Thursday 31 March 2016

Sorenstam Named 2017 Solheim Captain

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Annika Sorenstam says she is going to have "fun" being European captain at the 2017 Solheim Cup.

Vice-captain when the United States regained the trophy last year in Germany, the 45-year-old Swede said: "I can not tell you how excited I am.

"I had hoped and dreamed that this opportunity would come along. This is really going to be a lot of fun."

Europe will attempt to win back the trophy at Des Moines Golf Club in Iowa next August.

Sorenstam played on two winning sides, at Loch Lomond in 2000 and at Barseback in 2003, and was also instrumental in two victories as a vice captain in 2011 and in 2013.

No player has won more matches for Europe than Sorenstam.

Her record of 22 victories is equalled by England's Laura Davies, who played in nine more matches than the Swede.

She and Dame Laura Davies hold the European record for Solheim Cup matches won, on 22, and Sorenstam also holds outright the record for foursomes points with 11 1/2.

Sorenstam was part of winning teams at Loch Lomond in 2000 and Barseback in 2003, where Swedish players celebrated a famous victory on home soil, and also as a vice-captain in 2011 at Killeen Castle and two years later in Colorado.

"I cannot tell you how excited I am," Sorenstam said as she was introduced as captain. "I have hoped and dreamed this opportunity would come along.

"If I look back at my career, the Solheim Cup has always been an important part of it. We play as individuals for 99 per cent of the time but when we do get together it's something special.

"A lot of the memories from my career go back to the Solheim Cup so when I stopped playing I was hoping I could continue to be involved, and getting the chance to be a vice-captain was really eye-opening.

"I thought 'one day, when I am ready' I would love to get this opportunity, and I thought by 2017 I would be ready. I had support from the tour and this is going to be a lot of fun - I'm looking forward to getting to work and engaging with the players.

"It's all about building memories and I think that is our goal."

Ladies European Tour CEO Ivan Khodabakhsh added: "We are extremely pleased to have Annika leading our team for the next Solheim Cup match in Iowa.

"When you think about her pedigree as the best player of our generation, her personal accomplishments and Solheim Cup experience, she has an exceptionally strong understanding of the attributes required to be an inspirational, respected and successful captain of the European Team." 

McGregor Granted Diaz Rematch at UFC 200

Conor McGregor will get another chance to prove himself as a welterweight after being granted a rematch with Nate Diaz on the UFC 200 card in Las Vegas on July 9th.

American Diaz (19-10) handed McGregor his first loss in the Ultimate Fighting Championship earlier this month when he chocked the featherweight champion into submission at UFC 196.

UFC boss Dana White posted a picture on Twitter of the two men above the caption “200” upon announcing the headline bout late on Wednesday.

White later told ESPN SportsCenter he and UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta had encouraged McGregor (19-3) not to fight at 170 pounds, 25 more than the trash-talking 27-year-old’s usual featherweight limit.

“He was obsessed- obsessed with fighting Nate Diaz again,” White said.

“Obviously, Lorenzo and I tried to argue with him and said, ‘Let’s go back to 145 and defend your title. Or if you really want the Diaz fight that bad, do it at 155.’ He wants the fight at 170.

“Even his coach tried to get him to get off the rematch and off the 170-pound fight... but it’s what he wanted.”

McGregor had hurt Diaz early in their first bout in Las Vegas but could not capitalise and the bigger man landed some punishing blows himself before his jiu-jitsu talents won him the fight.

White said Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar would also square off on the UFC 200 card, with the winner then taking on McGregor for the featherweight belt regardless of the Irishman’s result against Diaz.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Pundit Neville Sacked by Valencia

Gary Neville has been sacked by Valencia after less than four months in charge of the Spanish club.

The 41-year-old, who is part of the England coaching set-up, was given his first managerial job in December.

Valencia won three of their 16 league games under the former television pundit, and 10 of 28 games overall.

Neville said he wanted to stay but results had "not been to my standards" or those "required by this club".

He added that he understood "we are in a results business".

Neville first faced calls to quit after a 7-0 loss to Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semi-final first leg in February.

