FIFA World Cup |
Bits and Bobs
Italy's Francesco Totti returned to action on Thursday after almost three months out when he came on as a substitute for AS Roma in the second leg of the Italian Cup final.
Totti has not played since he broke his ankle in a Serie A game against Empoli on Feb. 19 and had to have an operation.
There had been fears Totti might not return to fitness in time for June's World Cup finals but he made better than expected progress in training.
The Roma forward, a key part of Marcello Lippi's World Cup squad, came on as a 53rd minute sub at the San Siro stadium and could now play a part in his club's final game of the Serie A season -- also at that San Siro against Milan on Sunday.
Low key start for USA
Ap, North Carolina
Two players were in Germany, two just had landed at the Raleigh-Durham airport and another planned to head back to England in a week.
But U.S. men's soccer coach Bruce Arena said he wasn't too worried about being short a few players at times during the 11-day World Cup training camp that began Thursday.
"It'll make a difference," he said, "but not considerable."
Arena said the early focus during camp will be pushing the players a little harder to improve the overall fitness level and then moving on to "building on our team concept."
"We know all these players, and they know what we're about and how we do things," he said. "It's just refining it and getting them back together and becoming a team again."
The team was missing a few pieces Thursday, including one of its stars, Landon Donovan. Donovan and Chris Albright landed in North Carolina on Thursday after playing in a match for Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday night. Steve Cherundolo and Kasey Keller will join the team Sunday, after the end of the German Bundesliga season.
The team also briefly will lose defender Eddie Lewis when he returns to England for a crucial May 21 match that could land his club, Leeds United, a spot in the English Premier League.
"It's not really that long that the team is together before the tournament starts, so I think every day, in a lot of ways, counts," Lewis said. "We've always been a cohesive group; we've always had team chemistry, so being together as a group is going to help that."
After camp ends, the 23-man team will play three tuneup matches in the United States, and then head to Germany for the World Cup, which begins June 9.
The Americans play their opening match against the Czech Republic, which is ranked No. 2 in the world. The Americans are ranked fourth, the highest ranking they've held, which translates into high expectations.
But the players aren't letting the hype get to them.
"In the grand scheme of things, the rest of the world probably doesn't expect us to do very well," said defender Eddie Pope, who will be playing in his third World Cup. "So that takes a little bit of the pressure off us. We know we're the underdog going into it, and maybe that's not the worst thing."
Belgium upset Saudis
Reuters, The Netherlands
Belgium dented Saudi Arabia's World Cup preparations on Thursday with a 2-1 win over their Middle East opponents.
Goals in either half from Tom Caulwe and Anthony Vanden Borre cancelled out Bart Goor's own goal to give Belgian coach Rene Vandereycken his second win in as many games since taking over in January.
FC Utrecht's Caulwe crowned his debut with a goal after just three minutes before Goor headed in to his own net half an hour later.
But Anderlecht full back Vanden Borre fired home from the edge of the box to restore Belgium's lead in the 55th minute.
It was a sweet victory for Belgium who lost 1-0 to their opponents in their only other meeting in Washington -- a defeat which sent them home from the 1994 World Cup finals.
Belgium failed to qualify for next month's finals in Germany, the first time since 1978 they have failed to reach football's greatest stage.
"I am delighted with the performance tonight, especially since it was really a young team with new players," Vandereycken said.
Saudi Arabia will be in Germany, for their fourth finals in succession, and open their campaign against Tunisia on June 14 in Munich.
"Belgium were good and gave us the tough game we needed," said Saudi coach Marcos Cesar Dias Castro, better known as Marcos Paqueta.
"But what really matters is that we get it right in Germany and learn from these games."
Paqueta's side face fellow finalists Togo in a warm-up match on Sunday.
Saudi play Ukraine in Hamburg on June 19 before rounding of their Group H games against Spain in Kaiserslautern four days later.
'Brazil will beat Germany'
Reuters, Rio de Janeiro
Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira predicted on Thursday that the world champions would beat hosts Germany again if they met at the World Cup.
"It would be excellent, really good, if they had the chance of a rematch, but we would win again to show that we are the best," Parreira told reporters.
Brazil beat Germany 2-0 in the 2002 World Cup final to win a fifth title and defeated them 3-2 at the Confederations Cup held in Germany last year.
Parreira, who will name his 23-man squad for the tournament on Monday, would not give any clues, although there are not expected to be any major surprises.
"Everybody knows which players will be picked and that's a good sign because it shows that we've done a good job over the years and that we've been coherent," he said.
He added that winning a sixth world title would not help Brazil solve day-to-day problems such as poverty, violence and unequal wealth distribution.
"The World Cup will not change Brazil at all," he said.
"Things such as education, health and violence will not change. What happens is that you have a state of euphoria where people are happy for a period of time, but structurally the country doesn't change."
Ribery likely to miss the cut
A large proportion of France's 60 million armchair national team coaches have already picked Franck Ribery in their World Cup squad.
It remains to be seen, however, whether Raymond Domenech will when he names his 23-man list on Sunday.
Arguably the finest player in Ligue 1 this season, the attacking midfielder from Olympique Marseille has featured on the front page of every single sports publication in the country over recent weeks.
Both a fighter and an artist, the 23-year-old Ribery is being hailed as the new Zinedine Zidane and any French soccer fan will tell you he has to go to Germany.
The problem is the under-21 international has so far always been overlooked by national coach Domenech, who does not like being told what he should do.
Among others anxiously waiting for Sunday's announcement is Arsenal's Robert Pires, who won the last of his 79 caps for France in October 2004.
The 32-year-old has enjoyed a good season for Arsenal, who will face Barcelona in the Champions League final on Wednesday in Paris, but he has had a difficult relationship with Domenech since publicly criticising the coach's tactics.
A safer bet to join Zinedine Zidane, Claude Makelele, Patrick Vieira and company in France's midfield is Barcelona winger Ludovic Giuly, the perfect player to bring on when speed and creativity are needed to decide a game.