‘Moments when he won’t score’: Bayern play down Lewandowski catching Mueller 40-goal mark


Berlin (AFP) – Bayern Munich head coach Niko Kovac cooled the hype over star striker Robert Lewandowski hunting down Gerd Mueller’s record of 40 goals in a Bundesliga season by claiming: “There will be moments when he won’t score like he is doing now.”

“A lot of things would have to come together. He is playing really well and is carrying the team with his goals, but the season is long,” said Kovac.

“There will be moments in the season when he won’t score like he is doing now.”

Lewandowski has also played down smashing Bayern legend Mueller’s record of a staggering 40 goals in 34 league games in the 1971/72 season, preferring instead on equalling a more modest target on Saturday of scoring in the first eight games of a league season.

“It’s great to be scoring, and I hope I can keep it up. Then we’ll see,” said Lewandowski on the subject of catching Mueller.

The 31-year-old Pole has hit 15 goals in 11 games in all competitions this season and has netted in each of Bayern’s first seven league games.

If he scores at Augsburg, Lewandowski will equal the league record of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who scored in the first eight games of the 2015/16 season for Dortmund.

There is a strong chance Lewandowski will score on Saturday, having scored 18 goals in 13 games against Bayern’s Bavarian neighbours, including three doubles and a hat-trick in his last five games against them.

CONMEBOL picks Maracana for 2020 Copa Libertadores final


Asuncion (AFP) – Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana stadium has been chosen to host next year’s Copa Libertadores final, South American football’s governing body CONMEBOL announced on Thursday.

The world-famous arena beat off competition from seven other stadiums — five of which are also in Brazil — to claim hosting rights after also holding the Copa America final earlier this year when Brazil beating Peru 3-1 to win a ninth continental crown.

This year’s Libertadores final in Chilean capital Santiago on November 23 will be the first time the deciding encounter for South America’s equivalent of the Champions League takes place over a single match.

The last two-legged final in 2018 ended in controversy when the second leg between bitter Argentine rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate was relocated 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) to Madrid.

The second leg, originally scheduled for Racing’s Monumental stadium, was twice postponed after several Boca players suffered cuts from broken glass and tear gas inhalation when their team bus came under attack from home fans on the way to the ground on the initial fixture date.

The two Buenos Aires giants are currently battling for a place in this year’s final, with River having won their semi-final first leg 2-0.

The winners will play either Brazilians Gremio or Flamengo in the final.

The 2020 final will take place on November 21.

CONMEBOL also announced that the Sudamericano final — South America’s secondary competition — will be in Cordoba’s Mario Kempes stadium on November 7, 2020.

UEFA to hear racism charges against Bulgaria fans October 28


Lausanne (AFP) – UEFA chief Aleksander Ceferin’s promise to wage war on stadium racists will be put to the test when charges of monkey chants and Nazi salutes against Bulgaria fans are heard by a disciplinary commission on October 28.

“The Bulgaria case will be examined October 28,” a UEFA spokesperson told AFP on Thursday.

One 18-year-old was indicted on Wednesday for using Nazi salutes at the match and four others have been fined and banned from sports events for two years.

So far 15 people have been singled out via CCTV at the Vasil Levski National Stadium as being suspected of directing abuse against England’s black players.

In total, 15,000 people watched the match at a stadium already partially closed after racist incidents during games against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in June.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said Thursday he would press for a worldwide ban on spectators who abuse black footballers.

Ceferin said the sport needed to “wage war” on abusers.

“Everyone from administrators to players, coaches and fans — needs to work with governments and NGOs to wage war on the racists and to marginalise their abhorrent views to the fringes of society,” he said.

Arsenal’s Ozil opens up on car-jacking ordeal, racist abuse with Germany


London (AFP) – Mesut Ozil has opened up about being at the centre of an attempted car-jacking and his explosive resignation from the Germany team following racist abuse.

The Arsenal midfielder, his wife Amine and team-mate Sead Kolasinac were involved in a terrifying car-jacking on July 25, two weeks before the Premier League season started.

Footage on social media showed Bosnian defender Kolasinac chasing off two moped attackers, who were wearing helmets.

A man admitted in a London court earlier this month to trying to rob Ozil and Kolasinac and will be sentenced in November.

“Sead’s reaction was really, really brave because he attacked one of the attackers,” Ozil, 31, said in an interview with The Athletic published on Thursday.

“The second one was in front of my car on his moped so I couldn’t drive.

“We were newly wed and I was scared about my wife. I was scared about Sead. I wasn’t thinking about myself. I was worried they were going to open my wife’s door and they tried, so I reached across her to keep it closed.”

Ozil, currently out of favour at Arsenal, said although nobody was harmed physically, the incident shook up his wife.

“My wife wanted to get away immediately,” said the ex-Germany international.

“She didn’t feel safe. Even if I let our dogs into the garden and went out with them she would say, ‘Come in, come in, stay in the house.'”

But he said the incident did not make him want to leave London and he plans to stay until his Arsenal contract expires in 2021.

The 2014 World Cup winner has played just two matches this season, fuelling speculation over his long-term future.

– ‘Immigrant when we lose’ –

“When I signed the new deal (in 2018) I thought about it very carefully,” he said.

“I didn’t want to stay for just one or two more years, I wanted to commit and the club wanted me to do the same.

“You can go through difficult times, like this, but that is no reason to run away and I’m not going to. I’m here until at least 2021.”

Ozil spoke of his disappointment at being singled out for blame when Unai Emery’s team under-performs.

“If we don’t do well in a ‘big’ game, it’s always my fault,” said the midfielder, who joined Arsenal from Real Madrid in 2013.

“If that’s true, how do you explain our results in the ‘big’ games when I wasn’t involved? 

Barca’s Valverde confident Catalan protests won’t affect Clasico


Barcelona (AFP) – Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said Thursday he believes next weekend’s ‘El Clasico’ against Real Madrid will go ahead as planned at their Camp Nou stadium despite violent pro-separatist protests in Catalonia.

The Spanish football league (LFP) on Wednesday said it had asked the country’s football federation (RFEF) to move the October 26 fixture to Madrid after three days of large-scale demonstrations which have turned increasingly violent.

“There are still nine days before this game. For sure this week is a bit strange in Barcelona, but there is time. We have confidence in ourselves, in our people, to be able to play this game in our stadium,” Valverde said at a news conference.

“It’s true there were proposals to change the order, to play first at (Real’s ground) the Bernabeu, which didn’t convince us,” he added.

Valverde’s side travel to Eibar on Saturday and then face a trip to Slavia Prague in the Champions League next Wednesday. 

“We would have to travel again, but it’s not just because of that, it’s also a question of respect for the fixture list for the fans,” Valverde added.

Both teams are opposed to switching around the venues for the Clasico. Another possibility reported in the Spanish press would be to postpone the match until a later date.

Protests have erupted across Catalonia after Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday issued heavy prison sentences of between nine and 13 years to Catalan separatist leaders convicted of sedition over the 2017 referendum and short-lived declaration of independence.

Scores of people have been hurt and dozens arrested in the past three nights of clashes between protesters and police in Barcelona and other Catalan cities.