His last match in charge was a 2-0 home defeat by Celta Vigo just before the international break.

He has spent the past six days with the England squad for friendly games with Germany and the Netherlands.

Neville's younger brother Phil is part of the Valencia coaching team, and the club are yet to make an announcement about his position.

Former Liverpool assistant manager Pako Ayestaran, 53, will take charge for the rest of the season.

Pako joined the club as assistant coach in February in a move that Neville insisted was his decision.

"I'm the head coach of Valencia, I will be the head coach of Valencia for the rest of this season. If I leave, Pako will leave. He's come to be part of my coaching staff," Neville said at the time.

"I understand it might look like there's something going on. There absolutely isn't."

Demichelis Charged by FA

Martin Demichelis has been charged by the Football Association over alleged betting offences.

The Argentine, 35, is accused of committing 12 breaches relating to matches between 22 and 28 January 2016.

Demichelis has until 17:00 BST on 5 April to respond to the charge.

However, there is no suggestion that the charge relates to any of the 25 league and cup games in which he has featured for City this season.

New rules that came into force for the 2014-15 season mean players and coaches are prevented from betting on any worldwide footballing activity.

The FA has the power to fine or suspend any person found guilty of a rule breach.

"It is alleged the player committed 12 breaches of FA Rule E8 concerning football matches between 22 January 2016 and 28 January 2016. He has until 5pm on 5 April 2016 to respond to the charge," said an FA statement:

Rule E8 states: "A Participant shall not bet, either directly or indirectly, or instruct, permit, cause or enable any person to bet on - (i) the result, progress, conduct or any other aspect of, or occurrence in, a football match or competition; or (ii) any other matter concerning or related to football anywhere in the world, including, for example and without limitation, the transfer of players, employment of managers, team selection or disciplinary matters."
There is no suggestion that Demichelis was involved in match fixing nor that he bet on games in which he was involved.

Demichelis is not the first professional football player to have been charged by the FA over betting offenses.

Newcastle and England winger Andros Townsend was fined £18,000 ($26,000) and banned for four months in 2013 -- a punishment which prevented him from playing at the European Under-21 Championship.

Dan Gosling, the Bournemouth midfielder, was fined £30,000 ($43,000) after breaching the rules in March 2014 while at former club Newcastle.

The misconduct charge is the latest blow for Demichelis, whose performances and that of his fellow teammates have dipped in recent weeks, with City falling out of contention in the Premier League title race after losing a number of crucial fixtures over the past couple of months.

City manager Manuel Pellegrini, who announced he will leave the club at the end of the season last month, has presided over defeats to rivals Tottenham, Leicester and Manchester United with his team 15 points off the pace and now fighting to qualify for next season's Champions League.

Pep Guardiola, currently at Bayern Munich, will replace Pellegrini at the end of the campaign -- an announcement that was made on February 1.

Infantino Thinks Too Big for Finals

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The World Cup finals could be expanded to include 40 teams in 2026, the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, said in Montevideo on Tuesday, adding that South America would be given five places.

Infantino, elected present of the world governing body in February, said: “We must open the finals up to more teams. The idea would be from 2026. We’re going to talk about this with everyone: players, the Fifa council. Not only do you give lots of teams the possibility of taking part, but also to many of dreaming of a place in the finals.”

The finals have had 32 teams since 1998 and the champions, who used to automatically qualify as holders, have had to go into the qualifying phase from the 2006 tournament. Infantino said he did not plan to change this policy under the new plans.

South America has four automatic berths and one in an intercontinental playoff for a 32-team tournament.

“My proposal for South America is five fixed places and maybe one more to play for on the pitch,” Infantino explained. He did not say how the eight new places would be distributed or played for.

The hosts for the 2026 finals have yet to be voted on while the 2018 tournament will be held in Russia and 2022 in Qatar.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Murray Looks Exhausted - Annabel Croft

Andy Murray looks an “exhausted” player, according to the former British No1 Annabel Croft.

Murray was eliminated from the Miami Open on Monday after a three-set defeat against Grigor Dimitrov and many have made the connection between the Scot’s indifferent form and his recently becoming a father.

