x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Roma's Totti sorry to miss derby

Football around the world: Ahead of the meeting tomorrow between the rowdiest of Italian football's bad neighbours, Totti is again the focus of attention.

Francesco Totti, right, led Roma to a derby win over Lazio last year.
Francesco Totti, right, led Roma to a derby win over Lazio last year.

Before the first Rome derby of last season, hackers tapped into the personal website of Francesco Totti, the Roma captain. They planted some mischievous viruses before Totti's piece of cyberspace could be secured again as his own.

Lazio fans, naturally, came under suspicion for the vandalism. Two days later, Totti had the last laugh when Roma won the derby.

Ahead of the meeting tomorrow between the rowdiest of Italian football's bad neighbours, a virtual Totti is again the focus of attention because the player himself is absent, suspended, from a fixture he relishes above all others.

But he is also a very present Totti because his lack of availability has become a major scoring point in the traditional Punch and Judy show of jibes and insults exchanged before these collisions.

"I have a lot of respect for Totti for all he has achieved," said the former Lazio captain and club icon Paolo Di Canio on Italian TV. "But there can be no doubt that the fact he is missing is an advantage for Roma."

Such statements approach blasphemy among some Roma loyalists, although Totti's recent record is poor, and almost as heavy with red cards as it is with goals. The goal he struck on Wednesday in the Champions League win against Basel - an important three points for Roma - was his first for 178 days.

A favourite he may remain, but his reputation as the perennial saviour of lost causes and all-round galvaniser has suffered in the last 12 months. Even while Roma were mounting their admirable challenge for last season's scudetto, Totti was only sharing the credit rather than hogging it. His temper let him down at important stages, like the final of the Coppa Italia.

Totti has shrugged off the taunts from Di Canio and others.

"I'm really sorry to be missing the derby because it's the game I most care about," the Rome-born-and-bred, one-club man said. He smiled and added, ironically: "And it obviously means we are going to lose."

Rome usually come out on top, the last Lazio win a 4-2 extravaganza more than 18 months ago. But these are not typical times for the two clubs. For only the fourth time in the many years they have been together in Serie A, Lazio go into the match above Roma in the table. And not just by a slender margin.

The blue team of the capital are the league leaders and - with Inter four points behind them - will remain so even if they suffer defeat in their local scuffle. Roma went into the weekend in ninth place.

But when Totti, as a native Roman, talks of the fixture being the most important in his calendar, he is speaking for a large swathe of his constituents. Di Canio, the former Lazio ultra who became a Lazio player, said the same: "The result of the derby is more important for most fans than winning the league or any cup."

That may be true when the league or a cup seem unachievable targets, but a decade ago, when Lazio won the scudetto in 2000 and then Roma achieved it the following May, that perspective was challenged. And there are some laziali, admiring the fact that their team have made a better start to this campaign than in 1999/2000, who are beginning to wonder if a derby win might turn out to be just one of several important steps to the club's third Serie A title.

The players, and coach Edy Reja, will not talk about title prospects publicly or prematurely. The derby, they all chime, is a one-off.

"Roma have had some problems, but they are beginning to get things right," said Tommaso Rocchi, the Lazio striker.

 

sports@thenational.ae

 

Spain - Malaga’s new coach

Manuel Pellegrini was named coach of Malaga, who are struggling near the bottom of the tables going into tomorrow’s match against Espanyol.

Pellegrini, the former Real Madrid and Villarreal manager, takes over from Jesualdo Ferreira, who was sacked this week after the team lost their fifth consecutive home match.

First-place Real Madrid face Atletico tomorrow. Cristiano Ronaldo, the Real forward, has netted 10 goals in his last four league outings, but said he has no explanation for his recent spectacular scoring surge.

“I am the same as always, the same as last year,” he said. “I feel good, I feel that I am helping the team and the team is helping me.”

Second-place Barcelona visit Getafe tomorrow. Xavi, who has been suffering from Achilles trouble, should be available for the match.

