Tuesday 31 May 2011

Airtricity Teams Get Champions Draw

Airtricity League champions Shamrock Rovers have been seeded in the draw for the Second Qualifying Round of the UEFA Champions League.

The Hoops, along with Sligo Rovers, St Patrick's Athletic and Bohemians will enter the UEFA Champions League and Europa League draws in June with the most favourable odds in the history of Irish participation on the European stage.

St Pat's will also be seeded in the draws for both the First and Second Qualifying Rounds of the UEFA Europa League, while Bohemians will be seeded for the Second Qualifying Round as they are exempt from the First Qualifying Round.

By virtue of FC Porto winning the Europa League Cup rather than Sporting Braga, Sligo Rovers - as FAI Ford Cup winners - will be forwarded to the Third Qualifying Round of the UEFA Europa League.

This is because FC Porto do not require the title holder's place in the Europa League as they have qualified for the Champions League next season. 

Ireland is placed 29th on the access/ranking list. This would be the first time ever that an Irish club was exempted from two rounds of a European club competition.

As a result of FK Borac Banja Luka winning the League title in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rovers will now face one of the 17 unseeded sides for a place in the third qualifying round.

The Hoops will face one of the following clubs: Dacia Chisinau (Moldova), FC Pyunik Yerevan (Armenia), FK Borac Banja Luka (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Skonto Riga (Latvia), FC Fehérvár (Hungary), Bangor City (Wales), HB Torshavn (Faroe Islands), Linfield (Northern Ireland), Tobol Kustanai (Kazakhstan), F91 Dudelange (Luxembourg), Flora Tallinn (Estonia), Breidablik (Iceland), FC Valletta (Malta), Neftchi Baku (Azerbaijan), Shkendija Tetovo (FYR Macedonia), Skënderbeu Korçë (Albania) and FK Mogren (Montenegro).

Being seeded will give the Hoops an opportunity to make significant progress in Europe this summer. 

Victory in the Second Round would guarantee Shamrock Rovers a minimum of four extra European matches including a play-off for a place in the group stages of the Europa League, if required. 

Financially, it would also mean a minimum payment of €550,000 from UEFA - €330,000 of which is already guaranteed - and the club would also garner €130,000 should the Hoops qualify for the next round.

Rovers would also benefit to the tune of a further €90,000 should they fail to qualify for the Champions League group stages and move into the Europa League.

The draws for both stages of the UEFA Europa League will take place on June 20th.

FIFA Issue Warning to Jack Warner

Chuck Blazer

Jack Warner has been reported to FIFA for allegedly violating his ban, it has been revealed.

Warner has been suspended from all football-related activity pending an inquiry into bribery allegations but has been reported for breaching the terms of that ban.

Chuck Blazer, the USA FIFA member who blew the whistle on the bribery claims, said the CONCACAF president had still been getting involved in the business of the confederation.

Blazer said Warner had been meeting associations and that a statement from acting CONCACAF president Lisle Austin had come from Warner’s aide.

Blazer told Press Association Sport: “We have clear evidence of a violation of his suspension and we have reported that to the FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke.

He added: “He has also been meeting with [CONCACAF] members, which is against the rules of the suspension.”

Warner this afternoon made public a letter he had written to the 25 members of the Caribbean Football Union - an action in itself that could be a breach of this suspension - urging them to vote for Sepp Blatter in tomorrow's election and make no protest.

The letter states: “I, Jack Warner, a servant and believer in the principles of this beautiful game do humbly besiege you, my brothers and sisters from the Caribbean Football Union to desist from initiating any protest action at tomorrow’s FIFA Congress.

“I know many of you are hurting and it is only human nature that you would want to demonstrate your anger but despite all we must not fuel a fire set by others to incinerate all that we strive for.

“At our last meeting we agreed as a union to support the incumbent Joseph Sepp Blatter in his quest to regain the presidency. I wish to assure you nothing has changed – our mandate was set then and despite it all we must fulfil it.

“The battles I have fought over the last week are my burdens to bear; my shoulders are broad and skin is insulated to the verbal attacks I am subjected to daily. This is now my battle. I am humbled by all the support I continue to receive. Let us not be detracted for your duty is to football.”

Scholes Calls Time on United Playing Days

Paul Scholes at Wembley

Manchester United's Paul Scholes announced his retirement on Tuesday bringing an  end to his playing career at 36.

In 1994 Scholes made his United debut and ended his career following 676 appearances.

