France targets World Cup playoff spot
GOMEL, Belarus (AP):
After a disappointing draw last week, France is now focused on second place in its World Cup qualifying group.
The 1998 world champions visit Belarus today, and a win in Group I will edge them closer to clinching at least a playoff spot for next year's tournament in Brazil.
With two matches left, France trails world champions Spain by three points but is five points ahead of Finland. Belarus is last and can no longer qualify.
"We're targeting a second-place finish to reach the playoffs," France midfielder Mathieu Valbuena said. "We were not the favourites in this group but at one stage we dreamt of the top spot. Now we must get back to reality, which is the playoffs in November. We must think positive and find the net again."
The top teams automatically qualify for the World Cup while eight of the nine second-place teams go into the playoffs.
France winger Franck Ribery is doubtful for the match because of injury and his absence would be a blow to France. The pacy winger was recently named best player in Europe after leading Bayern Munich to success in the Champions League, the Bundesliga and the German Cup last season.
Mushtaq impressed with Windies interest in spin
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, (CMC):
Former Pakistan off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq said he was honoured to be invited to the Caribbean to train the current generation of West Indies spinners.
Mushtaq accepted an invitation from the West Indies Cricket Board and has been sharing his wisdom and understanding with current and emerging spinners at the Sagicor West Indies High Performance Centre, which is based on the Cavehill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Barbados.
"It is a great honour for me because the West Indies has such a great history in the game," he told WICB Media.
"Many legends of the game have come from the West Indies. There are many cricketing knights, including Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Vivian Richards, and there is also one of my great rivals, Brian Lara, so I am very excited about this opportunity.
"When (West Indies coach) Ottis Gibson called, I was more than happy to come to the Caribbean and share what I know with the young players. This is also a beautiful place to be, with warm, friendly people."
The crop of bowlers benefitting from Saqlain's knowledge includes fellow off-spinner Shane Shillingford, West Indies teammates, left-arm spinner Veerasammy Permaul and leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo.
Italy's Buffon to match Cannavaro's record
When it comes to defining the record-breaking career of Gianluigi Buffon, Bulgaria coach Luboslav Penev may have put it best.
"Italy has a monument in goal," Penev said after watching the 35-year-old Buffon deny his squad with three highlight-reel saves in the Azzurri's 1-0 win Friday.
The most impressive of the three saves came three minutes into the second half, when Buffon left his feet anticipating a shot to his right. Still airborne, with his 1.92-meter (6-foot-4) frame laid out across the goal line horizontally, Buffon somehow managed to swipe away a close-range effort from Ivelin Popov with his glove just as the ball was going to cross the line.
"To be honest," Buffon said afterward. "I really thought it was in already."
Today, Buffon is scheduled to match Fabio Cannavaro for Italy's all-time appearance record with his 136th appearance.
And this isn't just some friendly set up for a record-breaking night. If Italy beats the Czech Republic at the Juventus Stadium in Turin, where Buffon plays his club football, the Azzurri will have qualified for next year's World Cup with two matches to spare.
It would be the fifth World Cup of Buffon's career and his fourth as a starter.