Belgium qualify for World Cup finals

A 2-1 away win against second-placed Croatia has seen Marc Wilmots' side become the third European team to guarantee their spot in Brazil
Belgium became the 11th nation to secure their spot at World Cup 2014 with a 2-1 win at Croatia on Friday.

With a game to spare, Marc Wilmots' men triumphed over the Balkan side thanks to two first-half strikes for Everton forward Romelu Lukaku, ensuring that Niko Kranjcar's 83rd minute goal did not take away three points from the visitors.

The victory means that the Rode Duivels sit top of Group A in Uefa qualification with 25 points - eight above second-placed Croatia, who also only have one game left to play.

Fellow Group A competitors Serbia have an outside chance of claiming a play-off spot thanks to Igor Stimac's side's defeat on home turf, though Scotland, Macedonia and Wales cannot reach the tournament in Brazil.

World Cup 2014 hosts, the Selecao, have already already joined in next summer's competition by Japan, Australia, Iran, South Korea, Netherlands, Italy, United States, Costa Rica and Argentina.

Azerbaijan 2-0 Northern Ireland

Michael O'Neill's charges, who had Jonny Evans sent off for the foul that led to the hosts' injury-time second, were guilty of missing a host of chances at the Bakcell Arena in Baku as they slipped to their fifth defeat in Group F.

Rufat Dadasov had the Azerbaijan supporters on their feet in the 58th minute when he rounded off a neat move by side-footing beyond Roy Carroll.

And there was a late second when Mahir Shukurov capitalised on Evans' dismissal by curling home a free kick from 20 yards.

Jamie Ward twice went close for Northern Ireland in the opening period, first forcing Kamran Agayev into a close-range save before scooping over the crossbar.

Martin Paterson was also guilty of wastefulness prior to Dadasov's strike when he dragged wide from eight yards and the Huddersfield striker also hit the bar with two minutes remaining.

O'Neill welcomed Chris Brunt back from suspension, meaning Niall McGinn dropped to the bench.

Azerbaijan boss Berti Vogts, meanwhile, included Vuqar Nadirov and Qara Qarayev in their starting XI, both having been named among the substitutes for the 1-1 draw with Israel in September.

The visitors controlled possession in the early stages and Brunt nearly forced a breakthrough in the ninth minute when he spun in the box and fired an effort at Agayev.

The West Brom winger was involved again soon after as his fierce 25-yard strike was beaten away by the goalkeeper.

Northern Ireland continued to press and Ward's 23rd-minute header from Paterson's centre forced a superb point-blank save from Agayev.

The visitors' profligacy was almost punished when Dadasov flashed an eight-yard strike wide of the post.

And Azerbaijan came even closer on 28 minutes as Rauf Aliyev hit a sweet back-post volley towards the near post, forcing Roy Carroll into a wonderful reflex save.

But Northern Ireland finished the half the stronger and had two further chances to take the lead.

First Ward scooped a loose ball over the crossbar, before Paterson dragged wide after his strike partner's through ball put him one-on-one with Agayev.

Azerbaijan came out the stronger side after the break, though, and Dadasov should have done better when he sidefooted Shukurov's cross wide.

Soon after, however, the forward did break the deadlock. Araz Abdullayev slid an intricate ball into Aliyev's path and his low cross was converted at Carroll's near post.

Northern Ireland looked for an immediate comeback and Gareth McAuley looped a header onto the roof of the net before Oliver Norwood curled a 30-yard free kick just wide.

Paterson went closest in the 88th minute, receiving Steven Davis' pass before unleashing a vicious effort against the woodwork.

But Evans then saw red for an off-the-ball challenge on Aliyev and Shukurov's resulting free kick put the result beyond doubt.

Azerbaijan finish their campaign with a home fixture against Fabio Capello's Russia on Tuesday, while Northern Ireland travel to Israel looking to avoid finishing bottom of the group.

