Casillas, Xavi, win top Spanish award


Childhood friends now playing for arch foes, Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas and Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez won a top Spanish award Wednesday for rising above team rivalry. Casillas, 31-year-old goalkeeper for Real Madrid and Spain, and Xavi, the 32-year-old Barcelona midfielder, were awarded the prestigious Prince of Asturias 2012 prize for sports.
The jury, meeting in Oviedo, northern Spain, said the pair “symbolise the values of friendship and comradeship beyond the great rivalry of their respective teams.”
Casillas and Xavi have been friends since their footballing youth, and they are often credited for helping to anchor the national side, which features a large bloc of Barcelona and Real Madrid players.
Matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona are national sporting events, known as “clasicos” because of the level of play and the intensity of the competition.
Rivalry between the nation’s two top clubs famously exploded into an on-field scrap in August last year during Real Madrid’s Spanish Super Cup loss to Barcelona at the Nou Camp. As players from the arch-rival teams scuffled on the field, Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho poked Barcelona’s then assistant coach Tito Vilanova in the eye in the full view of television cameras. Last month, a year after the event, the 49-year-old Mourinho conceded: “I obviously should not have done what I did.” Vilanova has since been promoted to the job of Barcelona coach.
Half of Brazil World Cup stadiums half done: Less than two years before the 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil, half of the 12 host stadiums are at least 50 percent completed, the sports ministry said Tuesday. Work on Rio’s iconic Maracana stadium, which will host the World Cup final, is 62 percent completed, according to a progress review posted on the government’s official World Cup page. Venues in Brasilia and the northeastern city of Salvador are more than 70 percent completed.
But the arena in the northeast city of Natal is only 30 percent done and work on the stadium in the southern city of Porto Alegre is just 33 percent completed.
Work on the venues in the northern city of Manaus, the southern cities of Curitiba and Sao Paulo, and in Cuiaba, capital of the central-western state of Mato Grosso is nearly halfway done, the progress review said. Last week, visiting FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke said preparations for the World Cup — renovation or construction of stadiums, as well as infrastructure projects — were progressing well. “No stadium is behind schedule. All the projects are proceeding well and we have reached cruise speed,” Valcke told a press conference in Rio after inspecting host arenas in Manaus and Cuiaba.
“Things are working better. More is being accomplished. Things are speeding up,” he said with former Brazilian football great Ronaldo, a member of the World Cup Organizing Committee, at his side.
His comments, made on his fourth visit to Brazil to assess progress, contrasted with his comments in March when he suggested World Cup organizers needed a “kick up the backside” to hasten lagging preparations. He subsequently apologized for his comments, as did FIFA President Sepp Blatter. But experts believe the country still has major challenges to overcome, notably with respect to transport and housing. On Tuesday, the sports ministry cited good progress on the arena in the northeastern city of Fortaleza, which is 87 percent completed, and in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte, which is 78 percent done.