Hodgson's Finns make some sober progress

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

How much beer does it take before Roy Hodgson's Finland become watchable?

After a turgid performance against Serbia on Saturday the question has been in a lot of Finnish minds this week. A small country with one world class player, Jari Litmanen, the tussle between free-flowing, confident football and a more cautious, dour approach is at the heart of the deliberations over the Finnish national team. Roy Hodgson is resolutely on the dour side, especially when playing against top-seeded teams.

The build up to the Serbia game was dominated by Litmanen. He's the darling of the Finnish media, and the country in general come to that, and his participation or otherwise is of paramount importance. The column inches devoted to Jari and his injuries compare only to those covering team-mate Alexei Eremenko Jr's many and varied indiscretions.

This is a lot of hot air, really. When Javier Clemente was asked after if he was surprised by Finland playing two strikers, he almost had to stifle a yawn. 'I wasn't surprised at all,' said the Basque. 'If Litmanen plays it's him plus a striker, if not they play two up front.'

Clemente would be well advised not to seek employment in the Finnish press if he can't make more of selection decisions than that.

A good win on Wednesday against Belgium showed that Finland don't need Litmanen to put on a good show. Goals from Jonatan Johansson and the aforementioned Alexei Eremenko Jr closed the gap on Serbia and Portugal, although Finland have played a game more.

Against Serbia Finland had looked painfully limited, with Vidic showing his class and the Serb midfield dominating against Markus Heikkinen and Jari Ilola, two defensive midfielders.

When Finland needed a goal in the second half, Hodgson threw Sami Hyypia up front and his team resorted to long balls to the front men. This continued even when Litmanen came on with 20 minutes to go, and caused a fair bit of grumbling in the Finnish media, with the man from Hufvudstadbladet arguing that Hodgson's tactics had been '100% wrong'.

There was a strong political dimension to Saturday's game, with Serbian President Boris Tadic watching the game with EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn, a Finn. Rehn is relatively well regarded in Serbia, unlike the former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari. He is handling negotiations widely expected to result in independence for the Serbian province of Kosovo.

This would not be a popular move in Serbia. A huge banner reading 'Kosovo is Serbia' greeted the teams as they ran out, a message sure to have provided Crystal Palace striker Shefki Kuqi with some extra motivation as he lined up for Finland. Kuqi was born in Kosovo and even missed a Finland game last summer for his wedding in Vucitrn, the village of his birth. 'Getting married in Kosovo is not a small thing,' said Finland coach Roy Hodgson. 'Shefki will probably be dancing for a week.'

In the end President Tadic's team was victorious and went straight to the dressing rooms to congratulate the Serbian players. Other results went as expected and Finland looked set to exit the competition before it had started once again. Portugal seemed to be involved in a long-range shooting contest in Belgium, eventually running out 2-1 winners through stunning strikes from Nani and Helder Postiga.

Armenia made things a bit more exciting on Wednesday, though. Leo Beenhakker's Poland team made heavy weather of beating Azerbaijan on Saturday, and headed to Yerevan for the Armenia game still top of the group with their confidence shaken. Ian Porterfield had prepared his team well, and Armenia triumphed through a Hamlet Mkhitaryan goal on 66 minutes. 'It's a great day for Armenian football,' said the former Sheffield United manager who returned to his job in March after fighting cancer.

Armenia have taken points from Finland and beaten Poland, with Portugal and Serbia still to visit Yerevan's Olympic Stadium and the Tofik Bakhramov stadium in Baku, the group could be decided by who does best in the Caucasus. Azerbaijan have beaten Finland in Baku and will hope to take points from the big boys again. Portugal visit Baku on October 13.

Perhaps the most interesting contests in the group will have no bearing on the top two positions. A double-header in September takes Armenia to Baku with the return game being played 7 days later. Both games are likely to be fierce encounters, with the countries still officially at war with each other after the 1988-94 conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

For all the permutations, this group is Serbia and Portugal's to lose. Javier Clemente and Felipe Scolari are in the driving seat but strange things have happened so far and they could again.

