Brazil warning

FIFA has warned Brazil that this week’s naming of the cities that will host the Confederations Cup will be a ‘crucial moment’ for the country as it prepares the countdown for the 2014 World Cup finals.

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke told reporters: “This is a crucial moment for us organisers because once the ticket sales start it would be very problematic if a venue runs into challenges to be ready to host matches.

“And here I need to repeat myself about readiness. We do not mean the day of the tournament kick-off but with enough time to stage at least two proper test events.

“That is why we always reiterate that the venues for major FIFA tournaments need to be ready six months ahead of schedule.”

Given Brazil’s repeated failures to comply with their pre-arranged schedule, FIFA’s apprehension is tangible and also entirely understandable.

“The Confederations Cup itself is an acid test for FIFA and the host country as practically every aspect of the preparations will come under close scrutiny,” continued Valcke.

It is worth remembering that almost every major sporting event is preceded by grave concerns about the readiness and competence of the hosts, and almost without exception these fears are never realised. The suspicion remains, though, that the 2013 Confederations Cup  may be less a curtain raiser for the 2014 finals and more a hide-behind-the-curtain horror show contested in unfinished stadiums, undermined by an inefficient infrastructure.

Trouble and strife

The wife of Arsenal full-back Andre dos Santos has defended her husband after he was criticised by supporters for exchanging shirts with former Gunner Robin van Persie.

Suelem Leal dos Santos, the Brazilian’s wife, has defended her husband, blaming cultural misunderstanding for the row.

“The English should better understand the Brazilian culture before judging someone,” she wrote on Twitter. “No one stops being friends just for changing company.” She added that swapping shirts is “normal in Brazil.”

Maybe, but surely not halfway through a match, with a former team-mate who has left in acrimonious circumstances and has up until that point, scored the only goal of the game.

Transfer coup

Malaysian outfit Johor FC are close to pulling off the country’s biggest ever transfer coup with former Spain striker Daniel Guiza expected to sign a contract in the next few days.

The 32-year-old, who helped Spain win Euro 2008, arrived in Malaysia on Sunday ahead of his proposed move to a club described as the “Manchester City of Malaysia”.

Guiza joined Turkish side Fenerbahce for €14 million in 2008 before returning to Spain last year and signing a three-year deal with Getafe.

“To be honest I don’t know much about Malaysian football, but I watched videos of the local matches on the internet before coming down here and what I observed was Malaysians appear very passionate about their football,” Guiza told local reporters.

Johor FA president Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim said last month he wanted to bring in two high-profile foreign signings to strengthen the side.

“I would be glad and honoured to have a player of such calibre join us. The issue isn’t the money offered to him but whether he can settle here quickly,” Tunku Ismail said of Guiza.

“Hopefully, we will be able to strike a deal as soon as possible so I can take him around and show him what Johor has to offer.”

Russian justice

The Russian government has unveiled plans to introduce tough new legislation to combat match-fixing in sport, which could see offenders given jail sentences of up to seven years.

Stiff punishments indeed, until you remember that singing a protest song in church can result in a two-year stretch in a Stalinist-era gulag.

Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said the measures, which also include fines of up to one million roubles (€24,000), would be implemented before the end of the year.

“We’re talking about a whole set of measures, aimed to fight falsification of results, illegal betting and match-fixing,” said Mutko. “Wire-tapping would be one of them.”

However, the president of the Russia’s bookmakers association doubts the new measures will work.

“I think it could only create more headaches for us because it would make us responsible for keeping track of all our records,” said Oleg Zhuravsky. “Our association has been cooperating with (the Russian Football Union) for over five years now, but during that time they didn’t have a single person who would store and analyse our information. You’re talking about introducing new effective measures now. Does it make any sense?”

From Paris with love

Brazilian midfielder Lucas Moura has denied money was the motivation behind his decision to snub Manchester United in favour of Paris St Germain.

The 20-year-old will move to PSG in January after agreeing a £35million from Sao Paulo during the summer.

And who can blame him. Paris is a beautiful city with myriad charms for the visitor; it’s just a surprise that it has taken so long and so many hundred of millions of euros for the world’s leading footballers to have cottoned onto this.

“Thiago Silva has told me a lot about the club and its facilities, and it will be nice to have him as my team-mate,” the Brazilian told French media. “However, I have to admit that I do have a bit of fear about how things will pan out. I don’t know how it will go.

