Saturday, June 14, 2014

Spain mourns World Cup 'catastrophe'

Spanish newspapers on Saturday bemoaned the "humiliation" and "catastrophe" of world champions Spain's 5-1 battering by the Netherlands in their opening World Cup match in Brazil.

Most splashed on their front pages photos of Spain's goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas kneeling with head bowed as Dutch players celebrated after ripping apart the Spanish defence.

The image summed up a tale of fallen heros in a team shouldering huge expectations as it defends its world title.

Leading Madrid sports daily Marca mourned "a historic catastrophe", dubbing the Netherlands' performance "a goal-scoring spree of Biblical proportions".

Cafe terraces across Madrid erupted with joy when Spain went 1-0 up through a contentious 27th minute penalty by Xabi Alonso on Friday night.

But they fell silent when Robin van Persie struck back just before half time with a stunning header that looped over Casillas into the net.

The mood darkened as the Dutch added four more goals in the second half and the capital was quiet as fans in their red shirts plodded home.

With two Euro championships plus the 2010 World Cup under their belt, expectations for Spain in this competition could not be higher and the response to Friday night's upset was bitter.

It left fans and press alike mourning the decline of Casillas and demanding changes for the next match, against Chile on Wednesday.

"This is not just any old defeat. It is a historic disaster. There is no precedent of this scale in the history of the World Cup," Marca wrote.

"Humiliation", ran a headline on the front page of general daily El Mundo. "World disaster," said leading newspaper El Pais.

Leading general newspaper El Pais noted on its front page that Spain had not let in more than one goal in a World Cup or European championship match since 2008. On Friday's "the collapse was total, it was hell", it wrote.

"A ridiculous start," screamed Barcelona-based daily Sport on its front page, calling the match Spain's "worst nightmare".

Barcelona general newspaper El Periodico saw the defending world champions, known as La Roja or the Reds, as "Red with shame".

Madrid sports daily AS mourned a "Total breakdown" by Spain in the second half as they gave away their lead.

Spanish papers noted bitterly that the scoreline -- two goals each by Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie and one by Stefan de Vrij -- was sweet revenge for the Dutch for their 1-0 defeat by Spain in the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa.

The Spanish press's only source of consolation was pointing out that Spain lost its first game in that World Cup, to Switzerland.

Many commentators mourned the ineffective performances of past heros of the Spain squad, such as Casillas, defenders Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique and midfielders Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Xavi Hernandez.

Some thought the defeat marked the end of an era for the world and European champions.

"Spain is like the remains of an empire that knows it is near its end," wrote commentator Joan Maria Batlle in Sport.

"Casillas was unrecognisable. Pique and Sergio Ramos were uncoordinated, as if they had never played together," while Iniesta and Xavi dropped out of sight in the second half, Batlle wrote.

The online editions of the sporting press on Saturday were a gallery of Spain's glum-faced fallen heros. Marca's led with Casillas's post-match apology to fans.

He was the first Spain goalkeeper to let in five goals since 1963 when Scotland beat them 6-2 in a friendly.

AS said that fans consulted in a survey online "want to get Pique, Busquets and Xavi Hernandez out of the team and have great doubts about Casillas and Diego Costa" -- a new face in the squad this year.

Instead they want midfielders Javi Martinez, Koke and Pedro Rodriguez, it said.

If Spain wants to extend its winning streak after the 2010 World Cup crown and the past two Euro championships, coach Vicente del Bosque "will have to seek urgent solutions", Marca warned.

"The hardest job will be in maintaining team spirit." "It is time to think quickly, draw firm conclusions and make logical changes in the next starting line-up to get back into this World Cup," wrote Lobo Carrasco in Barcelona sports paper Mundo Deportivo.

"Winning it seems is almost impossible, but it all depends on beating Chile."

Chile opened with a 3-1 win over Australia on Friday.


Miami out of options in NBA Finals?

