Sunday 21 December 2014

La Cuarta For Real Madrid

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Real Madrid landed their fourth title of the year by recording their 22nd straight victory to win the Club World Cup.

The European champions defeated the Argentinian side San Lorenzo 2-0 in Marrakech on Saturday night to add the global crown to their Champions League, Uefa Super Cup and Copa del Rey triumphs.

Sergio Ramos headed the opener after 37 minutes and Gareth Bale scored the second six minutes after the break as Madrid claimed their maiden Club World Cup title.

The goal completed a hat-trick of major championship final goals for Bale, who also netted in the European and domestic cup successes.

Victory also ensured Carlo Ancelotti’s men would end a memorable year still on an incredible winning run stretching back to mid-September.

Madrid almost went ahead after only one minute when Toni Kroos fed Cristiano Ronaldo, whose driven low cross flew across the face of goal, with Karim Benzema just unable to get a touch.

San Lorenzo, the Copa Libertadores winners, adopted a physical approach as they looked to knock their illustrious opponents off their stride.

Ronaldo was unsuccessful with a couple of free-kick attempts as he looked to find his range, but Madrid did not need their star man for the opener.

Bale saw his left-footed effort on the run from a tight angle pushed behind by Sebastián Torrico, but an unmarked Ramos headed home the resulting corner, swung in from the left by Kroos.

Madrid lost Marcelo to injury shortly before the break but it did not put them off their stride. They doubled their lead four minutes into the second half.

An incisive passing move ended with Isco playing the ball into the feet of Bale in the area and, although the Welshman’s shot was weak and straight at Torrico, it somehow squirmed under the goalkeeper and into the net.

San Lorenzo might have pulled one back late on as Juan Mercier’s long-range drive brought a fine diving save out of Iker Casillas, but the Spaniards never looked in trouble as they closed out the game in comfort.

Earlier, Auckland City from New Zealand won the third-place play-off, beating the Mexican side Cruz Azul on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

Friday 19 December 2014

I am What I am - Sepp Blatter

Fifa has agreed to publish a redacted version of Michael Garcia’s full report into the controversial 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process in an attempt to quell another round of trenchant criticism of world football’s perennially under-fire governing body.

As Fifa president Sepp Blatter declared the latest crisis over and insisted “we have always been determined that the truth should be known”, he simultaneously ruled out a re-vote for the 2018 World Cup in Russia or the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

“There is no reason to say that our decisions were wrong. So we will go on sticking to our decisions,” said Blatter following a meeting of the executive committee in Marrakech at which it was agreed unanimously, though without a formal vote, to publish an “appropriate” version of Garcia’s report.

“We will not revisit the 2018 and 2022 vote and a report by independent, external legal experts supports the view that there are no legal grounds to revoke the executive committee’s decision on the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups,” he added.

Expert legal advice sought by Domenico Scala, the head of Fifa’s audit committee whose responsibility it was to resolve the row over Garcia’s report, said it was clear “the irregularities determined thus far are not of an extent that would lead to the bidding process as a whole being qualified as significantly illegal”.

Without “huge upheaval” or a “new element” coming to the fore, Blatter said that the verdict of Judge Hans-Joachim Eckert – who produced the disputed summary of Garcia’s report that precipitated his resignation – that neither Qatar nor Russia had seriously broken the rules would stand.

Around half the 22 voting members of the Fifa executive committee who voted in December 2010 have since left the organisation, many with a cloud of corruption allegations trailing in their wake, and even Eckert’s summary highlighted a host of still unanswered questions.

Amid a flurry of familiar Blatter-isms, the 78-year-old declared “I am what I am” and said that the split in the Fifa executive committee over whether to publish Garcia’s report had been resolved. “We have been in a crisis. The crisis has stopped because we again have the unity in our government,” he said.

At the same meeting, Fifa decided that a ban on third-party ownership of players - which could have huge ramifications for football in Portugal, Spain and South America – would be introduced in May 2015. It also said that the controversy over the timing of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, most likely to be moved to November to avoid the summer heat, would be resolved at its next meeting in March.

Blatter said work was also already underway on drawing up a new framework for World Cup bidding, which would incorporate new rules designed to bring some order to a process that rapidly spiralled out of control in the run-up to the dual vote in December 2010. He said the changes would mean “everyone can be confident that the 2026 bidding process will be fair, ethical and open”.

