Sign of progress

National youth coach Ong Kim Swee brushed off criticism of the national Under-23’s involvement at the World University Games by pointing to his side’s historic quarter-final achievement as a sign of progress.

The under-strength squad, decimated by injury to a number of key players even before arriving in Kazan, Russia, has had three players red carded while two others have also been laid low by injury.

 Malaysia reached the last-eight, where they meet a rampant Japan team today, by finishing second in the three-team Group C after Italy beat Great Britain 1-0 to leave all three tied on three points and separated only by goal difference.

 “Whatever people say, it’s good to be in the quarter-finals,” said Kim Swee when contacted in Kazan yesterday. “If you have a look at the football that is being played here, you will see that the standard is very high.

 “We are the lowest ranked team in the tournament so for us to be in the top eight is a big achievement. But most importantly the boys are learning from the experience.”

 After beating Italy 2-0 and losing 2-0 to Britain, Malaysia face their biggest test yet against Japan, who won all three of their matches by scoring nine goals against Turkey (4-0), Ukraine (4-1) and Uruguay (1-0).

 “I watched Japan (Tuesday) and I have to say they are much better than their Olympic team,” said Kim Swee, who was in charge when Japan beat Malaysia 2-0 in Tosu and 4-0 in Bukit Jalil in two Olympic qualifiers in 2011 and 2012.

 “Since this Japan team is an Under-27 side, they have greater maturity and move the ball well. They could even afford to field their reserves against Uruguay and still won after already securing top spot in their group before the match.

 “We will be playing with an Under-23 squad and that too without so many key players so it will be a very challenging match.”

 Kim Swee’s squad are down to the bare bones with only 12 players fit and available, including two goalkeepers, while defender K. Prabakaran is rated 50-50 with an injury.

Nazirul Naim Che Hashim and Amirzafran Wan Nadris are out through injury while forward Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim and winger Wan Zaharulnizam Wan Zakaria are suspended.


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Asier Illarramendi signs six-year contract with Los Galacticos

Illarramendi signed a six-year contract with Real Madrid on Saturday and was presented as their latest summer acquisition

“Today is a very special day for me. To form part of this club is an enormous achievement,” Illarramendi said after a handful of supporters had stopped chanting his name.

Illarramendi is from Mutriku, a coastal town in the Basque Country in northern Spain, and thanked Sociedad for the decade he spent growing up with the San Sebastian-based club.

“A few days ago I would have never imagined wearing any shirt other than that of Sociedad, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “Now I face a new challenge in my career. I assure you I will give it my all for these colors. I hope to keep growing with this club.”

Madrid paid Illarramendi’s buyout clause of 32 million euros ($42 million) and another 6 million euros ($8 million) in taxes on Friday to secure his release from the Basque club.

Illarramendi helped Sociedad earn a Champions League berth for this season and was part of Spain’s under-21 European champion side this summer.

He joins fellow under-21 teammates Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and Daniel Carvajal as Madrid’s reinforcements this offseason for new coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Illarramendi will now fight for playing time in Madrid’s star-studded squad to join former Sociedad standout Xabi Alonso in Ancelotti’s midfield.

Relatively unknown even in Spain, Illarramendi debuted for Sociedad’s first team in January 2011, the first of three appearances that season. He played 18 games in 2011-12 and started 34 last season.

Illarramendi provided a first line of defense in Sociedad’s midfield and his sure passing allowed it to deploy one of the league’s most attractive and effective attacks over the past two seasons. He has yet to score a goal in the first division.


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Khan agrees to buy Fulham

Pakistan-born billionaire Shahid Khan agreed a deal to buy English Premier League club Fulham on Friday.

Khan, who owns NFL team Jacksonville Jaguars, has been in talks with Fulham owner Mohamed Al Fayed for several days and the pair have struck an agreement that will put the west London team under new ownership for the first time in 16 years.