Another game, another Spurs win. San Antonio routed the Miami Heat again in Game 4, logging another win of 19 or more points on the court that created so many demons for it last season. Is this NBA Finals all but over? 5-on-5 weighs in.

1. Are the Spurs really this much better than the Heat?

Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: In a sense, yes! Think about it like this: Miami has one of the highest basketball IQs in the league, and for much of the season its offense has whipped the ball around with the same speed and efficiency the Spurs have in this series. Yet San Antonio has taken all that away and reduced the Heat to a poor man's Oklahoma City.

Israel Gutierrez, They are now, yes. There was a time when Miami could ramp up the defense and the Spurs would play out of character. That time wasn't too long ago, either. Just watch the end of Game 2, when Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili tried to win it at the end and failed. Now, with the Spurs playing like their usual selves, it's quite obvious the Heat's defense can't hang, and the offense isn't good enough to keep up.

Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider: No. But what we've seen in this series outside of Game 2 has confirmed what I thought entering it -- that San Antonio is clearly the superior team and the difference was masked to some extent by a much more difficult path to the Finals.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, Not this much better, but better indeed. The Spurs showed their balance Thursday with the kind of crushing defensive performance the Heat can rarely muster. The focus on whether they can sign Carmelo Anthony distracts from how their defense has been lacking this season.

Michael Wallace, Heat Index: Yes. Sometimes you just have to examine the evidence at hand and trust what your eyes and the scoreboard are telling you. This series isn't about what's wrong with Miami, the two-time defending champ. It's about what has gone extremely well for San Antonio. Tony Parker was asked after Game 4 whether he was surprised how superb his team is playing. He countered by saying: It's simply Spurs basketball.

2. What's the biggest issue for the Heat?

Elhassan: Lack of depth and athleticism. The well has gone dry for Miami: The rejuvenated Dwyane Wade we saw in earlier playoff rounds might as well be a sepia-toned newsreel on display at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; Birdman (Chris Andersen) has been grounded; the point guard play has been, in a word, "turrible." Outside of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, this just isn't a gifted roster.


Follow our complete coverage of the 2014 NBA Finals. Heat vs. Spurs »

Gutierrez: The defense they normally rely upon is failing them. And frankly, it shouldn't have been a surprise. For the postseason, the Heat have allowed an effective field goal percentage of 53.9 percent, which is consistent with the defense they played all regular season. No team has won a title allowing an eFG of higher than 50 percent. The Heat would need to literally put a lid on the basket to get under 50 percent at this point.

Pelton: Erik Spoelstra doesn't have a single lineup he can trust right now. Until or unless Miami finds that combination, there's no chance of beating the Spurs.

Strauss: The aforementioned defense is a problem, especially with Andersen and Wade moving so slowly out there. The Heat didn't suddenly get old, but San Antonio's ball movement can suddenly reveal their age. They could make up for the defensive breakdowns if they had a rim protector, but they don't currently have one.

Wallace: Where, oh, where should we begin? LeBron James has been uncharacteristically sloppy and inconsistent at the start of games. Wade's impact has plummeted after peaking against Indiana. Bosh is too caught up in his lack of opportunities on offense, when it's the defensive end where the Heat could truly use his aggression. And the supporting cast is being destroyed by the Spurs' role players. It's an equal-opportunity meltdown for Miami right now.

3. Would having Carmelo on the Heat right now make a difference?

Elhassan: It would give them a shot in the arm for the offense and allow James to focus on other areas. But it wouldn't have solved the massive defensive breakdowns that have plagued the Heat in the past two games.

Gutierrez: Of course he would. I mean, he's more than a little bit better than Rashard Lewis. Obviously Melo wouldn't have made up for all of the Heat's defensive deficiencies, but the offense he can provide would've allowed Miami to compete.

Pelton: He'd make a difference because Miami simply needs good, reliable players right now. Anthony would provide the consistent scoring that Wade could not in Game 4. He wouldn't make the difference, though, because the gap between the teams has been so large.

