Mario Gotze will miss the Champions League final – meaning he will avoid another angry backlash from furious Borussia Dortmund fans.
The forward has been ruled out of Saturday’s showpiece at Wembley with a thigh injury.
It is a major blow for manager Jurgen Klopp, who leads his side into battle against Bayern Munich in a bid to be crowned champions of Europe.
Yet, Gotze may be relieved to avoid another backlash from fans after going house hunting in Munich in the build-up to Saturday’s all-German Champions League final.
Out: Mario Gotze will miss the Champions League final because of injury Already pilloried by an outraged Dortmund public for agreeing to join bitter rivals and Wembley opponents Bayern after this weekend’s season finale, the 20-year old has risked further alienating them by viewing property in the Bavarian capital while his team-mates prepared for the biggest game of their lives.
The trip last week was ostensibly for a consultation with a Munich specialist but he ended up dividing his time between having his hamstring injury treated and touring one of the city’s most desirable residential areas.
He evidently viewed an apartment that was to his liking and while no-one can blame him for planning ahead, it is bound to be seen as insensitive by Dortmund followers so close to his planned farewell appearance against the team he is about to join, in the biggest club game German football has known.
Still a fortnight short of his 21st birthday, he will apparently take any escalation of hostility towards him in his stride.
Such a sustained level of abuse, since his 31.5million defection to Bayern was announced a month ago, might normally be enough to test the fortitude of the most seasoned campaigner, but a Dortmund source insisted: ‘You will not find a cooler customer than Mario.
Burn it up: Some protesting Dortmund supporters set fire to a Gotze shirt and filmed it ‘Throughout all that has happened over the past few weeks, he has remained the same person, single-minded in his outlook and absolutely determined to sign off as a Champions League winner.
‘You would think he was in his mid-30s, such is his temperament.
He is completely in control of his emotions and never gets flustered or intimidated by anything.
‘This will be the biggest game he has played in, and it could be made all the more difficult if he is singled out by the fans, but there won’t be any nerves.
There never are.
‘Everyone at the club considers him a good guy, and you have to admire his self-belief.
Nothing fazes him.’ Loud and proud: Borussia Dortmund fans are always in fine voice in their famous Westfalenstadion News of the escape clause in his contract being triggered caused growing anger and resentment and forced manager Klopp to intervene and appeal for calm, as his side prepared for their Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid at the Westfalenstadion last month.
Despite Klopp’s best efforts, Gotze still needed a police escort to and from training the following day, and there was little sign of fans reconciling themselves to his departure, as they stepped up their protests.
A photograph posted on Twitter showed Gotze’s yellow Dortmund shirt hanging on a peg, with JUDAS scrawled across where his name should be.
On YouTube, there was footage of another Dortmund jersey, with his name and number on the back, being burned, in what looked like someone’s garage.
Anger: Dortmund fans were not happy when they learned Gotze would be joining Bayern Munich In a more sinister development, there were reports his younger brother returned home from school early, after suffering ‘traitor’ taunts, and that the family home had been spray painted by Dortmund ultras.
The extreme reaction underlined why Dortmund had been at pains to keep the move under wraps.
They had no choice but to go public, though, after chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke was alerted to top-selling German newspaper Bild having impeccably-sourced evidence that the transfer had been agreed.
As part of the bitter fall-out, Robert Lewandowski may have to wait to join his team-mate at the Allianz Arena.
Not you as well: Robert Lewandowski could also be set to leave Dortmund for rivals Bayern Munich Such is Dortmund’s ill-feeling towards their Bundesliga rivals that they are ready to dig their heels in and make Lewandowski see out the remaining 12 months on his contract, rather than sell him to Bayern now.
Lewandowski has made it clear he wants to follow Gotze to Bayern, and they have not only agreed to meet the asking price but drawn up a contract that has been met with the Dortmund striker’s approval.
But Watzke is having none of it and is adamant he would rather forfeit upwards of 20m than sanction another Bayern raid on Klopp’s best players.
As German football gears up for its big night at Wembley, it looks like being a case of who blinks first, off the pitch as well as on it.
The Vince Lombardi Trophy will be lifted by the winners of Super Bowl L in Santa Clara.