The 28-year-old returned to action in March after the birth of his daughter but made an early exit from Indian Wells and looked out of sorts in Florida, smashing his racket into his bag with frustration during the 6-7, 6-4, 6-3 defeat. “There were a lot of unforced errors – 55 for him, which is a lot for Andy,” Croft told Sky Sports News HQ. “There was a lot of emotion, a lot of back-chat to the box. He admitted himself that wasn’t great and he needs to find focus. I think generally he looked exhausted.”

Leon Smith has seen Murray at his best over the past 12 months but the Great Britain Davis Cup captain agrees that Murray looks off the pace. “There’s so much going on his life, but also a snowball effect,” he told Sky Sports News.

“If you think back to the end of last year, with the Davis Cup final then only a few days off, then he went straight to Dubai for pre-season. He had a great run in Australia, reaching the final again, then suddenly a life-changing moment as Sophia arrives.

“It’s a brilliant episode and chapter in his life but it’s a lot to take in. Then we have a Davis Cup tie against Japan which was extremely stressful – the match against Kei Nishikori took a lot out of him. To then travel a big distance out to Indian Wells and start this again – there’s not been many breaks. You certainly can’t count having a child as a break! There’s a lot of changes and it will take time to adjust.”

Murray, meanwhile, has rubbished talk of a rift with his coach, Amélie Mauresmo, who. Mauresmo watched Murray lose to Dimitrov from a different part of the stadium to the box where the rest of his family.

“If I’d had a falling out then Amélie wouldn’t be here at the tournament,” he said. “We had dinner with all our families last night, so we certainly haven’t fallen out. It’s one of those things that when I win no one says anything about it, and then when I lose that’s an excuse. I don’t think that is the reason for me hitting 50 unforced errors in this match.”

Sports Quotes - John Giles

"Pele wasn't as gifted as George Best and I would definitely put George above Johan Cruyff because he had more heart,"

Johnny Giles
Manchester United, Leeds United, Republic of Ireland

Abdullah Retires Citing Concussion Concerns

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A week after the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted to a link between football and the degenerative brain condition CTE, the Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah has announced his retirement at the age of 30, citing concerns over concussion.

“There are numerous deciding factors in my decision, with personal health being foremost,” wrote Abdullah in a post on Instagram. “Sitting for five weeks last year after suffering the fifth concussion of my career, I had a lot to contemplate. My goals moving forward are to be of benefit to my family, my community, my country and hopefully the world.

“Having a sound mind will be vital in accomplishing these goals. Thank you to everyone I’ve crossed paths with during my time as a player. You’ve had an impact on my life for the better. Thanks for the love and support. It’s greatly appreciated.”

Abdullah joined the Chiefs as a free agent in 2013. He had previously played for the Minnesota Vikings after finding himself undrafted out of college. He is also an practicing Muslim and took the 2012 season off to make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

A number of high-profile stars have retired in their prime this off-season, including Calvin Johnson and Marshawn Lynch, although neither of those players cited any concerns over their health. In 2015, the San Francisco linebacker Chris Borland quit the NFL at the age of 24 due to concerns about head trauma. He has since described football as “inherently dangerous”.

South Africa Win Sri Lankan Dead Rubber

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Hashim Amla hit an unbeaten 56 as South Africa closed the Super 10 stage of the World Twenty20 with an eight-wicket win against Sri Lanka in Delhi.

A dead rubber between two eliminated sides was never likely to produce spectacular cricket but South Africa were comfortable victors at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium. They took all 10 Sri Lankan wickets for 120, with the 39-year-old Tillakaratne Dilshan top-scoring with 36, before Amla broke the back of a gentle chase.

The only two wickets to fall were down to good fortune, Quinton de Kock dawdling towards his crease as he was run out for nine and Faf du Plessis given out lbw to a rotten decision. Amla would not be moved, though, dropping anchor for 52 balls and hitting five fours and a six.

AB de Villiers (20), whose presence attracted many of the 16,000 fans who attended, ended things with a six off Suranga Lakmal.

A win here will be cold comfort for South Africa, whose fabled under-performance at global events has gained another chapter, while their opponents look to have a long rebuilding phase ahead.

