Venus Williams has pulled out of the ASB Classic in Auckland next month due to ongoing health issues.
The 31-year-old has played a number of exhibition matches recently but is still suffering from Sjogren’s syndrome, which causes fatigue and joint pain.
The seven-time Grand Slam champion has not played in a tournament since the US Open and has only played four times in 2011.
“We are disappointed to have lost a player of her calibre,” said ASB Classic director Richard Palmer. “While withdrawals of this nature are part and parcel of sport, we sincerely feel for the fans who will also be disappointed by the news of Venus’ withdrawal.
“Next month’s ASB Classic field is one of the strongest in the tournament’s history with four players in the top 20, the eight seeds in the top 30 and all 24 direct entries in the top 70 in the world.
“This is still an exceptional field despite the withdrawal of Venus Williams.”
Williams is also likely to miss the Australian Open which begins on January 16.
Serena Williams has defended her verbal outburst at umpire Eva Asderaki during last year’s US Open final.
The former world number one reacted angrily after Asderaki had ruled that her shout of “come on!” following a forehand shot was a hindrance and awarded a point to her opponent Samantha Stosur.
However, Williams has played down the incident by claiming that she is an emotional player.
“I honestly think I was really toned down, like I didn’t use any bad language or anything so I wouldn’t change it so much,” said the 30-year-old. “I’m an emotional player and I’m an extremely emotional person, oh my goodness, it was what it was.
“I’m always going to be me. If that means I’m giving 200% then that’s how I am.
“I love that and I think people can respect that when they see me play.”
Williams is currently 12th in the world rankings.
SERENA WILLIAMS v KARIN KNAPP FULL MATCH CINCINNATI OPEN 2015 PART 2
LONDON – Lance Armstrong’s televised doping confession has done nothing to restore his shattered reputation, a study of responses posted to the Twitter social media site showed.
“What was particularly noticeable in our analysis of the Armstrong revelation was the sheer lack of sympathy out there,” said Charlie Dundas of sports market research company Repucom.
“The tone of the discussion around the Oprah Winfrey interview highlighted the level of disappointment and anger that exists. It’s clear the public are far from ready to forgive Lance Armstrong,” he added.
In the interview, Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs on his way to his seven Tour de France titles. The Texan also said he hoped a lifetime ban would one day be lifted to allow him to compete in events like marathons.
The Armstrong interview generated 1.9 million Twitter posts between January 14-20, Repucom said. America accounted for more than a quarter of these, with Australia the second most active nation on the site.
Winning an Olympic gold medal is the pinnacle of sporting achievement, according to Andy Murray.
The 24-year-old has ranked victory in this summer’s Games in London on the same level, if not bigger, than a Grand Slam title.
Murray believes that the added importance attached to playing for your country makes the tournament extra special.
“This summer’s going to be huge,” said the Scot. “I’d be desperate to win Olympic gold. I think either winning a Slam or Olympic gold would be celebrated by the nation but winning an Olympic medal is something that belongs to your country as well.
“In sporting terms I would say the Olympics is bigger than winning a Grand Slam because everybody knows what Olympic gold is, whereas not everybody knows what a Grand Slam is.
“The Olympics is bigger than tennis, bigger than the Slams for sure. It’s a huge competition. In tennis, when you’ve finished playing people would probably look at a Grand Slam before an Olympic gold, but in sporting terms an Olympic gold is pretty much the ultimate achievement.”
Murray crashed out of the first round of the 2008 Olympic tournament in Beijing to Lu Yen-hsun of Chinese Taipei.
Champions League favourites Barcelona will play big-spending Paris Saint-Germain in the pick of the quarter-final matches after the draw was held in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday.
Last year’s losing finalists Bayern Munich, will play the first-leg at home against Italian giants Juventus, while record nine-time champions Real Madrid will take on a Galatasaray team attempting to become the first side from Turkey to lift the trophy.
In the final quarter-final, Spanish outsiders Malaga were drawn against 1997 champions Borussia Dortmund with the first-leg matches held on April 2 and 3 and the return legs to be played on April 9 and 10.
The final is set for Wembley on May 25 although there are no English clubs remaining in the last eight for the first time since 1996, while defending champions Chelsea failed to make it out of the group stages.
INTERNATIONAL Master Jan Emmanuel Garcia and FIDE Master (FM) Paulo Bersamina claimed back-to-back wins in the Asian Youth Chess Championship 2013 in Sari, Iran on Saturday.
Garcia beat Fang Yuxiang of China and Ismailov Mukhit of Kazakhstan in the Open 18-under open while Bersamina outlasted Kalikov Temirlan of Kazakhstan and Mosadeghpoor Masoud of Iran in the Open 16-under.
Jerlyn Mae San Diego, for her part, crushed Altantuya Boldbaatar of Mongolia and Mohanty Aditi of India in the girls’ 8 – under.
Meanwhile, Alekhine Nouri of Taguig City, the world’s youngest FM at seven, lost to Mahitosh Dey of India but bounced back in the second round by demolishing Zamon Bozorali of Tajikistan in the Open 8-under class.
In other results, Daryl Unix Samantila of Tonsuya, Malabon was yielded to Veerappan Aravindh Chithambaram of India then split the point with Aibek Isakzhanov of Kyrgyzstan in the Open 14-under; and Istraelito Rilloraza of Las Pinas City halved the point with Erdemdalai Yondonjamts of Mongolia then lost to Saurabh Anand in the Open 12-under.
Dutch Guido Van der Valk humbled the revered men of the tour, including Davao’s top guns, as he turned in a five-under 66 to emerge the surprise solo leader – one shot ahead of amateur LJ Go at the start of the P1 million ICTSI Rancho Palos Verdes Classic here on Wednesday.
Van der Valk, who topped the ICTSI Philippine Golf Tour Qualifier but who could only post a best joint eighth finish at ICTSI John Hay in three of the first four legs of this year’s circuit, missed making it a two-shot lead with a final hole bogey that marred an otherwise sterling round of 34-32.
Twenty-four players posted under-par rounds while 13 matched par at the par-71 layout which lay defenseless in the absence of the wind with Van der Valk fashioning out a low round despite drawing a late tee-off time in the 54-hole tournament organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
“Despite that bogey, I had a solid day and didn’t really encounter trouble,” said the 33-year-old Van der Valk, who hit three birdies at the back where he teed off then rattled off back-to-back birdies to resume his bid at the front before going six-under with another birdie on the par-4 No. 7.
He, however, mishit his drive on the ninth and needed to play out for that bogey.
“I know there are a lot of good players behind me so I just have to play better each day,” said Van der Valk, who settled for a one-stroke lead over equally surprising Go, a rookie who showed up the pros to fire his own version of a four-under 67.
The spearhead of back-to-back champion Cebu Country Club in the PAL Interclub actually went six-under in a solid stint after 13 holes but reeled back with a double-bogey on No. 14.
Still, his 67 put him in solo second with Jay Bayron, Anthony Fernando and Dante Becierra leading the local bets’ charge with 68s in a tie with Michael Bibat, the former Asian Games bronze medalist long due for breakthrough victory in the circuit sponsored by ICTSI.
Bayron, who grew up at Apo Golf like majority of the country’s leading players, leaned on two long birdie putts on Nos. 12 and 14 to put himself in early contention for a second victory after nipping Miguel Tabuena in a playoff to capture the ICTSI John Hay Championship crown in April.
“It’s nice to start a tournament this way because in Baguio, I needed to play catch up to win,” said Bayron, 34. “Although it’s still too early to tell, at least I’m in the upper half.”
Becierra, the former Hong Kong Amateur Open champion still in search of his maiden pro win, took charge in the early going with a spotless four-under card heading to the 18th, only to fumble with a bogey following an errant drive and poor approach shot.
“I just miscalculated it. But I’m happy with how I performed despite that closing bogey,” said Becierra, 27, whose highest finish on the tour was third at Mt. Malarayat in 2011. This year, he had missed the cut twice after four legs while finishing last in the other.
Fernando, the former amateur champion, also made a strong start of four birdies against one bogey while Bibat also missed joining Go at second with a final hole bogey on No. 9.
Mhark Fernando, another Davao ace, led a big bunch of unheralded two-under 69 scorers, who included Albin Engino, Rene Menor, Rolando Marabe, Joebard Rates, Elmer Saban and Chris Mamaril, while former Order of Merit winner Elmer Salvador closed out with back-to-back bogeys to drop to joint 14 at 70.
Other one-under par scorers were Rufino Bayron, Ferdie Aunzo, Jessie Balasabas, Reymon Jaraula, Agustin Mata, Mark Varela, Randy Garalde, James Ryan Lam and Korean Kim Chang Hoi.
Frankie Minoza bucked a double-bogey on No. 3 with three straight birdies from No. 7 but dropped another stroke on the 16th to settle with an even par 71 in a tie with fancied Tony Lascuna, Jhonnel Ababa, Cassius Casas, Jun Bernis, Benjie Magada, Micah Shin of Korea, Richard Sinfuego, Arnold Villacencio, Miguel Ochoa, Rey Pagunsan, Edward Reyes, amateur Francis Morilla and defending champion Carl Santos-Ocampo.
East Bengal’s I-League aspirations received a big blow when Air India struck through Henry Ezeh in the dying minutes for a 1-1 draw in their round 21 fixture in Kalyani on Saturday.
Leading 1-0 after Edeh Chidi’s 60th minute strike, the last year’s runners up got the shocker in the 90 + 1st minute when Henry outran East Bengal defender Uga Okpara before firing past goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh.
East Bengal dropped to 41 points, two points behind leaders Churchill Brothers, who have game in hand.
Credit should also be given to Air India’s Sukhwinder Singh who stood tall under the bar, thwarting four chances. East Bengal had some fine raids in the first-half with Chidi leading from the front, but Sukhwinder ensured that the first 45 minutes remained goalless.
Chidi had a fine shot outside the box in the 22nd minute, but Sukhwinder saved it.
East Bengal finally tasted success when Chidi well trapped an Andrew Barisic low cross before scoring a left-footer.
With Sukhwinder doing a fine job, Air India did not let in any further goal and when it seemed that East Bengal were pocketing a full three points Henry produced a beauty in the dying minutes.
It was too late for East Bengal to bounce back as the draw meant a big setback for their I-League title hopes.
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce on Wednesday claimed he is close to signing a new contract with the Premier League club.
Allardyce’s current deal with the Hammers expires at the end of the season and his team’s poor form in recent weeks has seen QPR boss Harry Redknapp and former West Ham striker Paolo Di Canio linked with the job.
But former Newcastle and Bolton boss Allardyce insists he has been talking about a new contract with West Ham’s joint owners David Sullivan and David Gold.
“We both want to do it, it’s just a question of sorting out the dotting of the i’s and crossing of the t’s,” Allardyce told Sky Sports News.
“As always, that is not as easy a situation as you would like.