Strauss: Not at all. The Heat are getting absolutely crushed on defense, and Carmelo isn't a good defensive player. They'd certainly be a better team if he were taking, say, Lewis' minutes, but not good enough to close this gap.

Wallace: C'mon, man. When you have LeBron, Wade and Bosh on your roster, you don't get to play the "what if we had …" game. It's a shame how the possibility of Carmelo joining Miami has overshadowed, in some instances, what's actually happening between the Heat and Spurs. Who would have figured Carmelo would ever have this type of impact on an NBA Finals? But just for the sake of debate, the Heat would still struggle to defend and still wouldn't get anything meaningful from the bench.

4. Who's the MVP of the series so far?

Elhassan: From Game 1, when he posted what I called the most dominant two-point performance in Finals history, Boris Diaw has changed the complexion of the game with every minute he has played. His IQ, passing, size advantage and passing (that's right, I listed it twice) have shredded the Heat, who have struggled to find an option to throw on him. He has blown the series wide open.

Gutierrez: Tim Duncan. Kawhi Leonard could lock it up with another stellar game in San Antonio, especially because all eyes are on the Leonard-James matchup. But Duncan is what makes the interior defense so effective for San Antonio. Even his little plays, such as tipped rebounds over Bosh or Andersen, have been huge.

Pelton: Boris Diaw. LeBron James has actually been the most valuable player, but we don't give the MVP to players on losing teams anymore -- especially in a series this lopsided. Because voters can't pick the whole team, why not reward Diaw for his difference-making role? The Spurs have outscored the Heat by 60 points with him on the floor.

Strauss: It's Kawhi Leonard, who has been incredible these past two games. He's also the most irreplaceable of Spurs. If Parker goes down, they have Patty Mills. If Duncan falls, they have Tiago Splitter. If Kawhi gets hurt? There just isn't a passable alternative.

Wallace: Old Man Riverwalk. Duncan stoically said the Spurs were going to "do it this time" and beat the Heat after last year's collapse in Game 6. So far, he has been prophetic. Duncan's leadership and determination have set the tone for this series. His 15.8 points and 10.5 rebounds a game support his case. Parker, Leonard and Diaw can all still make a late run for it.

5. What are the chances LeBron has played his last home game in Miami?

Elhassan: 0.1 percent chance. I can't see LeBron leaving the best owner in the league, one of the shrewdest executives in the league, one of the best young coaches in the league, and, oh yeah, South Beach for … I mean, that's the point. If he were to leave, where would he go?

Gutierrez: Pretty poor. LeBron's not the only one who recognizes this team needs a personnel shakeup. Pat Riley sees it. Erik Spoelstra sees it. And at the very least, LeBron likely will give Riley a chance to improve this group next season. That would mean he opts into his contract rather than test free agency. But I'd say it's better than a 50 percent chance he'll return.

Pelton: 5 percent? Even if James isn't convinced that Miami is the right place for him long term, it makes more sense for him to delay opting out until 2015, when there will be more legitimate suitors for his services than this summer.

Strauss: I give a Miami exit about a 5 percent chance of happening. There aren't good alternative options, and it's one of the best places to live. The upside of this drubbing is it forces the Heat to confront what they need to change going forward.

Wallace: I repeat: C'mon, man. Which one is it? Is Carmelo coming to Miami or is LeBron leaving? I'm starting to get confused. I'd be stunned if Game 4 were LeBron's swan song in Miami. I think he's 97 percent likely to stay. But if he leaves, then you thank the man for bringing his talents to South Beach for a four-year administration that included four trips to the Finals and two titles.


Woodson: Noll in conversation as NFL's greatest coach

Chuck Noll passed away Friday at the age of 82, leaving in his wake a masterful football legacy. Rod Woodson was there for the end.

The Hall of Fame defensive back played five seasons under Noll, whose coaching run with the Steelers spanned from 1969 to 1991. Woodson remembers Noll as a leader who challenged him to win football's considerable mental battle while giving players a way to look at the game from different perspectives.

