Success for Reds players on international duty tonight

A narrow win for the Czech Republic in their Group 1 qualifier against Andorra. That’s a narrow 8-1 victory. One of the heroes of Istanbul, Vladimir Smicer, scored the Czech Republic’s third on 38 minutes before being substituted at half-time. Another Red, Milan Baros, scored their fifth after 80 minutes.

In the same group Holland beat Romania 2-0, with reported Liverpool target Dirk Kuyt getting the second for the Dutch.

In Group Five John Arne Riise picked up a yellow card in Norway’s goalless draw against Italy.

Jerzy Dudek had a quiet night between the sticks for Poland as they went to the top of Group Six in Azerbaijan. Poland won 3-0 against the team they beat 8-0 at home in March.

A lot of interest from a Liverpool perspective in the Group Seven game between Spain and Lithuania. Current Reds Luis Garcia and Xabi Alonso were substitutes for Spain. Alonso stayed on the bench but Garcia came on after 61 minutes in place of Del Horno. Also on the bench was the Villareal keeper Jose Reina, who has been strongly linked with a move to Anfield later this month. The latest player linked with the Reds, Raul, played for 79 minutes for the Spaniards. 
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Raul linked with Reds as he considers future

Raul of RealLiverpool are today being linked with Real Madrid striker Raul. In an "exclusive", both the Daily Mirror and Daily Express have said that Raul will move to Liverpool in the summer. According to the reports Raul has visited Liverpool four times recently, mainly to meet up with his friend Fernando Morientes, but also visited Anfield and Melwood.

Raul, 27, is the all-time top-scorer in the Champions League. Liverpool’s success in Europe this season, with its Spanish flavour, has been monitored enthusiastically throughout Spain, especially with Real and Barca ending their involvement earlier than necessary. According to the report Raul is one of many Spanish fans of the new Liverpool, and if he does leave Real then Anfield would be a favoured destination.

To say Raul is popular with Real fans is an understatement. He’s been with them for 11 years, is captain, and it would seem can’t be dropped without permission of the club president. Luis Figo was dropped from midfield to accomodate Michael Owen in the team without dropping Raul. Now though it does seem that after a season without any silverware the fans and president are looking for someone to blame.

From what Raul is saying, it does seem that somebody’s had a quiet word about his future to him: "After 11 years here I want what’s best for the club. If at some time I have to sacrifice myself in order for the team to progress, then I will do. If the club calls you up and says you have to go, then as a player you have to be prepared to look for a way out that benefits everyone."

Raul is willing to accept the views of the masses, but doesn’t want to be messed about: "If I listen to the polls in some papers, it looks as though I should leave now. I still feel useful to the club and believe I haven’t reached my peak, but I don’t want to be in the way. All I want is for the club to be clear with me."

The transfer fee being quoted will have to drop though if Liverpool are to sign the Real skipper. £25million is too much for Benitez to spend on the player, in fact it’s close to his full transfer budget. Raul’s friend and former strike partner Morientes joined the Reds in January in a £6.3million deal. Morientes has struggled in his first half-season in the Red shirt, but that is down to not playing football for quite some time prior to his move. To have a fully-fit Morientes joined by Raul and Cisse for the new season could see Liverpool’s goalscoring return to the levels needed to sustain a fight for the league title.

Liverpool are clearly looking for a new striker. Milan Baros has already started to talk publicly about what he wants from the next coach he plays for. Baros is certainly unhappy with Anfield life and wants to leave this summer. Peter Crouch has been linked to Liverpool too, and is certainly a possibility if the Reds can negotiate a low enough fee – Crouch would be a squad player at Anfield, at least in the initial stages. There may yet be a surprise from manager Rafael Benitez though – he has many contacts and friends in Spanish football and may have more luck getting players from his former club Valencia, who’ve recently had a change of president.
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Four keepers set to fight for one place

Liverpool and their many keepersLiverpool may well have four keepers with top-flight experience on their books for the start of next season. According to many reports Villareal’s Jose Reina is coming to join up with the European Champions. One of the reasons Liverpool are European Champions is thanks to the performance of Jerzy Dudek in the final of the Champions League. Jerzy was one of three goalkeepers used by Liverpool on their way to that fifth European Champions title – Chris Kirkland and Scott Carson the other two.

If Liverpool do sign Reina, and the quoted fee is £6million, he’s not likely to be left on the bench. Pre-season training and fixtures will see all four keepers fight for the right to play for the Reds. Reinan himself is confident he can get job of guarding the Reds goal. He says, "If I end up signing for Liverpool it is because they want to sign me and want me to play – the question of starting places is for the boss.
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Dudek has made sure that whatever happens to him he’ll always be a hero at Anfield now – and Reina is well aware of that: "You have to earn your place. I am going there to work and to win my place – and win over the fans."