“You always have to do some negotiations when you are moving into the next contract, just as there were plenty of negotiations over the first contract.
“So we will hopefully come to a conclusion very shortly.”
A new deal would raise the possibility of Allardyce overseeing the transfer from Upton Park to the Olympic Stadium, set to occur at the start of the 2016/17 season.
The move has been the subject of resistance from various parties, including some West Ham supporters, but Allardyce believes it is necessary if the club is to progress.
“We need to move to this new stadium to compete with the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham in this world,” he said.
“I can understand why they don’t want to leave Upton Park because they probably came here in their infancy and their dad, uncle or grandad brought them so they’ve grown to love this stadium.
“But at the end of the day, football has to progress.”
Rafael Nadal has described his decision to pull out of the Olympics through injury as ‘one of the saddest days’ of his career.
The Spaniard, who took Gold in the men’s singles at the 2008 Beijing Games, has failed to recover from an ankle problem in time for the tournament at the All England Club.
The 26-year-old had also been selected to carry his country’s flag at the opening ceremony a week on Friday.
“I have to think about my companions, I can’t be selfish and I have to think of what’s best for Spanish sport, especially tennis and Spanish players and give fellow sportsmen with better preparation the chance to compete,” he said in a statement.
“I tried to hurry my preparations and training to the very last minute, but it was not to be.
“It is one of the saddest days of my career as one of my biggest ambitions, that of being Spain’s flag bearer in the opening ceremony of the games in London, cannot be. You can imagine how difficult it was to take this decision.”
Nadal’s replacement in the 64-strong field has yet to be named.
MELBOURNE – Novak Djokovic must have been relieved to have given his weary legs a relatively quick workout on Tuesday with 6-1 4-6 6-1 6-4 victory against Czech fifth seed Tomas Berdych in the Australian Open quarter-finals.
The world number one, bidding to become the first man to win three successive Australian Open titles since the game went professional, was exhausted from a marathon five-set, five-hour clash against Stanislas Wawrinka on Sunday.
Berdych appeared quietly confident. He had entered the tournament with his highest grand slam seeding of five. He had barely been pushed throughout his first four rounds.
His longest match had been two hours, 44 minutes against Kevin Anderson, and that was really only extended by a marathon third set tiebreak that he clinched 15-13.
If ever there was a time for him to claim his second career win over the Serb, and first since their 2010 Wimbledon semi-final, it was at Melbourne Park on Tuesday.
Djokovic had different ideas.
He hid any signs of fatigue, bounced on his toes throughout and effortlessly scrambled and slid across court to advance to a semi-final against Spain’s David Ferrer.
“Obviously, it’s not easy to always be at your 100 percent fitness,” Djokovic said following the 2-1/2 hour win.
“But after a five-hour match two days ago, I was quite convinced I could recover for this one.
“I felt good enough to go another five hours. But I definitely wasn’t thinking about it.
“I tried to get the work done as fast and efficiently as possible.
“I was very happy with the way I started the match. Very aggressive out there, going for my shots, which wasn’t the case against Wawrinka.
“So it’s a good improvement and very encouraging for my next match.”
It was obvious Berdych knew he had missed an opportunity.
The tall Czech cut a despondent figure in his post-match media conference, looking down constantly and defensively crossing his arms as he picked at his fingernails.
They were signs of a man looking for answers. How could he have let the chance go? Particularly when he felt the Serb had not played as well as he could.
“The only thing I can say that I played him many matches. Actually I seen him play way better,” Berdych said.
“He’s played really good today. But the matches before he played much, much better.
“It was quite kind of a chance for me, but I didn’t come up with my best game and that’s what was deciding today.”
Berdych felt he had played at about “75 percent” of his ability and that his ball striking from the beginning of the first set had been off.
“I was really quite not hitting the clean balls. That’s very big problem because the ball doesn’t have a speed, it’s not long enough, then it was quite easy for him.
“I was not able to be aggressive enough. That’s it.”
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)
Two brilliant goals scored by defender Henry Monsang in each half helped defending champions Pune FC retain the U-20 I-League title as they outplayed East Bengal 3-0. Meanwhile, Tata Football Academy (TFA) had to sweat it out to finish runners-up beating Mohun Bagan 3-2 in the final round of the 6th Under-20 I-league tournament that concluded in Jamshedpur on Sunday.
Pune FC, who had four wins and a draw against TFA in the final round, finished top of the points chart with 13 points while TFA with three wins and two draws had eleven points.
The Western outfit dominated the proceedings right from the kick-off surged ahead through a brilliant 20-yard header from defender Monsang at JRD Tata Sports complex.
In the 2nd half, Monsang sent a powerful right footer to extend the margin 2-0 in the 53rd minutes.
Midfielder F Lalrempuia converted an accurate pass in 89th minutes to seal the fate of East Bengal.
In the other match played at the Gopal Maidan, TFA earned a hard-fought 3-2 win over Mohun Bagan.
Antonio Cassano has named his newborn son after “the greatest player of all time”, namely Lionel Messi, according to the Inter Milan striker.
Cassano’s wife Carolina gave birth to the couple’s second son on Monday.
Cassano said he had named his son Lionel “in honour of the greatest player of all time, my idol.”
Cassano, who had to temporarily stop his career last year to undergo minor heart surgery, already has another son, Christopher.
The dedication to star Barcelona forward Messi is unlikely to be missed by fans of AC Milan, where Cassano played until a controversial summer move to Inter.
Messi scored twice for Barca as the Spanish league giants overcame a 2-0 first leg defeat in the last 16 of the Champions League to run out 4-2 aggregate winners following a 4-0 second leg rout at the Nou Camp.
MELBOURNE – Korean youngster Lee Duck-hee dreams of life at the top of the tennis world. It is a dream shared by elite junior players the world over, but what makes Lee different is that he is deaf.
In a sport in which players lean heavily on their hearing to calibrate their timing, gauge levels of spin and power and feed off the support of the crowd, Lee’s disadvantage is greater than might first be suspected.
But the 14-year-old who has been deaf from birth refuses to make a big deal of his disability.
Lip-reading, then speaking through an interpreter, Lee told reporters at the Australian Open that, in fact, he would rather not even mention his deafness to opponents or officials.
“The one thing that’s difficult is the communication with the umpires, both chair umpires and linesmen,” he said. “I don’t hear the calls, especially the out calls, so sometimes … just continue. That’s kind of difficult but it’s nothing special.”
It happened a number of times during Lee’s second-round clash with Chile’s Christian Garin in the junior event on Monday, a match Lee eventually lost 6-3 6-3.
“I do worry about that because today it happened a lot of times,” said Lee, who gets round his deafness in doubles by lip-reading his partner.
“The chair umpire already called ‘wait’ but I couldn’t hear that, so there were a lot of lets. I wanted to see big (gestures) from the umpire during the match.”
According to the Australian Open, officials received no specific direction before the match to let them know Lee is deaf but on a number of occasions, umpire Thomas Sweeney used his hands to communicate.
For most players, hearing the sound their opponent’s racket makes when they strike the ball is crucial to judging how hard it will be and how to react to the spin.
Lee copes well, however, and said that if anything, not hearing anything from the crowd makes life easier on court.
“Actually I don’t care about my disability at any time, and on the court it’s easy to focus on my match because I can’t hear anything,” he said. “So it’s more convenient to play.”
Lee has already proven that he may have what it takes to succeed against the odds, having won the Eddie Herr International, a top under-12 title held each year in Miami.
In Melbourne, he qualified for his first grand slam event and though he was beaten in the second round on Monday, he said he was determined to return.
“I am really happy to be here for the first time,” he said. “It’s a really good opportunity to judge my ability against other players in the world. I am really happy and hope to be here next year again.”
Lee’s coach, Hoon Park-kyung, said the pair have a special relationship because of the disability.
“Communication between players and coaches in Korea is usually quite simple because the players think that they should obey what they are told,” Hoon said.
“I just wanted us to play together, not just teach him, but say small things and if there are any difficulties, say everything (that needs saying). That’s the priority.”
At 14, Lee is an outstanding prospect and his ambition is to finish in the top 10 in juniors by the end of this year.
In the longer term, he wants to be world No 1.
“I actually played with (Roger) Federer,” Lee said, pulling out a photo on his phone of him at an exhibition in Korea, aged eight, sandwiched between Federer and Rafael Nadal.
“Actually, yesterday Federer passed by in the hall and he didn’t recognize me. I was very disappointed. I really wanted to take a picture with him. Maybe I can in the future.”
THE Department of Education (DepEd) on Friday announced it will send 115 Filipino athletes that won gold, silver, and bronze medals in the 2013 Palarong Pambansa to the 5th Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) Schools Games in Hanoi, Vietnam slated on June 22 to 30.
“We wish our athletes good luck and remind them that they are not only competitors but our ambassadors of goodwill,” Education Secretary Armin Luistro said in a statement, adding that the event is an incentive for young Filipino athletes and a chance for international exposure as well.
Luistro also expressed his appreciation to the Philippine Sports Commission for actively supporting student athletes.
Over 1,500 athletes and coaches from the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam will participate in the meet.
The featured events are track and field, sepaktakraw, swimming, badminton, basketball, gymnastics, table tennis, volleyball and the martial sport of pencak silat.
Besides promoting friendship among students within the region, the Asean Schools Games also aims to promote Asean solidarity among the youth through sports and provide opportunities for school athletes to engage in cultural exchange.
The Philippines will host the 6th Asean Schools Games next year.
MIAMI: His legacy now intact, LeBron James’s second championship ring validates his decision to join the Miami Heat and sets the stage for a possible three-peat performance next season.
“I came here to win championships,” James said. “To be able to go back-to-back and win two championships in three years so far is the ultimate.
“I know the grass isn’t always greener and there are going to be trials and tribulations. But hopefully I can continue to be a leader for my teammates.
“I want to be, if not the greatest, then one of the greatest to play this game.”
James took another huge step in that direction Thursday by scoring a 2013 post-season high 37 points as the Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 in the decisive game seven of the NBA finals to take the league championship.
Miami becomes the first Eastern Conference team to win back-to-back NBA titles since the Chicago Bulls won three straight, beginning in 1996.
No fans left the American Airlines arena in Miami early on Thursday night like they did during game six, when the Heat staged a late rally to stay alive the series.
This was the Heat’s third championship in franchise history and it came on their home floor in front of a standing room only crowd of 19,900.
The Heat are now the toast of the Florida sports scene.
The baseball Florida Marlins are in disarray, the hockey Panthers play before half-empty arenas and the gridiron Miami Dolphins have had a losing record for the past four seasons.
The Heat now have three championships (2013, 2012, 2006), the Marlins two (2003, 1997), the Dolphins two (1973, 1972) and the Panthers none.
“Legacies are tied to the moment, to this game,” said Heat guard Ray Allen.
Allen has played 17 seasons in the NBA, but no one’s legacy was on the line more during this post-season than James.