Poland, Serbia, Finland and Portugal are all managed by foreigners and to a greater or lesser extent satisfied with the progress made so far. The manager's passport is not as important as his knowledge and ability to do his job. Maybe the English FA could learn something from this, especially given that the Group A nation least satisfied with their coach is Finland, who are led by an Englishman.

Oh, and if you were wondering, the answer to the opening beer question is 3 pints. After the Danish fan who attacked Markus Frandel in Copenhagen offered his 15-20 pre-match pints as an explanation, the Finnish tabloids set out to find out what was considered a 'safe' level of intoxication among respectable, football-loving Finns.

A slack-jawed nationalist MP and Millwall fan called Timo Soini admitted to three beers before a game. Arto Nyberg, who hosts a chat show on the state broadcaster, also said three beers gets him in the mood for Roy's boys. Mikael Forssell's sister Christina, a footballer herself, claimed not to drink anything.

McClaren pleased with confident England display

England boss Steve McClaren believes his side passed a very tricky test with flying colours.

He said: 'For the first 20 minutes, we set about our task, won challenges, competed.

'Eventually we knew they'd tire and we'd catch them and open them up.

'We needed to score that first goal - we got it. Then the rewards were in the second half, getting two more.

'We've gained a lot over the last two-and-a-half weeks in the get-togethers and in the games that we've had.

'Friday gave us a confidence, a belief that we've shown tonight.'

McClaren denied he had instructed David Beckham to stick to the right touchline.

He said: 'David Beckham knows how to play that position. He'll teach everybody else.

'He knows when to come in and when to pull wide.

'His delivery is second to none in those positions.'

McClaren revealed Beckham was desperate to stay on the field despite picking up an early injury,

'He wants to stay on,' he said. 'He wants to finish games. We said if we get the second or the third, we might think about bringing you off.

'He'd done the job, as had the team before that.'

But McClaren refused to be drawn on whether Los Angeles Galaxy-bound Beckham would be in his next squad for August's friendly against Germany.

He said: 'We'll see when the next squad is announced. He answers everybody with his performance on the field and I think he's done that in the last two games.'

McClaren was delighted Owen got on the scoresheet, saying: 'I'm so pleased for him getting that goal because it's so important for a goalscorer when coming back from injury. His work-rate was phenomenal.'

As for England's qualification hopes, McClaren added: 'We said it's important to win. We'll look at the table after that.

'We've got five games left, four at home, four at Wembley. We've already shown that Wembley can be a fortress for us.

'Any team coming to Wembley has got to fear us the way we're playing at the moment.'

Beckham puts England back on track

England's celebrity value in world football was amply demonstrated here in Tallinn on Wednesday night. The front page of Postimees, the biggest quality newspaper in Estonia was given over to pictures of the visiting England squad. 'England arrive', was the headline, as if they might have got lost on their way to the airport. The stunning 2-1 victory for Estonia in the supporters game staged on the afternoon of the match was also given prominent coverage.

An increase in security and the thorough frisking given to journalists on their way into the ground caused a few raised eyebrows as well - that hadn't happened in Tallinn before. Given that the game against Russia in March preceded an international incident between the two countries and an organised attack on Estonia considered by some experts to be the first instance of large scale cyberwarfare against a NATO country, it gives some idea of the importance of David Beckham's return and the arrival of England's footballers in Estonia.

There were other things on the minds of Estonia's footballing public though, it wasn't simply a case of turning out to see England. The Estonian Football Association presents the 'silverball' trophy to the player judged to have scored the best goal for Estonia in the calendar year, and this year there have been slim pickings for the judges. No pickings at all, in fact, the Estonian national team being goalless in 2007.

There are still two games against Andorra to come - so there should be at least one Estonian goal this year  but Estonian football fans are a little worried that their goal of the year might be a goalmouth scramble, or maybe a penalty. Last year Tarmo Neemelo won it with a header from three yards out. Such is life for the minnows of UEFA.

England boss Steve Mclaren had been anxious to ensure Peter Crouch would play at the Le Coq Arena, as it was felt he was more suited to this type of opponent. His competitive goals for England have come against teams of a similar stature - Trinidad and Tobago, Andorra and Macedonia.

