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OFFBEAT

Zlatan featured in Man City ‘squad’

Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was one of a host of world stars who unexpectedly turned up bearing a Manchester City strip in the official programme ahead of a Europa League clash with Aris Thessaloniki on Tuesday.

Zlatan featured in Man City 'squad'

Ibrahimovic, who recently confirmed that he turned down an offer to join England’s self-styled “richest club” before signing for AC Milan, was featured in an inflated City squad which also included Wayne Rooney, Kaká, Lionel Messi and Fernando Torres, among others, in the unfamiliar sky blue shirts.

The team photo numbered almost 60 faces, including one of a cartoon character resplendent in red and white hoops and matching woolly hat and standing just in front of the 29-year-old Swedish star.

According to media reports the pic was selected by Aris editors who found it online and, taking it be representative of an official line up, decided to include it in the official programme printed ahead of Tuesday’s match.

The gaff was first noticed by City chief executive Gary Cook when he, along with club officials from both teams, met to enjoy drinks and canapés ahead of the crunch last 32 tie.

Despite City officials insisting that they were able to see the funny side, the Greek club’s red-faced hierarchy immediately ordered that the printed programmes be pulped.

It has since emerged that the photo was originally featured on the UK Guardian newspaper’s website in its spoof section and carrying the title “Where’s Wally”.

Speaking ahead of Milan’s Champion’s League match against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday, Zlatan Ibrahimovic confirmed that he had spoken to the Manchester club while he was considering his options when leaving Barcelona.

While he did not rule out the prospect of playing in England at some point in his career, he said that he was happy with his choice of Milan, thus leaving Man City fans left waiting to see if the tall Swede ever does join their line up, for real that is.

The print run of programmes that managed to escape the shredder are meanwhile reported to have become something of a collectors item, fetching not insignificant sums on online auction site Ebay.

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SPORT

Spain thrown out of 2023 Rugby World Cup

Spain have been thrown out of the 2023 Rugby World Cup for fielding an ineligible South African-born player during the qualifying stages and will be replaced by Romania, World Rugby announced on Thursday.

Spain thrown out of 2023 Rugby World Cup

“Subject to Spain’s right of appeal, the 10-point deduction applied to the Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification table means that Romania will qualify as Europe 2 into Pool B replacing Spain,” read the statement.

Portugal — who Spain beat to seal their place in the global showpiece in France next year — replace Romania in the Final Qualification Tournament taking place in November 2022.

“Spain has a right of appeal within 14 days of the date of the full written decision of the committee,” read the statement.

According to Spanish media in March, the player under investigation was South African-born prop Gavin van den Berg, who has been playing in Spain since 2018.

He played twice against the Netherlands, in 2020 and 2021, in qualifiers, but he may not seemingly have served the three years of residency needed to become eligible under World Rugby rules.

Spain, Romania and Belgium were all sanctioned in 2018 for having fielded ineligible players, opening the way for Russia to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

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