“He always rises to the occasion when it matters the most, when the competition is the fiercest,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
In 2010, James left the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Heat in a highly publicized free agency move that united Miami’s marquee trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. In his first year in Miami, the Heat reached the 2011 NBA finals but lost to Dallas.
James got off to a slow start in the finals until he figured out how to beat the Spurs with his jump shot instead of trying to drive to the basket for lay-ups and dunks.
“Their game plan was to keep him out of the paint at all costs,” Spoelstra said. “And that meant giving him wide-open looks. It messed with us a little bit. It took him out of his normal rhythm. But eventually he was able to figure it out.”
James will marry his high school sweetheart and the mother of his two young sons in San Diego in September.
So the next few months will be spent making wedding plans and letting his body recover after the pounding he took during the NBA season.
World champions Spain retook control of 2014 World Cup qualifying Group I on Tuesday with a 1-0 win over France, Pedro Rodriguez scoring the only goal of the game in the second half at the Stade de France.
Pedro’s scrambled effort just before the hour mark was Spain’s reward for dominating possession and assured play despite coming into the game trailing France by two points at the top of the group.
The home team were always a threat going forward but could not find a way past Victor Valdes in the Spain goal and finished the game with 10 men after young midfielder Paul Pogba was sent off late on.
With just three matches left to play, Spain now lead France by a point, with only one team qualifying automatically for the finals in Brazil.
“I am happy tonight because the three points put us in a good situation, but also because we stuck to our style,” said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque.
“We could have won by a greater margin in the end.”
France coach Didier Deschamps added: “We kept battling, even when down to 10 men, but it is not easy against a team that dominates like Spain do.
“You need to take your chances and get some breaks, and that wasn’t the case for us.”
Del Bosque welcomed Xavi Hernandez back into the Spain starting line-up after injury, while Xabi Alonso, Pedro and left-back Nacho Monreal also came in as four changes were made from Friday’s surprise 1-1 draw with Finland.
Meanwhile, Deschamps kept faith with youngsters Raphael Varane and Pogba after both impressed on their debuts in last Friday’s win against Georgia as the hosts matched Spain’s 4-3-3 formation.
Spain, playing all in red, should have taken the lead from their first attack, Monreal cutting the ball back for Xavi to blaze over from a glorious position inside the penalty box five minutes in.
Karim Benzema had been criticised for his recent poor form at international level, but he was not afraid to try his luck at the other end with a first-time attempt from Christophe Jallet’s cutback as France pressed.
Despite that opening, Spain soon settled into their rhythm, controlling possession and removing the sting from the game.
Chances followed, with Xavi firing rather tamely wide after being picked out by Alonso, before a Pedro shot was easily held by Hugo Lloris.
Then came a moment of real controversy on the half-hour mark when Pedro went to ground under a challenge from Lloris as both players went for a through ball.
Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai waved away the vociferous Spanish appeals for a spot-kick as television replays suggested the Barcelona player was already going to ground before contact was made.
The visitors’ anger would have been even greater had they fallen behind seven minutes before the interval.
Mathieu Valbuena found Franck Ribery, whose first touch, with his head, took him clean through on goal, but Valdes won his duel with the Bayern Munich winger.
The game remained level at the interval but Spain’s share of possession in the first-half was upwards of 75 percent, and the world champions did not have to wait too much longer to break through.
In the 58th minute, Monreal cut in from the left flank and drilled the ball across goal, with Pedro reacting quickest to divert it goalwards.
A desperate Lloris got a touch but just couldn’t stop the ball crossing the line and the little winger from Tenerife raced away to celebrate with the travelling fans.
France were now chasing the game but Pedro came close to scoring again from substitute Jesus Navas’ centre soon after.
The home side, who came from behind to draw 1-1 in the reverse fixture in Madrid in October, remained a threat on the break and Blaise Matuidi forced a save out of Valdes after being picked out by Ribery.
But their hopes of finding a way back into this match bit the dust when Pogba was dismissed with 12 minutes remaining. Having been booked just moments before, he was cautioned again for a studs-up tackle on Xavi.
Lovelynn Guioguio charged home with late birdies to shoot a two-under 70 in driving rains yesterday and emerge the surprise leader by three at the start of the second leg of the ICTSI Ladies Philippine Golf Tour at the North course of the Canlubang Golf and Country Club in Laguna.
Guioguio, last year’s Philippine Amateur Open champion, actually seized control early with a birdie on No. 2 and held sway with clutch pars before pulling away from the field with back-to-back birdies from No. 16 to negate her lone bogey mishap on No. 13.
Her 35-35 card put her three shots clear off fancied Dottie Ardina and amateurs Princess Superal, who finished 1-2 in last month’s kickoff leg of the first-ever ladies pro circuit sponsored by ICTSI at The Country Club.
The duo, tipped to slug it out for the crown again this week along with the comebacking Chihiro Ikeda, turned in identical 73s while Jayvie Agojo birdied the last hole to salvage a two-over 74 in a tie with amateur Bernice Olivares-Ilas.
“I was just lucky today. My driving is quite okay and my good short game compensated for my poor iron shots,” said Guioguio, one of the former mainstays of the ICTSI amateur team.
Sam Bruce, another amateur, missed seizing solo second with double-bogeys in the last two holes, dropping to 76 with Barsy Leonen while Ikeda, back on the local golf scene after a year-long campaign in Japan, never recovered from a poor start of 40 and hobbled with a 77.
Other five-over scorers were Anya Tanpinco, Sarah Jane Ababa, Apple Fudolin and amateur Harmie Constantino.
Mary Grace Estuesta, the former Philippine Ladies Open champion, made a run of pars in her last seven holes to finish with a 78 in a tie with amateur Pauline del Rosario of Team ICTSI while Lucy Landicho struggled with a 79 in a tie with amateurs Mika Fortuna and Nikki Bruce, who humbled the pros by topping the recent LPGT qualifier of the inaugural five-leg circuit organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments, Inc.
Out to improve on her joint sixth place finish in the first leg of the circuit backed by Nike Golf, Pacsports, Gatorade, Sharp and Custom Clubmakers, Guioguio played steady all throughout, birdying the par-5 second and making 14 pars before hitting two birdies on Nos. 16 and 17 to complete an impressive start.
Ardina, who rallied with a flawless seven-under 65 at the tough TCC layout to nip Superal by one, struggled with her putting all day, the surface made tougher by the afternoon downpour. The former Junior World champion was two over after 12 holes but gunned down birdies on Nos. 13 and 15 before dropping a stroke on the par-5 17th.
“The greens are tough to read and I couldn’t putt,” rued Ardina, who, however, vowed to rebound in today’s second round.
Superal, the reigning Singapore Amateur Open champion, is also expected to bounce back after a so-so one-birdie, two-bogey stint. She actually muffed a couple of birdie opportunities at the back, which she all parred for a 37-36 card.
MOSCOW: A Russian former Olympic wrestler was found dead after being strangled with a whip and buried in a Siberian forest, Russian investigators said Wednesday. The sportsman turned trainer, Chechen-Ool Mongush, 40, was apparently murdered by a rural herdsman who choked him to death with the lash of his whip and then buried the body in a forest in Tyva, a largely Buddhist region of southern Siberia. Mongush competed in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, where he placed fourth in the flyweight category, and was Russia’s freestyle wrestling champion in 1995.
NEW YORK – The San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens won their National Football League championships in stunning fashion on Sunday to set up an extraordinary sibling rivalry in next month’s 47th Super Bowl.
The 49ers, coached by Jim Harbaugh, overturned a 17 point deficit to beat the Atlanta falcons 28-24 in the NFC decider before the Ravens, under the guidance of Jim’s older brother John, stunned the highly-fancied New England Patriots 28-13 in the AFC title game.
Sibling rivalries are not uncommon in sport, most notably with the Williams sisters in tennis, but it will be the first time that head coaches from the same family square off for the greatest prize in American professional sports.
“I don’t know if we had a dream this big,” John Harbaugh told reporters.
With a bit more luck, the pair might have met in the Super Bowl last year but both came up short with the 49ers losing the NFC championship in overtime to the New York Giants and the Ravens losing by three points to the Patriots in the AFC.
This time, both teams ended up on the winning end of the scoreboard to book their places at the Superdome in New Orleans on February 3.
The 49ers, one of American Football’s most successful franchises, will be making their first appearance in the Super Bowl for 18 years.
They have never lost an NFL title game and if they maintain their perfect record they will tie the Pittsburgh Steelers’ record of six titles.
Their chances of just getting to the Super Bowl looked doomed after they fell 17-0 down in the early second quarter, a deficit no team had ever overcome in the NFC championship game.
With second year quarterback Colin Kaepernick calling the shots, they rallied back with two touchdowns, briefly cutting the margin to three points before Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan connected with retiring tight end Tony Gonzalez to give the Falcons a 10-point advantage at halftime.
But the Falcons failed to score a single point in the second half while San Francisco running back Frank Gore scored two unanswered touchdowns to secure his team’s victory.
“We are tough, it is hard to break us. We aren’t going to give up,” Gore said. “We will keep fighting into the fourth quarter and until the game (clock) hits double zero.”
It was a bitter loss for the Falcons, who finished the regular season with the best record in the NFL to secure the home-field advantage for the playoffs, but they had no excuses.
“We didn’t make the plays when we had the opportunities,” Falcoms head coach Mike Smith said. “There were ebbs and flows and changes in momentum and they made more plays then we did.”
Baltimore, riding high on a wave of emotion and inspiration from their veteran linebacker Ray Lewis, outscored the Pats 21-0 in a lopsided second half to reach the Super Bowl for just the second time.
Given little hope of beating a New England team led by Tom Brady, they avenged their loss to the Pats in the corresponding game last year after an irresistible display by underrated quarterback Joe Flacco.
“I said to our players last year, don’t put your heads down, we’ll be back,” said Lewis, a 13-time Pro Bowler who is retiring after the Super Bowl.
“To see us come back like this, after all the injuries and things we have been through… our team is just awesome and this our time.”
For New England, the most dominant team in the NFL over the past decade and a half, it was another case of so close but yet so far.
Despite winning three titles between the 2001 and 2004 seasons, the Pats lost their last two Super Bowl appearances, including last season, in agonizing fashion.
You have the opportunity to win the game and we came up short,” Brady lamented. “There’s frustration in that we wish we could have done better.”
CROMWELL, Connecticut: Ken Duke sank a two-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole on Sunday to defeat fellow American Chris Stroud and win the $6.1-million Travelers Championship for his first US PGA title.
The 44-year-old from Hope, Arkansas—hometown of former US President Bill Clinton—took the $1.08-million top prize and became the oldest first-time US PGA Tour winner since Ed Dougherty won his only title at age 47 in 1995.