Estonia manager Jelle Goes, who announced after the match that he would leave Estonia after his contract ends in November, was sanguine in defeat after the gangly striker scored the second goal. 'How can you defend an Eiffel Tower like Crouch?' he asked. 'You can climb on his neck but then it's a penalty.'

This is not to diminish England's victory, they scored more goals in Tallinn than the other contenders in the Group E, but the fact is that this was a routine victory and everyone in the England camp knew it.

It's a strange trait of football managers that the more pressure they are under, the smilier they get. Steve Mclaren was grinning widely before the game as he watched the players warm up, occasionally smoothing his hair for the cameras and waving to (possibly imaginary) friends in the crowd. After the game he was curt and dismissive, saying questions about Beckham's future inclusion were 'not for tonight'.

Which is all very well, but what message does it send to the rest of the squad? That the manager does not trust them to deal with tiny Baltic countries, but beating Russia home and away might be different? The recall of Beckham, looked at in purely tactical terms, was a success. But it poses some awkward questions about the manager's judgment and about his confidence in his Europe-based players, and indeed his confidence in Beckham given his refusal to commit to including him in future squads. 'Lets just enjoy the win,' he simply said

So Steve Mclaren is happy with three points and three goals from what he said was 'always going to be a tough game.' He was rather less forthcoming about what he can do to mitigate the effects of England's poor performances so far. His answers about Beckham's continued inclusion were baffling, given that it was such a humiliating U-turn for him. Unless he believes Estonia to be such a dangerous team that they require special measures, it looks rather like he may have been using Beckham to secure his own position and avoid any embarrassing slip-ups, before reverting to what he privately believes is the best squad selection for England.

Michael Owen has no such worries. He is safe in the knowledge that he will be picked no matter what, as the new holder of the record for competitive England goals. He looked slightly off the pace against Estonia, struggling to hold the ball up and make the right pass. After making 13 appearances for Newcastle United in two years, Owen might be on his way to a new club and he obviously intends to use England games to increase his visibility.

'I idolised Gary Lineker as a kid and to break that record is fantastic,' he said after entering the record books. Newcastle will be pleased at increasing the resale value of their injury prone striker. Freddy Shepherd was caught on camera recently offering to 'fucking carry him back' to Liverpool, possibly believing the Chester-born striker to be incapable of getting there independently.

Goes was asked about likely qualifiers from the group. His answer twisted and turned and tried to be polite, but in the end it boiled down to the fact that it's probably between England, Croatia and Russia. He was careful to point out that not everyone is under as much pressure as the England manager. His compatriot Guus Hiddink is building a young Russian team and therefore 'qualifying for the Euros isn't a priority, as I understand it.'

Of course, England have no such luxury and McClaren knows he has to beat Russia, Israel and Croatia to stand a chance. Mclaren would do well to look at what has preceded him. Beckham often saves England in qualifying and then the nation sweats on the fitness of him and Owen. To all intents and purposes Beckham is back and will outlast Mclaren. It would take a very brave or a very foolhardy manager to drop him after the last two games. We'll see if Mclaren fits either of those descriptions.

UEFA relaxes Denmark stadium punishment

COPENHAGEN, June 12 (Reuters) - UEFA has relaxed the punishment it handed out to Denmark over the staging of future Euro 2008 home matches after a drunken fan attacked a referee in their qualifier against Sweden earlier this month.

The June 2 Group F match was abandoned in the 89th minute with the score tied at 3-3 in Copenhagen, when the fan attempted to confront the official after he awarded a penalty to the visitors.

Last week, UEFA handed Sweden a 3-0 victory, fined the Danish Football Association (DBU) 100,000 Swiss francs (£40,000) and ordered Denmark to play their next four home qualifiers at least 250 km (155 miles) away from the capital, the first in an empty stadium.

The DBU, however, has successfully appealed the venue decision as too harsh, after arguing there were no stadiums appropriate for international matches that met the distance requirement in the small Nordic country.

'Should one of the potential stadiums be located at a distance a little less than indicated in the decision, UEFA would approve this stadium, as long as it meets security requirements,' UEFA told the DBU in a letter.

