Emotional Alfakeer praises players

Tehran: Syria coach Muhannad Alfakeer has urged his players to keep their head high despite the bitter 2-1 defeat at the hands of AFC U-16 Championship 2006 champions Japan. Muhannad’s boys were able to keep the Japanese threat at bay till the 80th minute as Japan scored two late goals and conceded one in one of the nail-biters of the tournament.

Earlier, Syria squandered a great opportunity to go ahead after Ahmad Ashqar missed a penalty awarded to them by Australian referee Strebre Delovski when the score was 0-0 with half an hour remaining.

“I am very sad because we failed in our mission but at the same time I am happy with the efforts and commitment my boys showed in the match against a very good Japanese side,” a visibly dejected coach Alfakeer said.

“The worry for me was our players’ lack of experiences in a big occasion and that’s what we saw in the match as those two goals Japan scored was the result of lapse of concentration.
“The turning point of the match was the miss penalty, we could have scored that one to open up more spaces,” he added.

“These boys have great future and I am sure they will continue developing.”

Japanese coach Yoshitake Hirofumi also hailed the Syrians and admitted that at time they Syrians made it difficult for his side to play.

“They had a strategy of breaking up our play and to some extent they were successful, it was a very hard-fought win against a very good, organized and physical side,” he said.

“I have used all the players of the squad in this tournament and at the end of day we are in the World Cup which is a great opportunity for these boys to continue. Now the World Cup concern is over, now the next thing is how to win this trophy,” he quipped.




Heavyweights hit the road

Most of the UEFA Champions League’s big hitters face away ties on Matchday 2 of this year’s competition, with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea and Bayern Munich travelling to Benfica, Ajax, CFR Cluj, Nordsjaelland and BATE Borisov respectively.

Borussia Dortmund’s trip to Manchester City, and Paris Saint-Germain’s first major test, away to FC Porto, are two other games not to be missed.

Match of the day
Benfica-Barcelona, Group G, Estadio do Sport, Lisbon, Tuesday 2 October 2012
Benfica’s clash with Barcelona carries particular significance, given that every time the two teams have met in the competition, the winner has gone on to lift the trophy. The Lisbon outfit started the trend in Berne in 1961, when they beat their Catalan opponents in the final under the guidance of Bela Guttmann.

The current Benfica side are looking for their first win in 30 years against Spanish opposition, and will no doubt look to target a Barça back-line that has leaked goals this season in the absence of Carles Puyol. The Catalans conceded two in their group opener against Spartak Moscow, and let in two more in their recent league game against Sevilla. Lionel Messi’s starting position will also be in the spotlight. In the recent meeting with Sevilla, in which Barça came from 2-0 down to win 3-2, the Argentinian dropped deep to give his central attacking role to David Villa, scorer of the winning goal.  

The other matches
Tuesday 2 October 2012
Group E
Juventus-Shakhtar Donetsk
Juventus, unbeaten in 45 Serie A matches, have enjoyed an exceptional start to the season. The Italians fought back from two goals down to draw with Chelsea in their opening group match, and recently claimed a crushing 4-1 victory over Roma in Serie A. They will, however, need to be on their guard against visiting Shakhtar and their Armenian striker, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who scored twice for the Ukrainians on Matchday 1. Reigning champions Chelsea, meanwhile, travel to Denmark to take on Nordsjaelland, who will be facing English opposition for the very first time.

Group F
BATE Borisov-Bayern Munich
Having claimed their maiden Champions League victory against Lille, BATE Borisov face another stern test against Bayern Munich, who are unbeaten at the top of the Bundesliga. Valencia and Lille, meanwhile, are struggling in eighth and 15th in their respective domestic leagues, and both sides desperately need a victory to kickstart their campaigns.

Group G
Spartak Moscow-Celtic (18.00 CET)
Spartak Moscow gave Barcelona an extremely uncomfortable time at the Camp Nou in their group opener, and they will be hoping for a similarly strong display at home to Celtic.

Group H
CFR Cluj-Manchester United
Manchester United will be looking to record their 100th victory against 91 different opponents when they travel to Romania to take on CFR Cluj, who were surprise victors over Braga in their group opener. Braga, for their part, need a positive result from their trip to Galatasaray if they are to keep their hopes of qualification from Group H alive.

Wednesday 3 October 2012
Group A
Dynamo Kyiv-Dinamo Zagreb
FC Porto-Paris Saint-Germain
The main event in Group A sees the two winners from Matchday 1 go head-to-head. FC Porto, unbeaten at home in the competition since losing to Chelsea in November 2009, host an ambitious Paris Saint-Germain side who are gradually finding their rhythm in Ligue 1, and for whom Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be looking to celebrate his 31st birthday in style.

Group B
Having secured away victories in their respective group openers, Schalke and Arsenal both have the chance to strengthen their footholds in the section. The Gunners, who are unbeaten at home in the Champions League since May 2009, when they lost 3-1 to Manchester United, face Olympiacos for the third time in four years. Arsene Wenger’s men will be hoping for a strong performance to erase the memory of their recent 2-1 home defeat by Chelsea in the Premier League. Schalke, with the in-form Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, start as favourites against French champions Montpellier, who have endured a difficult start to the new season.

Group C
Zenit St. Petersburg-AC Milan (18.00 CET)
Two of the competition’s supposed ‘minnows’ have every chance of causing a stir in Group C. Despite having parted company with their main sponsor, Malaga are enjoying a superb start to the season. The Spaniards, who won their opening group match convincingly, now face a tricky test away to Anderlecht, but will take hope from the Belgians’ first-round home record of seven defeats and two draws. AC Milan, meanwhile, have a new core of young talent, but are still in the process of rebuilding. They can expect a difficult away trip to Zenit St. Petersburg, with the Russians unbeaten at home since their 2-1 defeat by Real Madrid in September 2008.

