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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

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Donadoni plays down tough draw

Italy coach Roberto Donadoni was philosophical about his team being drawn alongside France, Holland and Romania for the Euro 2008 finals.Donadoni admitted the group was tough, but claimed to be unperturbed at the quality of opposition the Azzurri will face in Switzerland and Austria.

"I had a feeling prior to the draw that we would have been drawn in a hard group," admitted Donadoni. "I hoped that we would be fortunate but it's fine as it is.

"Now we face another challenge which we will take in our stride. In life the real worries are others."

The match between Italy and France is bound to rekindle a rivalry which has reached epic proportions over the last 18 months.

There has been no love lost between the two sides, with the Azzurri having finished ahead of France in the Euro 2008 qualifiers - although France had the edge in the head-to-head games.

However, there has been tension between the teams since the World Cup final, won by Italy on penalties.

The bust-up in the final between Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi, which led to Zidane's sending-off for headbutting the chest of the Italy defender following verbal provocation, fuelled the bad feeling.

And comments made by France coach Raymond Domenech earlier this season to a newspaper about fixed matches in Italian soccer infuriated the Azzurri camp and earned him a suspension.

However, Donadoni played down any notion of a grudge match, saying: "The fact that we face France again doesn't give me any particular feeling.

"I can only say that in order to avoid any controversies or venom between Italy and France, those who are involved should rely on common sense."

Against Holland, Donadoni will pit his wits against Marco van Basten, his former team-mate in the great AC Milan team of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Donadoni said: "We have not been lucky either. I also had a gut feeling on the way it would turn out but you can not change the rules.

"I spoke to Marco van Basten before the draw and told him I thought we would be playing each other. We've got France again but all past matches are history."

Champions League - Kaka wins Ballon d'Or

Milan and Brazil playmaker Kaka has been awarded the 2007 Ballon d'Or by France Football magazine.

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The gong, formerly known as the European Player of the Year award, was voted for by 96 journalists from around the world from a shortlist of 50 players.

Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo was second with Barcelona's Lionel Messi in third place just ahead of Chelsea's Didier Drogba.

Until last year, when Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro won the award after leading his side to World Cup glory in Germany, 52 European journalists voted for a player from a European club.

For this year's award, 96 journalists from around the world voted and the shortlist of 50 players featured players based in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, the United States and Qatar.

"The only way you can win this award is being part of a team of fighters. So I thank my team mates, my coach and also my team mates in the Selecao," Kaka said.

"Also, thank you to all those who have been beside me throughout my career."

The elegant Kaka is already the winner of the FIFPro world Player of the Year and UEFA European Club Player of the Year awards and is the big favourite for FIFA's World Player of the Year award to be announced later this month.

His 10 goals in guiding Milan to their seventh European Cup triumph in May set up this flurry of awards in a year without a World Cup or European championship.

Factbox on Kaka:

* Born: April 22, 1982 in Brasilia, Brazil

* Makes an immediate impact for Sao Paulo scoring 12 goals in 27 appearances in the 2001 season.

* Plays just 18 minutes in Brazil's 2002 World Cup triumph

* Moves to Milan in 2003 and makes his debut on September 1 in a 2-0 win over Ancona. He goes on to score ten league goals and four Champions League goals in his first season and then spurs Milan to the Italian title in 2004.

* Helps Brazil to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2006, during which he signs a contract extension with Milan which is supposed to keep him at the San Siro until 2011.

* Real Madrid make their interest well-known following the World Cup and Kaka firmly establishes himself as one of the best in the world as he inspires Milan to their seventh European Cup title in 2007.

* Named FIFPro World Player of the Year 2007 and is later awarded the Ballon d'Or. He is also hot favourite for FIFA World Player of the Year gong.