Sri Lanka were missing their captain, Angelo Mathews, who injured a hamstring during his brilliant one-man stand against England, but began their innings well with a bright opening stand of 45.

The left-arm spinner Aaron Phangiso broke that up by bowling Dinesh Chandimal through the gate and then cleaned up Lahiru Thirimanne with his next delivery.

Dilshan put on another 30 with Milinda Siriwardana before the latter was carelessly run out and that represented the best Sri Lanka could muster.

By the time Farhaan Behardien had Dilshan lbw on the sweep the innings had lost its spine. Sri Lanka’s next five wickets fell for 35, with the last man, Lakmal, run out with three balls left to bowl.

Serena Winning Streak Ends in Miami

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Serena Williams’ 20-match winning streak at Key Biscayne ended on Monday with a 6-7, 6-1, 6-2 loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the fourth round of the Miami Open.

Williams was bidding for her ninth title in the event and her fourth in a row. But after a grueling first set that lasted nearly an hour, the No1 seed Williams faded on a sweltering afternoon.

This is the first time she hasn’t reached the Key Biscayne quarter-finals since 2000, when she lost in the fourth round to Jennifer Capriati. Williams, 34, hasn’t won a tournament since earning her 69th title at Cincinnati in August.

“I did the best I could,” she said after her defeat. “I can’t win every match. These players come out and play me like they’ve never played before in their lives. I have to be 300% every day.”

The No15 seed Kuznetsova won thanks to her defensive skills, extending points until Williams made a mistake. The Russian finished with only 18 unforced errors to 55 for Williams. In addition, Williams’ serve was uncharacteristically unreliable. She hit 13 aces but also had nine double faults and was broken six times.

Williams said the muggy weather didn’t faze her. “Physically I’m fine,” she said. “I don’t know, I guess I didn’t move today. Maybe that was one of the things that didn’t work out for me.”

Kuznetsova, 30, won Key Biscayne 10 years ago and is into the quarter-finals for the first time since 2009. “I’m too old,” she told the crowd. “I’ve been many times on this court. I love being back here, and I’m really happy with my performance.”

The No2 seed, Agnieszka Radwanska, lost to No. 19 Timea Bacsinszky 2-6, 6-4, 6-2. The defeat was only the fourth in 21 matches this year for Radwanska.

Williams lives 90 minutes from Key Biscayne and has long considered the event her home tournament. But the stadium was two-thirds empty for her match, partly because of weather so uncomfortable some spectators draped towels over their heads seeking refuge from the sweltering sun.

Williams played a flawless tiebreaker, hitting two aces and three other winners. But after she lost serve to fall behind 3-1 in the second set, her play became more flat-footed. At least twice she failed to pursue shots from Kuznetsova.

In the third set Williams tried hitting balls as hard as she could, and some went for winners. But she double-faulted to fall behind 4-1, and Kuznetsova held twice to close out the victory.

There was no smiling by either player as they met at the net to shake hands. Kuznetsova improved to 3-8 against Williams and beat her for the first time since the 2009 French Open quarter-finals.

Junior S'au Races to Save Boy

Photo: Graham Crowther
A horrified family appeal for help as a boy is crushed in his seat as fighting broke out in the stands at a rugby league match on Monday.

The brawl happened at a First Utilities Super League match between the Salford Red Devils and Huddersfield Giants at the West Yorkshire club's John Smith's Stadium.

A small group of Salford fans are said to have caused trouble throughout the game, including refusing to throw the ball back, and began arguing and fighting with stewards at the final whistle, with women and young children getting caught up in it.

Players from Salford, including New Zealander Junior S'au, rushed over to the stand apparently in response to cries for help from their own family members. S’au grappled with one man before pinning him to the ground.

A fan club dedicated to Salford called Salford's Red Army added: “Events that proceeded today's game have no place at Salford or in Rugby League.”

The club apologised afterwards, tweeting: “We'd like to apologise for the behaviour of some of our fans today. We'll be working with @Gianrsrl to find those involved. We do not condone any behaviour of the sort.”

Salford won the match 24-22.

