Dutchman Sneijder to hit major milestone

Wesley Sneijder of Galatasaray reacts during their Champions League soccer match against Juventus...

Wesley Sneijder of Galatasaray reacts during their Champions League soccer match against Juventus in Istanbul December 11, 2013. (REUTERS/Murad Sezer)

Sun Wire Services

, Last Updated: 7:07 PM ET

Wesley Sneijder will mark a major milestone when he wins his 100th international cap in their opening World Cup game Friday but his return to the heartbeat of the Netherlands team was in doubt 12 months ago.

The midfielder was stripped of the captaincy and then lost his place after coach Louis van Gaal deemed him not physically fit enough to play.

But Sneijder, who turned 30 on Monday, has won over the coach again and is now enjoying a leading role in a new Dutch tactical formation, playing as provider for forwards Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie.

Van Persie is now captain but Sneijder said he remains “a leader” in the team.

“Everything that was said about me in the past is forgotten. Also the question of the captaincy. I’m looking only forward,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Van Gaal had openly questioned his future international career during the closing stages of the qualifying campaign last year but was quick to admit in the weeks leading up to the tournament in Brazil that Sneijder had been among the fittest and sharpest players in training and was very much back in the side.

It has left Sneijder brimming with confidence as the first game against Spain approaches.

“Of course we can win. We’ve shown that if we get it right at the critical moments we can be lethal,” he said. “A week full of milestones but it won’t mean anything if we don’t beat Spain on Friday.”

 

MESSI BALKS AT HIGH PRICES

Sky-high property prices in Brazil have claimed a new victim in Argentina forward Lionel Messi, the world’s highest-paid footballer.

Messi scrapped plans to rent a mansion for his family outside the city of Belo Horizonte for the duration of the World Cup, according to the online edition of O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper. His new contract with Spanish club Barcelona will reportedly earn the four-time world player of the year a net annual salary of $27 million.

Messi and his staff thought the 150,000 reais ($67,600) rent for a month-long stay in the 21,500-square foot mansion was expensive, Estado said. In addition to proposing a lower rent, Messi’s entourage pressed the landlord to put up an enclosure for privacy purposes.

A source with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed some of the terms, adding that the talks broke down in early May.

Messi’s staff made an offer that “didn’t please me. The deal didn’t go through,” Paulo Nassif, the mansion’s owner, told Estado.

The mansion has seven suites, 13 restrooms and 86,000 square feet of land next to a lagoon. Messi decided instead to rent a house in Rio de Janeiro for his family, Estado said.

 

SPAIN’S KOKE GETS SCHOOLED

Spain midfielder Koke is learning from the experience of midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta at the World Cup, his first major international tournament.

“Each day I am picking up more and they have a lot to teach,” he told a news conference Wednesday about the pair who helped Spain win the 2010 World Cup and the last two European Championships.

“What I notice most of all is their speed of thought, they see the play before it happens,” Koke said. “I concentrate as well on trying to pick up things from the other players. They all have a strong mentality and make playing football seem easy.”

The 22-year-old made his debut for the national side a year ago but developed rapidly last season and was an integral part of Atletico Madrid’s La Liga-winning side.

He generally seeks to drift in from the left wing and link up play but he is also adept at playing in the middle of the pitch as he showed in Spain’s friendly against El Salvador last weekend.

It was an accomplished display by Koke but while he would be a certain starter in most international sides, the quality that Spain possess means he is likely to be on the bench in their first Group B match against the Netherlands on Friday.

 

GODIN SAYS ‘LOSS IS IN PAST’

The bitter Champions League defeat by Real Madrid last month has left no scars on Atletico Madrid and Uruguay defender Diego Godin ahead of their World Cup opener against Costa Rica, he said on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old headed surprise Champions League finalists and Spanish champions Atletico into the lead in the final last month but Real equalised deep in stoppage time before winning 4-1 in extra time, denying their local rivals the chance of a sensational double.

