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Tough World Cup group for Brazil, easy for Spain

Adviser says Pacquiao to fight Mayweather in March

Messi wins Golden Ball award

Tough World Cup group for Brazil, easy for Spain

Robert Millward
Cape Town, S. Africa (AP) - Five-time winners Brazil were stung by a tough draw for the 2010 World Cup on Friday while co-favorites Spain were given an easy ride through to the second round.
Brazil have to face two of the teams from the top 16 in FIFA’s rankings - Portugal and Ivory Coast. Also in the group are North Korea, an unknown quantity.
“Having a difficult group like this is good because we’ll be focused,” Brazil coach Dunga said. “They won’t be easy games. The group is undoubtedly balanced, but we’re confident in our play.

A view of the finished Group G during the World Cup draw ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa, on Friday, Dec. 4. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

“We’ll have to maintain the good play we’ve had of late - and work even harder. Every time Brazil takes the field, we’re expected to win. The pressure will be tough.”
European champions Spain, who have never won the World Cup, should easily make it through to the knockout phase, facing lower ranked Switzerland, Honduras and Chile and avoiding the tough opponents in the 32-team draw.
Coach Vicente Del Bosque is taking nothing for granted.
“Let’s not underestimate the three opponents we’re facing,” he said. “Every one has their difficulty. We already knew that we were going to be mentioned as the group favorites, but that’s something you have to prove on the pitch.”
Del Bosque wasn’t interesting in talking about a possible second-round meeting with Brazil or Portugal.
“That’s way ahead,” he said. “First we have to get through the first round.”
After qualifying via the playoffs thanks in part to Thierry Henry’s handball against Ireland, France face hosts South Africa with Mexico and Uruguay in Group A and have an easy task to get to the second round.
“I’m not relieved. We have been drawn in the host country’s group and it’s never easy,” said France coach Raymond Domenech, who has come under fire for the team’s poor form for two years. “We know how important it is to host in World Cup matches. It will be an away game (against South Africa).”
South Africa will face Mexico in the opening game on June 11 at Soccer City, one of six new or rebuilt stadiums at the tournament. Soccer City will also host the final on July 11.
England were drawn to face the United States, Algeria and Slovenia, who won a playoff to reach the competition, in Group C. England midfielder David Beckham, who took part in Friday’s draw, is set to face many of the Americans he regularly plays alongside and against in Major League Soccer in Rustenburg on June 12.
England and the United States have met only once before in the World Cup, with the Americans stunning their star-studded opponents 1-0 in a group game at the 1950 tournament.
“I think it will be not an easy game,” England coach Fabio Capello said. “It’s good. USA plays good and the Premier League is the best championship in the world. If you are playing in England, you are a really good player. Like basketball, if you are a European playing in the NBA, you are a good player.”
Germany, who have won the title three times, face a tough group against Australia, Serbia and Ghana, but have not lost a World Cup group game since a 2-0 defeat to Denmark in 1986.
“It’s important to win the opening game (against Australia in Durban on June 13) and get the necessary confidence for the next two matches,” Germany coach Joachim Loew said. “The game against Australia will be very important. We already played them in an opening game, at the Confederations Cup (in 2005), and we won 4-3, with a lot of difficulty.
“I have great respect for Serbia. I have watched some videos of their qualifying games. They advanced easily, left France behind. They are very strong technically. They have very good players and a very good team.”
Ghana coach Milan Rajevac rued getting a tough group but was hopeful of advancing.
“It was not a lucky day for Ghana,” Rajevac said. “But I think we can reach the second round.”
Defending champions Italy, who are chasing their fifth World Cup title, should be confident of reaching the next stage after drawing New Zealand, Paraguay and Slovakia.
But coach Marcello Lippi, who returned to lead the side after guiding them to a fourth World Cup title in Germany in 2006, feared facing European champions Spain in the last eight.
“We could face a very tough opponent in the quarterfinals, if we get there,” Lippi said. “Being satisfied doesn’t mean we consider it an easy group. You’ve got to go game by game.”
The Netherlands, who won all their qualifying games, face Japan, Cameroon and Denmark. The Dutch have reached the final twice and should prove strong enough to make it through to the second round.
Argentina, who only just made it after winning their final two qualifying games under coach Diego Maradona, must play Nigeria, South Korea and Greece, the Euro 2004 champions. That is one of the tough groups and the pressure will be on Maradona, whose team struggled throughout the qualifying rounds, to get the best out of talented players such as Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero.


Adviser says Pacquiao to fight Mayweather in March

Manila (AP) - Manny Pacquiao is likely to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. on March 13 next year after agreeing to a proposal from promoter Bob Arum last Friday, an adviser of the Philippine boxing idol said.
Arum presented “what he thought was the best proposal he can bring” during a two-hour breakfast meeting with Pacquiao in Manila, said Michael Koncz.