Photograph: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images San Francisco will host the 50th Super Bowl in 2016, the NFL announced on Tuesday.
Super Bowl L will be played in the 49ers new stadium in Santa Clara, the first time the NFL showpiece has been held in the Bay Area since 1985.
The NFL owners, meeting in Boston, also awarded the 51st Super Bowl to Houston after team owners voted for the two cities ahead of a bid from South Florida.
The $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara is set to open by August 2014 – after one last 49ers season at the fabled Candlestick Park.
Bay Area businesses have already raised $30 million to help pay for the Super Bowl and related events, mainly via internet giants Apple, Google and Yahoo.
Referring to February’s 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans,49ers CEO Jed York said: “After losing a Super Bowl, it’s certainly nice to win a Super Bowl.” Miami competed for the right to host both the 50th and 51st Super Bowls but was unpopular with NFL owners because of lack of public funding for stadium upgrades in South Florida.
Finances to upgrade the Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium have been declined by local authorities, who recently subsidized a new baseball stadium for the Miami Marlins, only to see the team then trade away its best players after just one season.
The NFL has emphasized giving Super Bowls to franchises and states that have either built new stadiums or refurbished old ones.
The 2014 Super Bowl will be played at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where the New York Giants and Jets play, while the 49th Super Bowl will be at the University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals.
No team has ever played in their home stadium in a Super Bowl.
Luke George extends his loan agreement with Hull KR Hull Kingston Rovers have extended their loan agreement with the Huddersfield Giants for the services of Luke George.
The initial one-month period has expired but the new deal means George is available to play in the Magic event at the weekend.
Giants managing director Richard Thewlis said: “Luke is in the team across on Humberside and they must be happy with him as they wished to retain him for longer which is great news.” “RFL regulations mean that after a month the arrangement can be revoked by either party at a days notice so the natural thing is to continue as we are.
“Clubs situations can change quickly as we all know injury and form wise and as we are relatively healthy in the outside backs I think it’s another win-win for all concerned that he remains representing the Robins for now.
“In particular the chance to play in the Humberside derby at the showpiece Magic event is something that I am sure Luke will relish and for many of our supporters who have bought weekend tickets it will be a chance to support him live at what I am certain will be a memorable weekend.”
Spacesuit uniforms for the groundkeepers as they prepare the diamond for the first game in the Astrodome, Houston, Texas, April 12, 1965.
The dome, as seen here, had a translucent roof to allow the grass to grow but glare caused the panes to be painted over, which caused the grass to die, until eventually Monsanto invented AstroTurf as a replacement.
Photograph: Robert Riger/Getty Images It hosted the biggest stars in sports and entertainment and became one of the most iconic and influential buildings in America.
Now forlorn and empty, the Astrodome in Houston could soon be razed and replaced by a parking lot.
On Tuesday the NFL’s owners meet in Boston to decide which cities will host the 50th anniversary Super Bowl in 2016 and the following year’s game.
Santa Clara and Miami Gardens are vying for 2016 and the Bay Area is the firm favorite because the San Francisco 49ers are soon to move from venerable Candlestick Park to a new stadium, while Florida’s politicians recently refused to pay for upgrades to the Miami Dolphins’ ageing home.
The loser from the 2016 contest will battle Houston for the right to host Super Bowl LI.
While south Florida undeniably has a trendier beach scene than south Texas, Reliant Stadium has a strong sporting case.
Opened in 2002, the arena has a retractable roof and successfully hosted American football’s showpiece in 2004.
The Houston Texans are currently installing the largest HD in-stadium video screens in the world, to boost the bid and outdo the Dallas Cowboys in a classic piece of “Everything’s bigger in Texas” one-upmanship.
The main problem with Houston’s case is the landmark only 200ft away: a decaying relic that now resembles a sad gray souffl .
Roger Goodell hinted in March that bulldozing the Astrodome would help Houston’s Super Bowl prospects.
Said the commissioner: “Those are decisions that have to be made by the community.
It sounds like a very positive change because they’ll be able to use the space that the Astrodome sits on in a very positive way.
Whether it’s more parking, whether we can have more events there on that space – it’s not just the stadium itself, it’s the area surrounding it that’s valuable.
