Ibrahimovic faces first club as PSG host Malmo

Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets the chance to face his hometown club, and the team with whom he started his career, as Paris Saint-Germain begin their Champions League campaign against Malmo on Tuesday.

The French champions and the Swedish title-holders meet at the Parc des Princes in the opening round of games in Group A, and with Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk also in the section, PSG can ill afford a slip-up.

It will be a particularly special occasion for Ibrahimovic, who grew up in the southern Swedish city and scored 16 goals in 40 league appearances for Malmo before moving to Ajax in 2001, later enjoying illustrious spells with Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan and Barcelona.

After Malmo beat Celtic 4-3 on aggregate to qualify for the group stage, Ibrahimovic, now 33, wrote on Twitter: “One day I hope to experience the Champions League in Malmo on the pitch. Congratulations!”

The return match in Sweden is not until November, but in the meantime Ibrahimovic will be eager to help his current side get off to a winning start in Europe, and get among the goals — he is presently just three shy of Pauleta’s club record tally of 109.

The striker missed Friday’s 2-2 draw at home to Bordeaux in Ligue 1 due to an abdominal injury suffered on international duty last week, but Paris coach Laurent Blanc stressed that Ibrahimovic wanted to save himself for Malmo.

In his absence, Paris dropped points for the first time in Ligue 1 this season, two catastrophic errors from German goalkeeper Kevin Trapp gifting Bordeaux goals in reply to Edinson Cavani’s brace for PSG.

“We need to move on, although we also need to analyse the reasons why we drew. It’s a different competition, a different opponent, but we will need to be much more rigorous and disciplined against Malmo,” warned Blanc.

Javier Pastore is a doubt with a calf problem and Serge Aurier is suspended for Paris, who are dreaming of going all the way in the Champions League this season after being eliminated in the quarter-finals in each of the last three years.

Their home record in Europe is excellent, with the 3-1 loss to eventual winners Barcelona in the quarter-final, first leg in April their first defeat in 34 matches in the French capital in continental competition going back to 2006.

Malmo finished bottom of their Champions League group last season, losing five out of six games, and they head to France on the back of a 1-1 draw at home to Elfsborg that left them fifth in the Swedish top flight.

With only seven games of the season remaining, a third consecutive title looks to be beyond them.

However, Norwegian coach Age Hareide will be hoping Malmo, beaten European Cup finalists in 1979, can reproduce the performances that took them through three rounds of qualifying to reach the group stage.

“They are huge favourites and have world class players in every position, but we showed against Salzburg and Celtic that we have the level,” Swedish international defender Anton Tinnerholm told local newspaper Sydsvenskan.

Malmo, whose star man is former Ajax and Werder Bremen striker Markus Rosenberg, are without Agon Mehmeti due to a foot injury.

Photo Credits : AFP

UEFA lift Fair Play sanctions on PSG – L’Equipe

UEFA has decided to lift the sanctions imposed on Paris Saint-Germain under the Financial Fair Play rule, meaning the French champions can spend more on new players after proving they will be debt-free by the end of next season, according to French newspaper L’Equipe.

PSG were heavily sanctioned by European football’s governing body in May 2014 after breaching FFP rules.

But UEFA’s new ruling means that the Parisians can increase the size of their Champions League squad from 21 to 25 players for next season (2015/16), L’Equipe reported.

The online edition of the newspaper added that UEFA’s Financial Supervisory Instance of Clubs (ICFC) department has lifted the 60-million-euro limit that was imposed on the Qatari-owned Paris giants.

PSG — who’ve won back-to-back Ligue 1 titles — were purchased by Qatar Investment Authority in 2011.

They’ll now be able to recruit players unrestricted instead of being hampered by a spending ceiling.

The Parc des Princes outfit have been heavily linked with a move for Juventus’ star midfielder, Frenchman Paul Pogba, who’s mooted to have a transfer fee of around 100 million euros.

Manchester United’s Argentine winger Angel di Maria is also a target — a player that PSG missed out on last season due to the restrictions.

PSG, who won all four domestic trophies in France last season, had signed an agreement with UEFA to promise that they would not go above a deficit of 30 million euros at the end of last season.

And one year in advance, the club have signed a deal stipulating that they will be debt free come the end of the 2015/16 season, which resulted in the sanctions being lifted early against the capital club.

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PSG beat Nice to forget Barca defeat

Paris Saint-Germain bounced back from their Champions League humbling against Barcelona by beating Nice 3-1 on Saturday to boost their bid for a hat-trick of Ligue 1 titles.

A clinical first half finish from Javier Pastore put PSG in charge against the run of play.

Minutes later, Mathieu Bodmer deflected a speculative effort from Said Benrahma to level with the last kick of the half.

But Paris took a decisive lead in the second half with a fine volley from Pastore and an Edinson Cavani penalty in a game sandwiched between Champions League commitments.

PSG temporarily moved a point ahead Lyon at the top of the table ahead of Sunday’s derby against Saint-Etienne.

Nice remain mired in midtable in 11th but are still not sade, only six points above the relegation zone.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco Verratti suspended, on top of injuries to Thiago Silva and Thiago Motta, PSG coach Laurent Blanc had to rely on a reshuffled team to get past the French Riviera side.

Lucas Moura, Serge Aurier and Lucas Digne were introduced into the starting line up while former Chelsea defender David Luiz, despite not being fully fit, was bestowed with the captain’s armband.

But it was Pastore’s fourth goal of the season, following a defence-opening pass by Lucas, who gave PSG the breakthrough with their first real chance of the match.

