International friendly: Brazil 2 Italy 2

21 March 2013 22:35

Italy came from two goals down to seal an absorbing 2-2 draw in their international friendly against Brazil in Switzerland on Thursday.

Despite having the better of an entertaining first half in Geneva, Italy went in 2-0 behind at the break, after being rocked by well-taken goals from Fred and Oscar.

However, Cesare Prandelli’s men came storming back in the second half and after Daniele De Rossi had halved Brazil’s advantage with a clever flick, Mario Balotelli earned Italy a thoroughly merited share of the spoils with a sublime curling finish.

It was the least Italy deserved.

They had edged what was a refreshingly open start to this high-profile friendly, with both Emanuele Giaccherini and Balotelli drawing fine saves out of Julio Cesar.

Sandwiched in between those efforts was a stunning show of pace from Neymar, who breezed past Leonardo Bonucci before unleashing a well-struck shot which Gianluigi Buffon did well to parry around his right post.

Still, with Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings in the middle of the park, it was Italy who exhibited the greater control and cohesion early on, and they went closest to breaking the deadlock at the end of the opening quarter.

Pirlo picked up possession in midfield and created some time and space for himself with a superb hand-off on Neymar before playing the most sublime pass in behind Filipe Luis for Christian Maggio.

The full-back took the ball in his stride but his close-range effort on goal was weak and Julio Cesar saved with his chest.

However, despite their obvious superiority in midfield, Italy fell behind just after the half-hour mark, an unmarked Fred calmly volleying home at the far post, after Filipe Luis’ cross from the left wing had taken a slight deflection off the head of Bonucci.

Credit to Italy, though, they refused to wallow in self-pity and came storming back, with Balotelli testing Julio Cesar with a fine drive from the edge of the area before Pirlo sent a left-footed curler spinning just wide.

But they were left reeling by a second sucker punch just before the break.

Neymar was released into space just inside Italian territory and the Santos starlet cleverly cut across Pirlo before slipping in Oscar with a brilliant reverse pass.

The Chelsea man took care of the rest, coolly prodding the ball past Buffon with the outside of his right foot.

Prandelli responded to the shock of conceding a second goal against the run of play by sending Stephan El Shaarawy on in place of Pablo Osvaldo during the half-time interval, as well as replacing Pirlo with Alessio Cerci.

El Shaarawy made an immediate difference, linking well with Balotelli before being denied by Julio Cesar from an acute angle.

From the resulting corner, De Rossi halved Italy’s deficit with an innovative flick of his right boot. Less than three minutes later, Italy were level – and in even more spectacular style – Balotelli curling the ball past Julio Cesar from all of 25 yards out.

Incredibly, Italy should have then moved ahead just after the hour mark, but after instantly controlling Riccardo Montolivo’s deflected strike, Balotelli volleyed straight at the overworked Julio Cesar.

They missed another glorious chance on 67 minutes when an unmarked Bonucci glanced a near-post header just wide.

Italy continued to pile on the pressure in the closing stages but, despite the best efforts of El Shaarawy, they were unable to find a winner.

West Ham close in on Olympic deal

21 March 2013 21:57

English Premier League side West Ham United are set to announce a long-term deal to move to London’s Olympic Stadium.

Following a battle against rival bids and objections from the likes of local club Leyton Orient, West Ham are reportedly on the brink of sealing a 99-year lease to move from Upton Park to the stadium that hosted the Olympic Games in 2012.

West Ham are expected to play their first home match at the ground in 2016, with an estimated capacity of 60,000.

The proposed relocation will end West Ham’s tenancy at their Boleyn Ground – a place they have called home since 1904.

West Ham co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan have insisted the club will not be sold prior to the move, as any change in ownership would jeopardise their access to the public-owned stadium.

The venue is set to undergo renovations to make it suitable for a football, with retractable seats and an accompanying roof set to cost 150 million pounds.

As well as Orient, West Ham have seemingly seen off interest from Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

However, Orient chairman Barry Hearn has claimed an announcement of West Ham’s tenancy would be redundant, as he is seeking a review of the bidding process.

West Ham were announced as the preferred bidder by the London Legacy Development Committee board in December.

British sports minister Hugh Robertson is yet to confirm the deal had been finalised with the London club, but added there was every chance the ground could be also feature in England’s hosting of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

Strachan targets Wales win

21 March 2013 21:44

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan is confident his side are well equipped for their 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Wales on Friday.

