Friday, February 01, 2008

Van Basten: Kuyt Not Good Enough

Holland coach Marco van Basten has claimed Liverpool striker Dirk Kuyt was not worthy of a place in his latest Dutch squad.

The 27-year-old has been omitted from the 21-man party named on Friday for the friendly against Croatia on February 6.

Van Basten, who will step down from his post after Euro 2008, had named Kuyt in a provisional squad of 27, but the former Feyenoord forward did not make the cut for the clash at the Poljud Stadium in Split.

The coach criticised his performances for Liverpool which have seen him score just seven times this season and fail to find the net in his last 11 games.

Van Basten told reporters: "The system we had can be compared with Liverpool's... and his performances are not good enough."

The AC Milan legend gave Kuyt, who has racked up 35 caps, his debut in 2004, but his omission signals a change of system for Holland.

"We will now move on with a sort of 4-2-3-1 system," van Basten added.

Holland have four further friendlies - against Austria, Ukraine, Denmark and Wales - before they kick off their European Championship campaign, but with Van Basten opting to go for just up one front, Kuyt's chances of an international return before the summer look bleak.

There was though good news for Ibrahim Afellay, Denny Landzaat and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, who are all back in the squad after lengthy absences.

PSV Eindhoven star Afellay and Feyenoord's Landzaat return after five-month absences, while Celtic striker Vennegoor of Hesselink has been out of favour for six months.

Afellay and Vennegoor of Hesselink were last part of the national set-up in September for their Euro 2008 qualifying double-header against Bulgaria and Albania, while Landzaat, who moved back to his homeland from Premier League side Wigan in the transfer window, was last involved in a friendly with Switzerland in August.

But with Holland drawn in the toughest group at Euro 2008 alongside France, Italy and Romania, Van Basten does not see the Croatia game as a chance to experiment.

He told "Croatia's a friendly match so in that sense the result is of less importance, but obviously we want to practice as well as we can so we have to take this match seriously."

Other members of the provisional party who have not been called up by Van Basten are Danny Koevermans, Urby Emanuelson, Kew Jaliens, Hedwiges Maduro and Henk Timmer

Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben were not included because of injury.

Benitez Demands Passion And Pride

Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has urged his players to show the passion and pride the shirt deserves when they face Sunderland at the weekend.

Benitez says that the players need to recognise that it is an honour to play for such a “special” club, and has urged them to show the fighting spirit required in order to gain their first win of 2008 against Roy Keane’s Sunderland.

"This is a very, very special club and we are really lucky because we have the support of the best fans in the world" Benitez said.

"Whenever I speak to my friends who work in football in Spain they tell me how lucky I am to be manager of such a great club with such fans and I know that.

"So when things are not going so well it is vital that everyone at the club does everything we can to make things better. We have to have pride in the shirt, pride in the club that we work for and pride in the fans that we represent.

"We cannot feel sorry for ourselves or wish that things were different because that changes nothing. The only way things will get better for us is if we make it happen."

Two FA Cup wins over lesser sides Luton and Havant & Waterlooville have not creased over the cracks of their poor league form.

"I have confidence in my players and in my staff and we have shown what we can achieve together so many times" Benitez continued.

"Things have not gone our way in the last few games but you do not always get what you deserve. The key when this happens is to train harder, to work harder in training and to play better in matches.

"If you do all of those things then we will soon get back to winning ways" he added.

Heat Is All On Liverpool, Insists Moyes

Everton boss David Moyes is quietly confident that his team can defy the odds to secure a place in the Champions League, and insists they hold an important psychological advantage over their bitter rivals Liverpool.

Before the start of this season, hardly anyone would have favoured Everton over Liverpool in the increasingly cutthroat battle to qualify for Europe's elite club competition, but a couple of games past the halfway mark already and it is the blue half of Merseyside who find themselves in the inside lane.

“There is certainly less pressure on us than on Liverpool now, because we are not expected to make the Champions League," reasoned Moyes. "When people talk of the top four they do not mention Everton but I would back my team against any of our rivals.

