Mamic insists Esteghlal test will be very different to previous Iran encounters

Matt Jones 22/05/2017
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Al Ain players celebrate a goal against Zob Ahan

Zoran Mamic insists he has not picked the brains of compatriot and Persepolis coach Branko Ivankovic ahead of Al Ain’s trip to fellow Iranian side Esteghlal in the first leg of the AFC Champions League last 16 tonight.

Croatian Mamic will hope to erase the disappointment of missing out on ACL qualification for 2018 after the Boss finished a disappointing fourth in the Arabian Gulf League by taking a step towards this year’s final with victory in Tehran.

But after facing Iranian opposition in the group stages where they played Zob Ahan home and away, Mamic revealed he did not seek any tips on the Red Army from his fellow countryman.

“The truth is I did not talk with the Persepolis coach about Esteghlal,” said the 45-year-old. “There is no need to talk with any coach to know anything about the opposing team.”

Mamic, who replaced another Croatian, Zlatko Dalic, in the Garden City in January, also quashed suggestions the two matches against Zob in Group C would have any bearing on the two-legged tie against Esteghlal.

“The Zob Ahan games are in the past and we do not look at the games that have ended,” he added.

“The two games and this game will be completely different. We are in a different stage of the competition and that fact confirms that Esteghlal are stronger than Zob Ahan.

“There is no resemblance between the two teams and our focus is currently on Esteghlal.”

Mamic also added that his players will not be overawed by the cavernous Azadi Stadium in Tehran, which has a capacity of 100,000, and believes they will thrive on what is expected to be a vibrant atmosphere.

He said: “We will play the challenge ahead of us at their home and among their legions of fans. The Azadi is a wonderful stadium and we always enjoy playing in such a massive atmosphere because it stimulates our players to give and show their best in the field.”

Esteghlal counterpart Alireza Mansourian described the visit of the Boss as a “big test” but says his players are relishing their task of keeping the Iran flag flying in Asia.

“I do love the game. Heavy games like this, I welcome them,” said the 45-year-old, who confirmed he will be without experienced midfielder Omid Ebrahimi.

“I have a big test tomorrow. Tomorrow our young people are trying to keep the Iranian flag burning in the competition.

“Al Ain are well known and have a good team and we know their strengths and weaknesses. We have analysed our opponents and we will try to flatten this opponent but we will have to take care and be totally ready for this match.”

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Xavi: Barca icon putting footprint on Qatar beyond the pitch

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Midfield maestro: Xavi celebrates with Qatar Cup (QSL).

Full time on Saturday evening at the Qatar Cup final and the Al Sadd faithful began to reveal the number 66 in the stands as the nation’s most successful side picked up the trophy, thanks to a 2-1 win over El Jaish.

The title however proved to be of extra significance for the Wolves as it was the first piece of silverware in Qatar for Al Sadd captain Xavi, who in the process, picked up his 26th club career trophy.

The Barcelona and Spain legend’s commanding presence in midfield has been important for a young outfit, which under the leadership of himself and head coach Jesualdo Ferriera has become the best footballing side in the country.

In terms of statistics this season, his second in Doha, the 37-year-old registered the highest number of assists in the Qatar Stars League, setting up his team-mates on 16 occasions. A tally of ten goals in the top flight is the La Masia graduate’s highest total to date in a 19-year career as a professional footballer.

Speaking to Xavi’s team-mates, it’s clear that he played a key factor in Sadd’s first trophy since 2015 – which for Qatar’s most-storied club is considered a significant drought.

Earlier in the season, their 23-year-old attacker Hamza Sanhaji admitted the whole squad wants Xavi to play a role in the history of the club.

He said: “Everyone at Al Sadd also wants Xavi to lift a title with us. Xavi doesn’t need to win titles, but it would be a good thing for him to lift another trophy with us and be part of Al Sadd’s history.”