David Silva 'very happy' to stay at Manchester City

The attacking midfielder has once again been linked with Spanish giants Real Madrid but insists that he will stick to the long-term contract that he signed in 2012
Manchester City attacking midfielder David Silva has played down renewed speculation linking him with a move to Real Madrid.The Spain international has been listed as a reported target for the Spanish giants on numerous occasions since his arrival in Manchester from Valencia in 2010.

"I'm very happy in Manchester and I think this is similar to what happens every year," the 27-year-old told Cadena Cope when asked about new links.

"There are always rumours and, in the end, the player has to be calm."

Silva, who is currently on international duty with Spain, signed a new five-year deal with City in September 2012.

"I renewed my contract because I am happy in Manchester," he added.

Vidal 'nervous' ahead of Colombia clash

The Juventus midfielder admits the Chilean squad are feeling the pressure as they seek to secure an "historic" place at the World Cup
Arturo Vidal says Chile will have to overcome pre-match nerves if they are to beat Colombia on Friday evening and secure their place at next year's World Cup.
Jose Pekerman's side currently occupy second spot behind the already-qualified Argentina in the Conmebol section, while Chile are a further two points behind in third place.
With the top four certain to progress, a win for either side at the Estadio Metropolitano in Barranquilla will confirm their place at the 2014 showpiece in Brazil, and Vidal admits he is feeling the pressure.
"Of course there is anxiety. It is a fundamental game for us," said Vidal.
"We are close to something historic, qualifying twice for the World Cup.
"We have a very difficult rival, which is Colombia. They're in a little bit of a better position than us but it's a really important game, so we are keeping our enthusiasm up so we play at 100 per cent."
Chile goalkeeper and captain Claudio Bravo, meanwhile, is confident his team will handle the big occasion against their South American rivals.
"The anxiety is part of this," he claimed. "We are very accustomed to living in these moments. A qualifying game is much more important than a regular club match."
Despite the prize at stake, Colombia boss Pekerman expects an entertaining encounter against Jorge Sampaoli's men.
"The match should be one of the most exciting in the qualifiers because of the way we and Chile play," he told reporters.
"In general, the players are in good form. We have to adapt to what we want to do and we have to be clear when we begin a match and know what type of game we want to play."

Adriano tips Neymar & Messi to forge lethal partnership

The full-back says the pair will flourish together on the pitch as their friendship blossoms off it, and also has plenty of praise for Gerardo Martino's impact at Camp Nou

Barcelona defender Adriano believes Neymar's partnership with Lionel Messi will only improve as the duo become better acquainted off the field.

There has been plenty of debate over how effectively the pair can operate in tandem but, despite both stars experiencing mixed fortunes in the goalscoring stakes thus far this season, Adriano is convinced the duo will soon combine to devastating effect.

"Neymar and Messi are very well connected," he told Goal. "From day-to-day on the field, they are becoming better friends and know each other better.

"Everyone is delighted with them and it shows when they are both on the pitch together.

"Neymar helps Leo, with his philosophy on the game, the way he likes to play and I think he has done very well for the team."

When asked whether or not his fellow Brazilian could usurp his Argentine counterpart as the world's greatest player, the 28-year-old added: "It is complicated. Both can be the best in their own positions.

"Leo is the best in his position and will probably remain the best, while Neymar will surely be one of the best in his role.

"The great thing is that we have the two of them together in the same team."

The former Sevilla full-back went on to praise coach Gerardo Martino for the impact he has made at Camp Nou since succeeding Tito Vilanova at the helm during the summer.

"I like that he makes us believe that we can replicate the same style as before; pressing, stealing possession and regaining the spark we had before," he continued.

"The freshness is back and we want to make history. We want to win La Liga and the Champions League again.

"Tata coaches the team in a different way. He has a clear philosophy, but he told us that he did not come here to change anything, but he has brought with him the experience of coaching Argentine clubs and Paraguay.

"We are delighted with him and how he works and hopefully we can get the results he wants us to get and continue the story of Barcelona."

