Clasico reaction

Stand-in Barcelona coach Jordi Roura admitted that Real Madrid was far superior to Barcelona on Tuesday in their 3-1 Copa del Rey win on Tuesday.

Madrid went through to the final where they will face either Sevilla or Atletico Madrid.

“In the first round and in the Supercopa, the two teams were matched. They were decided by details. [But tonight, Madrid] were far superior and we lacked effectiveness,” Roura, who was coaching in place of Tito Vilanova, told reporters after the match.

“In football you cannot always control things; it is a game of mistakes. Madrid are one of the best teams around on the break. This is a thing that we knew, and we tried to control it but we lacked wisdom. That makes Madrid a great team.

“In La Liga, we have made a great effort. The first half [of the season] was the best ever. I do not think that this will affect us; perhaps this will give us peace of mind, because we have the league to focus on. But we do not have it won, so we must keep fighting.”

Indeed, Barcelona, for all their league dominance have looked decidedly second best in their two high profile encounters of recent weeks – Madrid’s win at the Bernabeu came just a week after Milan had inflicted a 2-0 Champions League defeat on the Catalan outfit.

Meanwhile, Barca midfielder, Xavi, tried to put a positive spin on the evening, by suggesting that the Spanish Cup was the least of their priorities for the season.

“This was another setback after the loss against Milan, but we have to move on. Yes, we miss out on a trophy, but it’s the least important one,” Xavi told reporters.

“We are still in the running for two important titles. We have to return to winning ways against Madrid at the weekend and hold our heads high.”

I wonder if he’ll be quite so sanguine should Barcelona fail to overcome Milan in the Champions League in a fortnight’s time.

Good but not the best

Diego Maradona has said that although Lionel Messi is a ‘great lad’, he does not compare to himself when it comes to discussing the best player of all time.

Argentina captain Messi has won the prestigious Ballon d’Or a record four times in succession.

But Maradona, who led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986, believes he was the better of the two players.

The 52-year-old former Napoli striker is in Italy to plead his innocence over an outstanding €40million (£32 million) tax bill, and said he hopes Messi can repeat the feat Maradona completed 27 years ago.

“I hope that Messi can win the World Cup for Argentina, but it won’t be easy, because everyone knows all about him,” said.

“In the last game, Milan built a cage for him. For me he is a great lad, but I still think that I was the best.”

One explanation for Messi’s dip in form may be the fever he is reported to have been carrying.

Messi missed training today and a Barceona statement confirmed that ”a team of doctors have visited Messi at home, where he has been given appropriate medication and been advised to rest.”

Match fixing latest (part one)

The global match-fixing scandal shows no signs of abating with the latest outbreak in Lebanon resulting in the national federation banning two international players for life and issuing suspensions ranging from one to three seasons to 22 others.

The general secretary of the West Asian Football Federation, Fadi Zreiqat, announced the suspensions in Beirut after being appointed to head an investigation into reports of rigging.

The two players suspended for life and fined $15,000 are Mahmoud al-Ali who plays in Indonesia and Malaysian-based Ramez Dayoub, both of whom have played for the Lebanese national team.

Dayoub denies the allegations and has pledged to clear his name.

“I am not guilty. They have suspended me and accused me of matchfixing without any evidence or proof,” he told FOX Sports.

“This is a serious allegation and I have no doubt there’s something behind this. If I really am guilty of match fixing, FIFA will investigate and suspend me, not the Lebanese FA.”

Another two players, both based domestically – Al-Negma’s Mohammad Jaafar and Al Ahed’s Hadi Sahmarani – were kicked out for three seasons and handed $7,000 fines.

One of matches alleged to have been fixed was Lebanon’s 1-0 defeat in their crucial World Cup qualifier to Qatar.

The game was lost thanks to wayward back pass by Dayoub that was played straight into the path of Sebastien Soria.

Lebanon coach Theo Bucker revealed to Sport360° he had suspicions that his players were fixing matches as far back as last June and that it was his wife that first alerted him to the possibility.

“Personally I’m very disappointed with a couple of guys I really trusted. Ramez was a senior player, he was a player who, after the game my wife said he did something very bad, I stood up for and told her she must be mad, I put my hand in the fire for him,” Bucker told Sport360°.

“It’s a funny world we live in, what to do? For us this situation was clear a few months ago, directly after the first match against Qatar. By watching the film, you can tell by watching our friend Ramez he tried several times to play the striker through on goal until he was successful, that was the first time we thought something might be wrong.

Meanwhile, former Hungarian defender Gabor Horvath, who now works as a trainer in Dubai, is to return home to face trial with 45 other match-fixing suspects after admitting his involvement.

“I did bet on our games that were fixed, yes, I earned lots of money out of it but also spent it easily,” he told Hungarian media in an alarming confession. “It is a pity that I was at the peak of my career when this disease flourished in Hungary, and I caught it too like so many others.”

Here’s Dayoub’s backpass which is at the centre of the allegations.

Match fixing latest (part two)

On the ever recurring subject of match fixing, former Hungarian defender Gabor Horvath, who now works as a coach in Dubai, is to return home to face trial along with 45 other suspects after admitting his involvement.

“I did bet on our games that were fixed, yes, I earned lots of money out of it but also spent it easily,” he told Hungarian media in a candid statement.

“It is a pity that I was at the peak of my career when this disease flourished in Hungary, and I caught it too like so many others.”

Last week Hungarian investigators completed a four-year probe into match-fixing and Horvath, who played for Siofok and Diosgyor,  has already given written testimony.

