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FA backs Michel Platini as Fifa president while nominations stay open

The Football Association has backed Michel Platini’s bid to replace Sepp Blatter as Fifa president but warned that world football’s governing body must be “fundamentally changed” following the recent corruption scandal.
Platini, having received assurances he is likely to win the vote for the Fifa presidency next February, announced his candidacy in a letter sent to the organisation’s 209 member associations on Wednesday. The Uefa president has promised to transform Fifa’s disgraced reputation but within hours of launching the bid, he was accused by Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, a potential rival in the election, of being tainted by association with the Blatter era.
The FA, however, has pledged to support Platini’s attempt to reform Fifa despite not having seen a manifesto from the former France midfielder.
Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, said: “We support Michel Platini’s candidacy. We have a good relationship with him and hope he can gain the necessary global backing to lead a new Fifa during the most difficult period in its history.
"We understand there will be a number of candidates, which should result in a strong and healthy debate. However, we should not underestimate how challenging it will be for anyone to lead an organisation that has been so tainted. The whole structure of Fifa must be reviewed and fundamentally changed.
"With the FA vice-chairman David Gill newly appointed to the Fifa executive committee and the level of worldwide scrutiny on the reform process, the opportunity is there to bring about positive change. While we have yet to see Mr Platini’s manifesto, we believe he will fully support an ongoing reform process."
Jordan’s Prince Ali issued an outspoken attack on Platini’s credentials as a reformer, the Uefa president having voted to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar – to the consternation of his own federation – and been a member of Fifa’s executive committee since 2002.
Prince Ali, beaten by Blatter in the presidential vote that followed the arrest of seven Fifa officials in Zurich in May, said: "Platini is not good for Fifa. Football’s fans and players deserve better. Fifa is engulfed in scandal. We must stop doing business as usual. The practice of back-room, under-the-table deals must end. I believe that the voices of the individual football federations must be heard. In the coming week, I will be consulting with them about what is in the best interests of football. What is clear is that Fifa needs new, independent leadership, untainted by the practices of the past."
Prince Ali and South Korea’s Chung Mong-joon, a former Fifa vice-president, are expected to run for the presidency but Platini is believed to have secured backing from the leaders of four of Fifa’s six continental confederations for the ballot on 26 February. The 60-year-old pledged "to give Fifa back the dignity and the position it deserves”. He added: "During this last half-century or so Fifa has only had two presidents. This extreme stability is something of a paradox in a world that has experienced radical upheavals and in a sport that has undergone considerable economic change. However, recent events force the supreme governing body of world football to turn over a new leaf and rethink its governance."
Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, has been quick to voice support for Michel Platini's candidacy.

