Kolo Toure: I never lost belief

March 14, 2013

Millwall won 1-0 at Blackburn on Wednesday night to set up an FA Cup semi-final against Wigan at Wembley next month.

Captain Danny Shittu headed home Chris Taylor's corner in the 42nd minute of the sixth-round replay at Ewood Park, and it proved enough to take the Lions - runners-up in 2004 - through to the last four on the weekend of 13/14 April.

As in Sunday's meeting at The Den at the weekend, Blackburn sorely lacked creativity and ?11million strike force Jordan Rhodes and Leon Best drew a blank once more, although the latter had a second-half shot superbly cleared off the line by Shane Lowry.

Millwall now face a rematch of their 1999 Wembley defeat to Wigan in the Football League Trophy final, while results on Saturday could send Rovers into Sunday's east Lancashire derby against Burnley just three points above the relegation zone - an unthinkable second-consecutive relegation hovering ominously into view.

Blackburn started brightly and, having failed to register a shot on target at the weekend, they tested Lions goalkeeper David Forde through Best's speculative fourth-minute drive.

The Republic of Ireland international had a left-footed effort deflected behind in the 15th minute and, from the resulting corner, club stalwarts Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Dunn combined for the latter to arch a shoot past the far post from 18 yards.

Moments later, Millwall attacked and Danny N'Guessan felt he was impeded in the area by Rovers skipper Scott Dann when trying to reach Andy Keogh's cross, but referee Mark Clattenburg disagreed.

In the 20th minute, Blackburn goalkeeper Jake Kean created danger all of his own making by leaving himself stranded en route to claiming a long Lowry free-kick that Rob Hulse glanced wide.

N'Guessan twice had shots blocked by Jason Lowe as Rovers failed to clear a corner before Taylor's deflected shot crashed into the side netting.

The former Oldham midfielder delivered the next set-piece and Shittu was allowed room to power home from close range.

In the second half, Lowry produced a telling block when Josh King volleyed goalwards after Dann headed Pedersen's 49th-minute corner across goal.

Pedersen wasted a promising free-kick position as frustrations among the home faithful audibly grew, but Best brought them to their feet in the 63rd minute, drifting through a static Millwall backline to see the sliding Lowry clear his from the goalmouth.

However, Rovers' challenge faded badly. Mark Beevers blocked a Nuno Gomes strike in the final minute before Taylor blazed wastefully over when trying to add late gloss to the scoreline.

Arena Coventry Limited (ACL) has announced it has made an application to the High Court in London to request that it make an administration order against the club.

The Sky Blues' owner, the hedge fund Sisu, is disputing the terms of the lease but the League One club would face a 10-point deduction by the Football League if they are placed into administration.

ACL is the Coventry City Council and Higgs Charity-owned company that runs the Ricoh Arena stadium and its chairman Nicholas Carter said: "It is highly unfortunate that we have had to take this course of legal action. Had we not taken this action, then the alternative might have been catastrophic for CCFC.

"We are owed a considerable amount of money in rent arrears. While it is imperative that ACL takes action to recover these arrears and to stop the arrears growing, it is important for us to find a solution that can provide for the survival of the Sky Blues. Hopefully this action will ultimately put CCFC on a stable financial footing for the future.

"Following recent statements in the media from the CCFC's owners threatening the Club with liquidation, we are keen to stop this from happening. Our action prevents Sisu simply closing CCFC and walking away from the situation.

"We are, of course, well aware that under the current Football League regulations, CCFC will face a points deduction and we will do everything we can to ensure that the case is heard by the High Court before the end of the current season. While this opens up the possibility of a 10-point deduction this season, the board believes this is better than leaving CCFC facing a much larger deduction at the start of next season."

In the next few weeks, the High Court will decide whether the club is fit to continue trading. If it decides it is not, it will be placed into administration and an administrator appointed to sell it.

Hurst is best known for scoring the hat-trick that secured England their lone World Cup title at Wembley in 1966.

But almost half a century later he has committed himself to working at grassroots level to provide a platform for the next generation of players and coaches in this country.

England's bid to bridge the divide on its major rivals has been a key focus of the Football Association in recent years with the opening of the state-of-the-art St George's Park training base in Burton ensuring a level footing at the elite level.

But Hurst, who has been working as McDonald's Director of Football in association with the FA for a decade, believes it is on the local parks where the biggest ground can be made up.

The sum of his work was spelled out in a report launched in front of Minister's of Parliament at the House of Commons on Wednesday, which revealed the grassroots game in the United Kingdom had "undergone a major transformation" in the past decade.

Amongst the figures released it was revealed 74 per cent of children's and youth FA Charter Standard clubs now have least one qualified coach while participation rates in girls' football had hit a high.

They are numbers to enthuse Hurst who, while admitting there is still work to be done, believes England's malaise on the world stage can be drawn back to more modest levels.

"We're not producing players and coaches," said Hurst.

"You only have to look at the Premier League where there is a dearth of players playing which is a problem for England. We don't have as many to choose from.

"We need some more. We are 10 years behind everyone else.

"We hope St George's Park is going to develop the quality we want. Maybe in 10 years' time we will we be able to look back and see that.

