Thursday 31 March 2011

Roy Keane Supports Darbyshire Cycle

Roy Keane 

Roy Keane will join Ruby Walsh, Sean Kelly, the Munster rugby team and other Irish athletes and celebrities in Cork on June 19th to see off riders in the Munster Rugby Cycle in aid of Paul Darbyshire and Motor Neurone Disease Ireland.

Rick Sergent, Andy Pearson, Steve Scott and Robbie Donal will be setting off on a 300-mile cycle starting in Cork and finishing in Warrington, England. 

Darbyshire, 41, played with Warrington Wolves for 14 years and will step down as head of conditioning and fitness at Munster at the end of the season after being diagnosed with the disease.

Ajax Board resign in Cruyff Row

Ajax's board of directors announced their resignation on Wednesday over a disagreement with Johan Cruyff over how the club should be run.

The directors, including the chairman, Uri Coronel, made the announcement this evening at a meeting of the club's council members, a statement on the Ajax website confirmed.

"We are not bigger than Ajax," Coronel was quoted as telling a news conference. "Johan Cruyff is not just anyone. He's a demi-god here or maybe a whole god."

The directors are set to remain in positions until successors are appointed.

Cruyff, who won three European Cups with Ajax from 1971 to 1973, returned to the club in February to advise on technical, financial and association issues.

He met the club's board last week and advised them that organisational and personnel changes were needed if the Amsterdam club were to return to their former glories.

The club have not won the Eredivisie title since 2004, while their last European success came in the Champions League in 1995.

According to reports, Cruyff called for the head coach, Frank de Boer, to be given a greater responsibility in the running of the club and wanted former players like Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk to be given roles. The chief executive, Rik van den Boog , though, was not willing to implement all of his suggestions.

The directors said the ongoing unrest was damaging the club. The statement on said: "The directors of Ajax find that the process, and particularly the resulting and ongoing turmoil surrounding the club, is extremely harmful to Ajax."

Cruyff was quoted as telling the television station AT5: "It's never good for a club when the board resign."

Ajax currently lie third in the Eredivisie table and were knocked out in the last 16 of the Europa League by Spartak Moscow.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Sneijder Excited About Dublin Super Cup

Wesley Sneijder

Inter Milan and Holland star Wesley Sneijder has spoken about his excitement about playing in the Dublin Super Cup this summer. The new pre-season tournament that will see Snejider and his Inter Milan team mates compete against Manchester City, Celtic and a team made of the best players from the Airtricity League.

Speaking ahead of the Dublin Super Cup, the Inter Milan stated that his team were determined to win the tournament, "I think to have an opportunity to play against the big teams that are going to be there is always nice and of course a tournament is always nice to win. It's always nice to win prizes like we did last year, even if it is just a tournament. We still want to win it of course. Of course I know the fans in Ireland love their football. I am looking forward to playing there because the country is so passionate about football," he said.

Sneijder insisted that playing big teams ahead of the start of the season plays a big part in their preparation for the season ahead, "It is always important to start directly against big teams which is better for everybody, to improve yourself. It will be hard. It will be hot in Dublin this time, during the tournament and I suppose it will not rain, but it will be great to play against big teams especially in pre-season."

Stephen Kelly Admits Captaincy Honour

Giovanni Trapattoni

Defender Stephen Kelly admits the honour bestowed on him by manager Giovanni Trapattoni of captaining the Republic of Ireland in tonight's '3' International friendly against Uruguay came as a surprise.

At 27-years-old and 20 full caps to his name, Kelly is no novice but the thrill of leading the team out of the tunnel onto the Aviva Stadium pitch will be one of the career highlights for the Fulham defender.

He said: "It's a huge honour, a privilege. The boss just told me this morning and it's something you always kind of dream of when you're a kid. First of all it's to represent your country and then to lead it out. It's one of the greatest honours you could possibly ask for."

"I don't think I'll be nervous," he says. "I've been around for a long enough at this stage to not be nervous. I'll just look to get on, do well and enjoy it as much as I can, to be honest.

Kelly took brief ownership of the armband in October 2009 when Ireland played South Africa in Limerick, after skipper for the night Kevin Doyle left the pitch.

This occasion sees Kelly start as captain, an opportunity he's relishing.

"I suppose there's a little bit more pressure but that's football," he insisted.

"These are the kind of things you have to deal with. I'm up for it and more than capable of taking it (the opportunity) with both hands. I have not played for a couple of months, but fitness-wise, I have always been an extremely fit player and being able to come in and play ninety minutes now, I don't think will be a problem to me."

Though known conventionally as a full-back, Kelly first drew the attention of Tottenham Hotspur as a centre-back playing for Dublin club Belvedere and the Ireland Under-17s.

It's a role he's drifted away from as his career has developed but one he comfortable filling.

He said: "It's just an opportunity at centre back to show the boss what I can do in that position, to make an impact on the team hopefully and lead from the defence.

"I think whoever was playing against them (Uruguay) is going to find it difficult.

"They're World Cup semi-finalists so of course it's going to be a tough game. But it's a good opportunity for the lads to make a good impression on the boss, to show him what they're capable of doing. I think everyone's going to have that in mind. Against better opposition you have to perform better yourself. That is what everyone will be looking to do, raise their game and compete with them."

Both teams will be allowed make six substitutions during tonight's friendly match.

REP OF IRELAND: Westwood (Coventry City); Foley (Wolves), O'Dea (Ipswich Town), Kelly (Fulham), Clarke (Aston Villa); Lawrence (Portsmouth), Green (Derby County), Fahey (Birmingham City), Keogh (Bristol City); McCarthy (Wigan Athletic), Long (Reading).