"He was a huge catalyst for teaching football life," Woodson said Friday on NFL Network. "He loved to read, he would take different scriptures from different literature that he would read and then he would apply it back to the team in some form or fashion to motivate us to win football games. He was an amazing man. I caught the tail-end of his career, and I just couldn't imagine what he was like when they were winning all the Super Bowls.

Woodson was asked if Noll -- who won an unprecedented four Super Bowls -- is in the conversation as the greatest coach in NFL history.

"Well, I think you definitely have to put him there," Woodson said. "Just the way he looked at the draft, the way he wanted to form his team, he was a catalyst of putting that team together, along with all the other ones in the front office for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"But when you talk about somebody who put his thumb print on a football team and they played their way, the Steeler way, it's Chuck Noll. Chuck Noll made it the Steeler way, and they've been playing that way ever since."


Dutch trouncing could herald end of an era

Spain's domination of world football, which has seen them win three trophies in the past six years, could be at an end after their hopes of retaining the World Cup took a huge knock when the Netherlands inflicted their worst defeat in 51 years.

Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben each scored twice as a rampant Netherlands humiliated Spain in a 5-1 trouncing in their opening group game, a rerun of the 2010 World Cup final. 

It was the heaviest defeat suffered by any defending champions at a finals and the Spanish press did not refrain from slamming a side they have had the habit of eulogising over for the past six years. 

"Spain is like the remains of an empire that knows it is near its end," mused a columnist in the Barcelona-based daily Sport. 

A jubilant van Persie, who scored one of the best goals seen at the World Cup, said it was one of greatest football nights for the Netherlands. 

Spanish goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas took the blame for what he called his worst night. 

Spain's hopes of rescuing their campaign and avoiding the fates of France in 2002 and Italy in 2010 in defending champions going out at the group stage, face a real challenge from highly-rated Chile. 

The South Americans joined the Dutch on three points after beating a stubborn Australia side 3-1. 

Mexico beat Cameroon 1-0 in Group A, but claimed they should have had two more on the scoresheet as referees' decisions again inflamed the World Cup debate. 

Van Persie made an incredible dive to send a looping header over Casillas to level the game just before half-time. 

"We didn't react well to van Persie's second goal -- they were euphoric and they hammered us," said Spain coach Vicente del Bosque. 

"We did everything wrong in the second half, it was a debacle," added Spain's veteran midfielder Xavi. 

It was a personal humiliation for Casillas, 33, one of the stars of the team that won the 2008 and 2012 European Championships and 2010 World Cup. 

"I have to ask forgiveness for the match we played in general and me in particular," he said. "I was not good enough." 

Even van Persie was shocked by the scale of the defeat. "It could have been five, oh, yeah, it was five, but it could have been six, seven or eight goals, in my opinion," the Manchester United star said. 

It was the "greatest" night for Dutch football, he added. The walloping of Spain eclipsed more refereeing controversies on the second day of competition. 

FIFA officials earlier defended Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura after he awarded Brazil a bitterly-contested penalty in their opening game victory over Croatia. 

Referees chief Massimo Busacca insisted Nishimura had been justified in awarding the spot-kick after an alleged foul by Dejan Lovren on Brazilian striker Fred. 

"He had a very good position," said Busacca, referring to a photo of the incident which appeared to show Lovren's hands making contact with Fred. 

"When he saw the hands doing something he makes it (the decision)." 

But no sooner had Busacca sprung to Nishimura's defence than officiating was again under scrutiny as Mexico took on Cameroon. 

Mexico's Oribe Peralta scored the only goal of a rain-lashed Group A game in Natal, securing a precious three points for Miguel Herrera's side. 

But the main talking point after the game was Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan, who chalked off what looked like two valid Mexico goals in the first half. 

"The referee has taken two goals off us but we go away with three points and in top spirits," Mexico coach Miguel Herrera said. 

In Friday's late game, Chile beat Australia 3-1 and ensured they will not be taken lightly by either Spain or the Dutch. 

