Team: UEFA.com users' Team of the Year 2012
"I feel humbled to be part of the UEFA.com users' Team of the Year 2012," tweeted FC Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué on Wednesday. "Thank you all for your support." His Spain and Barcelona team-mate Xavi Hernández added: "It's an honour for me to be voted in this team of great players at European and world level."
Once more the team that the stars want to appear in, UEFA.com's 12th annual selection came about after users put in over 5 million votes, with 4-4-2 the favoured formation. For the third successive edition, eight Liga players featured in the Team of the Year, five of whom figured in Spain's UEFA EURO 2012 triumph in Poland and Ukraine, and Cristiano Ronaldo and Iker Casillas were picked for the sixth year running.
Goal: Rickie Lambert (Southampton FC)
Rickie Lambert's penalty earned Southampton FC a 1-0 Premier League win at Aston Villa FC last weekend and continued the 30-year-old's remarkable run from the spot – he has scored all 31 of his penalties for the Saints since joining in 2009. "I'm not counting," said the 30-year-old, who spent four months putting lids on jars of beetroot to earn a living after being released by Blackpool FC aged 19. "I'm always confident taking a pen and hopefully that will continue."
Leighton Baines (10/10 for Everton FC) and Mario Balotelli (8/8 for Manchester City FC) also boast impressive Premier League spot-kick records, though the target Lambert may be aspiring towards is that of Southampton great Matthew Le Tissier, whose 47/48 statistics brought him acclaim as England's best-ever penalty taker.
Before Sunday's 'clássico' between SL Benfica and FC Porto, the Eagles had a special welcome for Paraguay striker Óscar Cardozo to mark the fact he had scored his 100th Liga goal for the club midway through a hat-trick at CS Marítimo on 15 December (his total now stands at 101).
With 148 goals overall, Cardozo – who moved to Lisbon in summer 2007 – has already been recognised as the most prolific non-Portuguese forward in Benfica's history, and this week signed a two-year contract extension until 2016. "I hope to make the most of it and not disappoint anyone," the 29-year-old said. "I think I've done well – I've scored a lot of goals and won some trophies. It's very important for me to play for Benfica. Everyone loves me and that is excellent."
"I would like to congratulate the Football Association on this wonderful landmark, its 150th anniversary – a milestone that is worthy of celebration by the entire worldwide football family."
UEFA President Michel Platini paid tribute to the English Football Association (FA) as the organisation's 150th anniversary celebrations began with a gala event in London.
Final frontier: AS Saint-Étienne
Record ten-time French champions St-Étienne, whose last piece of silverware was the Ligue 1 title in 1981, reached their first cup final in 31 years when they defeated LOSC Lille 7-6 on penalties in the last four of the French League Cup – their third shoot-out success in the competition this season. Les Verts had eliminated Paris Saint-Germain FC, the team that dashed their hopes on spot kicks in the 1982 French Cup final, by the same method in the previous round, having also held their nerve to oust FC Lorient in the last 32. Could this finally be their year?
"It's very emotional, it's a joy to see the Geoffroy-Guichard celebrate," said coach Christophe Galtier after the conclusion to Tuesday's 0-0 home draw over 120 minutes. "I know there will be smiles on faces in the streets for 24, 48 hours, for weeks even. It's a source of pride for us all."
European newcomers: Víkingur Ólafsvík
Hailing from a west Icelandic fishing village of around 1,000 people, Víkingur Ólafsvík's football side had stolen the headlines after two straight promotions earned them a top-flight debut – now they have shown their prowess indoors as well. The same squad of players beat Valur Reykjavík to win their first national futsal title, ensuring a berth in the 2013/14 UEFA Futsal Cup. "They say third time lucky, the hunger was there and it had to happen," captain Gudmundur Steinn Hafsteinsson said after making up for losses in the 2011 and 2012 futsal finals.
"Since our training pitch is more or less frozen in winter, our facilities in town during the winter only allow us to play indoor football, which is very similar to futsal." Víkingur will enter the UEFA Futsal Cup preliminary round in late August. "Our coach said it will be fun but at the same time we will be in the midst of Iceland's football season and we have to be careful,” Hafsteinsson added.
Twitter storm: Jores Okore (FC Nordsjælland)
A misplaced tweet caused panic in Denmark's newspaper offices last weekend. Hasty rewrites of the back pages were prompted by Nordsjælland defender Okore posting a photo of himself aboard a plane, with the caption: "On my way to Manchester." The Ivory Coast-born Danish international had been linked with a move to Manchester United FC in the past, but it soon emerged the 20-year-old was not on his way to talks with Sir Alex Ferguson, rather to watch the Red Devils' Premier League game against Liverpool FC, which United won 2-1.
Canine capers: Galatasaray AŞ v VfR Aalen
Fans watching last Saturday's friendly between the Turkish club and their German second-tier opponents in Antalya witnessed an unlikely dog show when two labradors invaded the pitch. With the match goalless after 52 minutes, the pooches halted proceedings, demonstrating close control with deft handling of a carrier bag. Thankfully, Galatasaray captain Sabri Sarıoğlu and Aalen forward Cidimar displayed fine dog-handling skills as the animals were gently guided back into the stands. For the record, Aalen prevailed 1-0.
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