Past winners:

1956 - Stanley Matthews (England)

1957 - Alfredo di Stefano (Spain)

1958 - Raymond Kopa (France)

1959 - Alfredo di Stefano (Spain)

1960 - Luis Suarez (Spain)

1961 - Omar Sivori (Italy)

1962 - Josef Masopust (Czechoslovakia)

1963 - Lev Yashin (Soviet Union)

1964 - Denis Law (Scotland)

1965 - Eusebio (Portugal)

1966 - Bobby Charlton (England)

1967 - Florian Albert (Hungary)

1968 - George Best (Northern Ireland)

1969 - Gianni Rivera (Italy)

1970 - Gerd Mueller (West Germany)

1971 - Johan Cruyff (Netherlands)

1972 - Franz Beckenbauer (Germany)

1973 - Johan Cruyff (Netherlands)

1974 - Johan Cruyff (Netherlands)

1975 - Oleg Blokhin (Soviet Union)

1976 - Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany)

1977 - Allan Simonsen (Denmark)

1978 - Kevin Keegan (England)

1979 - Kevin Keegan (England)

1980 - Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (West Germany)

1981 - Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (West Germany)

1982 - Paolo Rossi (Italy)

1983 - Michel Platini (France)

1984 - Michel Platini (France)

1985 - Michel Platini (France)

1986 - Igor Belanov (Soviet Union)

1987 - Ruud Gullit (Netherlands)

1988 - Marco van Basten (Netherlands)

1989 - Marco van Basten (Netherlands)

1990 - Lothar Matthaeus (Germany)

1991 - Jean-Pierre Papin (France)

1992 - Marco van Basten (Netherlands)

1993 - Roberto Baggio (Italy)

1994 - Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria)

1995 - George Weah (Liberia)

1996 - Matthias Sammer (Germany)

1997 - Ronaldo (Brazil)

1998 - Zinedine Zidane (France)

1999 - Rivaldo (Brazil)

2000 - Luis Figo (Portugal)

2001 - Michael Owen (England)

2002 - Ronaldo (Brazil)

2003 - Pavel Nedved (Czech Republic)

2004 - Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine)

2005 - Ronaldinho (Brazil)

2006 - Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)

2007 - Kaka (Brazil)

Premier League - Spurs to appeal Keane red

Tottenham will appeal Robbie Keane's sending-off in Sunday's 3-2 defeat at home to Birmingham City.

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Referee Phil Dowd showed Keane a straight red card for his challenge in Fabrice Muamba, but appeared to consult with fourth official Uriah Rennie before making his decision.

Dowd insists he was informing Rennie of the impending dismissal, but Spurs feel hard done-by as Keane touched the ball before his momentum took him into Muamba.

Keane had earlier scored twice to give Spurs a 2-1 lead, but they went on to suffer their first defeat under Juande Ramos thanks to Sebastian Larsson's stunning late winner.

"The sending-off was harsh. In this type of incident the referee would normally show a yellow card, it certainly wasn't red," said Ramos.

"The referee was very close by. It was very unfair. I don't know what happened but the closest person to the incident was the referee. Anybody else was a lot further away."

Assistant manager Gus Poyet was more outspoken, saying: "He talked to the fourth official. I didn't know the fourth official was reffing the match.

"I thought it was the job of the referee. A referee on the pitch is in charge and should be making the decisions.

"I didn't know you could ask the fourth official to confirm."

The controversy mirrors that of the 2006 World Cup final, when Zinedine Zidane was sent off for a butt to the chest of Marco Materazzi, seemingly as a result of video evidence.

However, while Zidane's offence was clear, Keane was extremely unlucky to be sent off and Tottenham are confident of having the punishment downgraded to a yellow card.

Gunners Linked With Gourcuff Move

Tue 11 Dec, 04:09 PM


Arsenal are reported to be one of a host of clubs keen on signing AC Milan star Yoann Gourcuff.

The France under-21 international was linked with a move to the Emirates Stadium in 2006 before opting to make the move from Rennes to the San Siro.

However, Gourcuff has not featured regularly for the European champions and the Gunners are preparing a £15million bid for the man touted by many as 'the next Zinedine Zidane', according to Italian daily Gazzeta Dello Sport.

The newspaper claims Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti wants to offload Gourcuff as Brazilian teen sensation Alexandre Pato will be eligible to feature for the first-team from January 3rd after his move from Internacional.

However, Arsenal could face competition from French clubs Lens and Paris St Germain who are keen on signing the midfielder on loan.

Italian soccer club AC Milan not interested in new faces, says Berlusconi

ROME (AFP) - European and world club champions AC Milan will not be tempted into bringing in reinforcements during the winter transfer window, owner Silvio Berlusconi said on Sunday.

Having added the Club World Cup - thanks to their 4-2 victory over Boca Juniors - to their Champions League crown, Milan believe they have all the ingredients despite standing 22 points behind league leaders Inter.