Real Mourinho Causes England Ripples

Fabio Capello

The breaks to the domestic league schedule appear to always leave Real Madrid manager, Jose Mourinho, at a loose end as once again he has caused a stir - even though La Liga is also on an international break - with an interview in French magazine L’Equipe. Not so long ago he was linked with the Portuguese National Manager position, following the premature departure of former Manchester United Number Two, Carlos Queiroz, despite his full time role at Real Madrid. 

In September Spanish sports daily, MARCA, reported that Mourinho had been seen with the President of the Portuguese Football Federation, Gilberto Madail, and his agent, Jorge Mendes, at a dinner in a Madrid restaurant. It led to 
MARCA reporting that Gilberto Madail was looking to "loan" Mourinho for the Portuguese national team and have him take charge of matches last October against Iceland and Denmark after Queiroz had been was sacked following a poor start on the road to Ukraine and Poland, 

With no replacement names in the offing at the time, it seemed the Federation at the time had designs on Jose Mourinho. When that received little interest from Real Madrid the job went to Paulo Bento. 

While Spain play their two international fixtures this week Mourinho claimed he was on the verge of accepting the job in 2007 after Steve McClaren was sacked following England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008. In the end Jose had a change of heart and decided to stay in club management. 

Speaking to l'Equipe he said : "I was hours away - I almost signed up for the England national team. 

"But at the last minute I began thinking, 'I am going to coach a national side, there will be one match a month and the rest of the time I will be in my office or overseeing matches. And then to have to wait until the summer to compete in a European Championship or a World Cup?' No, it wasn't for me. 

"So at the last moment I pulled back, preferring to wait for the right job to come along, a good club, a challenge that could motivate me. That was Inter (Milan).'' 

The Football Association were quick to respond to Mourinho's comments. "Fabio was our first choice for England manager,'' a spokesman said. "We have made that clear from the outset.'' 

Fabio Capello was unimpressed at being told of Mourinho's admission, insisting: 'I don't speak about the relationship with the other clubs, out of respect for other managers. 

'I don't like to speak about my relationship with the clubs, with other people. These are my personal secrets. I'll never tell you about what really happened in my career. I think it's serious.' 

Although the FA explored the possibility of recruiting Mourinho they always suspected he would choose to remain in club management and they insist, he was never the preferred option to the Italian. When Capello was informed of Mourinho's interview, he insisted at first that he did not care. 

'This is a question for the chairman who chose me, not a question for me,' he said. 'Every time a club or a different national team decides to choose a manager, they decide to speak with a lot of managers. It's normal. It's not different.' 

Mourinho left Chelsea in September 2007, two months before McClaren was dismissed, and took up his role as head coach at Inter in June 2008. After guiding Inter to the Champions League he then left for Real Madrid in the summer of 2010. 

"When I left Chelsea, the first month was fantastic. I went to Africa, to Japan, I did tons of things I had not been able to do,'' he added. "The second month was also good, but from the third onwards it was horrible, just awful.'' 

Mourinho admitted he also came close to taking the Paris St Germain job after leaving Stamford Bridge, but decided against it as he was not convinced by Ligue 1's quality. 

Asked why he did not take the PSG post, he said: "I do not know. Perhaps because of the feeling that England, Spain or Italy are more powerful leagues, and we must make the most of the best years of our career by working at the highest level.'' 

With Real Madrid returning to action on Sunday, when they entertain Sporting de Gijon at the Santiago Bernabeu in la Liga , followed by the visit of Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal, 

With a busy month of April ahead Jose Mourinho should have less time on his hands to think about all such things. 

Monday 28 March 2011

Owens to Referee Leinster Heineken Semi

Nigel Owens

Nigel Owens (Wales) will referee the clash of former champions when Leinster and Leicester Tigers meet in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, 9 April. The leading Welsh official, who controlled the 2008 and 2009 Heineken Cup finals, will be in charge of his fifth tournament quarter-final and his 54th Heineken Cup match overall.

ERC, the tournament organisers, have announced the referee appointments with Leinster Rugby Referees official Alain Rolland (Ireland) getting the quarter-finals underway when he takes charge of the all-French contest between Perpignan and Toulon at Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium earlier on the Saturday.

Romain Poite (France) will referee his first Heineken Cup knock-out match when Northampton Saints and Ulster Rugby clash at stadium:mk in Milton Keynes in the first of the Sunday contests.

Wayne Barnes (England) will referee the other all-French affair between Biarritz Olympique and defending champions Toulouse at Estadio Anoeta in San Sebastian which will bring the curtain down on the quarter-finals.

(All Kick-Offs LOCAL Time)

16.30 Perpignan v Toulon - Olympic Stadium, Barcelona - Alain Rolland (I)
FR2 / Canal+ / Sky Sports / Sky Italia

18.00 Leinster v Leicester Tigers - Aviva Stadium, Dublin - Nigel Owens (W)
Sky Sports / Canal+ Sport / Sky Italia / RTE* / ITV4*

14.00 Northampton Saints v Ulster Rugby - stadium:mk, Milton Keynes - Romain Poite (F)
Sky Sports / Sky Italia / RTE*

17.30 Biarritz Olympique v Toulouse - Estadio Anoeta, San Sebastian - Wayne Barnes (E)
FR2 / Sky Sports / Sky Italia

Stephen Kelly Captains Ireland

Marco Tardelli and Stephen Kelly

Fulham defender Stephen Kelly will captain the Republic of Ireland senior team for the first time when they face Uruguay tomorrow (Tuesday) night in the 3 International friendly at the Aviva Stadium (7.45pm).