 

Holland - Tough task for Ajax

Siem de Jong, the Ajax midfielder, expects his side will face a stern test when they take on Den Haag tomorrow. Ajax are third in the league – five spots ahead of Den Haag – but De Jong foresees a tough battle.

“They play very well and play a good 4-3-3 formation,” he said. “They make it difficult for many opponents.”

Today, first-place Twente host Excelsior after an impressive 2-0 Champions League win at Werder Bremen. “It was a beautiful evening for us and our supporters,” Nikolay Mihaylov, the goalkeeper, said. “We were very concentrated and that made the difference.”

Alex Pastoor, the Excelsior coach, goes into today’s match without a win in seven games and he knows there is no quick answer to his side’s problems.

“When you look at the last two matches and the amount of opportunities we had, I see little reason to adjust things,” he said. “However, this is not a matter of pressing a button.”

 

Germany - Hamburg’s injury list

Hamburg’s injury problems worsened this week with the loss of Ruud van Nistelrooy, the striker. The club now have nine players unavailable because of injury, and another, Mladen Petric, also may miss today’s match against Hoffenheim.

“It is certainly not normal,” Armin Veh, the coach, said of the injury situation. “I cannot understand it at all. It is hard to find the cause.”

Hoffenheim are in high spirits after a 4-0 win over Hannover last weekend lifted them to third. “We know Hamburg are under pressure after their recent games,” Ralf Rangnick, the coach, said. “If we can impose our game and restrict them to only a few opportunities then we have the chance, like we did in Dortmund, to get a point or more.”

Also today, Eintracht Frankfurt face Wolfsburg, who expect the return of Diego Benaglio in goal. The Switzerland international, who missed the past month with a knee injury, will replace Marwin Hitz.

Frankfurt have four wins and a draw from the last five matches.

 

France - Boys must be serious

Jean Tigana, the Bordeaux coach, has ordered his players to “take responsibility” for the club’s indifferent form as they prepare to face Valenciennes.

Bordeaux, the French champions in 2009, are ninth after a run of three games without a win in all competitions, Tigana has demanded an improvement.

“Everyone makes mistakes but we need the players to work them out for themselves,” he said. “If you look at the matches from other teams, there are always one or two players who shake things up and things fall into place. We have some players who are capable of this.”

Also today, Jimmy Briand faces his old team, Rennes, for the first time since signing with Lyon over the summer.

“This was the first fixture I looked for when the schedule came out,” Briand said. “It will be fun to see everyone before and after the game, but during the game I am an opponent.”

 

China

China’s top flight Super League has extended halftime of its games to up to 30 minutes to prevent collusion on results in the final round of matches. The extension will be implemented in the final round tomorrow to make sure the second half of all games kick off at the same time. Fifa’s rules say halftime cannot exceed 15 minutes and Chinese media report widespread opposition to the extension among football fans. Fifa has not yet issued a statement on the half-time extension.

Chile

Marcelo Bielsa is out as national team coach of Chile, the new president of the football federation said. Bielsa had promised to resign if Jorge Segovia was elected president, which happened this week when Segovia ousted incumbent Harold Mayne-Nicholls. Segovia declined to speculate on a replacement, although Claudio Borghi, the coach of Boca Juniors, and the former Spanish national team coach Luis Aragones have been mentioned as candidates.

United States

The San Jose Earthquakes will face either Columbus or Colorado in the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference finals. The Earthquakes beat the New York Red Bulls and Thierry Henry 3-1 on Thursday night for 3-2 aggregate win in the conference semifinals. Bobby Convey scored twice, connecting in the sixth and 77th minutes, to help San Jose rebound from a 1-0 first-leg loss in California.

Argentina


Julio Grondona, the president of the Argentine Football Association, denied that he was responsible for hooligan groups being on a flight to South Africa with Argentina’s World Cup team. “If they are not in jail and they have passports, it is not my problem nor a problem of AFA,” Grondona told members of a congressional committee. Argentina are known for some of the worst hooligans, a problem that dates to the first hooligan-related death in 1924. More than 200 lives have been lost since then.