“For us to finish fourth would be outstanding, but I do not see any point talking about it until there is a month to go and we are still in a strong position.”

Everton's hard-earned draw against resurgent Tottenham combined with Liverpool's shock defeat to West Ham meant that Moyes' side will go into round 25 still in fourth while their neighbours, who are yet to win in the league in 2008, languish in seventh.

“I did not know Liverpool had lost until after the game, maybe people will think I should be overjoyed," he added.

"Of course it helps us when they lose, but I do not want to get too carried away with the current situation. Come the end of the season we will see how things are.”

Rafa Frustrated By Profligacy

Liverpool manager pointed to his side’s lack of a scoring touch as the main reason they lost at Upton Park.

West Ham collected all three points via a last-minute penalty, only after however, Liverpool has wasted numerous chances.

“I am disappointed about the manner in which we lost”, admitted Benitez.

“We played well and worked hard, but we couldn’t score and they came back.”

Former Hammer Yossi Benyaoun had the best of a bunch of chances, but managed to spoon his shot over the bar from ten yards out, leaving Benitez a frustrated manager.

"We had chances but couldn’t take them.

"We started really well and in the second half we had a lot of possession and to lose following a counter attack in the final minute is disappointing.

"For them to score from a penalty so late on was terrible. We now need to think about the next game."

Odds Shorten For Benitez Sacking

Bookies have dramatically shortened odds on Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez's seemingly inevitable dismissal from his post at Liverpool following another shock defeat.

Liverpool lacked inspiration and paid the price when Jamie Carragher conceded a 90th minute penalty which Mark Noble duly converted to hand West Ham a priceless victory and Liverpool an almost embarrassing and soul-destroying defeat.

The embarrassment has been registered nationwide already, with the odds receding at William Hill, with Benitez 4/7 to not be Liverpool's manager at the start of next season and just 5/4 to stay at Anfield.

It is thought that next month's Champions League second round knockout encounter against Internazionale will make or break Benitez's immediate future, and the signs are not good for the Spaniard.

Inter are proving unstoppable domestically and will no doubt look to finally transform that success to European glory, but Benitez knows he will provide at least a quarter or semi-final finish for the Merseyside men as well as a fourth place finish in the Premier League as an absolute minimum - both of which are currently looking in severe jeopardy.

Title odds see Liverpool out at an embarrassing 150/1, with Manchester United 4/7 favourites, Arsenal at 5/2 and Chelsea at 4/1 - Benitez's one reprieve is that Liverpool still remain favourites to finish fourth at odds of 8/14.

Betfair's odds paint a similarly grim picture, with Liverpool distant outsiders for the title at 260/1, Manchester United again favourites at 5/7, Arsenal at 3/1 and Chelsea at 5/1, and Rafa is 5/6 to lose his job, with Liverpool remaining at 4/5 to finish fourth.

When questioned on the possibility of his dismissal, the former Valencia boss was understandably reluctant to divulge in any speculation.

"I'm thinking just about the next game and I will try to win the next three points against Sunderland," he answered. "Our next game is more realistic to think about."

When asked on what the owners may have thought of the calamitous defeat, he responded sarcastically, saying, "I don't know if they have a TV.

"Everything is behind (us) and we will start thinking about winning games."

Liverpool have dropped to seventh in the Premier League, though they have a game in hand that, if won, will bring them up to fourth place ahead of Everton on goal difference, who missed an opportunity this evening to put daylight between themselves and their bitter local rivals.

Rafa Confident On Euro Qualification

Rafael Benitez insists Liverpool can still qualify for next season's Champions League, despite another Barclays Premier League defeat at West Ham on Wednesday night.

Mark Noble struck deep in stoppage-time at Upton Park to give the hosts a 1-0 victory, leaving Benitez's men without a league win since Boxing Day and virtually out of the title race.

They are 17 points off the pace in seventh place, only four points ahead of West Ham after Noble held his nerve.

But Benitez believes his side will at least qualify for Europe.

"Yes," said the Spaniard.

