Football: 34th Matchday in Spanish La Liga

Matchday 34 of the Spanish La Liga begins on Friday.

League leaders Atletico Madrid will host Elche in Madrid on Friday evening. Vicente Calderon kicks off at 8:30pm local time (1930GMT) in Spain. Atletico Madrid’s Turkish star Arda Turan may not play against Elche, as he had complained of some pains in his groin.

Barcelona may lack many regulars due to injuries. Several Spanish internationals on Barcelona’s team including goalkeeper Victor Valdes, centre-back Gerard Pique, offensive left-back Jordi Alba and flamboyant Brazilian forward Neymar are unable to play against Athletic Club. Athletic Club’s 33-year-old captain Carlos Gurpegi will be out of action until June and miss the match in Camp Nou.

Real Madrid’s match for matchday 34 was postponed. Currently runners-up in La Liga, Real Madrid will wait to play Real Valladolid on May 7, as they willmeet Germany’s Bayern Munich on April 23 in the UEFA Champions League semifinalss.


Spain are world football champions

Andres Iniesta scored with four minutes of extra time remaining to give Spain a 1-0 win over the Netherlands and a first World Cup title.

With the teams facing a penalty shootout in a game of few clear chances, Iniesta collected a sliding pass into the area from substitute Cesc Fabregas and smashed the ball across goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.

Spain had the best of the play in a bruising game in which nine players were shown yellow cards by English referee Howard Webb in the first 90 minutes, a World Cup final record.

Neither team has won the World Cup before, though the Dutch were playing in their third final.

“It is very sad. These three or four final minutes and then you lose,” Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk said.

“I really had thought even with 10 [men] we would be able to do the penalty shoot out.

“It is bitter but that is sport. It is harsh.”


World Cup 2010: Spain survive brutal final to become champions

This World Cup ended the way the modern South Africa began 16 years ago: with Nelson Mandela its star. Possibly the final reward of Mandela’s great political life was to pay a brief visit to the Johannesburg cauldron where Spain lifted the trophy for the first time with a goal in the 116th minute of a sometimes brutal encounter with Holland.

A tournament that was all about harmony produced an acrimonious finish as the Dutch attempted to stop, by brute force, Spain becoming the game’s eighth world champions. Howard Webb, the English referee, risked repetitive strain injury showing 14 yellow cards, a record for a World Cup final. He also sent off Holland’s John Heitinga as the Dutch suspended their artistic heritage.

With their poise and kaleidoscopic passing Spain represented football in its ideal state. Self-expression conquered pragmatism as fireworks over Johannesburg marked the end of Africa’s first World Cup. “It was a very difficult game but we have some fantastic players who knew how to respond to the problems,” said Vicente del Bosque, the Spanish coach. “We owe this to a great group of players.”

Private security companies said violent crime in parts of Johannesburg fell 60%. Some believe criminal gangs took a kind of forced sabbatical to avoid the 40,000 extra police hired for the tournament.

The justice department reported that 194 crimes had been brought before the World Cup courts. After Spain’s win Fifa might be wise to set up a footballing equivalent to hear the explanations of those players who were less concerned with beauty than belligerence.


Spain pip Brazil as most expensive squad

Spain, Argentina and Brazil have the most expensive squads of the 32 sides competing in the World Cup in June, Brazilian financial daily Valor reported on Monday.

The squad of reigning champions Spain is worth an estimated €486.9 million, ahead of €474.1 million for Argentina and €470.2 million for hosts Brazil, according to sports analysis consultancy Pluri Consultoria.

Portugal and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo saw his estimated value rise 11.4 percent over the past year after he landed the world player of the year accolade – but he still trails Messi by more than €30 million.

At €107.3 million, Ronaldo’s estimated current market value is more than a third of the €287 million for the entire Portugal squad.

Honduras bring up the rear with their squad valued at just €32.3 million – or less than one quarter of Messi and half the estimated €67.4 million for Brazil and Barcelona star Neymar, whose price tag is up 22.5 percent on last year.

The values are based on 77 criteria including age, technical ability, fitness and also marketing clout up to the date of the participating nations’ last outings.

The consultancy will update its values after the final squads are unveiled on May 7.


Kick in the teeth for a Spanish football starlet in Leeds

A talented young footballer from a Leeds school has been shown the red card from playing in a local league – because she is Spanish.

Carmen Olmos, 14, a boarder at Fulneck School, Pudsey, has been told she is not eligible to play for Wortley FC, because the Football Association (FA) cannot obtain “international clearance” for her.

It says its hands are tied by FIFA regulations and while she can play for the school, she is banned from joining any team playing in a competitive league.

“She attended a number of trials with Wortley Girls FC, enjoyed them so much that she asked to join. The club wrote to the FA to check that, because Carmen had not previously registered for either a Spanish or English club, she would not need an International Transfer Certificate. Sadly the reply was that she could only play for the school. Carmen’s unhappy, her family are unhappy, we are unhappy and Wortley FC are livid.”

The FA last night confirmed it was a FIFA regulation, under which she was unable to play.