Manny Pacquiao.
(AP Photo/file)

“Manny has some additional requirements, requests, which Arum didn’t think was a problem,” Koncz said. “The requests of Manny were so realistic that Arum doesn’t feel it’s a problem and it’s pretty much a done deal.”
He said the contract still needs “fine tuning,” declining to elaborate.
“We all believe that it will be done,” he said.
In an interview with GMA television, Pacquiao said, “March 13 is OK.”
“The difference between Floyd and others I have fought is that Floyd makes a lot of trash talk that should not be imitated by young people,” he said.
Arum could not be reached for comment.
Koncz, who is in charge of Pacquiao’s boxing promotion company in Nevada, said Pacquiao is “very comfortable” with the date.
Pacquiao is running for a congressional seat in May 2010 elections and official campaigning won’t start before April.
If the bout goes ahead, it will match two men regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighters.
Boxing fans have been looking forward to a super fight between Pacquiao and the undefeated Mayweather after the Filipino champion defeated Miguel Cotto last month.
The March 13 date is just four months after the Cotto fight - a shorter period of time than the six months after Pacquiao defeated Ricky Hatton. But Koncz said it will be enough time for Pacquiao to get back in shape.
“Nobody knows his body better than Manny,” he said. “If Manny feels that that’s plenty of time to rest and recover, then you know, he has to do what he feels is right.”
He said Pacquiao “cannot train for more than seven weeks.”
If the fight is made, there would likely be a Jan. 11 press conference in New York to announce it. The bout could be the richest ever, assuming pay-per-view projections are accurate.
Representatives of the Superdome in New Orleans and the new Dallas Cowboys’ stadium have expressed interest in hosting the fight, as has the MGM Grand hotel-casino in Las Vegas, where the fighters have fought their biggest fights. There is also a proposal for a 30,000-seat temporary stadium on the Las Vegas Strip across from the Wynn resort.
Oddsmakers are already taking bets on the fight, with most making Mayweather a slight favorite.


Messi wins Golden Ball award

Samuel Petrequin
Paris (AP) - Argentina’s Lionel Messi won the Golden Ball awarded to the European Footballer of the Year with the biggest margin ever last week, following an exceptional season with Barcelona.
Messi became the sixth Barcelona player to take the award and the first since Brazilian Ronaldinho in 2005. He beat last year’s winner Cristiano Ronaldo into second place while Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez finished third in the poll results released by France Football.

FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi of Argentina (right) has won the coveted Golden Ball, awarded to the European Footballer of the Year for 2009. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

Hailed by Argentina great Diego Maradona as his successor, Messi won an unprecedented treble in Spain last season with Barcelona as the Catalan side swept the Champions League, the Spanish title and the Copa del Rey.
Messi, who tallied 473 of a possible 480 points, largely dominated the voting and won with a record-margin of 240 points. Real Madrid winger Ronaldo had 233 and Xavi had 170.
“Honestly, I knew that I was among the favorites because Barcelona had a fruitful year in 2009,” Messi was quoted as saying by the magazine. “But I didn’t expect to win with such a margin. The Golden Ball is very important to me. All the players who won it were great players, and some great players never won it.”
The 22-year-old Messi, the first Argentine to win the prestigious trophy, was the top scorer in last year’s Champions League with nine goals, including his superb header in the 2-0 victory over Manchester United in the final.
Barcelona had three players in the Top 5 with Andres Iniesta taking fourth ahead of former Barca player Samuel Eto’o.
In an outstanding season, Messi netted 38 goals in 51 games in all competitions, often leaving defenders in his wake with a combination of speed, exceptional dribbling abilities and his effective left-footed strike.
Messi, who leads Argentina to next year’s World Cup in South Africa, recently signed a new contract with Barcelona through 2016 and has a buyout clause of 250 million euros ($368 million) included.
Messi has had a good start to this season - already scoring nine goals - and put on a great display to help his club defeat archrival Real Madrid 1-0 a week last Sunday.
“It won’t be easy to confirm after a year like the one we just went through,” Messi said. “I hope the next one will reach the same standards. But to win the Golden Ball two years in a row is not an easy thing.”
After starting club football in 1995 at Argentina’s Newell’s Old Boys, Messi, who suffered from a growth hormone deficiency when he was a child, joined Barcelona’s Under-14 team in 2000 after the Spanish club offered to pay for his treatment.
The diminutive forward - 1.69 meters and 67 kilograms (5-feet-7; 148 pounds) - was part of the Argentina team at the World Cup 2006 before claiming the Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008.
France Football’s award was decided by an annual poll of football journalists from a shortlist of 30 players.
The 24-year-old Ronaldo won the Premier League title with Manchester United in 2009 before signing with Real Madrid for 93 million euros.
Named best player at the 2008 European championship, where Spain won their first major title in 44 years, midfielder Xavi was also a key element in Barcelona’s treble in 2009, playing 35 Spanish league games and 14 of the 15 European matches of his club.