Barca begin six-trophy chase without Neymar

Barcelona open their campaign with the chance to build on an impressive trophy haul from last season when they face Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup in Tbilisi on Tuesday.

However, they will have to do without one of their star triumvirate up front as Brazilian forward Neymar has been ruled out for two weeks after contracting the mumps.

The 23-year-old had only just returned to action after a disappointing Copa America, but he and Lionel Messi’s presence sparked Barca into life after a bad run of pre-season results as both scored in a 3-0 win over Roma in their final friendly outing last week.

Messi will be fit to start alongside Luis Suarez in attack having returned a week early from his summer break after guiding Argentina to the Copa America final.

Manchester United target Pedro Rodriguez is expected to take Neymar’s place.

Having equalled the club’s most successful ever campaign with the treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League last season, the Catalans can now repeat the feat of Pep Guardiola’s side six years ago that won six trophies in a calendar year by adding both the European and Spanish Super Cups to the Club World Cup.

And former Sevilla midfielder Ivan Rakitic insists Barca’s hunger for more trophies has not been eased by their success last season.

“There is nothing better than starting the season with a title,” said the Croatian.

“No one has more desire to win than us. We want to continue making history and win all six trophies, but we will go step-by-step.”

A ban on registering new players means that there will be no new faces in the Barca team despite the signings of Arda Turan from Atletico Madrid and another buy from Sevilla in the form of Aleix Vidal.

The latter wasn’t the only key player to depart the Sanchez Pizjuan over the close season with top scorer for the past two years Carlos Bacca moving to AC Milan.

Their absence has been compensated by the arrival of nine new players including Ukranian star Yevhen Konoplyanka, but Unai Emery’s men have also endured a torrid pre-season and are plagued with injuries.

“The truth is that having a final in the midst of pre-season is very nice,” said Emery after his side were held 1-1 by AEK Athens in their final warm-up game.

“It excites us and motivates us, but it is also true that we are confronted with adverse circumstances.

“We know the opponent we are facing will demand a lot of us. We will prepare the team for that and, despite the adverse circumstances that we have, we cannot give up.”

Emery has particular problems at centre-back with Nico Pareja definitely ruled out, whilst new recruit Adil Rami, Timothee Kolodziejczak and Daniel Carrico are all doubts.

“I think you can make a case we can play a good game, but if we can recover some of those for that position then I think we will have a better chance,” added Emery.

Photo Credits : AFP

Arsenal in search of derby delight despite Sanchez setback

Per Mertesacker remains confident Arsenal can overcome north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur this weekend although Alexis Sanchez will be absent from the Gunners’ line-up.

Sanchez has been ruled out of Saturday’s trip to White Hart Lane after failing to recover from the hamstring that kept him out of Arsenal’s comfortable 5-0 victory over Aston Villa last weekend.

The loss of the Chile forward is a blow to Arsene Wenger’s side as they attempt to repeat their success in last season’s corresponding fixture in March.

While Arsenal make the short journey to the home of their nearest neighbours and fiercest rivals full of confidence after an impressive recent run, Spurs are also heading into the game in good form.

Gunners centre-back Mertesacker knows Mauricio Pochettino’s men will present a testing challenge as Wenger’s side attempt to extend their run of five straight victories.

But the Germany international believes the key will be whether Arsenal can maintain their defensive solidity that has produced four clean-sheets in their last five games and left them level on points with fourth-placed Southampton heading into this weekend’s round of Premier League fixtures.

“We know from recent years that defensive unity is vital especially against our north London rivals, so we have to be really cautious on the defensive front,” Mertesacker said.

“We did very well last season, as we scored very early and then defended well until the end, so it’s going to be the target for this year.”

Arsenal have reacted well to the New Year’s Day defeat by Southampton and their sequence of victories have moved the Emirates Stadium club back to the brink of the top four and in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Only goal difference is keeping Arsenal out of the Champions League places at present, with Tottenham one place and two points behind.

The loss of Sanchez will be partly eased by the return of Danny Welbeck to the squad for the first time since the former Manchester United forward featured in the victory over West Ham in late December.

Arsenal manager Wenger said: “The latest is that Alexis is not ready. He is not far away, the Leicester game is a possibility. He is of course very difficult to keep quiet! He is training but it’s light training.

“Welbeck is back in the group,” the Frenchman added. “Apart from that we have the same squad available as last week.”

– Adebayor uncertainty –

Tottenham’s build-up to the match has been overshadowed by a row over the future of striker Emmanuel Adebayor.

The Togo forward was keen to leave White Hart Lane and join West Ham United but Spurs chairman Daniel Levy refused to sanction the move.

Adebayor has found himself out of Pochettino’s line-up but the manager is happy to put the uncertainty surrounding the future of the forward and a number of other fringe players behind him.

“Always when the window arrives always different situations and different things happen, but now it is good because it’s finished and we all need to be focused to try to help the team,” said Spurs boss Pochettino.

“The players are focused and try to help,” the Argentinian added.

“I’m very happy. We have a very good squad.”

The future of Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid target Hugo Lloris has also been questioned but Pochettino is convinced the France goalkeeper will stay with Spurs.