"Our objective is to always be at the forefront in Italy, Europe and the world," Berlusconi told Mediaset TV station.

"The formula is simple: forget quickly when you achieve one goal and find another to occupy you, this way you always remain ambitious."

As for new signings, Berlusconi thinks that Milan have proved that they have enough resources.

"It's strange when you're celebrating the victory of a team which has just confirmed itself as the best in the world and on the day that it's sitting on top of the world, you're thinking about reinforcements," added the former prime minister of Italy.

"I think it is the team that did not succeed, Boca Juniors, that needs to think about strengthening their squad, that's not the case with Milan."

Following Milan legend Paolo Maldini's confirmation on Sunday that he would retire at the end of the season, Berlusconi took a moment to pay tribute to the Milan club captain.

"Some important players will leave us but not everyone is going. In the case of Maldini, who is staying (after he retires from playing), like (Alessandro) Costacurta, like (Franco) Baresi, like many others, he will continue to be a great captain for the Milan family. He will be a captain off the field."

Berlusconi believes Milan have a couple of gems waiting in the wings in Brazilian forward Pato and French midfielder Yohann Gourcuff.

"We have two young men in which we have a lot of faith: one is Gourcuff, who I have dared to describe as the new (Zinedine) Zidane, I really believe in his qualities.

"The other is Pato. I have not seen him play myself but I've seen videos. I was amazed, astounded.

"That same effect only happened to me once before with another video, that of (Marco) Van Basten's goals."

Van Basten was one of the stars of the Milan side from 1987-1995 when he hit 90 career goals.

Kaka outstanding footballer of 2007

PARIS (AFP) - Brazil and AC Milan's Kaka has simply been the outstanding footballer of 2007 and proved that claim by winning the FIFA Player of the Year award on Monday to add to his European Footballer of the Year honour.

The 25-year-old Kaka starred in AC Milan's run to the European Champions League title, then the European Super Cup and the recent Club World Cup.

Few fans of Manchester United will forget Kaka's opening goal in the semi-final, second leg at the San Siro, a low drive from 20 metres, which put the tie level at 3-3, but crucially left the Italians ahead on away goals.

Milan went on to win 3-0, and 5-3 on aggregate, before going on to beat Liverpool 2-1 in the Athens final.

Kaka plays in the style of a classic number 10 such as legends Pele, Diego Maradona, Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane, whom so many youngsters dream of emulating.

Kaka, born Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, comes from a comfortably off family in Sao Paulo, not from the slums which have produced so many top Brazilians, and aged just 20 played in his first World Cup in 2002 where Brazil won the title for the fifth time.

At a young age, the diminutive Kaka had high hopes heaped on his shoulders with the Brazilian media saying he would emulate legendary playmakers such as Rivelino and Socrates and it was not a surprise when he joined European giants AC Milan in 2003.

His talent was as obvious as the jokes about his name were numerous and he was a key component of AC Milan's 2003/2004 Italian league winning team which finished 11 points ahead of AS Roma.

Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi is famously said to have commented: "Kaka? We could never sign anyone with a name like that." Of course AC Milan had the last laugh and he went on to become one of the best players in Italy.

He was part of the Brazilian dream team which, for them, did so disastrously to lose to France in the World Cup quarter-finals in 2006, to all appearances because of overconfidence.

Although last season Kaka did not many goals in Serie A, he still managed to set up a lot of scores for his team-mates. However, his strike rate of 10 goals in 13 matches in the Champions League helped AC Milan avenge their defeat to Liverpool in the 2005 final.

As his career has progressed, he has become more fluent in his movement, has continually improved technically and has generally got better and better in all departments.

In an interview published earlier this year, AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi said that "there has never been any possibility" that Milan would sell Kaka, who has been a target of Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon.

Real Madrid offered AC Milan 90 million euros (123 million US dollars) for Kaka, Spanish sports daily Marca reported in the summer.

Kaka, the highest earning footballer in Italy, "has never wanted to leave and I believe that he will never do so... Kaka is the symbol of Milan," Berlusconi added.

And Kaka is the highest earning footballer in Italy with an annual salary of six million euros, according to a study published in the Gazzetta dello Sport.

Milan, who have the biggest wages bill at 120 million euros a year, certainly have the financial muscle to handsomely pay for Kaka's huge influence on the team. Kaka is contracted to them till 2011 when he will not even have reached 30.