Rafael delighted with personal improvement

18 December 2012 14:01

Manchester United full-back Rafael believes he has progressed well over the past 12 months.

Although suffering the disappointment of missing out on the Premier League title to rivals Manchester City, the Brazilian has recently established himself as one of the few mainstays in the United side, starting more matches than any other player in the squad this season.

“It’s been a great year for me,” the defender told his club’s official website.

“I feel like I have grown up a lot and that I am maturing – my daughter was born this year which has helped me a lot too.

“And on the pitch I have been able to play a lot of games. So I’ve had a lot of good moments not just in football but in life this year.

“I feel more experienced and like I am growing as a player and a person. I was only 18 when I first came here, I was just a boy. Some people may think I am still young and still a boy but now I feel like I am a man.

“Playing games week in, week out helps you feel more comfortable and confident on the pitch and I’m pleased I’ve been able to do that this season.”

Looking forward to what might come of the current campaign, the 22-year-old was keen to stress the importance of taking advantage of the busy fixture schedule over the festive period in order to set the club in good stead for the rest of the league season come the New Year.

“My target for 2013 is like every player – we want to win trophies,” he said. “When you’re at this club that has to be your focus, we all want to win and personally I want to play as many games as I can and be consistent in my performances.

“When you get into January you know the really important time in the season is not far away and there will be big game after big game.

“Of course, every game is important but after Christmas they become massive matches. Hopefully we can do well.”

Del Bosque: It´s tougher for Spain

18 December 2012 13:50

Vicente del Bosque says it is becoming increasingly difficult for Spain to keep up their impressive performances.

The Spaniards have dominated international football in recent years with consecutive European Championship victories, while also winning the World Cup in between, and Del Bosque has stressed they must keep the belief in themselves to prolong their successful streak.

“Of course, it’s getting harder all the time. All our opponents know us very well and already know exactly how we play,” Del Bosque told FIFA.com.

“The most important thing is that we believe in what we’re doing, and that the players are patient enough to break down any defensive system. We can’t go thinking we need to win every game in the first 10 minutes.”

The veteran coach then went on to discuss his future, and once more stated that he’s likely to farewell the game once his Spain contract runs out.

He added: “I’m 61 now and I’ve got little more than a year here before my work with the national team comes to an end.

“It’d be very difficult [to take on a club role] after this, as I honestly don’t see myself still coaching at 70 (laughs). That’s why I’ll most likely call it a day after this.”

Del Bosque enjoyed spells in charge of Real Madrid and Besiktas before taking over as Spain coach in 2008.

Messi, Xavi and Puyol set to sign new deals

18 December 2012 12:04

Barcelona have announced they have signed Lionel Messi to a new long-term deal, while Xavi and Carles Puyol have also penned new deals.

Messi was initially under contract with the Camp Nou side until 2016, but Barcelona were desperate to offer the 25-year-old a new deal following his impressive performances this calendar year.

The Argentina international has already netted 90 goals for club and country in 2012, and currently leads the La Liga scoring charts with 25 strikes in 16 games.

He is now contracted to Barcelona until at least 2018.

Puyol’s previous contract was due to expire at the end of the 2012-13 campaign, but the 34-year-old defender will remain at Barca for three additional seasons.

The centre-back recently returned to full match fitness after a spell on the sidelines due to an elbow injury.

Xavi, 32, had a deal with Barcelona until the summer of 2014, and has now reached an agreement for two more seasons after he already revealed last week that negotiations had reached the final stages.

The Spain international has been a key figure at the Catalans this season with three goals in 16 La Liga appearances.

Van Persie earns Fergie´s praise

18 December 2012 12:27

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson says Robin van Persie has improved the performances of the squad’s entire attack.

Having netted 15 goals already this campaign, the Netherlands international has wasted no time in making his mark at Old Trafford.

His manager has not only hailed van Persie’s own performances but also lauded how his presence has forced the rest of the club’s strikers to raise their own games.

“The attacking aspect of our game has definitely improved (since van Persie joined) and of course he has weighed in with 14 goals (before the 3-1 win over Sunderland) so far,” the veteran manager told Yahoo! Sport.

“Chicharito has got nine goals, Rooney has seven I think and we have scored around 43 goals as team, which is quite a high amount for this time of year.”

Ferguson went on to comment on the similarities between Van Persie’s arrival at the club and that of Eric Cantona in 1992, noting how neither player required any time to adapt to their new surroundings.

“He has got a similar profile to Eric in terms of age and maturity,” the 70-year-old said.

“He had a great spell at Arsenal so there is no issue with him needing to settle into the Premier League.

“He came from one big club to another big club and he is an established international. All these things in his profile suited us perfectly.”

The United manager dismissed speculation that the club would be adding to their squad in the upcoming January transfer window, citing a shortage of value for money in comparison to the targets available during the summer.

“No, (there are no areas of the team we will be looking to strengthen),” the Scot said.

“The January transfer market has never been the best transfer market.

“That has been proven over the years with very few big transfers happening. All the big transfers happen in the summer.”

Dortmund firmly focused on DFB Pokal

18 December 2012 11:48

Coach Jurgen Klopp has insisted Borussia Dortmund will be focused on their DFB Pokal clash with Hannover despite the upcoming winter break.

Dortmund will take on Hannover on Wednesday in a Round of 16 tie in the cup competition before they take a month off for the annual winter break in German football.

Having won the DFB Pokal last season and considering their poor position in the Bundesliga, Dortmund are keen to stay in the knockout competition to defend their title.

“Nobody is letting themselves think about Thursday and the winter break, instead everyone is focused on the Cup,” Klopp said.

“We all want to progress further, so we’ll give it our best shot on Wednesday.”

Dortmund thrashed Bayern Munich 5-2 in last season’s DFB Pokal final but are 12 points behind the Bavarians in the league heading into the winter break.

Hannover are 11th in the Bundesliga, eight positions and seven points behind Dortmund, with their league clash in October finishing 1-1.

Klopp remains convinced the Cup tie will be a close match especially considering the current fan-groups protest in Germany has taken away from the atmosphere at Dortmund’s normally raucous Westfalenstadion.

“There is no favourite,” Klopp said.

“Normally we would have the advantage to play at home.

“We have to see how the atmosphere in the stadium will be. I wish that the crowd leave these issues out on Wednesday evening and get an appropriate finish to this year. The team deserves that.

“I think none of the guys who will be in the stadium on Wednesday will have a year like that again over the next 20 years.

“That’s why everyone should give everything they have.

“Of course we will try and do so but we can also use a little help.”