Oczipka proud of first season at Schalke

Schalke left-back Bastian Oczipka is relishing his time at the club and says he has already achieved more than he expected this season.

The 29-year-old left Eintracht Frankfurt to sign for the Royal Blues in July last year and has fast become a regular starter for Domenico Tedesco's side.

Oczipka has made 25 appearances in the Bundesliga this term and has helped them get up to second position in the standings, 17 points behind leaders Bayern Munich and one clear of third-placed Borussia Dortmund.

"I have already surpassed the expectations I set in summer. I have played nearly every game, we're second in the Bundesliga and in the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal," he told the club's official website. 

"I feel really settled at Schalke and don't have any regrets about my transfer."

Oczipka added: "The table is still tight at the top. Of course our advantage is good but nothing more. We need to give everything we have in the remaining games to keep our tally ticking over.

"We're proud of our current run of five runs on the bounce. That hasn't happened in Schalke for several years."

Austin relishing relegation fight

Southampton striker Charlie Austin is ready to help his team retain their Premier League status after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Austin scored five goals in seven games before tearing his hamstring against Huddersfield in December, but recently returned to training to hand new Saints manager Mark Hughes a big boost in the battle for survival.

The south coast club are third from bottom in the Premier League and face West Ham in their next match when the action resumes after the international break.

"It's been a frustrating time. It wasn't like being out for two weeks; it's been 14 weeks now," Austin told the club's official website.

"I was in such good form and that was the hard thing, because I would had to bide my time for ages to get in. Whilst that was going on, as a team we were underperforming and that's why we're in the situation we are.

"Now I'm back, we have got a big eight weeks and I will put all my energy into helping the team drive forward to stay in the Premier League.

"It's good to have that light at the end of the tunnel and this is the last tick in the box. It's great to be back with the lads."

The 28-year-old marksman is adamant the Saints have the quality to avoid the drop and called on his team-mates to take the challenge head-on.

"You have got to embrace it, as men and as footballers," he added. "We are under a lot of pressure at the moment, don't get me wrong, but we need to push forward.

"I feel there is enough character, talent and work ethic, and with the new coaching staff coming in with new ideas, it's going to really help us."

CAPS made to wait for Mwanjali and Machapa

CAPS United have to wait a little longer before they can utilise the services of Oscar Machapa and Method Mwanjali after the experienced duo rejoined the club.

The Green Machine are waiting on international clearance for the two players to be eligible for selection in the Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League.

They are set to miss weekend's clash with Bulawayo Chiefs having also sat out the goalless draw against Harare City last time out.

Machapa, who parted ways with AS Vita Club, is expected to fill the void left by Hardlife Zvirekwi, after the club captain lost part of his lower arm in a car accident recently.

CAPS chief executive Cuthbert Chitima told the media: "Oscar Machapa is still waiting for his clearance so that he can start playing for us. But we are facing some challenges in that the team (AS Vita Club) seem not to be very comfortable using English.

"He (Machapa) will have to wait a bit longer, but we are working on it. We are confident it will be out soon so that he can start playing for the team.

"On Mwanjali's issue, you can contact the player himself for clarifications because we are waiting for him since he is the one who is supposed to come with his own clearance."

Zidane was reluctant to become a coach

Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has revealed he wasn't keen on becoming a coach after hanging up his boots, but is now happy he did.

As a player, Zidane was considered one of the greats of the game and won numerous titles at club and international level, while also earning personal accolades.

The Frenchman won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 with Les Bleus and the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid in 2002. He also claimed the Ballon d'Or in 1998 and FIFA World Player of the Year in 1998, 2000, and 2003.

Despite his success on the pitch, Zidane was reluctant to go into coaching when he retired in 2006. However, since taking over the reins at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2016 he has won two Champions League titles, La Liga and the Copa del Rey.

"When I retired, I had no desire to be a coach, didn't want to do it at all," Zidane told AS at a legends event in Limoges, France.

"I wanted to stop, do something else [but] then I realised that I had to continue with challenges in my life. I prepared for this. Today, I am a coach and happy for it.

"As I left school very early, I had to prepare. I did two years as manager, three as a coach. It took five years to get ready. For me, that was an obligation."

Williams thought about quitting Wales

Wales captain Ashley Williams admits the disappointment of missing out on the 2018 World Cup was so great that he contemplated retiring from international football.

The Dragons qualified for the European Championship for the first time in 2016 and they reached the semi-finals under Chris Coleman, before being knocked out by eventual winners Portugal.

They had high hopes of reaching the World Cup finals for the first time since 1958, but came up short in qualifying after finishing third in Group D behind Serbia and Republic of Ireland.

The Welsh needed to beat their local rivals in the final round to secure a play-off place, but a 1-0 defeat at the Cardiff City Stadium dashed their dreams and led to Coleman stepping down as manager.

"It was just so disappointing missing out on that (the World Cup) that I had to think about retirement," Williams reflected.

"I spoke to the people closest to me, I didn't want to retire or anything like that. But I felt like it was something that I should've thought about and seen where I was at with club and international football and life in general.

"I did give that a thought, but then I decided I wanted to keep doing it anyway."

Ryan Giggs has since taken over at the helm and will kick off his reign against China on Thursday, as part of a four-team tournament in Nanning which also includes Czech Republic and Uruguay.

Hamsik: I dream of winning the Scudetto

Napoli captain Marek Hamsik admits that winning the Scudetto would be a dream come true for him and remains his priority this season.