Scala revealed that Garcia’s full 430-page report recommended tightening the rules on gifts, friendly matches and football development investment outside the host country, as well as ensuring that only one World Cup was ever decided at a time. Sources said that Scala, who had been given the task of deciding how much of the report the board should see, recommended it be released in a “legally appropriate form” and that there was agreement around the table. He did not update them further on what is actually contained in the full report and no vote was taken.

However, it remains to be seen how heavily redacted the report will be when it eventually sees the light of day. The identities of all of the 75-plus witnesses are likely to be obscured, unless they agree to waive their right to confidentiality. “It is clear that while a summary of the report was issued, the publication of this report has become a barrier to rebuilding public confidence and trust in Fifa,” said Blatter, who had initially opposed its release.

The decision was made two days after Garcia dramatically resigned as head of the investigatory arm of the ethics committee in disgust at the way the release of his report had been handled. Blatter confirmed that the former US attorney for the southern district of New York would be replaced as head of the investigatory arm of the ethics committee by his deputy Cornel Borbely.

Garcia was furious that a 42-page summary of his 430-page report prepared by Eckert, the head of the adjudicatory arm of the ethics committee, had, as he put it, misrepresented his findings. Garcia spent 18 months and £6m gathering evidence before Eckert effectively cleared the 2018 host Russia and 2022 host Qatar of serious wrongdoing.

Without the power to compel corrupt former Fifa executives no longer in football to talk and the inability to seize evidence, the former US attorney for the southern district of New York was reliant on witnesses co-operating. The Russians said all emails relating to their 2018 bid had been lost and another of Garcia’s recommendations for future bids is that all records are retained for inspection and audit.

Garcia opened investigations into the conduct of five individuals during the bidding process including three current executive committee members – √Ångel Mar√-a Villar Llona of Spain, Belgium’s Michel D’Hooghe and Thailand’s Wowari Makudi – and one former member, the German Franz Beckenbauer.

The “appropriate” version of Garcia’s full report, which the investigator said this week had “identified serious and wide-ranging issues with the bidding and selection process”, won’t be released until those individual cases are complete.

But that also raises the possibility of Blatter being able to time the conclusion of those investigations and the subsequent release of the redacted Garcia report to best suit his purposes as he prepares to stand for another four years as president next April, despite having previously insisted his current term would be his last.

“It is not my duty to evaluate myself. If you claim that I am a weak leader, then kindly ask the members of the executive committee,” he said. “This about weak leadership, let’s leave that aside. I am what I am.”

Dalglish Gives Hillsborough Evidence

Former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish spoke about the 'mayhem' at Hillsborough as he gave evidence at the disaster inquest.

The team's manager on the day of the tragedy was speaking from the witness box in the final afternoon session at Warrington Coroner's Court before the hearings adjourn for the Christmas break.

"The place was mayhem, nobody knew what's going on, there's stories coming from every angle," Dalglish said.

Dalglish was questioned by Christina Lambert QC on behalf of the coroner, Lord Justice Goldring.

Wearing a red Liverpool tie and a '96' lapel badge, Dalglish told how the news started to filter through that something serious was happening.

"We knew there'd been fatalities. We weren't told what the cause was, but we knew it wasn't people fighting or hooliganism,' he said.

Dalglish spoke about the request to call for calm and told how he used a microphone in the DJ box as the one in the police box didn't work.

He remembered the crowd applauded and added, "so obviously they heard the message. I came out of the room and went back to the dressing room area."

He said the only time he remembers going on to the pitch was to check his son was OK. "Fortunately he was," he said.

John Beggs QC, representing the retired Hillsborough match commanders, read out a passage from Dalglish's autobiography where he discusses Reds fans 'bunking in' to Wembley for the FA Cup final against Everton in 1986.

Dalglish, when Beggs quoted a Home Office report about the same match and described ticketless fans trying to enter the stadium as 'troubling', said: 'I'm just a normal human being. Not judge and jury on how people should behave.'

The court was shown an extract of Mr Dalglish's autobiography about Heysel, in which he wrote: "How on earth could Uefa think they could separate the passionate followers of Liverpool and Juventus with a thin piece of chicken wire? Chicken wire!"

Beggs asked if followers can be passionate without fighting, to which Dalglish replied "yes".

The counsel for Ch Supt David Duckenfield followed up by asking if Dalglish was acknowledging that a group of Liverpool supporters were prone to violence. "No," replied Dalglish. "I'm identifying that chicken wire wasn't substantive enough to separate two groups of fans."

