Pep to stay at Barca: priest
Barcelona fans who worried whether coach Pep Guardiola would decide not to extend his contract beyond the end of this season were given reassurance on Thursday, when his home-town priest said he was sure the former Barca and Spain midfielder would stay. Jean Hakolimana, a Rwandan who has since 2007 run the local church in Santpedor, where Guardiola was born, told Spanish radio he thought the 41-year-old was highly unlikely to leave, as he had such strong links to the Catalan club. “If anyone has doubts and that is their faith then they can pray for it, but I think he will stay,” Hakolimana said, adding that he last saw Guardiola three months ago and that the coach’s parents attend his church regularly. Guardiola, who has led Barca to 13 trophies since he took over in 2008, prefers to renew his contract on an annual basis and said on Saturday he needed more time to decide whether to stay on beyond the end of this season.
Rangers’ Smith, Russel out
Administrators for stricken Scottish Premier League champions Rangers made its director of soccer, Gordon Smith, redundant on Thursday, as they cut costs to try to keep the Glasgow club going. The administrators have had talks with manager Ally McCoist about the potential impact of the crisis on the playing staff and said that Chief Operating Officer Ali Russell had also agreed to leave the club. Smith and Russell will stay on until the end of the month. Smith, a former Rangers player, left with a parting swipe, saying he was not allowed to do his job properly and focus on areas like transfers and youth development. “I wasn’t in control of any of these activities despite constantly making it clear to Craig Whyte that this was to be my remit,” he said in a statement released by Duff and Phelps.
Ibrahimovic loses appeal
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has lost his appeal against the third game of his suspension and will miss leaders AC Milan’s top-of-the-table Serie A clash with unbeaten top scorers Juventus, who also boast the best defense. Banned for three matches for slapping an opponent against Napoli earlier this month, Ibrahimovic has already served two games and must now sit out tomorrow’s meeting at San Siro. “The decision of the appeal court of the soccer federation is unjust, because it has applied a sanction designed for violent acts to an act which was not violent,” an AC Milan statement said. “It is a grave error of judgement,” it added.
National team take time out
African champions Zambia will not play again until June after the team shelved a friendly against Gabon, instead opting to rest their players after their African Nations Cup exertions earlier this month, officials said. Earlier this week, Zambia said they were hoping to return to the scene of their penalty shootout final triumph against Ivory Coast for a friendly on Wednesday, but have now decided against those plans. “We started our training camp in South Africa in November and had the players together for a long time, so we feel it would be important for them to settle with their clubs and also have some rest,” Zambia Football Association spokesman Erick Mwanza said. He said Zambia had received an overwhelming number of requests to play matches in the wake of their first Nations Cup triumph, but had turned them down for the time being. Their next game will be a 2014 World Cup qualifier away to Sudan on June 2.