Football Roundup – Manchester United fail again as Barcelona relinquish two-goal lead

English giants Manchester United ended a challenging week with another loss, this time losing 2-1 to newly promoted Bournemouth on Saturday. The defeat adds more pressure on manager Louis van Gaal although injuries meant they were missing their entire first-choice back four.

The Red Devils were eliminated from the Champions League in midweek after losing 3-2 to Wolfsburg in Germany, which compounded underwhelming recent domestic form.

Van Gaal’s men failed to make amends at the Vitality Stadium, with former United player Joshua King scored the decisive goal for the Cherries after Marouane Fellaini had cancelled out Junior Stanislas’ early opener.

The loss means that United have not recorded a victory in their last five games in all competitions and will drop out of the Premier League’s top four if Tottenham Hotspur beat Newcastle on Sunday.

The Old Trafford supporters have become disillusioned with Van Gaal’s style of play, with a defensive outlook going against the years of attacking football they had become accustomed to under Sir Alex Ferguson.

The United fans would surely consider sacrificing substance if results take its place, but the recent dip in form, added to abject performances, has increased the pressure on the Dutch coach.

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Manchester City regained the top spot with a last-gasp 2-1 win over a dejected Swansea City at the Etihad Stadium.

The Welsh side thought they had salvaged a late point when Bafetimbi Gomis equalized in the 90th minute, but Nigerian youngster Kelechi Iheanacho broke their hearts with an injury time winner.

In Spain, European champions Barcelona relinquished a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Deportivo La Coruna at Camp Nou.

Lionel Messi scored a sublime free-kick and Ivan Rakitic added a second, only for the visitors to rally and score twice in the last 15 minutes.

Inter Milan stretched their lead at the top of Serie A to four points with a commanding 4-0 away win over Udinese, with captain Mauro Icardi netting a brace.

In Germany, Bayern Munich recorded a 2-0 win over Ingolstadt in the penultimate game before the Bundesliga’s winter break, with Robert Lewandowski and Philipp Lahm on target.

The result ensures the Bavarians go into the halfway point of the domestic campaign top of the table for a record fifth season in succession.

Despite the importance of club fixtures across the continent, all eyes were on the Euro 2016 draw in Paris.

The groups for next summer’s tournament in France were drawn, with Russia partnered with England, Wales and Slovakia in Group B.

Kane extends points streak to 24 games but Gretzky’s record is still far away

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane took his points streak to 24 games, but not everyone was happy about it.

With Chicago 3-0 down going into the third period against Nashville Predators they needed someone to ignite some offensive. Kane, as is so often the case, delivered.

Blackhawks dumped a puck deep towards Predators netminder Pekka Rinne early in the final session. He appeared to cover up the puck with his glove, but no whistle was blown so play carried on.

Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger charged at Rinne from the right and dislodged the puck in the crease as he made contact with the goaltender. Kane picked up the rebound and slotted it home for his 16th goal and 24th consecutive game with a point.

The Predators challenged the play for interference with the Bridgestone Arena crowd heckling the officials for the lack of a whistle after the initial shot on Rinne.

The goal was ruled good so Kane extended the records for the franchise and American-born NHL players to 24 games.

Rinne strongly disputed the decision, having numerous conversations with officials during breaks in the action. The Predators went on to win 5-1, but Rinne still wasn’t happy after the game.

He said: “I guess it was loose, but for sure, he didn’t make the contact with the puck. He tried to push me in the net.”

Kane will look to extend the record to 25 games on Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets. That would tie Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (2010-11) for the longest streak this century, but would still leave him some way short of the all-time League record set by Wayne Gretzky in 1983-84 at 51 games with the Edmonton Oilers.

Gretzky believes Kane can break his record: “He can get there, absolutely,” he said. “What does it take to get there? It’s a combination of things. First of all, you have to be good and you have to get a little bit lucky.

“I was a little bit lucky during the streak, whether it was a (secondary) assist late in the game or an empty-net point. You have to stay healthy and you have to be surrounded by really good teammates. He has all the intangibles he needs.”

Gretzky also spoke about the team’s importance in making individual records happen – especially when it comes to maintaining a streak over such a large number of games.

“Even though it’s an individual record it becomes a team-oriented record when the players start thinking about it and trying to be part of it. There are going to be scenarios and situations probably when Kane might not have been on the ice in the past and Joel Quenneville is going to give him that opportunity as Glen Sather gave to me. You have to run with it and so far he has.”

“Records are made to be broken. I’m going to watch him and if he breaks the record I’ll be the first guy to shake his hand.”

Fifa to expand World Cup to 40 teams from 2026

Fifa is reportedly planning to expand the World Cup to 40 participating teams, with the potential expansion to be discussed today.

