Pellegrini backs Pep Guardiola to be successful at City

Manuel Pellegrini might be unsure about his own future but he is certain Pep Guardiola will be successful when he takes over as Manchester City manager.

Pellegrini’s side ground out a 1-1 draw at Swansea City on Sunday to ensure they pipped neighbours Manchester United to the Premier League’s fourth and final Champions League qualifying berth.

Pellegrini’s parting gift means his successor will be able to look forward to competing in Europe’s elite club competition when Guardiola arrives at Eastlands during the close-season following his departure from Bayern Munich.

“I don’t like to talk about what will happen in the future but I am sure that Guardiola will be a very successful manager,” Pellegrini said.

“I have not spoken to Guardiola and I don’t think I have any need to do that. He knows perfectly well what is happening at this club because he has friends here.

“Guardiola will receive a club that deserves to be in the Champions League and I am sure it will continue to improve in the future.

“I don’t think he is especially lucky because in the last five seasons this team has always been in the Champions League and it was important this continued next season.” Naijabet

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West Brom paused over Ighalo bid

English Premier League club, West Bromwich Albion, are mulling a move for the Nigerian striker, Odion Ighalo.

The 26-year-old has scored 17 goals in his first top-flight season for Watford.

He was on target as the Hornets lost 2-4 to Norwich City in a Premier League game at Carrow Road on Wednesday.

Ighalo is expected to cost less than £15 million.

Arsenal were interested in him during the last window but Ighalo has failed to replicate his electric form from the first half of the season and so the Gunners’ interest has now cooled. Naijabet

Watford have reportedly received a £10 million bid from an unnamed Qatari club, but Ighalo is keen to remain in the Premier League.

He turned down a £300,000-a-week deal in China last summer in order to stay in England, and instead signed a five-year deal at Watford.

While it may prove difficult to tempt Ighalo away from London, the striker is believed to be open to a move away from Vicarage Road to another top-flight club.

The West Bromwich Albion manager, Tony Pulis, has a track record of buying proven Premier League players and Ighalo’s current £30,000-a-week deal at Watford is within Albion’s wage budget.

Express and Star report that the WBA chairman, Jeremy Peace, met up with Pulis and technical director, Nick Hammond, at the training ground this week to go over the club’s summer plans.

The Baggies want to buy two new forwards in the window to replace Saido Berahino, who will probably be sold, and Victor Anichebe, whose contract will not be renewed.

Chelsea offer Terry a new one-year contract

Chelsea captain John Terry, who feared he had played his last game for the club, has been offered a new one-year contract, interim manager Guus Hiddink said on Friday.

Hiddink, who is preparing for his final Premier League match at home to champions Leicester City on Sunday, told a news conference Terry was considering the offer. Naijabet

The former England defender is out of contract at the end of the season and said earlier this year he expected to leave.

The 35-year-old made his debut for his only club in 1998 and has played more than 700 games for the west London side.

Arsene Wenger has not yet decided on his future

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has not yet decided on his future, with his contract due to expire at the end of next season, the Frenchman said on Friday.

He denied any knowledge of British media reports that he would be offered a new deal.

The Times said on Friday that the club’s American majority shareholder Stan Kroenke had prepared a new two-year deal.

“I don’t know where the information has come from, you can treat that as an invention,” Wenger told a news conference ahead of Sunday’s final Premier League game at home to relegated Aston Villa.

The experienced Wenger, 66, who joined the north London club in 1996 and has led them to a top-four finish in every full season, indicated he would at least see out the remaining year of his contract. Naijabet.com

“I am committed with integrity for as long as I am under contract,” he said. “I will see where I am personally and where the club stands.”

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Zidane dreaming of Madrid winning La liga title

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane believes his side can dream of pulling off an incredible comeback to usurp Barcelona and win La Liga on Saturday.

Madrid need to win a 12th consecutive La Liga game at Deportivo la Coruna and hope that Barca slip up away at Granada to deny their eternal rivals the title.