Danish media speculated that the qualifiers could be played in Aarhus, 160 km away from Copenhagen.

Quagliarella on song for Italy

by Paolo Menicuccifrom Milan

UC Sampdoria forward Fabio Quagliarella ended an exciting season in the perfect manner by scoring both goals in Italy's 2-0 Group B win against Lithuania.

Special goals
Quagliarella has made a habit of scoring special goals this year. Among the 13 he scored in Serie A were overhead kicks, fine volleys and shots from distance including one from 40 metres against AC Chievo Verona. The 23-year-old's summer break will now start on an enormous high as he marked his third appearance for Italy with his first two international goals in Kaunas.

Fine strikes
Celebrating his first start with the Azzurri shirt after playing only four minutes in each of the qualifiers against Scotland and the Faroe Islands, Quagliarella opened the scoring with a powerful left-footed shot after 31 minutes and made it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time with a dipping shot from the right to help Italy maintain second place in their UEFA EURO 2008™ section.

'It went well'
"I liked the second goal more as it was not easy to place it exactly where I wanted from that position," the former Torino FC and Ascoli Calcio 1898 forward said. "I tried to give my best to repay the faith that the coach [Roberto Donadoni] and my team-mates have put in me and it went well. I could not have asked for a better way to end the season."

Next challenges
The world champions' fifth consecutive Group B win was a relief for Donadoni after a narrow 2-1 triumph in the Faroes saw his side come in for criticism. "You cannot always play at 100 per cent especially at the end of the season when you don't have much energy left," said Quagliarella. "However tonight we were much closer to the real Italy than the game against the Faroe Islands." The Azzurri face France and Ukraine in their next qualifiers in September.

©uefa.com 1998-2007. All rights reserved.

EURO 2008 Format

EURO 2008 Format based on www.uefa.com


the winners and runners-up in the seven qualifying groups will go through to the UEFA EURO 2008™ final round in Austria and Switzerland.

Seven groups
The qualifying phase for EURO 2008™ consists of one group of eight teams and six groups of seven. The qualifying competition will begin in the autumn of 2006, after the FIFA World Cup in Germany. Co-hosts Austria and Switzerland will qualify automatically.

Seeded teams
The qualifying groups will be formed with seeded teams by the UEFA administration. The reigning European champions will always be seeded. The other associations will be classified on the basis of results achieved in the qualifying competition of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, as well as their results in the qualifying competition of the 2002/04 UEFA European Football Championship.

The total number of points obtained in the qualifying competitions of both of the aforementioned competitions will then be divided by the number of matches played. The resulting quotient is used to determine the rankings. In the case of an association that qualified automatically for the final tournaments of the competitions in question, the coefficient is calculated on the basis of its results in its most recent qualifying competition.

Group composition
The composition of the groups will be decided by means of a draw after completion of the current World Cup qualifying competition.
If two or more associations have the same coefficient, the following criteria will be applied:
a) coefficient from the matches played in its most recent qualifying competition,
b) average goal difference,
c) average number of goals scored,
d) average number of away goals scored,
e) drawing of lots.

Match system for the qualifying competition
The matches in the qualifying competition will be played in groups according to the league system, with each team playing all opponents in its group in a series of home and away matches. Three points are awarded for a win, one point for a draw, and no points for a defeat.

Equality of points after the group matches
If two or more teams are equal on points on completion of the group matches, the following criteria are applied to determine the rankings.
a) Higher number of points obtained in the group matches played among the teams in question.
b) Superior goal difference from the group matches played among the teams in question.
c) Higher number of goals scored in the group matches played among the teams in question.
d) Higher number of goals scored away from home in the group matches played among the teams in question.
e) If, after applying criteria a) to d) to several teams, two or more teams still have an equal ranking, the criteria a) to d) will be reapplied to determine the ranking of these teams. If this procedure does not lead to a decision, criteria f) and g) will apply.
f) Results of all group matches: 1. Superior goal difference 2. Higher number of goals scored 3. Higher number of goals scored away from home 4. Fair play conduct.
g) Drawing of lots.

Final Tournament

Sixteen teams will qualify for the final tournament – the seven winners and runners-up in the qualifying groups, and the host associations Austria and Switzerland.