“I worked hard, I have knocked on the door a lot and here we are,” Duke said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Duke had been a runner-up three times in PGA events—at New Orleans in 2007 and Milwaukee and the Ginn sur Mer Classic in 2008.
Stroud, a 31-year-old Texan whose best prior PGA finish was a share of fourth at the 2011 Mayakoba Classic in Mexico, sank a 48-foot chip shot for a birdie at the 18th on the last hole of regulation play to force a playoff.
Duke and Stroud both finished 72 holes on 12-under par 268. Duke fired a final-round 66, five-under par, while Stroud shot 67.
The playoff began at the 18th tee and Duke found the left rough, but blasted a wedge shot pin high onto the green. Stroud, whose tee shot was in the fairway 92 yards from the cup, then dumped his approach into a greenside bunker.
Stroud blasted out seven feet from the cup and Duke followed by leaving his 30-foot birdie putt inches from the cup for a tap-in par.
Stroud then sank his tension-packed par putt to extend the playoff, both men going to the 18th tee for the third time Sunday.
Duke knocked his second shot, a sand wedge from 117 yards out, just two feet from the cup, while Stroud left himself 20 feet for birdie.
Stroud’s putt rolled inches right and he tapped in for par. Moments later, Duke tapped in for the long-sought victory and pumped his right fist in celebration.
Canada’s Graham DeLaet was third on 269 with American Bubba Watson fourth on 270.
Rafael Nadal has said that he will take a several-week absence from tennis after the Australian Open to rest and practise.
The world number two will take the time off in February to recover from a recurring shoulder problem which he picked up at the ATP World Tour Finals in London in November.
“I had a problem before London with my shoulder and I had to stop for about ten days before the [ATP] finals,” the Spaniard said.
“It felt better again but resurfaced, I couldn’t practise.”
The 25-year-old is currently in Abu Dhabi defending his Mubadala World Tennis Championship crown and will face David Ferrer in the semi-finals tomorrow after his compatriot saw off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga earlier today.
Hosts Meghalaya won their second consecutive match in group A of the fourth Dr T Ao memorial football tournament beating Nagaland 4-0 at the JN Stadium, here on Wednesday. In another match in the same pool, Arunachal Pradesh defeated Assam 2-0. Meghalaya are on top while Assam are second, Arunachal Pradesh third and Nagaland last.
Nagaland were the team who seemed to call the shots in the first 20 minutes, but the script changed dramatically. The home team started to lift its tempo after the half-hour mark. The attacks finally paid off in the 38th minute when Niwan O Gatphoh ran the ball up the right flank, dodged past a defender and carefully passed it to Milton Kharsati, who tapped in.
In the very next minute, Meghalaya doubled the score after Ronnie Nongbri chipped the ball for a waiting Donbok Khymdeit to score. It was 2-0 at half-time. In the 54th minute, Milancy Khongstia made it 3-0 scoring off a rebound. In spite of a goalkeeper change, Gatphoh completed the tally for the home team.
The tournament’s underdogs Arunachal stunned Assam 2-0 to keep their hopes alive for a quarterfinal berth. Toko Polium found the back of the net in the 22nd minute and in the 72nd minute, completed the humiliation for Assam.
BETHESDA, Maryland: Masters champion Adam Scott will play alongside fellow Australians Jason Day and Marc Leishman in the first and second rounds of the US PGA National, his final event before the British Open. World number four Scott, third in last year’s event at Congressional Country Club, became the first green-jacket winner from Australia by winning his first major title two months ago at Augusta National. Scott was grouped with his compatriots on Tuesday ahead of Thursday’s start of the $6.5 million event in suburban Washington, played on the same 7,569-yard layout where Rory McIlroy won the 2011 US Open for his first major triumph.
MELBOURNE – A teary Stanislas Wawrinka was adamant there was nothing more he could have done to beat Novak Djokovic after going down to the defending champion in a late-night thriller at the Australian Open on Sunday.
In a fourth-round match that finished at 1.40am local time, the Swiss, who took an early 6-1, 5-2 lead and had chances to gain a break in the fifth set, was eventually beaten by the world number one 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7 12-10 after five hours and two minutes.
“I think it’s by far the best match I ever played, especially in five sets against the number one player,” 15th-seed Wawrinka told reporters, wiping away tears.
“At the end I was really, really close, so for sure I’m really sad. But I think there is more positive than negative.
“At the end he was still there. He was playing great tennis. We were both tired, but I really fought like a dog.”
Wawrinka had outplayed Djokovic for the first hour and in the deciding set had four break point chances at 4-4 but the Serb held on and finally clinched victory with a stunning backhand pass.
“For sure I was serving for the second set to be up two sets to love, but in five sets, five hours, you always have some opportunity to win a set or to win the match,” Wawrinka said.
“If you don’t take it, he’s going to take it.”
Despite the defeat, Wawrinka believed the way he had played against Djokovic could spur him on to bigger and better things.
“I think I can use it, I hope I will use it,” he said. “I think it’s important if I want to keep improving myself, my game, to try to come back closer to the top 10.”
THREE-consecutive year champion San Beda College Red Lions will test their mettle against host College of Saint Benilde Blazers while archrivals San Sebastian College Stags and Collegio de San Juan Letran Knights will renew their battle in the opening day of the 89th season of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) seniors basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City on Saturday.
Both the four-peat seeking Red Lions and the Blazers will be under new coaches when they collide at 4 p.m. The Stags and the Knights will square off at 6 p.m. The opening day rites will commence at 2:30 p.m.
Former Sta. Lucia Realty head coach Boyet Fernandez will now be mentoring the Red Lions replacing Ronnie Magsanoc while the 2000 champion Blazers will now be coached by Gabby Velasco.
“It’s really important for us to win our first game because it will serve as a fitting inspiration for the rest of the season,” said Fernandez, who guided Sta. Lucia Realty to the Philippine Cup championship in the Philippine Basketball Association in 2007.
Letran, on the other hand, will have Caloy Garcia as new coach while Topex Robinson is returning Stags’ mentor.
“We are hoping for another successful staging of the NCAA. I firmly believe this is possible because of the strong bond and supports of all member schools in the league,” said Bro. Dennis Magbanua of host Saint Benilde College.
World number two Rafael Nadal will open his Davis Cup campaign for Spain with a clash against Juan Monaco on Friday.
The former Wimbledon champion’s teammate David Ferrer will face Juan Del Potro in the early stages while Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco take on South Americans David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank in a doubles match in Spain.
Nadal was drawn Del Potro in the following match, while Ferrer takes on Monaco in the reverse switch for the tournament.
Spain are hopeful that they can claim their third title in four years, while Argentina will attempt to snatch the Davis Cup for the first time in four campaigns.
The tournament commences in the Olympic Stadium in Seville.
Janko Tipsarevic has waded into the equal pay row in tennis by claiming that women should not be rewarded the same prize money as men at Grand Slams.
The debate was recently reignited at Wimbledon when France’s Gilles Simon argued that the men deserved their money due to their popularity and physical endurance.
His comments caused many female players, including Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, to hit back.
World number eight Tipsarevic has now added fuel to the fire by saying that the men’s game is the bigger draw and that the women’s game lacks the quality to warrant equal pay.
“Men’s tennis is currently in the top four in terms of quality and popularity, it’s at its peak, just like golf when Tiger Woods dominated,” the Serbian told Berner Zeitung. “In women’s tennis it’s very different.
“I do not underestimate the achievements of Victoria Azarenka and the others, but their best time is over. That was when the Williams sisters, Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin and Amelie Mauresmo were at the top.
“I wouldn’t say a good junior could beat Serena 6-1, 6-2, but it is ridiculous that women get equal prize money at the Grand Slams.”
Tipsarevic is through to the quarter-finals of the Swiss Open in Gstaad, where he will take on Austria’s Martin Fischer.
Manchester United star Robin van Persie bagged a brace as the Netherlands continued their march to Brazil with a 4-0 win over Romania on Tuesday at the Amsterdam Arena.
In so doing the 29-year-old reached 34 international goals, overtaking the legendary Johan Cruyff.
Rafael van der Vaart scored the opener and Jeremain Lens added gloss in the last minute as the Dutch stretched their perfect record to six matches, and their lead at the top of qualifying Group D to seven points.
The Netherlands need just two more wins from their final four matches to ensure their passge to the finals in Brazil next year.
Even without injured playmaker Wesley Sneijder, Louis van Gaal’s team were simply too good for their visitors.
Van Persie teed up Van der Vaart to score his 24th goal in 105 appearances for the Oranje after just 12 minutes.
With Adrian Mutu warming the bench for three-quarters of the game, Romania were starved of possession and failed to register a single shot on target in the opening period.
Van Persie headed home the second on 56 minutes after good work from Daley Blind and Arjen Robben before slotting home a penalty nine minutes later after Cristian Tanase fouled Lens, who rounded off the rout late on.
Having already thumped Romania 4-1 in Bucharest, the Netherlands completed a crushing double over their opponents, who dropped to third in the standings, a point behind Hungary.
The clean sheet meant the Netherlands have not conceded a goal in a home World Cup qualifier for more than 1,100 minutes.
David Ferrer has defeated wildcard Nicolas Mahut in straight sets to claim a spot in the third round of the Paris Masters.
The Spaniard claimed a 6-4 6-4 win over Mahut to progress to the next stage of the competition.
The world number five, who has already qualified for the World Tour finals in London, looked as if he was going to storm the opening set until his French opponent hit some sensational shots to stay in touch in the initial stages of the match.
Despite an impressive performance from Mahut, the Spaniard managed to edge the first set by two games and take the lead.
The contest heated up in the second set with both competitors pushing on serve. However, Ferrer overcame the Frenchman’s power and secured a spot in the third round of the tournament.
FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts – John and Jim Harbaugh will turn a family reunion into a war of attrition in New Orleans early next month when they become the first coaching brothers to oppose each other in a Super Bowl.
Last year, the siblings came within a game each of reaching the Super Bowl but lost in their respective conference championships. On Sunday, their victories set up something of a ‘Harbaugh Bowl’ for the NFL title.
“I don’t know if we had a dream this big,” John Harbaugh told reporters after his Baltimore Ravens had spanked the New England Patriots 28-13 at Gillette Stadium.
A few hours earlier, Jim had fulfilled his side of the bargain when the San Francisco 49ers rallied for a 28-24 road victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
“We had a few dreams, we had a few fights. We had a few arguments, like all brothers. We will try and stay out of that business. We’ll let the two teams duke it out as much as possible,” John added.
Separated by just 15 months, the brothers followed in the footsteps of their father Jack, who had a 41-year career as a coach, ranging from the high-school level to the head role in college football.
The brothers, who shared a bedroom growing up until they left home for college, have remained very close, speaking weekly by telephone.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Jim,” the 50-year-old John said. “Watching that team play, they do reflect his personality.
“They have physical players, they run the ball, they throw the ball. They’ve got a quarterback making plays all over the place. They got a roughhouse defense. There’s a reason why they are in the Super Bowl. I love the way they play.”