Group D
Manchester City-Borussia Dortmund
Ajax-Real Madrid
In a section as tough as this, even the slightest slip-up at home could prove costly. While Real Madrid are finding their form and will be hopeful of a good result in Amsterdam, Borussia Dortmund face an altogether more difficult away trip to Manchester City, who are unbeaten at home in 17 Champions League games. City, however, will be wary of the threat of Marco Reus, who scored twice in Dortmund’s recent 5-0 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach.

Player to watch
Edin Dzeko, 26, has 25 goals in 47 international outings for Bosnia-Herzegovina, and is Roberto Mancini’s impact substitute of choice when Manchester City need a breakthrough. Indeed, Dzeko’s introduction from the bench usually sees City switch to all-out attack, and, since joining the English champions, he has become something of a specialist when it comes to scoring late in games. The forward beat his own record on Saturday by finding the net barely two minutes after coming off the bench against Fulham.




Shorta boss praises Sharks

Zarqa: Al Shorta coach Tita Valeriu praised the determination shown by Chonburi as the Thai club overcame a first-leg deficit by beating his team 4-2 after extra-time to reach the semi-finals of the AFC Cup.

The Syrian side looked to be in the driver’s seat in the quarter-final after winning 2-1 in Thailand in the first leg but first half-goals by Pipob On-mo and Thiago Cunha at the Prince Mohammad International Stadium in Zarqa, Jordan turned things around for Chonburi.

Al Shorta appeared to have regained control when Oday Al Jafal’s penalty forced extra-time and Ali Ghalioum made amends for a missed penalty by putting the Syrians back in front.

But Chonburi would not lie down and Thiago scored again in the 111th minute to level things once more before hitting a dramatic winner in stoppage time to complete a 5-4 aggregate win.

After the game, Valeriu was highly critical of the attitude shown by his players, who had squandered opportunities to extend their lead in the first half before conceding a pair of soft goals.

"Our players were not up to expectation today and they showed a lack of responsibility as they were not playing seriously in the match and they underestimated our opponents," said the Romanian.

In contrast to his side, Valeriu felt that their Thai opponents approached the match in the right way.

"Chonburi played with great determination and they played good football,” he said. “They won today and they achieved what they wanted by taking the lead in the first half and then managing to find the winner at the end of the game.

"The Chonburi players secured their win because they knew what they wanted unlike our team who were not ready. Our players made a lot of mistakes which eventually has cost us the match."




Brazil hosts tenth Match Against Poverty

Ronaldo and Zinédine Zidane are among the legends who will take to the pitch in the tenth UEFA-backed Match Against Poverty on 19 December 2012 at the Gremio Arena in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Ronaldo and Zinédine Zidane are inviting some of the world's top players to join them in an all-star line-up for the tenth UEFA-backed Match Against Poverty, which takes place on 19 December 2012 at the Gremio Arena in Porto Alegre, Brazil (21.00 local time).

As goodwill ambassadors for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Ronaldo and Zidane will each captain a team for this friendly match aimed at mobilising the public in the fight against poverty.

"The struggle against poverty is not a game," said Ronaldo, who launched the Match Against Poverty with Zinédine Zidane and UNDP ten years ago. "But we use this match to raise both funds and awareness that the solution is in everyone's hands. Working together, we will all be winners in the Match Against Poverty."

Zidane, who will play in Brazil for the first time, said that after ten years of playing with Ronaldo, he is excited to play against him and his friends in the Match Against Poverty. "Although it will be a friendly match, I very much look forward to playing against my old friend in Porto Alegre," he said.

The match follows nine successful editions that took place in Basle, Madrid, Dusseldorf, Marseille, Malaga, Fez, Lisbon, Athens and Hamburg. Each year, funds raised support specific projects in different countries facing difficult challenges. "At the tenth match, we will use the proceeds to support solutions in my own country, as well as another programme in Africa in which Brazil is actively engaged," said Ronaldo.

Now UEFA's chief refereeing officer, Pierluigi Collina has refereed eight out of the nine editions to date, and will again be in charge this year. "It is not easy to find a charity initiative that is able to reach its tenth anniversary," he said. "The Match Against Poverty did it, and this is really great. For me, it has been always a privilege to be invited as the referee of these matches, and to give my contribution to those who need help.

"As football is the world's most popular sport and poverty is a global challenge, the match is a wonderful instrument to mobilise people around the world to support all efforts to ensure that everyone, everywhere, can lead healthy, productive and rewarding lives."

Ronaldo and Zidane are part of an elite group of UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors, which includes other football stars Didier Drogba, Iker Casillas and Marta.




Laura Robson knocked out of the China Open

Laura Robson has been knocked out of the China Open after being defeated by Spain's Lourdes Dominguez Lino.

Robson went into the second-round match as the higher-ranked player but a late break in the first set proved vital as Dominguez Lino triumphed 7-5 6-3.

The first set went with serve until the last game, when the Spaniard forced the match's first break point and won the set 7-5.

Another break came after, in game three of the second set, and Dominguez Lino backed it up with a hold to lead 3-1.

A further break for each player followed, leaving the 31-year-old with a 5-3 lead before wrapping up the victory in an hour and 35 minutes.

"I just wasn't consistent enough in the rallies and a lot of the time I tried to go for the wins too early," said Robson.

"It was just far too inconsistent. I'm happy with my week in general.

"I went one round further than I did last year and had three good wins, so there are a lot of positives."

Seventh seed Li Na brushed aside Nadia Petrova 6-1 6-2 to reach the last 16 - her first victory over the Russian in seven matches.

Li, who needs a big week to qualify for the season-ending WTA Championships, will play fellow Chinese Peng Shuai for a place in the last eight.