Group formation
The UEFA administration will divide the 16 teams that qualify for the final tournament into four groups (A, B, C & D) of four teams each.

The seeded teams will be the host associations, with the reigning European champions if they qualify, and one or two teams with the best coefficients on the basis of results achieved in the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying competition and/or in the qualifying competition for the 2006/08 UEFA European Football Championship. The other finalists will be assigned to the four groups by means of a draw, according to their coefficients.

Group match schedule
Each team plays each of the other teams in the same group according to a league system (three points for a win, one point for a draw, no points for a defeat). The group matches will be played according to the following schedule. The last two matches in each group must both kick off at the same time.

The winners and runners-up in each group play the quarter-finals over one match

The four winners of the quarter-finals play the semi-finals over one match

the winners of the semi-finals play in the final.

Same number of goals in a quarter-final, semi-final or the final
If the result stands as a draw at the end of normal playing time, extra time of two periods of 15 minutes will be played. If the two teams are still equal after extra time, the winners will be determined by kicks from the penalty mark..

©uefa.com 1998-2006. All rights reserved.

Team Statistic

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


UEFA EURO 2008 Teams

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National transport concept for UEFA EURO 2008™ unveiled

The Austrian transport concept for UEFA EURO 2008™ was presented today by Federal Minister Werner Faymann, the Government's EURO 2008 coordinator Heinz Palme and Tournament Director Christian Schmölzer at a press conference in Vienna. Experts are expecting 1.5 million foreign visitors in June 2008. "It is important to manage the enormous amount of traffic that will be generated by EURO 2008 in the most environment-friendly way possible," said Minister Werner Faymann. "The aim is that the majority of guests, officials, media representatives and volunteers will use public transport in June 2008." The benefits are obvious: the external costs are lower (congestion, exhaust fumes, noise), fewer parking spaces are needed and better traffic management minimises the danger of overloading the system. Combi-ticket valid for 36 hours.

Perhaps the most significant measure is the introduction of the so-called Combi-ticket, i.e. a UEFA EURO 2008™ match ticket also acts as a travel pass for public transport on the day of the match and until noon the following day. The Combi-ticket is valid on all public transport networks in Switzerland as well as on the whole ÖBB network and local services in the host cities. Euro 2008 SA is investing EUR 5 million in the two countries to provide the Combi-ticket. "A sensible investment which proves that we are taking environmental protection seriously," said Tournament Director Christian Schmölzer. Government coordinator Heinz Palme added that, "A well functioning transport concept is, alongside stadiums, safety and security, ticketing and accommodation, one of the most important and difficult organisational challenges for UEFA EURO 2008™. It is therefore very gratifying that both host countries agree that the theme of transport should be given particular attention. The fact that the Combi-ticket has been developed further since the 2006 FIFA World Cup and now includes long-distance travel is a
real bonus for the fans".
Other measures:
- More than 1,000 additional ÖBB trains in the Vienna area alone
- Special trains in all host cities after each match
- No daytime roadworks on transfer days on the motorways and expressways
- Extended operating hours for airports
- Single traffic management system in both countries

For further information:
Euro 2008 SA
Media Desk
Tel.: +41 (0) 22 707 2001
Email: media@euro2008.com

Guide: Buying soccer boots

Where to think of when buying soccer boots? Important questions you need to ask yourself before buying a soccer boot

Important questions you need to ask yourself before buying a boot are:

1. What kind of player am I?
2. How to determining my size?
3. What material do I prefer? Leather or synthetic?
4. When am i going to use my new boots? Match or practice?
5. Do I have width feet?
6. What kind of studs do i prefer?
7. How to take care of my new boots?

1. What kind of player am i?

Are you a quick winger? Then you might want to try a lightweight boot. This will increase a player’s mobility and acceleration. Most lightweight boots are made of synthetic material because it’s thin and less water absorbing then leather. Defenders usually choose for a more stable boot with long studs. This will prevent them from sliding all over the pitch.

2. How to determining my size?

Fit tips

Soccer boots are sized like regular shoes, but most are designed with a narrower upper than typical sneakers to allow for better feel and control of the ball.