The midfielders retirement came after he helped the club win a record 19th league title, the 10th of his career, and his last game was Saturday's Champions League final loss to Barcelona.

"This was not a decision I've taken lightly but I feel now is the right time for me to stop playing," he said.

The famously low key Scholes added: "I am not a man of many words but I can honestly say that playing football is all I have ever wanted to do and to have had such a long and successful career at Manchester United has been a real honour.

"To have been part of the team that helped the club reach that 19th title is a great privilege."

United manager Sir Alex Ferguson paid tribute to Scholes and called him "a truly unbelievable player".

The Scot stated: "Paul has always been inspirational to players of all ages and we know that will continue in his new role."

Scholes was held in high esteem by his fellow professionals - in 2009, former world player of the year Zinedine Zidane said he was "the complete midfielder" and "my toughest opponent".

The France international added: "Scholes is undoubtedly the greatest of his generation."

That same year, United legend Sir Bobby Charlton also had warm words to say about the one-club man.

He commented: "Many great players have worn the shirt of Manchester United - players I worshipped, then lost with my youth in Munich. Players like Denis Law and George Best, who I enjoyed so much as team-mates and now, finally, players I have watched closely in the Ferguson era - and in so many ways Scholes is my favourite."

Scholes was part of United's Class of 92, which also produced David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville - another player who announced his retirement this season.

United chief executive David Gill said Scholes had "established himself as one of the greatest players to ever wear the United shirt".

In addition to winning 10 Premier League titles, Scholes was a member of the team that triumphed in the 2008 Champions League final against Chelsea but was suspended for the 1999 final win over Bayern Munich.

He also won 66 England caps before retiring from international football following the Euro 2004 tournament, aged only 29.

England manager Fabio Capello tried to tempt him to change his mind before the 2010 World Cup - without success.

Scholes will now join the coaching staff at Old Trafford.

For Barcelona Size Does Not Matter

Xavi Hernandez at Wembley

Stories are legendary of young players being told they are too small to make it as professional footballers and in the case of the Republic of Ireland recent examples include Matt Holland, who was rejected by Arsenal, and went on to join the West Ham Academy in 1992. In his time George Best was also told he was too small and lightweight to make the grade. Thankfully the records and footage show us that he more than proved those experts wrong over the years. 

In the case of Lionel Messi the story is similar only to the point that it was a growth hormone deficiency that was the problem given his skill had been identified from the time he started playing for his Father at the age of 5. That fruition of that talent however has created a headache across the modern game with the natural order now clearly challenged leaving most managers scratching their heads in sun kissed paradisos this summer, wondering how three five foot seven players could prove such vital cogs in team currently considered as the best ever in the game. 

Or at last one of them, in deference to the Dutch Clockwork Orange side of the 1970’s, the Brazilian team of 1970 and a few others. 

Foremost on the minds of Arsene Wenger, Roberto Mancini, Kenny Dalglish, Jupp Heynckes, and Jose Mourinho, will be that up to last Saturday most clubs were signing taller players than five foot seven, who were strong and athletic in the air. This combined with speed was viewed as the modern type player with the six foot four centre forward, Andy Carroll, now the most expensive player in the Barclays Premier League at £35M, as a living example. 

But at Wembley what proved the most striking, even before the teams had kicked a ball in the UEFA Champions League final was that alongside Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi – all no more than sixty seven inches tall – stood Brazilian fullback Dani Alves, at five foot eight, Pedro Rodríguez at five foot six and half; Javier Mascherano five eight and a half, with world cup winning striker David Villa towering them all, at five foot nine. The only others over six foot were defenders Eric Abidal; 6ft one; Sergio Busquets, 6ft 2, and Gerard Pique at 6ft three and a-half. 

For Arsene Wenger, who does the best impression in the Premier League of the Barca passing game, also favouring the 4-3-3 formation, it seems his preferred players over the years have all been much taller. The names of Patrick Vieira, Thierry henry, Denis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Kolo Toure and Robert van Persie quickly spring to mind. 

Even those in his squads that looked much shorter than the average Arsenal player at Highbury, were not so, as Marc Overmars was five eight. Or five nine as in the case of Freddie Ljunberg and Ces Fabregas. To add to the confusion former French international Emmanuel Petit, was nothing of the sort, striding around midfield at six foot one. 

