down a bit though.
Discussing tonight’s Champions League tie against Manchester United, the Real Madrid coach could barely contain his enthusiasm for what he believes will be a gladitorial battle of the ages. For him this is not simply a match between the third best team in Spain and the leaders of the weakest Premier League in living memory, but a clash of the titans that will ‘stop the world’.
He said: “That is the one million dollar question: what will make the difference? Nobody knows and the world will stop to watch this tie. It doesn’t look a tie. It looks a final. I doubt the expectation can be bigger than this one.”
Nine years ago Mourinho’s Porto side knocked United out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage, when Costinha’s 90th-minute strike putting them through 3-2 on aggregate. This prompted Mourinho to make a now-famous sprint down the Old Trafford touchline to celebrate. It also brought him to the spotlight of European football where he has remained ever since.
Nine years on and with little left to prove, a more assured, though no less competitive Mourinho, admits he is unlikely to respond to victory in quite such dramatic fashion.
“It means the same,” said Mourinho. “That match was my first season playing Champions League. Now I have more than 100 matches and I can control my emotions a different way. If I lose I don’t cry and if I win I don’t run 100 metres.”
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who has been around the block a few more times than his Madrid counterpart, was slightly more restrained in his assessment of the game.
However, the veteran manager did explain that it was European nights such as these that fuelled his desire to remain in the Old Trafford hot seat.
“This is what it is all about,” said Ferguson. “A packed Old Trafford, the floodlights on, the pitch glistening and two of the greatest and most romantic clubs in the game about to do battle.
If you’re sitting near a Barcelona or Liverpool fan as you read that sentence, be ready to unleash the Heimlich Maneuver on them as they choke on their pretzels.
Ferguson continued: “People ask me why I don’t retire after so many years in the game, but how could anyone with an ounce of passion for football in their soul voluntarily walk away from the opportunity to be involved in this kind of occasion?”
Ferguson, speaking to United Review, said: “I like to think that the pioneers like Sir Matt Busby and Santiago Bernabeu, the president of Real Madrid who gave his name to their stadium, will be up there smiling and excited as the rest of us at the prospect of another dramatic night featuring the best that the game can provide.”
Goal of the day
A wonderful strike by Hapoel Haifa’s Ran Abukarat against Maccabi Haifa, gives the goalkeeper no chance.
Quote of the day
”Cassano is a good lad. He’s very generous and has a lot of talent. However, he does not know the limits of respect,. He has a certain vision on football and that’s the only right way for him. He loses the respect of his teammates because of this. He should learn that there are times where you have to accept other people’s decisions. It’s a real shame because he could have achieved a lot more.”
Russia coach Fabio Capello explains that Antonio Cassano, whom he managed at Roma and Real Madrid, could have been a contender.
Capello was speaking after the latest in a very long line of bust-ups involving the 31-year-old Cassano. This time it was Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni who has fallen out with the striker.
The pair were involved in a heated argument following training last Friday prior to the Nerazzurri’s trip to Catania on Sunday, which resulted in Cassano being left out of the squad for the game.
Cassano, demonstrating hitherto unseen signs of maturity, has since apologised for the incident, and Inter president Massimo Moratti has sought to play down it down.
“I wasn’t there, so I can’t tell you what happened. But I see everyone is getting back to normal,” said the 67-year-old Moratti.
“Cassano’s an extraordinary talent, as we know, and artists are a bit special. Basically we need to understand him.
“I’m not sure whether he will be fined. I’ve left the decision on that one up to those who know what went on.”
Ivory Coast’s Jacques Anouma has lost his appeal against a ruling which bars him from running for the presidency of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) next weekend.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said on Tuesday that it had accepted a change made to the CAF statutes in September, under which only voting members of its executive committee could run for the presidency.
“I am awaiting the details from my lawyer but the news is not good,” Anouma told BBC Sport on Tuesday.
Anouma was barred from voting after CAF changed its statutes last year.
In September 2012, the amendment only allowed voting members of CAF’s Executive Committee to contest the presidential elections.
Anouma sits on CAF’s executive committee but he does not have any voting rights.
So, Hayatou, who has ruled African football since he was elected president in 1987, will run unopposed in Marrakech on Sunday.
It transpires that Nicklas Bendtner, who tweeted that he was only ‘mildly’ over the drink-drive limit when stopped by police on Saturday night, was actually three times over the legal alcohol limit in Denmark.
The on-loan Juventus striker has been fined 842,000 Danish Crowns (£97,000) and had his driving licence suspended for three years after admitting to drink driving.
Bendtner, on a season-long loan to the Serie A side from Arsenal, was asked by the Danish FA on Monday to take six months off from national team duty to reflect on his behaviour.
Judging by the overinflated opinion he has of himself, the chances of him undertaking such reflection are remote.
Good news for overweight football fans, as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is set to be the first to offer special seats for overweight fans.
The seats will be offered to conform to Brazilian legislation, although fans from other nations also will be entitled to them – good news for travelling American, Mexican and British fans, who currently occupy the top three spots in the world obesity league.
The tickets will also be available for the upcoming Confederations Cup, the World Cup warm-up tournament that will be played in Brazil from June 15-30.
The World Cup Bill in Brazil requires that at least 1 percent of seats in each stadium are made available for disabled people, a category that includes the obese, wheelchair users and those with limited mobility.
FIFA said that to qualify for a ticket, people are required to submit a medical certificate that proves they have a body mass index of 30 or more.
”FIFA is generally following local legislation of the host countries, and is in Brazil guided by the General FIFA World Cup Bill and a separate decree related to obese people,” football’s governing body said. ”The number of tickets available for disabled people depends on the infrastructure provisions of each stadium and the distribution between seats.”
Former Germany international Oliver Kahn believes that the current Bayern Munich squad is the best team in the club’s history, and expects them to dominate German football in the years to come.
The Bavarian outfit’s domestic dominance been such that this season’s Bundesliga campaign is less a title race than a Lederhosen-bedecked procession, and they are still in contention in the Champions League and German Cup as well.
Former coach Felix Magath was one of many previous Bayern employees who suggested that a treble this season is more or a less a formality, but Kahn, showing a stunning ignorance of the club’s history, believes that this could be the best Bayern team ever. The three-time European Cup winning side of 1974-76 is clearly no match for the current Bayern side.
“Magath was right when he said this is the best Bayern ever,” Kahn was quoted as saying by Kicker. “The defensive core of the team is superb. And they have incredible options in attack. I played at Bayern for 14 years, but I cannot remember a similarly dominant team.
“A very interesting era could be on the cards. The Bundesliga could become pretty boring in the years to come. Bayern have a realistic chance of winning the treble.”