Xavi seems to have settled to life in Qatar off the pitch since he called time on a 24-year association with Barca in 2015. He spends his time gaining his coaching badges at Aspire Zone in the morning, while training with Sadd in the evening.

So comfortable is the 133-times-capped superstar, that he signed a one-year extension in January which will take him through to the summer of 2018 and his 21st year as a professional.

Fresh from winning his maiden title in Qatar, Xavi and Sadd will now turn their attention to a domestic double and look to lift the Emir Cup.

This would cap a memorable second season in Qatar for the midfield maestro.

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Kuwait official resigns from FIFA role amid bribery claims

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Sheikh Ahmed alongside Sepp Blatter in 2013.

Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah has resigned from all his football positions – including the FIFA Council – after the latest wave of corruption allegations in the sport.

The release of court documents in the wake of Asian Football Confederation official Richard Lai pleading guilty to bribery saw Sheikh Ahmad implicated.

He was not named, but papers referred to someone who at “various times was a high-ranking official of FIFA, the Kuwait Football Association and the Olympic Council of Asia “.

Sheikh Ahmad denies any wrongdoing but has released a statement announcing he is stepping down from his various positions within the sport.

“With regards to alleged illegal payments to Richard Lai, I can only refer to my previous statement and vigorously deny any wrongdoing,” he said. “I intend to work with all relevant authorities to disprove these for me totally surprising allegations.

“However, I do not want these allegations to create divisions or distract attention from the upcoming AFC and FIFA Congresses. Therefore, after careful consideration, I have decided it is in the best interests of FIFA and the AFC, for me to withdraw my candidacy for the FIFA Council and resign from my current football positions.

“I have been honoured to serve on the FIFA Council, FIFA Reform Committee and AFC for the last two years and I will continue to support the family of football once these allegations have been disproved.”

Sheikh Ahmad remains a real powerbroker within Olympic circles. He heads up the Olympic Council of Asia and has done since 1991, while he was instrumental in Thomas Bach and Gianni Infantino’s IOC and FIFA presidential campaigns, Lai, a senior figure at the AFC, was suspended by FIFA for 90 days on Friday after he pleaded guilty to giving and taking bribes in a New York court.

In a Brooklyn court, Lai admitted taking more than £735,000 in bribes. The AFC also placed a provisional suspension on him.

Lai’s case is particularly significant as it represents the first time the US-led investigation into football-related corruption has extended beyond the Americas. It is also the Department of Justice’s first new guilty plea for a year, which suggests the inquiry is not being wound down just yet, as some close observers have speculated.

But most important of all are the details of Lai’s case as they clearly implicate former FIFA vice-president and AFC president Mohamed Bin Hammam.

The Qatari was banned for life by FIFA in 2011 for allegedly trying to bribe members of the Caribbean Football Union to vote for him against incumbent Sepp Blatter in the upcoming FIFA presidential elections.

With Bin Hammam out of the frame, Blatter would eventually win a fourth term unopposed. The Qatari would overturn that life ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2012, only to receive another FIFA life ban for AFC-related corruption.

Lai pleaded guilty to receiving USD 100,000 (£77,000) from an individual the DoJ described as “an official of the AFC who was then running for the FIFA presidency” in exchange for his vote.

The DoJ statement continues by saying Lai also received over USD 850,000 (£658,000) between 2009 and 2014 from a “faction of soccer officials in the AFC region” for his support.

Acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney Jr, said: “Today’s plea marks another important step in our ongoing effort to root out corruption in international soccer.

“The defendant abused the trust placed in him as a soccer official in order to line his own pockets, and now he will be held to account.

“The defendant’s breach of trust was particularly significant given his position as a member of the FIFA audit and compliance committee, which must play an important and independent role if corruption within FIFA is to be eliminated.”

In total, the US investigation has led to more than 40 football officials and businessmen being charged, with 21 now pleading guilty and paying huge fines. Lai, for example, agreed to forfeit USD 1.1million (£850,000).

* From Press Association

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