Rajiv Menon, counsel for 10 of the families, asked about press coverage after the disaster.

"It was upsetting for many people," said Dalglish, particularly the Sun front page headline 'The Truth'.

"I know there was outrage," said Dalglish. "I know the fans were very upset. And, in fact, I was asked to attend, if I could go to Walton prison to calm the prisoners down on the Friday because of the stuff that had been written in the newspapers."

Before he was discharged Dalglish was questioned by Peter Weatherby on behalf of 22 of the families. He was asked about his views of delaying the kick-off.

"It wasn't an uncommon occurrence," said Dalglish. "If it was necessary, both teams would be in complete agreement with the police and referee, as I said earlier.

"The third person that would be asked is the team manager, but it's a fait acomplit by the time it gets to us."

Dalglish finished his evidence at 3pm and the coroner adjourned the inquest until the new year.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Rory McIlroy Wants Faster Golf

The world number one golfer, Rory McIlroy, has called for a faster version of golf in a bid to attract young players to the sport.

Sport England figures show that the number of 16-25-year-olds playing the game regularly almost halved between 2009-10 and 2012-13.

"Everything's so instant now and everyone doesn't have as much time as they used to," world number one McIlroy told BBC Radio 4.

"So you maybe try some way of speeding the game up."

Northern Ireland's McIlroy, who won the Open and the US PGA in 2014, added: "The viewership in golf is up but the participation is down.

"People enjoy watching the game but gone are the days that you could spend five or six hours on a golf course."

Golf's authorities have been reluctant to bring in changes in the past, with The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews only agreeing to admit women to its membership in September.

But McIlroy believes the sport's rulemakers are ready for new initiatives.

"I don't think they'd be against it, especially if they wanted to get participation levels up," said McIlroy, who finished second to Lewis Hamilton in the voting for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

"I don't think they need to alter tournament-play formats, I think that works very well. It's the grass roots... definitely not at our level."

McIlroy, who famously appeared on television to chip golf balls into a washing machine at the age of nine, wants young people to follow his example and take up the sport early in life.

"I feel as though I've inspired a lot of kids back home in Northern Ireland to pick up the game and play," he said.

"Hopefully I can continue to do that beyond Northern Ireland because it's a great game. It's given me a lot and I've loved every minute of it and I know if more people pick up the game they'll love it, too."

People playing golf once a week, every week, in England

Year14-25 year olds16-25 year oldsAll ages (16+)

Henry Retires to Sky Sports

Thierry Henry has announced his retirement from football and that he will return to London to take up a role in the media.

The 37-year-old former Arsenal striker left the New York Red Bulls at the start of the month after they were knocked out of the MLS play-offs but there was speculation he might choose to play on at another club – with a return to Arsenalmooted.

However, the former France international and World Cup winner has instead called time on a trophy-laden career, which has included spells with Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona and the Red Bulls.

In a statement, Henry said: “After 20 years in the game I have decided to retire from professional football. It has been an incredible journey and I would like to thank all the fans, team mates and individuals involved with Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona, the New York Red Bulls and of course the French National team that have made my time in the game so special.

“It is now time for a different career path and I am pleased to say that I will be returning to London and joining Sky Sports. I will hopefully share some of the insights, observations and experiences I have learnt over the years with you guys. I have had some amazing memories (mostly good) and a wonderful experience. I hope you have enjoyed watching as much as I have enjoyed taking part. See you on the other side …”

When asked if he had thought about another stint in north London, Henry told Sky Sports: “You kind of never leave Arsenal. How many comebacks do you make? At one point it will turn out to be a bad movie. We all love the first Rocky but I’m not too sure about the last one.”

Henry will always be most closely associated with Arsenal, where he is the all-time leading goalscorer with 228 goals in 377 games across two different spells.

Arsène Wenger, who had known him as a young player at Monaco, signed him from Juventus for £11m in 1999 and immediately shifted him from the wing to a central striking position. His blend of pace and power made him one of the most feared forwards in English football, and Henry won the Premier League title twice with Arsenal, as well as the FA Cup three times.

Henry left Arsenal in 2007 and joined Barcelona, where he won the Champions League in 2009. He also added two La Liga titles, the Copa del Rey, Spanish Supercopa, Uefa Super Cup and Fifa Club World Cup to his honours list in three seasons at the Camp Nou.

His medal collection also includes a Ligue 1 title and the Trophée des Champions – the equivalent of the Community Shield – with Monaco, his first professional club.

