Around the World: Van Gaal backed by Barcelona

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LOUIS VAN GAAL, the Barcelona coach, earned a reprieve last night.

The under-fire Dutchman won the backing of the Barcelona board of directors following a three-hour meeting to discuss his future.

Van Gaal's position had been placed in doubt after a fourth successive league defeat against Villarreal on Sunday left the club 10th in the Spanish Primera Liga, nine points behind the leaders, Mallorca. A 70,000-strong crowd waved white handkerchiefs in the traditional Catalan protest and chanted for Van Gaal and the president, Josep Lluis Nunez, to go as another three points went begging, leaving the club in their worst position in the table for 19 years.

But the Barcelona board decided at their scheduled monthly meeting to ignore calls for change, opting instead to back Van Gaal.

A Barcelona spokesman, Josep Maria Antras, said: "After a wide-ranging debate we continue to support this squad and managerial team."

Van Gaal, who has been under mounting criticism from press and public as results this term have gone from bad to worse, was the target of another wave of hostile headlines yesterday. "Not even one day more," screamed the Barcelona-based sports daily El Mundo Deportivo.

But, after watching his side crash to another humiliating home defeat, against a Villarreal side in their first season in the First Division, Van Gaal had insisted he would not throw in the towel.

"It's easy to say `Van Gaal must go' but that isn't the solution. We need to keep calm and gain more confidence - that's the only solution," he said.


DESPITE BEING down to nine men, Thailand pulled off a brave extra-time 2-1 victory over South Korea in Bangkok yesterday to go through to a semi- final meeting with Kuwait in the Asian Games football tournament.

China also made it through to face the favourites, Iran, who have brought their World Cup squad to Bangkok, but will do so without their English coach, Bob Houghton.

The former Bristol City manager was sent off for dissent yesterday and will be banned from the bench for the next game. China had already had their striker, Hao Haidong, sent off in the 68th minute for spitting at an assistant referee while he was being substituted. Later, as Houghton was trying to replace Huang Hong with just minutes to go in a 3-0 win, the North Korean fourth official, Kim Jong-sik, held up No 5 - Fan Zhiyi of Crystal Palace - and Houghton lost his temper at the error.

Iran beat Uzbekistan 4-0 thanks to a hat-trick in the last 10 minutes from the Bayern Munich striker Ali Daei, and completed a line-up for tomorrow's semi-finals which was as expected - apart from the astonishing Thais.

They had a man sent off, took the lead against South Korea, had another man sent off, conceded a late equaliser, then went into sudden-death extra time and won the game with the goal of the tournament.

Six minutes into the added period Sanor Longsawang rolled a free-kick to Thawatchai Damong-Ongtrak, who was five yards in from the touchline and 35 yards from goal - but still found the net.

"I'm elated," said Thailand's coach, Peter Withe, in charge of the team for only four weeks before the tournament began and already a national hero. "I'm going to celebrate," the former Aston Villa and England striker said. "I could not have asked more from the players. I told them at the end of normal time we could still win this game. I told them, look, the Koreans are sitting down. We are standing up, ready to play, they are not. We can win."

Meanwhile, Sheikh Ahmad al-Saber of Kuwait, the head of the Olympic Council of Asia, said in Bangkok yesterday that there was growing support within the region for a boycott of the 2002 World Cup in protest at Asia's allocation of just two teams (apart from the joint hosts Japan and South Korea) at the finals.