Monday 28 March 2016

Premier League Interest - Zlatan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic says Premier League clubs are interested in signing him from French champions Paris St-Germain.

The 34-year-old, who is out of contract in the summer, has been linked with Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

"There has been interest and we will see where it leads," he said. "But it would have to be like a marriage, both sides have to want it as much."

Ibrahimovic has won league titles in four European countries.

After helping Ajax win two Dutch titles at the start of the century, he won two Serie A championships with Juventus - both later revoked because of the Calciopoli scandal - and three more with Inter Milan.

He then moved to Spain and claimed the La Liga title with Barcelona before returning to Italy to win the 2010-11 Serie A with AC Milan - his eighth successive league title.

After a season without silverware at Milan in 2011-12, Ibrahimovic moved to PSG, and the French side have won the past four Ligue 1 titles.

After scoring four goals in a 9-0 thrashing of Troyes earlier this month to seal this year's title, Ibrahimovic said: "For the moment, I will not be at PSG next season. I still have a month and a half left here.

"If they replace the Eiffel Tower with a statue of me, then I will stay."

Ibrahimovic has scored 62 international goals in 111 appearances, including a sensational 30-yard overhead bicycle kick in a 4-2 friendly win over England in 2012.

Antoine Demoitie 1990 - 2016

Belgian cyclist Antoine Demoitié has died in hospital after being hit by a motorbike after a fall during the Gent-Wevelgem cycling classic on Sunday. Several riders had fallen in the crash as the race moved through Sainte-Marie-Cappel in northern France.

“The rider died. An inquiry is under way to determine the circumstances,” Frederic Evrard, spokesman for the Nord-Pas-de-Calais regional gendarmerie in France, told Agence France Presse.

The 25-year-old Wanty-Gobert rider was taken to the University Hospital of Lille after the accident during a section of the race in Northern France but died some time later.

Team Wanty-Gobert had said on Twitter late on Sunday that their rider was in a very serious condition and that his wife and family were at his side, but had no further updates.

The 243-kilometre event was won by the world champion Peter Sagan, the Tinkoff rider beating his breakaway companions after taking the wheel of the Russian Vyacheslav Kuznetsov, who launched the final sprint but finished third.

Lotto Soudal rider Jens Debusschere was also taken to hospital after crashing during the notoriously gruelling race, with his team confirming he suffered a “bruised muscle, a bruised junction between collar bone and shoulder blade, a concussion and abrasions”.


Sunday 27 March 2016

Ronaldo in Portugal Penalty Miss

Brazilian-born Marcelinho scored on his Bulgaria debut while Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty for Portugal as the visitors pulled off a shock 1-0 friendly win over the Euro 2016 finalists.

Marcelinho, born in a small town in the Amazon region of Brazil and making his first international appearance at the age of 31, struck in the 20th minute of a game almost totally dominated by Portugal.

The hosts were repeatedly foiled by the Bulgaria goalkeeper, Vladislav Stoyanov, who capped an outstanding display by diving to his right to save Ronaldo’s penalty, awarded for handball, in the 69th minute. Ronaldo, who has missed three penalties this season for Real Madrid, also turned the rebound wide.

His unhappy night began when he fired over with the goal at his mercy from an unmarked position in the seventh minute. He also had four attempts at goal from long-range free-kicks, two hitting the wall and the others forcing saves from Stoyanov.

The visiting goalkeeper made six stops in the first 10 minutes alone, including one excellent effort denying Nani, as Portugal threatened a goal spree.

Bulgaria then went in front when Marcelinho, who qualified for them after spending five years with Ludogorets Razgrad, forced his way past two defenders and poked the ball past Anthony Lopes.

After that the game became predictable as Portugal poured forward and played plenty of neat football around the Bulgaria area but either lacked the killer pass or were foiled by Stoyanov. The goalkeeper completed his evening’s work by making a superb stop to turn away a close-range header by a frustrated Ronaldo with five minutes left.

“We are not satisfied with the result. We started brilliantly. In the first 15 minutes we were strong, consistent and the goalkeeper make some fantastic saves; and then we lost some concentration,” said the Portugal coach, Fernando Santos.