A spokesman from FIFA said international transfers of registered players are only permitted if the player is over 18, with few exceptions. He added: “The same rules also apply to the registration of foreign minor players who have never been previously registered.”

He said each decision is made by a sub-committee appointed by the Players’ Status Committee.


Spain boss looking to end club rifts

La Roja will head to Brazil looking to retain the title they won four years ago in South Africa but there is a strong possibility of tension within the squad, with the country’s top three teams in Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid all fighting for the league title.

Their rivalries have led to a number of fiery encounters between the sides and it has often been speculated that this has prompted a number of rifts within the national set-up. Del Bosque was the mastermind behind his country’s success in the Rainbow Nation, as well as their Euro 2012 triumph, but admits that without unity within the camp they will struggle to achieve anything similar in the summer. “With good relationships between the players we will be closer to success,” the coach is reported as saying in AS.

“There are many great teams that also want to be world champions, so repeating (their 2010 victory) is very complicated.”


Spain still top of FIFA rankings

World and European champions Spain have remained top of the latest FIFA rankings.

With only six international matches played in the past month there has been little movement, with FIFA’s official website putting down the rise of Greece and Scotland to the change in valuation of World Cup qualifiers of recent years.

Greece, winners of the European Championships in 2004, have entered the top 10, while Scotland have leapt 15 places.

Germany remain behind Spain while Portugal have gone third. The top 10 is rounded out by Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, World Cup hosts Brazil, Switzerland and Italy.


Torres says he can make Spain’s World Cup team

Spain striker Fernando Torres says he can make the World Cup squad and help his country defend its title in Brazil.

Torres tells Spanish daily AS “in football you never know where you will be inside one month. I’m going to work hard, that’s all you can do with this last part of the season so important. Those in the best form before the World Cup will go.”

The Chelsea striker was dropped from Spain’s team for a recent friendly against Italy with Brazilian-born striker Diego Costa taking his place. Alvaro Negredo is also ahead of him in the pecking order.

Torres, who turned 30 on Thursday, helped Spain win back-to-back European Championships and the last World Cup.


Spain, Netherlands, Chile headline Group B at WCup

Spain’s bid to repeat as champion has the unenviable task of beginning in a World Cup group with the Netherlands, Chile and Australia.

Three of the four should contend for a spot in the knockout phase, with plucky Australia looking overmatched but able to spoil the hopes of the others.

Spain and the Netherlands play on June 13 at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, while Chile could take an early lead in Group B with its opener against Australia at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba.

With Brazil a potential opponent in the round of 16, no team can afford a poor start in Group B.

Spain lost its opening match at the World Cup four years ago, but went on to beat the Netherlands in the final. This year, those same two teams meet in one of the most anticipated opening matches of the tournament.

The rematch is likely to produce a different spectacle than four years ago when the Dutch soured their tournament run with a physical, defensive display that has come to be symbolized by Nigel de Jong’s kung-fu style kick to the chest of Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso.

Spain has not lost a step as it vies to win a fourth straight major tournament with a core squad that is likely playing its final World Cup.

Spain’s schedule is perhaps the toughest, as it follows up its match against the Netherlands by playing Chile on June 18 at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

”We’ll have to be ready from Day 1,” Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said after the draw. ”With this selection of rivals, we cannot afford to let our concentration slip one bit. The Netherlands will demand our best.”

Spain finishes group play against Australia, where anything but a victory would be a shock.


Spain looking for another title in Brazil

Spain has a chance to become the first team to win back-to-back World Cup titles since Brazil in 1962, and what better place to do it than in the country that coined the phrase “Jogo Bonito.”

Four years after winning its first world title, Spain is not as feared as before, but coach Vicente del Bosque still has the luxury of enough talent and experience to field two teams.

Spain’s midfield remains the cog to its success with veteran players Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, and Xabi Alonso; difference-makers like David Silva and Cesc Fabregas; and the arrivals of burgeoning talents such as Thiago Alcantara and Isco to carry forward the team’s quick-touch, possession football.

Four years ago, Spain rallied from its opening loss to Switzerland to reach the final, beating the Netherlands 1-0 with a more defensive approach as Alonso and Sergio Busquets stacked the midfield and protected the back.

Spain’s defense remains one of its strengths despite the loss of Carles Puyol, with Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique forming a block in the center, where Javi Martinez can easily slide in.

Cezar Azipiluceta looks likely to partner Jordi Alba to provide Spain with plenty of pace at the fullback positions.

Iker Casillas is the first-choice goalkeeper despite having been relegated to a backup role at Real Madrid, although his experience has carried him through a difficult season-and-a-half at Madrid.

Spain will open against the Netherlands in Salvador on June 13 in a rematch of the 2010 final before a tricky match against Chile in Rio de Janeiro five days later. The defending champions will then face Australia on June 23 in Curitiba, where the squad will be based.

“Simply put, it’s one of the toughest groups in the tournament,” Xavi said. “We know how hard it is to play the World Cup, especially right from the start with this group we’ve been put into.”


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