And, I think that could be a very positive change in their Super Bowl bid.” In March, the Texans and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo revealed they had commissioned a report that claimed the Astrodome could be imploded and replaced with 1,600 parking spaces for $29 million – less than half the cost of previous estimates.
But the Reliant Park complex already boasts more than 26,000 spaces.
“I don’t think it’s about the parking spaces.
I think they don’t want a giant derelict stadium sitting next to the Super Bowl in 2017,” said Tory Gattis, a Houston business strategist.
The 1962 ground-breaking ceremony was conducted in truly Texan style: local dignitaries used guns to shoot blanks into the earth.
It opened in 1965 and was home to Astros baseball and Oilers football.
It inspired the construction of multi-sport venues elsewhere and its artificial grass became popularly known as AstroTurf.
During the 1960s it was a symbol of American ambition and modernity and the pride of “Space City”, together with NASA’s Mission Control.
Muhammad Ali fought there, Evel Knievel soared over cars on his motorbike and Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes tennis match.
Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Jackson Five and many more headline acts performed in the once-futuristic, air-conditioned surrounds of the world’s first domed stadium.
In 1970, Robert Altman directed Brewster McCloud, a film about a young man living in the Astrodome who plans to build a pair of wings.
Thirty-five years later, it was a temporary home to thousands of refugees from Hurricane Katrina who were bussed from New Orleans as conditions worsened inside the SuperDome.
Refugees of Hurricane Katrina fill the floor of the Astrodome in 2005.
Photograph: Richard Carson/Reuters The Astros quit for a new downtown ballpark in 2000 and when the rodeo moved to Reliant Stadium in 2003 there were no major tenants left.
It was officially shut in 2008 after an inspection found that it was unsafe for occupancy, though the structure remains sound.
Now, as pictures show, the stadium is slowly, spookily, rusting towards oblivion.
Numerous ambitious and inventive renovation schemes have foundered due to a lack of funds and political inertia but the attention on the Super Bowl bid has given the debate fresh impetus and a resolution finally seems near.
Knocking it down would be the least expensive solution, but a blow to nostalgics in a forward-looking city with few historical buildings.
June 10 is the deadline to submit proposals to the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, which will then make recommendations to local government later in the month.
Ideas that require significant taxpayer funding are likely to be put to a public vote in November.
Says Gattis: “For Houstonians it carries a lot of weight and for Americans in general it’s a known thing.
It was such a big deal in the 60s.
Houston is a city that’s lacking in distinctive icons.
It’s still magnificent inside.
When you’re under that roof it’s just a spectacular space.
It just feels impressive.” Gattis suggests the Astrodome could become a national museum of technology and innovation.
“If we did a flagship museum on the scale of the National Air and Space Museum in DC that could put us on the map,” he said.
Chris Alexander heads a non-profit group called Astrodome Tomorrow, which is putting together a proposal for the Astrodome to become a public park with museums on topics such as sports, oil and gas and rodeo.
He said he first fell in love with the arena as a 15-year-old attending its inaugural concert in 1965, which featured Judy Garland and The Supremes.
“We know there is sentiment in the Texans to knock the building down,” he said.
“There’s a better solution on parking that satisfies the Texans’ needs.” Alexander wants to build a garage elsewhere on the site.
“Our biggest priority is to save the building and preserve it for future use,” he said, adding that he thinks it could last for another century.
He estimates his park plans would cost between $800m – $1bn.
Even the University of Southern California reportedly has a secret plan for the Astrodome.
Given USC’s Los Angeles location, there is speculation it could involve turning the site into a giant film studio.
Other ideas include a hotel and convention center, a lake and an amusement park.
In the meantime, Alexander is seeking donations to buy a pressure-wash for the grimy, dulled exterior and make what was once called the Eighth Wonder of the World sparkle again.
Super Bowl 2016 and 2017 announcement: 2pm ET.
Jakub Blaszczykowski says Borussia Dortmund can beat Bayern Munich Football News
Borussia Dortmund attacking midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski2 insisted that his side knows how to register a win against Bayern Munich in Saturday s UEFA Champions League final at Wembley. He is aware of the fact that the league champions will pose a significant threat for BVB.
“In this particular match, what will be decisive is the form you’re in on that day. And we’ve shown that we know how to play against Bayern, that we respect this team,” he was quoted as saying in an interview.