Zidane has fared remarkably well in his first senior managerial role after being promoted from coaching the club’s youth team in the third tier of Spanish football to replace the sacked Rafael Benitez in January.

Under the Frenchman’s tutelage, Madrid have fought back from a 12-point deficit in March to close to within a point of Barca heading into the final game, while also reaching the Champions League final, where they face Atletico Madrid later this month.

“That is the dream. I have been at this club for a long time as a player, then in many different roles and now finally as coach,” Zidane said on Friday. Naijabet.com

“The president has given me this opportunity to coach at this club and I want to do my upmost to ensure we win matches.

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Iheanacho wants new deal worth £150,000-a-week at city

Manchester City forward, Kelechi Iheanacho, wants reward for a stunning 2015/16 season in the shape of a new deal worth £150,000-a-week.

The striker’s advisers believe he has earned parity – at least – with teammate Raheem Sterling, on the basis that Iheanacho’s emergence has saved the Blues from having to spend big on a new young frontman this summer.

They also feel rising-star Iheanacho has proven himself superior to Wilfried Bony, who has flopped since his £28 million move to the Etihad from Swansea 17 months ago.

Sterling, who signed from Liverpool for a package totalling £49 million last summer, has netted 11 times in his first season with the Mancunian Blues while Bony, who earns £100,000-a-week plus a £20,000-per-game bonus, has managed only eight goals this season and a total of ten in all competitions since being signed in January last year. Naijabet 

Iheanacho currently earns £15,000-a-week but the www.mirror.co.uk reports that City will offer him an improved contract but want a wrangle over his representation resolved.

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Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy named EPL Player of the Season

Leicester City’s England striker Jamie Vardy has been named Premier League Player of the Season after his pivotal role in the club’s remarkable title-winning campaign.

The East Midlands club, which announced the award in a tweet on Friday, defied the odds to lift their first top-flight crown having begun the season as 5 000-1 outsiders.

The prolific Vardy is also in the race for the golden boot awarded to the league’s top scorer, having netted 24 goals so far, one behind his international teammate Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur with one round of matches remaining on Sunday.

Leicester visit last season’s champions Chelsea, while Spurs travel to relegated Newcastle United,Predict on Naijabet.com

The 29-year-old’s Vardy’s phenomenal form this season led to him winning his first England cap and he is certain to be included on Monday in Roy Hodgson’s squad for next month’s European Championship in France.

Vardy beat Leicester teammates Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante, Kasper Schmeichel and Wes Morgan, as well as Spurs trio Kane, Dele Alli and Toby Alderweireld, Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil and West Ham United’s Dimitri Payet for the Premier League award.

He was also voted Player of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association (FWA), an award he received at a dinner in London on Thursday attended by manager Claudio Ranieri.

Vardy was named in the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) team of the year but Leicester’s Algeria international winger Mahrez won the PFA Player of the Year award.

Barca eye sweet title victory in final day showdown

Barcelona have the upper hand in a final day showdown with Real Madrid for the Spanish title on Saturday as they know a victory at Granada will ensure them a 24th La Liga crown.

Madrid are a point behind and have to stretch their winning La Liga run to 12 games at Deportivo la Coruna and hope for a Barca slip up to land the title.

The battle between the two richest clubs in the world has come down to the final day thanks to Barca’s incredible slump of three consecutive league defeats in April, the first time in 13 years they had gone on such a run.

However, the world champions have bounced back in style with four straight victories by a combined 21-0 scoreline to take them to the brink of a sixth Spanish title in eight seasons.

“It is essential for us to keep a clean sheet because we know from middle to front we can make the difference,” Barca striker Luis Suarez said on Thursday.

“Mentally we have to be very strong and be aware of the fact that it is in our own hands.

“We have 93 or 94 minutes to win one match and we have already won a lot this season.”