Keiren Westwood continues in goal, while Kelly will be partnered by Darren O'Dea in central-defence, with Kevin Foley and Ciaran Clarke filling the full-back berths.

Across midfield will be Liam Lawrence, Paul Green, Keith Fahey and Andrew Keogh with the striker's berths handed to James McCarthy and Shane Long.

REP OF IRELAND: Westwood (Coventry City); Foley (Wolves), O'Dea (Ipswich Town), Kelly (Fulham), Clarke (Aston Villa); Lawrence (Portsmouth), Green (Derby County), Fahey (Birmingham City), Keogh (Bristol City); McCarthy (Wigan Athletic), Long (Reading).
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Sunday 27 March 2011

Macedonia Defeated by Ireland at AVIVA

The Republic of Ireland needed a wonder save from goalkeeper Keiren Westwood to pick up three precious points in an eventful EURO 2012 qualifying tie at the Aviva Stadium and climb into joint leadership of Group B.

The drawn match in Yerevan between Armenia and visitors Russia meant that Ireland’s three points hoisted them onto the same points total as Russia and Slovakia, who matched Ireland’s progress by defeating Andorra.

Ireland’s win was largely the product of a high-powered opening by Ireland that produced goals from Aiden McGeady and Robbie Keane within 21 minutes of kick-off. These goals catapulted them into a dominant position but in the final analysis this early lead survived only because of a teak-tough defensive performance throughout a tense second half.

Ireland were grateful for their early return as Macedonia showed skill and imagination as they sought an equalising goal. And they would have claimed one as well but for the alert Westwood, whose brave advance to deny Macedonia’s Trichkovski in the 75th minute was of critical importance.

The game was notable for the excellence of Ireland’s remarkable Damien Duff, whose exploits on the right wing testified to his current good form. It was also significant for Robbie Keane who brought his international total of goals to a marvellous 46 and for the arrival of the promising James McCarthy, who was introduced, as promised, for the closing minutes.

Richard Dunne again was outstanding in Ireland’s defence as he shook off the effects of an injury that had kept him out of club football in recent weeks. But regrettably he was shown a yellow card in the second half and, as a consequence of picking up two yellow cards in the tournament, he will miss the return match in Macedonia in June which is sure to test the strength of Ireland’s championship challenge.

The match looked hugely promising for Ireland early on for their opening salvo was breath-taking and for 25 minutes they operated on a different plane to Maceedonia. They were sharp and incisive in their work, diligent and committed in their tackling and they executed their football at a pace that suggested they were intent on nurying Macedonia.

A goal within two minutes was the catalyst for a performance that was full of positive intent. It came from Aiden McGeady, a first goal in his 38th international, and proof positive that manager Giovanni Trapattoni had encouraged his strike force to shoot more often.

Kevin Doyle’s contribution was critical as was his input in that sparkling opening spell. He retained possession under heavy pressure and succeeded in sliding a pass to McGeady. The winger turned inside on to his right foot inside Shumulikoski and from 18 yards he fired right-footed past goalkeeper Nuredinoski.

This was more than anybody could have hoped for and Ireland grew in stature and in ambition. They used their talented wingers effective, Damien Duff on the right and McGeady on the left, and controlled midfield.

Darron Gibson and Glenn Whelan were immense, powerful in the tackle and using the ball effectively. They dominated Macedonia and Ireland restricted the play to Macedonia’s half as they eagerly sought to add to their lead.

Duff ran the experienced Goran Popov a merry dance as he conjured up one of his most effective performances and he illustrated his confidence by cutting inside for a right-foot shot that was narrowly wide after seven minutes. Keane forced a corner off the goalkeeper as he fought to reach a headed deflection from Doyle as a second goal seemed imminent.

It duly arrived after 21 minutes. A free for Ireland 30 yards from goal was struck powerfully by Gibson. The ball flew through to goalkeeper Nuredinoski and as he spilled the ball Robbie Keane struck like a flash to knock the rebound into the net off the stricken goalkeeper.

This was Keane’s 46th goal in his 105th international – a testament to his unfailing dedication to the Irish cause. Keane’s career is a long and enduring record of selfless work for Ireland and his spectacular return of 46 goals is a glowing tribute to his commitment.

Sadly the goal was preceded by an unfortunate accident that forced the withdrawal of Kevin Doyle. The Wolves striker was a huge influence on the game until he fell awkwardly when hit from behind as he rose for header. He immediately signalled for a replacement and his shuffling departure reflected damage to his left knee.

Ireland had to operate with ten players for more than three minutes while Shane Long waited on the half-way line to replace his former club colleague. Trapattoni ran agitatedly down the touchline and encroached on the pitch as he sought to facilitate Long’s introduction but in vain as the referee studiously ignored him.

The second goal gave Ireland the impetus to maintain their push and Long was only seven minuted on the pitch when he found himself clear with only defender Demiri blocking his path to goal. Long forced him to back pedal into the penalty area but angled his left foot shot across goal and wide when it looked as Ireland would secure the third goal they needed to make it safe.

Instead their position was made precarious in the extreme as Macedonia gingerly played their way into the game. They were always stretched when Ireland came forward but as Ireland appeared to be drawn into a more cautious and circumspect approach so Macedonia prospered.

Gone was the fire and brimstone approach that enabled them force their will on the game as their work-rate dropped and Macedonia found the time and space to influence the trend of the game in midfield. Shumulikoski exerted a growing influence and with centre-forward Goran Pandev picking up clever positions and attracting a lot of possession, they forced Ireland into an increasingly defensive role.