Alexis Sanchez and Jorge Valdivia struck early in the first half before Australian veteran Tim Cahill led a stirring fightback from the Socceroos. 

Cahill scored with a majestic header to make it 2-1 but Jean Beausejour grabbed a third for Chile to make the game safe for the South Americans late on. 

Elsewhere Friday, the pitch in the Amazon city of Manaus due to host its first World Cup match when England play Italy on Saturday is not up to the required standard, according to world players union FIFPro. 

There are large dry areas on the pitch and some of it has been spray-painted green. 

In Saturday's other action, veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld's final campaign gets underway as his talented young Swiss side play Ecuador while Japan play Ivory Coast and Colombia, who will be watched from the stands by injured talismanic striker Radamel Falcao, play Greece.


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

India and South Africa train differently

India and South Africa teams trained hard to make sure that they are strong in all departments of the game. While Indians followed the usual rule of not meeting the media except the day before the match, South African cricketers Hashim Amla and J.P. Duminy freely talked to the journalists.
Indians often loosen up playing soccer and it gave a scare to everyone when on Tuesday evening their star batsman Yuvraj Singh was seen limping out. The entire team play soccer with bare feet following the instruction of their fitness trainer.

When asked about the enthusiasm with which Indian team plays soccer, Indian off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin remarked: “The camp is pretty upbeat in terms of having some good soccer. We’ve enjoyed ourselves. You keep playing cricket all your life so playing soccer gives you leisure time. Those are the things we’re associating with most times.”
Everyone is hoping that Singh who cracked a 43-ball 60 runs against Australia is fit and continues his form.
The South African team were into serious practice. When Amla was asked about his team meeting an inform Indian side, he said: “We have to play against whoever you get drawn in, it’s out of your hand. It’s a good opportunity for us. We have played some good cricket, won some close games and that is as hard as our team has ever been,” he said.

Does he think India is in terrific form? Amla said: “Very difficult to say before the game. Any team can win on a given day.”

Duminy was more forthright in his views: “We have been successful in the last few games but does not mean we will be successful again. We know that Indian spinners will be key components to their teams. We know it’s going to be a big challenge for us. Spinners have bowled exceptionally well against us. We want to put up a big performance against their spinners. Sort of played against them in number of times. It’s a big game. Semi-final of a World Cup, doesn’t get bigger than this ever.”
When Duminy was asked about India’s strike bowler Amit Mishra, Duminy said: “Look it’s not only me who has played against him but all the other guys have also played against him. You kind of know what to expect. He has been on top form for India in this tournament. Definitely not going to take him lightly. We will do our homework and see that our game plan is in order.”

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Afridi blames negative mindset for loss against Windies

Afridi blames negative mindset for loss against Windies

Senior all-rounder Shahid Afridi has blamed the negative mindset of the team for Pakistan`s defeat at the hands of the West Indies in the must-win league match of the ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh.

The defeat to the West Indies knocked Pakistan out of the tournament with former players and critics lashing out at the team for its appalling batting performance.

"It is the negative mindset of the players that brought about our downfall," Afridi told reporters after returning here from Dhaka along with coach Moin Khan and cricket consultant Zaheer Abbas.

Afridi without taking names dropped a clear hint that he was ready to accept the challenge of captaincy if given the chance.

"Look we just have to change our mindset and be fearless and positive. Ok we conceded lot of runs in the last few overs but it was still a gettable target for us but our batsman just played with the wrong attitude," Afridi insisted.

"In T20 or any other cricket you need to have a positive approach," he noted.

Afridi said there was no major problem with the team as it had some very good players who had won matches for Pakistan before against top sides.

"These same players performed well when we beat Australia so we have the right ployers but not the right attitude," he felt.

The all-rounder said he didn`t think captaincy was a major issue but changing the attitude of the players was a big one.

"Obviously one can understand the disappointment and anger of the people after the way we performed against the West Indies and we have to see where we went wrong," he said.

