AWOL

Seventeen players from the Eritrea football team and the team doctor are believed to have gone into hiding in Uganda.

Only 12 players returned from a shopping trip on Sunday – and, of these, five later left saying they were visiting friends and did not return.

It meant only five players and two officials were left to return home to Asmara on Tuesday.

The players had been in Kampala for a Cecafa Cup match.

“We don’t know where our brothers are,” said team coach Teklit Negash.

The website of Eritrea’s opposition party claimed the players were seeking political asylum in Uganda, but this has not been confirmed.

One of the players, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFI that 17 footballers and the team doctor are hiding in Kampala.

“Everybody has to stay in secure places because the Eritrean government is searching for us,” he said. “The Eritrean embassy in Uganda are trying to find us.”

Federation of Uganda Football Associations  (FUFA) vice-president in charge of youth Patrick Ogwel confirmed the members of the Eritrean party were missing and said: “We shall find them wherever they hide.”

Sylvia Nakamya, manager at the Sky Hotel – the base of the Eritrean team – revealed that the players left on Sunday to go shopping, but only 12 returned.

Nakamya added: “Later, five of those who returned also said they were going out to visit their friends and they did not return.”

This isn’t the first time footballers form Eritrea have gone missing: after the 2010 Cecafa tournament in Tanzania, 13 players disappeared and defected.

Meanwhile, in related news, neighbours Ethiopia have said they will not travel to Eritrea for a qualifying game in the African Nations Championship because of fears over security.

Federation spokesman Melaku Ayele says Ethiopia is happy to host the Eritreans for the second leg of their tie in January but wants a neutral venue for this month’s first leg, scheduled for Eritrea’s capital, Asmara.

Melaku told reporters: ”Who can give you the security guarantee in Asmara? Nobody can give you a security guarantee … even you foreign journalists don’t get that. That’s the reality.”

Boy from Brazil

With money burning a hole in their pockets now they have finally managed to get David Beckham off the wage bill, LA Galaxy are reported to be considering making an offer for Real Madrid’s forgotten man, Kaka.

Last night the 30-year-old made a rare start for Jose Mourinho’s side and was named as captain as Real, who were already assured of a place in the knockout stages, beat Ajax 4-1.

The Brazilian, who still has three years left to run on his deal with Real, claims there has been no contact with the MLS Cup winners, although admits he is not averse to pastures new.

“No, now I have (heard) nothing (from LA Galaxy),” he told Spanish newspaper AS.

“I keep doing my job to stay in Madrid. Then, to see what happens and what the club wants. It’s not a comfortable situation for either the club or me.

“I do not know what will happen. I have a contract until 2015.

“The club called me (in the summer) and we did not find a solution. What January? I do not know, I hope to know what the club wants. If they choose a solution, I’m open to talk.”

Despite his peripheral status at Madrid, Kaka demonstrated last night that he still has what it takes to flourish at the highest level.

Ridicule is nothing to be scared of

Mourinho, who for reasons best known to himself, has never been a huge admirer of Kaka, is the subject of a stinging outburst by former Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon.

Mourinho emerged early into the Bernabeu for Saturday’s clash against Atletico Madrid, offering fans the chance to vent their frustration at him and not the team.

“Mourinho thinks of himself first and then coaches the team”, Calderon told Spanish radio station La Xarxa.

“But he is not the culprit”, he continued.

Calderon, who was Real president between 2006-2009 and has clearly not given up hope of one day returning to the crown, was quick to point the finger at his successor Florentino Perez.

“The culprit is the president, who decided to take him to Real Madrid and gave him all the power.

“What I saw before the match with Atletico was pathetic and ridiculous.

“Florentino Perez disappeared when he gave all the power to the coach.

“Now he is just a puppet, who does nothing and has no interest in showing that he is president of Real Madrid.”

Meanwhile, Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque has laughed off claims from Mourinho that he has more time on his hands than the Real Madrid boss.

Mourinho was asked for his opinions on his nomination for the Coach of the Year prize at January’s Ballon d’Or ceremony alongside Del Bosque and Pep Guardiola, but claimed he had less time to talk about the award than his two opponents.

“I work every day, if you want to, you can see me there from 9.30 in the morning,” Del Bosque told Cope Radio.