John said the similarities between the coaches might be reflected in the teams when they meet on February 3.
“I’d like to think our two teams are very similar. I’d like to think when you look at the two teams you’re looking at mirror images of two football teams,” he said. “It’s going to be a great football game.”
With his grey Ravens sweatshirt soaked in champagne, John said he could only imagine the joy his parents felt back in Wisconsin.
“I hope he’s on his fourth or fifth beer right now,” the Baltimore coach said of his father. “I hope he and Ma got a big hug going.”
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by John O’Brien)
British number one Andy Murray has claimed that he is determined to make his mark on this summer’s Olympic Games in London.
The Scotsman has been selected for Team Great Britain in the men’s singles tournament but the 25-year-old is hopeful that he can do better than 2008′s first-round knock-out.
“It’s great, I was part of the last Olympics in Beijing and I really enjoyed it,” Murray told Sky Sports News. “I didn’t know what to expect – as tennis players you don’t know what it would be like to be part of a big team event.
“I’m very glad that I managed to get in the team this time and hopefully do a better performance. [The Olympics] is up there with the grand slams because it comes around every four years, which it makes it that much more important for tennis players. Obviously with it being in London it’s going to be huge.”
Meanwhile, the Scotsman has been seeded fourth for Wimbledon, which starts next week.
PARIS: The inclusion of rugby sevens in the 2016 Olympic Games was a “defining moment” for a sport that continues to roll back boundaries in interest and growth, according to International Rugby Board chief executive officer Brett Gosper. Gosper said the abbreviated form of the game was a portal for many people in non-traditional markets into the more complex 15-a-side version. The beauty of sevens, a high-octane game played on a full pitch over two seven-minute halves and involving first-class skills and handling, and some of the speediest players in the sport, was its spectacular simplicity, Gosper said.
MELBOURNE – Gilles Simon is going to give it his best shot but accepts that he will probably not beat Andy Murray at the Australian Open on Monday after wrecking his body in a four-hour, 43-minute marathon against Gael Monfils.
The extraordinary third round encounter between the French defensive baseliners on Hisense Arena on Saturday night was studded with lengthy rallies, including one incredible 71-shot exchange.
Simon won that rally and went on to win the match 6-4 6-4 4-6 1-6 8-6 well after midnight local time but it took a terrible toll on his body and he spent much of the rest of the night getting treatment.
“I was in bad shape,” the 14th seed told reporters on Sunday.
“I felt I played the end of the match like in a dream, like I was not even on the court. I was just hitting the ball, trying to run, trying to catch it, and not thinking anymore.
“I was too tired to be happy or upset or thinking or – I think at the end of the match I just completely lost control.
“It was too painful everywhere. I don’t even know where – I had a cramp here, cramp here, even not possible to cramp,” he added, pointing to his leg and chin.
Simon’s withdrawal from the Sydney International warm up event because of a neck injury has left him short of match practice and the 28-year-old said he would have to make it a quick win if he was going to upset third seed Murray.
“I don’t have to explain to you how strong he is,” the Frenchman said. “Of course it will be really, really difficult, but at the moment I just happy that I won the last one, and I will just try to go and take my chance.
“I don’t have a lot of chance to win this one, but this is my job to go on the court and to do the maximum to bother him and to give him a hard time.
“It’s difficult to win 6-2 6-3 6-2 against Andy. I’m not sure if we play longer than that that I will be able to make it to the end.”
Simon won his first match against Murray in 2007 but has lost all nine since as the U.S. Open champion has steadily climbed up the rankings to his current standing of third in the world.
“I remember when he was still in the first years,” Simon said. “He was an awesome player already, but physically sometimes he was cramping. Yeah, he could be tired.
“It’s a long time since I saw him tired on the court. I know he’s working hard outside the court to be ready. That’s part of our job.
“So for sure he will have the advantage tomorrow for this, but I just want to focus on my game, and then what I can do tomorrow to try to disturb him a little bit.”
FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts – The New England Patriots tasted defeat for the first time at home when a Super Bowl berth was on the line and had no excuses after the 28-13 thumping at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots entered Sunday’s title game with an imposing 7-1 record in conference championship tilts, including a 4-0 mark at home but came up short.
“Obviously a disappointing end to an overall pretty positive season,” said New England coach Bill Belichick, whose team won the AFC East title with a 12-4 record. “Tonight we just didn’t do enough things well enough to win. Give the Ravens credit.
“I don’t think anything was really as good as it needed to be tonight. (We) gave up too many points, didn’t score enough. I’d say we probably came up a little short in every area.”
Baltimore turned the tables on the Patriots, who led 13-7 at halftime before a 21-0 second-half whitewashing silenced the Gillette Stadium home crowd.
“I think we obviously didn’t play very well and if you don’t play very well against a good team, it’s not even very competitive,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said.
“It’s unfortunate. We just couldn’t make any critical plays when we needed to,”
Brady achieved a personal milestone as his 320 yards passing moved him past Brett Favre into first place on the NFL’s all-time list for passing yarding in the postseason, with 5,949.
“We just couldn’t string enough good plays together to get the ball in the end zone,” added Brady, who had to stitch together short passing plays given a lack of deep threats with dangerous tight end Rob Gronkowski out with broken forearm.
“They’re a good defense and they kept the pressure on and we just didn’t really stand up to the challenge.”
“We felt pretty good about where we were at halftime, but we just didn’t come out in the second half and execute very well,” said Brady, who threw a pair of second-half interceptions and whose running back Stevan Ridley lost a fumble.
New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, a five-time Pro Bowler, tried to be philosophical in defeat, but his burning competitiveness shone through.
“Somebody has to win and lose,” Wilfork said. “Tonight we just didn’t make enough plays. They made more plays than we did.
“It’s very disappointing, but we have a hell of a team. We know what it takes to win,” added the beefy defensive lineman, whose team had reached five of the previous 11 Super Bowls.
“We’re going to fight our tails off in the offseason. We’re going to get back to playing the way we want to play. We’ll be back here.”
(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Julian Linden)
Germany is playing down World Cup expectations and battling complacency ahead of its second back-to-back qualifier against Kazakhstan on Tuesday.
Joachim Loew’s side leads Group C with four wins from five games and is looking for another routine victory to follow Friday’s 3-0 result over winless Kazakhstan in Astana.
“It is a bit unusual to be playing the same opponent twice in quick succession,” said Loew, who warned his players against overconfidence. “If you win away, naturally there’s the danger that stays in the mind.”
Kazakhstan has scored just one goal and claimed one point so far, and Loew is doing all he can to maintain his side’s concentration.
“We have to remind the players they are playing at home and that we only win when attitude and professionalism are taken into account,” Loew said.
While qualification already looks assured, team manager Oliver Bierhoff says winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is “almost impossible” for Germany due to logistics of playing across such a large country and given European teams’ previous lack of success there. Bierhoff also pointed to the strength of South American teams on their own continent.
Loew called up Hamburger SV defensive midfielder Marcell Jansen and the uncapped Borussia Moenchengladbach attacking midfielder Patrick Herrmann to replenish his depleted squad on Sunday.
Bayern Munich midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger is ruled out after picking up a booking in Friday’s game, while Schalke attacking midfielder Julian Draxler suffered a concussion after a collision early in the match.
“You can chance one or two little things but we don’t want to take any risks. We’re still taking the opponent seriously, the call-ups show that,” Bierhoff said.
Midfielder Sven Bender had already rejoined the squad after recovering from flu, while Borussia Dortmund teammate Marco Reus also returned after serving out a suspension.
Jansen last played for Germany in September 2010 and Bierhoff said he deserved another chance to impress.
“Marcell has gone through a strong phase. He is another alternative to (left back) Marcel Schmelzer, who has played a lot of games for Dortmund,” Bierhoff said.
Herrmann was to join the squad after playing for the under-21s in Israel on Monday.
“I couldn’t believe it at first,” the 22-year-old Herrmann said. “The call-up was totally unexpected for me. That makes it even better to be involved for the first time.”
Bayern striker Mario Gomez and Schalke defender Benedikt Hoewedes are both carrying niggling thigh problems but could yet feature.
Mario Goetze played the “false nine” role to good effect in Astana, capping his performance with a goal, and the Dortmund midfielder is likely to fill the role again on Tuesday even if Gomez is fit.
“I have no problem with this position,” Goetze said. “It gives us another variation of another system, making us harder to predict.”
Sami Khedira said Germany still has work to do before aiming for World Cup titles.
“Germany is always among the tournament favorites. But I believe our task has to improve our game further and to find ourselves more as a team,” the Real Madrid midfielder told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “We have many talented young players that we have to integrate to become even more unpredictable. I find that to be more important now than worrying about whether we can be world champions.”
When England captain Steven Gerrard opined that Montenegro “have got certain individuals in the world-class category”, he did not have to name names.
Marko Basa, of French club Lille, is a rugged presence at centre-back and his fellow defender Stefan Savic won the Premier League title at Manchester City last season, but the team’s lethal weapons are their forwards, Mirko Vucinic and Stefan Jovetic.
With 14 international goals, captain Vucinic is the all-time leading scorer for the national side, which only came into existence six years ago following the country’s split from Serbia in 2006.
An elegant forward with a powerful shot, he helped Juventus to a Serie A and Coppa Italia double last year in his first season at the club following a 15-million-euro ($19.5 million) transfer from Roma in 2011.
At 23, Jovetic is six years Vucinic’s junior, but he has also been an integral part of the national team from the very first days of its existence.
The mop-haired support striker missed the whole of the 2010-11 season with a serious cruciate knee ligament injury but came back even stronger for club side Fiorentina.
Having scored 14 league goals in his comeback season, he has already found the net 12 times in Serie A this term and has reportedly been identified as a close-season transfer target by English giants Arsenal.
As strike partners, they make for an untypical duo.
Neither player is a true striker, with Vucinic habitually drawing to the left-hand side of the pitch and Jovetic more comfortable in the hole, but their positional interchanging makes them fiendlishly hard to mark.
Both are also fully aware of their responsibilities to the national team, who could extend their advantage at the top of World Cup qualifying Group H to five points with victory over England in Podgorica on Tuesday.
“We are an old country with a young football association, and our country’s past is something we are very proud of,” said Vucinic, scorer of the only goal in Friday’s 1-0 win in Moldova.
“The fact we have never qualified for the World Cup finals or European Championship is extra motivation for us to keep getting results and to keep improving.
“For Montenegro, a match with England is spectacular. No one wants to miss it.”
Montenegro managed two draws against England when the sides met in qualifying for Euro 2012 and finished second in the group, only to lose out to the Czech Republic in the play-offs.
They have made the early running once again in the current campaign and invite England to the Podgorica City Stadium with a commanding position in the group to defend.
Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic expects England to make most of the running on Tuesday evening, but he knows that Roy Hodgson’s side will be more than aware of the hosts’ attacking threat.
“We will maybe park a bus in defence,” he said, “but we also have two Ferraris in attack.”
Japan’s footballing chiefs are to lodge a formal complaint with the sport’s governing body after lasers were shone in players’ faces during the team’s 2-1 loss to Jordan, a report said on Wednesday.
Association president Kuniya Daini told reporters that goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima and midfielder Yasuhito Endo had the lights — which can cause eye damage — directed at them.
“We will make a complaint,” Kuniya told Kyodo News after the match at King Abdullah International Stadium in Amman, Jordan’s capital.
Japan’s shock loss scuppered their hopes of early qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
A headed goal on the stroke of half-time and a breakaway effort on the hour-mark had put the hosts 2-0 ahead but Japan got one back through Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa, and then earned a penalty just a minute later.
However, Amer Sabbah flung himself at Endo’s well-taken spot-kick to earn Jordan the points that take them from bottom to second in Group B — and deny Japan the draw that would have made them the first country to qualify for the World Cup.
Endo insisted the lasers had not distracted him, but said players had been coping with them throughout the game.
“We had the laser beams from the first half, but I didn’t care. I knew I had the beam when I tried to hit a penalty shot. It didn’t affect my play,” said Endo.
Daini said Japan would also be complaining about throat-cutting gestures made by two of Jordan’s players that appeared to be aimed at coach Alberto Zaccheroni at half time and at the end of the game.
“One Jordan player was provocative throughout the game and I just tried to ask the reason why,” the Italian coach said calmly after the game.
“Of course, we wanted to get the ticket to the World Cup. We wanted to make it today. I was very disappointed with the result. We must improve the accuracy of the final shots,” he added.
Japan still lead Group B on 13 points, followed by Jordan on seven points, Australia and Oman on six points, and Iraq on five points.
The Blue Samurai, who are aiming for a fifth straight berth to the World Cup finals, next play Australia at home on June 4.
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas is confident his side can hold on to a top-four position in the Premier League for the rest of the season despite suffering a third successive defeat.
A goal early in the second half from Dimitar Berbatov was enough to earn Fulham a rare away win on Sunday, as Spurs slipped one place to fourth.
The 1-0 defeat added to reverses at Liverpool in the Premier League and Inter Milan in the Europa League, although Spurs still managed to progress in the latter competition on away goals.
Spurs would have moved to within two points of second-place Manchester City had they won, but they have now been over-taken by Chelsea, who won 2-0 at home to West Ham United.
Tottenham are also just four points ahead of Arsenal, who have a game in hand. A 2-1 derby success on March 3 had given Villas-Boas’ side a 10-point advantage over their north London rivals.
Arsenal managed to over-take Tottenham from a similar position last season, when Harry Redknapp was in charge at White Hart Lane, but Villas-Boas believes he can prevent history from repeating itself.
“You can’t hide from what has happened in the past at Spurs,” he said.
“But you do have an opportunity to fight it. Whatever is written about the past is fine, we just have to make sure we fight against it.
“It has been a difficult month for us but if we can find our form, our confidence and our wins, then we will be able to invert that cycle that happens normally with Spurs.
“I’m confident. We will just have to work hard. The most important thing is that we have enough important games to enable us to get out of that situation.
“This result didn’t go our way, in Milan it didn’t go our way and at Liverpool it didn’t go our way, but there were still some positives for us to try to change the results that we have been getting.
“After the international break we have got to get back to business and do our job against Swansea and Everton and try to collect six points.”
The fact that Berbatov was the scorer only increased the disappointment felt by Tottenham supporters, as the Bulgaria forward was a great favourite at White Hart Lane until he was sold to Manchester United in 2008.
Fulham manager Martin Jol was the man who brought him to England, although the Dutchman had been sacked by the time Berbatov departed.
Jol also backed Tottenham to qualify for the Champions League next season.
“Spurs are in a normal situation,” he said. “They will finish at least in the top four.
“In the last couple of seasons, you have seen them grow, with better, better players. They only need one or two more pieces in the puzzle and they will be title contenders, 100 percent.”
Jol was reunited with Berbatov at the start of the season when the striker left United and Fulham have yet to lose a game in which he has found the net.
The game was also of interest to England manager Roy Hodgson who saw defender Michael Dawson limp off at half-time with a hamstring injury which will rule him out of the World Cup qualifiers with San Marino and Montenegro.
Winger Aaron Lennon, who did not play on Sunday, will definitely miss out because of a groin problem.
Add former NBA-All Star guard Stephon Marbury to the list of big-named basketball personalities who will set foot on Philippine soil this year.
Marbury, who now plays for the Beijing Ducks in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), will be stopping over in Manila on June 24 to touch base with his Filipino fans and finalize talks regarding his shoe and apparel line, Starbury, which he hopes to formally launch in the country later this year.
With already an idea of how crazy about basketball majority of Filipinos are based on various stories from player agent Sheryl Reyes, Marbury expressed his excitement on his coming Manila visit.
“I can’t wait to be there. I’ve been told how crazy about basketball Filipinos are. I can’t wait to say hello to everyone in a couple of days,” the former NBA first-rounder said in an email.
Marbury added that he hopes to create an impact on Philippine soil similar to what he did in China where he spearheaded the Ducks’ championship run last season and made it to the CBA All-Star Game four times. He was also named CBA All-Star MVP in 2010.
“I hope I’d get to share my knowledge as a player not just in China or the Philippines, but all over Asia,” expressed Marbury. “I’ve seen a lot of talented players in the Asian level and I won’t be surprised if more Asian players, including Filipinos, will one day make it to the NBA.”
As for the Starbury line, Marbury hopes the brand, which he promised to be easy on the pocket, will get a share of the market along with its more popular counterparts.
“Growing up in the United States, my mom had a difficult time buying me a pair of shoes because of how expensive it was. So I decided to come up with this new shoe line made affordable to everyone,” he said.
“Instead of buying a pair of shoes worth $150, you can buy Starbury shoes at a more affordable price. You can now have a chance of getting not just a pair, but five pairs of shoes.”
It will be a brief stay for Marbury, made possible by Reyes, that will be highlighted by a fans day at the Asian Institute of Maritime Studies (AIMS) on Tuesday, June 25. Students will get a chance to interact with the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist for two hours, while outsiders may send a message to (0923)9932395 or firstname.lastname@example.org for event passes. Said invites will be given on a first come, first served basis.
Rafael Benitez insisted the ugly scenes sparked by Frank Lampard’s 200th goal for Chelsea in the 2-0 win over West Ham shouldn’t overshadow the England midfielder’s landmark achievement.
Lampard finally reached his double century for the Blues after a month stuck on 199 with a first half header against his former club at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
But the 34-year-old’s goal was greeted with anger by West Ham’s travelling supporters as Lampard and John Terry celebrated the milestone in front of the away end.
Terry, who started the match on the substitutes’ bench, had already responded to taunts from the east London club’s fans as he warmed up in front of them by bending over to aim his backside towards them.
And the atmosphere turned even uglier when Terry and Lampard, who had been hated by West Ham supporters since leaving for Chelsea in 2001, were greeted with missiles thrown onto the pitch following the 19th minute goal.
It was claimed Terry was hit by a coin and fourth official Howard Webb told Benitez to instruct Chelsea’s substitutes to warm up away from the West Hams fans after that.
But Blues interim manager Benitez was adamant the unsavoury incident should not detract from Lampard’s achievement, which moved him within two goals of Bobby Tambling’s club record.
“When you score 200 goals you don’t think too much about where you are celebrating, but after that you think it would have been better to be in another part (of the stadium),” Benitez said.
“We said it would be better if they do the warm-up on the other side. Howard Webb told us. I don’t know if it was his decision.”
Benitez’s relationship with Lampard hardly got off to the best start when he went public with the news that the midfielder would be allowed to leave at the end of the season.
But he has grown to admire Lampard’s professionalism, installing him as captain against the Hammers and admitted only Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard can match his influence over the last decade.
“I’m just happy he has scored 200 goals. It’s a fantastic achievement for any player, especially someone like him,” Benitez said.
“Since I came to this country people have asked me about Gerrard and Lampard. Both are great players.
“We are talking about Lampard and you can see him training, always working hard. There are plenty more games left so hopefully he can score more.”
Benitez, whose tenure with rivals Liverpool has caused much angst among the Blues faithful, has at last been able to create a more positive mood around the club this week.
Last weekend’s comeback to force an FA Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United was followed by overturning a first leg deficit to beat Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League last 16.
The win over the Hammers also moved the Blues above Tottenham into third place in the Premier League.
“It’s not been a bad week,” Benitez said. “If the team is playing well the fans will enjoy it, that is the main target for us.
“We have to stick together and make the right results. I’m really pleased with the atmosphere and really pleased with the team.”
Meanwhile, West Ham are only six points above the relegation zone after their fifth defeat in their last seven matches.
But boss Sam Allardyce refused to be downcast, insisting instead that few teams could have lived with Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, who laid on Lampard’s goal and then netted the second with a fine finish early in the second half.
“Chelsea were the better team,” Allardyce said. “It was a tough afternoon against talented players, Mata and Hazard were both outstanding. You can’t defend against that.”
Sport England have reacted to disappointing tennis participation results by cutting funding for the sport by over ?500,000.
A Sport England Active People survey revealed that the average number of adults playing tennis at least once a week has declined from 487,500 in 2007-08 to 375,800.
The Lawn Tennis Association’s chief executive, Roger Draper, admitted that the results were disappointing and said the organisation had accepted the drop in funding.
“We continue to work closely with Sport England in order to grow tennis,” said Draper. “Like other sports we face a huge challenge to increase the numbers playing tennis regularly in challenging economic times but participation is our top priority.”
The total cut in funding is ?530,000 and this is despite more encouraging talent development figures on the junior side.
Sport England’s chief executive Jennie Price said: “No decision to reduce funding is taken lightly, but Sport England has been clear that failure to achieve the agreed growth in a sport would lead to a governing body’s overall funding levels being reviewed.”
The British Judo Association (BJA) also had their funding cut, by ?353,000, and both sports have since been given new participation targets.
The high-tech version of the game of darts attracts young players. AFP PHOTO
HONG KONG: Picture your stereotypical darts player. Middle-aged and overweight, with a gut spilling over a waistband, cultivated through years of swilling beer during tense matches.
But a radical transformation is taking place and the game that was once the preserve of grown-ups in dimly lit pubs has been reborn in the 21st century, with teenagers and young adults eagerly flocking to dedicated darts bars.
A new breed of dynamic young player has emerged, playing a high-tech version of the game complete with flashing lights, electronic bleeps and a computer that does all the troublesome maths for you.
Welcome to the world of soft darts, which has been big in Japan for some years but is now hitting the bullseye as it sweeps across Asia, with a rapidly swelling fanbase and its own high-profile tournaments, the most lucrative of which is this year offering a prize pot of HK$5 million ($650,000).
