Rijkaard respects Liverpool
Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard yesterday refused to be distracted from the Club World Cup final by thoughts of his Champions League clash with Liverpool. Rijkaard acknowledged Liverpool as a "great team" but preferred not to discuss the draw ahead of today's final against South American champions Internacional. "Liverpool is a great opponent, a great team with a great history," he said. "We have all respect for every opponent but we are preparing for tomorrow's match." The European champions' president Joan Laporta earlier described the last-16 match-up as an "extraordinary tie." "They will be very tough rivals." Laporta said.
Payments spark probe
German TV station ARD is under investigation for using public money to pay 1997 Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich and others for exclusive interviews and guest appearances on its programs. Hamburg district attorney Ruediger Bagger told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung a private citizen filed fraud charges against two top officials of Germany's biggest television station, Jobst Plog and Thomas Gruber. The citizen's complaint was misuse of public money, since ARD is financed by taxpayers. Bagger said his office had enough evidence to look into whether a "punishable" offense was committed.
Malaysia reassures AFC
Malaysia has assured Asia's soccer chiefs that a planned visit by Manchester United next year will not affect its ability to jointly host the 2007 Asian Cup. Manchester United said in September that it would play a preseason soccer game in Malaysia next year after signing a deal to support tourism in the Southeast Asian country. Specific dates for the visit have not been determined. However, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) voiced concerns last month that the visit might distract Malaysia from promoting the July 7-29 Asian Cup. Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, director general of the government-run Tourism Malaysia, told Asian soccer's governing body on Friday that such fears are unfounded, the AFC Web site reported.
■ Rugby Union
Irish protest racism
English Premiership club London Irish are set to make an official protest of racial abuse in their 29-13 European Cup defeat at Ulster on Friday night, BBC radio reported. An official of the Premiership club Brian Smith revealed to BBC Radio Berkshire that full-back Delon Armitage had been the target of racial offences from an Ulster player. "One or two things have happened at the end of each of the games that we will be formally taking forward," he said. Smith said London Irish would make their protest official on Monday.
Vatican to take the field
The Vatican is getting ready to battle it out with priests in Rome. On a soccer pitch. The inaugural Clericus Cup will kick off in February with the Vatican one of 16 teams taking part. "The Clericus Cup [is] an occasion for all those -- who are in seminaries today, attending university, studying to be a priest -- to put themselves back in the game," the Italian Sports Center (CSI), which is organizing the event, said in a statement on its Web site. "The purpose is really to reinvigorate the tradition [of sport] inside the Christian community," CSI president Edio Costantini told Gazzetta dello Sport on Friday, crediting Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state and a Juventus fan, with the idea.