Real Madrid: We have not broken Fifa rules

Jan 26, 2015 23:05:00In an official statement, the European champions said they have provided all requested information and hit out at ‘unfounded and speculative’ reports accusing them of wrongdoing

Real Madrid are adamant they have fully complied with Fifa rules despite world football’s governing body opening an investigation against them over the acquisition of several foreign players under the age of 18.

Fifa have requested information from the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) on all of the under-age players representing the Spanish giants as well as clubs which have collaborations with the Champions League holders.

The governing body’s investigation is centred on the signing of 51 players, but Madrid have released a lengthy statement protesting their innocence and insisting they have not broken any such rules with regards to any under-age players.

“Real Madrid defends the protection and the correct and healthy development of minors via its strict adherence, without exceptions, to the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, and is in complete agreement with such investigations being carried out to this end,” the statement read.

“Real Madrid have responded diligently, supplying all the information required by the Committee within the established deadlines and in complete documentary detail.

“Both Real Madrid and the RFEF, through which the informative investigation is being processed, have been left totally satisfied with the information supplied and have verified the strict adherence to the registration regulations in absolutely every case.”

Madrid provided a breakdown of the 51 players Fifa had requested information on. The club said 23 had previously been registered to other Spanish clubs and another 10 were of Spanish nationality. One player appeared twice on the list, six were over 18 at the time of registration, two under-age players had received authorization and another two had been registered before the current rules came into effect.

Two of the players had been rejected and are were never part of the club, the registration of another is currently pending a final resolution from CAS and four under-12 players had been signed in compliance with the new regulations.

Barcelona were handed a two window transfer ban for irregularities in their acquisitions of young players last year, a ban which was upheld following appeal, but Madrid director Emilio Botragueno quickly dismissed any possibility of the club receiving such a ban.

Madrid, usually quiet in the January window, have been busy in the transfer market this time around, bringing in 16-year-olds Mink Martin Peeters and Martin Odegaard, 19-year-old Spanish winger Marco Asensio and Brazilian midfielder Lucas Silva, while deals for 18-year-old River Plate goalkeeper Augusto Batalla and 16-year-old AC Milan attacker Hachim Mastour are also close.

When contacted by Goal earlier on Monday, Fifa admitted an investigation was ongoing but refused to expand on the finer details, adding: “No formal disciplinary proceedings have been opened at this stage. No further information can be provided for the time being.”

South Korea storm past Iraq into Asian final

South Korea stormed into the Asian Cup final with a clinical 2-0 victory over Iraq on Monday, avenging a painful defeat at the same stage eight years ago.

Goals from Lee Jeong-Hyeop and Kim Young-Gwon did the job for the Koreans, who dominated a wet semi-final in Sydney to move a step closer to ending a title drought dating all the way back to 1960.

They face either hosts Australia or the United Arab Emirates in the final on January 31.

There was no repeat of Iraq’s shock win over South Korea in 2007, when they won a dramatic penalty shoot-out before completing their fairytale run by beating Saudi Arabia to lift the trophy in Jakarta.

South Korea, still to concede in their five matches, simply overpowered the Iraqis, Lee climbing to glance in a free kick from Kim Jin-Su after 20 minutes.

Golden boy Son Heung-Min had already forced goalkeeper Jalal Hassan into a smart save with a long-distance rocket before Lee — a surprise Asian Cup call-up by coach Uli Stielike — netted his second goal of the tournament.

Lee, who scored in the 1-0 win over Australia in the group stages, turned provider five minutes after the break, chesting down a high ball for Kim to smash home from the edge of the box.

Skipper Ki Sung-Yueng stung Hassan’s gloves with another howitzer from long range as South Korea continued to swarm forward, the mercurial Son proving a different class as he ghosted effortlessly past Iraq’s bedraggled players.

Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil, looking forlorn in a plastic poncho, barked out orders to his troops, but there was little left in the tank after battling fierce rivals Iran to a standstill in the quarter-finals.

Iraq, who prevailed 7-6 on penalties after a helter-skelter 3-3 draw, rarely threatened despite the threat posed by 2007 hero Younis Mahmoud, and the final whistle triggered wild celebrations among the massed ranks of Korean fans in the crowd of 36,000

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Valencia beats Sevilla 3-1 to take over 4th place in Spain

Dani Parejo scored twice to lead Valencia to a 3-1 win over Sevilla as the hosts moved past the Andalusian side into fourth place in the Spanish league on Sunday. Sevilla fell two points behind Valencia, but it still has a game in hand at leader Real Madrid on Feb. 4.

Elsewhere, Malaga came from behind for a 1-1 draw at Athletic Bilbao, four days before the two play for a spot in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey.