High-quality leather boots will generally stretch a bit when worn. They will actually mold to the shape of your foot, so they should fit snugly when new.

Shoes that are too small are one of the major causes of foot pain and problems with athletic footwear; however, soccer boots should naturally fit more snugly than other athletic boots because of their design.

Determining your shoe size

determining your proper shoe size is essential to a comfortable fit

doesn’t assume you shoe size is the same as it has always been. The shape of you feet changes over time.

3. What material do i prefer?
Soccer boots come in two basic materials: leather and synthetic.


Offer the best feel and fit of any soccer shoe, but are also generally more expensive

Full-grain leather shoes are strong and durable, while variations such as Kangaroo leather are more flexible and offer an even better feel

The softer the leather, the better the feel for the ball, but also the less durable the shoe

Absorb more water than synthetic shoes and are not recommended for constant use on wet fields; however, water treatment options are available


Ideal for most entry and mid-level players

Generally less expensive than leather shoes, but do not offer as good a feel and do not last as long as a well-cared for leather boot

Generally contain some sort of water treatment and therefore last better under poor playing conditions.

Easier to clean and dry out than leather shoe.

5. Do i have width feet?
Adidas, Puma, Umbro and Mizuno are excellent boots for players with widht feet. If you do not have width feet you might want to go for Nike.

6. What kind of studs do i prefer?
Footwear for soccer depends on a number of factors: the level of your game, the types of fields you play on, and how much you want to spend. Most leagues require you wear the proper type of soccer boot during play, so it is most important to understand which type you need.

Molded Boots

Basic soccer shoe design

Non-removable rubber, or hard plastic formed on the bottom of the shoe is used to help provide traction and control

Ideal for beginning and intermediate level players

Suited for play on almost all field types and in all weather conditions

Required by many youth programs for safety reasons

Detachable Boots

Feature studs on the bottom that can be screwed on and off and be replaced easily

Boots vary in length and are usually made of hard plastic or plastic with metal tips

The type and length of the studs can be changed depending on the weather and field conditions of that day's game or practice

Ideal for experienced players who can tailor the boots to their playing field and weather conditions

Suitable for use on wet, soggy fields, or on well-groomed, soft grass fields

Turf shoes

Contain various raised patterns on the bottom in place of studs, for use on harder outdoor surfaces and on artificial turf

Generally good training shoes that could serve as a back-up game pair for hard-surface conditions

Indoor shoes

Resemble low-cut, lightweight sneakers

Designed for playing indoor soccer in a gym or recreational facility

Feature a flat, rubbery-type bottom for better traction on indoor courts and fields

Required by many indoor soccer facilities when playing on artificial turf, so the turf does not get torn up


An important footwear add-on for all soccer players

Worn before the game to save wear on your soccer Boots

Easy to slip on and off when soccer socks and shin guards are on

Allow you to immediately remove your playing shoes after a game to rest your feet

Many sandals have special massage-type features for the bottom of the foot for added comfort

7. Care of your soccer boots

once you’ve bought a great boot, you want to keep it as new. The tips below might help your boots.

Undo the laces properly when you take your soccer boots off.

Van Nistelrooy's boots are Real gold

MADRID (AFP) - Ruud van Nistelrooy will be aiming not only to clinch the Spanish title for Real Madrid next Sunday but also get sole possession of the European Golden Boot award.

The Dutch striker has 26 goals to his name and is level with Roma's Francesco Totti but, with one game left in the last major European league to finish, van Nistelrooy has a chance to claim the prize for himself.

He scored both of Real's goals in their 2-2 draw at Real Zaragoza on Saturday to move level with the Italian striker.

The result leaves league leaders Real with just mid-table Real Mallorca to beat at home in their Santiago Bernabeu stadium if they are to win La Liga for a record 30th time.

"I've never known anything like it in my life. I can't describe how I feel," said the normally articulate Van Nistelrooy on Sunday.

Van Nistelrooy was the runner up in the continental scoring tables in 1999 and 2000 and picked up the two European Silver Boot awards while at PSV Eindhoven in his native country.

