FOR THE second time this season Palmeiras have been accused of violent and unsportsmanlike conduct. On Tuesday, Cruzeiro, their opponents in the Copa Mercosur final, left no one in any doubt as to their feelings. "Palmeiras do not play hard, they play violently, they have been kicking players off the ball for a long time," said the Cruzeiro coach, Levir Culpi.
"They celebrate goals with obscene gestures, provoke our players and, when their team is winning, the ball-boys vanish."
Vasco da Gama's preparation for their game against Palmeiras earlier this season was to take out special insurance because they claimed the team from Sao Paulo was violent.
This could be seen as an overreaction to robust play until you realise that the Palmeiras coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, has publicly urged his team to commit more fouls.
It could also been seen as a rather foolhardy reaction from Culpi as his team's 3-1 loss in the second leg forced a decider - to be played at Palmeiras.
OLEG ROMANTSEV, the head coach of the champions, Spartak Moscow, took charge of the national team for the second time on Monday. He succeeded Anatoly Byshovets, sacked this month after five months in charge and six consecutive losses, including three European Championship qualifiers.
Romantsev previously led Russia to the finals of Euro 96 but was dismissed after they gained just one point from three games.
DESPITE A 5-0 thrashing of Nigeria last week the chances of Catalonia entering separate teams in major competitions has been quickly dismissed. The minister of state for sport, Santiago Fisas, said: "I'm not against the idea of regional selections playing friendly fixtures but I don't think it is possible given Spanish legislation, along with the regulations of the International Olympic Committee and international federations, that regional selections can take precedence over a Spanish national team."
The friendly was played before an almost capacity crowd at the Barcelona's Olympic Stadium, with banners demanding sporting independence and "Freedom for Catalonia".
Pichi Alonso, the Catalonia coach, has no doubts about his side's capabilities. "I think we are at the level of national teams like Belgium or Scotland," he said.
THE COUNTRY'S police force are having a wage cut to subsidise their team's participation in next year's Confederation of African Football Cup. All 2,500 policemen are to have more than pounds 5 deducted from their next pay packet so their Royal Leopards can play Nkana FC of Zambia in the first round in March.