“For sure they’re a very good team, but we also know what abilities we have, and we’ll do everything to show our skills, he added. “There are many different theories you could try to find here, but in the end we’ll see on the pitch who is better, who is in better form on a given day, he finally concluded.
However, he has stressed that the BVB have proven in previous games that they can defeat the Bavarian giants. He further added that in this showdown, whichever team is in good form on that day will claim the European trophy.
Moreover, he stated that Dortmund know how to play against Der FCB from their past experiences.
On the other hand, he admitted that they respect their fierce rivals and what they have achieved so far this season. He praised Die Roten but said they are aware of their potential and will try to do their best to show their talent. He continued that you can try a number of theories.
As a result of this, the form on May 25 will decide the fate of the Champions League as both teams have the ability to beat each other.
He added that the BVB have had a great run in Europe s premier cup competition and they cannot wait for the showpiece.
He feels it will be one hell of a final and Dortmund will win the clash.
The match will take place on Saturday in London.
After Middlesbrough’s 4-0 defeat in the 2006 UEFA Cup final against Sevilla, Steve McClaren went on an awkward lap of honour with his beaten team.
It was his last game in charge before he became England’s head coach and it was an uncomfortable experience as he made his way towards Boro’s fans following the trophy presentation.
His popularity at the Riverside had been dwindling after an ultimately successful scrap against relegation from the Premier League that season.
Sitting uncomfortably: A disillusioned Middlesbrough fan confronted Steve McClaren back in January 2006 Tears for fears: McClaren comforts Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink after Boro’s defeat in the UEFA Cup final Beaten 7-0 by Arsenal in January 2006, a disillusioned supporter ran on to the field when they were being clobbered 4-0 by Aston Villa in February to throw his season ticket at the outgoing manager.
Win or lose a lap of honour, or show of appreciation in the way of the modern football world, has always been the done thing after a major cup final.
McClaren did it that night, but it wasn’t without hesitation or uncertainty.
At one point a Boro fan sympathetically threw a red and white scarf on to the pitch at the Philips Stadion and McClaren wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.
He went to put it round his neck before taking a safer option and holding it in his hand as he acknowledged Middlesbrough’s travelling support.
This evening, inside the Amsterdam ArenA, Rafa Benitez will have a dilemma after the Europa League final against Benfica.
Not plane sailing: Rafa Benitez touches down in Holland on Tuesday ahead of the Europa League final tonight On the ball: Benitez speaks to the assembled media ahead of tonight’s showpiece against Benfica It would be nice to think that Benitez could head towards Chelsea’s travelling support this evening, applauding them for their unstinting loyalty and thanking them after another European night.
Sadly it’s impossible to think that perhaps not even a single Chelsea fan will hand him a scarf to wear around his neck to show his temporary affiliation.
Chelsea’s interim manager knows the protocol, particularly after taking Liverpool to that extraordinary victory in the Champions League final in 2005 and the defeat in Athens two years later.
Win or lose against the Portuguese league leaders, his team will turn to the 9,500 Chelsea supporters and make their way towards them.
For Benitez, after Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers blows the final whistle, the decision is riddled with issues that pre-date his controversial appointment as Chelsea coach in November 2012 to replace Roberto di Matteo.
He can argue that he has done a decent job in the short space of time that he has been at Stamford Bridge.
The initial brief was to guarantee Champions League football and he is 90 minutes away from securing third place in the Barclays Premier League this weekend.
At boardroom level it’s pretty much job done, but the supporters still see it differently.
Benitez’s legacy among the fans is the hatred that ultimately forced him into his infamous ‘Rafa Rant’ following victory in the FA Cup fifth round at Middlesbrough in March.
Two months earlier he walked off the pitch at Griffin Park at half-time during the FA Cup tie to some of the most hostile chants that any modern day manager has had to endure.
Fact: The Chelsea fans haven’t made Benitez feel welcome during his short tenure in charge of the Stamford Bridge club ‘**** off Benitez we don’t want you here’ was sang loudly from the visiting section, words that remain offensive no matter how many times you watch it unfold on YouTube.
After a reprimand from the board following his outburst at the Riverside, he has been careful not to engage in any debate or otherwise with Chelsea supporters.