Juventus can upset Real Madrid, says Lippi

The former Bianconeri boss is confident that the reigning Italian champions can take down the Spanish giants, who he says have 'not exactly been brilliant' so far this season
Marcello Lippi believes that Juventus are more than capable of springing a surprise in their upcoming Champions League games against Real Madrid.

The Serie A champions have been struggling to find their best form in Europe and are in danger of missing out on qualification for the group stages after draws against Copenhagen and Galatasaray.

Nevertheless, Lippi is confident that they can turn things around in their next two games, against Madrid.

"The recipe to beat them is quite simple: you have to believe in your own quality and stay organised," Lippi told Tuttosport.

"A surprise is definitely possible. The key is to believe in a good result. The current Juventus is pretty similar to my Juve and has all the characteristics a team need. 

"Plus Real Madrid have not exactly been brilliant so far. I have no doubt that Juventus will put in two great performances."

Juventus travel to Madrid on October 23, with the Bianconeri hosting the Spanish giants in Turin two weeks later.

Neymar dived a lot in Brazil, says Edmilson

The 37-year-old has stated his young compatriot is playacting less than before, before adding that the attacker has adapted well to his new surroundings at Camp Nou
Edmilson believes that Neymar no longer dives as much following his summer move from Santos to arcelona.

The 21-year-old has been heavily criticised for his tendency to go to the ground easily, but the formerSelecao defender feels his compatriot is already showing signs of improvement.

"Neymar dived a lot in Brazil. He still dives some, but in most cases, the defenders tackle him late," Edmilson told Esports Cope.

"Every time he gets tackled, he really gets tackled."

Edmilson, who wore the Barca jersey from 2004 until 2008, then went on to praise the way Neymar's adapted to his new surroundings.

"Neymar is doing great at Barca, playing very well," he enthused. "He's adapted very quickly to the team's tactics and players. 

"I hope he continues along those lines, creating a good atmosphere and settling into the team. 

"He was aware of the difficulties he faced at the beginning, but he set about every game very well and is very comfortable with his teammates."

Neymar has netted three goals in 11 appearances for Barcelona so far this term.

Liverpool chairman Werner rules out Suarez exit

The Reds chief insists the Uruguay international is vital to the club's aim of securing Champions League football this season, calling him 'one of the great players of the world"'
Liverpool chairman Tom Werner insists the club are planning to keep Luis Suarez for the long term.

The Uruguay international stated his desire to leave Anfield this summer, with Arsenal having two bids for the forward rejected during the transfer window.

Werner believes Suarez is integral to Liverpool's chances of securing Champions League football this season and says the club have no plans to let the striker leave.

"There was interest in him from other clubs throughout the summer but it was important for us to try to keep him," Werner told the Daily Mirror.

"He is one of the great players of the world and we felt that we would be a stronger club with him than without him.

"That does not mean I don’t respect his intense desire to play in the Champions League. But it would be a very happy day next May if and when we get to the Champions League by finishing in the top four and he is part of it.

"It is our intention to keep him for a while."

Werner maintains Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers played a crucial role in persuading Suarez to remain at Liverpool over the summer and has praised the club's fans for supporting the 26-year-old.

"Our intention is to build a winning club and he is integral to that," the Reds supremo stated. "The past is the past and I have great affection for him personally.

"I give Brendan Rodgers an enormous amount of credit for making sure Luis knew how needed he was at Liverpool.

"Brendan made it plain to him how much he was going to be embraced by the fans, and the supporters have been terrific."

Suarez joined Liverpool from Ajax during the 2011 January transfer window for a reported fee of £22.8 million (€27m).

Iniesta will stay & I like Courtois - Rosell

The Barcelona chief is confident the Spain international will end his career at Camp Nou and added that he is a fan of the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell is confident that Andres Iniesta will end his career with the club. 

The Spain international has been holding contract extension talks in recent weeks but is yet to reach an agreement with the Spanish champions.

But Rosell appears unperturbed by the delay, hinting that a bumper new deal will eventually be signed.

