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12.26.2007

Almunia might play for England

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Amazingly, Arsenal’s Spanish goalkeeper Manuel Almunia has expressed that he would have a tough time saying no if the new coach Fabio Capello asked him to play for the England National Team.

We must consider that Arsene Wenger has been the chief advocate of Almunia as a solution to England’s lack of reliable talent in the goalkeeping department.

“I think it would be the toughest decision of my career and a big one,” was the 30-year-old’s conclusion.

“In fact, I will have to wait until that moment to see what is happening such as which goalkeeper England has or which one Spain has.

“Spain have never called me. And, if other people want me, I have to study my situation and take a decision because it is good for me. I will not close the door to anything. Honestly I’m not thinking about being an international goalkeeper for Spain. My mind is here in Arsenal in London and, at the moment, I don’t have many options to play for Spain. But I don’t care, I am really happy here.

“And yes, I would be very pleased to take a decision that would make me happy and my family happy.”

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Critical moment for Ronaldinho and Barcelona

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At the time Ronaldinho Gaucho arrived at El Prat Airport on Sunday night in the comic get-up of the teenage bad-boy sunglasses, it was barely an hour after the final whistle of the Camp Nou derby. In fact, it was the fastest he'd moved all night and rather than wagging thumb and little finger at adoring fans, he sneaked silently through a side door. If he is late back again, busy holed up in the boot of a car or working on his pneumatic drill impression, few will care. Right now, plenty of Blaugrana supporters couldn't care less if he doesn't fly back at all.

Yes, they couldn't care less because on Sunday, Barcelona FC were defeated 1-0 by Madrid in what used to be called the derbi and is now dubbed the clasico but was only classic in the way that old programs which weren't that great the first time are classic. Because a Julio Baptista goal inflicted Barca's first home defeat for almost two years. Because they failed to score for the first time since a 0-0 draw with Espanyol almost three years ago. Because defeat leaves them seven points behind Madrid, closing an annus almost as horribilis as the Queen's. Because, in an admirable display of cliched fools seldom differing, both Marca and AS's sites declared it a "white Christmas", while Sport and Mundo Deportivo called it "the nightmare before Christmas". And because the league looks done already: "It's over," insisted Marca's Roberto Palomar, "the difference between Madrid and Barcelona is the difference between an goat and a lion. And I just don't remember a single documentary where the goat wins."

Most of all, though, they couldn't care less because it's all Ronaldinho's fault. It's not actually all Ronaldinho's fault, of course. Barcelona came up against a Real Madrid team that was too good. Not a side with great fluidity or creativity, and certainly not one playing the fantasy football promised when Fabio Capello was sacked, but one with few weaknesses. Kepler Laveran Lima Ferreira - Pepe to his mates - cost Madrid €30 million ($50 million) and is starting to look well worth it alongside Cannavaro. Sergio Ramos is a ridiculously good athlete. Iker Casillas performs miracles like he's making a nice cup of tea. Ruud van Nistelrooy is still the most effective striker in Spain. Raul's oxygen tent is working wonders. Midfielder Robinho is finally finding consistency. Wesley Sneijder is recovering his early season form. And Baptista, built like a tank but half-way out the Bernabeu door, has learnt that he doesn't need to be so nice all the time.

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