As they closed in on Champions League football with a 2-0 victory over Swansea at Stamford Bridge, he claimed they ‘respected’ the job he is doing at Chelsea.
The banners, the hatred and venom that overshadowed his early games at Stamford Bridge, haven’t been as visible in recent weeks.
Man in charge: The Spaniard puts his players through their paces ahead of his penultimate game as manager There was some mild criticism, with chants of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’, during the 2-2 draw with Tottenham last week when he brought on Yossi Benayoun towards the end of the game.
Beyond that, Benitez has been trying to maintain a low profile and doesn’t want to risk antagonising Chelsea’s supporters any more than he already has.
There is some precedent under previous managers at Stamford Bridge, notably when Avram Grant performed a gracious lap of honour after the final home game of the season against Bolton on May, 11 2008.
The previous month he sunk to his knees during an emotional and memorable night when Chelsea reached the Champions League final after beating Liverpool.
Lap of honour: Avram Grant wasn’t a popular appointment but was given a gracious send-off by the Chelsea fans Grant had never been a popular appointment after being promoted from his role as director of football to replace Jose Mourinho at short notice in September 2007.
But that didn’t stop him waving at Chelsea supporters and signing autographs for supporters at Stamford Bridge in his final home game in charge of the club.
Tonight, inside the Amsterdam ArenA, it would be nice to think Benitez could do the same.
Chelsea’s John Terry sits out training with an injury ahead of Wednesday’s Europa League final at the ArenA stadium in Amsterdam.
Photograph: Matt Dunham/AP Frank Lampard will captain Chelsea in the Europa League final on Wednesday night but John Terry, who has been ruled out of the game with an ankle injury, is expected to join him on the podium to lift the trophy should the London club defeat Benfica.
Terry, who damaged his left ankle in Saturday’s victory at Aston Villa and arrived in the Netherlands with a pronounced limp and with the joint heavily strapped, made a bold attempt to prove he should warrant a place at least on the substitutes’ bench by venturing out on to the turf as the squad trained at the Amsterdam ArenA night.
But the centre-half, wearing trainers rather than boots, managed only one lap of the pitch with the fitness coach before retiring inside for further treatment.
Eden Hazard, who injured a hamstring at Villa Park, will also miss the game, as will Ryan Bertrand.
That leaves the interim manager Rafael Ben tez effectively left to select from a threadbare 18-man squad that includes Victor Moses, who picked up a slight knock at the weekend.
Lampard will start and, as Terry’s deputy, will take on the armband against the Portuguese having performed a similar duty in last year’s Champions League showpiece.
The veteran is finally expected to sign a new one-year contract to extend his stay at the club into a 13th season in the coming days, with the possibility that confirmation of a deal will be announced ahead of the final game of the domestic season this weekend.
Lampard has expressed his pride at his long association with this club, even if the days of being offered longer-term deals are long gone, and offered his sympathies to Terry.
The centre-back had missed last season’s Champions League final through suspension, having been red-carded for kicking Barcelona’s Alexis’s nchez in the semi-final at the Camp Nou, but was permitted to lift the trophy with the midfielder in the post-match ceremony on the pitch.
Terry described the Europa League as his “lifeline” last month, having found opportunities limited in domestic competition, and has featured in six of the side’s eight games en route to the final.
“It’s very unfortunate,” said Lampard, who hopes to be included in Roy Hodgson’s England squad for next month’s friendlies against the Republic of Ireland and Brazil.
“But when we have been here a long time, trying to win cups and leagues, I don’t think it matters too much if you are winning them as an individual or not because you’ve been involved in the process.
That would be the same this time if we win.
It was the same last year with John and anyone who is suspended or injured: you win it together and, as captain of the club John will be right up there.” Chelsea are seeking to become the first club to follow up Champions League success with a Europa League triumph 12 months later.
While their two European finals over the Roman Abramovich era have each culminated in a penalty shoot-out, Lampard revealed the squad had not practised spot-kicks in the buildup to the confrontation with Benfica.
“We haven’t as yet,” he said.
“We did before etter not.
“A year ago we did practise them and did a little circular thing I think it was ahead of Swansea in the Capital One Cup semi-finals, and it’s a strange one.