In Germany it is a similar trend with the German national side producing defenders reaching over six four, Per Mertesacker one example, matched by Christophe Metzelder, with midfielders Michael Ballack at 6ft 2 and Bastian Schweinsteiger at six foot. Or former Aston Villa player, Thomas Hitzelsperger, standing six two. The only height challenged member of the squad has been Philip Lahm who would easily make the Barcelona side if there was positive height discrimination. 

At club level though Jose Mourinho over the years seems to have been less obsessed with the height formula given he won the 2010 Champions League with a midfield ably led by the diminutive Dutch man, Wesley Sneijder, at five seven. Or with Ricardo Carvalho, who has played for Mourinho through fourteen seasons at three different clubs, in as many different leagues, measuring a whole five foot nine. It did not stop him winning the 2004 Champions League title in Gelsenkirchen either, with a midfield that day of Deco, Pedro Mendes and Maniche – all only five eight tall. 

Last summer Mourinho’s first major signing at Real Madrid was the German International Mezut Oezil, a new breed of player to emerge from the Bundesliga at the 2010 world cup, blessed with close skill, much industry and superb balance. During his time at Chelsea Jose's midfield was bolstered by the industrious Claude Makelele, who only just touched five foot seven. 

Ironically at the last world cup in South Africa the Serbian squad were the tallest with an average height of 6ft 1 on average and ten centimetres above the shortest team, Chile, with players on average just over 5ft 9in. Of the four semi-finalists Germany were 5th in the list, with Spain and the Netherlands 17th tallest. Uruguay were 26th - along with the strongly fancied Argentina - with an average height of only five feet eight inches. 

As we know it was the five foot seven Spanish brigade that won out, adding to the trophy won in Vienna at the EURO 2008, in a team that still struggles to find a regular role for the six feet of Fernando Torres. 

If the Barcelona model is to be copied over the coming decade similar problems will arise perhaps for the likes of Peter Crouch, and any route one tactics for that matter, as the added complication of the Guardiola method is that it does not rely on a recognisable centre forward position in the 4-3-3 setup. With possession the dominating priority, it means that few passes extend beyond a handful of metres, no ball is released until it has safe passage, and few players make pointless energy sapping runs – such is the efficiency of the formula. 

This indeed is the most enduring part of the Barcelona story, which is not really a height issue, but an underlying playing philosophy which has been much commented over the past fortnight. In that sense it is the case of Lionel Messi that is testament to that commitment, even if the discovery of Messi was somewhat dictated by happenstance, as it was Barca stalwart and former team-mate of John Cruyff, Carlos Rexach, who became aware of the young player while scouting in Buenos Aires. 

For Rexach it was a mundane trip to Buenos Aires, 190 miles southeast of Rosario, that brought the news about Lionel Messi which was encouraging enough to fly him, along with his Father Jorge, to Cataluña for a trial. Without doubt Lionel’s size was of concern at the time, given he was 13 years old, and still small, despite nightly injections for almost four years. His prodigious talent, speed and touch became very clear to Barcelona after just 30 minutes and set plans in place to develop that potential. 

In 2000 the chance came to move the Messi family to Catalunya following an offer from Carlos Rexach - with an apartment, a job for Jorge and school for Lionel – made all the more acceptable when Barcelona committed to paying the on-going hormone treatment. On his arrival to Barcelona Messi joined La Masia, their academy just like any other young player. 

For Barcelona the sum of all the parts means more than any one individual and there are few talents in living memory that seek such little limelight, solicit no more attention that is not merited, nor seek to be above the squad, than Lionel Messi. The fruit of that work was enjoyed by millions watching the 2011 UEFA Champions League final where few focussed on the size of Messi, or the other Barcelona players.

Except perhaps when they held up the huge jug-eared European Cup above their heads. 

The trophy is 74 centimetres tall – nearly half the size of Xavi.

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Crisis? What Crisis?

Sepp Blatter has insisted that Fifa is not in crisis, despite the "great damage" done to its image by ongoing corruption allegations.

"Football is not in a crisis, only some difficulties," said the Fifa president.

Blatter brushed off suggestions, from the British government among others, that Wednesday's presidential election - for which he is the only candidate - should be suspended.

"If governments try to intervene then something is wrong," he said.

"I think Fifa is strong enough that we can deal with our problems inside Fifa."

Blatter, unusually appearing alone at a news conference in Zurich, gave a defiant display despite the storm surrounding the organisation.