“I do not value his words. I was informed at the time. Everyone can take it as it is. When I heard the words of Mourinho I smiled, because it is a fact that we do not compete until January.”

To complete a trio of Mourinho-related stories, the Real coach was in one of his more churlish moods when discussing the forthcoming FIFA Ballon d’Or award. The real coach hinted that Cristiano Ronaldo had no chance of winning the award because “the heads of football” have conspired against him so that Lionel Messi can win for a third successive time (a record 4th if we include the award in its previous incarnation).

“The Ballon d’Or has already been given,” Mourinho said.

“When the heads of football speak and make the campaign, there is nothing you can do.”

Pathetic and ridiculous, said Calderon. He has a point, but with Mourinho, would we want it any different?

Goal of the day

Great work by Malaga’s Seba Fernandez to burst into the Anderlecht box before supplying the unmarked Duda, who fired an unstoppable left-footed drive past Proto.

Quote of the day

“Arsenal Football Club is not only about winning. We have a large and engaged fan-base around the world who wants to feel as if they belong to the club, and want to feel proud to belong to the club. That’s my primary business. When they (the fans) see that we can attract – even though we haven’t won a trophy in seven years – one of the top global brands in the world for the type of money and financial commitment they’re making, that makes our fans feel proud. So our brand is defined by more than winning.”

Arsenal Chief Commercial Officer Tom Fox endears himself to the Emirates faithful by telling them that winning football matches is only a small part of the ‘brand’. That certainly explains a lot.

Why the long face?

Holland midfielder Leroy Fer was left embarrassed after buying his girlfriend a pet horse – only to find out she can’t keep it as she lives in a block of flats.

The 22-year-old visited the auction with his girlfriend and forked out €22,000 on a stallion called Django.

But his gesture turned sour when his partner reminded him that she lives in a block of flats and has no way of accommodating or looking after poor Django, reports Metro. This is not Dublin, after all.

With no suitable stable space available in the area, Fer has been forced to quickly offload the horse – at a €3,000 loss – and no doubt been told to rein in his spending.

Not so incredible Hulk

Hulk has admitted there is a possibility that he could leave Zenit St Petersburg in January in the wake of the club’s 1-0 victory over Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday.

The Brazil forward joined the Russian champions in the summer for a reported €40 million from Porto, but he has hardly set the world alight since his move. There was unrest when he arrived at Zenit with several team-mates demanding financial parity, but Hulk is the one who is unsettled.

Hulk sulked after being substituted by coach Luciano Spalletti in the win at San Siro – a decision which appears to have prompted the 26-year-old to consider his future at the club. The player’s reaction seems a little on the precious side; what’s he going to do if Spalletti drops him? Go on hunger strike?

“I feel fine in St Petersburg, my family is fine and my son is fine,” he told Premium Calcio after the match. “But if the situation with Luciano Spalletti does not resolve itself, I could leave in January. I don’t know if Italy would be my destination, but anything can happen.”

In response to the attacker’s remarks, Spalletti responded, “Hulk can say anything he wants, but if I decide to change him during the game it means I’m not happy with his play.

“Hulk is mistaken if he thinks he should play for 90 minutes all the time. He said he wants to leave? Then, it’s his choice and I can do nothing about it. As for myself, I’m not going anywhere.”

Hardly the words of a man who seems concerned by the possible loss of his record signing.

Out of Africa

The absence of a number of European-based footballers from January’s African Cup of Nations has not gone down well with the South African organisers.

“It cannot be right for any player produced [in Africa] to say ‘I prefer my club’,” said Nonkonyana, vice-president of the South Africa Football Association (SAFA).

“That is selfishness in my view, it is very egotistical.”

Selfish, egotistical? Who’d have thought? Throw in overpaid and you have the archetypal modern footballer.

“It is time to instil in every player national pride,” Nonkonyana continued.

“It is time now for players to be proud of their own nations.

“The gentlemen we are talking about, they are megastars now as a direct result of the contribution of their national associations.

“For them to disclaim their own national associations, their own country, it is something we cannot smile about.

“It is a pity they have decided that way.”

Although most players selected for the African Nations Cup have heeded the call, Nonkonyana believes the club versus country battle is a growing problem.