Strachan’s team sit at the foot of Group A, having drawn twice and lost twice in four matches, effectively ending their hopes of qualifying for the competition in Brazil next year.

While the wait goes on for a first appearance at major tournament since 1998, the former Southampton and Coventry boss believes his players can make at least an impact against Wales, if they play to the best of their ability.

“The players are aware where there might be danger in the (Wales) team. We’ve contingency plans for everything,” he told reporters.

“If we play to our potential, which they’ve shown throughout the week, then we’re expecting us to cause problems.”

Strachan steered away from describing Friday’s game at Hampden Park as a revenge mission following Scotland’s 2-1 defeat to Wales in Cardiff last October.

“I don’t know. You’d need to speak to them,” he said when asked if that loss would spur his players on.

“What they’ve got to remember is the good bits about that game. They could have won the game and should have won the game.

“Unfortunately the footballing gods were against them that night but I don’t think they’ll need any more motivation.”

Lambert signs new Southampton deal

21 March 2013 21:03

Southampton’s top scorer this season Rickie Lambert has extended his contract with the club, signing on until 2016.

Lambert has been with the Saints since 2009, with his 13 goals in the 2012/13 English Premier League season making him the most prolific Englishman in front of goal in the top flight.

The 31-year-old said he was hoping to help the club improve in the top flight, after successive promotions from League One in 2010/11 and the Championship the following season.

“I’m over the moon to sign with Southampton for another three years,” Lambert told Southampton’s official website.

“I am enjoying myself massively at this club and the aim now is to stay on for another three years and help push the club on further than where it already is.

“There is a lot of ambition in this club for the next few years and that is one of the main reasons that I have signed the contract – and that is why I want to end my career here.

“The core of players who have been together for two or three years are going to be here for another three or four years and that is a really good feeling.”

Manager Mauricio Pochettino said Lambert – who scored his 100th goal for the club against Newcastle in February – was a key figure in Southampton’s hopes of developing into a top-10 side in the Premier League.

“To have scored over 100 goals is a remarkable achievement, and one which he has made possible thanks to hard work and dedication,” Pochettino said.

“In my time at the club I have been impressed by his mentality and commitment to improving himself in training – attributes that have allowed him to adapt to the Premier League so well.

“I am delighted that Rickie has committed himself to the club for a further three years, and have no doubts that he will continue to deliver for Southampton as we look to push on to the next level.”

Lambert is seventh in the league’s scoring charts, nine goals behind leader Luis Suarez of Liverpool.

FIFA to alter World Cup voting

21 March 2013 20:57

FIFA president Sepp Blatter says changes will be made to the voting process for World Cup hosting rights.

The awarding of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to Russia and Qatar respectively in December 2010 saw world football’s governing body come under scrutiny.

And Blatter, acknowledging the need to mitigate fierce competition for the right to stage the prestigious tournament, has since flagged a wider voting process in the future.

“The selection of a country to host the World Cup or the Olympics is something that inevitably is of great interest to the governments of the candidate nations,” he told AS.

“I can understand that the political leaders try to convince other countries to vote for them – I saw this in December 2010, when Russia was chosen for 2018 and Qatar for 2022. But I have seen it ever since I began working for FIFA more than 38 years ago.

“Future World Cups will no longer be decided by a vote of the 25 members of the Executive Committee, but will be chosen by the 209 presidents of each FIFA federation. The Executive Committee will serve only to create a final shortlist of a maximum of three candidates to host the competition.

“(Choosing two hosts at once) was a mistake. Two World Cup hosts will never again be chosen in one day. That was an error from a political point of view, although in terms of marketing and television it wasn’t.”

Blatter also said the 2022 World Cup is still set to be played in the northern hemisphere summer, with the hosts yet to apply to move the competition, despite worries about high temperatures in the Middle East.

“It’s quite simple,” he said.

“The Qatar World Cup was chosen to be played between the months of June and July. For that to change and for the competition to be played in winter, it’s necessary for the host nation, Qatar, to request this. And they still haven’t.

“They know that if they do, and in doing so they will affect the basic conditions of the World Cup, they risk another of the 2022 candidates complaining to FIFA and the vote being re-run. The selection of Qatar was a surprise for the whole world.”

UEFA president Michel Platini has announced plans to play Euro 2020 across the continent, with no main host nation, but Blatter feels this was a mistake.

“I believe it should be one event, one country,” he said.

“It is a mistake to hold a World Cup in two different countries. We did this in 2002 in South Korea and Japan, and it won’t happen again. You lose identity and passion.”