Richard Dunne was on top of his form and he needed to be to control Pandev. Macedonia picked their passes with accuracy and consistently and the pressure on Ireland’s defence grew ostensibly as they won an increasing amount of possession.

Macedonia were technically very good but as Ireland defended with discipline and good organisation, Macedonia were repeatedly repulsed as they sought in vain to thread a path through a dense picket fence of Irish defenders. The sustained period of Macedonia pressure paid off on the call of half-time as Pandev turned a beautiful pass through a narrow gap to Trichkovski, who turned adroitly inside Dunne’s tackle and beat Keiren Westwood from 12 yards.

The second half lacked the sparkle and spectacle of the opening 45 minute, principally because Macedonia were a much more potent force and enjoyed more possession. Ireland could not recover the attacking verve that had so decorated their opening play and scoring opportunities were as rare as a positive bank account in these straitened times.

Duff, a persistent threat to Macedonia on Ireland’s right wing, struck a volley from McGeady’s cross narrowly wide after 58 minutes and Keane tried but failed narrowly to send Long in on goal with an attempted nut-meg on an opposing defender in the 64th minute as the flow of the game was firmly re-directed towards Westwood’s goal.

It was a battle for Ireland and they needed an inspiring save from Westwood in the 75th minute to retain their slim advantage. The defence was caught too square as Macedonia played a ball over the top of Ireland’s defenders for goalscorer Trichkovski. He was in space, just twelve yards from goal but Westwood’s advance was heroic as he smothered the shot at goal and rescued a precious win for Ireland.

The game was evidence of how challenging this group will continue to be for Ireland must have greeted the final whistle with feelings of relief. The exuberant mood of the sparkling opening half-hour was chased from memory as Macedonia advanced in effect and ambition and Ireland know they will face a huge challenge when they travel to Skopje to face these opponents again in June.

Unfortunately they will not have the services of the influential Richard Dunne for he picked up his second yellow card of the tournament and will miss the game. And Ireland will be hoping that the magnificent Damien Duff and the elusive Aiden McGeady will retain their form and fitness as they seek to process a route through a competition that as unpredictable as the Ireland’s economic future.

Republic of Ireland: Keiren Westwood; Kevin Foley, Richard Dunne, Darren O’Dea, Kevin Kilbane; Damien Duff, Glenn Whelan, Darren Gibson (Keith Fahey 77), Aiden McGeady; Robbie Keane (James McCarthy 87), Kevin Doyle (Shane Long 20).

FYR Macedonia: Nuredinoski; Shikov, Grncharov, Noveski, Popov; Naumoski (Risticj 68), Shumulikoski, Demiri (Georgievski 84), Tasevski (Gjurovski 61), Trichkovski; Pandev.

Referee: Mr. Istvan Vad (Hungary).

Saturday 26 March 2011

Here's hoping not to have a Macedonia..

Glen Whelan [Nineteen 21 Photography]

The senior members of Ireland's squad know from experience how dangerous an opponent FYR of Macedonia can be with Ireland about to face Macedonia for the fifth time in competitive and chasing three points in a bid for a place in the UEFA EURO 2012 Championship final tournament in Ukraine/Poland.

The senior players in the squad - Damien Duff, Robbie Keane, Kevin Kilbane - will not need reminding of the manner in which FYR Macedonia unravelled Ireland's hopes of qualifying for the EURO 2000 finals in Belgium/Holland when it seemed the desired task had been completed.

Ireland had been drawn in a group with Yugoslavia, Croatia, Malta and the FYR Macedonia. And they had diligently advanced through the demanding competition to reach the point where a win over Macedonia in their final match in Skopje would clinch top spot in the group and an automatic qualifying place in the finals.

It is history now that Ireland led 1-0 through a goal from Niall Quinn after 18 minutes of that match in Skopje on October 9, 1999. But qualification for the finals was snatched from their grasp as Macedonia equalised with a goal in added time.

Ireland were obliged to go into a play-off with Turkey and lost in heart-breaking fashion to the ‘away' goal after the teams had drawn 1-1 in Dublin and 0-0 in Turkey.

Clearly Macedonia have the capacity to frustrate Ireland's hopes again. They have accumulated four points from their four games to date - three points behind Ireland and five behind leaders Russia. They lost 0-1 to Slovakia away, drew with Armenia at home, beat Andorra 2-0 away and lost 0-1 to Russia at home.

The return to their team of Inter Milan striker, Goran Pandev, after missing two games will give them a huge lift. Manager Mirsad Jonuz, perhaps emboldened by the return of the talented Pandev, has promised an attacking approach to the task of defeating Ireland.

The contest in Group B in so intense that any loss of points could be fatal, even at this stage. All the teams have played four matches and Russia enjoy an important advantage on nine points, with Ireland, Armenia and Slovakia all two points behind, FYR of Macedonia on four points and Andorra at the bottom without a point.

Republic of Ireland Play Macedonia

Defenders Darren O'Dea and Kevin Foley will join goalkeeper Keiren Westwood in tasting their first action in a competitive international on Saturday night when the Republic of Ireland host Macedonia in the UEFA 2012 European Championship qualifier at the Aviva Stadium (7.45pm).

Wolves full-back Foley fills the berth vacated by the injured John O'Shea while O'Dea, currently on loan at Ipswich Town from Celtic, gets the nod in central defence after Sean St Ledger failed to sufficiently recover in time from his knee complaint.

Republic of Ireland starting team v Macedonia : 
Westwood (Coventry City); Foley (Wolves), Dunne (Aston Villa), O'Dea (Celtic - on loan at Ipswich Town), Kilbane (Hull City - on loan at Huddersfield Town); McGeady (Spartak Moscow), Gibson (Manchester United), Whelan (Stoke City), Duff (Fulham); Keane (West Ham United), Doyle (Wolves).