“It is time for all of us football administrators across the world to fight and uproot this scourge, this club v country issue – CAF (Confederation of African Football), UEFA and FIFA need to raise this matter,” he told the BBC.

One does wonder whether the CAF have been complicit in the problem. After all, by the time the 2013 finals come around, just 11 months will have elapsed since Zambia were crowned the previous champions. It hardly conveys to the players the idea that this is a major international tournament.

No embarrassment

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini says he’s not embarrassed by premature ejection from European football.

“It can be embarrassing if you don’t play at 100%. But when you do play 100%, you can lose,” said Mancini.

Tuesday’s defeat to Borussia Dortmund concluded another unhappy European campaign for the English champions and ensured that they even missed out on the consolation prize of a place in the Europa League.

Wisely, Mancini made no bold predictions ahead of this season’s campaign, but he did say back in August that ”our target is to fight for the title and to go through to the second stage in Europe. And after that we will see what can happen in February.”

Now he knows: February will be put your feet up time.

Mancini himself has struggled as a manager in Europe’s elite competition and has never got past the quarter-final stage having reached the last eight with Inter Milan twice.

“The Champions League can be strange. Last year Borussia Dortmund went out in the first group and were fourth in that group,” he said. “This year, for me, they are probably a team that can win the Champions League.”

That’s not exactly a definition of ‘strange’; it’s just a case of a team improving – something City have conspicuously failed to do this season.

The Champions League has been a tough nut to crack for Mancini, as can be seen by his record over the past decade with City and before that Inter and Lazio. If anything, the more experience he gains, the worse the results.

Mancini’s record in Champions League:

  • 2003-4: Lazio. Out at group stage. Lost home and away to Chelsea
  • 2004-05: Inter. Beaten in quarter-finals by Milan
  • 2005-06: Inter. Lost on away goals to Villarreal. Quarter-finals
  • 2006-07 Inter. Beaten on away goals by Valencia in last 16
  • 2007-08 Inter. Knocked out by Liverpool. Last 16
  • 2011-12 Manchester City. Third in group. Group stage
  • 2012-13. Manchester City. Fourth in group. Group stage

 Finally…

Former Colombia and Pachuca goalkeeper Miguel Calero died at the age of 41 in Mexico on Tuesday, a week after being taken to hospital with cerebral thrombosis.

“Pachuca is deeply saddened to report that Miguel Angel Rodriguez Calero, a symbol of the club, died on Tuesday,” Mexico’s oldest team said in a statement.

Calero won 51 caps for his country, making his debut against Nigeria in 1995 and playing his last game against Haiti in 2009.

He was in the squad at the Copa America six times and for the 1998 World Cup, although his career coincided with Rene Higuita, Oscar Cordoba and Faryd Mondragon.

“Miguel Calero will always be present in the history of our football and the Colombian national teams thanks to his immense achievements on the field and his undeniable human qualities, which made a mark on all the people who shared moments of his life with him,” said the Colombian Football Federation (FCF).

Calero retired at Pachuca in 2011 after 11 years at the team where he won the Mexican championship and CONCACAF Champions Cup, four times each.

He played more than 600 professional games in his career and scored three goals.

Calero started out at Deportivo Cali, helping them win a Colombian title in 1996, and then moved to Atletico Nacional where he replaced maverick keeper Higuita.

“All my memories and experiences with Miguel are positive and happy ones,” former Colombia coach Hernan Dario Gomez told local media. “You saw Miguel and you stopped feeling fed up.

“When I think about Miguel at this moment it makes me sad because I think of Andres Escobar, of ‘Carepa’ (Hernan) Gaviria, ‘Palomo’ (Albeiro) Usuriaga and a load of lads who I coached and who are not with us any more,” said Gomez.

Escobar was murdered in Medellin shortly after scoring an own goal at the 1994 World Cup, Gaviria was killed when he was struck by lightning during a training session in 2002 and Usuriaga was murdered in Cali in 2004.

“Miguel was a symbol, an icon, of our institution and we are really affected by his death, something completely unforeseen and absurd,” said Deportivo Cali president Oscar Astudillo.

“We ask for great strength for his family.”

 

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