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12-15-2016, 11:04 PM

Galliani: Milan hopeful of keeping Donnarumma



AC Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani is hopeful of retaining teenage sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma, but the Serie A club's takeover is stalling contract talks.

Donnarumma - seen as the successor to goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon in Italy national team - is under contract until 2018, and Scudetto holders Juventus have been linked with a move for the 17-year-old.

The Italy international's agent Mino Raiola has already said Donnarumma will not commit to a new deal until the success of Milan's takeover by Chinese company Sino-Europe Sports has been assessed.Galliani, though, believes a new contract could be signed next year.

"I hope the contract will be signed when he comes of age [turns 18]," Galliani told MilanNews."I hope and I think that he'll stay in Milan. Raiola wants to know what the ambitions and future of Milan are, and who the owners are."We have a very good relationship not only with Gigio, but with Raiola. We wait for the closing [of the takeover]."A mainstay in Milan's starting XI since making his debut in October last year, Donnarumma has played in all 16 of the team's Serie A matches this season.
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12-15-2016, 11:05 PM

David Villa: Lampard & Pirlo are legends but Messi is the best



David Villa has lauded New York City FC team-mates Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo as ‘legends’ while adding to the chorus of players citing Lionel Messi as the best in the world.

Villa may have taken the 2016 MVP award in Major League Soccer, but he says it was a delight to play alongside Lampard and Pirlo in the Big Apple.

The United States has attracted a lot of big-name players heading towards the twilight of their playing days, but Villa insists the standard is improving and is not just a place for ageing players to finish their careers off.

“It's fantastic to play with Lampard and Pirlo,” Villa told a fans Q&A in Korea via Naver. “They're legends.“And MLS is not about veterans, they have many young players getting better and better. I think MLS is competitive enough.”

Villa is in no doubt who the best player around is right now, despite Cristian Ronaldo landing the Ballon d’Or yet again, as he plumps for his former Barcelona team-mate Messi.“Messi, he's the best. The reason is simple. Because he is the best.”

Villa insists he is still going strong at the age of 35, and reiterated that he has not totally given up all hope of playing for Spain again, although he accepts it will be a tough ask.

“I try my best to keep as fit as possible. I know I'm old now and cannot play as many games as before. I try to eat and recover well. Maybe my parents gave me good genes. I feel well, very well.“It's nice to hear many fans ask me about national team. But I think it's difficult. Spain already has quality forwards. Although I have not given up all hopes yet.”

Villa refused to accept that Spain had been struggling in recent tournaments because they could not find the right formula up front.“I don't agree. Spain struggled at the World Cup because it is difficult tournament. We've only won it once in 100 years.”

Villa was promoting the latest branch of his DV7 foundation academies in Korea, and he says that funding young players’ development is the way he’d like to stay in football, with no current plans to enter coaching.“I have more passion in youth development,” he added. “I think it has so much possibility. I'm not thinking about becoming a coach or club staff right now.

“I want to create a program to raise good human beings, not only good football players as it is difficult for everyone to become a professional player.”
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12-15-2016, 11:09 PM

Club America 0-2 Real Madrid: Benzema and Ronaldo fire Blancos to final



Cristiano Ronaldo scored the 500th goal of his club career as Real Madrid beat Club America in the Club World Cup semi-final on Thursday.

The Portugal star drilled home in second-half injury time after missing a hatful of earlier chances to cap a 2-0 victory for the European champions in Yokohama and book a showdown against Kashima Antlers on Sunday.

Karim Benzema put Madrid ahead seconds before half-time with a fine finish but it was not until added time at the end of the match that Ronaldo at last found the net, although there was initial confusion over whether the video referee had decided that the goal should be disallowed for offside.

Madrid were largely comfortable against the winners of the CONCACAF Champions League but they missed a number of opportunities to make the scoreline more emphatic.

Ronaldo had hit the post and missed an open goal either side of the strike from Benzema that made him the first Madrid player to score in two different Club World Cup tournaments.

America battled well but failed to create any meaningful chances of their own against a Madrid defence shorn of captain Sergio Ramos, who was rested with a minor injury worry.The victory extended Zinedine Zidane's side's unbeaten run to 36 games and sets up a final against the champions of Asia.