Suarez has come up big when Barca most needed him with 11 goals in his last four games to get the Catalan giants back on track. Naijabet

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Borussia Dortmund new home kit “Pure Emotion”

Puma revealed the new Borussia Dortmund home kit for the 2016/17 season, inspired by the motto “Pure Emotion”. The passion shared by the players and fans is a feature of BVB that sets them apart from many in football, with every season kicking off a new emotional adventure.

The new home shirt aims to inspire courage and confidence on the pitch and terraces, to draw on the successes of the past and to look to the future.

In traditional yellow, the shirt has a fashionable eye-catching look through its dynamic black block stripe design. The contemporary feel is complemented by additional stripes in a dot pattern and a black, offset Puma formstrip on the shoulder. The modern round neck collar completes the look and the extended back ensures a better fit.

Additional details include the embroidered club emblem, the Puma Cat logo as well as the jersey sponsor displayed on the front. The traditional “Dortmund” lettering is emblazoned on the rear.

The BVB players will be well-equipped on the field a functional level – high-quality polyester material ensures exceptional comfort. Mesh inserts integrated on the sides, and the drycell technology developed by Puma reliably transport moisture outwards and guarantee optimum breathability.

BVB’s exciting winger Marco Reus said: “I think what Puma has developed is absolutely fantastic. I am a big fan of the design with the stripes. I have also talked to some of the boys from the team and they are all very happy with the jersey. We are looking forward to the new season and we will give everything we can.”

EURO 2016 : Lewandowski leads Poland squad

Poland coach Adam Nawalka on Thursday unveiled his provisional 28-man squad for Euro 2016 led by Robert Lewandowski, the top scorer with Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich.

Poland compete in their third straight European Championship in France from June 10 to July 10 where they are drawn in Group C alongside Germany, Ukraine and Northern Ireland. Naijabet.com

Nawalka rewarded players who proved themselves during qualifying where Poland scored 33 goals, finishing just behind Germany, who they beat for the first time 2-0 in Warsaw.

Nawalka will cut his squad to 23 on May 30.

Goalkeepers: Artur Boruc (Bournemouth/ENG), Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City/ENG), Wojciech Szczesny (Roma/ITA), Przemyslaw Tyton (VfB Stuttgart/GER)

Defenders: Thiago Cionek (Palermo/ITA), Pawel Dawidowicz (Benfica/POR), Kamil Glik (Torino/ITA), Artur Jedrzejczyk, Michal Pazdan (both Legia Warsaw), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund/GER), Bartosz Salamon (Cagliari/ITA), Jakub Wawrzyniak (Lechia Gdansk)

Midfielders: Jakub Blaszczykowski (Fiorentina/ITA), Kamil Grosicki (Rennes/FRA), Tomasz Jodlowiec (Legia Warsaw), Bartosz Kapustka (Cracovia), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla/ESP), Karol Linetty (Lech Poznan), Krzysztof Maczynski (Wisla Krakow), Slawomir Peszko (Lechia Gdansk), Maciej Rybus (Terek Grozny/RUS), Filip Starzynski (Zaglebie Lubin), Pawel Wszolek (Hellas Verona/ITA), Piotr Zielinski (Empoli/ITA)

Strikers: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich/GER), Arkadiusz Milik (Ajax/NED), Artur Sobiech (Hanover/GER), Mariusz Stepinski (Ruch Chorzow)

Lack of energy and injuries cost Arsenal title – Cech

Overall fatigue and long-term injuries to key players combined to end Arsenal’s pursuit for the Premier League title this season, goalkeeper Petr Cech has said.

Arsenal, who won their last league title in 2004, made a strong start to the season and were top of the division at the end of December, but lost out to champions Leicester City and are currently third in the table behind Tottenham Hotspur going into the last match of the campaign.

“It was a very strange season in a way,” Cech, who signed from Chelsea in the close season, told the club website (www.arsenal.com).