The proposal is designed to increase parity between European countries and the rest of world in World Cup participation and as such will appeal to the majority of the 209 FIFA member countries.

The game’s governing body will discuss the proposal at an executive committee meeting today, with the change hoping to appeal to the majority of the 209 members.

There is a collective feeling that European football and Uefa have too many qualification berths for the World Cup, with the scope for increasing the number of participating teams allowing more nations from across the world to take part and potentially succeed.

The decision to increase the number of qualifying places is being seen as a sweetener to get the majority of the Fifa countries on board with other reforms and governance issues that are also going to be voted on.

With five candidates vying for the FIFA presidency in 2016, increasing World Cup participation is a campaign objective for all of them considering they need global support in order to win votes in next year’s elections.

Currently there are 14 places at the 2018 World Cup in Russia for Uefa-qualified nations, including the hosts.

Currently, Africa will have five spots at the competition, with four-and-a-half for Asia and South America (the fifth-ranked side in qualifying from each continent are entered in a playoff).

North and Central America (CONCACAF) have three and half places, with the fourth ranked side entered in a playoff fixture with the top ranked side from Oceania.

If the motion to increase the amount of teams is passed it will be the second increase in participating nations, after the number was boosted from 24 to 32 in 1994. The expected increases will most likely result in guaranteed participation for Oceania and increased participation for the rest of the continents. It remains to be seen whether Europe will get an increase in their allocation, but even then their overall % in terms of representation at the World Cup will fall to 40% if not less.

The reforms in the structure of the game continue to be discussed despite the fact that Fifa has been hit with a corruption scandal that has plagued the sport right to its core.

The latest black mark on football saw two more Fifa officials arrested in Zurich today, with scope for further allegations against senior members of the organisation.

Renowned Russian pentathlete Alexander Kukarin, 22, dies in unexpected circumstances

Russian pentathlete Alexander Kukarin has unexpectedly died aged 22, with the cause thought to have been a heart attack.

The distinguished athlete passed away at a Moscow hotel last Thursday, with a reported cardiac arrest stated as an early reason.

Kukarin’s death was confirmed in a statement by the Modern Pentathlon Federation of Russia.

“Modern Pentathlon Federation of Russia is sad to announce that on November 26 Russian pentathlete Alexander Kukarin died,” the acknowledgement on the organisation’s official website reads.

“Modern Pentathlon Federation of Russia expresses condolences to the families and friends of the athlete.”

The statement continued by ruling out foul play or suspicious circumstances.

“We did not find any signs that he had been attacked, while there were no suspicious signs,” it said.

“The athletes have finished their season and Alexander was not at a training camp. An unexpected cardiac arrest is our initial diagnosis. The autopsy and final results will be ready in one and a half to two months.”

Kukarin’s proudest competitive moment came as he won a relay silver at the 2015 World Championships in Berlin earlier this year.

The Russian also claimed a bronze medal in the mixed relay at the 2015 European Championships in Bath back in August.

The 22-year-old was also a champion of junior sport, winning World and European tournaments back in 2011.

Kukarin was buried at a St Petersburg cemetery on Sunday.

Cristiano Ronaldo calms crying fan while signing autographs

Cristiano Ronaldo was signing autographs at Bilbao airport when a boy become emotional after meeting his idol. Ronaldo was there to hug and comfort him.

Cristiano Ronaldo was walking through Bilbao Airport with his Real Madrid teammates when they decided to stop and sign autographs for the fans waiting for the team’s arrival.

One young boy was overwhelmed with emotions and started crying as Ronaldo signed his poster and Real Madrid shirt, leading to Ronaldo giving the boy a hug and few encouraging words.

The young boy was able to regain his composure and posed for attending cameras with his autographed shirt afterwards.

Beitar Jerusalem and racism in Israeli football

A section of the Beitar Jerusalem support are known said to be racist during and outside of matches, and the club itself is accused of adopting a racist transfer policy, with both FIFA and the Israeli government failing to effectively intervene.

In March 2013, Zaur Sadayev became the first Muslim player to score for Israeli side Beitar Jerusalem. What followed in the stadium laid bare the racism festering deep within a core segment of the fan base at the club, with a mass-walkout instigated by the infamous ‘La Familia’.

Sadayev’s strike put Beitar one goal to the good against Netanya, with members of Beitar’s extremist supporters group leaving en mass, booing and chanting racist songs.

Some of these songs translate as: “Here we are, the most racist football team in the country”, and “Death to Arabs” – both of which heard at most Beitar matches, and is still sung to the rafters by the group today.

Then-vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon condemned the show of racism after the game.

“I was shocked by the racism displayed in the Beitar Jerusalem stands yesterday against having Muslim or Arab players on the team.”

