Arrests made in Italy match fixing scandal

Former Italy international Cristiano Doni and 16 other people have been arrested across Italy as part of an ongoing investigation into match-fixing and illegal betting on games.

The ANSA news agency and the Gazzetta dello Sport report that the inquiry is focused on several matches in Serie B over the past two seasons – with three of the matches featuring Atalanta.

Others arrested reportedly include former Inter and Roma player Luigi Sartor, former Serie B player Alessandro Zamperini and active players Carlo Gervasoni of Piacenza and Filippo Carobbio of Spezia.

In August, Doni was banned from football for three and a half years by the Italian football federation’s disciplinary committee and Atalanta – who were promoted to Serie A last season – were given a six-point penalty.

The king is not dead

Much of the pre-match build-up to Sunday’s Club World Cup final between Barcelona and Santos had been dominated by suspicion we were about to witness the moment when the mantle of the world’s best player passed from Lionel Messi to the 19-year-old Brazilian prodigy Neymar.

Well, it turns out that such speculation was a little premature. Messi put the young pretender in his place by scoring twice and inspiring Barcelona to a 4-0 mauling of the South American champions.

Neymar, to his credit and showing a dignity beyond his tender years, was quick to acknowledge that the match had been a humbling experience.

“Barcelona are far above Santos. I have nothing to say,” he said afterwards. “I must accept the result. It was a great lesson for me.”

“Barcelona is a machine. We learned today how to play football. Barça have fantastic players. That’s what we’ll take back to Brazil. Barcelona taught us to play football.”

Muricy Ramalho, the Santos coach, said there was no doubt who the best player in the world was – but that would change.

“Messi is the best, there’s no question about that,” he said.

“He’s been building up to be the best player for many years, but Neymar is improving and in the future he will be the best.”

As for Barcelona, Ramalho said that the European champions were currently invincible.

“Barcelona are the greatest team in the world,” he told reporters. “No team can live with them. They’re unbeatable at the moment. Losing 4-0 to them is no disgrace.”

Morocco to hold Club World Cup

Morocco will become the first African country to host the FIFA Club World Cup after it was confirmed that it will stage the 2013 and 2014 editions of the tournament.

“We were given a presentation by the Moroccan Federation and I expect the tournament will be excellent in all aspects – logistical, cultural and financial,” said FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Hands on role for Blatter

Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup have become a “personal dossier” for Blatter, as world football’s governing body again expressed its fears at the slow rate of progress.

The main concern for FIFA is the slow pace at which the reformation of the huge country’s infrastructure is being undertaken.

Secretary general Jerome Valcke said: “There is no doubt that Brazil is not very far advanced, although at the level of the host cities things are working quite well. There remain problems with airports and roads, and there is not much public transport.”

Blatter added: “I will myself take up the World Cup in a presidential level and in the first or second month of next year I will go and meet the head of state.”

United not hopeful of Swiss break

Manchester United say they are not too hopeful of being readmitted to the Champions League after FIFA threatened to suspend all Swiss clubs from European competition.

Rumours of a reprieve have begun circulating since FIFA announced that the Swiss FA would be suspended if FC Sion – who signed six players while under a transfer embargo in the summer and were thrown out of the Europa League – are not sanctioned by January 14.

United were knocked out of the competition at the group stages by Basel, but the legal action being taken by FC Sion is jeopardising the Swiss side’s chances of playing in the knockout phase.

FC Basel vice-president Bernhard Heusler said: “I am confident that we will play Bayern Munich but I take the threat very seriously.”

However, an Old Trafford spokesman dampened hopes of an unlikely reprieve when he told the Daily Express: “We are not holding our breath over this. It does seem a very long shot.”

Goal of the day

Lecce’s David Di Michele scored his side’s 2nd in a 3-3 draw at Parma with a spectacular overhead kick.

Milan chief holds Tevez talks

Milan vice-president Adrian Galliani is set to fly to Argentina for talks with Manchester City’s AWOL striker Carlos Tevez.

Milan want the forward, and are hoping to sign the forward on loan until the rest of the season. For their part, City would prefer a permanent deal to rid themselves once and for all of a troublesome influence.

Vice-president Galliani is expected to arrive in England on Wednesday or Thursday in a bid to persuade City to allow the player to leave on loan.

He said: “Let’s hope sooner or later City change their minds.

“Negotiations are going to take a long time but we are playing a lot of emphasis on the fact he wants to play with us.

“It’s true other sides are interested in him but there are not actually that many.”

Not that many can afford him.

Celtic in the dock again

Celtic face their second UEFA disciplinary case in two months after being charged in relation to two offences during their Europa League game against Udinese in Italy.

UEFA confirmed they had opened disciplinary proceedings against Celtic, charging the Glasgow club with ‘the displaying of a banner of an offensive nature and the setting off of fireworks by supporters’.

Celtic chief Peter Lawwell executive said: “It is very frustrating. Those people are not Celtic supporters.”

Well, they wear Celtic colours, travel across Europe to watch Celtic and sing plenty of Celtic-related songs, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that they are indeed Celtic supporters.

“We will weed them out and these guys will not get back into Celtic Football Club,” Lawwell continued. “One or two silly little juvenile boys doing funny kids’ pranks and stuff and it is bringing the whole of Scottish football down.”

Celtic were fined about £12,700 for ‘illicit chanting’ involving pro-IRA songs at a Europa League game against Rennes at Celtic Park.

Carry on like this and they might as well set up a monthly direct debit straight into UEFA coffers. Perhaps they could collaborate with Rangers and work out a Old Firm reduced rate for persistent offending.

Quote of the day

If you can’t beat them, join them.

“I would love to play for them for just one game. I just want to know how it feels to play with such fantastic players. They are all amazing players. [Sergio] Busquets is a superb player and so are Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta.”

Santos playmaker Ganso would like to see how the other half lives.

Hertha identify new man

Hertha Berlin are expected to name Michael Skibbe as the successor to sacked coach Markus Babbel, according to reports in the German media.

Skibbe, 46, is currently in charge of Turkish side Eskisehirspor, having been sacked by Eintracht Frankfurt in March.

Babbel, 39, was sacked by Hertha on Sunday, despite having led the club to promotion from the second division in his first season in charge last term.

Hertha Berlin’s general manager Michael Preetz claims he was left with “no other choice” but to fire Babbel.

“A continuing, faithful co-operation just was no longer possible,” Preetz said.

“It is my job to protect Hertha from damage and there was simply no more trust there.”

Babbel claimed he informed the club of his desire to leave at the end of the season back in November – a claim the club has denied.

“The development over the past two days, which have culminated in me being branded a liar several times, leave me and Hertha no other choice,” explained Preetz.