"But we need to be providing a stage for young players to come into the game and then, when they are playing, enjoying and learning from qualified coaches.

"You take the grassroots coaches away and you are going to have nothing. It's such an important issue.

"We are certainly behind places like Spain in terms of the numbers of players and the development. It's the same with Germany.

"But you can see us catching up. We are doing that."

Hurst believes previous systems have short-circuited England's efforts to produce the type and number of world-class players that he played alongside in 1966.

"We won the World Cup with four or five world-class players, that's how you are successful," he said.

"I don't think today we've got as many world-class players in these key positions now.

"There has been a lot of focus on Wayne Rooney in the past and coming through you look at Jack Wilshere who is a great prospect.

"But you worry about him with another injury. That's why we talk about the number of top-class players.

"We need two Jack Wilshere's because if one gets injured we have someone to take his place.

"A classic example is Jimmy Greaves. He was a world-class player, he got injured and I came in and take his place.

"I did all right. Not too bad so I heard."

When Hurst was growing up he did not play an organised match until he was 11, instead learning the game on the streets outside his Chelmsford home.

The 71-year-old knows those days are long gone, but believes a move toward small-sided pitches can help modern-day children to replicate the skills he learned on kerbsides in his formative years.

"Small-sided games take you back to the bones of what we did," he said.

"In the streets, the playground or with a tennis ball. We played in the playground with bomb shelters for goalposts.

"The backbone of our team in '66 - it was that way of playing, that simple system produced world-class players.

"Kids aren't going to play on the street now. We can get close as we can to doing that with these small-sided games.

"And if we can provide the coaches with the intelligence and education - to not over coach enjoy it - we can go far.

"My old coach Ron Greenwood, who knew a thing or two, at West Ham had a saying: 'Simplicity is genius'.

"Everything was simple. That's the way to do it."

The Japan international was carried off on a stretcher after being hurt in a challenge from Kevin Mirallas in Latics' stunning 3-0 FA Cup quarter-final win at Everton last weekend.

It is yet another setback for the 20-year-old, who has made just seven appearances for the club since joining on loan from Arsenal due to injuries.

Manager Roberto Martinez told the club's website: "It was a terrible challenge. We are waiting on the scan but we are not very positive on it.

"We think it will need a long recovery period and maybe he will even need surgery.

"We need to be a little bit expecting the bad news.

"He is very fortunate he has not got a broken leg because of the nature of the challenge.

"We feel he ruptured the ligaments. We will have to wait and see but he doesn't seem to have an opportunity to finish the season."

Martinez delivered a more positive update on Callum McManaman, who was one of the stars of Wigan's first-half display at Goodison Park but limped off soon after scoring the second goal.

Martinez said: "Callum McManaman is recovering well and probably it is more a matter of a week - five days to 10 days - that he is going to be out.

"We will see how he recovers day by day. The ankle is swollen but it is more of a normal injury."

Spurs have one foot in the quarter-finals of the Europa League after Bale inspired the team to a 3-0 victory in the first leg of their last-16 tie last week.

Despite the drubbing, Inter are expected to rest a number of their top players for the clash at the San Siro as their priority is to qualify for the Champions League via Serie A, where they currently sit in joint fifth position after a disappointing loss against Bologna at the weekend.

Although Tottenham lost ground in their own hunt for Champions League qualification on Sunday when they lost to Liverpool, Villas-Boas is determined to land the Europa League trophy and will therefore resist the temptation to rest the likes of Aaron Lennon, Mousa Dembele and Jermain Defoe.

"No chance," the Tottenham manager said when asked if was considering fielding a weakened team.

"There is no scoreline that could make us change six or seven players so we will play a strong team to make sure we go through in this competition.

"We take this game very seriously."

One star man Villas-Boas has no other option than to do without is Bale, who received a one-match suspension for his third caution of the competition last week.

The Welshman announced himself on the world stage here at the San Siro in 2010 with a superb hat-trick against Inter, and he has since gone on to become one the most devastating forwards in European football.

The 23-year-old has bagged 21 goals for Tottenham this season - leading to claims that Spurs are overly-reliant on the pacy forward.

Tottenham have dropped seven points from the eight games Bale has not played in this season, and Villas-Boas is confident that Spurs will be fine without their talisman on Thursday night.

"We've been in situation where he is not with us and we got results," the 35-year-old said.

"Gareth can make a difference in any game, we know. We will miss him but we won't want to prove anything without him because we believe a lot in ourselves and also we believe in Gareth. It's not a case of proving anything. We just want to do our job to get through."

Making the last eight of the competition at the expense of a club who have won three Champions Leagues and 18 Serie A titles would reaffirm Tottenham's position as favourites to reach the final and lift the trophy in Amsterdam on May 15.

"We had very difficult draws for the last 32 and last 16 in Lyon and Inter Milan. They are two teams used to playing Champions League football and who are full of European experience," Villas-Boas said.

"It's been a brilliant experience so far and it shows the route we've chosen to take, by playing it seriously, has paid off in terms of these fixtures, which has been amazing.

