The man they call ‘Thunderbolt’ will no longer be banging in shots from distance for Norway as John Arne Riise announced his international retirement on Monday.
The 32 year old left-back goes out as Norway’s most-capped player ever with 110 appearances. Riise made his debut for the Drillos against Iceland in January 2000 and went on to score his first international goal against Turkey in a friendly the following month. Over the ensuing decade Riise solidified his spot as Norway’s first-choice left-back. In last August’s match against Greece, Riise played his 104th match for Norway, equalling the 50 year old record held by Thorbjørn Svenssen.
Riise claims his decision to quit international football was because he recognized he was in the final phase of his career and wanted to fully focus on club football at Fulham. “After a lot of thought I’ve decided not to continue with international football,” Riise said in a statement on Monday.
“I am going into the final stage of my career and I’m at an age where I have to take a clear decision if I want to achieve my final goal, to play another four or five years in Europe.”
While Norwegian Football Association president Yngve Hallen was gracious in his receipt of the news – noting that “[Riise’s] contribution on the pitch has been formidable,” – the ginger has chosen an interesting time to retire.
With just five matches remaining in FIFA World Cup Qualifying, Norway sits in fourth place in Group E, just five points behind group leader Switzerland and two adrift of Iceland and Albania. It’s a position that many would feel Norway could take advantage of as they try to qualify for their first World Cup since 1998. Furthermore, the fact that Riise has never participated in a World Cup makes the decision even more surprising.
Like many players on the wrong side of 30, Riise’s decision makes financial sense. By freeing himself of international football he decreases the strain on his legs, increasing the likelihood that he can continue to perform well for Fulham and earn himself one more contract to pad that bank account.
Spanish outlet Marca claims that a number of North American sides are among the clubs chasing Fernando Torres.
The Spanish striker has only scored more than 11 goals once since 2009-10, and is uncapped since 2014. But that doesn’t mean clubs from China to to the U.S. and the UAE to Japan aren’t interested in the 31-year-old.
[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]
The Marca report claims three MLS teams are interested and also name drops the New York Cosmos of the NASL, who’ve recently brought Venezuelan legend Juan Arango on board.
It’s hard to imagine anyone outside the MLS rich sides taking a risk on Torres. Maybe Montreal would look to reunite him with Didier Drogba, and Torres certainly has experience combining with New York City’s David Villa. As for the third… Orlando City? Chicago?
Your guess is as good as ours, though it could be moot if this is solely about money. China continues to spend well.
Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.
Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.
What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?
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Turns out, a lot.
There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.
Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – vs. Spurs
The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.
But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.
That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).
If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.
What a weekend. Let’s relive it.
Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.
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Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.
Come for the goal, stay for the “Gol” call.
Or should we say the “Gol. Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Gol” call.
[ MORE: Angry Louis van Gaal rips journalists for “inventing” stories ]
USMNT defender Omar Gonzalez has opened his account for Pachuca with this 88th minute header, and it’s worth it if just for the auditory performance.
Gonzalez also pulls out the high-capacity weapon celebration, though he’s apparently opted to do the version closer to the “Scarface” finale (Spoiler alert).