“If you look at the number of injuries we had, it is not a big number compared to previous years or compared to other clubs. It’s not a big difference but unfortunately for us, every time we’ve had an injury, it’s been long-term.” Naijabet.com

Midfielders Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all had long spells on the sidelines, while striker Danny Welbeck, who made his first appearance of the season in February, faces nine months out after suffering a second serious knee injury against Manchester City on Sunday.
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City boss Pellegrini urges caution to hold on to UCL spot

Manuel Pellegrini has urged caution ahead of Manchester City’s final match of the season at Swansea City on Sunday after his team were handed a reprieve in the race to qualify for the Champions League.

Fourth-placed Manchester City need one more point, thanks to a vastly superior goal difference, after rivals Manchester United failed to capitalise on their game in hand when they lost 3-2 at West Ham United on Tuesday. Naijabet

“Maybe after the Arsenal game everyone thought we were eliminated,” said Pellegrini on Thursday in reference to last weekend’s 2-2 home draw.

“But now it has flipped around the other way so we must be very careful,” he told his last news conference as City manager before Pep Guardiola takes over the City hot seat.

Since joining in 2013 the Chilean has won the Premier League, two League Cups and guided the club to their first Champions League semi-final, but they have disappointed in the league this season.

Captain Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and David Silva will miss the trip to the Liberty Stadium while left back Aleksandar Kolarov is a fitness doubt.

Bayern hope to get stronger next season under Carlo Ancelotti

Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich will lift the Bundesliga trophy for an historic fourth consecutive time on Saturday – with their rivals predicting they will get even stronger next season under Carlo Ancelotti.

Bayern’s home match against Hanover 96, who are already relegated, will be Guardiola’s last at the Allianz Arena before he takes over at Manchester City next season.

It promises to be a festive occasion in Munich and Guardiola will be a prime candidate for the traditional ‘beer shower’ when the Bayern squad are presented with over-sized glasses of beer to start the party after the final whistle.

Under Guardiola, Bayern have dominated Germany’s top flight over the last three seasons by starving their opponents of possession.

His successor Ancelotti will inherit a star-studded squad which will be further boosted by new signings Germany defender Mats Hummels and 18-year-old Benfica midfielder Renato Sanches.

Bayern splashed out a reported €73 million to sign the pair on Tuesday from Borussia Dortmund and Benfica respectively as they sent out a clear statement to their rivals both in Germany and across Europe.

“One should never be resigned, but it’s clear that with their new signings and with the team they already have, Bayern have taken a few more steps ahead of all the teams in the Bundesliga,” said Wolfsburg’s Germany winger Andre Schuerrle. Naijabet.com

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Monaco hope to hold on to UCL spot

Monaco must avoid a slip-up on the final day of the French season on Saturday or risk losing out on a Champions League berth at the expense of local rivals Nice.

The principality club have been in the top three since December but have stumbled in recent weeks and a 6-1 trouncing at Lyon last weekend effectively ended their hopes of finishing second and sealing automatic Champions League qualification.

Monaco host mid-table Montpellier at the Stade Louis II knowing that a three-point deficit to second-placed Lyon coupled with a far inferior goal difference means they must instead focus on making sure of third spot, which carries with it a berth in the Champions League third qualifying round.

Leonardo Jardim’s side, quarterfinalists in Europe’s elite club competition last season, must win to be sure of a podium place.

Otherwise, Nice, two points back in fourth with a better goal difference, can capitalise by beating Guingamp in Brittany.

“In the last match we took a big blow. We lost, that’s the way it is, but we have remobilised and got back down to work,” said Jardim, who insisted third place is where his team belong.

“Lyon finished second last year and are second now. Paris are first again. We would be doing the same as last year by coming third.” Naija and Bet

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Zidane praised for “breathing life back” to Real Madrid

Real Madrid defender Marcelo says the club needed new direction after stuttering under Rafael Benitez and has praised Zinedine Zidane for “breathing life back” into the team since taking over as coach in January.

Newcastle United’s relegation from the English Premier League on Wednesday completed a miserable season for Benitez who was sacked by Real barely six months into the job.

