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World Soccer views and news

Can Shakhtar Donetsk gatecrash western Europe’s party?

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/Shakhtar Donetsk’s impressive 3-2 win at AS Roma in their Champions League last 16, first leg match was perhaps overshadowed by Arsenal’s unlikely comeback against Barcelona on the same night, but it will have nonetheless reverberated around Europe.

It would be audacious to expect Shakhtar to appear in the final at Wembley in May, but the Ukrainian champions appear to have one foot in the last eight after a textbook display of counter-attacking football at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

It came after equally inspired performances in the group phase of the competition, where they finished top of their pool ahead of Arsenal to reach the knockout stage for the first time.

Shakhtar’s rise from relative obscurity started in 1996 when wealthy Ukrainian businessman Rinat Akhmetov became the club’s president, but they had to wait until 2002 to lift their first league title.

Should the cup-tied rule be abolished in the Champions League?

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/How AC Milan were crying out for the guile of Antonio Cassano or the tough tackling of Mark Van Bommel (who could have replaced Gennaro Gattuso before he lost his head) in Tuesday’s 1-0 home defeat by Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League last 16 first leg.

Both were ineligible having played in the competition for Sampdoria and Bayern Munich earlier in the season.

Champions League returns — can anyone stop Barcelona?

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/BUSQUETSHow we’ve missed the Champions League. It’s nine weeks since the line-up for the last 16 was completed and a couple of months since the draw offered up a handful of belting ties, including Inter Milan v Bayern Munich in a repeat of last season’s final.

We’ll have to wait a week for that one, with the more leisurely format these days meaning we see just two matches a night. This week, we can look forward to AC Milan v Tottenham and Valencia v Schalke on Tuesday, with Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk and Arsenal v Barcelona on Wednesday.

Farewell Ronaldo, one of the game’s greats

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SPORT SOCCER WORLDRonaldo has just made the official announcement that he is to retire with immediate effect, bringing to an end one of the great soccer stories.

The 34-year-old Brazilian announced his decision at a news conference in Sao Paulo a few moments ago, after concluding that the battle for fitness — always a bruising struggle — was one he could no longer win.

Rooney strike — wonder goal or shinpad special?

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SOCCER-ENGLAND/Wayne Rooney’s overhead scissors kick goal to win the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Saturday has sparked a tidal wave of hyperbole in the British media, with “wonder goal” the most popular tag used to describe it.

The general consensus was not that it was just the nailed-on winner for “goal of the season” but was also the best of Rooney’s career and even the best ever seen at Old Trafford.

Rooney wonder strike could make United’s season

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SOCCER-ENGLAND/Wayne Rooney said it was his greatest goal and Alex Ferguson said he had never seen anything like it. Even opposition manager Roberto Mancini had to applaud.

So many times you see players fall flat on their faces as they attempt an overhead wonder goal but any smirks that might have been rising as Rooney embarked on what looked like mission impossible were quickly replaced by utter disbelief at Old Trafford on Sunday.

from Left field:

West Ham given Olympic stadium nod but can soccer co-exist with track and field?

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OLYMPICS-LONDON/STADIUMSo now we know: Premier League soccer club West Ham United will take over the Olympic Stadium in London following the 2012 Games, assuming there are no late objections from the British government or the city's mayor.

The decision will be greeted with relief by many fans of the rival bidders Tottenham Hotspur for one simple reason -- soccer does not generally co-exist very well with athletics.

Classy Wilshere looked like a Barcelona No 4 in the making

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SOCCER-FRIENDLY/Scrunching up the eyes a bit, and using just a touch of imagination, watching Jack Wilshere on the ball for England against Denmark was almost like watching Xavi. It was quite a shock, in fact, to see a player in an England shirt pause, look up and think before picking out a team mate with a precise, considered pass.

Comparing Wilshere to the peerless Barcelona midfielder Xavi will be stretching it for some. I was pretty surprised, I must say, to read match reports on Thursday suggesting Wilshere had been a bit disappointing.

Relief in Barcelona as Guardiola extends contract

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SOCCER-FIFA/During Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp last Saturday, which set a Spanish record of 16 straight La Liga victories, there was one thrilling passage of play which perfectly illustrated the work ethic Pep Guardiola has instilled among his squad of wonderfully gifted players.

The ball was played into space for Atletico forward Sergio Aguero. Lionel Messi suddenly appeared, sprinting back into defence. The World Player of the Year ran shoulder to shoulder with his Argentina team mate, stole the ball, beat Felipe Luis with an audacious piece of skill and started yet another assault on the visitors’ goal.

FIFA takes agenda by scruff of the snood

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SOCCER-ENGLAND/There will be a lot of fashion-conscious footballers holding their breath for item “V.1.b” at the International Football Association Board’s annual meeting next month.

Forget goal-line technology and positioning of goal posts and the other very sensible items on the agenda, the one sure to get a few people rather hot under the collar is the “wearing of snoods” – those snugly neck warmers much loved by the likes of Carlos Tevez and Samir Nasri.

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