Reina’s current club Villarreal finished third in La Liga, getting a place in the Champions League as a result. This was a big achievement for the club, and Reina says: "It has been a tremendous year. I think I have completed a chapter, a very important period in my career at Villarreal. But ask any player and they say the most important thing is to keep improving both in terms of ability and finances.
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The reports say that the deal is almost done, just a case of clearing up a few formalities before Reina joins the Reds, but it’s getting difficult for the keeper: "I have to be patient to see the talks come to fruition but I am not having any trouble sleeping at night. I am very relaxed about it all. Just playing for Liverpool will be good enough for me."

As far as Dudek’s concerned though Reina might well join the Reds, but the Pole isn’t planning to vacate his place between the sticks. Dudek is on duty for Poland this weekend and told the Polish press that he’s no intention of leaving Anfield. He said: "With this medal around my neck I cannot imagine I would have to leave this club. With that final I fulfilled many people’s expectations of me and for sure that will in some way be remembered. Now I think nothing is impossible."

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English helped to victory by Welsh

Young Liverpool midfielder John Welsh captained the England under-20 side to victory last night against the Tunisia under-20 team in the Toulon tournament.

Welsh was involved in the second England goal, finding Bradley Wright-Phillips who offloaded to Wayne Routledge. Routledge drove the ball home from 20 yards. Newcastle’s Darren Ambrose had opened the scoring.

England now face Portugal on Saturday and South Korea on Monday.
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Reds will start pre-season against German teams

Although Liverpool FC are yet to officially announce it, the Reds will kick their pre-season fixtures off against German opposition.

First up will be a game against Bayer Leverkusen. Like Liverpool, Leverkusen are visiting Switzerland for a training camp as part of their pre-season preparations, and their official website confirms that the two sides will meet on July 16th. No venue has yet been decided, but it will be somewhere near to the training camps. Liverpool beat the German team twice 3-1, 6-2 in the second round of the Champions League this season.

Next up is a visit to play FC Cologne in Germany. This match has been arranged for Friday July 22nd, and again although Liverpool FC have yet to announce it, the fixture has been reported on the FC Cologne official website.

Both clubs seem to be excited at the prospect of facing the new European Champions, and both matches will be excellent preparation for the Reds players prior to their trip to Japan. The two games confirmed for Liverpool so far are 27th July v Shimizu S Pulse and 30th July v Kashima Antlers.

The Premiership season kicks off on Saturday August 13th, meaning Liverpool may well fit more matches in – always allowing for any fixtures in the Champions League qualifiers should UEFA decide Liverpool will be entered for those games. The UEFA Super Cup final against CSKA Moscow takes place in Monaco on August 26th.

Two other dates in Liverpool’s diary are for the Toyota Cup, also known as the FIFA World Club Championship, taking place in Japan in December. Liverpool go straight in to the semi-final stage on December 15th against opponents yet to be announced, and depending on the result will play in either the 3rd/4th place play-off or the final, both being played on December 18th.

Liverpool FC – Fixtures 2005-06 season – early list.

Jun 27 – Pre-season training begins
Jul 16 v Bayer Leverkusen (venue TBA) – awaiting confirmation
Jul 22 v FC Cologne (away) – awaiting confirmation
Jul 27 v Smimizu S Pulse (away)
Jul 30 v Kashima Antlers (away)
Aug 13 – Premiership opening weekend
Aug 26 v CSKA Moscow (to be played in Monaco) UEFA Super Cup Final
Dec 15 – FIFA Club World Championship Semi-Final (opponents to be confirmed)
Dec 18 – FIFA Club World Championship Final and 3rd/4th place play-off

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Baros dropped the cup

According to reports from the Liverpool Echo today, Liverpool’s Champions League Trophy has started its life as Liverpool’s permanent property with damage to the handle.

The report claims that the famous trophy was damaged by being dropped onto a grand piano in the team hotel. The player reportedly at fault for the damage is Milan Baros. The players were partying away through the night and when the trophy was dropped, one of its handles was dented.

Anfield museum curator Steve Done says they have no plans to fix the damage: "We decided not to get it repaired because it is part of the character of the cup. It would be a shame to have it mended."

The Echo also recalls that the FA Cup was damaged during celebrations when Liverpool beat Arsenal at Cardiff in 2001.
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Figo fancies playing in England

Luis Figo may have denied all knowledge of being allowed to leave Real, but he has admitted sounding out players at both Manchester United and Liverpool about a possible move to the Premiership.

Real Madrid coach Wanderley Luxemburgo dropped Figo to the bench for the latter stages of the Spanish league campaign, and the Portugese star is now being linked with a stint in England next season. He said last night: "I have always said that the Premiership is a competition I would like to play in one day and that’s not changed. The Premiership has improved so much over the last few years and many of the world’s best players are signing for clubs in England.