The 75-year-old Blatter insisted that a Football Association inquiry by barrister James Dingemans QC looking into ex-FA and bid chairman Lord Triesman's claims of alleged Fifa impropriety had "found no elements" which would prompt the world governing to investigate further.

This despite Dingemans' report revealing that Fifa executive committee Nicolas Leoz's aide had asked for the FA Cup to be named after the Paraguayan Exco member, who Triesman claimed in Parliament had demanded a knighthood from England's 2018 bid.

Fifa has published a summary of Dingemans' report on its website.

Blatter argued neither governments nor anyone outside the Fifa membership could have any bearing on the election process, and vowed to carry on unless Wednesday's congress decided otherwise.

"If somebody wants to change something in the election or in the congress of Wednesday, these are the members of Fifa," he said.

"This cannot be done by the executive committee, it cannot be done by any authorities outside of Fifa - it's only the congress itself that can do it.

"Congress will decide if I am a valid or non-valid candidate."

Blatter is expected to stand unopposed in an election marred by a torrent of dissent from within and beyond football's world governing body.

The only rival candidate to emerge - Mohamed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) - pulled out having been suspended by Fifa's own ethics committee over allegations that financial incentives were offered to Caribbean Football Union members.

Fifa vice-president Jack Warner, himself also suspended on similar grounds, subsequently revealed an e-mail in which another high-ranking Fifa official, secretary general Jerome Valcke, suggested Bin Hammam had "bought" the 2022 World Cup finals for Qatar.

Valcke has since attempted to clarify those remarks and Qatar 2022 itself issued a statement claiming that Valcke's words had been "taken out of context" and its bid had been "dragged through the mud for absolutely no reason".

Blatter, however, took pains to avoid dealing with the detail of the various allegations as he faced reporters, saying only: "You should ask [Bin Hammam] why he pulled out. I was prepared to go into an election process with another candidate and then the congress would have decided. Now the situation has changed."

These arguments may now begin to damage the organisation's commercial interests as, earlier on Monday, two of Fifa's largest sponsors - Coca-Cola and Adidas - expressed concern at the widely publicised in-fighting.

"The current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport," said a Coca-Cola spokesperson. "We have every expectation that Fifa will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner."

An Adidas spokesman said: "The negative tenor of the public debate around Fifa at the moment is neither good for football nor for Fifa and its partners."

However Blatter did admit Fifa's reputation stands at a low ebb.

"I have tried for years to make Fifa's reputation the highest possible," he said. "I regret what has happened in the last few days and weeks, [causing] great damage to the image of Fifa and a lot of disappointment for football fans.

"When I entered Fifa 36 years ago, we had no problems. We had no problems until 1998, this was the so-called 'very modest' Fifa. Now we are a 'comfortable' Fifa. I think we are too comfortable and some people like that.

"We are in a game and all the little devils can enter the game. We have to fight against these devils. We have started to fight.

"We are in a very bad situation but, starting on Wednesday, the football family has the opportunity and they have to take it: if they want to restore the credibility of Fifa, and if they want to restore it with me."

Monday 30 May 2011

Derek Boogard Death Ruled Accidental

The cause of death of New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard has been ruled accidental and attributed to a mixture of drugs and alcohol.

The Hennepin County (Minn.) Medical Examiner's office listed the cause of death as a mixture of alcohol and oxycodone toxicity. Oxycodone is categorized as a painkiller. The report said the manner of death was accidental and that no other data will be released.

Boogaard, a 28-year-old left wing, was found dead in his Minnesota apartment on Friday. Boogaard was a 2001 seventh-round pick of the Minnesota Wild and spent his first five NHL seasons with the organization. He signed with the Rangers in July, but was limited to just 22 games due to a shoulder injury and a concussion.

Boogaard's family issued the following statement Friday through the NHL Players' Association:

"We would like to express our appreciation for the outpouring of love and support for our family during this difficult period as we grieve the loss of Derek -- our son and brother. We are deeply saddened by this unimaginable loss, but we are grateful for the expression of support that has given us strength as we go through this tragic time.

"It is very comforting for our family to know that, while Derek's life was far too short, he had a great impact on many people who he came into contact with. We are proud that Derek was able to live his boyhood dream to play in the National Hockey League. We are even more proud of the fact that Derek was dedicated to making a difference in his adopted communities of Minnesota and New York City, through his countless hours of charitable work.