“I am not thinking about money, but I am more concerned with whether my next destination will be the right one. PSG’s ambition and the presence of the other Brazilians convinced me to sign.

“I am following PSG from a distance. I am mainly focusing on the end of the season with Sao Paulo for now.”

Brains of the operation

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has been accused of calling David Beckham ‘thick as bat shit’ on a recent visit to a school in Auckland.

Beckham, who once said of his daughter Brooklyn: “I definitely want her to be christened, but I don’t know into what religion yet”, met Key at a 2008 friendly match between LA Galaxy and local side the Oceania All-Stars.

But when quizzed about the claims, Key refused to confirm or deny what had been said.

“That is someone that thinks they have overheard a conversation I have had,” he said on breakfast television. “I am not going to engage in that because otherwise I am engaging in every conversation that someone thinks I have.”

The presenter probed further by asking the Prime Minister: “Can I just clarify that you are saying that you didn’t call David Beckham thick?”

Key replied: “No, what I am saying is that somebody has overheard a personal conversation and that’s their recollection of it. I am just not going to engage in discussions about that. That’s their view.”

I think we’ll take that as a yes, then.

Goal of the day

Lucas Perez Martinez’s second goal of three in Karpaty Lviv ‘s 5-0 win over Kryvbas was a stunning volley from the edge of the penalty area.

Quote of the day

“I don’t think we’re ready to win the Champions League. If we say we’re ready to win it, we’re not honest. In the Champions League it’s clear that incredible situations can happen in February and March but we’ve been drawn in a tough group this year, like last year. We’re a good team but we’re not ready in the Champions League, like the other teams.” 

They may be the richest club in the world, but Manchester City have no chance of winning the Champions League, according to manager Roberto Mancini.

Questions, questions, questions…

All in all, it hasn’t been a great day for Mancini, and his crankiness was evident when he was repeatedly questioned about his admission that he had considered joining French side Monaco at the end of last season.

When asked for clarification at a press conference on Monday, a visibly irate Mancini said: “I don’t understand why you continue to ask me (about) last year, last month. This is finished. Why? Why, for which reason? Why do you continue to ask me, ‘Last year you had a chance to go’?

“I stay here because my work is here. I worked for two years. I built with the chairman and the owner, this team. We won three trophies in two years. For 50 years we didn’t win. Never.”

It’s possible that the tetchy Mancini has read the runes and concluded that the recent appointments of former Barcelona employees Ferran Soriano and, Txiki Begiristain as the club’s chief executive and director of football respectively could signal the arrival of a certain former Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola.

Better than Messi

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has described Luis Suarez as his side’s equivalent of Lionel Messi after the striker’s display against Newcastle.

Rodergs was speaking after Suarez almost singlehandedly rescued a point for Liverpool against Newcastle with a wonderful piece of improvisation.

“He plays the false nine role like Messi does for Barcelona where he moves freely and others have to get in behind him to penetrate,” enthused Rodgers. “Suarez’s goal was brilliant. He is a world-class striker.”

Incidentally, the last Liverpool player to be compared with Lionel Messi was out-of-favour playmaker, Joe Cole, whose arrival at Anfield caused skipper Steven Gerrard to undergo one of his periodical brain freezes.

“[Lionel] Messi can do some amazing things, but anything he can do Joe can do as well, if not better,” Gerrard raved when Cole signed just over two years ago. “He used to shock us in training by doing footy tricks with a golf ball that most players can’t even do with a football. I really fancy Joe for the [player of the year] award this season.”

These days Cole cuts a forlorn figure at Anfield, not even meriting a place on the bench for Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Newcastle.

He was given a rare outing in Liverpool’s 3-1 Capital One Cup defeat to Swansea last week, but was hauled off after just 45 minutes.

“The club have invested an astronomical amount of money on a talented player and Joe had the opportunity,” said a non-too-supportive Rodgers after that performance.

“He has been back fit a couple of weeks and his opportunities have been limited but you have to see.

“I thought it was difficult for him, it was too slow and it wasn’t what I would expect from a team I tried to set up to be dynamic.”

Anyway, here’s the moment of brilliance from Suarez. He may not be the next Messia(ah), but on the evidence of this goal, nor is he just a very naught boy.