The Spaniard left with Real third in the table, four points off the top of La Liga.

Frenchman Zidane has cut the gap on leaders Barcelona to a single point going into the final games of the season at the weekend, and has led the team into an all-Spanish Champions League final with Atletico Madrid later this month. Naijabet

“The coach has helped us a lot and breathed life back into us,” Marcelo said in an interview with sponsors Bwin. “We all spoke and we knew we had to change something.

“We’ve changed and it’s been for the best. Many things have changed for the better.”

Real head into Saturday’s game at Deportivo La Coruna in their best domestic form of the campaign, having won the last 11 matches.

“I don’t like talking about numbers but the truth is we’re really happy with Zidane,” Marcelo said. “He’s a great coach.”

Dortmund signed France’s young player of the year Ousmane Dembele

Borussia Dortmund signed France’s young player of the year Ousmane Dembele from Rennes on Thursday, the German club fighting off strong English Premier League interest in the teenage forward.

Dortmund called the 18-year-old “one of Europe’s most sought after talents” in a statement announcing the transfer on a five-year contract.

The Bundesliga side did not give a figure for the deal, but German media said the fee was in the region of 15 million euros (£11.8m, $17.1m).

British media had earlier reported that Liverpool were ready to offer £28 million for the France under-21 international, who was voted Ligue 1’s young player of the year last weekend.

Dembele, born in Normandy, has been a revelation for Rennes this season, scoring 12 goals and and five assists since making his debut in November.

“Ousmane can play nearly every position in attack,” Dortmund’s sporting director Michael Zorc told the club’s website. Naijabet

“He is strong one-on-one, he can play with both feet, he is good at nutmegging and dribbling, and he is fast and dangerous in front of goal.”

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Everton sack their manager Roberto Martinez – report

Roberto Martinez’s three-year spell in charge of Everton is over, media reports said on Thursday.

The Spaniard has come under increasing criticism this season after a mediocre Premier League season that has left them 12th in the table.

According to the reports, Martinez failed to take training on Thursday ahead of the final game of the season against Norwich City on Sunday while the BBC and Sky Sports television said he had been sacked.

The team reached the semifinals of the League Cup and FA Cup but Martinez’s side have under-performed in the league despite boasting a squad many regard as Everton’s best for many years.

Everton have won just one of their last 10 league games and some fans turned on the manager after they lost 4-0 to local rivals Liverpool last month. Naija and Bet

Banners calling for him to be sacked have appeared at recent games and a protest was planned for Sunday’s finale.

Martinez gained a reputation for an attractive football style in previous stints at Swansea City and Wigan Athletic.

He won the FA Cup with Wigan but the club were also relegated in the same season before he joined Everton in 2013, taking over from David Moyes.

Everton finished fifth in his first season in charge but struggled to back that up last term when they were down in 11th.

They have managed only five home league wins this season.

Tottenhem manager Pochettino, signs new contract to 2021

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino has signed a contract extension until 2021, the club said on Thursday, ending media speculation the Argentine could be tempted elsewhere.

Pochettino’s side will finish as top flight runners-up for the first time since 1964 if they beat Newcastle United on the final day of the season on Sunday, having pushed Leicester City hard for the title.

“We have seen Mauricio bring a tremendous spirit and ethos to our club and embrace the attacking style of play with which we have always been associated,” chairman Daniel Levy said in a statement.

“He has built a squad of youth and experience and this season we have seen football played at the highest level, quite sublime at times.”

Former Argentina defender Pochettino joined Tottenham in 2014, having impressed at Southampton, and has created a fast and powerful side with a backbone of young English players such as Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Dele Alli. Naijabet.com

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Hazard back to his best

Chelsea interim boss Guus Hiddink said Eden Hazard was back to his best after the midfielder scored a stunning goal in the 1-1 draw against Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday night.