"Earlier today, we received the results of Derek's toxicology report at the time of his accidental death. After repeated courageous attempts at rehabilitation and with the full support of the New York Rangers, the NHLPA, and the NHL, Derek had been showing tremendous improvement but was ultimately unable to beat this opponent. While he played and lived with pain for many years, his passion for the game, his teammates, and his community work was unstoppable.

"Our family would like to like to thank the New York Rangers, the Minnesota Wild, the National Hockey League Players' Association, and the National Hockey League for supporting Derek's continued efforts in his battle.

"Derek will be greatly missed and will never be forgotten by his fans, friends, and teammates, and especially by us -- his family. We respectfully ask for continued privacy as we grieve the loss of Derek."

Djokovic Gets Unexpected Paris Day Off

Rafa Nadal

Novak Djokovic had a successful day off from tennis Monday, reaching the semifinals of the French Open when his quarter final opponent withdrew because of injury.

Fabio Fognini, who injured a muscle in his left leg while beating Albert Montanes on Sunday, announced Monday that he would not be able to play Djokovic, who is 41-0 in 2011 and has won 43 straight matches overall.

"The doctors say if I play tomorrow maybe it can be dangerous," Fognini said, calling his decision "difficult" and adding he had his leg checked by a doctor only 20 minutes earlier.

Djokovic will not be credited with a victory over Fognini because the Italian withdrew.

That means Djokovic would have to wait until after the French Open -- assuming he won it -- before getting the chance to equal Guillermo Vilas' overall Open era record of 46 straight victories.

Fognini beat Montanes 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 11-9 to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

While Djokovic relaxed and readied for the semifinals,Rafael Nadal and Juan Ignacio Chela both reached the semifinals with victories on Monday. Nadal beat Ivan Ljubicic 7-5, 6-3, 6-3, while Chela downed Alejandro Falla of Colombia 4-6, 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2.

While trailing late Sunday, Fognini winced in pain at the baseline after hitting a serve and clutched at his left leg. He had his leg massaged and resumed, but eventually had his troublesome thigh wrapped in a bandage.

"(The match) was really incredible, it was really long. At the end I was not really good," Fognini said. "But I did some examinations after the match. I was crying after the match, also for the pain, but I think that's normal."

While trailing 7-6 and serving at 15-30 -- meaning Montanes was two points from victory -- Fognini hurt his leg.

If Djokovic wins his semifinal match, he would equal John McEnroe's Open era record for the best start to a tennis season and clinch the No. 1 ranking.

With three more wins, the second-seeded Serb will match the record of 46 straight wins set by Guillermo Vilas.

The two-time Australian Open champion has never won the title at Roland Garros, but he beat Nadal in two clay-court finals leading up to the French Open.

Federer will have to beat either No. 7 David Ferrer or No. 9 Gael Monfils to advance to the semifinals.

Swansea Secure Premier Play-off

Scott Sinclair scores at Wembley

A Scott Sinclair hat-trick at Wembley sent Swansea into the Premier League in a thrilling Championship play-off final.

The Welsh side looked to have it in the bag when they led 3-0 at half-time thanks to two Sinclair goals, one a penalty, and a wonder strike by Stephen Dobbie.

But Reading pulled it back to 3-2 through Noel Hunt and Matt Mills before Sinclair killed them off with a second penalty on 79 minutes.

Sinclair's treble saw Brendan Rodgers' men clinch promotion and the £90million prize that goes with it.

And it was sweet revenge for Swans boss Rodgers, who was sacked by Reading in 2009.

Ref Phil Dowd dished out three bookings inside 12 minutes as the match started at a high tempo.

Reading full-back Andy Griffin was shown a yellow card on seven minutes for a foul on Sinclair and a double booking followed five minutes later.

Swans striker Fabio Borini went into the book for a challenge on keeper Adam Federici, then Royals defender Zurab Khizanishvili followed him for reacting to Borini's offence.

Dowd's swift action calmed things down but Khizanishvili's next offence handed Swansea the lead.

The Georgian bundled over Nathan Dyer as the Swansea man was about to shoot and ex-Chelsea man Sinclair coolly fired past Federici from the spot to give the Welsh side a 21st-minute lead.

Swans fans argued that Khizanishvili was lucky to escape a second yellow — and a sending off.

But they were in dreamland just 76 seconds later when Sinclair doubled their lead.

Almost straight from kick-off, Dobbie raced down the right and powered in a wicked low cross which Federici could only palm into the path of Sinclair, who scored from close range.