"Champions League."

When asked if he believes he will be given the time by Liverpool's owners to turn it around, he said: "Yes. We will improve - because we can improve."

Luis Boa Morte wasted two glorious opportunities for the hosts either side of half-time, and West Ham also hit the bar when Noble's free-kick was glanced on by Steve Finnan.

However, Benitez still felt defeat was harsh - and he also wanted a penalty when the ball struck Lucas Neill in the second half.

"Did we deserve to lose? I think we deserved to win," he said.

"If you analyse the game, you can talk about the game. If you analyse the result, you can talk about the result.

"I am a manager, so I have some experience. We must think about how to improve, how to take our chances and how to win games."

Benitez is not thinking about where Liverpool stand in the title race.

"I'm thinking just about the next game and I will try to win the next three points against Sunderland," he said.

"Our next game is more realistic to think about."

Asked if the American owners of Liverpool will be analysing the game, he said: "I don't know if they have a TV.

"Everything is behind (us), and we will start thinking about winning games."

The Hammers, meanwhile, are quietly staking their claim for a European place - despite their injury problems this season.

"We've got to win our home games and keep the run going," said manager Alan Curbishley.

"We've lost three (league) games in 15 - and those were to Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton.

"We've had to use everything we've got. We've had players playing out of position - and we've had to change players during games - but we've shown great character. The fans should be pleased with that attitude."

Liverpool Fans Plan To Buy Out Club

A group of Liverpool supporters will on Thursday unveil an ambitious plan to buy the troubled Anfield club from its US owners.

A group calling themselves Share Liverpool FC aim to create a stakeholder base of 100,000 fans to raise enough cash to oust Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Rogan Taylor, a Kop season ticket holder leads the buy-out campaign and said: "It is time to answer the concerns that football fans have about the patterns of ownership developing at our major football clubs. Thousands of Liverpool fans have already demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs."

He added: "Large amounts of debt is often laden onto newly-bought clubs and the fans know that in the end, it will be them who will have to pay it off through increased ticket prices and other schemes.

"In such a case, why not simply buy the club yourselves?"

It comes after weeks of worry about the financial future of Liverpool, sparked when the pair took out a £350 million re-financing loan.

There have also been tensions between the owners and club manager Rafa Benitez, who last year criticised them over their financing of transfers.

The model proposed by Share Liverpool FC will be a 'member-share' scheme, aimed at raising £500 million to purchase the club from Hicks and Gillett and build a new stadium.

The group have pointed to Barcelona as an example of how the system works. Barca currently has more than 150,000 culis - members who own the club.

Mr Taylor added: "What many don't realise is that there are other ways of financing and taking ownership of big clubs. In Germany and Spain, most top-level football clubs are simply 'Not For Sale'. They are owned by many thousands of 'member fans'."

Liverpool's Title Challenge All Over, Admits Carragher

Jamie Carragher has accepted defeat in Liverpool's Premier League title bid and believes the club are now fighting to earn a Champions League place this season.

Defeat at West Ham last night left them 17 points off the pace in seventh, still without a win in the league since Boxing Day.

Boss Rafael Benitez is confident they can earn a top-four place but Carragher is ready for a fight to get back into Europe's elite for the next campaign.

'I think the league has gone and we've got to realise that we're fighting with Everton, Aston Villa and Man City for that top-four place,' said Carragher.

Carragher conceded the injury-time penalty at Upton Park, although it was problems elsewhere that led to Liverpool failing to earn their first league win of 2008.

Hammers goalkeeper Robert Green had a quiet evening and the only save he was required to make, from Fernando Torres, may have been going wide.

'I don't think it's down to luck or anything like that - I've always said you get what you deserve in football and if results aren't going well like they're not at the moment that's something we've got to turn around quickly,' Carragher said.

'The teams at the top are a long way away and we've got to just focus on the Sunderland game on Saturday and try and get three points from that.

'It's been a few games now since we got all three points and we need to get more points on the board.

'West Ham is a tough place to go and obviously we're not playing great and confidence is a bit low but if we'd got a point there it would have been a step in the right direction.'