"Iniesta will end his career at the club," Rosell told Cadena SER. "If I had to bet on his future, I would do so on that.

"We believe he should be the second-highest salary behind Messi."

Barca are still on the hunt for a new goalkeeper, with current no.1 Victor Valdes set to run out his contract next summer, and rumours that a move for Thibaut Courtois could be in the pipeline have been fuelled by the president's praise of the Chelsea shot-stopper, who is spending his third season on loan at Atletico Madrid.

"Courtois is a keeper that I really like - he is very good," he added.

Barcelona have made a perfect start to the new Liga season, winning all eight of their matches to date, and resume their campaign with a trip to Osasuna on October 19.

Eto'o adapting to Premier League style

The Cameroon international has yet to score since making his summer move to Stamford Bridge from Anzhi Makhachkala, but insists he is improving with every match
Samuel Eto'o believes that he is adapting to life in the Premier League and has vowed to deliver the goods for Chelsea.
The 32-year-old striker moved to Stamford Bridge during the transfer window from Anzhi Makhachkala but has yet to hit the back of the net.
Eto'o has not started since their victory over Fulham last month, and after the injury to Fernando Torres it was Demba Ba who was chosen to start upfront in Chelsea's last Premier League outing at Norwich City.
It is the first time the Cameroon international has plied his trade in England after spells in Spain, Italy and Russia, and he admitted that it has taken him longer than expected to settle in.
"Already I have noticed that English football is very physical – more physical than other types of football," he told Chelsea Magazine.
"It hasn’t been too much time yet, so I need to continue working to make sure I keep improving my level.
"Every game here is important and I realise that – I have come here to enjoy playing for Chelsea and to enjoy the football. I go into every game with the same approach.
"It doesn't matter where you put me, I will play football. My team-mates are helping me a lot and also the coaches, so I feel that I am settling into the team."
Eto'o is part of the Cameroon squad to face Tunisia in their FIFA World Cup play-off first leg clash with Tunisia on Sunday as they look to secure their berth in Brazil next year.

La Liga Team of the Week: Neymar & Alexis Sanchez sparkle in Messi absence

Barcelona's South American forwards were outstanding as the Catalans thrashed Valladolid 4-1 and Diego Costa joins them following another superb show for Atletico Madrid

Round 8 of La Liga brought 30 goals, with wins for Barcelona, Atletico, Real Madrid, Villarreal, Sevilla, Getafe, Elche, Rayo Vallecano and Osasuna.

Barcelona and Aleti both preserved their perfect records, while Madrid needed a last-gasp Cristiano Ronaldo strike to overcome Levante in Valencia. Here, Goal takes a look at the standout performers from the latest round of action in Spain's Primera Division.

In goal, Andres Fernandez helped Osasuna to an unexpected win at Malaga with a couple of fine saves in the second half of the Navarrans' 1-0 success at La Rosaleda.

Filipe Luis won a penalty and was superb going forward as Atletico edged out Celta Vigo in a 2-1 win at the Vicente Calderon. Right-back Dani Alves was excellent in a similar role for Barcelona on the other side as the Catalans cruised past Valladolid, while the Brazilian's team-mate Marc Bartra showed he is developing into a fine young centre-back with a mature display in the heart of the defence. David Rodriguez Lomban completes the back line following his solid showing in the 2-1 victory over Espanyol.

Pedro Leon netted twice for Getafe (one a wonder strike, the other a header) as Getafe beat Betis 3-1;Cani was outstanding for Villarreal in the Yellow Submarine's 3-0 win over Granada, while Ivan Rakiticgave Sevilla all three points with a late strike against Almeria in the 2-1 success at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

Neymar shone in Lionel Messi's absence through injury with a goal and an assist for two-goal Alexis Sanchez, who also set up the Brazilian's strike in a brilliant performance. Finally, man of the momentDiego Costa is back in again after hitting the two goals for Atletico in their win over Celta and taking his Liga tally to 10 for the season.