Reading battled to get back into the match but their only reward was a third booking, this time for Jobi McAnuff for a 38th-minute foul on Leon Britton.

A minute later, it looked all over for Reading as Dobbie made it 3-0. Dyer made the running down the right this time before crossing to the unmarked Dobbie, who smashed his shot past Federici.

Reading's first half was summed up 30 seconds before the break when top scorer Shane Long missed an open goal from a few yards out.

Reading coach Nigel Gibbs was sent to the stands at half-time but manager Brian McDermott's pep talk fired up Reading.

Hunt met McAnuff's 48th-minute corner with a near-post header that went in off Joe Allen — and it was game on.

Dobbie had the chance to wrap up the match on 54 minutes but after beating two Reading defenders in the box, his shot veered wide.

Dobbie, who was subbed soon afterwards, had reason to regret that miss when Reading made it 3-2 in the 56th minute. Unmarked Mills soared high above the Swansea defence to head in from another deadly McAnuff corner.

Swansea were rocking and three minutes later Reading came heartbreakingly close to equalising when Jem Karacan's right-foot rocket from outside the box smashed against the foot of the post.

The Swans survived an onslaught and scored the killer fourth after Griffin fouled Borini in the box. Sinclair stepped up to nail his second penalty of the match and complete his hat-trick.

Paul Stirling Hits Stormont Century

Captains Misbah Ul-Haq and William Porterfield at the toss

Opener Paul Stirling hit a century to lead a vastly-improved Ireland batting display in the second one-day international against Pakistan in Belfast.

Ireland managed a mere 96 in their seven-wicket defeat in Saturday’s opening game, but the 20-year-old Stirling ensured there would be no repeat with an impressive and responsible innings that helped his side reach 238 for eight.

Saeed Ajmal was the pick of the Pakistan bowlers with four for 35, including late wickets which stopped the hosts from pushing on after Stirling was finally dismissed for 109 from 107 balls.

The right-hander had characteristically taken up the attack early, but wisely picked his moments thereafter to score his third one-day century and his first against a full-member nation.

His fluency also eased the pressure on his team-mates, who were under the spotlight following their capitulation two days ago.

That had undermined the hosts’ hopes of impressing ahead of an ICC chief executive’s committee meeting next month, when they are to discuss over-ruling the omission of Ireland and their fellow associate countries from the next World Cup.

Today’s batting performance was more reflective of the form that had led to widespread calls for Ireland to be given a route back into the World Cup and, more pressingly, set up the chance of a series-levelling win.

Ireland captain William Porterfield made the brave choice to bat first after he won the toss on the same Stormont wicket his unchanged team had disappointed so emphatically two days ago.

His decision was soon rewarded as Ireland surpassed their horror opening game 96 for the loss of only Ed Joyce (17), who edged behind off Ajmal.

Stirling was quickly in his stride swiping both Junaid Khan and Umar Gul over the square boundaries as the seamers enjoyed far less assistance.

Stirling’s play was not all aggression, though, and after his skipper Porterfield (15) was bowled by Mohammad Hafeez he intelligently worked the ball around the field as he dug in for a big score.

It was mature batsmanship from one of Ireland’s most promising young players and he was rewarded for it with a century from 94 balls, which included seven fours and a six.

He was out-bowled trying to thrash Junaid in the final over of the batting powerplay, during which Ireland only scored 23 runs despite Stirling and big-hitter Kevin O’Brien batting for the most part of it.

O’Brien (10) never hit his stride and, along with John Mooney (six), fell to the clever Ajmal as Ireland made 67 for six from the last 10 overs.

Gary Wilson, in his 100th game, provided the bulk of those with 33 from 25 balls before he was bowled in the final over.

Contador Claims Second Giro d'Italia

Contador wins 2011 Giro

Alberto Contador claimed his second Giro d'Italia crown on Sunday, after holding off his closest rival by more than six minutes as the 21-stage  concluded in Milan.

The Saxo Bank-Sungard rider, who also won the Giro in 2008, had the victory all but sealed before Sunday and carefully negotiated the streets of Milan to ensure there were no late surprises on the final time trial of the three-week race. 

Britain's sprint specialist David Millar of Garmin Cervelo won the final 26-kilometres individual time trial in 30 minutes 13 seconds to clinch his first stage in this year's competition. 

"I'm delighted," said Millar. "It has taken me thousands of kilometres to get here and I'm very happy with this win." 