I’ve practised them with England many times at tournaments and we’ve ended up going out.
There’s no perfect recipe.” The goalkeeper, Petr Cech, who saved three spot-kicks against Bayern Munich in last year’s final, confirmed he would be willing to take one himself this time round if required.
Libranno: On course for the Lockinge Richard Hannon has his eyes on a third JLT Lockinge Stakes as he prepares to saddle Trumpet Major and Libranno in the Group One at Newbury on Saturday.
The Herridge handler has captured the mile showpiece twice in recent years with Paco Boy (2010) and Canford Cliffs (2011) and is expecting good runs from his two representatives.
They renew rivalry after clashing in the bet365 Mile at Sandown where Trumpet Major landed the Group Two spoils with Libranno back in fourth place.
While Hannon rates Trumpet Major quite highly, he does feel Libranno could reduce the deficit on the back of that outing.
“Trumpet Major is a good horse when he’s right.
As long as the ground doesn’t go on the soft side, he’ll run a very good race.
He needs good ground or even faster,” Hannon told At The Races.
“Libranno will come on a hell of a lot for his run.
He will pick up a few lengths on his run (behind Trumpet Major at Sandown).
We were always worried about him getting the trip but it looks to me like he is getting it this year.”
The Manchester City manager, Roberto Mancini, leaves the Wembley pitch after his team lost 1-0 to Wigan in the FA Cup final.
Photograph: Jon Super/AP Wigan Athletic entered dreamland with a breathtaking FA Cup final win as a 90th-minute Ben Watson header beat Manchester City, giving a club whose inaugural Football League season was only in 1978 their first major honour.
The triumph was given poignancy as Dave Whelan, the chairman, broke his leg in the 1960 showpiece when playing for Blackburn Rovers.
Watson himself had only recently returned from his own leg break, suffered against Liverpool in mid-November.
City’s defeat closed a difficult 24 hours for Roberto Mancini following reports in Spain that he will be replaced by Manuel Pellegrini, the M laga coach, in the summer.
Asked about his future at the club, Mancini said: “It’s rubbish, this speculation.
I know football and anything can happen.
In one or two weeks you will know if it’s true or not.
If it’s not true then a lot of stupid things have been written.
If it’s true then I’m stupid.
“It’s not my problem if I will retain my job.
I will work at 100% always.
I am sure that we have done a good job for three years.
My contract is for four years not one.
You’ve continued to speak about this for the last six months and for the last two weeks, it’s been too much.” Mancini then criticised the club’s hierarchy for not nipping the speculation in the bud.
“I don’t know why the club didn’t stop this,” he said.
“It’s rubbish, this speculation.
But we will see in two weeks maybe one week, when the season ends if it’s true.” Asked if he had sought assurances from City, the Italian said: “No.
There is no reason for me to ask.” Speaking earlier in the day, Pellegrini admitted he will almost definitely leave M laga in the close season.
“I have already made it clear that it is not ideal to end the season in this way.
We are in unusual circumstances.
I don’t think any of us really want to leave M laga,” he said of the club’s financial predicament.
“Everyone would prefer to stay but unfortunately, the circumstances we are in don’t allow that.
Being linked to other clubs doesn’t annoy me or make me feel uncomfortable it’s something that usually happens every year.” Khaldoon al-Mubarak, the City chairman, had flown over from Abu Dhabi but his day ended in disappointment as Watson grabbed the late winner.
He said: “Unbelievable.
The boys were fantastic from the first minute to the 95th.
It’s been a long six months for myself and it’s been a dream coming on in an FA Cup final and scoring the winner.” Whelan, whose Rovers side lost 3-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the final in which he suffered his injury, said: “It’s fantastic.
I had a dream and didn’t publish it.
I said we would get Blackburn in the final after we beat Everton but Blackburn lost.
Then I thought we would get Man City in the final and win 1-0.
The dream has come true.” Whelan hailed Callum McManaman, the 22-year-old who drew criticism for a tackle on Newcastle’s Massadio Ha dara in March, following a man-of-the-match display.
“I think he’s a real diamond of English football,” he said.
Wigan visit Arsenal on Tuesday evening as they try to avoid relegation, giving Roberto Mart nez little time to saviour the triumph.