Ramsey and Wenger win Player and Manager of the Month

The Welshman claimed the player's prize after scoring four goals in as many matches, while his boss led Arsenal to four consecutive victories
Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey has won the Barclays Premier League Player of the Month award for September, with boss Arsene Wenger picking up the manager's prize.

Ramsey scored four goals in as many league matches for the Gunners last month, including a double away to Sunderland and strikes against Stoke and Swansea.

Wenger, meanwhile, led his side to the top of the table with four consecutive wins in the top flight, including a 1-0 triumph over bitter north London rivals Tottenham.

Next up for Arsenal and Ramsey is a home clash against Norwich on Saturday October 19, following the international break.

Robben: Injury behind substitute's role

The Netherlands international didn't feature at the BayArena on Saturday until the 71st minute but the winger insists he has no issue with Pep Guardiola
Arjen Robben has dismissed the suggestion that he was unhappy at being on the bench for Bayern Munich's Bundesliga clash with Bayer Leverkusen.

The Netherlands international, 29, explained that a minor injury was the reason behind his demotion and rejected claims that he was annoyed with coach Pep Guardiola for not introducing him before the 71st minute.

"Of course I would have liked to have come on earlier," Robben told TZ. "But that's normal. 

"But I also had slight muscular discomfort during the final training session. That was also the reason why the coach put me on the bench."

Toni Kroos put Bayern ahead against Leverkusen but the hosts equalised almost immediately through Sidney Sam.

In spite of the draw, the Bavarians still moved a point ahead of Borussia Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga standings.

Gerrard: England must go out and deliver

With the memories of the Three Lions' Euro 2008 failure still fresh in the memory, the captain has described the upcoming World Cup qualifiers as a "critical week" for the country
Steven Gerrard has underlined the importance of England's World Cup qualifying double-header against Montenegro and Poland, insisting the squad must "go out and deliver".

The Three Lions currently sit on top of Group H, one point ahead of Ukraine, knowing they must win on Friday and next Tuesday to be sure of a place at next summer's tournament.

"This is as critical a week as English football has known for a long time," Gerrard told the Daily Mirror. "There’s a lot of expectations, from the fans, the media and in and among the group as well.

"Everyone wants to be at this World Cup, so it is very critical. We need to go out and deliver. It doesn’t come much bigger than this. 

"We all know how much the supporters want it. Also for the country itself it would be a disaster if England weren’t in the World Cup, especially in Brazil.

"I don’t like using the word 'disaster' or 'catastrophe', but the Brazil World Cup is going to be so big. Individually and collectively, we all want to be there."

Gerrard knows all too well what it is like not to qualify for a major tournament after England failed to reach Euro 2008, and the captain is desperate to avoid a repeat.

"It’s too grim a thought to even contemplate," Gerrard added. "I don’t want to think about those things, certainly in the build-up to these games.

"The main focus for me is trying to be as positive as I can, trying to be upbeat and look forward to trying to win these games rather than the worst-case scenarios.

"As a group of players, and individually, we’re all going to be judged over the next week or so. I expect that and that’s fine. It’s down to us now."

Valdes: My time at Barcelona is over

The Spain international is out of contract at the end of the season and has his heart set on a move abroad, revealing that he wants to try his luck in a different league
Victor Valdes has reiterated his internation to leave Barcelona next summer, explaining that he feels that his time at Camp Nou is over.

The Spain international is out of contract at the end of the season and announced during the summer that he would not be signing an extension.

A number of Barca players, including midfielder Andres Iniesta, have publicly stated that they have tried to persuade Valdes to change his mind and stay in Catalunya, but the 31-year-old shot-stopper says he has his heart set on a move abroad.

"My time here is done," the goalkeeper told Antena3. "They offered me the chance to renew [my contract] but my decision had been made."

"I am seeking new challenges. I want to play in another league and be with my family in another place.

"But this season I have still been feeling the love and support of the people and that is greatly appreciated."

Valdes, a product of Barcelona's youth academy, has spent his entire professional career to date at Camp Nou.