Ronaldo and Silvio Romero both shot wide in an end-to-end opening 15 minutes, before Alex Ibarra brought a routine save from Keylor Navas with the first effort on target.

Ronaldo had hit the post from an offside position early on and he was thwarted by the woodwork again when he headed Lucas Vazquez's cross off the turf and against the upright with 26 minutes played.

A fierce strike from the Portugal captain from 20 yards then forced a good save from Munoz before Benzema was flagged offside when he steered the rebound into the bottom corner.

Madrid had looked a little frustrated in their attacking efforts but, with seconds of the first half remaining, they took the lead. Toni Kroos threaded a perfect pass into Benzema's path in the area, and the striker bent the ball with the outside of his right foot over Munoz and into the top corner.

The goal seemed to sap some of the spirit from America in a tepid start to the second half and only a timely block from Paolo Goltz stopped a rasping Ronaldo shot from finding the bottom corner.

Ronaldo's frustrations were building and an extraordinary miss in the 66th minute rather summed up his fortunes in front of goal, as he headed the ball down and way off target with the open goal gaping after being picked out by Lucas.

Munoz made a good save from a low shot from the excellent Modric but, despite their missed chances, Madrid rarely looked in trouble as they maintained their hopes of a second global title in three seasons.

And with only seconds to spare, Ronaldo raced onto James Rodriguez's pass before drilling low past Munoz and into the bottom corner from a tight angle, with the goal eventually awarded after the video official confirmed that there was no offside infringement.
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12-15-2016, 11:10 PM

FIFA 'forget' to present Ronaldo with Golden Ball ahead of Real clash



Cristiano Ronaldo should have got his hands on the Ballon d’Or trophy on Thursday, but FIFA offered no presentation party ahead of Real Madrid’s Club World Cup clash with Club America.

It is tradition for the winner of world football’s most prestigious personal accolade to be handed the Golden Ball during their next competitive outing.

There is normally a photo opportunity for the man deemed to be the finest footballer on the planet, with the stage set for him to lap up the applause of an adoring public.

Ronaldo is certainly a popular figure in the Far East and would have expected a warm reception in Yokohama had he been recognised.FIFA, though, appear to have conveniently ‘forgotten’ their usual protocol.

The Ballon d’Or is no longer jointly run by world football’s governing body and France Football, with the two parties having gone their separate ways.FIFA have their own prize – the Best Player award – due to be presented in the new year and appear to have turned a blind eye to any other gongs.

Ronaldo is the firm favourite to add that prize to his ever-growing list of honours, so maybe he will get FIFA recognition in 2017 once Real return to Europe and La Liga competition.

The Portugal international can, however, console himself with the knowledge that he is a four-time Ballon d’Or winner and a man heading for the Club World Cup final.

Ronaldo was on target against Club America, with his late effort doubling an advantage handed to Real by Karim Benzema to book a date with Kashima Antlers on Sunday.
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12-15-2016, 11:12 PM

Technology must be clearer, says Real boss Zidane



Zinedine Zidane says the Video Assistant Referee system (VARs) must be clearer if it is to be used on a more regular basis following confusion at the end of Real Madrid's Club World Cup semi-final.Cristiano Ronaldo scored with the last meaningful touch of Madrid's 2-0 victory over Club America - the Portuguese's 500th club career goal.

Initially, there appeared to be doubts over whether the effort would stand, with match official Enrique Caceres consulting the VARs for a possible offside, with replays showing Ronaldo to have timed his run onto James Rodriguez's pass perfectly.

Luka Modric was scathing in his criticism of the system after the match and, while Zidane is open to any ideas to improve the game, the Frenchman acknowledged there were issues to be ironed out before it is more widely used.

"We must adapt to what FIFA want to do," he said. "In Ronaldo's goal, there was bit of confusion. Things must be done clearer. But we must adapt."Improving things is good for football. But it must be clearer for everyone and it was not in this move."

Madrid were far from their best in Yokohama, Karim Benzema's goal on the stroke of half-time settling any nerves before Ronaldo's landmark intervention right at the end, as Zidane's side booked a final spot against Kashima Antlers on Sunday.

