Robben: Netherlands must finish top to avoid Brazil

The Dutch attacker’s national side has drawn Spain in their group, but the FCB man still wants the top spot in order to avoid a clash with the heavily-backed tournament hosts

Bayern Munich and Netherlands winger Arjen Robben is targeting the top spot in Group B in order to avoid his World Cup 2014 favourites Brazil.

Oranje have drawn World and European champions Spain, alongside Chile and Australia, making finishing atop their group no easy feat.

Nevertheless, with the runners up from the Group B likely to face Group A favourites Brazil as their first knock-out clash, the 29-year-old knows what needs to be done in what he feels will be an exciting set of clashes for the neutral.

“It’s going to be tough but it’s a beautiful group,” the winger told NOS. “Spain and Chile are two very strong opponents.”

“On paper Australia is probably the weakest, but we still have to win that match.”

“If we pass the group stage we’ll face someone from Brazil’s pool. I think they’re favourites so I hope we avoid them.”

“Our aim must be to finish top of our group.”

Silva to make Manchester City return against Bayern Munich

The playmaker has been out for a month with a calf injury but has stepped up his rehabilitation with the first team and could feature at the Allianz Arena next week

David Silva is in line to return to the Manchester City squad against Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Goal exclusively revealed earlier this week that the playmaker was set to return to first-team training after a month out with a calf injury sustained in the 5-2 win over CSKA Moscow.

And Manuel Pellegrini has suggested Silva has a good chance of being back in action next week, though Stevan Jovetic and Matija Nastasic remain sidelined.

“I think on Monday David Silva will be ready,” the Chilean coach told reporters. “We’ll see after this weekend and how he is then.

“Stevan Jovetic and Matija Nastasic are also still out.”

A 3-2 win over West Brom on Wednesday was just City’s third away triumph of the season, and Pellegrini hopes the momentum can be carried into the clash at the Stadium of Light.

The former Malaga boss continued: “It was an important three points for us at West Brom. We must continue that against Southampton.”

Bale & Ribery nominated for Fifpro World XI

The in-form Welshman is joined on the 15-strong shortlist by Real Madrid colleagues Isco and Xabi Alonso, while Bayern Munich and Barcelona also have three representatives each

Gareth Bale and Franck Ribery are among the midfielders nominated for the Fifa Fifpro World XI for 2013.

Bale, who has been nominated for his performances for both Real Madrid and former club Tottenham Hotspur, is one of three current Blancos players on the 15-strong shortlist, alongside ex-Malaga ace Isco and playmaker Xabi Alonso.

However, Mesut Ozil, who left the Liga outfit to join Arsenal during the summer, is also in contention for the three available midfield berths.

Reigning European champions Bayern Munich also have three representatives in Ballon d’Or contender Ribery, Dutch winger Arjen Robben and Germany international Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Unsurprisingly, all three members of Barcelona’s holy trinity of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Sergio Busquets are nominated.

Juventus duo Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal have also been nominated but there is no room for Bianconeri starlet Paul Pogba.

Elsewhere, there is recognition for Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard for his enduring excellence, as well as Borussia Dortmund speedster Marco Reus and Manchester City colossus Yaya Toure.

The Fifpro World XI will be announced at Fifa’s Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich on January 13.

Fifpro World XI Shortlist of Midfielders:

Xabi Alonso (Spain, Real Madrid); Gareth Bale (Wales, Tottenham Hotspur/Real Madrid); Sergio Busquets (Spain, Barcelona); Steven Gerrard (England, Liverpool); Andres Iniesta (Spain, Barcelona); Isco (Spain, Malaga/Real Madrid); Mesut Ozil (Germany, Real Madrid/Arsenal); Andrea Pirlo (Italy, Juventus); Marco Reus (Germany, Borussia Dortmund); Franck Ribery (France, Bayern Munchen), Arjen Robben (Netherlands, Bayern Munich); Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany, Bayern Munich); Yaya Toure (Cote d’Ivoire, Manchester City); Arturo Vidal (Chile, Juventus); Xavi (Spain, Barcelona).

Bayern's injury problems make their form all the more incredible

The Bavarians have negotiated some pretty tough blows on the injury front; the time has come for Luis Suarez to leave Anfield behind and Fifa’s roadshow is ignoring basic flaws

COLUMN
By Peter Staunton

Injuries make Bayern’s run all the more incredible



Much was made of Borussia Dortmund’s injury crisis ahead of their match against Bayern Munich a fortnight ago with plenty of first-team players on the sidelines. What was less apparent at the time, however, was the fact that Bayern themselves have been dealing with an injury epidemic since the start of the season.