The transaction, reported to have cost Khan around STG150 million ($A249.77 million), has been approved by the Premier League and the tycoon assumes 100 per cent ownership of the club, with a press conference scheduled for 1200GMT on Saturday to officially introduce the new Cottagers supremo.

“Mr Al Fayed is giving me the privilege and responsibility of serving as the next custodian of Fulham Football Club,” Khan told the club’s website.

“I am extremely honoured to accept and want to thank him, on behalf of everyone who loves Fulham, for 16 years of exceptional service to the Club. He rescued the club in its hour of need and has led it to a sustained place within the Premier League.

“Fulham is the perfect club at the perfect time for me. I want to be clear, I do not view myself so much as the owner of Fulham, but a custodian of the club on behalf of its fans.

“My priority is to ensure the club and Craven Cottage each have a viable and sustainable Premier League future that fans of present and future generations can be proud of.

“We will manage the club’s financial and operational affairs with prudence and care, with youth development and community programs as fundamentally important elements of Fulham’s future.”

Khan, who was born in Lahore but now has American citizenship, is ranked 179th in the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans with an estimated worth of $US2.5 billion ($A2.74 billion) after making his fortune as a car parts manufacturer.

The 62-year-old, the first non-American to own a NFL franchise, already has ties to London, with the Jaguars scheduled to play one regular season game a season at Wembley for the next four years.

In 1967, at the age of 16, Khan left his native Pakistan for the United States and the opportunity to study engineering at the University of Illinois.

Khan struck it rich when he purchased Flex-N-Gate, a car parts supplier, and built it into a global leader that now employs more than 16,000 people at 52 manufacturing and nine product development and engineering facilities throughout Canada, the United States, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Spain.

Al Fayed, the 84-year-old former Harrods owner, had transformed Fulham from a third-tier outfit to an established Premier League side since taking over in 1997.

“My time of serving as the custodian of Fulham Football Club would one day come to an end, and I feel that time has now arrived,” Al Fayed said.

“The time is right because I have found a very good man in Shahid Khan to accept the responsibility and privilege that I have enjoyed at Fulham since 1997.

“Fulham will be in very good hands with Shahid, whose success in business and passion for sport is very evident.”


Photo: Getty Images

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Fasting, is not an excuse!

Ramadan offers a unique challenge as footballers train and play while their normal eating habits are suspended

Clubs increasingly like to control every aspect of their players’ fitness, testing them weekly, providing individual exercise plans and dictating diet. Sometimes, however, outside influences come into play.

For the increasing number of Muslims in the Premier and Football League, normal eating habits are currently suspended, for this is the month of Ramadan.

During Ramadan, which runs from 1 to 29 August this year, devotees are expected to refrain from taking in food or liquid, smoking and sex, from before sunrise until sundown. This is intended to teach patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to Allah. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, the others being a declaration of faith, giving to charity, praying the five daily prayers and the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Managers and coaches may question the wisdom of a footballer having to train and play when fasting, but this is something that Muslims know is part of their life.

Some, like the former Tottenham and West Ham striker, Frédéric Kanouté, are strict observers. Kanouté, now at Seville, has been a practising Muslim since the age of 20. His faith, insists Kanouté, has never presented itself as a problem in his relationship with the coaching staff, team-mates or fans. But when it comes to Ramadan, they pepper him with questions.

“They’re quite curious, yes. They wonder why I don’t eat and ask all these questions, but you have to answer them. It’s good also because it’s witnessing the religion and we can talk about that. They see me praying in the dressing room, I don’t think of how people look at me, I’m just natural and it’s my way.

“Islam has helped me to be this way, so this is normal. It’s a path you take to keep you calm, to help you think about the place you live in, to love your neighbour. It’s strange when I hear about all these problems of terrorism because it’s the opposite of what I understood for Islam.”

