Monday, 19 April 2010
Fernando Torres insists he had no option but to go under the knife and was not thinking about the World Cup.
The Liverpool striker has seen his season cut short after it became apparent that he required surgery to repair damaged cartilage in his right knee.
He will now sit out the Reds' remaining games of the 2009/10 campaign, unable to play any part in their Premier League endeavours or bid for Europa League success.
Torres should, however, be back to full fitness in time to spearhead Spain's pursuit of global glory at this summer's World Cup.
Some people have suggested that the 26-year-old has put his country before his club by opting to have an operation now, but the hot-shot striker is adamant that is not the case.
Torres told his personal website: "It's not true. We exhausted all the possibilities before arriving at the final one.
"There were three options. One was that the meniscus was okay, the second was that the problem was not clear and the third that the meniscus was affected.
"On Friday afternoon in Liverpool the scan I had cleared up the doubts and made us see that I would almost definitely have to have an operation.
Sunday, 18 April 2010
Saturday, 17 April 2010
England's dreams of staging the 2018 World Cup will either be fulfilled or dashed in December when Fifa's executive committee decides which of the seven candidates to choose.
Yet that is not the only key decision being made about tournament venues this year. Next month, Uefa gathers in Geneva to announce which country will host the 2016 European Championship.
Uefa has already made one adventurous choice by awarding the 2012 event to Poland and Ukraine. Now it could be set to spring another surprise in the shape of Turkey.
New Turkey boss Guus Hiddink is fully behind the country's 2016 bid
Federation has hired Guus Hiddink to revive its fortunes on the pitch after missing out on qualification to the 2010 World Cup. His priority is getting Turkey to the Euro 2012. But the hope is that his arrival will also help support the nation's bid for Euro 2016.
Strolling along the banks of the Bosphorus, the melting pot of Istanbul seems a fitting home for this international man of management - and the high-profile Dutchman is fully behind the country's bid.
"This is where East meets West, where Europe and Asia come together," enthuses the former Netherlands, South Korea, Australia and Russia coach, who revealed to me that he had turned down an approach from Manchester City to come here.
"It's important to show the world that Turkey has also grown into a modern nation. This bid has some very serious management behind it."
The Ankara-based government is embarking on an £880m spending spree, intent on building six new stadiums and implementing a major overhaul of the 75,000-capacity Atatürk Olympic Stadium, where Liverpool famously beat AC Milan to win the Champions League final in 2005.
A visit to the cauldron that is Istanbul's atmospheric Ali Sami Yen Stadium leaves you in no doubt of the passion for football in this country, nor the investment going into the sport.
Galatasaray, Turkey's most successful club, are at home to Diyarbakirspor. Manager Frank Rijkaard barks orders from the touchline towards highly paid recruits like Lucas Neill, Milan Baros, Jo, Elano, and Giovani dos Santos. In the stands, the perennially injured Harry Kewell watches on.
"I was scared before I came here," admits Baros after scoring a fine hat-trick in his team's 4-1 victory. "But this is a really great country for football. There are always full stadiums. Even though the league cannot compare with England's, there is more quality and investment than ever, and the game is improving. Turkey has never staged the Euros, so the country deserves to win. I hope they get it."
One challenge Turkey still has to contend with is the poor reputation of its supporters.
Galatasaray fans welcome Chelsea to Istanbul in 1999
Memories of 'Welcome to Hell' placards during Champions League matches with English clubs linger on, while, 10 years ago, Leeds United fans Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight were stabbed to death in Istanbul on the eve of their side's Uefa Cup semi-final against Galatasaray. No-one has ever been brought to justice for the killings.
So does Turkey still suffer from an image problem?
"I remember 20 years ago, when I first managed here, matches between Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe were huge clashes," says Hiddink. "They are still very passionate but a few weeks ago when I went to the derby there was no fighting. The people here are very warm-blooded but the violence of years ago has stopped. There are still one or two incidents and lunatics doing stupid things, but structurally it has changed."
Turkish Football Federation President Mahmut Özgene also insists behaviour has "much improved".
"If Uefa didn't trust us, they wouldn't have awarded us Champions League and Uefa Cup finals in recent years," he said. "This is a new region for Uefa and it will be a truly historic decision if they give us 2016, the most important decision they've ever made."
Turkey is also hoping to bid for the Olympics in 2020 as well as the World Cup in 2026. But, after two failed bids to stage the Euro finals, their hopes centre on 2016 for now. Uefa makes its decision on 28 May.
Concerns over Ukraine's preparations for Euro 2012 may persuade Uefa to veer towards the more conventional options of Italy or France. But as Fifa's decision to award a first World Cup to Africa proves, the sport is intent on expanding into new territories and new markets.
And there seems little doubt that this huge, Muslim country has a serious chance of success.