Friday 25 March 2011

Johan Cruyff Asks for Real Apology

Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff called this week for Real Madrid to apologise after they were implicated in doping accusations against his former club. 

A Spanish radio station, COPE, quoted an unidentified Real Madrid "representative" as saying the club had asked the football federation to take drug testing more seriously and according to the radio station's March 13 report, Real Madrid could not understand how doctors with "questionable reputations" could work for Barcelona. 

It also cast doubt on doctors working for Valencia. 

Barcelona and Valencia have angrily denied the allegations and threatened legal action against the radio station, which has apologised for questioning the clubs' honesty without actually retracting the report. 

"The accusation is too serious, too brutal, for there not to have been apologies, and well-presented too," Cruyff said in his weekly column for the Catalan daily El Periodico de Catalunya. 

Apologies should have been given "by Real Madrid themselves," Cruyff said, not for being the accusing party but because they were implicated in the row albeit by others. 

Real president Florentino Perez reportedly personally telephoned his counterpart at Barcelona, Sandro Rosell, to deny he was the source of the radio station's story. 

Rivalry and sportsmanship were not mutually exclusive, Cruyff said, praising rival clubs including Real Madrid for showing support for Barcelona defender Eric Abidal, who had surgery to remove a liver tumour Thursday. 

Cruyff said his views about sportsmanship were confirmed by the doping accusations and, to a lesser extent, by the way the press poured scorn on Barcelona and Real Madrid's rivals in the Champions League quarter-finals. 

"It is hard for a sports player to show a gratuitous lack of due public respect to any rival. For those who are off the field, that is to say, those who are not and have not been sports players, it comes too easily." 

A three-time European Footballer of the Year, 63-year-old Cruyff started his career as a teenager at Ajax before going on to enjoy huge success with Barcelona, whom he then coached to the 1992 European Cup and four straight league titles between 1991 and 1994.

Thursday 24 March 2011

UCI Appeal Alberto Contador Case

Contador winner of 2010 Tour de France

The International Cycling Union (UCI) has confirmed it will ask sport's highest court to ban Tour de France winner Alberto Contador for doping.

The Spaniard tested positive for banned substance clenbuterol days before his 2010 Tour de France win last July.

But the Spanish Cycling Federation (RFEC) cleared Contador in February this year.

The 28-year-old's case will now be decided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne and he now faces a possible two-year ban and the loss of his Tour de France victory. However the Spaniard can continue racing until the CAS gives its verdict.

Clenbuterol is a banned fat-burning, muscle-building drug, but the Spanish federation accepted Contador's explanation that he had inadvertently consumed the drug in contaminated beef.

The World Anti-Doping Agency regards clenbuterol as a zero-tolerance drug, though its rules allow athletes to escape a sanction if they prove "no fault or negligence" on their part.

Contador had minute traces of the drug in his urine samples taken in the closing days of the Tour.

The UCI announced last September that Contador was provisionally suspended and asked the Spanish federation to investigate.

The federation's disciplinary committee originally proposed a one-year ban for Contador in January this year, but his legal team then offered new evidence and he was cleared to race three weeks later.

Days before the decision, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero had said that there was "no legal reason to justify sanctioning Contador".

Contador has since resumed his career with new team Saxo Bank-Sungard and completed two races.

He was fourth in the Tour of Algarve in Portugal and won the Vuelta of Murcia in Spain. He currently leads the week-long Tour of Catalonia.

Contador is one of only five cyclists to win the three Grand Tours - the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Spanish Vuelta.

He also won the Tour de France in 2007 and 2009, but was prevented from defending his first title in 2008 because his Astana team was banned for doping offences at the previous year's race.

Only one cyclist has lost a Tour de France title for doping - American Floyd Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 victory.

The UCI's statement on Thursday said: "The International Cycling Union today decided - within the time frame stipulated by the regulations - to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the Spanish Cycling Federation's finding in the case of Alberto Contador.

"The decision to appeal comes after an in-depth study of the file received from the [Spanish Federation]."

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Real Madrid Hoping for a Busy April

Real Madrid will play at least seven games in April: four in La Liga, the Copa del Rey final and the two legs of the Champions League quarterfinals against Tottenham Hotspur 

If Real Madrid were to eliminate the English side, they would then  play the first leg of semifinals on 27 April at the Bernabeu, which would force them to face Zaragoza in Madrid on 30 April, as the return leg would take place on 3 May. If that were to pass, Mourinho's men would play a match every three days.

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Bryan Robson to Join United Asian Tour

Bryan Robson

Manchester United and England legend Bryan Robson will take part in a three-city Asian charity tour despite recent surgery for throat cancer, organisers said on Wednesday. 

United's longest serving captain said he was "extremely lucky" after his successful operation on March 3, and would attend fund-raising dinners in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong next month. 

"The prognosis is good, so I count myself extremely lucky and am even more committed to raising funds to help improve the lives of vulnerable youngsters," Robson said. 

"I have been overwhelmed by the support of United fans and well-wishers, and I hope everyone in Asiajoins me in supporting these events." 

Former United striker Andrew Cole said it was "fantastic" that Robson was joining the tour, which will raise money for the club's charitable foundation and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). 

"It is fantastic news that Bryan will be joining me on the tour. We are both looking forward to seeing all our fans across Asia, and really making a difference to the children there who need help the most," said Cole. 