The dip in form in the league means the Champions League or the FA Cup is a more likely route for success.

'It's not all doom and gloom,' Carragher added.

'We're still in two very big cup competitions and, as I say, we want to do well in them, but the league form isn't good enough and the sooner we sort that out the better.

'At the moment things aren't going for us, but I don't think it's about luck.'

West Ham United 1 - 0 LiverpooL

Liverpool's hopes of getting back in the Premier League title race took another blow after Mark Noble grabbed a stoppage-time winner for West Ham at Upton Park.

With better finishing from Luis Boa Morte, the Hammers would have had their first win over Liverpool since 1999 sealed before Noble struck from the spot.

But Boa Morte wasted two sitters either side of half-time before home fans cruelly cheered him off when he was substituted.

Even a draw would have left Rafael Benitez's men still well off the pace for the title and they remain without a win in the league since Boxing Day.

It was billed as a match between two teams with contrasting styles of ownership - Alan Curbishley is left to get on with it by his Icelandic bosses, while the Americans at Anfield have created a stir since taking over.

On the pitch, only Noble's penalty was to choose between them.

West Ham knew victory or defeat would not have moved them from 10th, yet their display suggested they were trying to prove they could rub shoulders with those chasing Europe.

Their fans had a point to prove as well, jeering Yossi Benayoun following his departure in the summer.

"We were hoping he would sign a long-term contract with us, but that didn't happen," wrote Hammers boss Curbishley in his programme notes.

Benayoun, Steve Finnan and Sami Hyypia were the only survivors from the nervous victory over Havant and Waterlooville at the weekend - and it was Benayoun who had the first chance when he almost took advantage of a mishap from Robert Green.

The goalkeeper's slice was worked to Dirk Kuyt and then Benayoun, but his chip drifted over the crossbar.

From a relatively promising start, with Kuyt seeing the ball playing just off Fernando Torres, it was the hosts who then gathered momentum as the first half unravelled.

Curbishley used Carlton Cole as the focal point of his attack, and the striker almost embarrassed Jose Reina early on when the goalkeeper dwelt on the ball.

Cole helped create West Ham's first genuine opening, midway through the opening half.

The striker flicked on George McCartney's long throw, Liverpool were seized by panic as Lee Bowyer tussled but Boa Morte rushed his shot and blazed over when the ball fell to him.

The hosts got even closer in the 26th minute when a free-kick was awarded on the left flank for Jamie Carragher's foul on Cole. Noble took the set-piece, which was glanced by Finnan and cannoned off the crossbar.

Noble and Steven Gerrard battled in the middle of the park - England central midfielder against his under-21 counterpart - and the senior man was fortunate to escape a booking for one of his challenges. Fabio Aurelio, though, picked up a caution for his foul on Freddie Ljungberg.

Cole had a sight of goal in stoppage-time in the opening period but Benayoun slid in to block and Liverpool went into the break level.

They were marginally brighter in the second half.

Kuyt created the first chance, three minutes in, when he found room on the right flank and drove a cross into the danger area, but Harry Kewell could not wrap his foot around the ball to finish.

Matthew Upson then flashed a backpass right across Green's goal, which the goalkeeper had to watch drift wide.

Torres also ran at pace into the penalty box but was outnumbered when he looked to find a team-mate.

At the other end, Boa Morte fluffed his finish when Noble's free-kick was headed into his path. Then came the ironic cheers for Boa Morte's departure, with Bowyer also coming off for Matthew Etherington and Dean Ashton, both back from injury.

Liverpool midfielder Lucas came on for Kewell and he was just wide with his finish after releasing Torres down the right and getting on the end of the cross.

Lucas also went wide when he got on the end of a driving run from Gerrard.

Torres, who was booked for dissent, was denied by Green at the near post from Ryan Babel's cross, while Lucas Neill flashed wide for West Ham before the end.

With injury-time just about over, Carragher brought down Ljungberg in the penalty area. Noble converted the spot-kick.