Horvath, who was released from custody pending the trial, has already given written testimony.

“After the police arrested me, I spent an awful night in a jail where I thought over the whole story. I can only be angry with myself, only then I realised what I had done,” he said.

“I have no fear but I am not calm either. Not a day passes without thinking of the others who are still in jail. I have regrets, I lost almost all of my friends, but I told the truth to the investigators.”

When Europol announced on February 4 that some 680 matches were suspected to have been fixed in a global betting scam run from Singapore, it caused shock within the football community. The spate of revelations in the intervening weeks, suggest that far from revealing the extent of the problem, those 680 games were actually the tip of a very large iceberg.

Tough on fans

Uzbekistan has banned football fans from painting their faces or other parts of their body, according to a new code of conduct published the culture and sports ministry.

The new code published this week stipulates that football fans are not allowed “to paint their faces or other parts of their body”, drink alcohol and cannot bring animals into a stadium.

So, the match day routine beloved of Uzbeki fans for generations has now been outlawed. No longer will they be able to paint their faces, have a few drinks with their mates, or tether their favourite animal to the terraces. Something has been lost.

The supporters must also not shout insults or carry defamatory posters, signs or symbols that could call for ethnic, racial or religious hatred.

Fans who violate or do not obey the new code “will not be allowed in or will be evicted from the event without being refunded the ticket price”, and furthermore “may face a punishment according to the law”, the document says.

The code allows fans to bring flags, drums and banners detailing their size and type. But, painting faces and body parts is not welcomed in Uzbekistan, a largely Muslim state.

Uzbek state television recently described tattoos as the sign of “moral degradation and one of the elements of pernicious Western mass culture.”

One wonders how they’ll react if vajazzling ever reaches the country.

Quote of the day

“Sometimes you start to discuss something, and get the feeling that you are surrounded by a sea of morons. Basic things that are clear to third-graders, sometimes you have to explain for hours.”

Russian agent Dimitri Seluk reveals that dealing with football clubs can be be quite difficult.

Back pay

Vasco da Gama have agreed to pay retired footballer Romario £6 million in outstanding debt, ending an eight-year row between the striker and his former club.

The amount was agreed upon during a civil hearing on Tuesday relating to unpaid wages and image rights owed to the 47-year-old during his 2000-02 contract with the Rio outfit.

“The most important thing is that an agreement has been reached between both parties,” Vasco president Roberto Dinamite said, according to Xinhua.

Romario had demanded the payment of £19 million but agreed to reduce the amount after negotiating with the club’s directors.

Vasco will pay in 120 instalments of £50,000 beginning in January next year, the tribunal ruled.

“This agreement is the most civilised way to resolve matters like these. Nobody has won and nobody has lost. The deal shows the grandeur of both sides,” Vasco lawyer Silvio Capanema said.

Romario, a World Cup winner in 1994 and now a federal deputy for Brazil’s Socialist Party, scored nearly 300 goals for Vasco during four separate spells with the club.

Forgotten man

In May 2012 he was embracing Roman Abramovich after delivering the Chelsea owner the trophy most craved. Now, nine months on, Roberto Di Matteo has been airbrushed out of the club’s Champions League triumph after the club replaced his image on an iconic wall at Stamford Bridge.

Di Matteo, sacked last November by Abramovich, was pictured on the West Stand wall with the rest of the squad and their trophies at the start of the season. But he has now been replaced by a huge image of Chelsea’s players and coaching staff — less the manager — celebrating the club’s first European Cup triumph in Munich’s Allianz Arena.

The Italian was axed following a 3-0 defeat at Juventus last November. Recognition of his role in the club’s greatest ever triumph outlived him, but not by much.

Wisely, Chelsea have refrained from commissioning an image to commemorate Rafa Benitez’s time in charge. If Di Matteo is the forgotten manager, Benitez is the invisible man.

Set in stone (part one)

Arsenal will erect a statue of Dennis Bergkamp outside their ground this summer to immortalise another one of their recent playing legends.

The former Holland forward will see his statue place alongside those of Thierry Henry, Tony Adams and Herbert Chapman that were erected in December 2011.

An Arsenal spokesman said: “We currently have statues outside Emirates Stadium commemorating three legends in Arsenal’s history – Herbert Chapman, Tony Adams and Thierry Henry and we’re delighted that they have been extremely popular with visitors to the stadium.

“We’re pleased that speculation surrounding a future possible statue at Emirates Stadium is generating interest and will obviously communicate details if and when there is confirmation of any new developments.”

Set in stone (part two)

Statues are clearly the new must-have accessories these days, as reports emerge of Mario Balotelli commissioning a statue to be made – of himself.

The Milan striker has asked an artist near his home in Brescia, Italy to immortalise him doing his trademark posed goal celebration.

Balotelli did the famous pose after scoring for Italy against Germany in the semi-final of Euro 2012, a game the Italians won 2-1 with the striker netting both goals.

“I received the commission, but have never actually met Balotelli, so I am working from photographs,” local artist Livio Scarpella told Il Giornale di Brescia newspaper.

“I presented various sketches, but Mario wanted to be immortalised in the pose after a goal: muscles in evidence and an expression to challenge the opponents.

“I imagined him as an athlete from ancient times. The statue will be between the classic and pop style, in platinum and coloured bronze with the eyes made of precious stones.”
It all sounds very tasteful.If you lived in a lap dancing club.

Balotelli, who returned to Italy in January after a two-year spell at Manchester City during which he won the Premier League title, has made a good start to his career at Milan, scoring four goals in as many games