Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Barcelona's Carles Puyol: I thought about quitting football

Barcelona defender Carles Puyol has admitted he considered retiring from football following his recent knee injury.

The Spain international has just regained full fitness after undergoing an operation on the recurring problem in June.

Between January and August, Puyol missed about six months of action, and the 33-year-old has conceded he thought he may not have been able to play again.

"These were eight months of suffering," he told Antena3. "I had a hard time because I could not see a solution: I experienced loss of strength in my leg and I could not play.

"I even thought about quitting football."

Puyol was also questioned about the differences between bitter rivals Real Madrid and his own side, and the Catalan skipper was surprisingly kind with his remarks: "Madrid have few flaws, but their virtue is that they never give up."

Barcelona currently sit atop La Liga with 14 points, tied with Levante who have an inferior goal difference.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Barcelona fined £95,000 for fan flares in Uefa Super Cup win over Porto

Barcelona's attacking flair has seen them pick up 12 trophies in just over three seasons and wow the world with their exhibition-style flowing footbal, but the Spanish champions were hit with a €110,000 (£95,000) fine from Uefa on Thursday after their fans lit flares following their Super Cup victory in September.

Fans of the Catalan club celebrated their side's Uefa Super Cup win over Porto in Monaco late last month by lighting brightly-coloured flares in the stadium.

The 2-0 win against last season's Europa League winners saw Pep Guardiola's side claim their second piece of silverware of the campaign, following their Spanish Supercopa success against Real Madrid.

However, Uefa were unimpressed by the Catalans' conduct and have hit the Spanish side with a fine imposed by the organisation's Control and Disciplinary Body.

Barca president Sandro Rosell has 10 days to appeal against the sanction. 

Monday, 17 October 2011

'Jose Mourinho's actions cannot be justified' - Barcelona captain Carles Puyol blasts Real Madrid boss

Although Barcelona triumped 3-2 on the night, the match will be remembered for a late brawl that saw Mourinho poke Barca assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye.

"There are games in which the stress can trigger something bigger, but such actions have no justification," Puyol told El Mundo Deportivo.

Meanwhile, the Spain defender has heaped praise on team-mate Lionel Messi, in light of suggestions that the Argentine has a tendency to dive, saying: "If there is a player who never goes down, it's Leo.

"He's the best player ever. It's hard to remember or imagine another like him. I know I'm not objective and that there are players from other eras, but nothing is comparable. He's from another planet."

Puyol has seen limited playing time this season due to injury, but feels that he is on the way back to his best.

"I'm feeling good, I've been picking up the pace, but more importantly, after playing a game, I feel fine," he said.

Puyol could start for Spain in Friday's Group I Euro 2012 qualifier against Czech Republic in Prague.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Club rivals Lionel Messi & Gonzalo Higuain combine to make a deadly partnership for Argentina

Verbal tirades off the pitch in the press are followed by ugly clashes on it, and the situation reached boiling point in this year's Supercopa when members of each team's coaching staff squared up on the sidelines. There is no denying, however, that away from the fracas the Spanish giants are blessed with outrageously talented players; and two of them combined delightfully on Friday evening in what can only be an extremely encouraging sign for Argentine football.

In his competitive debut as Albiceleste coach, Alejandro Sabella took the decision to pair Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain together as his two front-men. He was rewarded by one of the most convincing performances by the side in recent memory, as Chile submitted to a 4-1 defeat in the Monumental to mark a perfect start to the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.

Mention must be made of the opponents, who committed football hari-kari in Buenos Aires. Roja coach Claudio Borghi must be admired for refusing to play for a draw, but an all-out attacking formation was painfully exposed away from home, and missing players of the calibre of Alexis Sanchez one must wonder if the amiable trainer got it wrong in not giving at least a wink to pragmatism during what turned into an Andean nightmare. 

Let's not take anything away from the hosts though, and especially Higuain. 'Pipita' has the reputation of a prolific - if occasionally profligate - goalscorer, but on Friday he offered signs that he can be the natural heir to Gabriel Batistuta and so much more.

He ran, sprinting a full 70 metres, to punish Chile on the counter-attack and get on the end of Angel Di Maria's exquisite ball to notch the first. He passed, threading Messi through for the second goal with an assist the Barcelona man would have been proud of.

And, of course, he scored. The hat-trick he notched was composed of three world-class finishes: a bombastic blast past Bravo with the right; a half-volley converted with the left without blinking; a second with his weaker foot delicately placed out of the hapless keeper's reach. His triple brought him up to 13 in just 19 appearances with the national team, an impressive record for any striker.

For Messi, even though the humble Rosario native would never admit it, there is one statistic that was key on Friday. Two years, six months and nine days: the time that had elapsed since 'La Pulga's' last competitive international goal, in a 4-0 victory over Venezuela. An incredible drought, especially when considering that in the two full seasons that passed in that period, he netted no fewer than 100 times for Barcelona.

And boy, did he enjoy it. Having all but robbed the ball from Di Maria's boot-strings for the right to beat Bravo, Messi let slip the most fleeting glimpse of bashful contrition as he hugged the Madrid man, before also being embraced by Higuain in a moment that Argentine fans will hope serves as a release for all the tension that had built up in the days of the inexplicable drought.

Other players also excelled in River Plate's home. Di Maria looked more comfortable than ever in national team colours, his move down the field necessitating a more democratic approach to his game which was amply shown with two wonderful assists for 'Pipita'. He was ably assisted in the creative department by Jose Sosa, who never stopped running and drifting across the field and who did more than most to disorientate an already punch-drunk Chile defence in the second-half.