The actions of La Familia have led to numerous bans, sanctions and points deductions for their club – but the group still exist. According to newspaper Haaretz, it is the lack of effective anti-racism measures from the government that remains the issue, with their apparent outrage concerning incidents not backed up by national policies.

“(Prime Minister) Netanyahu and (culture and sports minister) Regev are preaching to others what they themselves do not practice,” an editorial from Haaretz in 2014 says.

“With their racist remarks (‘The Arabs are flocking to the polling stations’), their conduct (threatening the funding of Arab cultural institutions) and their antidemocratic legislation – which is so typical of the government they head – they legitimize the phenomenon called Beitar Jerusalem.”

Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestine Football Association, highlighted football’s world governing body FIFA’s failure to properly address the situation.

“While Israel continues to participate in Fifa matches internationally with impunity, Palestinian football players have been shot and arrested, our football association raided by Israeli army forces, our clubs more often than not forbidden from bringing players, coaches or even materials from abroad, just as the restriction of movement imposed on our players and technical staff, within, from and to Palestine have turned the game into a real act of resistance.”

Beitar are a symbol of right-wing Israel, having been established in 1936 as part of a nationalist Israeli movement – with the club’s signing of non-Jews, even on loan, prompting a vicious backlash and revolt from the hard-core support.

While Zaur Sadayev is just one of the five Muslim players ever to play for the club – the goalscorer lasting just a year amid torrential abuse – Beitar remain the only club to refuse to hire a Palestinian, despite repeat sanctions and fines from the IFA (Israeli Football Association).

Haaretz see Beitar as a vehicle for the manifestation of discrimination, rightly concluding that, “There is no value to a sport that is supposed to give people equal opportunities and treatment without reference to religion, race or gender, when it becomes a focus for discrimination and racism.”

NBA superstar Stephen Curry speaks of Lionel Messi admiration

NBA superstar Stephen Curry has admitted that he is a big fan of Barcelona attacker Lionel Messi.

The two global sporting stars are at the pinnacle of their respective sports, with the duo widely acknowledged as the best players on the planet in basketball and football.

Curry led the Golden State Warriors to the NBA Championship in 2014-15, being crowned the division’s MVP in the process.

The 27-year-old has started this campaign in blistering form and acted as a talisman for his team, who have become the first side to start an NBA season with 16 consecutive victories.

Despite his own achievements over the last 12 months, Curry has taken time out to speak of his admiration for another sports superstar, Messi, and compared himself to the South American.

“We both have a creative style, where it’s just about a feel when you’re out on the pitch or the court,” he told reporters after his side’s most recent win.

“I try to do some fancy things out there with both hands, making crossover moves and kind of having a certain creativity and flair to my game.

“And that’s definitely the style that Messi has when he’s out there in his matches. I love watching him play. I’m a big fan.

“And to see just a guy that you never know what he’s going to do at any particular moment – when he’s on TV, everybody is glued in because, as soon as he gets a touch with the ball, something special could happen. And you’ve got to appreciate that kind of talent.”

The Warriors will have the legendary 1971-72 LA Lakers team’s record of 33 consecutive wins in their sights, but Curry admitted that matching the west coast outfit’s landmark would take some doing.

“We’ve had like two 16-game winning streaks the last two years and those are pretty special feats,” the live-wire point guard continued.

“For us to have to double that output, I mean we’re going to play hard and hopefully close in on that record, but it won’t be a disappointing effort if we don’t get there.

“Because there are so many talented teams in this league and for us to just be playing at a high level right now that’s what we’re worried about. And if we close in and get to 29, 30 games, we’ll talk about it a little bit more.”

Rostov cancel Turkish training camp as international relations worsen

Russian Premier League club Rostov have cancelled a January training camp in Turkey as international relations worsen, with Ankar Perm seemingly set to follow suit.

Russian Premier League club Rostov have announced that they have cancelled plans to have a training camp in Turkey this January, as international relations between the countries worsen amid security fears.

Ankara shot down a Russian fighter jet in Syrian airspace earlier this week without warning, in the latest combustive action in tense affairs in eastern Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East.

As such Russian president Vladimir Putin recommended that his countrymen and women should not visit Turkey due to security issues.

Turkey has been a popular destination for Russian sides to train during their mid-season hiatus, but the habit looks set to be changed.

Rostov deputy president Alexander Shikunov confirmed that the club would seek an alternative venue for training in the team’s winter break due to the current climate.

“We were planning to set up our January training camp in Turkey but decided to change this idea in connection with the latest events,” the Rostov official said.

“Many of the Russian clubs are currently seeking new bases for their training camps. We also decided that it’s better to be overcautious in such a situation.”

Following Rostov’s lead, Ankar Perm are also reassessing their scheduled training camp in the European country.

“We wanted to hold three practice sessions in Turkey in the winter but after the international climate has changed we are considering whether to choose Spain or Israel for our training camp,” Ankar’s club executive manager Denis Maslov stated.

