Athletic Bilbao advance
Athletic Bilbao beat Osasuna 2-0 and 3-1 on aggregate to advance to the Copa del Rey quarter-finals on Thursday. Athletic, 23-time winners of the Spanish cup competition, will next play Sporting Gijon. In other first legs next Wednesday, Spanish league leaders Barcelona play at crosstown rival Espanyol, defending champions Valencia welcome 2007 winners Sevilla, and Mallorca host Real Betis. The return legs will be played on Jan. 28. Real Betis beat Real Union and Espanyol defeated Polideportivo El Ejido on Wednesday to ensure that only topflight clubs reached the last eight. Union and El Ejido both play in the third division.
FIFA opens bidding
FIFA on Thursday formally opened the bidding process to stage the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. FIFA has set a Feb. 2 deadline for potential hosts to register their interest at the start of a two-year process combining the bidding for both tournaments. The two hosts will be chosen by FIFA’s 24-man executive committee in December next year. Candidates must provide around 12 stadiums holding at least 40,000 fans for group matches, with one stadium of at least 80,000 capacity to stage the opening match and final.
Newcastle give up on Neill
Newcastle boss Joe Kinnear was thwarted in his bid to sign Australian international Lucas Neill on Thursday after West Ham insisted they were determined to keep the full-back at Upton Park. The Hammers said they were furious with reports of struggling Newcastle’s interest. “West Ham would like to make it clear that Lucas Neill is a contracted West Ham United player and that we have received no approach from any club for his services, including Newcastle United,” said a statement on the club Web site. “We are astonished by reports that a Premier League manager has claimed contact with one of our players.” Newcastle said they had ended their interest in pursuing the 30-year-old Australian. “With regards to Lucas Neill, West Ham United have made it clear he is a player they value as a highly important member of their squad and who they have no desire to sell,” a spokesman said. “Newcastle United respect West Ham’s position and will therefore not be pursing this matter.”
Thais become Vietnamese
Authorities in Vietnam have granted citizenship to two Thai players, opening up the roster for additional foreign players for the club owned by Vietnam’s richest man, a club official said yesterday. The Ministry of Justice has given the green light for defender Nirut Surasiang, 29, and midfielder Sakda Jermdee, 26, to obtain Vietnamese nationality, said Huynh Mau, managing director of Hoang Anh Gia Lai club. Both former Thai national team players joined the topflight V-League club in 2003. The move will open up more playing opportunities for other foreign players, only three of whom are allowed on the field at a time. The club, which finished seventh in the 14-club V-League last season, is owned by Doan Nguyen Duc, reputed to be Vietnam’s wealthiest man, with a fortune of US$350 million. The club now has four other foreign players, including Thai national team player Datsakorn Thonglao and three Brazilians. Vietnam has allowed foreign players to play for local teams since 2000. Currently, there are more than 100 foreign players, most from Africa and Eastern Europe, playing in the V-League and first division.