Hibernian buoyed by early returns

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The Independent Online

The Hibernian manager, Alex McLeish, has been given a much-needed boost after Russell Latapy and Lyndon Andrews made an early return from international duty with Trinidad and Tobago.

The Hibernian manager, Alex McLeish, has been given a much-needed boost after Russell Latapy and Lyndon Andrews made an early return from international duty with Trinidad and Tobago.

Ian Porterfield - McLeish's former manager at Aberdeen - has agreed to excuse the players from the next two World Cup matches as the Caribbean nation have already qualified for the next stage of the competition.

Porterfield said: "Although the two games are very important, I told various players before our last match that if we got a good result and they wanted to miss out after that it was fine."

Celtic's Brazilian defender, Rafael, is set to return to his homeland after struggling to become part of Martin O'Neill's plans at Parkhead.

The £4.5million centre-back, who has struggled to settle since John Barnes brought him to Scotland last season, is set to join Corinthians on loan until the end of next year, with a view to a permanent transfer.

Rafael said: "I am waiting to hear when I can return to Brazil and join Corinthians. They are a top club with some very good players. I will be there for over 15 months as the season does not start until January.

"However, I can still come back to Celtic because I signed a five-year contract and will still have three years left.

"The thing is the team are doing really well right now and the manager is not going to change it," added Rafael.

* Jose Martinez Pirri announced yesterday that he is leaving Real Madrid after more than 30 years with the Spanish club.

The former Spanish international defender played for Real for 16 years and was a member of their European Cup winning side in 1966, two years after he joined the club.

After his playing were over he took over as team doctor before becoming technical director four years ago. However, the appointment of Jorge Valdano as overall sporting director earlier this month left his future in question.

"I'm very proud of what I've achieved at Real Madrid and leaving makes me very sad," he said.

"I was working very well with the new president Florentino Perez but the appointment of Jorge Valdano meant there were two people with the same job.

"My dignity, in professional and personal terms, would not allow me to continue."

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