In a diverse Premier League, an increasing number of players are followers of Islam. You’ll see them cup their hands in silent prayer before kick-off, then brush them over their face. Kolo and Yaya Touré, Nicolas Anelka and Samir Nasri are all talented players who would not want any fuss over their faith, but during the month of Ramadan, games can become even more of a challenge than usual.

In 2009, after only half an hour of Inter’s 1-1 draw with Bari, the fasting Sulley Muntari was substituted, with manager Jose Mourinho stating that Ramadan had “not arrived at the ideal moment for a player to play a football match”. His comments drew widespread criticism, which Mourinho later clarified by saying: “Muntari’s decision is not to be criticised because it is a question of faith and religion. That means that I accept it. I never said Muntari should forget his religion and practice.”

Some players compromise. Anelka has said that he initially fasted in daylight hours as prescribed, but “I realised I often got injured just after the period of Ramadan, so I don’t observe it strictly any more”.

A similar approach is followed by Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh. “I have no problem fasting during Ramadan, it becomes normal. The day before a game and on match days I do not fast, but I’ll make up the lost days later.”

Ipswich striker Nathan Ellington converted to Islam seven years ago, and has just set up the Association of Muslim Footballers, whose purpose is to inform non-believers. He said educating the footballing authorities will help alleviate the type of comments that Mourinho came out with, which he described as “unfair”.

Ellington added: “When I’m playing, I won’t fast, but I’ll make up for the missed day afterwards. For training, there’s not a problem either, as you can get your hydration and nutrients with the suhoor [the early pre-dawn breakfast] which then helps. The only difference is afterwards when the rest of the players go off [to eat] and you have to hang on for a while longer, until the iftar meal at sunset.”

The Millwall winger Hameur Bouazza admitted fasting can be problematic, but said it was part of his faith. “I’m proud to be a Muslim. I’m not going to say [combining fasting and football] is easy. Ramadan is hard, and I try to do my best every time. You know God is there to help us, we believe in him and he believes in us as well. We just need to pray and believe in him.”

The issue of fasting and playing is a tricky one with the religious needs of the player somewhat at odds with the footballing needs of his manager and the club. Until now, there have not been any defining guidelines on the issue, but as more Muslim players find a place in the top leagues of Europe the issue of fasting during the holy month – which arrives annually 10 days earlier than the previous year – will not be going away.

Premier League Muslims, year 2011

Marouane Chamakh, Abou Diaby, Samir Nasri (left), Bacary Sagna, Armand Traoré Arsenal

Habib Beye Aston Villa Nicolas Anelka Chelsea

Marouane Fellaini Everton

Hatem Ben Arfa, Cheick Tioté Newcastle

Edin Dzeko, Kolo Touré, Yaya Touré Manchester City

Adel Taarabt Queen’s Park Rangers

Ahmed Elmohamady Sunderland

Younes Kaboul Tottenham

Youssuf Mulumbu West Bromwich

Ali Al Habsi, Mohamed Diame Wigan


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Ramadan Mubarak

Praise be to Allah, Who has blessed us with seasons in which the rewards for good deeds are multiplied and the bad deeds are removed.

I am sending my Ramadan greetings and prayer to all of you. May this holy month brings barakah, and Allah’s boundless mercy upon the believers and harmony and tolerance for the world.

I’m very grateful for given another chance this year to celebrate Ramadan with my families and friends.

“Allah the Almighty made Ramadan fasting compulsory for Muslims. Allah said, “O those who believe, the fasts have been enjoined upon you as were enjoined upon those before so that you be God-fearing.’ [Surah Baqarah, 183]”.

Although its a fasting month, it doesn’t mean we cant play football in the evening? Some did plays in the evening. Furthermore we can also plays football or futsal at night after Taraweeh prayer.

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“Please don’t c…

“Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one”
– Jose Mourinho –

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Golden Ticket out of the slum

In Rio’s Mangueira favela, a soccer project sponsored by Developing Minds Foundation and Flamengo gives children an alternative to a life of drug violence.

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