“Hugo is happy here with us,” he said. He is very happy. It is difficult for this type of club to get him because Hugo is happy here.

“He is happy here and maybe in the future, in his mind, he is playing in the Champions League with Tottenham.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Tottenham to face Chelsea in League Cup final

Two moments of magic from Christian Eriksen helped Tottenham Hotspur reach the final of the League Cup with a 3-2 aggregate victory over resilient League One club Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

Dane Eriksen’s sublime first-half free-kick put Maurico Pochettino’s team 1-0 up on the night and they looked to be in cruise control before two goals in as many minutes from 18-year-old substitute Che Adams levelled the tie overall.

But a calm finish from Eriksen with three minutes left meant the Premier League side prevailed without the need for extra-time.

With most of the 30,236 supporters roaring on the home team at a Bramall Lane lashed by wintry showers, it was the sort of night to expose any flaws in character and Tottenham only just survived.

Their reward is a meeting with Chelsea in the final on March 1, Spurs’ first Wembley final since 2009, and a chance to win the League Cup for a fifth time.

Sheffield United will point to marginal moments that mounted up and cost them the tie and, before Eriksen’s opener, they might have taken the lead and levelled the aggregate score.

Michel Vorm’s late error led to Tottenham’s FA Cup exit at the hands of Leicester City on Saturday and the goalkeeper endured another uncomfortable moment as the Blades made a bright start.

The Netherlands international, under pressure from Marc McNulty, spilt Jamal Campbell-Ryce’s cross and McNulty prodded the ball to Jamie Murphy, only for the winger to see his shot blocked on the line by Kyle Walker, Tottenham’s Sheffield-born defender.

Tottenham’s defeat came on the same day that Chelsea were stunned 4-2 by League One side Bradford City and Manchester City lost 2-0 against Middlesbrough, of the Championship.

Nigel Clough, the Sheffield United manager, has criticised top-flight teams for deprioritising the FA Cup and League Cups and he is in a position to judge.

This was only his second defeat in 20 FA or League Cup fixtures with the South Yorkshire club.

The Blades beat Southampton in the last round and have beaten fellow Premier League clubs West Ham United and Queens Park Rangers in the FA Cup this season.

Even given their impressive record in knockout competitions, Sheffield United knew it they faced an uphill task to reach Wembley for a second time in two seasons, having reached the FA Cup semi-final last season.

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, Clough had spoken of the need to prevent the Premier League side from scoring but, faced with Eriksen’s quality that is easier said than done.

A momentary lapse in concentration from Jay McEveley cost Sheffield United in the first leg, with the defender conceding a penalty for handball. This time it was Bob Harris who gave Tottenham a helping hand.

His poor clearance allowed Tottenham to break. Michael Doyle fouled Benjamin Stambouli and Eriksen whipped in a magical free kick to score his ninth goal of the season.

It left the home team needing three goals to progress and it looked like a smooth ride into the final for Tottenham until the introduction of Adams as a substitute.

Within five minutes of coming on, the teenager had scored his first two goals in professional football to stun Tottenham

First, he met Ryan Flynn’s cross to fire the ball beyond Vorm to give the home fans hope. Two minutes later, Adams converted Jamie Murphy’s cross to give the supporters something to really shout about.

With the aggregate score at 2-2, the match was heading for extra time but another moment of magic from Eriksen eased Tottenham’s worries.

The 22-year-old former Ajax midfielder latched on to Kane’s through ball and clipped a delightful finish beyond Howard and into the bottom corner.

Photo Credits : AFP

Qatar World Cup should be played in winter – FIFA boss

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke has again indicated that the 2022 World Cup should be played in winter to avoid the blazing summer heat in Qatar.

“I think it has also been confirmed by other members of the executive committee that the World Cup would be played in winter,” he said in an interview with France-Info radio on Wednesday.

“Which part of the winter? Would it be the start of the year 2022 or the end? There is a task force which will meet in Doha in a few weeks to discuss this and then in March the FIFA executive committee should take a final decision on which period and the exact dates.”

He added: “The IOC (International Olympic Committee) is concerned over (a clash with) the 2022 Winter Olympics and we will take that into account. We will listen to the leagues, the clubs, the players, the medical commission, the whole world of football, but it is seven years away and we can live with that (a winter World Cup).”

The main objection to playing the tournament in high summer is that temperatures in the Gulf state frequently soar in the high 40s Celsius, making playing conditions difficult and raising health concerns.

In November, Valcke set up a working group to examine the question and spoke of two options, January to February and November to December, but said he had also asked FIFA to examine the possibility of the tournament going ahead in May 2022.

Last month, the European Clubs Association and European Professional Football Leagues indicated a strong preference for playing the World Cup from May to June 2022.

On Tuesday, a report by the Council of Europe called on FIFA to revote on the “radically flawed” decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

Damaging revelations concerning the bidding process mean that “FIFA cannot evade the obligation to hold a new vote,” according to the draft resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

Since the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar in 2010, both the country and FIFA have been dogged by controversy.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, however, insisted last month “it would really need an earthquake” to go back on the decision.