"Hopefully if we can manage to overcome Inter we can put ourselves in a strong position (to win it), although we admit there are still some very strong teams in the mix."

Villas-Boas confirmed Aaron Lennon and Emmanuel Adebayor have travelled to Milan after they overcame the respective hamstring and knee injuries that ruled them out of the Liverpool game.

The Spurs boss will start Brad Friedel in goal ahead of Hugo Lloris, and the former Blackburn stopper has warned his team-mates they must not think they have already won the tie when the step out on the famous turf of the Giuseppe Meazza stadium on Thursday.

"We will play it like it's 0-0," the 41-year-old said.

"It's a difficult place to play so we will have to be at our best. "You have to take the 3-0 out of your mind."

Milan police, meanwhile, have imposed an alcohol ban in certain areas of the city from 7pm local time until midnight on Thursday.

Those areas are: around the San Siro, the Duomo (main square), the main train station, and Linate airport.

Steaua, who are 12 points clear in the Romanian league, hold a 1-0 advantage over last season's Champions League winners in the last-16 tie following their victory in Bucharest last week.

Due to his prior association with Liverpool, Benitez has been booed throughout his tenure as interim manager at Stamford Bridge and the visitors hope to score early and use any negative atmosphere to their advantage.

"We are well aware that the supporters, the crowd has a very big role, a very important role, especially if we were to go ahead early," Steaua boss Laurentiu Reghencampf said.

"That would not create a great atmosphere for the home team. We will try to score early and play well."

Steaua, who beat Ajax in the previous round after overturning a first-leg deficit, are unfazed by the challenge that awaits in west London.

Defender Mihai Pintilii said: "They are a very good side. They have some great individual players and extraordinary talent in their team.

"Tomorrow night we will be trying to annihilate them and to just play the way we can play."

Due to a knee injury, Steaua may have to do without Iasmin Latovlevici, the left-back Benitez highlighted as a danger on the eve of the first leg and who delivered the cross which led to Raul Rusescu's successful penalty.

Steaua will still go on the attack despite the potential absence of one of their most impressive players.

"As always we will be trying to win the game," Reghencampf said.

"Of course it will be very difficult but I have a team that really likes to play football.

"It is a very important match for everybody. Not only myself. It's very important for my team and also Romanian football."

Benitez earlier expressed confidence in Chelsea progressing and revealed that his side had not practised penalty kicks. Steaua have, are undeterred by tackling the Blues and are focused on themselves.

"Chelsea are the strongest team we have met so far and I'm sure we will have some difficulties," Reghencampf added.

"We have practised penalties. We will see tomorrow evening.

"If I'm afraid of anything or if I'm concerned about anything then it's my own team.

"We had a not so pleasant game in Amsterdam, where we were not able to play the way we would like to. "Now my main concern is to try to get my players ready to play the way we would like to."

A repeat of the performances in the first leg will be enough for Pintilii.

He said: "We played very well and won the game. Tomorrow night it's similar.

"If they play the way they played in the first leg and we can play the way we played in the first leg, we can of course win it."

Celtic have lost to Motherwell and Ross County but still lead the way by 15 points ahead of the visit of Aberdeen on Saturday.

Manager Neil Lennon questioned whether some players were thinking more of a summer move than the task in hand when they threw away a two-goal lead in Dingwall on Saturday.

But Forster is confident they will get back on track against the Dons as they look to secure the title win and prepare for their William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United on April 14.

"We want to wrap the league up as quickly as possible so we're all 100 per cent focused on the job," he told the Celtic View.

"We can't be complacent, though. We have to go out and keep trying - a lot hasn't changed in the league, we still have to go out and perform well.

"A few times we've had a gap at the top of the table and it hasn't meant we've dipped in form so hopefully that doesn't start happening now.

"We all want to win the Scottish Cup, especially after the disappointment of losing the League Cup semi-final, so it's vital we get to the final this time.

"It's important we're fully focused because we know it will be a tough game against Dundee United when it comes around.

"We're going for the double so we're still very motivated."

The club's former captain has enjoyed a return to prominence and form in recent weeks with four successive starts in the injury-enforced absence of current skipper Vincent Kompany.

Toure lost his place as a regular while he served a drugs ban at the start of last season and at times this term has found himself fourth choice behind Kompany, Matija Nastasic and Joleon Lescott.

The 31-year old told the club's website: "We have so many players here and it's difficult to play every game, but you need to get ready and any time you have the chance to play give 100 per cent.

"It's very important to keep focused and to keep your concentration high and keep working hard in training. That's the only thing you can do.

"It's always difficult when you don't play and are not in the team, but the only thing that can keep you going is working hard and believing in yourself - and that is what I have been doing."

The Ivory Coast international is out of contract at the end of the season and there has been speculation that his recent form could earn him a one-year extension.

Yet while his future remains uncertain, Toure is just happy to have been able to contribute again.

Toure, a ?16million signing from Arsenal in 2009, said: "I feel very good at the moment. I've had the chance recently to play more and I'm really enjoying being able to give my best for my team.

"Everyone around me and all my team- mates have helped me a lot, and that's very important.

"Every time I have played for City, I just give 100 per cent - for me the main thing is just to work hard."