Europa League: What to look out for

The likes of Borussia Dortmund and Sampdoria start their campaigns in this week's third qualifying round first legs. UEFA.com's correspondents mark your cards.
Wolfsberg-Dortmund in spotlight
A UEFA Europa League third qualifying round tie involving a German side is usually of interest only to the team or region itself, not the talk of the nation. But that is different this time as Borussia Dortmund play Austrian debutants Wolfsberg. Dortmund, a club with Germany's biggest attendances, found themselves outside the UEFA Champions League places last term, yet now boast a new coach in Thomas Tuchel, one of the country's up-and-coming trainers. So how will BVB fare this season? How will they cope with the new system which values possession over quick transitions? And will Marco Reus really operate as a false nine?
Midfielder İlkay Gündoğan said: "Tuchel started with the simple things: Which foot do I control the ball with? Which foot does my team-mate like to receive the ball with? These details seem small but can make our game a bit faster; I think our progress is clear. Defending so bravely and being so brave in possession feels good." Wolfsberg have switched this game to Klagenfurt, some 60km away: the stadium, a UEFA EURO 2008 venue, will host a 30,000-plus sell-out, making it the club's record home attendance. 
Željezničar set for Standard
Željezničar have just suffered their first defeat in nine months but the Sarajevo side remain upbeat as they prepare to visit Standard Liège. Victorious in all four UEFA Europa League games this season – against Balzan and Ferencváros – without conceding a goal, Željezničar were beaten 1-0 at Borac their league opener on Sunday, with coach Milomir Odović commenting: "We'll need to play better than against Ferencváros yet we can hope for a favourable result." Standard have long held a special place in Željezničar fans' hearts as two club greats went on to play for the Belgian club – Drago Smajlović and Josip Bukal.
Fuad Krvavac
Vojvodina tie stirs Sampdoria memories
After being paired with Vojvodina for the third qualifying round, newly appointed Sampdoria coach Walter Zenga said: "Life is strange. Sampdoria are back in Europe and will face a team where two of our former coaches, Vujadin Boškov and Siniša Mihajlović, spent several years as players [Boškov was also in charge of Vojvodina for seven seasons]."
A former Inter and Sampdoria goalkeeper, Zenga has become a well-travelled technician since hanging up his gloves, coaching in Romania, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Abu Dhabi, and also has fond memories of Serbian football. "I spent a single campaign at Crvena zvezda [in 2005/06] and we won the double", he added. "[This draw] is a sign of fate." 
Vaduz's domestic affair with Thun
Normally teams from the same championship cannot meet until the last 16 – but here in the third qualifying round is an all-Swiss Super League affair. Vaduz, entering Europe asLiechtensteiner Cup holders (they are ineligible to qualify via Switzerland), tackle a Thun outfit from whom they took just one point in four matches last season. However, in their previous European tussle with Swiss opposition, then second-division Vaduz only exited on away goals to FC Basel in the 2006/07 UEFA Cup second qualifying round,losing 1-0 away and winning 2-1 at home. After this double-header, Thun and Vaduz meet again in the league on 21 August.
Steffen Potter
Hajduk's changing fortunes
Three days after beating Koper 4-1 in the second qualifying round, Hajduk Split were themselves defeated by the same scoreline against Istra in the Croatian league. "There was nothing positive for us," said coach Damir Burić. "It was a sad night for Hajduk Split. We have to be, and will be, much better in our next match on Thursday."
Elvir Islamović
Van den Brom waiting for Istanbul
For AZ Alkmaar coach John van den Brom, this duel with Turkish debutants İstanbul Başakşehir holds a special meaning. The ex-Vitesse and Ajax midfielder played in Turkey's largest city for İstanbulspor in 1995/96 under Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker. "It will be special for me to return to Istanbul next week [for the second leg]," Van den Brom said. "After the draw I immediately Googled to see what kind of team they have. I immediately noticed their youngest defender is 28. I have been in touch with former colleagues in Belgium [from his old club Anderlecht who faced İstanbul in a recent friendly]. They confirmed what I already envisaged: they are physically strong players who know what they stand for. It will not be easy."
Târgu Mureș take a bow
Almost 40 years after the Transylvanian city of Targu Mures was last represented in UEFA competition – Asociația Armata Târgu Mureșfiguring in three straight UEFA Cup campaigns between 1975/76 and 1977/78, losing in the first round on each occasion and winning only one fixture – the city's new team ASA 2013 Târgu-Mures tackle Saint-Étienne. While it is also a first European assignment for coach Vasile Miriuță, the club are not short of experience with Eduard Stăncioiu, Pablo Brandan, Paweł Golański, Ousmane N'Doye and Gabriel Mureșan having featured for other Romanian sides in Europe.
"What can we say and what can we do? Obviously they're the toughest possible opponents but anything is possible," Miriuță told UEFA.com. "There are two matches and we'll do our best to qualify. We're playing a very good club with a big tradition, but Lyon are also a top French team and were eliminated last year by Astra. It doesn't matter that we're making our European debut; despite few believing in our chances, we're optimistic."
Kovář's Liberec advice
"Liberec travelling to Israel? Do not forget towels and swim-wear," Hapoel Haifa's Czech goalkeeper Přemysl Kovář tweeted when seeing his old club Slovan Liberec had been drawn with Hapoel Kiryat Shmona. More seriously Kovář, who played for Liberec in the 2013/14 group stage, added: "Shmona have a new coach and are building a new team after several key players left. Timing is on Liberec's side, Slovan are clear favourites for me," he told Czech daily Sport. 
Rabotnicki's reason for optimism
Four years ago Rabotnicki became the first club from FYR Macedonia to reach the play-off round of a European competition and midfielder Dusko Trajcevski is hoping history will repeat itself when the Skopje side face Trabzonspor. "Normally Trabzonspor are big favourites, but we have to dare to believe that we can repeat the success from 2011 when we surprisingly eliminated Anortosis at this stage in this competition," he said." We know we need to improve at least 30% from the games against Flora and Jelgava in Skopje. If we manage to win at home first without conceding, everything is possible in the second match."