The Partenopei have kept up with defending Serie A champions Juventus this campaign. They only trail the league leaders by two points, with nine games left to play.

Napoli haven't won the Serie A title since 1990, but Hamsik believes they have every chance of catching up to the Bianconeri, who have won the last six Scudetti.

“I still want to win the league, and I have some personal objectives - starts, goals in a game,” Hamsik told Sport Aktuality.

“I’m focused on Napoli, we’re aiming for the Scudetto and it would be the fulfilment of one of my dreams.

“The points gap? It’s not pleasant, but there’s certainly no need to panic. We’ve dropped points, but Juventus can drop points.

“There’s still a lot of football to be played between now and the end of the season, there will be matches where Juventus could drop points.

“They’re playing away at Roma, away at Milan and against [Milan] Skriniar’s Inter at home. Of course, our head-to-head game will also tell us a lot.”

Iniesta leaning towards Barca stay

Barcelona stalwart Andres Iniesta has indicated a willingness to play for the Catalan giants until 2020, although he will make a final decision on his future next month.

The 33-year-old midfielder has started just 19 of Barca's 29 La Liga games this season, although he remains an integral part of the team under Ernesto Valverde's guidance.

Iniesta was linked with a move away from the Camp Nou in the off-season, before signing new "lifetime" contract in October to dampen the exit rumours, which have intensified in the new year.

The Spain international insists he will only leave if he can no longer compete at the highest level for the Blaugrana, and any club he joins would be on another continent.

"I would not go anywhere to compete against my club. All scenarios that don't involve competing against Barcelona are possible," Iniesta said on Cadena Ser's El Larguero radio show.

"Many things are going round in my head, some with more strength than others. There are a few weeks left where the decision to continue or not is there to be made.

"It's one of the most important decisions of my career and I understand that I am at an age where things change and other doors open that are very exciting in many ways.

"It will not be a matter of love; it will be about me feeling what I think I am able to contribute. If injuries respect me, I can see myself in the Barcelona XI for the next two years.

"If I leave, it will be because I can't give 100 per cent as a player and as a person to my club. It will be a difficult decision regardless, but I'm very calm about it and I'm enjoying this year very much."

Iniesta is likely to claim his eighth La Liga winners' medal at the end of the campaign, with Valverde's side 11 points clear of second-placed Atletico Madrid with nine matches remaining.

Chiefs squad moving closer to clean bill of health

George Maluleka has recovered from an ankle injury while several other Kaizer Chiefs players are also nearing a return to fitness.

Maluleka has been out for nearly a month, but could come into contention for selection for Chiefs' next game, a Nedbank Cup quarter-final against Baroka FC over the Easter weekend.

"Mido has recovered and is fit again," Amakhosi physiotherapist David Milner told the club website. 

"He is fully participating in training sessions. Of course, he's not match fit as yet, but it's still a way to go before our Nedbank Cup quarterfinal, and he might be ready by then."

Milner also provided updates on Tsepo Masilela, Emmanuel Letlotlo and Kabelo Mahlasela.

"They (Masilela and Letlotlo) both played in a practice match last weekend," he said, "and they came out of it without any pain. We are happy with their progress.

"[Mahlasela is] getting stronger and stronger with each day."

Koke: Replacing Griezmann won't be easy

Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke admits it would be a tough job to replace star striker Antoine Griezmann if he leaves for Barcelona at the end of the season.

Griezmann is expected to sign for the Catalans in the off-season, with Atleti manager Diego Simeone seemingly eager to bring in Juventus star Paulo Dybala to fill the void.

"If you want to be here, you will play here, but if you are here you have to be committed," Koke told Spanish radio station Cadena Cope

"If he leaves, it will be difficult to replace him, but we have always managed with what we have had. Others have left and the team have always gone forward." 

Shifting the focus to Koke himself, the 26-year-old revealed that he would love to play out the rest of his career at the Spanish giants. His current contract has another six years left to run.

"I have the illusion of finishing my career at Atleti," Koke added. "I have always dreamed it. I am a fan more and I want to play my whole life here.

"I want to continue playing matches with Atleti."

Hunt backs the Brazilians

Bidvest Wits coach Gavin Hunt believes Mamelodi Sundowns will pip Orlando Pirates to the league title.

After beating Golden Arrows 2-1 last weekend, Pirates are just one point behind pace-setters Mamelodi Sundowns, the 2015/16 league champions.

Sundowns, who are also competing in the CAF Champions League, still have six matches to play in the league this season, while Pirates have five games left.

Hunt though is adamant that Masandawna will claim the title.

"Look, I still think Sundowns [should win it]. If you look at their squad, they got a very good squad of players," the Wits mentor said after scooping the February Coach of the Month award earlier this week.

"You know when it comes to these times, you need to have the know-how because you need to understand what it needs and sometimes a point is good when you get to the end of the season, which we discovered last year."

Hunt, who claimed the league title with the Clever Boys last term and also won the league at SuperSport United, conceded, however, that there could still be some twists and turns in the run in to the end of season.

"The key is you need to be consistent. Sometimes you find players doing some strange things when you get to that time of the season.

"The last five games there will be strange results, there is no doubt about that every year. It doesn't matter where you are in the world, you will always get strange results.

"I will never forget the one where we [SuperSport] were chasing and Sundowns lost to Cosmos. Cosmos then got relegated at the Rand Stadium and we won the league that year."