One of the game’s top players, Singapore’s Paul Lim, describes the differences between the traditional game and soft darts—where the arrows’ steel tips are replaced with plastic points and the electronic board calculates your scores—as similar to those between snooker and pool.
“If you look at snooker and pool, how many more people play pool? It’s a lot easier. People get a lot more enjoyment because it’s a far simpler game,” said Lim, who was the first ever darts player to throw a perfect nine-dart finish during a world championship, in 1990.
“I’ve been playing steel-tip for 38 years and I’ve been involved in soft-tip for about 15 years. Soft-tip is much faster and simpler. This is made for people not to think, just to have fun.”
While soft-tip darts have been around for decades—darts manufacturer Harrows says the electronic game was developed in the United States in 1977 —one company in particular is blazing a trail around the world.
Dartslive, which both manufactures and distributes soft tip boards, is linking up all the machines they provide to venues worldwide electronically, allowing players on opposite sides of the planet to step up to the oche and take each other on in real time.
Launched in 2003 in Japan, the company expanded its operation overseas in 2009 when it opened a venue in Hong Kong. Since then it has spread rapidly to 14 countries.
“When we started in Hong Kong, every month I would say we would have about 500 new players. It’s a cool atmosphere, almost like clubbing. People come in for a few drinks. It’s entertainment. It’s fun,” said Lim, an early proponent of the game.
NEW YORK – Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o told ABC News’ Katie Couric that he had lied to keep up a hoax involving a nonexistent dying girlfriend once he learned he had been duped two days before the Heisman Trophy winner was announced.
In a preview of the interview shown on Wednesday on “Good Morning America,” Te’o talked about the girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. He mourned her September 12 death from cancer, but it later turned out that she never existed except as part of an online fraud.
On December 6, two days before the prestigious college football trophy was awarded, Te’o said he had received a phone call from a woman claiming she was Kekua.
“Now I get a phone call on December 6, saying that she’s alive, and then I’m going be put on national TV two days later,” Te’o told Couric. “And to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?”
A Heisman contender, Te’o was passed over for the award, which went to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
“You stuck to the script,” Couric said. “And you knew that something was amiss, Manti.”
Te’o replied: “Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world told me that she died on September 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on September 12.”
The interview will be broadcast in its entirety on the daytime talk show “Katie” on Thursday.
This is Te’o's first on-camera interview since news broke of the fraud behind one the most widely recounted U.S. sports stories last year as Notre Dame made a drive toward the college football national championship game.
Couric interviewed Te’o, who in an interview with ESPN last week denied being in on the elaborate hoax, and his parents, Brian and Ottilia Te’o.
“Now many people writing about this are calling your son a liar,” Couric said. “They are saying he manipulated the truth, really for personal gain.”
Brian Te’o dismissed such statements. “People can speculate about what they think he is,” he said. “I’ve known him 21 years of his life. And he’s not a liar. He’s a kid.”
Notre Dame, one of the most powerful institutions in U.S. collegiate athletics, held a news conference within hours of the Deadspin.com article that exposed the hoax to say that Te’o had been duped.
(Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)
LONDON – Davis Cup champions the Czech Republic will not have to worry about facing Roger Federer in the opening round of their defense after he was left out of Switzerland’s team for the Geneva tie.
The 17-times grand slam champion, still contesting the Australian Open where he will face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the last eight on Wednesday, played twice for his country last year but has decided to sit it out the Czech clash.
Tomas Berdych will spearhead the Czech challenge in the tie taking place from February 1-3.
Other notable absentees from first-round action are Juan Martin del Potro, who was not named in Argentina’s team to play Germany in Buenos Aires, and Australian Open semi-finalist David Ferrer, who is not in Spain’s squad to play in Canada.
Former U.S. Open champion Del Potro said last month that he would not be playing Davis Cup this year.
“The decision was not easy – but I have important goals on the circuit,” the injury-prone Del Potro said.
In the absence of Ferrer and Rafa Nadal, who has yet to return to competitive action after a long-term knee injury, Nicolas Almagro will shoulder the main singles responsibility for the top-seeded Spaniards.
Feliciano Lopez returns to the team as the number two singles player, with Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez, who are through to the Australian Open last four, playing the doubles.
“We are starting a new year in the Davis Cup with the excitement you get from playing for Spain in the top international competition,” Spain captain Alex Corretja told a news conference.
“We know it’s a very tough tie but I have every confidence in this team and their commitment to provide yet more satisfaction for the Spanish fans,” he added.
World number one Novak Djokovic was named in Serbia’s squad to face Belgium in Charleroi, although his participation may depend on how much his bid for a third consecutive Australian Open title takes out of him.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman and Iain Rogers, editing by Ed Osmond)
LONDON: Defending champion Roger Federer and Andy Murray take center stage at Wimbledon on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) while Maria Sharapova has to settle for a spot away from the two major show courts.
Federer, bidding to become the first man to win the title eight times, tackles Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky on Center Court.
Murray, the US Open and Olympic champion, switches to Court One to play Lu Yen-Hsun, the Taiwan player who beat him at the 2008 Olympics.
But Sharapova, the third seed and 2004 champion, takes on Portuguese qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito out on Court Two.
That will raise eyebrows with the low-key clash between Fernando Verdasco and Julien Benneteau, and the match-up featuring Petra Kivtova, the 2011 women’s champion, against Yaroslava Shvedova taking place on Court One.
Murray, beaten by Federer in last year’s final, is well aware of the threat posed by Lu, who also beat Andy Roddick at Wimbledon in 2010.
“I know quite a lot about him. I lost to him in the Olympics in 2008 in Beijing. It was a very tough loss for me. I learnt a lot from that match,” Murray said.
“He’s made the quarters here before. He’s beaten Roddick here and plays well on grass. So I’ll need to be ready.”
If Murray sees off Lu it will be the 108th Grand Slam match win of his career, taking him further clear of Fred Perry’s record for a British player at a major.
Also in action on Wednesday are second seeded Victoria Azarenka against experienced Italian Flavia Pennetta.
Lleyton Hewitt, the 2002 champion who put out Swiss 11th seed Stanislas Wawrinka in the first round, takes on German qualifier Dustin Brown.
KINGSTON, Jamaica: Reigning world 100-meter champion Yohan Blake has withdrawn from this week’s Jamaican national athletics championships with a right thigh injury, the runner’s manager said on Tuesday. Blake would still be eligible to run in the World Championships at Moscow in August because he won the 2011 world 100 title at Daegu, South Korea, in 2011. Just over nine weeks ago, Blake walked off the track after grabbing his right thigh later tweeting: “am good my twitter family just a cramp”, only to have coach Glen Mills say the injury was much worse.
Tottenham suffered a fright before sneaking past Inter Milan on Thursday to reach the Europa League quarter-finals as they, Chelsea and Newcastle restored national pride following England’s Champions League misery.
Fernando Torres struck the winner as Chelsea then joined their London rivals in the last eight after eliminating Steaua Bucharest whilst Papiss Cisse scored with the last touch of the match, a header, to send Newcastle through as well.
With Manchester United and Arsenal beaten at the last 16 stage of Europe’s premier club competition, it was left to the Europa League participants to maintain English interest in European football this season.
And although they lost 4-1 on the night, Spurs went through on away goals thanks to last week’s 3-0 success at White Hart Lane.
“It’s a valuable lesson for us tonight, but we have players who can make a difference in the important moments,” said Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas.
“We are happy to go through. The players kept fighting in extra-time, showing they wanted it.”
Without the suspended Gareth Bale, they made hard work of progressing as they needed extra-time to do so after trailing 3-0 when the 90 minutes were up.
Inter played like a team that had nothing to lose and their lively front pairing of Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio, who both scored, caused Spurs trouble from the off.
It was little surprise when they took the lead as Palacio crossed for Cassano to head home.
Spurs knew an away goal was all that was needed to break the home side’s spirits but they proved wasteful with the chances that came their way as Inter left gaps at the back in their eagerness to attack.
They were made to pay on 52 minutes as Palacio ran backline onto Esteban Cambiasso’s through ball before calmly beating Brad Friedel.
With just a quarter of an hour remaining, Cassano’s weak and seemingly innocuous free-kick took a couple of deflections, the last off William Gallas’s thigh, before trickling into the net.
But in extra-time Inter soon cracked as Samir Handanovic couldn’t hold Mousa Dembele’s stinging strike with Emmanuel Adebayor poking home the rebound for a crucial away goal.
Ricardo Alvarez headed in a fourth for Inter from Cassano’s cross 10 minutes from time to ensure a thrilling tie kept everyone on tenterhooks right to the death.
Chelsea also made hard work of their qualification despite a positive start in which Juan Mata gave them the lead.
They had lost the first leg in Romania 1-0 and when Vlad Chiriches scored a crucial away goal on the stroke of half-time, Chelsea needed two more goals to go through.
Captain John Terry led the way by restoring their advantage on the night before Torres snatched the vital third, although he then missed a penalty which would have calmed the home nerves.
Goalkeeper Peter Cech said Sunday’s two-goal comeback at Manchester United in the FA Cup had given his side belief.
“When it went to 1-1 we had to score twice but at the weekend we managed to get (back) a 2-0 deficit at Old Trafford so we believed we would get the goals,” he said.
Newcastle and Anzhi Makhachkala played 180 minutes without scoring a goal but deep into injury time Senegal forward Cisse headed home a Sylvan Marveaux cross with time as good as up to send the English team through.
“It’s a massive result for this football club and this is where we belong,” said Newcastle centre-back Steven Taylor.
Libor Kozak scored a hat-trick as Lazio completed a comfortable 5-1 aggregate win over Stuttgart with a 3-1 win in Rome.
Benfica knocked out Bordeaux 4-2 on aggregate while Rubin Kazan beat Levante 2-0 and Basel went through 2-1 against Zenit St Petersburg despite a 1-0 defeat.
Fenerbahce joined Champions League quarter-finalists Galatasaray in extending Istanbul’s interest in European competition as they completed a 2-1 aggregate victory over Viktoria Plzen with a 1-1 home draw.
Goalkeeper Amer Sabbah pulled off a heroic late penalty stop on Tuesday as Jordan stunned Japan 2-1 to reignite their World Cup hopes and foil the Asian champions’ hopes of booking an early ticket to Brazil 2014.
A headed goal on the stroke of half-time and a breakaway effort on the hour-mark put the hosts 2-0 ahead but Japan got one back through Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa, and then earned a penalty just a minute later.
However, Sabbah flung himself at Yasuhito Endo’s well-taken spot-kick to earn Jordan the points that take them from bottom to second in Group B — and deny Japan the draw that would have made them the first country to qualify for the World Cup.
At the final-round qualifier inside a cacaphonic King Abdullah International Stadium, Ahmad Ibrahim flashed an early warning when he rounded Atsuto Uchida and stung Japan ‘keeper Eiji Kawashima’s hands at his near post on the quarter-hour.