Masi RBS Player of the Championship

Andrea Masi

Andrea Masi, Italy’s powerful back, has today been announced as the official RBS Player of the Championship for the 2011 RBS 6 Nations. Over 17,000 votes were registered ensuring that the RBS Player of the Championship award was won by an Italian for the first time. 

On receiving the trophy, Andrea commented: 
“It has been a Championship of highs and lows for the Italian team, our win against France will go down in rugby history but to finish sixth frustrated us all. However, to be named the RBS Player of the Championship is a fantastic way to end what has been one of the most competitive Championships I can remember. We have worked hard this year and can be proud of our achievements. Italian rugby continues to strengthen and we are very happy with our progress as a team. To be the first Italian voted to win this award by the fans is a huge compliment.” 

The 2011 RBS Player of the Championship was decided as a result of a public vote, hosted on The shortlist was compiled of winners of the RBS Man of the Match award from the first four weekends. Andrea received his for Italy’s historic victory over France, scoring a try in that game as well as in their tie against Scotland. 

Andrea Masi won his RBS 6 Nations Player of the Championship Award whilst securing over 30% of the votes whilst Fabio Semenzato, also on the shortlist, came in second with just under 12%. 

The two Italians were closely followed by Sean O’Brien of Ireland and Toby Flood of RBS 6 Nations Champions England, both gaining just over 10% of the votes.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

No Change in Champions Final Prices

Uefa has ruled out any change to the ticket prices for the Champions League final at Wembley in May, despite Michel Platini admitting they were too expensive.

The cheapest ticket on public sale for the final on 28 May will be £150 plus a £26 booking fee and Platini, the Uefa president, said family tickets should be half the price they are on sale for.

But Uefa's general secretary, Gianni Infantino, said at a news conference in Paris: "The ticket prices for Wembley will not change – the ticket sales have already started and the president expressed his opinion about that."

The final will be played on a Saturday for the second time – a move Platini championed to enable more families to attend.

Platini said in the French sports daily L'Equipe: "It's good that we have been alerted about it and we are going to look at it again in the future", adding that the pricing "isn't brilliant".

Sunday 20 March 2011

Real Win Derby at Atletico Madrid

Jose Mourinho was extremely satisfied with his men's performance against Atletico Madrid in Saturday night's derby.

Real Madrid used a defensive midfield and looked to make fast counterattacks through Cristiano Ronaldo, Ozil and Benzema. The team had two chances on goal before scoring the opener on the 11-minute mark: Benzema controlled the ball, entered the box and defeated De Gea with a slightly lobbed shot. Atletico reacted fiercely and forced Casillas to spectacularly save shots by Aguero and Reyes, amongst others. Ozil scored the team's second strike in the 33rd minute from a strange shot that confused De Gea and forced him to make a mistake.

Atletico tried to breach the gap after half-time. Forlan put Iker Casillas to the test again in the 47th minute and the goalkeeper made a sensational save. Real Madrid kept trying to net another strike to sentence the match and Cristiano came close on the 65-minute mark, but his header went over the crossbar. Ozil devised all of the team's counterattacks in pursuit of a goal. Mourinho decided to bring Adebayor on for Benzema, and two minutes later, Di Maria came on for Ronaldo.

Real Madrid started to show exhaustion from their Champions League exploits in the final 15 minutes of the match. Mourinho made Arbeloa come on for Lass to strengthen the defence (81') and, when everything seemed to be over, Aguero managed to defeat Casillas inside the box, adding tension to the derby. Mario Suarez nearly scored in injury time, but his soft shot was grabbed by Casillas just before the blow of the whistle.

Jose Mourinho:
"My players showcased tremendous sacrifice for all Madridismo to see and feel. They gave their all on the pitch."

"I told my men history and tradition don't play the game before we faced Lyon. Every match is different and we had to do our best to win. Atletico grow more anxious to win a derby with each passing year. We completely dominated the match in the first half and they reacted emotionally after half-time. We managed to take three important points while lacking our full strength."

"The squad was tired and we couldn't afford to be less compact as a team. I knew the system I used today would keep us that way and also well positioned. This would help us to better control the match. I'm forced to use three defensive midfielders if I'm not allowed more time to rest."

"Casillas was fantastic. I would like my goalkeeper to have less work to do in a game, and he had a lot to do tonight. The difference lied in the physical and psychological potential of a team that spent all week preparing for the match, and that of a side that was tired. Even I was tired. We felt this exhaustion in the second half. We defended as well as we could and eventually won an important league match. It was a great victory. The championship is far from over."

"I didn't want the championship to end today and Cristiano Ronaldo is very important to us. We took the risk of playing him, but you have to take each match as it comes."

"The referee did well in a difficult match with a lot of pressure. He was very professional."

Felix Magath Back at Wolfsburg

Magath back at Wolfsburg

Felix Magath's whirlwind week will culminate in a trip to Stuttgart on Sunday as his second stint at the Wolfsburg helm kicks off with a key encounter at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.

Only 48 hours after leaving Schalke by mutual consent on Wednesday, Magath secured a return to the club he left two years ago to move to Gelsenkirchen.

Magath led the Wolves to an unexpected league title in 2009 but the club's fortunes have waned since his departure, and they head into tomorrow's match mired in the relegation zone after a run of four defeats in five since parting company with Steve McClaren last month.

Magath admits he needed no cajoling when the offer to return to the club came through.

"When I left Wolfsburg after the amazing success, there was a lot of sadness," he said.

"I was always happy here. Of course the contact from Wolfsburg a few days ago came as a surprise, but I did not have to consider it for a second," he said.

Magath has not had long to prepare the relegation-threatened Wolves for tomorrow's basement battle at another of his former clubs.

