Drogba motivates Benfica

Monday’s press conference ahead of the Champions League quarter-final between Benfica and Chelsea was dominated by a video (see below) that has been gone viral in Portugal in recent days.

It purported to show Chelsea striker Didier Drogba feigning fear at being paired with the Portuguese. Benfica boss Jorge Jesus, having seen the general timidity of English clubs in Europe this season, had good cause to be unconcerned by the apparent slight.

Jesus accepted the forward was “probably just joking”, but added: “Drogba only knows what he’s thinking.

“You have to remember that Benfica and Sporting Lisbon eliminated Manchester United and Manchester City, the two top teams in England, from Europe.

“Any responses we’ll be giving to Drogba will be on the field and proving we are better than him.”

Taking nothing for granted

Real Madrid coach Jose Mourionho is taking nothing for granted ahead of his side’s quarter-final encounter against this season’s surprise package APOEL Nicosia.

“They eliminated top-class teams. We have studied them a lot,” Mourinho told a news conference at the GSP stadium.

“We are the favourites, but football is football. I am sure that we are not going to have teams certain for the last four from the first leg,” he said.

“Of course, having the second leg at home makes things more easy for us.

On hearing that APOEL coach had Ivan Jovanovic had spoken of his “dream” to beat Real, Mourinho displayed his poetic side.

“Coaches are allowed to dream when their players allow them to, and since they are at this stage of the competition they are allowed to dream.” he said.

“APOEL is a very balanced team. For many, this may mean nothing, but for me it means a lot and I hope my players realise this too.”

Tonight’s game is not only the biggest night in APOEL’s history, but possibly the most significant in Cyprus football in general.

Quote of the day

“I think so.”

Inter president Massimo Moratti, when asked whether coach Claudio Ranieri would stay in charge until the end of the season. Within hours, Ranieri had become the fourth coach sacked by Moratti in the two years since Jose Mourinho walked out.

Blanc in demand

Inter have appointed Andrea Stramaccioni as their acting coach, but the search for a permanent successor to Ranieri will go on. According to sources in France, current coach of the France national team, Laurent Blanc tops Moratti’s most wanted list, although the Italian club will face stiff competition for the services of the French World Cup-winning defender from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Le Parisien say Blanc attended a 40th birthday party for former team-mate Christophe Dugarry last weekend, and that his relatives revealed the France manager would like the Chelsea job and much prefer it to an offer he’s already received from Inter.

Blanc, who enjoyed an illustrious playing career, joined Bordeaux in 2007 and in his first year in charge was voted manager of the year in France, in his second year he led the team to a league title. He was given the difficult job of reviving a France side after the near-mutininous World Cup campaign of 2010  and after a relatively straightforward Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, his side are regarded as viable contenders for this summer’s finals.

Fan ban

Marseille fans will be barred from travelling to Paris for next month’s game against Paris Saint-Germain.

Violence at matches between the two sides has been common in recent years and after PSG fans were not allowed to travel to the Stade Velodrome earlier this season, the ban has been reciprocated for the return game.

A statement for the Ministry for the Interior read: “On April 8, 2012, from midnight to midnight, moving individually or collectively, by any means, any person claiming to support Olympique de Marseille or behaving as such is prohibited between the municipalities of the department of Bouches-du-Rhone and the city of Paris.”

Fan ban 2?

The drastic measures implemented by the French authorities may soon be emulated in Brazil, where the growing fan violence continues to plague the sport.

In the wake of Sunday’s death of a Palmeiras fan who was shot in clashes with rival Corinthians hooligans, the Sao Paulo state football federation said it is banning the two fan groups involved in Sunday’s fight from entering stadiums.

“The strategy that was in place before is not working anymore and something needs to be done to make sure these cases don’t happen anymore,” Sao Paulo state prosecutor Thales Cezar de Oliveira told The Associated Press.

“Without a doubt police will have to stay on alert now. They will have to monitor this situation closely to keep another incident like this from happening.”

The violence is not isolated to Sao Paolo. Elsewhere in Brazil, there have been numerous violent incidents in recent years.

Four Goias fans were wounded by gunshots in Goiania in January, and another four were shot after a fight that left 80 people held in Rio de Janeiro late last year. In November 2010, a 19-year-old Cruzeiro fan was killed after being beaten with iron bars during a brawl between dozens of rival fans in Belo Horizonte.

A study a few years ago that showed that more than 40 people had been killed in connection with Brazilian football matches between 1999 and 2009.

Bolton make emotional return

An emotional evening in store at White Hart Lane tonight when Tottenham play their rearranged FA Cup 6th round game against Bolton Wanderers. It was at the original game that Fabrice Muamba collapsed and Bolton boss Owen Coyle has revealed that the club would not have fulfilled the rearranged fixture had Muamba’s condition not improved.

“It has been emotional, absolutely,” Coyle said. “The reason the game goes ahead, is very simply because Fabrice is improving.

Coincidentally, a student who posted offensive comments on Twitter about the collapse of Muamba, has today been jailed for 56 days for inciting racial hatred. Twenty-one year-old Liam Stacey broke down in tears as he was taken away in handcuffs.

Alas poor Johnson

The USA had needed a win against El Salvador to keep alive in the CONCACAF zone qualifying tournament for the 2012 London Olympics.

Leading 3-2 as the match entered stoppage time, but in the 94th minute, the States’ keeper Sean Johnson looked on in horror as he fumbled a long range effort from Jaime Alas into the back of the net.

It will be just the second time since 1976 that the United States will miss the Olympics, while El Salvador have a chance to qualify for the first time since 1968.

 The Central American country will now face Canada for a place at London 2012.

Giggs sets new mark

Manchester United midfielder Ryan Giggs broke the former Milan man’s appearance record during Monday night’s 1-0 win over Fulham as he played his 903rd match.

Giggs broke Maldini’s record for appearances at a top European club, playing his 903rd official match for United 21 years after his first.

The Welshman recently named Inter’s Javier Zanetti as his ‘most difficult opponent’.

“I faced Zanetti for the first time in the Champions League quarter-finals in 1999, he was the right-back and I was on the left.

“He impressed with his qualities, his speed, power, intelligence and expertise.

“I played against him twice more and he was my most difficult opponent, a complete player.”

The ice age

While the rest of Europe emerges from the icy grasp of winter and in many places enjoyed some unseasonably warm weather at the weekend, Moscow remained on the chilly side.

The Spartak-Dinamo derby was a case in point, providing a moment for Dinamo defender, Vladimir Rykov, to forget. I would imagine he and all his fellow players can’t wait until next season when the Russian calendar is brought into line with the rest of Europe.