Football around the world

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The Independent Online

All is not well in , where the national team are singularly failing to dominate South America's World Cup qualifying group - despite the absence of their great rivals Brazil, who as holders are not required to qualify.

Their fallen, former captain, Diego Maradona, says will fail to qualify for the World Cup after their dismal 1-1 draw at home to Chile last Sunday - the second time in a row they have failed to win at home. " were no better than Chile and are out of the World Cup," Maradona said on Monday. "Daniel Passarella [the coach] talks about guts and determination - but the team did not produce one single, well-trained move," he said.

Maradona also hit out at Passarella's hard-line approach to discipline, which has included much-publicised bans on players having long hair and wearing earrings. Sunday's draw left fifth in the nine-team South American group, from which the top four qualify for France 98. Colombia, Paraguay, Ecuador and Uruguay currently fill the qualifying positions.


A key figure in 's glory days, Mario Kempes, has become the first foreign coach in Albanian football history. The man whose goals helped his country to World Cup glory in 1978 is the new coach of the Albanian First Division club, Lushnja.

Kempes has agreed to a two-year contract with the club worth about pounds 180,000, which has yet to be signed. The average monthly wage in Albania is about pounds 40.

Kempes said upon arrival in the country: "I know nothing about Albania. I have seen only a few television reports about this country." Lushnja are in a lowly 10th place in the league, despite signing three foreign players earlier in the year - two Brazilians and a Nigerian.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia have reached the final of the Asian Cup - they play the host nation, the United Arab Emirates, in Abu Dhabi tomorrow - despite the absence of the man who put his country on the world football map at USA 94.

Saudi preparations for the tournament were rocked when their top forward Saeed Al-Owairan - who scored a superb individual goal against Belgium at the 1994 World Cup - and two other players were suspended by the national football association. The trio were said to have been found at a party drinking and mixing with women. Both indulgences are banned in Saudi Arabia under the Islamic sharia law.

The Saudis reached their fourth Asian Cup final in succession with a 4-3 penalty-shoot-out win over Iran after a goalless draw in extra time on Wednesday. They won the competition in 1984 and 1988, and were beaten by Japan in the 1992 final.

Saudi Arabia are the clear favourites tomorrow even though they are meeting the host nation, who beat Kuwait 1-0 on Wednesday to reach their first final in the competition's 40-year history. Thousands of locals took to the streets after the UAE's semifinal victory to celebrate their team's surprise qualification.


Despite their team's fine form this season, it seems that not all Barcelona fans are enamoured with their distinguished English coach, Bobby Robson. Club employees have had had to whitewash over grafitti aimed at Robson and the club board on the walls of the Nou Camp stadium.

"Robson go home," read a comment written in English. The former England manager was also advised to retire to an old people's home, and was compared unfavouarbly to Barcelona zoo's famous albino gorilla, "Snowflake".

"More Catalans and less trash," said another piece of the graffiti. The arrival of numerous foreigners at Barcelona has led to the exclusion of local players such as Albert Ferrer, who has been approached by Real Madrid.