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Figo has played the biggest part of his professional career in Spain, but feels he’ll have no problem with the transition to English football: "It’s very different to the Spanish League but I’m sure that I will be able to adapt to it if I ever move there. I have been linked with Liverpool and Manchester United and I think both of those clubs are fantastic. Almost every player would like to play for either of those teams and I am no different."

Although Manchester United have Figo’s compatriate Cristiano Ronaldo in their side they ended the last season without a trophy, unlike European Champions Liverpool. Figo says he has spoken to Ronaldo but he also has friends from Spain in the Liverpool camp: "Cristiano has talked to me about life at Manchester United and some of the Spanish players at Liverpool have given me references about how good it is at Anfield."

If Figo does come to play in England he’ll be expecting a decent pay packet, although he will be available on a free transfer. Neither Liverpool nor Manchester United would be willing to pay too much for a player that has undoubted talent but no Premiership experience and is heading towards the end of his career.

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Figo denies all knowledge of Real release

Speculation prior to the end of the season said that Luis Figo’s representatives had been at the advanced stages of talks with various clubs – Liverpool included. Yesterday the Spanish press reported that the Portugese star had been released by Real Madrid, and some UK websites then said Figo had said he wants Liverpool or Manchester United to come and get him.

All this was denied though yesterday when Figo spoke to Portugese TV. Figo claimed the news came as a surprise to him and that he wanted to stay for the remaining year of his current deal.

He told TVI: "I want to honour my contract, but if that is not their wish, we will have to find an agreement."

Figo lost his place in the starting line-up to Michael Owen. Raul had been selected all season ahead of Owen, as he holds a lot of power within the club. Poor results throughout the season meant that something had to change, but rather than dropping Raul the coach decided to move him into a deeper role at the expense of Figo. It’s almost certain that Figo and Real will play games over who said what to instigate Figo leaving, as most players tend to have clauses in contracts where they stand to receive a payout if their club lets them leave. Figo said: "I have no knowledge of this information, but if that has been published today, then there will be more in the coming days. I’m not playing, so I understand that it can’t be very nice for the club to pay me for not playing. But there are other players in the same situation."

Figo is the record holder for Portugese caps with 110, and has just come out of international retirement. Portugal face their main rivals for qualification –  Slovakia – in Lisbon on June 4, before playing Estonia four days later.

There’ll no doubt be more to come on this story as the summer silly season continues, but it’s pretty unlikely that Figo’s agent won’t at least have some initial offers on the table for his player.

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BBC: Zenden wanted by Reds

Liverpool have been linked more and more strongly in recent days with a move for Dutch international Boudewijn Zenden.

Zenden is 28 and would be available on a free transfer – his contract at Middlesborough ends in July. His father Pierre also acts as his agent, and according to the BBC has confirmed the interest from the Reds: "Liverpool have achieved great things but he has also had a great time at ‘Boro."

Middlesborough have offered Zenden a new contract, but he has turned this down. Boss Steve McClaren is desperate not to lose the player who was voted ‘Boro’s player of the season and feels that he’ll be able to hang on to him: "I am confident of keeping him. I was talking to the chairman about the necessity to make sure we keep our best players this year – and he is one. We must do everything possible to make sure he stays."

Zenden had been on loan at the club from Chelsea before joining on a permanent deal last summer.

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Arsenal’s Henry full of praise for Liverpool

Arsenal star Thierry Henry would love to see Liverpool become one of the challengers for the Premiership next season. The French striker was joint winner of the European Golden Boot this season and was impressed with the Reds’ Champions Leagues performances.

Henry said: 

"I really want Liverpool up there at the top," he said. "It will make it much more exciting. I hope they can catch up with us, Chelsea and Manchester United. A four way championship fight would be special."

The striker is pleased for Liverpool for the way that it means he’ll get a few less digs from friends back in France now: "You have to give credit to Liverpool. People say the English league is easy. These supporters point to the fact that English teams rarely do well in the Champions League – even though we have four teams enter every year. When I go home to France people poke fun at me, saying I only score so many goals because the Premier League is not difficult to play in. I always end up defending myself and English football. I do not think they are being fair." Becoming the European Champions means Liverpool have now shown the continent just how strong the game is in England says Henry:

"Liverpool, despite finishing fifth, have proved by winning the Champions League that the English league is indeed very strong. This has answered all those people who make remarks. Liverpool have done something for all of us and we should thank them."

Like many people in the last seven days, Henry believes that last Wednesday’s game in Istanbul will be long remember: "It was the most amazing final ever. At 3-0 down Liverpool looked completely dead. But they were able to show the fighting spirit which is so typical of an English team."

Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard has been linked with a move for Henry, claiming he’s willing to pay up to £50million for the player, but Henry seems to be happy enough in England. He says Anfield is the best ground to visit, thanks to Liverpool’s famous supporters: "Liverpool’s fans are just amazing. The best feeling I have at away games is Anfield. It is just incredible. I love it. You get goosebumps when you see their supporters sing You’ll Never Walk Alone."
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