Lance Armstrong’s former doctor to stand trial in doping crackdown

Lance Armstrong’s former physician Michele Ferrari has been ordered to stand trial for allegedly providing doping assistance to an Italian biathlete.

Daniel Taschler and his father, Gottlieb, a vice-president of the international federation were also indicted by a preliminary judge in Bolzano, Italy, on Wednesday. Taschler senior is accused of advising his son to use Ferrari for doping and contacting the doctor.

Banned for life by the Italian Cycling Federation in 2002, Ferrari recently appealed to a regional court to have the ban quashed, with a decision expected in the next few months.

He also received a life-ban from the United States Anti-Doping Agency after the 2012 case that led to Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles.

Doping is a crime in Italy and Ferrari was cleared on appeal in 2006 of criminal charges of distributing banned products to athletes.

Taschler Sr is a vice-president and member of the International Biathlon Union executive board. After the investigation came to light last year, he announced he would cease any activities within the IBU.

Daniel Taschler, 28, was a member of Italy’s B squad when the inquiry started, and he was suspended immediately. His doping allegedly took place in the 2010-11 season. The Taschlers and Ferrari all deny any wrongdoing.

Austrian cross-country skier Harald Wurm has been provisionally suspended amid a doping investigation, a week before the start of the World Cup season.

The Head Coach of the cross-country team, Gerald Heigl, has temporarily stepped down until Wurm’s case is completed but denies being involved.

Police began an investigation during August into alleged doping violations by Wurm and searched the premises of the two-time Olympian.

The federation has seen police files and thinks Wurm has a case to answer. The 31-year-old athlete has been excluded from all team training and competitions, with just over a week to go before the World Cup opener in Ruka, Finland, on 28-29 November.

Heigl’s name also appeared in the files, but the coach has claimed his innocence. He has decided to step down until his name has been cleared.

Wurm won the under-23 world title in 2006 and has four top-10 World Cup finishes. He competed in the sprint events at the 2006 and 2014 Olympics.

Wurm’s teammate, Johannes D¸rr, was banned for life last year by the federation after being dismissed from the Sochi Games 2014 for using the blood-doping agent EPO. If found guilty Wurm will be expelled from the federation.

The case could deal another blow to the damaged image of Austrian cross-country skiing, less than four years before Seefeld hosts the Nordic World Championships.

Former Olympic champion Christian Hoffmann retired in 2009 after being suspended for blood doping, while leading coach Walter Mayer was banned by the International Olympic Committee from Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010.

Mayer did turn up at the 2006 Olympics, leading to an Italian police raid on Austrian team lodgings, in which blood doping equipment and other substances were seized. No Austrians tested positive at the games, but several were later banned for life by the IOC.

Has sport become more important than education at US universities?

For US colleges and universities, the sports they play have become more important than the subjects they teach. This is the other way round compared to almost all other countries, where sport is important but definitely secondary to education.

In the last week, two stories that show how big college sports are in the US have come to light: one that tells how the University of Missouri football team had the power to fire the university President after racial tension on campus and another that describes how the NCAA shut down a family-run website selling merchandise for one of college football’s top players, Leonard Fournette.

In both of these cases, it shows just how important football is to the university and the individuals involved. In Fournette’s case, he is one of the highest-profile college football athletes in America. He has been compared to two of the best running backs in history, Adrian Peterson and Herschel Walker – and he’s only a sophomore at university, 20 years old and two years out of high school.

In the other story, the University of Missouri being able to fire the university President, a similar thing has happened: the football team has more collective power than any other group at the university. Tensions were high at the Columbia campus, as racist attacks have occurred over the last few months, with a tepid response from the university administration. With scores of students going on a hunger strike, president Tim Wolfe didn’t budge – until the football team joined them. Less than 48 hours after, Wolfe had resigned.

So how has this happened? Because somehow, sport has become more important than education in most US universities. Part of why this has happened is money – there are millions of dollars in college sports and their players, such as Fournette. To a university in the current climate, this is worth more than a top professor or researcher who would be able to raise money in the form of a grant, plus the higher profile in the media that comes with it.

In other countries, such as the UK or European nations such as Spain, Italy, France or Germany, sport takes a backseat while at university. Instead, a potential superstar player in a sport such as soccer will have been head-hunted to play for a top team from a young age. As time goes on, gradually the player will be more included in the team through the youth squads, until they play for the club at a professional match. This is how top soccer players, such as Lionel Messi or Wayne Rooney, came to be two of the best players in the sport.

The alternative US system won’t change any time soon – the Drafts for the respective sports are popular and broadcast on mainstream TV, with a lot of attention paid to who gets the first round pick. But it’s interesting to note how different this is to Europe and Asia’s player development programmes.