"Even if Stuttgart are on the rise, I am optimistic that we can win something there," he said.

"I know that this is not going to be an easy task. We are going to have to get to know each other and we want to get something straight away from this trip to Stuttgart."

Stuttgart have gone through seven coaches since Magath left them in 2004, having led them to second place in the Bundesliga and to several notable successes in the Champions League.

Three changes at the helm have been made this season alone, with Bruno Labbadia the current incumbent, and he is slightly worried about the changes at Wolfsburg.

"They may have the same players, but we don't know what kind of ideas Felix Magath has," he said.

"He had great success with Wolfsburg and he still knows the majority of the team.

"He is going to give them a spark and that is definitely going to be an interesting match."

Nevertheless, Labbadia will be concentrating on his own side and trying to win a fourth straight match.

"The three wins in a row have given us a good position in the battle for relegation and a fourth would be incredibly important," he said.

Tamas Hajnal is a slight doubt for Stuttgart due to a thigh strain, but Cacau could be back in the squad after opting not to undergo surgery on a niggling groin injury.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Ireland Slam England's Hopes

England's Grand Slam dream turned into a nightmare in the Dublin rain as Ireland secured their first Six Nations win at their new home.

Captain Brian O'Driscoll once again led by example and marked the day with his 25th Six Nations try, which saw him eclipse Ian Smith's Championship record from 1933.

Tommy Bowe also touched down and RBS man-of-the-match Jonathan Sexton won his out-half duel with Toby Flood hands down, kicking 14 points and setting up Bowe's score.

Speaking afterwards, Sexton said: "We desperately wanted to finish on a high. We've set a standard now and we hope to continue that to the World Cup in New Zealand later in the year.

"We said when we were losing that we weren't that far away from where we wanted to be.

"We knew what we were doing wrong and we tried to ignore the criticism and we stuck together and got the performance we were looking for today."

It was Ireland's seventh win in their last eight clashes with England and saw the side craft a performance full of energy, controlled aggression and intelligent, heads-up rugby.

Ireland's scrum dominated the set piece, while their back row of Sean O'Brien, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip tore into the breakdown, tackled and carried the ball with an intensity England could not match.

The back-three of Bowe, Keith Earls and the returning Andrew Trimblethreatened every time they entered the attacking line, and hardly put a foot wrong in defence.

For England, it was simply a day to forget. They were the standard bearers over the opening four weekends of the Championship, but their play at the Aviva Stadium was riddled with mistakes and dropped balls.

They never looked like troubling Ireland's 17-3 half-time lead, which was founded on four Sexton penalties and Bowe's opportunist try.

This young England side will learn from this defeat and their manager Martin Johnson, with the Six Nations trophy most likely destined for London, can still take plenty of positives from their Championship campaign.

The visitors' early enterprise was undone by a huge Irish shove at the first scrum, which must have buoyed Mike Ross and his front row colleagues.

Some quick-thinking from Sexton, who quickly tapped a penalty near his 22, also caught England off guard. Full-back Earls chased his own hack downfield and Sexton's well-weighted kick to the left corner earned Ireland a foothold in English territory.

England's backs were penalised for coming up too quickly at the lineout and Sexton slotted the penalty to give Ireland an early lead.

Ireland were clearly fired up, much to the home fans' delight, and England were visibly rattled. The confidence spread throughout the Irish team as they continued to prosper while playing at a high tempo.

Johnson's men, who were missing injured captain Mike Tindall, made mistake after mistake and conceded five penalties in the first 20 minutes.

A careless offside at the kick-off gifted possession back to Ireland, and even when Eoin Reddan knocked on after a charge from O'Brien, England were pressurised in the scrum and lost possession.

Chris Ashton was penalised for a high tackle on Sexton and the out-half converted the resulting kick before Ireland carved England open beautifully.

In a breathless attack, Bowe burst onto Heaslip's offload and broke past two defenders but his pass, later in the move, was ruled forward as he looked to put O'Driscoll over in the left corner.

England tried to steady themselves and claw back some territory. Ashton looked for an opening, Alex Corbisiero took it on and Ireland were penalised for hands in the ruck.

But the usually reliable Flood hooked the penalty to the left and wide andDeclan Kidney's charges continued their onslaught, roaring back downfield and England's defence was in pieces.

Ben Foden mopped up after the lively Donncha O'Callaghan had fly-hacked into the England 22, but the visitors were caught offside as Heaslip charged forward.

Referee Bryce Lawrence awarded the penalty to Ireland and in a real show of intent, Sexton tapped it quickly and passed left for Bowe to step off his left and crash over for his third try in two games against England.

England finally got themselves on the scoreboard with a Flood penalty but Ireland were in complete control and could have scored twice more before the interval.

When Shontayne Hape was stripped of possession, powerful flanker Wallace broke clear. England scrambled well with Flood tackling him into touch but scrum half Ben Youngs threw the ball into the crowd, preventing a quick lineout, and was swiftly dispatched to the sin-bin.

Sexton landed his fourth penalty of the evening before Wallace went close again, only for referee Lawrence to rule that Paul O'Connell had knocked the ball forward in the build-up.

O'Connell, together with O'Callaghan, was a tower of strength for Ireland, bossing the lineouts and carrying energetically in the loose.

Youngs did not return after his 10 minutes off the pitch, with Johnson opting to bring on Danny Care. But England could not knock Ireland off their stride after the break and botched a lineout on their own five-metre line.

Ireland pressed for a second try and with 47 minutes on the clock, it duly arrived.