Christian Stuani scored two goals to help Espanyol beat visitors Almeria 3-0 as the Barcelona-based side won its fourth game in a row before it too turns back to the cup competition.

Abel Resino also debuted as Granada’s new manager in a 2-2 draw at Deportivo La Coruna, as the league’s bottom side recorded a 16th round without a victory.

The physical and up-tempo contest at Mestalla Stadium between the two sides fighting for Spain’s last Champions League spot included three penalty kicks, the last of which Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves saved to add to his fame as a penalty-stopping specialist.

Parejo put Valencia ahead in the 18th minute when he converted the match’s first penalty after Diogo Figueras kicked Alvaro Negredo inside the box.

The midfielder slotted in a second goal in the 32nd to cap a counterattack started from a poorly taken free kick by Sevilla’s Gerard Deulofeu.

Sevilla, however, pushed forward and Carlos Bacca beat Diego Alves from the spot in the 36th after Parejo brought down Figueras.

Bacca had a chance to level the score five minutes later following Joao Cancelo’s rash tackle of Victor “Vitolo” Machin in the area, but this time Diego Alves smothered his spot kick.

“He fooled me on the first one, but on the second I knew he had the pressure on him and I went to the same side as I had in the first and stopped it,” said Diego Alves. “We pulled a bit ahead (of Sevilla), now let’s see if we can stay there.”

Javi Fuego added Valencia’s third in the 52nd by volleying in Rodrigo Moreno’s pass after Fuego had intercepted goalie Antonio “Beto” Bastos’ errant long ball.

Earlier, Bilbao midfielder Mikel San Jose headed in Markel Susaeta’s corner kick at the near post in the 70th, only for winter reinforcement Javi Guerra to tap home Miguel Torres low cross eight minutes later.

The two teams had already drawn 0-0 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal last Wednesday. Now, they will prepare to return to the same San Mames Stadium for their second-leg decider on Thursday.

In Barcelona, Stuani headed in Sergio Garcia’s short cross in the 37th. He needed three more minutes before rolling in another centered pass from Garcia pushed on by Lucas Vazquez for this team-leading 11th goal of the season in all competitions.

Substitute Felipe Caicedo completed the rout of Almeria by extending his scoring run to five goals in four games with a goal in the 74th. Espanyol will face Sevilla in the Copa del Rey also on Thursday looking to protect a 3-1 lead.

Madrid leads by one point over Barcelona. Atletico Madrid is four points behind Madrid in third.

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Sharapova, Bouchard into quarterfinals at Australian Open

Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal put earlier stumbles behind them to complete convincing wins Sunday and move into the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

French Open champion Sharapova was broken once in the first set before winning the last eight games of her 6-3, 6-0 fourth-round victory over No. 21-seeded Peng Shuai, advancing her to a showdown with No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard, the most consistent player in women’s majors last season.

Seventh-seeded Bouchard won nine of the first 10 games against Irina-Camelia Begu, but lost seven of the next nine to be pushed to a third set for the first time in the tournament.

After serving a double-fault on set point to end the second, Bouchard took a short break before returning to complete a 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 win over No. 42-ranked Begu, who had taken out No. 9-seeded Angelique Kerber in the first round.

“I gave myself a good, long hard look in the mirror,” Bouchard explained of her brief absence from Rod Laver Arena. “I said, ‘Genie, this is unacceptable.’ I really kind of kicked myself in the butt a little bit.”

Nadal’s 7-5, 6-1, 6-4 win over towering Kevin Anderson turned on two games at the end of the first set. Nadal fended off five break points to hold serve, and then broke the 2.03-meter (6-foot-8) tall South African’s serve in the next game to go on a roll in his fourth-round encounter. He will next face No. 7 Tomas Berdych, who had a 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-2 win over local hope Bernard Tomic.

Nadal, who won the Australian Open in 2009 and lost the finals in 2012 and last year, is coming off an extended injury layoff and says he’s building momentum as he goes — thankful he got through a tough five-setter in the second round against U.S. qualifier Tim Smyczek.

Five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova also has momentum, coming off a win in the season-opening tournament in Brisbane, but had a hiccup in the second round here when she had to save match points after Russian qualifier Alexandra Panova.

Sharapova lost in the fourth round at Melbourne Park last year, when Bouchard reached the semifinals in her tournament debut.

“I feel like something or someone gave me another chance,” Sharapova said of her second-round reprieve. “Last year I lost in the fourth round here, getting to the quarters is really special.”

Bouchard reached the semifinals or better at the first three Grand Slam tournaments last year, and lost in the fourth round at the U.S. Open. Sharapova lost in the fourth round of three majors in a season highlighted by winning the French Open, where she beat Bouchard in the semifinals.

Sharapova said Bouchard was the most consistent player at the recent Grand Slams, and she had to be at her best to beat the 20-year-old Canadian.