It was, however, quickly cancelled out by former Parisian Bodmer, although Nice still went into the half-time break frustrated to have nothing more to show form their first half dominance.

The second half was a complete reversal, though, as Nice goalkeeper Simon Pouplin shined, preventing David Luiz and Lucas from finding the back of the net.

Pastore added his second of the afternoon just after the hour mark as he latched onto a rebound after Pouplin saved his original driven effort.

Cavani, brought down in the box by Jordan Amavi, bagged his ninth of the season on 69 minutes to seal the deal.

Later on Saturday, Monaco can strengthen their grip on third by beating Rennes before looking to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit when they host Juventus in the second leg of their Champions League quarter-final next week.

At the foot, the bottom two Metz and Lens meet in what is almost certainly the last chance for either to avoid the drop.

On Friday, Marseille’s slump continued as Marcelo Bielsa’s side went down to a 1-0 defeat at Nantes that further damaged their hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

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PSG set to win Champions League – Platini

UEFA President Michel Platini predicted on Thursday that Paris Saint-Germain were destined to go all the way and win the Champions League after advancing to the quarter-finals past Chelsea.

The Qatar-backed Ligue 1 club overcame the early dismissal of star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night to knock Chelsea out on away goals after extra time.

“I am not surprised that PSG, even with one man down, beat Chelsea,” Platini said in Lyon on the sidelines of a committee meeting for Euro 2016, to be hosted by France.

“It’s a great achievement. They are already ready to win the tournament, they have the team to win it. They are programmed to do so,” the Frenchman added.

Held 1-1 in their last 16, first leg, tie at the Parc des Princes, the Parisians advanced by twice coming from behind in the second leg.

Captain Thiago Silva scored an extra-time header for 10-man PSG to clinch a 2-2 draw, leaving it all square at 3-3 over the two legs and sending the Parisians through on away goals.

The French press hailed the achievement on Thursday which sports daily L’Equipe headlined as ‘Heroic’.

“A Capital Exploit,” the newspaper continued, saying the victory “was among the most glorious nights in the Parisian club’s history”, on a par with victories over Real Madrid in 1993 and Barcelona in 1995 when they reached the semi-finals of Europe’s elite competition.

“The Parisians qualified for the Champions League quarter-finals by being stronger than Chelsea and fewer on the pitch,” L’Equipe said. “Above all, don’t stop,” it urged.

PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi agreed that the PSG “project was on the right track”.

“Qualifying here (in London), against (Jose) Mourinho’s Chelsea was difficult. Before the game, I told the players face to face that we could do it. Everyone believed it. I’m very proud,” said the Qatari businessman.

“We played over 95 minutes as warriors, in an incredible atmosphere which made us think we were at home.

“Since we bought the club (in 2011), we have believed in our European ambitions. After beating a team such as Chelsea, I believe we can go far. Our project is on the right track.”

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Mourinho accuses PSG of unnecessary aggression

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho taunted Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday ahead of the teams’ Champions League last 16 second leg, accusing them of committing systematic fouls and producing sterile approach play.

PSG largely controlled the first leg in Paris, which ended 1-1, enjoying 54 percent of possession and registering 11 shots on goal to Chelsea’s one, but that one attempt yielded an away goal for Branislav Ivanovic that puts the London club in the driving seat ahead of Wednesday’s return leg.

Chelsea winger Eden Hazard was the victim of nine fouls at the Parc des Princes — a record for a Champions League match — and Mourinho said that the French champions’ approach had been too aggressive.

“I was surprised in that game because a team with fantastic players was the team with the record of fouls, was the team that was making foul after foul, was the team that stopped Hazard with fouls every time, was the team attacking the player in possession with two or three players with very aggressive actions,” Mourinho said.

“Even with players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a typical attacking player, he was coming back and tackling Hazard from behind to stop counter-attacks.

“I thought an English team would never be surprised by aggressivity because of the aggressivity we have in our country.

“During this season we’ve played teams from the Championship and League One in the cups, a team from League Two, I think, Shrewsbury (in the League Cup), but the most aggressive team was Paris Saint-Germain.

“For me it was a real surprise. With players of such quality, I was expecting more football.”

Mourinho also responded sarcastically when it was put to him by a French journalist at the eve-of-match press conference that PSG had dominated the first leg.

“It depends on your concept of football,” Mourinho replied.

“What is dominate? If it’s number of chances, yes, Paris had more chances than us. If dominate is to stop the opposition play, making foul after foul, then yes, they dominated.

“If dominate is to have the ball and move the ball without progression, yes they dominated. They dominated in everything except the result.”

– Matic fit to play –

PSG coach Laurent Blanc had used his own pre-match media conference to warn his players not to succumb to Chelsea striker Diego Costa’s “games”, but Mourinho refused to take the bait when he was asked for his reaction.

“I don’t want to know what he told me (said),” Mourinho said. “You can tell me, but I don’t answer.”

Apart from the injured John Mikel Obi, Chelsea will be at full-strength for the game at Stamford Bridge, with Mourinho revealing that midfield lynchpin Nemanja Matic is fit to start.

The Serbia international has missed two games through suspension and also injured his ankle during the celebrations that followed Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup final.

“I told him we won two very important matches without him. So maybe he’s not so important,” Mourinho said with a smile.

“He was laughing. I said, ‘Why are you laughing?’ But yes, he’s very important for us. We did well without him, but we’re happy to have him back.

“He’s fit to play, but (has had) no football for a couple of weeks and no training because he was really injured. He’s going to play tomorrow in his normal position.”

Photo Credits : AFP