The chance looked lost when O'Callaghan's attempted pass dropped to the ground, but O'Driscoll scooped up the ball without breaking stride and darted over in the corner for his record-breaking try.

England made four more changes, with Steve Thompson and Jonny Wilkinson, two survivors from England's 2003 Grand Slam success at the old Lansdowne Road, among the players introduced.

Almost immediately, Thompson cleverly read Ireland's intentions at a lineout in their half and intercepted a pass from Reddan to gallop over for the try but Wilkinson could not add the extras.

England enjoyed more possession in the final quarter but they lacked penetration and direction, and Ireland kept them out of their 22 for the most part.

Replacement out-half Ronan O'Gara continued where Sexton left off, pinning England back with a couple of expertly-judged kicks to touch in worsening weather conditions.

The rain made for a greasy ball and a number of attacks were broken up by tigerish defending and handling errors as tiredness crept in for both sides.

Still, Ireland maintained a high level of performance right to the final whistle and England's best chance in the closing stages was thwarted by a hungry Heaslip who stripped Simon Shaw of possession as he drove towards the Irish line.

Previously, an alert Gordon D'Arcy had come to Ireland's rescue as he intercepted Ashton's pass, in front of the Irish posts, as the English winger looked for support.

Banahan Starts for England at Aviva

England's Matt Banahan

There are two changes in personnel in the Ireland back-line and also a positional switch. Keith Earls moves to full-back in place of Luke Fitzgerald.

Andrew Trimble comes into the team on the left wing for his first start in this year's Championship. Jonathan Sexton will start the game at out-half, with Ronan O'Gara moving to the replacements bench.

Eoin Reddan has been passed fit to start at scrum half, having recovered from the concussion he received in last Saturday's match against Wales.

The Ireland pack is unchanged for the fourth successive game, with lockPaul O'Connell set to win his 75th cap.

Commenting on the team selection, head coach Declan Kidney said: "If Luke has made any errors recently it's probably because he's tried too hard. He's probably been outstretching himself and his timing is just a small bit off.

"Andrew has been knocking on the door for quite some time, Keith has been going well and I just think it's a good combination for us to have this weekend.

"Andrew was showing great form up to the Six Nations, he was going really well for Ulster and then picked up an unfortunate bang. He's fought his way back through matches with Ulster and training with ourselves to justify his place.

"We've two good number 10s in Jonathan and Ronan. In the same way that I felt after the French match that it was right to give Ronan a go there, he got the next two...I just feel it's the right time to give Jonathan a start here."

Brian O'Driscoll, who will captain Ireland for the 75th time this weekend, added: "I'm really looking forward to Saturday. You always look forward to playing against the best sides and more often than not England are one of those.

"It's the first game for them at the Aviva Stadium. It's been a bit of a topsy turvy Six Nations for us, so hopefully we can finish off with a good performance and the result to match."

Meanwhile, Bath's Matt Banahan will start for England in their final game of the RBS 6 Nations Championship against Ireland.

Banahan takes over from the injured Mike Tindall and will win his 11th England cap at the Aviva Stadium.

His inclusion is the only change to the side that beat Scotland 22-16 last Sunday, with Saracens' David Strettle drafted onto the replacements bench.

Strettle made a try-scoring debut against Ireland at Croke Park in 2007 and is set to make his first appearance since facing New Zealand in Auckland in 2008.

Nick Easter from Harlequins, who took over the captaincy after Tindall suffered an ankle ligament injury against Scotland, leads the side again.

Mark Cueto will reach a personal milestone when he wins his 50th cap for England, six-and-a-half years after making his debut against Canada in 2004.

Meanwhile, Tindall will have further specialist assessment next week on the left ankle ligament injury that has ruled him out of Saturday's Grand Slam decider.

Along with the injured Lewis Moody, he will be with the squad in Dublin and the England medics will continue to liaise with their Gloucester counterparts on his treatment.

Friday 18 March 2011

The last Meeting...Spurs and Madrid

Harry Redknapp

Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur have never met in the European Cup before and only previously met in the quarterfinals of the 1984/85 UEFA Cup.

The first leg took place on March 6th 1985 at White Hart Lane when Real Madrid were coached by club legend, Amancio and striker Emilio Butragueño scored the victory goal on the 24-minute mark. 

The return leg at the Bernabeu ended in a 0-0 draw and Real went through to the next round eventually wiing the title by defeating Inter Milan (2-0 comeback at the Bernabeu) and Videoton (3-0 in Hungary; 0-1 in Madrid) in the semis and the final.

FIRST LEG: 06-03-85, White Hart Line (London)
Tottenham Hotspur - 0: Clemence, Perryman, Hughton, Miller (Dick, 83´), Stevens, Chiedozie, (Brooke, 62'), Hoddle, Hazard, Falco, Galvin, Crooks.
Real Madrid - 1: Miguel Angel, Chendo, Salguero, Sanchis, Camacho, Gallego, Stielike, Michel, Angel, Butragueño (Juanito, 80'), Valdano (Santillana, 87')
Goals: 0-1 Butragueño (24').
Referee: Casarin (ITA).

RETURN LEG: 20-03-85, Santiago Bernabeu Stadium
Real Madrid - 0: Miguel Angel, Chendo, Sanchis, Salguero, Camacho, Gallego, Michel, Angel, Pineda (San Jose, 89'), Butragueño (Lozano, 90'), Valdano.
Tottenham Hotspur - 0: Clemence, Thomas, Miller, Roberts, Hugthon, Perryman, Hazard, Hoddle, Galvin (Dick, 80'), Falco, Crooks (Brooke, 68').
Referee: Galler (SWI).