Prandelli defends Balotelli inclusion

The Nazionale never calls upon players who are banned at club level but he pointed out that the striker's suspension ended at the weekend
Italy boss Cesare Prandelli has defended his decision to include Mario Balotelli in his squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Denmark and Armenia.

The Azzurri coach never selects players who are serving a suspension at club level, so there was some speculation that their enigmatic forward, who has just completed a three-game ban in Serie A, might not be called up for the Nazionale's final two games in Group B.

However, Prandelli has explained that there was never any doubt over whether he would name Balotelli in his squad, not least because he wants to get the forward in the right frame of mind for the World Cup.

"I called him up because our way of dealing with problems is looking in someone's eyes in the dressing room," the Italy boss told reporters on Monday.

"I want to look in his eyes and make a pact with him that we must also arrive psychologically prepared for the World Cup.

"When you have a certain attitude, it's because you are a fragile person. Obviously, he upset me, but I'm like all the people that love him: I want to help him to become balanced. He is potentially one of the best players we have.

"Also, when you have a player that has been banned, I don't want to punish a player that's already been punished. 

"If there had been a midweek round of games, I would not have called him up. I have never called up a banned player.

"So, while everyone can speak about the code of ethics, that's not my problem. The rules are clear, he is no longer banned, so I don't see the controversy."

Italy, who have already sealed their World Cup place, face Denmark in Copenhagen on Friday before hosting Armenia four days later.

Bale must stand up to Ronaldo to succeed at Madrid - Redknapp

The QPR boss insists the Welshman needs to work with the Portuguese superstar while not being intimidated by him if he is to justify his world-record price tag
Gareth Bale will have to stand up to Cristiano Ronaldo if he is to survive and thrive at Real Madrid, according to former manager Harry Redknapp.

Bale, who first broke into the Tottenham team under the current QPR boss, eclipsed Ronaldo's transfer record by making an €100 million move to Real Madrid this summer.

And Redknapp believes Santiago Bernabeu's biggest superstar presents the biggest obstacle to the Welshman making a success of his time in Spain.

"His biggest test will be to step out of the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo with confidence. That won’t be easy," the QPR boss wrote in his new autobiography, serialised in the Daily Mail.

"Ronaldo is a huge star at Madrid and will probably want to take nine out of 10 free-kicks - at least. Gareth will have to assert himself and that will require a strong mind.

"He has to think ‘I’m an £86million player’ and act like it, taking responsibility, claiming the ball when he fancies his chances. 

"And yet at the same time he cannot dwell on his fee and what it means too much because that would put him under immense pressure. It is a tricky balancing act. 

"He will have to be ready for the matches when he goes it alone, has a shot, misses and Ronaldo starts throwing his arms up in the air.

"He cannot, at that point, go into his shell and become this timid little creature. But it is not natural for Gareth to behave in an assertive way. Don’t get me wrong, he knows he is good. 

"The fee is crazy, amazing money, but he wouldn’t have fought so hard to get the deal done if he didn’t fancy his chances of living up to expectations in Madrid.

"Yet, equally, Gareth is a quiet lad, who spends time with his girlfriend and family, and I’m not sure being in the same bracket as Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will suit him.

"If Ronaldo feels threatened by Gareth’s arrival, Madrid could be a lonely place so he will need to lean a lot on Ancelotti, who speaks good English, and Paul Clement, Carlo’s assistant, who is English.

"Luka Modric is another old friend who could help him settle in.

"The one thing the club cannot provide for Gareth and Cristiano is a ball each — so they will need to work hard on that partnership because they are such similar players."

Redknapp insists he recognised Bale's potential very early on - even if the Welshman did seem a little too preoccupied with his hairstyle.

"He drove me mad in training," the QPR boss added. "Technically, he was outstanding but he always seemed to be playing with his hair. It was never right. 

"He’d be flicking the fringe or wiping it out of his eyes and I would be going quietly mad, just watching. ‘Gareth, leave your barnet alone! Gareth! Stop touching your hair!’"