"It was a strange game, especially in rhythm," Zidane said. "We achieved the goal just before the break and that suited us."We got the victory and we rest now for Sunday. We achieved what we came for and that is the final.

"The first half was difficult, but we did well to score before the break. Then the second half was better. You have to kill the game and we did at the end, with Cristiano."We are ready to play. We came from afar, then the time difference...it cost us to get into the game.

"We are prepared and especially motivated. We are prepared because it is an important trophy and we want to give everything to win this World Cup."
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12-15-2016, 11:13 PM

Zidane 'like a brother' to Benzema



Real Madrid's Karim Benzema says Zinedine Zidane is more than just a coach, and thinks of him as a brother.

Benzema opened the scoring to put Madrid on their way to a 2-0 Club World Cup semi-final success over Club America in Yokohama on Thursday, running to embrace Zidane on the touchline to celebrate.

The victory was wrapped up in second-half stoppage time when Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 500th club career goal, sealing Madrid's place in Sunday's final against Kashima Antlers.Benzema was glowing in his praise of Zidane post-match, while also reflecting on a productive 2016.

"He is like a brother," the forward told Teledeporte. "He is an example for me and I am very happy to work with him."It has not been a difficult year, I just have not played well in two or three games."It's been a very good year, where I have won titles with Real Madrid and I've scored many goals."

Zidane, meanwhile, was pleased for his compatriot, as he began to turn his attentions to Sunday's showdown."I'm happy for him and all the players. I'm happy above all to win. I was happy to see him score and he gave me a hug," Zidane said."Now we have one game left in order to lift the trophy, and we'll prepare well for it.

"We didn't have too many chances in the first half. It was a strange game, the rhythm was very low, we dropped to the level they were playing at a little.
"Then we got the goal before the break and that was important."
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12-15-2016, 11:14 PM

Ibrahimovic loving Pogba partnership



Zlatan Ibrahimovic is delighted to be playing alongside Paul Pogba at Manchester United.

Both Ibrahimovic and Pogba arrived at Old Trafford ahead of the 2016-17 campaign and have quickly developed into key figures for the Red Devils.

The duo played an important role in Wednesday's 2-1 Premier League win over Crystal Palace, supplying a goal and an assist each.Fresh from their decisive intervention at Selhurst Park, Ibrahimovic confirmed he is enjoying playing alongside the France international.

"I was waiting for the ball. I tried to keep on the line because they were a very defensive team," Ibrahimovic told the United website when asked about his ninth league goal of the season, the winner against Palace with two minutes to go in a tight clash.

"They were playing very well, defended well, so I picked the run in a good moment. Then I got the ball from Paul, it was a good ball, and I tried to angle it and hit it and it went in.

"We talk a lot and we try to help each other a lot. I think he likes to play with me and I like to play with him too."But it is not only about us two, it is the whole team. We all put in the hard work."You could see we were not performing on top, but still we got the winner. Sometimes you hit the top and do not get the winner, like in the last couple of weeks."United's next match is away to West Brom on Saturday.
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12-15-2016, 11:15 PM

Guardiola always wants to evolve - De Bruyne



Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne has hailed Pep Guardiola's desire to try new things and attempt to evolve as a manager.

Guardiola has received his fair share of criticism in recent weeks for a tendency to make regular changes to his starting XI and for trying to radically alter City's style of play.Nevertheless, De Bruyne is enjoying working with the Spaniard and feels the Etihad Stadium side are on the right track."Obviously Guardiola is a great coach," De Bruyne told Sky Sports.

"It is what I expected from the beginning. His style has always been there, it has little small changes every now and then because I think he also wants to evolve as a trainer by trying new things to get better.

"I am enjoying the way that we are playing. I think we are playing good football and the way that we want to play is very positive. I think people enjoy watching us play which is a good thing.

"We are recovering the ball very fast and that is really important. You have to work on it as a team. There is no such thing as pressing on your own. You need to know where to stand and you have to coordinate that with the whole team together. Obviously it is very difficult to do if anyone slacks off but everyone is doing their job now.

"Because there is a new system and new tactics we have been training a lot on these things. It is the preparation that is the big difference."
City have been struggling for consistency this term, but De Bruyne feels they have already shown they are more than a match for most opponents if they are on top of their game."We are a team who can win any game," he added.