The night, however, belonged to Messi and Higuain. They sealed the victory beyond a shadow of a doubt with an exhibition move which ended in a goal. Almost taking glee in torturing isolated centre-back Waldo Ponce after a defensive error, a succession of tricks and flicks between the two left Gonzalo all alone, and the on-fire striker was never going to miss as he secured his hat-trick. 4-1 Argentina, and what Sabella and the entire nation hopes was the birth of the partnership to restore joy to the Albiceleste faithful.

After the pain and suffering of the Copa America, one had almost forgotten that, with some of the best players in the world, Argentina were capable of playing explosive attacking football. Friday's demolition serves as a timely reminder for South America and the world what the nation can still do; and they have the unlikely union of Blanco and Blaugrana to thank for it.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

AC Milan line up January moves for Barcelona's Maxwell and Real Madrid's Sami Khedira

Massimiliano Allegri's side made good use of the mid-season transfer window in 2010-11, bringing in Antonio Cassano and Mark van Bommel, which helped the Giuseppe Meazza team win the Scudetto.

With a slower-than-expected start to this campaign, the Italian champions are eager to bolster their playing squad with signings in the new year.

Maxwell has had an injury-prone time at the Camp Nou since moving to Spain from Inter back in July 2009, and is now behind Eric Abidal and Adriano in Pep Guardiola's preferences at left-back.

With the position a problem area for the Serie A side, an attempt to bring the Brazil international back to Italy does not seem out of the question.

Khedira, meanwhile, was criticised by coach Jose Mourinho after being sent off against Levante earlier in the season for the Santiago Bernabeu team, and now finds his place in the starting line-up under threat.

With Xabi Alonso assured a place in central midfield, the Germany international has to compete with Lassana Diarra and Nuri Sahin for a first XI place, and the El Clasico outfit may be willing to negotiate a sale.

Il Milanista indicates that Milan are weighing up a €10 million move for the 24-year-old, but may face competition from Manchester City.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain thrilled by goalscoring form: 'This was a perfect week'

The 23-year-old attacker helped Madrid move up to third in La Liga by scoring three goals in the side's 4-0 victory at Espanyol on October 2.

Just six days later, Higuain picked up another hat-trick and assisted Lionel Messi as Argentina thrashed Chile 4-1 in a 2014 World Cup qualifier.

"You can say this was a perfect week," the striker is quoted by AS as saying. "I am very happy with how things have turned out.

"But more than happy with my goals, I am happy with Argentina's victory against a very tough opponent such as Chile."

After such an impressive start to the qualifying campaign, Higuain said he hopes the team will be able to stay on the winning trail.

"It was very good to get off on the right foot," he added. "It was very important to begin the road to the World Cup with a victory, and doing it with this result was even better.

"We could have scored more goals, but we are very happy with our display. We have to continue like this to get what we want."

The Madrid striker then heaped praise on Barcelona's Lionel Messi, saying: "It is impossible to play badly alongside him.

"We are very lucky that he plays for us, we got along very well. It is a pleasure to play with him, because everything makes much more sense."

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Barcelona's David Villa: Lionel Messi has made me a better player

Barcelona striker David Villa says he has improved as a player since joining the Catalan club, paying special tribute to Lionel Messi.

The Spain international joined Barcelona from Valencia in the summer of 2010 for €40 million (£35m) after spending five years at Mestalla.

Villa enjoyed immediate success at Barca, helping the club win the Spanish Supercopa, La Liga and the Champions League in his first season at Camp Nou.

The 29-year-old has been used in a wider role at Barca, rather than being a target man, and he claims he has become a better player since his transfer last year.

"I have other tasks and although it is the same offensively, it is not the same in defence," he told El Pais.

"I am proud to be doing well and to be enjoying football from a position that was not my own until recently.

"Pedro has helped me a lot. When I had doubts, I observed him. When I was a bit lost on the field, I would look to see what Pedro was doing on the other side and he would guide me."

The striker went on to praise Lionel Messi, who has played a leading role in Barcelona this season with 14 goals to date in all competitions.

"Messi is a player who demands a lot from those who are around him because you always need to be alert," Villa added.

"Sometimes, it seems impossible that he has seen you, but he has. You must be ready for the impossible when you are playing with Messi because, it is not about what he does, but about what he makes others do.

"Honestly, I have improved by playing next to him. In the future, when I look at photos of Messi in which I am next to him, I will be able to say: 'I played with Leo Messi'.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Messi makes him a better player at Camp Nou

David Villa already said Messi makes him a better player at Camp Nou, and Xavi, currently on international duty with Spain, has heaped more compliments on the formidable Argentinean.

"I have no doubts that Messi is the best footballer in the world and one of the greatest in history," he told TV3.

"We enjoy his play on and off the pitch and what he does is incredible.

"Messi is very humble, a great team-mate and a reference point for Barcelona."

Spain are already through to Euro 2012 and play Scotland in their final Group I clash on Tuesday. However, Xavi kept the focus on Barcelona's season and said they are as motivated as ever to win everything.

"I love playing football and winning both for Spain and Barcelona," he said.

"I am always motivated. We [Barcelona] want to win more Liga titles, more Champions League trophies and the Club World Cup in December.

"The team [Barcelona] is doing well and we want to win everything."

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