Maradona’s quote after Pope’s inter-religious peace match is priceless

3 Comments

Pope Francis is a big soccer fan. He’s also a pretty big deal, so when the Argentine-born Roman Catholic leader issued a call for an inter-religious soccer match for peace, the big names came out.

One of those big names is Diego Maradona — pictured inset, arguing with a referee at said charity match — who is among the best players to ever step onto a soccer pitch but also a controversial figure who described his handled goal that beat England as the “Hand of God”.

So, the players were in place — both theatrically and athletically — for a classic Maradona moment, and the 53-year-old obliged slightly after his side, Scholas Occurrentes, fell to Javier Zanetti’s side by a 6-3 score.

From the Associated Press:

“Today two powers were brought together, the hand of God and that of the Pope,” Maradona said. “Pope Francis is much more than Maradona. He is the real outstanding star. … I grew apart from the church because I thought it wasn’t doing enough for the needy, but with Francis it’s different.”

Pupi got back into the match with a penalty from former AC Milan great Andriy Shevchenko, who doubled his tally late on.

Tomer Hemed netted the equalizer and Mauro Icardi scored a hat trick.

Martino and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger put together teams featuring Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist players. The star-studded lineups included past and present players such as Carlos Valderrama , Diego Simeone, Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon.

For his part, Pope Francis explained his desire for the event in a pregame meeting with the players:

“I thank you because you immediately adhered to my desire to see champions and coaches from various countries and different religions facing each other in a sporting match, to demonstrate fraternity and friendship,” Francis said in his audience with the players.

“Tonight’s match will certainly be an occasion to collect funds and support, but above all to reflect on the universal values which football and sport in general can promote: loyalty, sharing, welcoming, dialogue, trust in the other. It’s about values which joins every person regardless of race, culture and religious belief.”

Tata Martino and Arsene Wenger were the managers, and “put together teams featuring Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist players. The star-studded lineups included past and present players such as Carlos Valderrama , Diego Simeone, Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon. Paolo Maldini, Samuel Eto’o and Andrea Pirlo were on the bench but did not play.”

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

[ MORE: Chicharito talks heating up with LA FC ]

On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.

Conte praises Hazard’s style, wouldn’t want him to be “more selfish”

Julian Finney/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antonio Conte made two bold decisions on Saturday afternoon as his Chelsea side prepared to take on Tottenham in their FA Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu shines with Saints as he prepares for Chelsea return ]

The Italian manager has been known for his innovation and risk-taking in the past, but many were critical of the 47-year-old when his team sheet came out ahead of the match.

Conte left key attacking duo Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench, allowing out-of-favor striker Michy Batshuayi and Pedro to get the starting nod.

Although Hazard nor Costa saw the field for the opening hour, the former made his presence known when he was summoned by Conte in the second half.

Often times Hazard has been known as a facilitator, someone that can pick apart defenses with his tremendous foot skills and clever passing. But the Belgian international has also shown his capabilities of scoring on a regular basis as well, which has prompted great interest from other giant clubs around Europe.

When Conte was asked about Hazard and if his attacker should be more selfish, the Italian gave an emphatic “NO” as his response.

“No, no, no, absolutely not,” Conte said. “I don’t think that a player like Messi is a selfish player. The first target for every great champion is to play for the team and to put your talent into the team. If you do this, the team [increases] your talent.

“The best players in the world don’t exist without a team. For me, it’s sad to listen to this, that a player must ‘be more selfish’ to reach the top level. That’s very sad. It’s not my idea of football and I will never understand this. Never, never. In my team, I don’t want selfish players.

“I prefer to lose a game than to have a selfish player. For me, I don’t want this and I can’t accept this. I don’t want my club to buy me a selfish player one day. Never. No.”

Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League

Stu Forster/Getty Images
1 Comment

Two sides have now booked their trips to England’s top flight after Newcastle United rattled off its 27th win of the season.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu — The perfectly poised destroyer ]

The Magpies earned a decisive 4-1 victory over Preston North End on Monday afternoon at St. James’ Park as the second-place side ensured its finish inside the top two in the English Championship.

Newcastle joins already-promoted club Brighton & Hove Albion, who currently sit atop the Championship on 92 points.

Ayoze Perez paced the hosts with goals on both sides of halftime, while Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie also converted for Newcastle.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender DeAndre Yedlin was on the bench for the Magpies but didn’t feature in Monday’s match.

The third and final team to be promoted from the Championship will be decided by the league’s annual promotion playoff, which is held at the end of the season and contested by four sides that finish third through sixth position.

As it stands, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Fulham occupy the four playoff positions.