Celtic 1 - 0 Qarabag : Boyata gives Hoops advantage

Celtic's Champions League prospect became a whole lot brighter after Dedryck Boyata's late header gave them a narrow 1-0 victory over Qarabag at Parkhead.
The home side put in an insipid, error-strewn first-half performance in the first-leg of the third qualifier to give the Azerbaijan champions plenty of encouragement.
Ronny Deila's men improved after the break but aside from a great save by Qarabag keeper Ibrahim Sehic from a Virgil van Dijk header, they posed little threat until the 82nd minute when the former Manchester City defender, recruited in the summer, headed in a corner from substitute Kris Commons.
The Scottish champions have the goal to defend in the return game in Baku next Wednesday night - and they will be grateful for it - although on the evidence of the first-leg the tie is far from over.
Deila's men had beaten Icelandic part-times Stjarnan 6-1 on aggregate in their previous qualifier but Qarabag delivered on their promise to be a much tougher obstacle.
Hoops fans, though, were boosted beforehand by the news that keeper Craig Gordon had extended his contract until 2018.
There was no surprise that Emilio Izaguirre returned to left-back to replace the injured Charlie Mulgrew.
The main talking point was Deila again preferring summer signing from Dundee United, Nadir Ciftci, to last season's top scorer Leigh Griffiths, who started on the bench, along with Commons, back after a toe injury.
It was not one of the big European nights at Celtic Park in terms of atmosphere but the home supporters tried their best to increase the tempo amid a flat start to the match.
Qarabag, neat and tidy at times in possession, were far from under siege and they threatened on the break.
Celtic's first real attempt on goal came in the 24th minute when midfielder Gary Mackay-Steven's drive from the edge of the box was grabbed by Sehic at the second attempt.
Five minutes later, in another Qarabag break, wide-man Javid Taghiyev's pass to Richard Almeida at the edge of the penalty area was swept just past Gordon's right-hand post by the Brazilian midfielder.
Green and white frustrations grew as the match edged towards the interval.
Celtic might have been punished had Alharbi El Jadeyaoui not over-hit his cross from the right with the Hoops defence scrambling to get back, before Gordon made an unorthodox save from Almeida's whipped-in free-kick, after Van Dijk had been booked for a foul on Taghiyev.
Celtic's start to the second-half revealed more zest if not more potency.
Ciftci headed an Izaguirre cross wide of the target before smashing the ball straight at Sehic from 12 yards after getting a break on the ball.
Winger James Forrest replaced Stuart Armstrong just after the hour mark before midfielder Nir Bitton made for way Griffiths.
In between, Sehic made a fantastic save from a powerful Van Dijk header, from a Stefan Johansen free-kick, before the Dutchman arrowed a long-range drive just over the bar.
Commons came on for Ciftci with 10 minutes remaining and, when he whipped in a corner from the right, Boyata, who scored in the previous round at home to Stjarnan, rose high to bullet his header past Sehic, with the Qarabag keeper claiming he had been fouled to no avail.
Celtic will unfurl the Scottish Premiership flag against Ross County on Saturday as the league season begins but they still have a bit of work to do next week to remain in the Champions League.