“The Champions League final is in the past,” Godin told reporters at the team’s World Cup headquarters outside Belo Horizonte ahead of their Group D match against Costa Rica on Saturday in Fortaleza.

“I went home and spent some time recharging the batteries and I have never been in better physical condition,” he told reporters. “We had our best ever season but that is in the past now. I went home to relax and I did some light training. Now I am only focused on the World Cup.”

The fitness of forward Luis Suarez remains uncertain following knee cartilage surgery.

 

FAN INJURED IN SCUFFLE

An Argentine soccer fan suffered a broken finger late on Tuesday after three Brazilians tried to rip an Argentina flag from his hands in World Cup host city Belo Horizonte, the website of local newspaper Estado de S.Paulo reported.

A local hospital confirmed that the Argentine was undergoing hand surgery on Wednesday, but a spokeswoman for Belo Horizonte’s military police did not have any information on the incident because a police report was not filed.

More than 50,000 fans from Argentina, Brazil’s soccer rivals, are expected to come to the tournament.

It was the first reported case of violence between fans of the two teams ahead of the World Cup kickoff on Thursday when hosts Brazil face Croatia.

Brazil plans to beef up security inside and outside stadiums where Argentina play in order to minimise the chances of any violence between rival hooligans.

 

DONOVAN GETS TV JOB

Landon Donovan, controversially left out of the United States World Cup squad, has been added to television network ESPN’s broadcast team for the tournament.

ESPN said in a statement that Donovan would focus primarily on games involving the United States, who face Ghana, Portugal and Germany in Group G.

“Adding Landon to our ESPN roster just before the World Cup is a coup because he knows the United States team better than anyone having played such a huge role in its success, especially at this event,” said Jed Drake, ESPN senior vice president and executive producer.

“Landon is also one of this country’s biggest sports stars and we believe that he will help attract even more fans to our month-long coverage.”

Donovan will not travel to Brazil but will comment for the sports network from a studio in Los Angeles.

United States coach Juergen Klinsmann’s decision to leave the 32-year-old Donovan out of his 23-man squad provoked fierce debate among American fans.

Donovan played in the last three World Cups and is his country’s all-time top scorer with 57 goals in 156 games.

 

HACKERS TARGET WORLD CUP SITES

Hackers claim they have carried out attacks against dozens of Brazilian websites linked to the soccer World Cup, including those of tournament sponsor Hyundai, a state government and Brazil’s intelligence agency.

“We had a busy last few days and there is more still to come,” a hacker who calls himself Che Commodore and who claims to be a member of the Anonymous hacker collective told Reuters on Wednesday. “Companies and institutions that work with a government that denies the basic rights of its people in order to promote a private, exclusive and corrupt sports event will be targeted,” he said, declining to give his real name.

Hackers have used a DDoS, or Distributed Denial of Service, against some government sites, a sponsor and companies partnering with the World Cup organization, he said, adding that there was also defacement of some government sites.

The cyber attacks add to concerns about the 32-nation soccer tournament that kicks off on Thursday in Sao Paulo.

 

WORLD CUP HERO NOT INVITED

Alcides Ghiggia, the man who scored the winning goal for Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup, is set to miss the first match of the 2014 tournament because FIFA has not invited him as a guest or given him a ticket, he said Wednesday.

“I am not going to the game as I don’t have a ticket,” the 87-year old Ghiggia told reporters, referring to Thursday’s opening match between hosts Brazil and Croatia in Sao Paulo.

Ghiggia, the last surviving member of the side that beat Brazil 2-1 to lift Uruguay’s second world title, was a specially invited guest at the World Cup draw in Bahia in December but complained he was overlooked by organiZers this time.

“This is the first time that ... this has happened,” he told reporters outside the FIFA Congress on Wednesday. “I was at Germany (for the World Cup in 2006), South Africa (2010), I was at the draw in Bahia and they always treated me well. It must be a FIFA employee who doesn’t know what he’s doing.”


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