The Belgium international, who was named PFA Player of the Year last season, has struggled for much of the current campaign, scoring his first league goal against Bournemouth last month.

Since that strike, Hazard has racked up four goals in his last four league games, including the sumptuous curler that secured a 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur on May 2 and ensured that Leicester City won their first top-flight title. Naijabet.com

“Hazard was terrific and has been growing in fitness for some weeks,” Hiddink told British media. “It’s good to see. He had to suffer a lot with injuries this year but I’m very happy he’s back.”

The draw at Anfield was overshadowed for Chelsea fans by concerns over the future of the club’s 35-year-old skipper John Terry, who was missing due to a suspension and is out of contract at the end of the season.

Fans held aloft banners calling for Terry to stay, and Hiddink revealed that the club had made contact with the skipper, although he did not reveal the nature of the discussions.

“Let’s wait (and see) what happens,” the Dutchman added.

“There was contact (between Terry and the club) but because I was focused on the game, I have not heard the results of that.

“Hopefully both are wise parties. We will see regarding his near future, let’s hope for the best.”

Leicester dominate Premier League player nominations

Leicester City footballers look set to sweep this year’s individual awards after five were named in the 10 nominations for the Premier League Player of the Season.

Playmaker Riyad Mahrez, the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) Player of the Year, was joined by Football Writers’ choice Jamie Vardy, midfielder N’Golo Kante, keeper Kasper Schmeichel and captain Wes Morgan. Naija.com

Leicester claimed their first top-flight title last week and lead the table by 10 points from Tottenham Hotspur going into the final weekend of the season.

Tottenham trio Harry Kane, PFA Young Player of the Year Dele Alli and Toby Alderweireld also made the list of nominees along with Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil and West Ham United’s Dimitri Payet.

Fifa president to visit Zambia

World football governing body Fifa president Gianni Infantino has accepted an invitation to visit Zambia in 2018.

He will visit the country to grace the 25th anniversary of the Gabon Air Crash that killed 18 members of the Zambia national football team in 1993.

Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) president Andrew Kamanga, who is in Mexico City where FIFA is having its congress, disclosed Infantino will visit Zambia after next year.

“We are delighted that the FIFA president has accepted my invitation to come to Zambia in 2018 after we had fruitful discussions with him on various developmental issues,” Kamanga said.

“He has expressed confidence in our leadership and wants Zambia to succeed with its football development programmes.

“Fifa has further agreed to send a legal team to help us revise our constitution in line with their directive for us to reduce the FAZ electoral college by 30th September.

“Other than that, we also discussed the possible funding of our reconvened annual general meeting later this year and there has been a willingness by Fifa to help.”

Kamanga, who is attending the FIFA congress for the first time since his election in March, also met up with Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou. Naija and Bet

He says he is happy with how both Infantino and Hayatou welcomed him in the football family.

Infantino will be the third serving president to visit Zambia after Joao Havelange and Sepp Blatter.

Newcastle and Norwich relegated from Premier League

Newcastle United and Norwich City were relegated from the Premier League on Wednesday as Sunderland secured their survival with a one-sided 3-0 victory over Everton.

Sunderland centre-back Lamine Kone’s first two goals for the club and a Patrick van Aanholt free-kick took Sam Allardyce’s side four points clear of danger with one game remaining.

Norwich returned to the Championship a year after promotion despite a 4-2 win over Watford, while Newcastle, Sunderland’s arch rivals, will play in the second tier for the first time since 2010.

“It’s the attitude of the players who absorb the pressure and deliver a performance like that,” Allardyce said in an on-pitch post-match interview.

“That’s what’s happened over the past 10 games — only one defeat. It’s pretty miraculous. To the lads and all the staff, thank you very much.”

It is the fourth season in a row that Sunderland have pulled off a late escape to avoid relegation and it guarantees the northeast club top-flight football for a 10th consecutive season. Naija and Bet

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Buffon, Barzagli sign new contract until 2018

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and defender Andrea Barzagli have extended their contracts with the Italian champions until 2018, they said on Wednesday.