Marseille agree deal for midfielder Diaby

Marseille have announced that they have agreed a deal to sign former Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby.
The 29-year-old was released by Arsenal at the end of last season after nine years at the London club in which his progress was severely hampered by injuries.
He was offered the chance to stay in the Premier League with West Brom but turned down a move to The Hawthorns.
Instead he will be heading back to France after playing only two games in the last two seasons for Arsenal.
"Olympique de Marseille and Abou Diaby have this Tuesday evening reached an agreement in principle for the international midfielder to join the club," Marseille said on their website.
The 29-year-old joined Arsenal from French club Auxerre in 2006 but his last match for the Gunners was September 2014.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted he has "enormous respect" for Diaby but added: "Each time he came back, we had to start again from zero because of another injury.
"He is not a player who is fragile but just a victim of a violent tackle which went unpunished."

Vidal: I can win the Champions League with Bayern

The midfielder outlined his reasons for joining the Bundesliga champions after being unveiled on Tuesday afternoon
Arturo Vidal says Bayern Munich provide him with the "best opportunity" of winning the Champions League after completing his €40 million move from Juventus.
Vidal - who has signed a contract until 2019 at the Allianz Arena - was part of the Bianconeri side who were beaten by Barcelona in the final of the competition back in May, while Bayern were knocked out of the tournament in the semi-finals at the hands of the Catalans.
However, the Chile international believes the transfer represents a step forward in his career as he bids to win a title that has so far eluded him during his career.
He told Bayern's official website: "I’m very happy. This is a new step in my career and I hope I do well here. I want to help the team and win trophies. It’s a dream come true for me personally.
"I wanted to take another big step forward in my career. I want to keep developing as a player and win important trophies like the Champions League. I think the best opportunity to do so is with Bayern.”
The 28-year-old won the double in his final season with Juve and says Bayern's target for the campaign must be to achieve success on all fronts next term.
"We weren’t a long way off winning all three competitions last season. I hope we can pull it off with Bayern. That has to be the target.”
A first trophy of the season could be won at the weekend when Bayern face Dortmund in the Germany Super Cup, and the South American told the media he is ready to play if called upon.
"I played in the Copa America and have recovered after it. I am ready to play on Saturday if the coach wants me to," he explained.
Vidal spent four years in the Bundesliga with Stuttgart between 2007 and 2011 but failed to win a trophy at the BayArena, though he expects to enjoy a more fruitful experience during his second spell in Germany.
“I’m thrilled about playing in the Bundesliga again and obviously hope to win it this time. I didn’t manage it with Leverkusen back then, but with Bayern there’s a very, very good chance.”


Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny moves to AS Roma on season-long loan deal

Arsenal's Polish international goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has joined Serie A side AS Roma on loan for the season.

The 25-year-old helped the Premier League side win the FA Cup last season, one of just 29 appearances in all competitions in 2014-15.

The Pole's departure follows Arsenal's signing of Czech international Petr Cech from champions Chelsea, with Szczesny already losing out last season to Colombian David Ospina in the pecking order.

Roma said Szczesny, who has made 181 appearances for Arsenal since his senior debut in 2009 as a 19-year-old, had signed a one-year contract on Wednesday after successfully completing a medical in Rome.

"I've come here to win games and trophies with AS Roma and I believe that the team is strong enough to do so," the Pole, who joined Arsenal's academy from Legia Warsaw in 2006, told Roma TV.

"I think there's great potential. I know the faces of the players and I know their names, so hopefully I will settle in very quickly."

Arsenal said the loan move was subject to the completion of regulatory processes.


