Thursday Kickoff: Zanetti nearing Inter return; Hodgson backs Hart in England squad; and more

JavierZanettiInterMilan1-ACMilan2013 (Getty)

By DAN KARELL

After making the bench last Sunday, Inter Milan captain Javier Zanetti is hoping to make his long-awaited return from injury this Saturday when the club faces Livorno at the San Siro.

The 40-year-old right back ruptured his Achilles tendon last April, ending his season and potentially ending his 22-year professional career. However, the Argentine promised following the injury that he would make it back for at least one more game, wanting to retire on his own terms.

“I am close to my return to the field,” Zanetti told Radio RTL. “In Udine my teammates gave us a wonderful victory and I was on the bench, but I feel fine now. On Saturday we face Livorno and I hope there can be the opportunity for me to play a few minutes. We’ll see.”

Zanetti made his Inter debut in 1995 and has made more than 600 league appearances—nearly 800 if you count European and cup matches—winning 16 trophies in his illustrious career.

Here are some more stories to get your Thursday started:

HODGSON SELECTS 28-MAN SQUAD FOR ENGLAND FRIENDLIES

Southampton trio Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez, and Rickie Lambert have all been called up by Roy Hodgson ahead of friendly matches in the next week-and-a-half against Chile and Germany at Wembley Stadium.

Both Lallana and Rodriguez have represented England at the youth level but could win their first caps this month if they feature in the friendlies. Southampton has had a strong start to the season, sitting in sixth place with 19 points from 10 games played.

Also included in the 28-man squad are plenty of England regulars such as Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, and even the embattled Joe Hart. Jack Wilshere, who has missed the last two games for Arsenal due to an ankle problem, was still named to the squad as Hodgson believes he’ll be fit by next week.

Hodgson has defended Hart, reaffirming the Manchester City goalkeeper as “England’s No. 1″ and saying that Hart will start one of the two friendly matches.

XAVI MOVES INTO THIRD PLACE IN UCL GAMES PLAYED

One of the first names on the team sheet for Barcelona since 1998 has been Xavi Hernandez, and he’s just inched closer to a UEFA Champions League record after featuring for the Blaugrana on Wednesday.

By playing in the 3-1 victory over AC Milan at the Camp Nou, Xavi passed legendary Milan defender Paulo Maldini to move into third place all-time with 141 appearances in Champions League matches. If Barcelona advances to the Champions League semifinals, Xavi can break the record, currently held by Manchester United midfielder Ryan Giggs.

Xavi sits six matches behind Giggs and three matches behind former Real Madrid star Raul on the all-time list.

EVRA, BENZEMA, RIBERY LEAD FRANCE SQUAD FOR PLAYOFFS

France’s World Cup hopes sit in the balance with a two-legged series to come against Ukraine, and head coach Didier Deschamps has called up his strongest side to face the Euro 2012 co-hosts.

Patrice Evra, Franck Ribery, and Karim Benzema are all on the 24-man squad named by Deschamps, with the coach defending his selection of the once-suspended Evra. Also included in the squad is Arsenal trio Bakary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, and Olivier Giroud; Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri; and Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

“Evra was available for selection,” Deschamps told reporters at a press conference, via L’equipe. “Therefore, I chose him. It was a sporting decision.”

France first will visit Ukraine on Nov. 15 before returning home for the second leg on Nov. 19 at the Stade de France to decide a place in next summer’s World Cup.

QUICK KICKS

Barcelona Sporting Director Andoni Zubizarreta has signed a new contract with the club through 2016. He was instrumental in the transfer of Neymar to the Camp Nou. (REPORT)

Wolfsburg’s Brazilian midfielder Diego is set to miss his side’s match against Borussia Dortmund on Saturday with an abdominal injury. (REPORT)

Reports in France state that Liverpool is considering a move for Yohan Cabaye, after previous reports that Arsenal and AS Roma are tracking the Newcastle midfielder for a January move. (REPORT)

Former Crew star Guillermo Barros Schelotto and his Lanus side have made the Copa Sudamericana semifinals with a 3-1 defeat of Argentine rivals River Plate. (REPORT)

Microsoft is in talks with Real Madrid over sponsoring the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. (REPORT)

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What do you think of these reports? Do you see Zanetti returning on Saturday? What do you think of his career and comeback from injury? Do you believe Hart should still be England’s No. 1? Do you like France’s squad for its series against Ukraine?

Share your thoughts below.

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10 Responses to Thursday Kickoff: Zanetti nearing Inter return; Hodgson backs Hart in England squad; and more

  1. RK says:

    Interesting; I can’t think of one stadium in Spain that is sponsored.

  2. Travis says:

    Zanetti is a legend, would be good to see him good out playing rather than to that injury.

  3. Chris says:

    I thought Zanetti was a midfielder not a right back.

  4. Increase says:

    Zlatan apparently told Kljestan he has a terrible mustache. We all know Zlatan is a jerk but we also know that mustache is kinda terrible….

    link to theguardian.com

  5. MiamiAl says:

    Italy’s Serie A is a retirement league.

  6. Randy says:

    Boyd with a brace so far for Rapid Vienna off two headers with the score tied 202 vs Racing Genk.
    Johannson and AZ up 1-0 over the Ukrainian club. He was taken off at the half. Any idea why?