He spent the final five years of his playing career with the Red Bulls, returning to Arsenal to make four appearances on loan in early 2012.

With France, Henry scored 51 goals in 123 appearances – only Lilian Thuram has more caps with Les Bleus. He was a member of the 1998 World Cup winning squad, while also being a runner-up in 2006. Henry was a European champion in 2000 and was part of the team that won the Confederations Cup in 2003.

The former player will begin his work with Sky from the start of 2015, covering live international, European and domestic football and joining the current pundits Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher, Jamie Redknapp and Graeme Souness.

Gary Neville said: “We were blessed in this country to see Thierry playing at his peak, potentially one of the greatest players in the world and even if you supported another team you couldn’t help but enjoy watching him play. It’s always a shame when such a career comes to an end, but it’s very much Sky Sports’ gain and I look forward to working with him.”

Thursday 4 December 2014

Ireland in 2023 Rugby World Cup Bid

An All-Ireland bid to stage the 2023 Rugby World Cup will be officially unveiled in Armagh on Friday.

Officials from the Irish Rugby Football Union will join representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive and Irish Government to outline their plans to jointly host the tournament.

Both administrations have been engaged in a preliminary assessment exercise over the last 10 months.

The aim was to weigh up the feasibility of submitting an official bid.

In February, former Irish international Hugo MacNeill was asked to chair the cross-border working group examining the issue of hosting the sport's showpiece event.

As well as the traditional rugby stadiums such as the Aviva in Dublin, the Kingspan at Ravenhill in Belfast and Thomond Park in Limerick, a 2023 World Cup in Ireland would also hope to utilise a number of impressive Gaelic football venues, including the 82,300 capacity Croke Park in Dublin.

The Irish rugby team played their home matches in Croke Park between 2007 and 2010 while the Aviva Stadium was being built on the site of the old Lansdowne Road.

Next year's Rugby World Cup will be hosted by England, with Japan hosting the event in 2019.

Cross border bids to hold sporting events are not unheard of in Ireland and earlier this year cycling's Giro d'Italia held stages on both sides of the border.

In May, current Irish coach Joe Schmidt said an all-Ireland Rugby World Cup could replicate the success of his native New Zealand in its staging of the 2011 tournament.

"You have got the same population and the same kind of energy around sporting occasions and I think you have got the stadia," he said.

Button Tells Fans Not to Worry

Jenson Button has told his fans “don’t worry about me” as the McLaren board meets to decide his future.

Asked on Sky Sports whether he would still be with the team next season, he replied: “That’s a question I can’t answer.”

McLaren have continued to dither over the fate of their drivers as they seek to clear a place for the incoming Fernando Alonso now he has officially left Ferrari and the group CEO Ron Dennis had promised Button and his team-mate Kevin Magnussen an answer as to who would be in the car before the end of the season, only to put off the decision until the board meeting on Thursday.

Although a decision may be made at the meeting it is possible no announcement will be made until next week.

Speaking from a road-safety event in Edinburgh where he was accompanied by Magnusson, Button said: “I don’t know when we’ll find out.

“I’m here with Kevin, we’ve spent the last couple of days together and we’ve had some interesting conversations – and whichever way it goes it’s better for us to know sooner rather than later.”

He added: “It’s up to McLaren to make the decison and I will respect their decision whichever way it goes.

“But for me, I’ve had a fairly great career in Formula One which I would love to see continue.”

The 2009 world champion, who finished eighth in this world’s title race, continued: “I’ve really enjoyed this year, I feel we’ve got a good base for a great future, it’s an exciting new challenge and I’m all for new challenges.”

Should Button lose his seat, he has been tipped to join his contemporary in F1, Mark Webber, driving sports cars at Porsche. Asked whether he might be minded to turn down an offer from McLaren now that the affair had dragged on so long, he insisted: “I want to drive for McLaren.

“For me the last few months have been very tricky. Two months ago was very difficult when my future was uncertain but the last few weeks I’ve had so much support from fans and social media it’s given me confidence and kept me relaxed in the decision making and I’m in a good place wherever my future takes me.”

It would be no problem teaming up with the twice world champion Alonso, he said, adding: “He’s a guy who would be a massive challenge working with because you always want to beat your team-mate but an exciting challenge.”

Button has out-qualified and out-performed Magnussen, who finished 11th in the championship, on the track this season but the 34-year-old Briton is the more expensive choice. “Any decision has to be supported by the shareholders and the board,” Dennis has said.