Italy captain Buffon, 38, and international team mate Barzagli, 35, have helped Juve win five straight Serie A titles, having made 35 and 30 appearances respectively this season.

“I hope that my fantastic story with this club will go on and bring even further success,” Buffon told a news conference. “I’m immensely proud in the faith Juventus have placed in me once more.”

Barzagli added: “Even at this age, I still have room to improve and this is the best place for me to do so.”

Buffon indicated earlier this year that he planned to retire after the 2018 World Cup, which would be his sixth. He and Barzagli helped Italy win the 2006 World Cup.

Buffon joined Juventus in 2001 and became captain in 2012 following Italy great Alessandro Del Piero’s move to Sydney FC.

He has made 458 appearances for the club, known as ‘The Old Lady’ and won nine league titles, including two that were stripped from Juve over the Calciopoli corruption scandal. Naijabet

Buffon set a Serie A record of 974 minutes without conceding a goal as Juve won 4-1 against local rivals Torino on March 20 .

The much-travelled Barzagli has made 150 appearances for the club after joining from Vfl Wolfsburg in 2011.

On Saturday, Juventus face 15th-placed Sampdoria in their last league game this season before being crowned champions.

Messi equals Koeman mark in scoring direct free-kick at Barca

Almost everything Lionel Messi does looks effortless but the Barcelona forward insists a lot of practice goes into trying to perfect the free-kicks which have contributed a sizeable chunk of his goals this season.

The 28-year-old Argentine has scored seven goals from direct free-kicks in this year’s La Liga, the latest in Sunday’s 5-0 triumph over Espanyol.

Messi now has 23 goals from free-kicks in his career at the club, equalling the previous record of former Barcelona star Ronald Koeman.

“Yes, the truth is that we train for this,” he said in an interview. Naijabet

“We work on how to move so that the ball goes to the right place and also you learn things over the course of your career.”

Messi had to wait until the 2008-09 campaign to take his first attempt from a direct free-kick for Barca, where Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry and Xavi Hernandez used to take set pieces.

Koeman’s thunderous right-footed free-kick gave Barcelona a win over Sampdoria for their first European title in 1992 but while the Dutchman focused on power, Messi is more about accuracy.

“To be honest, I like to hit the ball over the players’ wall but from time to time I like to mix it up a little bit so that the goalkeeper doesn’t know where I’m going and I want to keep him confused until I kick,” Messi said.

“I think for that reason, I like to keep the goalkeeper in doubt.”

Messi has scored 37 goals in 43 games in all competitions this season for Barca and the tally can further swell.

La Liga leaders Barca will attempt to clinch the title on Saturday at Granada and will then play in the Copa del Rey final against Sevilla on May 22.

Benzema’s return from injury will boost Real Madrid

Karim Benzema is returning to full fitness at just the right time for Real Madrid, who will play Atletico Madrid in the Champions League final on May 28.

Coach Zinedine Zidane was relieved to see the Frenchman come back from a hamstring problem and score in Sunday’s 3-2 triumph over Valencia, a result that kept Real just a point behind Barcelona with one game to go in the race for the league title.

“He’s not been at 100 percent for a while. We’ve seen that it wasn’t easy for him physically,” Zidane told Real’s website.

“(Against Valencia) he coped with it well and without any problems. We’ve got two games left. He’s getting better every day and he’s not feeling any discomfort from his last injury.” Naijabet.com

Benzema has missed 15 games this season through injury but has still scored 28 goals in 34 games in all competitions — close to his record of 31 goals in the 2011-12 campaign, the year Real last won La Liga.

The 28-year-old striker has found the back of the net in 20 of his 34 appearances for Real in the 2015-16 campaign, scoring six more goals than last season. Cristiano Ronaldo is Real’s leading scorer in the league with 33 goals.

Benzema is expected to start Saturday’s league season finale at Deportivo La Coruña.