Photo Credits : AFP

CAF to announce 2017 Africa Cup hosts in April

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) revealed on Thursday that the hosts for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations will be announced on April 8 in Cairo, Egypt.

According to the continental football body, there are four candidates to host the competition, with Algeria, Egypt, Gabon and Ghana all competing to replace strife-riven Libya, who will not go ahead with their hosting of the finals.

The qualifying tournament will begin in June with the host nation taking part for the first time, although their matches will be considered as friendlies and will not count for points.

The draw for the qualifying competition will also take place on April 8 in Cairo.

A total of 52 teams will enter the qualifiers and will be divided into 13 groups, with the winners advancing to the finals as well as the two best runners-up.

The CAF have already confirmed that the 2019 finals will be held in Cameroon, with the Ivory Coast staging the 2021 finals and Guinea 2023.

CAF also announced on Thursday that the 2018 World Cup qualifiers will begin in October.

There will be three preliminary rounds in order to whittle the number of teams down to 20, who will then be divided into five groups of four teams each.

The winners of these five groups will qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Photo Credits : AFP

Senegal eager to impress on return to Cup of Nations

Senegal comes into the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations with “ambition” as they look to finally get their hands on the continental crown, coach Alain Giresse said on Sunday.

“We have ambition and want to put in good performances but only what happens on the field will decide how far we can go,” Giresse told journalists ahead of his side’s Group C opener against Ghana in Mongomo on Monday.

Senegal are desperate to impress after losing all three games in the group stage in 2012 and then failing to qualify for the 2013 finals.

However, they will also come up against South Africa and Algeria in a section that could hardly have been more challenging for the Lions of Teranga.

Giresse added: “It has been described as the most difficult group. There are three teams who finished top of their (qualifying) group, and two who were at the World Cup.

“Ghana are one of the best teams on the continent, that’s the way it is at every CAN.

“The Ghanaians did well at the last World Cup and they almost reached the semi-finals in 2010.

“Their current team are among the favourites, although recently the favourites have not won the CAN.

“It is a strange competition, different to the World Cup where it is often the favourites who are there at the end.”

Meanwhile, Frenchman Giresse indicated that the Senegalese delegation were pleasantly surprised with the facilities they have found in Mongomo amid widespread concerns about inadequate accommodation.

“We are adapting to the conditions that are absolutely fine, from the accommodation to the training facilities.

“We were worried after our first visit here, but we have been reassured since our arrival this time.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Five Africa Cup of Nations facts

Five Africa Cup of Nations facts ahead of 2015 tournament in Equatorial Guinea:

Former Ivory Coast star Laurent Pokou is the only player to score five goals in a game. He scored once in the first half and another four after half-time in the 6-1 Group A rout of Ethiopia during the 1970 tournament in Sudan.

Tunisia will make a 12th consecutive appearance at the tournament this year in Equatorial Guinea, but non-qualifiers Egypt hold the record with 14 straight showings between 1984 and 2010 that delivered five titles.

Group D rivals Cameroon and Ivory Coast have clashed seven times in previous tournaments with the Indomitable Lions holding a distinct edge having won five of the matches and drawn the other two.

Former Egypt midfielder Ahmed Hassan is the only star to win the MVP (Most Valuable Player) award twice having got the nod in 2006 and 2010 after helping the Pharaohs win those tournaments.

Only two nations have lifted the trophy without conceding a goal — Alain Gouamene of the Ivory Coast kept five clean sheets in 1992 and Alioum Boukar of Cameroon was unbeaten in six matches 10 years later.

Photo Credits : AFP

Smart cup that tells you what you’re drinking

Health-related gadgets are all the rage these days, from smart wristbands to apps that track what you consume.

But a new device called Vessyl, claims to be able to streamline the process by putting all the technology you need in a cup.

The product can accurately identify your drink, tell you how many calories you are consuming, let you know how hydrated you are, and alert you when it’s time to drink again.

The device is available to pre-order now for £59 ($99), with a retail price of £117 ($199) from Vessyl’s website approximately sh 9,800.

It will begin shipping in early 2015.

The cup is made of a glass-like material and holds 13 oz (385ml) of liquid.

When a beverage is poured in, from orange juice to beer, text on the side reveals what drink is inside.

Under the surface is the computing power that givers the device its ‘smart’ functionality – although how it works exactly is being kept a closely-guarded secret by Mark One.

The sliding lid of the cup is spill proof and it has a non-stick interior, making it easy to clean according to the company.

The technology enables the cup to recognise what liquid is poured inside from a catalogue of thousands.

It knows the content and make-up of the drink, and is therefore able to let you know exactly what you are putting into your body.

The cup can then be asked to display a particular set of data to aid you achieve certain goals, such as losing weight or regulating caffeine

The display on the cup only lights up when the cup is tilted, as you would do when you take a drink.

A hydration bar on the side of the cup meanwhile, called Pryme, lets you know when your body needs a drink.

Vessyl charges wirelessly on a supplied charger, getting a week of power from a 60-minute charge.

The device also connects to an app on iOS and Android via Bluetooth, where you can get more detailed analysis of what you are drinking.

– Dailymail