Messi arrives in Japan
World player of the year Lionel Messi arrived in Japan yesterday ahead of an international friendly that will earn Argentina a US$200,000 cash bonus. The Barcelona forward’s involvement in tomorrow’s match in Saitama, however, remains in doubt after he injured an ankle in a league game last month. Messi swept into Tokyo wearing jeans and a white T-shirt, sporting stubble after the long flight, but signed autographs for waiting fans after clearing customs. The 23-year-old’s friendly appearances for club and country has boosted ticket sales for matches in the Far East and the Japan Football Association are desperate for him to play. Local media reported that the Argentine FA would be paid US$200,000 for bringing Messi to Japan for the game, which will be the home side’s first under new Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
‘No problem with Gay’
Real Zaragoza president Agapito Iglesias in Madrid on Tuesday dismissed speculation that the Spanish club were set to fire coach Jose Aurelio Gay, saying the manager would stay on until the end of the season. “There is no problem with Gay. We are aware of his good work and he is going to stay for the entire season,” he told a news conference. Earlier on Tuesday, sports daily Marca reported that Iglesias had decided to replace Gay in a bid to lift the club out of the relegation zone. Real Zaragoza have earned just three points from their first six matches. The club tied 2-2 against minnows Sporting Gijon on Saturday. Gay was promoted from second team coach in December last year and was successful in retaining Real Zaragoza’s top-flight status last season.
Maradona fights for Nobel
Argentine soccer great Diego Maradona asked in a letter to Norway’s parliament on Tuesday that the human rights group Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo be recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize, Argentina’s Sports secretariat in said in Buenos Aires. The former Argentina captain, 49, was quoted as praising the Grandmothers’ “unflinching, serene and brave fight for the restitution [to their rightful families] of children kidnapped by state terrorism.” The group was created to find children abducted under the 1976 to 1983 military regime when 30,000 people disappeared, and to return them to their relatives. Norway’s Noble Committee is due to announce the Peace Prize winner on Friday. Maradona, who led Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, lost his post as national team coach after its quarter-final elimination at the South Africa finals in July.
Krkic will score ‘eventually’
It is only a matter of time before Barcelona striker Bojan Krkic’s goalless streak comes to an end, his teammate David Villa said on Tuesday. Krkic, 20, netted eight goals in the Spanish league last season, but has so far failed to score this season. Spanish champions Barcelona are in fourth place with 13 points, three fewer than Villa’s former club Valencia who are on top after six matches. “They are the strongest team at the moment. But there is still a long way to go,” Villa said. Barcelona signed 28-year-old Villa from Valencia in May on a four-year deal worth 40 million euros (US$55 million). He scored 21 league goals last season with Valencia to finish his fifth consecutive campaign as the club’s top scorer.