Contador, who finished third today - 36 seconds behind Millar - was all smiles as he crossed the line at Milan's Piazza Duomo, cheered by thousands of fans. 

"It has been an incredible end to the Giro," said Contador, a three-time winner of the Tour de France. 

"It is a dream finish with so many people in the square. 

"The result has been good and as a cyclist sometimes you have good moments in your career and other times you don't. 

"I've had great moments here and I'm very happy." 

Contador captured two stage wins and held the leader's pink jersey for 13 days en route to the title. 

Some outstanding performances in the mountains meant the Spaniard finished six minutes and 10 seconds ahead of Italy's Michele Scarponi of Lampre. 

Despite gaining 10 seconds over Scarponi today, Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas had to settle for third place in the final standings, finishing 46 seconds behind his compatriot. 

With defending champion Ivan Basso skipping the Giro to concentrate on July's Tour de France, Contador was favourite to dominate the 94th edition of the race and took the leader's jersey from Rabobank's Pieter Weening with 11 stages remaining. 

The top overall British finisher was Peter Kennaugh of Team Sky in 87th place.

McDermott to Enjoy Wembley Return

Brian McDermott

Reading manager Brian McDermott cannot wait to finally walk out at Wembley after guiding the Royals to a 3-0 semi-final second leg victory over Cardiff and a showdown with Swansea in the npower Championship play-off final on May 30.

Shane Long was the match winner in the Welsh capital as he bagged his 24th and 25th goals of the season, the second of which came from the spot, before Jobi McAnuff struck a late third to secure a convincing victory, with the tie goalless after the first leg at the Madejski Stadium.

McDermott said: "I've been to Wembley in 1978/79/80 with Arsenal and never played. I was at Oxford and never played when we won in 1986."

He added: "I missed out in an FA Trophy semi-final against Southport, I missed out to go to the semi-finals against Aston Villa and against Manchester City.

"So that's what it means to me. To go out there, walk out with the team, our supporters behind us, I'm just delighted for the staff, players and supporters."

Cardiff counterpart Dave Jones was left to rue two defensive gaffes which gave his side a mountain to climb at half-time, but he remained dignified in defeat.

Naturally, attention turned to Jones' future following the latest setback in his attempts to guide the club to the top flight after what is now a 49-year absence, coming 12 months after last May's dramatic 3-2 play-off final defeat to Blackpool.

And while he insists he still has the passion and drive, he admits his time in the Welsh capital is open to debate from both his side and that of the Cardiff board.

"At the moment I feel lower than a snake's belly," Jones said.

"I'll take stock of my life, my position and whether I want to (continue). And it's whether the owners and the hierarchy of the football club want you to."

Kick off is at 3:pm on Monday, May 30th.

Loeb Overcomes Penalty to Win Argentina

Seven-times world champion Sebastien Loeb overcame a one-minute time penalty to take a narrow victory in the Rally of Argentina.

The Frenchman, winning his sixth Argentine title in a Citroen, won by 2.4 seconds from Finn Mikko Hirvonen with overnight leader Sebastien Ogier third 7.3 seconds behind.

A gripping race went down to the wire after Frenchman Ogier rolled his Citroen on the gruelling, 48.21 kms Ascochinga stage, the first of the day, with damage to the front of the car and the power steering.

'This morning I made a mistake and it was impossible to drive the car,' a visibly distraught Ogier, who was in the lead until the decisive final power special, said.

Ogier come in more than 11 seconds off the pace set by power stage winner Petter Solberg of Norway, who took three bonus points to two for second-placed Hirvonen and one for Loeb.

Loeb, who was penalised on Friday but had cut compatriot Ogier's overall lead to a mere 3.3 seconds in the penultimate special, is top of the standings with 126 points from six races.

Hirvonen is second on 113 with Ogier third with 96.

'After all the difficulties I had I'm pleased with this finish,' Ford driver Hirvonen said at the finish.

Fog hung over the hills of Cordoba province during the early kilometres of the day's first stage as cars continued to get punished on the often tight dirt and gravel roads.

'The first 20 kilometres were in fog and we were fighting well...We hit a few banks here and there but no dramas,' Hirvonen told the championship website.

Solberg, world champion in 2003 before Loeb notched up seven titles in a row, won the penultimate stage and the closing power stage in his Citroen for three bonus points. He finished fourth overall, just over half a minute behind Loeb.

Finn Jari-Matti Latvala, who led from early Friday until the 13th stage on Saturday before pulling out with suspension damage to his Ford, won the 17th special after being allowed to resume the race but finished seventh nearly 12 minutes off the pace.