“She’s playing really well, confident tennis. So aggressive,” Sharapova said. “I have a tough match ahead of me, but I always look forward to that.”

After three straight-sets wins, Bouchard joked that she went three sets against Begu for a couple of reasons.

“Clearly I need more practice!” she said, then turned to the section of fans known as the Genie Army who support her in Australia. “It’s not horrible playing longer on this court. I just wanted to do that for you guys, and for them to practice more songs.”

In the other quarter of the draw, No. 10 Ekaterina Makarova had a 6-3, 6-2 win over Julia Goerges to reach the last eight, where she’ll play the winner of a Sunday night match between No. 3 Simona Halep and Yanina Wickmayer.

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Losing Ballon d’Or to Ronaldo, Barca elections and learning to live with Luis Enrique – how Messi got his motivation back

SPECIAL REPORT: The 27-year-old has shaken off problems with his coach to return to his brilliant best in recent weeks. Here, Goal looks at the reasons behind his change in form

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
The New Year began badly for Lionel Messi and for Barcelona. The Argentine attacker returned to training later than most of his team-mates, but a bust-up with coach Luis Enrique saw the forward benched at Real Sociedad on January 4.

A half-time substitute at Anoeta, Leo looked barely interested in the second period – and Barca lost 1-0 to David Moyes’ men. The next day, Messi missed training with gastroenteritis (an ailment described by Xavi just days earlier as “an excuse for something else”), before setting alarm bells ringing by following Chelsea’s Instagram account.

The relationship between player and coach had become so tense that Luis Enrique told the Barca board he did not think the pair could co-exist any longer.

Suddenly, however, all of that has been confined to the past and Messi has returned to his brilliant best in recent weeks with some superb performances and six goals in his last four matches.

So what changed? Here, Goal takes a look at the reasons behind the forward’s new-found motivation.

Through thick and thin, Barcelona’s fans have stayed loyal to Messi, conscious of all the Argentine attacker has given the Catalan club over the past decade.

Four days after the defeat to Real Sociedad, Barca thrashed Elche 5-0 at home in the Copa del Rey and the Camp Nou constantly got behind Messi by chanting his name. When the Argentine converted from the penalty spot, he blew kisses to the fans in appreciation for their continued show of support.

Before the league game against Atletico on January 11, Messi then received a special trophy for becoming La Liga’s all-time top scorer and had his name chanted by the entire crowd once more.

Luis Enrique, incidentally, did not applaud, but Barca went on to play perhaps their best game of the season as Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez all scored in a convincing 3-1 win.

Messi has not forgotten how Barca fans stood by him in the past and, just before Christmas, he sent a special message to his supporters. “I want to say thank you to all my followers, who are always there in everything I do,” he said in a video dedicated to his fans. And in 2013, he thanked the Barca faithful for their patience while he took time out to recover from injury. “Thank you all for being by my side,” he told them.

Messi rarely speaks to the media and hardly ever appears in the mixed zone after Barcelona games. But he was interviewed by club channel BarcaTV following the 3-1 win over Atletico on January 11 and took the opportunity to give his side of the story.

The Argentine reassured fans he had no intention of leaving the club and also denied he had demanded Luis Enrique’s sacking.

“I have no intention of leaving,” he said. “We have to be united because there are important months ahead.”

Later, Leo caused controversy prior to the Ballon d’Or ceremony when he claimed he did not know where he would be playing next year. But he rectified it hours afterwards in the mixed zone as he reiterated that he has no intention of leaving Camp Nou any time soon, while also describing his link with Luis Enrique as “a normal player-coach relationship”.

On the rare occasions he has a problem with Barca (as with Faus in 2013), Messi talks to the media to air his grievances and his words usually have the desired effect as the issue almost always goes away. This time, he has also been liberated by getting those frustrations off his chest.

Not so long ago, Messi was on top of the world after winning the Ballon d’Or four years in a row, but he has now lost out on the prestigious prize to Cristiano Ronaldo in both 2013 and 2014.

Ronaldo, who also won the 2008 award with Manchester United, is now only one behind Messi and revealed after the gala in Zurich that he plans to catch the Barca forward.

“This is an unforgettable moment and I’m not going to stop here,” Ronaldo said. “I want to catch Messi.” And his agent Jorge Mendes subsequently said: “He is already thinking about winning his fourth Ballon d’Or.”

Later, in an interview with France Football, Ronaldo explained: “Messi is part of my motivation and I’m sure I am part of his motivation as well.”

Naturally, Leo’s competitive streak means his pride has taken a hit at losing out to Cristiano in back-to-back Ballons d’Or and he is determined to win the award next January and prevent the Real Madrid forward from drawing level at 4-4.