Bayern Munich signal interest in key Man United target Pedro

Pedro is eager to move on from Barca following his struggles to get regular game-time ahead of the superstar trio of Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi.
United were understood to be closing in on a £22m deal for the Spanish winger.
But now, The Mirror cite reports in Munich-based newspaper TZ that say the 27-year-old wants a reunion with former Barca boss Pep Guardiola.
TZ have revealed that Bayern's interest is real and the Bundesliga champions are considering a swoop for him.
The news comes as a major shock to United who had thought they had their deal wrapped up.
United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has returned to the UK to finalise the transfer, that would see the club take their summer spending over the £100m mark.
But, with Bayern's surprise interest, Pedro's future is still unclear.


Nemanja Matic eyes Champions League glory as Chelsea star claims Blues scared of no-one

NEMANJA MATIC reckons Chelsea aren't scared of anyone, at home or abroad.
The Blues arrived back in England yesterday after their three-match North American tour which ended with a penalty shoot-out win over Barcelona.
Jose Mourinho's men now have Arsenal in their sights this Sunday in the Community Shield, but after reacquainting themselves with the best in Europe on Tuesday night, Matic couldn't help thinking about going for Champions League glory.
The first knock-out round defeat to PSG last term was the one blot on the Blues copybook, and Mourinho's Serbian midfield enforcer is convinced that won't happen again.
"Of course we're not happy that we didn't play so well in the Champions League but we hope this season we can go further," said Matic. "My dream is to win it and we will see if we are ready this season.
"To be champion you need to have everything - quality, luck, everything. This season I hope we have more luck and with our quality this is enough to be champion.
"We have quality like the big teams, we will show that this season. We are ready to compete with everyone. I'm not scared.
"Our players can compete with all the big stars. That's why they are Chelsea players. I believe in their quality.
"Last season we showed our quality and took two trophies. It's difficult, especially when you're in the Premier League, to win both, but we are ready for the season."
Mourinho moaned before jetting back to London that his men have had a short pre-season of just three games and two weeks' training ahead of the big kick-off.
Fiorentina visit Stamford Bridge next week in the final friendly before the Premier League starts on August 8 when Swansea come to town.
But Matic thinks Chelsea are in good shape, and certainly Eden Hazard looked sharp against Barca, bagging a brilliant goal, while Brazilian wonderkid Kenedy impressed during his first 45 minutes of the tour.
Mourinho faces an anxious wait to see if Gary Cahill broke his nose after being punched in the face on his way to scoring to make it 2-2, while Diego Costa needs a check on a slight hamstring strain.
Matic added: "We used these days very well. We had three very difficult games against good teams and especially against Barcelona it was a good opportunity to show how we are prepared. And we're happy we won on penalties.
"We'll be ready for Arsenal. We know what we have to expect. It's always a special game when you play at Wembley and we'll be ready for sure.
"We've trained hard but we needed that as we had one month free.
"We are ready for the next season and I hope we start well with a trophy and we will try to show our quality in the first game.
"Of course against champions everyone has special motivation and wants to win, but we are ready for that and we believe in our quality."
Mourinho also had time to hit back at Rafael Benitez's wife with a remarkable jibe about his rival manager's weight
Montserrat Seara had claimed her husband "tidied up the mess" left behind by Mourinho after Benitez took over at Real Madrid this summer - the third time he had joined a club previously managed by the Chelsea boss.
Mourinho's response was to tell Mrs Benitez she should concentrate on her man's diet, and claimed Benitez "destroyed" his treble-winning Inter Milan side in 2010, while pointing out the former Liverpool boss had not directly succeeded him at Chelsea or Real.
"The lady is a bit confused," Mourinho said. "Her husband went to Chelsea to replace Roberto Di Matteo and he went to Real Madrid and replaced Carlo Ancelotti.
"The only club where her husband replaced me was at Inter Milan, where in six months he destroyed the best team in Europe at the time.
"For her also to think about me and to speak about me, I think she needs to occupy her time, and if she takes care of her husband's diet she will have less time to speak about me."