Despite regularly finding the net during his five seasons at Manchester United, he didn't make the European top three while at Old Trafford.

However, he has found a new lease of life at Real since moving to the Spanish capital last summer, especially during the second half of the season.

The departure of Brazilian superstar Ronaldo for AC Milan in January has made Van Nistelrooy the sole focus of attention for Real's service providers like David Beckham.

At one point he scored in seven consecutive games, equalling the best streak in la Liga history.

"'Van Gol' saves Madrid again. Without him it would not have been possible," commented Spain's leading sports daily Marca on Sunday, in the wake of his heroics in Zaragoza.

However, Van Nistelrooy knows that the dice fell in Real's favour on Saturday.

Espanyol's Raul Tamudo deprived Real's second-placed rivals Barcelona of two crucial points with an equaliser 20 seconds before the whistle in the 2-2 draw between the two Catalan clubs.

"I couldn't believe it. I was watching our fans celebrating and running towards the centre spot, because I didn't want to lose any time, and when I saw them still celebrating I looked up at the scoreboard (to see Espanyol had scored)," said van Nistelrooy.

"Against Mallorca we have to play much better than we did against Zaragoza. We had a lot of luck against them." he added.

"We played with a lot of spirit and determination and things worked out when Espanyol got an equaliser, but this is a team that never gives up.

"What's happened this season isn't normal though but we have a great opportunity now and we have to take advantage of it.

"However, we have still one game remaining so we'll have to see whether we will be champions," added van Nistelrooy, sounding a note of suitable caution.

Real have only lost one game since they drew 3-3 at Barcelona in March, a result which now gives them a firm advantage as ties in Spain being decided in head-to-head battles.

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We want Beckham to stay, says Real president

Monday, June 11, 2007

Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon said on Sunday that the Spanish giant's were going to explore ways of trying to keep former England captain David Beckham at the club.

Beckham stunned the world by announcing on January 11 that he had signed a five-year deal, which could potentially be worth up to 250 million dollars, to move to American side LA Galaxy at the end of this month.

"The public want him to stay and I want him to stay," Calderon told Spanish media in Paris, where he was attending the French Open tennis men's singles final between Spain's Rafael Nadal and Switzerland's Roger Federer.

Calderon said that there was a clause in his contract with the LA Galaxy, which meant that he could stay in the Spanish capital, although it is the first time such an option has been mentioned publically.

"We need to sit down with him (Beckham), his representatives and with (sporting director Predrag) Mijatovic, look at this clause, and decide between us, but for me I would be delighted if he remained at the club," said Calderon.

In the event that Beckham does stay, and the 32 year-old repeatedly said before this season that he would like to end his career in the Spanish capital, it would herald a remarkable turnaround in relations between him and Real.

Two days after announcing he was crossing the Atlantic, Real coach Fabio Capello said that Beckham would never play again for the club and kept him on the sidelines for a month before recanting on his decision.

Capello is also believed to have told Calderon earlier in the season, before contract negotiations between Real and Beckham were due to get underway last autumn, that he didn't figure in his long-term plans.

"There was a bit of anger by the premature announcement of his exit, but we are now going to make an effort for him to stay," added Calderon on Sunday.

"Beckham has shown that he is a great player, with great pride.

"He is playing at a fantastic level and yesterday (on Saturday) he fought even though he was half-injured against Zaragoza."

Beckham's spokesman, however, insisted the player had "no intention" of turning his back on Los Angeles Galaxy.

"There is no intention of getting out of the Galaxy contract," his spokesman said. "David is looking forward to going to LA - but he wants to end his career at Real Madrid on a high note first, by winning the league."

Beckham is on the verge of picking up his first trophy since he joined Real in the summer of 2003.

Real, who have only lost one of their last 17 league games, are on top of La Liga and only need to beat Real Mallorca at home next Sunday in the final game of the season to secure their 30th Spanish championship.

Beckham's return to form over the second half of the season, despite also missing six weeks through injury, has been instrumental in their revival.

In the last four months, Real have put together a run which has seen them overhaul bitter rivals Barcelona, who are now second, and also third-placed Sevilla, who lead La Liga at the start of the year.