At the other end, Ryoichi Maeda beat the offside trap and headed off the crossbar as Japan, the runaway leaders in Group B, pressed with their customary attacking flair, despite the absence of blond talisman Keisuke Honda.
But it was Jordan who took the lead in first-half injury time when Khalil Bani Ateyah stole in unmarked and met Amer Deeb’s corner with a header which crashed past Kawashima.
And Japan’s defence was also found wanting in the 59th minute when Gotoku Sakai lost the ball near the halfway line and Ibrahim cruised past the last defender, drifted central and poked it past the outstretched Kawashima.
Japan threw on tall striker Mike Havenaar and they got their break on 69 minutes when Hiroshi Kiyotake beat the defence with a cute backheel to Kagawa, who drilled it into the Jordanian net to make it 2-1.
Just a minute later Japan, needing only a draw to qualify for Brazil after Australia were held 2-2 by Oman earlier, appeared odds-on to book their ticket when Atsuto Uchida was brought down in the box by Jordan’s Abdallah Salim.
Despite green laser flashes from the crowd shining on his face, Endo was calmness personified as he struck a solid penalty to Sabbah’s left — but the goalkeeper stretched full-length to make a brilliant stop.
Yasuyuki Konno flashed a shot narrowly wide but Jordan held on for the win which boosted their World Cup hopes and delayed the progress of Japan, previously unbeaten in the final qualifying round, to next year’s World Cup.
The top two in both groups of five teams qualify automatically, with the two third-placed sides going into a play-off series. Japan lead Group B on 13 points, six ahead of Jordan.
World number three Roger Federer has set his sights on winning Olympic gold at next year’s London games.
The 30-year-old Swiss triumphed in the English capital yesterday by winning the ATP World Tour Finals and is looking for a successful return to the capital when the games come around next summer.
“I have been able to win six World Tour Finals and that is an amazing feeling,” said the 16-time grand slam champion.
“I know it is one of my greatest accomplishments and this was the strongest finish I have ever had in my career.”
Depending on fitness the Swiss should be in London on three occasions in 2012 for Wimbledon, the Olympics and the defence of his title at the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena.
“I am looking forward to next year, coming back to London, hopefully on three occasions, and this is going to be a very important place to play good tennis. I hope to be healthy when the Olympics do come around,” he added.
A gold medal is the one major honour that has eluded Federer over his career.
TORONTO – The struggling Los Angeles Lakers were unable to solve their mounting problems in the National Basketball Association’s most northern outpost on Sunday as the Toronto Raptors handed them a 108-103 defeat.
With the offseason addition of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Lakers created the NBA’s newest super team, rekindling fond memories of the team’s “Showtime” era from 1979-1989 with Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
But the season has not gone according to script and the Lakers (17-23) limped out of Toronto with only two more wins than the lowly Raptors (15-26), having lost five consecutive road games and sitting 11th in the 15-team Western Conference.
Toronto also entered the contest on a four-game slide but there is no such panic in Raptorland where the bar of expectations has been set significantly lower.
The Raptors may be a young team filled with promise but their roster does not include a player of the same pedigree found on the Lakers lineup.
In the midst of rebuild, Toronto coach Dwane Casey is not particularly disturbed by his team’s record but admitted he was surprised to find the Lakers in the same neighborhood.
“I would have thought they were nuts,” said Casey, when asked what he would have thought if someone had projected the Lakers and Raptors would have similar records.
“It’s tough, it takes time for those personalities and talents to come together. Miami went through it and it’s not easy. Just because you have great talent on your team doesn’t always mean everyone is going to click immediately.”
Approaching the midway point of the season time is running out on the Lakers to get their act together.
A coaching switch early in the season combined with a steady run of injuries Nash, Howard and Pau Gasol has not allowed the time for the Lakers considerable talents to gel.
“One thing I didn’t expect was that this would be the most challenging year in my career but that’s great, I’m always looking for a challenge,” said Nash. “We have high expectations ourselves, for me the expectations haven’t been met.
“We need time to play together, we’re a top 10 offense and we still have a long way to go. Improvement will come.”
The Lakers continued to misfire on Sunday, allowing the Raptors to take control in the opening quarter, building a 19-point lead and then holding on for the win.
Bryant, the league’s leading scorer, ended the opening half with just four points while Nash, who sits fifth on the all-time assists list, dished out one helper and Howard watched the end of the half in the locker room after being ejected after a second technical foul.
The Lakers showed flashes of their potential in the second half as Bryant finished with a game-high 26 points and Nash adding 16 points and nine assists but it was not enough to climb out of the early hole they had dug for themselves.
“Everybody wants to know what’s the reason, whose fault it is, I’ll just make it real easy; point the finger at me,” said Bryant. “Let me take all that. This way we don’t have to worry about that has a team.
“That’s part of my responsibility, I’ll take the arrows and we can just focus on playing together and figuring out how to get out of this ditch.”
Barcelona defender Carles Puyol could miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on an ongoing knee problem, club doctors confirmed on Saturday.
Puyol finally had the surgery on Friday evening after suffering with the problem for seven months since being taken off injured in a match against Getafe back in September.
“The time he will be out is dependent on him. It could be six weeks, two or three months,” said Doctor Ramon Cugat in a statement on the club’s website.
Puyol also had knee surgery last May which kept him out of the European Championships and although Cugat insisted the operation this time round wasn’t as serious as it was then, another of the club’s doctors, Ricard Pruna, said they needed to find a solution to the problem as soon as possible.
“The moment arrived when he couldn’t play any more with these problems. By operating now and taking advantage of the international break, there is a chance he could be back in time for the end of the season, so we decided to do it just now.
“If we hadn’t intervened now, there would have been the chance of aggravating the problem. The end of the season was approaching and we needed to find a solution so this was the best option.”
Pruna also spoke about the ongoing injury problems being suffered by Xavi Hernandez.
The midfielder returned from a hamstring injury for the match against AC Milan in midweek but has been ruled out Sunday’s visit of Rayo Vallecano after aggravating the problem.
“It worries us that there is an injury in the thigh that is dragging on,” said Pruna.
“The consequences after the Milan match were minimal but it is not an injury that is cured.”
Despite his injury, Xavi was called into the Spain squad yesterday for the matches against Finland and France later in the month, but Pruna insisted contact had been made with the Spanish football federation and that the 33-year-old would not play if he is not fit.
“We have spoken with the doctors of the national team and they have told us they will look after him and decide what is the best thing to do.”
British hopeful Laura Robson has failed to progress into the second round of the Swedish Open after succumbing to a 6-4 7-6 defeat at the hands of Anabel Medina Garrigues.
The 18-year-old headed into the tournament on a high after becoming the second British woman since 1992 to reach a WTA semi-final at the Italy Open last week. However, the Brit couldn’t carry her form into Bastad as she struggled against Garrigues.
While Robson did clinch four breaks during the contest, her Spanish opponent had enough to handle the Brit’s groundstrokes and she stormed through to the second round, leaving Robson with eight double faults over the course of the match.
Robson will join up with fellow Brit Heather Watson for the doubles tournament at the London Olympics this summer.
A 56-year-old India-born football fan was beaten up badly by seven men and punched in the face and head more than 18 times on a packed tram in UK, as 200 onlookers did nothing to save him from the allegedly racist attackers.
Prakash Patel, a bank officer, was travelling home alongwith his 21-year-old daughter Devyani Patel after watching a football match when he was beaten up, leaving him with black eyes and concussion, local media reported on Sunday.
“The tram carriage was so full of people that the battered bank worker stayed upright after he was knocked out. Yet only his distraught daughter Devyani tried to push the attackers away from her father,” the Mirror reported.
“I thought my dad was going to die. I was trying to pull these men off him, but no one intervened. It’s disgusting, nobody did anything,” Devyani said, adding she felt as if she was in a TV drama as passengers pushed forward to get a better view in Stretford, Greater Manchester.
Prakash, a Manchester United fan, was left with black eyes, a swollen face and concussion.
“These men came on and started making indecent racist comments… Myself and my daughter felt distressed about it so I said ‘please behave’ and that’s when it started,” he said.
“They were hitting me in the face, the eyes, the head… There must have been more than 200 people just in our carriage but nobody did anything or said anything. They all just stood and watched us,” Prakash was quoted as saying by the Mirror.
Devyani, an estate agent who lives with her parents in New Moston, took her dad to hospital where he was treated for concussion and given a scan.
“We are big United fans and have been going to Old Trafford for 25 years and never had any trouble… But I will only ever watch Manchester United in a box now. Never again will I sit in the stands,” Prakash added.
In the CCTV footage showed at the police station, the passengers were seen jumping up to get a better view of the attack on him in the tram.
Greater Manchester Police are appealing for witnesses to the attack, which happened after the United versus Fulham match on January 26.
Ten-man Everton sounded a probable death knell on Manchester City’s title defence with a hard-fought 2-0 win over the Premier League champions at Goodison Park on Saturday.
Despite the second-half dismissal of Steven Pienaar, Everton dug deep for a victory that means Manchester United can go 15 points clear at the top of the table by winning at home to Reading later.
Leon Osman made the breakthrough for the hosts in the 32nd minute, meeting Seamus Coleman’s lay-off with a swerving shot from 25 yards that deceived goalkeeper Joe Hart and flew into the top-left corner.
The momentum tilted in City’s favour with half an hour to play when Pienaar was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for a shin-high foul on Javi Garcia.
However, Everton’s second-choice goalkeeper Jan Mucha kept the visitors at bay, producing fine saves to thwart Carlos Tevez, James Milner and Pablo Zabaleta.
City were also denied a clear penalty in the 86th minute when referee Lee Probert awarded the visitors a free-kick for a hand-ball by Marouane Fellaini that occurred inside the 18-yard box.
Substitute Nikica Jelavic curled in Everton’s second goal in injury time to seal a win that lifted David Moyes’ side to fifth place and banished memories of last weekend’s abject loss to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup.
“We have had one or two dips but that was more like us today,” said Everton manager Moyes.
“I thought we had a bad performance last week, which the fans rightly reminded us about, but we just reminded them they are supporting a really good team.”
On the Fellaini hand-ball, City assistant coach David Platt told Sky Sports: “You’ve just played it to me (on a television replay) and it’s not even on the line of the area, it’s three yards inside.
“People can draw their own conclusions, but we didn’t get it. Perhaps we could have got more out of the game if the decisions had gone for us.”
Later on Saturday, Arsenal will bid to put their Champions League elimination by Bayern Munich behind them when they visit Swansea City.
Liverpool go in search of a fourth consecutive league victory at Southampton, while Stoke City host West Bromwich Albion.
There is also a potentially crucial relegation tussle at Villa Park, where bottom club Queens Park Rangers visit fourth-bottom Aston Villa.