'Rallying can be the hardest game,' said the 26-year-old Finn.

Red Bull Vettel Wins Monaco Grand Prix

Vettel in Monaco

Sebastian Vettel made it five wins from six grands prix this season by taking his first chequered flag in Monaco at the conclusion of a chaotic and captivating race.

The enthralling event produced two safety cars, the second of which came 10 laps from home following an incident involving Jaime Alguersuari in his Toro Rosso and Renault's Vitaly Petrov.

At that stage the three leaders in Vettel, the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso and McLaren's Jenson Button were separated by a second after following one another, line astern, for the proceeding seven laps.

However, with the ambulance required to attend to Alguersuari and Petrov, who it is understood was knocked unconscious, the race had to be red flagged with six laps remaining.

The remaining cars then lined back up on the grid, at which point the mechanics were allowed to attend to them, notably putting on new tyres.

Restarting behind the safety car for a lap, it left five remaining and unsurprisingly Vettel managed to hold off Alonso and Button.

The 23-year-old German now has a phenomenal 58-point lead over McLaren's Lewis Hamilton who was involved in both safety car incidents and twice found himself under investigation by the stewards.

Normally, when the sun is shining over the principality, the race that follows has generally been a procession.

But that was far from the case on this occasion.

Mercifully, pre-race fears over Pirelli's new super-soft tyres that were being introduced for the first time here lasting a handful of laps did not come to fruition.

If that had been the case it could have led to even more mayhem than was the case as there was enough action to create a thriller.

The start was routine enough, with the exception of seven-times world champion and five-times Monaco winner Michael Schumacher losing five places, dropping from fifth to 10th as he was bunched out at the first corner Ste Devote.

The 42-year-old immediately regained a place by passing Hamilton round the inside of the Loews Hairpin, only for a breathtakingly audacious move from the Briton on lap 10 into Ste Devote to regain ninth.

Both men were embroiled in a fair amount of the drama that unfolded as Schumacher later retired, stopping in the middle of the track at La Rascasse.

On this occasion it was legitimate, his Mercedes grinding to a halt, and not as was the case in 2006 when he faked an incident in qualifying to try to win pole.

As for Hamilton, just moments before Schumacher's untimely exit on lap 34 the Briton had attempted to cut down the inside of Felipe Massa in his Ferrari round the Loews Hairpin as they battled for eighth place.

Unlike his earlier daring move, this one failed to pay dividends as bits of both cars were broken off.

Hamilton was not done, however, because with Massa's car clearly the one more affected, the Briton passed the Brazilian through the tunnel.

Adding insult to injury, Massa ran wide on to the marbles which then sucked him on to a barrier, his car emerging into the sunlight with the left-hand side mangled.

It brought the safety car into play for the first time, that even before Schumacher had stopped and was pushed down the pit lane into retirement by the marshals.

At that stage every driver up to Hamilton, running in 11th place, had been lapped, with Rubens Barrichello 67 seconds off the leading trio in fourth such was the dominance of those at the front.

When two of those 11 pitted, it left nine on the same lap, bunching them up behind the safety car which pitted after a handful of laps.

Hamilton's bid for a podium was scuppered, though, as the stewards gave him a drive-through penalty for causing a collision with Massa.

Over the following laps, and with Button employing a three-stop plan compared to two stops for Alonso and remarkably just one for Vettel, the trio came together 16 laps from home.

It appeared a battle royale to the line was on the cards, notably as Vettel was on tyres that had been changed at lap 16.

Ten laps from home they came up to lap a gaggle of cars fighting for the minor places behind them, which resulted in the accident involving Alguersuari, who had run into the back of Hamilton, and Petrov.

Even after the restart following a 21-minute delay there was drama as Williams' Pastor Maldonado attempted to pass Hamilton into Ste Devote, resulting in the Venezuelan hitting the McLaren and spinning into a barrier.

That has resulted in a second investigation for Hamilton by the stewards, who are also to look into an incident involving Kamui Kobayashi, who was fifth behind Red Bull's Mark Webber, and seventh-placed Adrian Sutil.

Renault's Nick Heidfeld, Rubens Barrichello in his Williams and Toro Rosso's Sebastien Buemi completed the top-10 points scorers.

Paul di Resta was 12th in his Force India following an incident-strewn race of his own that involved a drive-through penalty.