Their incredible form therefrom – two draws and 24 wins since losing to BVB in the DFL Super Cup final – should be viewed as an even more startling achievement than it already is.

“The injuries are no excuse. I hate excuses,” Guardiola told the press ahead of the Dortmund game. “They are a bit of a problem, but I’m especially sad for the players.” They went out and hammered Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park without Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger in their ranks.

Since the start of the season they have been unable, even once, to pick from a full complement. To that extent Guardiola has redefined the concept of a first XI. He has picked players contingent on the opposition and mended and made do with the players available. He has, on various occasions, been without Ribery and Schweinsteiger as well as Mario Gotze, Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez.

Not once has he been able to pick Holger Badstuber, while Philipp Lahm, Xherdan Shaqiri and Arjen Robben are recent admissions to the treatment room. Every position on the pitch has been affected by injury, save goalkeeper and full-back.

But, relentlessly, Bayern roll on. They remain on course for a treble and, despite being without so many top performers, they win match after match.

“We’re going to need to survive for two or three weeks,” Guardiola told AFP in late November. “But we have to make do, that’s why we have a second team.”

Counting the Club World Cup, Bayern are fighting on four fronts for titles this season. I wouldn’t back against them winning them all and every squad member will have played a huge part.

Suarez wasting his time at Liverpool



Liverpool were always going to be a stepping stone for Luis Suarez, who will go down as one of the greatest signings in the club’s history. By the time he decided to leave Ajax, the Uruguayan was ready to move to a better club than the Reds, with all due respect. He needed a club who were ready to challenge for meaningful trophies immediately and not a club in the Europa League and playing moderately in the Premier League. He chose Liverpool though and has, to his credit, performed consistently on the field but that is not to whitewash his various indiscretions.

Those notwithstanding, Liverpool have on their hands one of the top three strikers in world football and, quite simply, he now deserves better. His four-goal salvo against Norwich in midweek was simply breathtaking; his finishes were diverse and unstoppable.

There comes a time in a player’s career that he outgrows his surroundings and this week feels like that watershed for Suarez.

Liverpool are not going to win the title; he himself has not played in the Champions League since 2010. He will soon be 27 and the next contract he signs will carry him through his prime years as a forward. He owes it to himself and his talent to spend that time at a club who can match his ambitions and his hunger.

Real Madrid are calling and Suarez should find that lure very hard to resist.

Fifa grand ignores World Cup failings



The stage will be gleaming, the lights bright and the cameras all focused on the perfectly rehearsed matters at hand. It is, of course, Fifa’s version of the Eurovision Song Contest – the World Cup draw. Today’s event in Costa do Sauipe, carefully stage managed as it is, is intended to present Fifa as a governing body capable and in control.

It is anything but. Barely a week on from the Itaquerao stadium tragedy, which claimed two lives, Fifa expects at least three of the World Cup stadiums to now be delivered late, leaving a doubt over the preparedness of the Brazil authorities to carry out the necessary infrastructure work ahead of the kick-off in June.

The stadiums in Cuiaba, Curitiba and Sao Paulo are already overdue and Jerome Valcke, the Fifa general secretary, admitted this week that he does not know when work will be completed. “We are confident they can deliver the stadium,” he said of Itaquerao – the Corinthians Stadium. “Not by the end of the year, definitely not. Curitiba is facing the most problems and clearly won’t be delivered before February 2014. It’s something we will cope with.”

The latest lines from Brazil suggest that the president Dilma Rousseff’s Christmas holiday schedule was making exact delivery dates of the stadiums unstable. But no matter, despite the deaths, delays and question marks over safety of the grounds, Fifa’s grand party will go ahead on Friday as planned. With seven teams in one pool and nine in another, Fifa is not even capable of getting that right.

But so long as it looks good, that’s all that matters.

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Sammer: Rafinha will stay at Bayern

The Brazilian defender had been expected to see his first-team opportunities limited this term but is now likely to pen a contract extension beyond the summer of 2014

Bayern Munich sporting director Matthias Sammer says he fully expects Rafinha to stay at the Allianz Arena.

The Brazilian defender made just 17 appearances for the Bavarians in all competitions last season and it was expected that he would see little game time following the arrival of Pep Guardiola as coach during the summer.

However, Sammer has little doubt that Rafinha, who has already played 22 games this term, will extend his current contract, which expires at the end of the current campaign, revealing that the right-back has impressed all and sundry at Bayern with his attitude and work ethic.

“Rafinha accepted his role and is a totally positive spirit,” the former Germany international told Kicker. “He fits wonderfully in this group.

“He has also developed in a sporting sense [this season], so his renewal is self-evident.”