Pienaar not getting carried away

4 October 2012 21:37

Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar says they cannot judge the success of their start to the new Premier League campaign until 10 games in.

Everton sit third in the English top flight following four wins, one draw and a solitary defeat in their opening six fixtures.

But the South African believes the Merseyside outfit have achieved nothing yet and must continue working to stay ahead of their rivals.

“We are not there yet. After 10 games we can say how well we have done,” he told the Liverpool Daily Post.

“At the moment we are still working towards a good start so we must wait and see. It’s a good feeling for the guys.

“We have been working really hard and it’s important to get the points to make sure we break away from the other teams below us. But there’s still a long way to go.”

The 30-year-old hailed the quality among the squad and claimed that the team can go on to qualify for Europe this season.

“(The start) hasn’t exceeded my expectations,” he said. “The manager asked for us to start the season well and, to be honest, the way we ended last season, it’s no wonder we’ve carried that form on.

“I said when I rejoined Everton that with the quality we have and because the team has been together for a few years, I think it is time for us to achieve something.

“Finishing in the top five or top six is something we have to push ourselves to deliver. We have to push the bar that bit higher.”

Pienaar was lavish in his praise of team-mate Marouane Fellaini, who has enjoyed a blistering start to the season, including scoring the winning goal in a 1-0 win over Manchester United.

“He’s a big guy but technically he is great with the ball so he brings something different,” the midfielder said. “When we played Man United we knew it was going to be a hard game if we wanted to match them possession-wise but he was central to us doing that.

“He comes out of the tunnel in front of me every game so I don’t see much when we walk out! But when I see him I feel confident.

“He brings that presence with him out on to the pitch and that lifts the players around him.”

Lennon: Spartak win a terrific boost

4 October 2012 21:17

Manager Neil Lennon says Scottish football came of age in Celtic’s 3-2 Champions League win away at Spartak Moscow.

Celtic had failed to qualify for the Champions League in four seasons before this campaign, with the country’s other traditional powerhouse, Rangers, suffering a dramatic fall from grace and now playing in the Third Division.

That, coupled with the national team’s lacklustre results, has drawn criticism towards the Scottish game.

Tuesday’s win in Moscow comes off the back of a 0-0 draw at home to Benfica and Lennon insists that these performances serve as the perfect response to critics.

He told The Daily Record: “I hope people down south take notice. It’s not a backwater league any more. There are some quality players playing up here.

“To go to Moscow and play like we did is testament to what the players are trying to do here. If people want to take pot-shots at Scottish football, fine. All we can do is answer with performances like the one in Moscow.”

Gary Hooper opened the scoring at the Luzhniki and Lennon is keen to tie the forward down to a new contract, though he added: “We’re hoping to talk to his agent soon about a new deal but he’s probably just put 25,000 pounds a week on his wage.

“I’m just delighted for him because he’s a great kid who has been a huge player for me. Long may it continue. We want to give him a new contract and we’re hoping to get that finalised soon.”

Celtic have a double-header against Barcelona to look forward to next in the Champions League but Lennon insists that progression from Group G will not come down to the matches against the Spanish giants.

“We’ve given ourselves a great opportunity to qualify from the group,” he said.

“We only have the small matter of Barcelona home and away now.

“You can’t budget for those ties. It’s about what we get away at Benfica and at home to Spartak.

“It’s a huge monkey off the club’s back and these players have a different mentality now going into European games because our recent away record is decent.”

´Gangnam Style´ grabs football

4 October 2012 20:53

Love it or hate it, it’s now a worldwide phenomenon.

And now it seems that ‘Gangnam Style’ is taking over the world of sport.

The music video – by Korean rapper Psy – has become an internet sensation because of its catchy dance.

And during recent weeks, football players from across the globe have been inspired by it.

Vancouver Whitecaps striker Camilo celebrated scoring in his side’s 4-0 thrashing of Chivas in Gangnam Style.

The dance was also spotted in Japan’s J.League.

Yuji Senuma of Vegalta Sendai showing how it’s done.

The Gangnam Style celebration has yet to appear in Europe’s major leagues – you get the feeling it’s only a matter of time before it does.

Simeone unfazed by favourites tag

4 October 2012 14:46

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone says he is unconcerned by being deemed the favourites to win the Europa League.

The Spanish side are the holders of the competition and face Czech outfit Viktoria Plzen at Vicente Calderon on Wednesday in Group B, as they look to record a 15th straight win in European competition.

Simeone however, said he is not flustered by the burden of expectation on his shoulders as the capital club look to retain their crown.

“It is logical that we are among the important teams (in the Europa League), but the past year is behind us,” the Argentine told AS.

“It is normal that the supporters delude themselves, but we only think about the next game. These are numbers that the press continue (to remind us of), and that’s fine.”

Atletico are top of Group B, having beaten Hapoel Tel Aviv 3-0 in their opening game two weeks ago.

Stramaccioni targets title treble

4 October 2012 14:03

Head coach Andrea Stramaccioni has claimed Inter Milan should challenge for the title in Serie A, Coppa Italia and the Europa League.

Stramaccioni has argued rotating players is crucial if a team is to compete across three competitions, justifying his decision to leave Diego Milito, Walter Samuel, Antonio Cassano and Javier Zanetti out of his squad to play Neftchi Baku in the Europa League on Thursday.

The 36-year-old did concede Inter’s priorities might change as the season progresses.

“I think a club like Inter must have the goal of going far in all three of these competitions during the season; to play and try to win them all,” Stramaccioni said.

“But I also know that this can’t happen if you don’t use all the players in your squad the best you possibly can.

“I don’t think there’s a ranking of importance in these goals.

“We want to try to do well in all these competitions, at least now while it’s still October.”

Stramaccioni rejected the assertion he had left the five experienced players in Italy because he considered Neftchi easy opponents.

“It’s very simple, the players I left behind had taken part in five games over the last 10 days, so I wanted to provide a squad with the utmost sharpness and fitness,” Stramaccioni said.

“In order to do that, I have to make the most of the players at my disposal.

“However, I have immense respect for Neftchi and they have an advantage over us, in that their first XI is well-drilled.

“I repeat, the players we left behind were not done so because we didn’t consider this match to be important but rather due to fatigue.”

Inter head into their away match with Neftchi desperate for a win after they were held to a 2-2 draw at home by Rubin Kazan in their opening game of the Europa League group stage.

Yuto Nagatomo scored in second-half injury time to secure Inter’s draw after Rubin had led twice and Stramaccioni has warned his team they must play better in Azerbaijan, especially with the local grudge against AC Milan coming up on Sunday.

“We need to win both in Baku and in the Milan derby this Sunday,” Stramaccioni said.

“We will have a great motivation at the match against Neftchi.

“We made some mistakes in the first match against Rubin.

“Those mistakes cannot be made in Baku.”