"Even before the Barcelona game we knew that. But it is not about [a] high [amount of] points now, it is about high points at the end of the season. But to be there in the spring we need to maintain our high level throughout."We are still in the three competitions so we will see what we can do, but the aim is to be on top in everything.

"Fortunately, there are class players here so the coach has a lot of choices to swap. In a season here where you can play 60 games, that's obviously necessary."
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12-15-2016, 11:17 PM

'Sweden was my breakfast' - How national frustration inspired Ibrahimovic



Zlatan Ibrahimovic has revealed how frustration with the achievements of Swedish athletes inspired him to become a global star.

The 35-year-old Manchester United striker has won league titles with Ajax, Juventus, Barcelona, Inter, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain among a host of other trophies during a glittering club career.

Ibrahimovic also became Sweden's record goalscorer before retiring after Euro 2016, and his standards appear not to have slipped since his move to Old Trafford, with his winning goal against Crystal Palace on Wednesday taking his tally to eight in his last eight appearances.

And the outspoken forward, who was born in Malmo, admits that he always looked well beyond the borders of his home country as he aimed to forge a lasting legacy in football.

"I was aiming to make history," said Ibrahimovic, speaking courtesy of A-Z Sportswear. "I wanted to make a difference in a way that people would discuss it long after I quit what I'm doing. That was my target.

"I didn't want to do like the other ones. I wasn't happy with what I saw. I come from Sweden, and for what the Swedish athletes achieved, I wasn't happy with that.

"I saw the world. I wanted to be part of those things, where the world sees me, not only Sweden. "That was too small for me. I had a bigger objective than Sweden. Sweden was my breakfast."

Ibrahimovic spoke this year of his disappointment at not meeting Muhammad Ali before his death in June as he has always considered the celebrated boxer as a role model.

The 11-time Swedish footballer of the year says it was Ali's ability to shoot down his critics that most inspired him as a youngster."I looked at different kind of personalities. That is what drove my motivation, my adrenaline," he said.

"I liked Muhammad Ali. The way he was, the way he performed, the way he was talking, the way he was moving, the way he responded to the critics, to whoever talked.

"That was my inspiration. It's exactly how it should be. I was training hard for it, every day, and I'm here now."
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12-16-2016, 11:03 AM

OFFICIAL: Luis Suarez agrees new Barcelona deal



Luis Suarez has agreed a new contract with Barcelona, that will keep him at Camp Nou until 2021.

The Uruguay international, who joined the Catalan giants from Liverpool in 2014, has won eight trophies for the club since his transfer – including La Liga, the Champions League, the Club World Cup and the European Super Cup - and has scored a total of 97 goals in 116 fixtures. He also has 57 assists for Barca, carrying him past the tallies he achieved in England - 82 goals and 52 assists in 133 appearances.

Barcelona have announced that the contract will be signed at the club's official headquarters on Friday, and they have also revealed that a buy-out clause has been included in the deal, which stands at €200 million.

Suarez has become a key cog in Barca's machine in recent seasons, forming a fearsome partnership with both Lionel Messi and Neymar as part of the fabled 'MSN' trio.

The trio have already netted a staggering 41 goals in all competitions in 2016-17, in a mere 56 appearances, while they have also notched up 21 assists. By comparison, Real Madrid's BBC trio - comprised of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema - have scored 29 goals in 52 appearances.

The 29-year-old has also gained a reputation as something of a big-game player, scoring in the Champions League final victory over Juventus and also netting a hat-trick in the decisive La Liga win over Granada that confirmed Barca as champions last season.

Suarez's new deal will also end speculation over his future for the foreseeable future, with Manchester United previously credited with an interest in signing the superstar.

Suarez’s decision to commit his future to the club may serve to boost morale at Camp Nou, too, with Barca currently languishing six points behind Real Madrid in the league standings after 15 games.Real are yet to taste defeat this season and have a total of 37 points, but Barca have fallen to Alaves and, most recently, Celta Vigo.

The club comfortably topped their Champions League group, however, as they won five of their six games and were only beaten by Manchester City. Their reward is a two-legged tie with Paris Saint-Germain, who finished second behind Arsenal in Group A.
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