“It’s an incredible moment.
At half-time we were all really down as we thought we had played really well in the first half,” he said.
Vincent Kompany, the City captain, remained magnanimous.
“There is no need to look for excuses,” he said.
“Wigan deserved to win it, congratulations to them.
We have to come back, we’ll have plenty of occasions to win it again.”
Fans of Olympiacos Piraeus celebrate their qualification for the Euroleague Final Four, which takes place in London this weekend.
Photograph: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP Told earlier this year that Barcelona would in May be taking on Real Madrid in a showpiece end-of-season European final in London before a sell-out crowd, the thoughts of most sports fans would turn to Ronaldo and Messi gracing Wembley.
But although their footballing counterparts foundered at the Champions League’s semi-final stage, the Spanish sides are two of the best four basketball teams in Europe competing this weekend at the O 2 Arena in the Euroleague finals.
Still virtually unknown in this country, despite the huge popularity of teams in Spain, Turkey, Russia and elsewhere on the continent, Euroleague executives hope that bringing their end-of-season finals to London will help establish a bridgehead into the UK.
To that end, they have also taken over Trafalgar Square for the duration of the weekend to host basketball demonstrations and masterclasses on a weatherproof court, encouraged by Boris Johnson who is attempting to capitalise on the Olympics by attracting as many major sporting events to the capital as possible.
On Friday night Barcelona Regal took on Real Madrid and last year’s champions, Olympiacos Piraeus, took on CSKA Moscow in front of a predicted 16,000 crowd, split between travelling fans of the teams concerned and domestic basketball fans curious to see what the fuss is about.
Jordi Bertomeu, the president and chief executive of Euroleague, said that bringing the event to London for the next two years was part of a conscious strategy to grow into new markets and thanked AEG for offering up their “jewel in the crown”, in the shape of the O 2 , to host the final four teams.
“We have four great clubs that not only represent the history of European basketball but also have an important present and a bright future.
We have the best players and coaches of the continent fighting to become the champions of this Euroleague final four,” said Bertomeu, who claimed that the league’s popularity and commercial potential had continued to rise.
“Our final will be enjoyed by the fans in The O 2 but also those at home who watch the games on TV in 199 countries an all-time record for European basketball, a success that belongs to all of us.” The popularity of the game in Spain and on the continent stems in part from the multisport approach of clubs such as Barcelona, where fans of the football club are also likely to follow the basketball and handball teams based around the Camp Nou campus.
Cesc F bregas and other Barcelona players have been sighted cheering on their basketball counterparts.
Despite the recurrent difficulties faced by British basketball administrators in establishing a stable professional league, there is renewed hope that the sport can create a virtuous circle of raising participation at the grassroots and becoming more attractive to spectators domestically.
Hopes of both have been raised by a post-Olympics U-turn by UK Sport to reinstate 8.5m in funding that was due to be cut and the prospect of the London Lions playing their British Basketball League games in the Copper Box on the Olympic Park from the start of next season.
At London 2012 ticket holders got a taste of the European passion for basketball in the temporary basketball arena, particularly on nights when the noisy Lithuanian fans were in town.
The atmosphere in the O 2 is sure to be equally raucous on Sunday, when the two winning sides from Friday’s semi-finals will compete in the final and the two losers will play off for third place.
It’s a big deal to have an event of this magnitude in London.
Not a lot of people know just how big this is until they get there,” said Pops Mensah-Bonsu, the British forward who has played in the NBA and around Europe, and represented Team GB at the London Olympics and now plays for the Italian side Olimpia Milano.
“I’ve played in a Euroleague Final Four and I didn’t know it was that big until it got there.
The fact the Euroleague has chosen London for the next two years is a really big deal.
Basketball is one of those sports where if you haven’t seen it live before, you love it straight away.
“For all parties, it’s got to be a good thing.
It helps with the promotion of basketball and shows the rest of London and Great Britain just how big it is, and hopefully we can reach out to the younger generation and get them playing basketball too.” The mayor of London said he was encouraged by the deal that would see the Lions move into the Copper Box, which hosted handball during the Olympics, and hoped the Euroleague finals would help grow the sport.
“It’s a way of expanding basketball in London, which is a growing sport,” Johnson said.