Real Madrid pin their hopes on Anelka's aura

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SPAIN

SPAIN

Some might call it clutching at straws, but the Spanish media has found a new saviour for Real Madrid's troubled domestic season. Step forward, Nicolas Anelka.

Just 15 minutes of action on Saturday from the former Arsenal striker has had the media drooling and predicting that the Frenchman might be able to resurrect Real's Primera Division campaign. "Anelka Awakes" was the headline in the sports newspaper Marca while its rival AS predicted that the 20-year-old Frenchman would be "back for Christmas". Anelka is expected to be given a full game tonight when Real Madrid visit Alaves for their last match of the millennium.

Anelka has done little of note since Real made him Spain's most expensive signing in August, when he moved to the Bernabeu from Highbury for £23m. But last Saturday he impressed the crowd and the critics when he came on in the second half and showed some flashes of skill during his team's 2-1 victory over Espanyol, their first home win since August.

"The truth is he made a tremendous impression," the Real coach, Vicente del Bosque, said after the game. "We're all happy because Anelka is the key to this side. The aura he brought with him from England is awesome and we all hope he lives up to it soon."

IRAN

Iran said last week that they would play a friendly match in the United States next month only if US officials waived a requirement to fingerprint the Iranian players, which Tehran has denounced as offensive.

The match, scheduled for 16 January at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, would mark the first time the Americans have hosted Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, although the two teams met in France during last year's World Cup, when Iran won 2-1.

The head of Iran's football federation, Mohsen Safaei-Farahani, said the team will "make the trip on the condition that the promises, including removal of the fingerprinting formality, are fulfilled".

US officials say the procedure is standard for nationals of Iran, Sudan and other countries accused by Washington of links to terrorism - charges which Iran denies.

GERMANY

Toni Schumacher, the former German international goalkeeper, has become the first coach in German professional football to be fired at half-time during a game.

Schumacher was sacked last week as his team, Fortuna Cologne, were losing a Second Division game against Waldhof Mannheim. The club president, Jean Löring, did the deed as soon as the players returned to the dressing room after trailing 2-0 at half-time.

Schumacher, capped 76 times by West Germany, immediately left the stadium and his assistant sat on the bench during the second half. It made no difference: Fortuna lost 5-1.

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