Madrid come unstuck, Malaga sparkle

Real Madrid CF remain eight points adrift of FC Barcelona after suffering a third Liga defeat of the season at Real Betis Balompié, while Málaga CF overcame Valencia CF 4-0.

Real Madrid CF fell to a 1-0 defeat at Real Betis Balompié, leaving the Merengues third, eight points behind Liga leaders FC Barcelona. 

The home side were sprightly from the outset and took a 17th-minute lead when Beñat skipped past a challenge and fired beyond Iker Casillas into the bottom left corner from range. Madrid had their chances in the second half. Ángel López cleared off the line under the nose of Karim Benzema and Adrián made two excellent saves – first parrying Kaka's long-range strike and later blocking a point-blank Benzema header. The breakthrough was not forthcoming, however, and José Mourinho's men could begin next week 11 points adrift in the title race.

Málaga CF, meanwhile, moved fourth after overpowering Valencia CF 4-0. Promising youngster Francisco Portillo curled in early on, but the match hung in the balance until the 74th minute, when the floodgates opened. Javier Saviola thumped in a low second and substitute Roque Santa Cruz added another seven minutes later. Valencia defender Adil Rami was dismissed for a second booking, and Isco rubbed salt into the wound with an added-time fourth.

Rayo Vallecano de Madrid beat RCD Mallorca 2-0 with two goals in the last three minutes, while a 1-0 defeat at Real Valladolid CF leaves Granada CF one point off the relegation zone.

 

Simon Mignolet error adds to Sunderland's problems as West Brom move third

 

West Bromwich's Albion dream season continued as they moved up to third in the Premier League following a 4-2 win over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

Zoltan Gera's brilliant strike, a dreadful blunder by Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, which gifted Shane Long a goal, Romelu Lukaku's penalty and Marc-Antoine Fortune's late finish gave Steve Clarke's side the points despite Craig Gardner's free-kick and Stephane Sessegnon's late tap-in having given the home fans something to cheer.

The win pushed West Brom above Chelsea, who host Manchester City in Rafa Benitez's first game in interim charge on Sunday, on to a total of 26 points from 13 games in what is emerging as an unexpectedly successful campaign.

The match's first real talking point came in the 20th minute when relieved Sunderland defender John O'Shea thought he had been shown a second yellow for a challenge on Long only to realise his Republic of Ireland team-mate had been harshly booked for diving.

Boaz Myhill was then fortunate not to be punished when the West Brom goalkeeper only palmed a header from Sessegnon, clearly full of confidence after his spectacular goal at Fulham, back into the danger zone.

But, in the 30th minute, Sunderland paid the price for their missed chances as Gera gave West Brom the lead by curling an excellent, left-footed, 25-yard effort past Mignolet, who could only brush his fingertips against the ball.

Mignolet and Sunderland's problems deepened one minute before half-time when the goalkeeper made an embarrassing hash of dealing with Chris Brunt's harmless, over-hit through-ball, allowing Long to pounce and walk the ball into the open net.

O'Neill, who had lost captain Lee Cattermole to injury in the first half, made another change at half-time and sent on James McClean in place of O'Shea, with Phil Bardsley moving to centre-back and Sebastian Larsson shifting to right-back.

But West Brom continued to look a threat on the counter-attack and Mignolet had to partly atone for his earlier blunder by saving a one-on-one with Long when rushing off his line to block the striker.

Sunderland, though, were back in the game in the 73rd minute when Gardner, who returned from suspension as a replacement for Cattermole, hit a free-kick and saw it deflect off the wall to beat Myhill.

The strike lifted Sunderland's spirits but it was short-lived as substitute Lukaku's 81st minute penalty, after Liam Ridgewell had gone down somewhat softly under a challenge from Adam Johnson, and Fortune's injury-time goal sandwiched Sessegnon's close-range finish at a corner.

Drogba refused permission to leave Shanghai

Didier Drogba's hopes of an immediate move to a European club from Shanghai Shenhua have been dashed by FIFA.

 The Ivory Coast international striker was being linked with a loan move to former club Chelsea after the Chinese Super League ended this month.

The 34-year-old requested special permission to join another club outside the international transfer window to maintain his fitness levels ahead of the African Cup of Nations, which starts on 19 January in South Africa.

However, FIFA upheld its rules in previous cases when making Major League Soccer players David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan wait until January to make loan moves.

FIFA said in a statement: "We can confirm that the player Didier Drogba submitted a request for authorization to be registered outside an open registration period for a club on a loan basis.

"FIFA has informed him about the relevant regulations... that players may only be registered during one of the two annual registration periods fixed by the relevant association."

FIFA said the only exception was when a player's contract expired outside a transfer window.

Arsene Wenger refuses to rule out move to bring Thierry Henry back to Arsenal

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has refused to rule out a move to bring Thierry Henry back to the club.

 New York Reds Bulls striker Henry is currently training with Arsenal during the MLS off-season.

 Henry enjoyed a loan spell back with the Gunners last term when the MLS campaign came to an end and Wenger is now weighing up a third spell at Arsenal for the 35-year-old.

Wenger could be in the market for striking reinforcements after admitting Marouane Chamakh could leave in January and he will also be without Gervinho for several weeks when he plays for Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations

Wenger said: "He has been practising with us. Three times. Will I sign him again in January? I don't know - I don't rule it out. I don't know if he would be interested.

"This year we will lose Gervinho to the Africa Cup of Nations again, so we will be short - particularly if Chamakh goes."

Wenger knows Henry, who has scored 228 goals for Arsenal, is influential both on and off the pitch.

"You know what he gives you. He gives you hope, especially when he comes on. That is the most important thing," he said.

"He is a communicator. An extrovert. Very intelligent. He can only give good advice to players because he was in their position when he arrived here."

Davis Cup: Czech Republic beat Spain 3-2 in Prague final

 

The Czech Republic landed the 100th Davis Cup after Radek Stepanek beat Spaniard Nicolas Almagro in the deciding rubber.

Roared on by his home crowd in the 02 Arena in Prague, the inspired Stepanek completed a 6-4 7-6 (7-0) 3-6 6-3 victory to give the Czechs a 3-2 win in the final and deny Spain a fourth Davis Cup triumph in five years.

After David Ferrer had kept Spain's hopes alive by beating Tomas Berdych to level the contest at 2-2, it left world No 37 Stepanek needing to beat 11th-ranked Almagro to give the hosts victory.

And, despite the gap in the rankings, Stepanek came up with the goods.

Stepanek pinched the first set 6-4 and, after Almagro had saved four set points in the second, the 33-year-old from Karvina blitzed the tie-break 7-0 to take a 2-0 lead.

Stepanek immediately had three break points at the start of the third as he moved in for the kill, but Almagro saved them and went on to take the set 6-3 after breaking in game six.

But it proved only a stay of execution for the 27-year-old Spaniard from Murcia as Stepanek came on strong again in the fourth.

Almagro dug deep to save a match point on his own serve in game eight but Stepanek held his serve in the next to spark wild celebrations amongst the 14,000 crowd.

It gave the Czech Republic their first Davis Cup win since they became an independent nation after splitting with Slovakia in 1993. Czechoslovakia won the Davis Cup in 1980 when they had Ivan Lendl in their ranks.