Asked if he would be willing to accept the captaincy, Afridi said for Pakistan cricket he was ready to take up any role or challenge.

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Captain Alastair Cook admits England require a huge rebuild after awful winter

Alastair Cook, England

The 29-year-old is not part of the T20 squad so missed Tuesday's humiliation by Holland, but he was in charge for the mauling by Australia over the winter.

And Cook admits he and whoever is appointed new coach face a long slog to restore England to anywhere near the top of the world game.

"We don't know our best XI any more, there are a lot of places up for grabs and that makes it a very exciting time for English cricket," said Cook, who has the backing of the ECB to carry on as captain.

"You can't hide behind the five years of success we enjoyed before. We've had an incredibly tough winter and we didn't produce anywhere near the standards required.

"We've lost the core of the side - the coach and some very good senior players - and it's not going to be a quick fix. It's not going to turn again for us overnight.

"Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower started off from a similar spot to where we are now, after we were bowled out for 51 in Jamaica. This is a new era because it has to be that way," he said.

"We can't guarantee lots of great results straight away - that's not how international sport works - because we need to get those standards and skills back to where we were.

"It took two-and-a-half years of building momentum to the point where we reached No1 in the world, and it will take time to get back to that level.

Alastair Cook, Ashley Giles, England cricket

"The Test side that won three Ashes series in a row has broken up quicker than we'd all imagined, but that provides an opportunity for guys to put themselves up for selection.

"But we can still win the Ashes in 2015, of course we can. You only have to look at Australia, who were 2-0 down after two Tests here in England last summer, and they bounced back very quickly."

Apart from getting the team back on track Cook has got to get some runs to make sure he is certain of a place as opener, and not just as skipper.

He averaged just 24 in the winter's Ashes series and needs some big scores for his own peace of mind, despite having the backing of the ECB to carry on as captain.

"Sometimes the harder you try, the worse it gets, and it's how you bounce back that really defines you," he said.

"I'm looking forward to getting out in the middle, but it's a very exciting time for my family (he is due to become a dad any day soon) and that's got to come first.

"If all is well, I'll be taking guard against Cambridge University next week."

Apart from his own form Cook will be keeping a close eye on Jonathan Trott, who made his playing return for Warwickshire yesterday four months after quitting the Ashes tour with fatigue.

In a two-day friendly against Gloucestershire at Edgbaston, Trott scored just four before being caught LBW.

WEST INDIES booked a place against Sri Lanka in tomorrow's World T20 semi-final when they beat Pakistan by 84 runs yesterday.

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ICC World T20: Injury scare for Yuvraj ahead of semi-final match against Proteas

ICC World T20: Injury scare for Yuvraj ahead of semi-final match against Proteas

Days after he regained form with a stupendous knock against Australia in the ICC World Twenty20, star Indian batsman Yuvraj Singh was seen limping towards the team bus after falling while playing football during team`s practice at the Dhaka academy.

The incident took place while the cricketers were enjoying a barefoot football session. Yuvraj slipped while running on the lush green outfield, after which he was seen walking towards the bus with a bandage wrapped around his knees.

The seriousness of the injury is yet to be known, however, from the body language of other players, it seemed nothing serious.

Yuvraj, who had struggled with his form in the first three matches, showed his class once again in the team`s fourth match against Australia, where he smashed 60 runs off just 43 balls.

India are the only unbeaten side in the ICC World T20 and they will take on South Africa in the second semi-final scheduled to be played at Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur on Friday.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Premier League: Steven Gerrard scores two penalties as Liverpool beat Man Utd 3-0

Liverpool closed to within four points of Premier League leaders Chelsea after captain Steven Gerrard scored two penalties in a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Gerrard converted from the spot in each half before missing a third penalty after Nemanja Vidic was sent off before Luis Suarez scored a late third to keep Liverpool, who have a game in hand on Chelsea, firmly in the title hunt.

Though chances were scarce during the first half, Liverpool played with a far greater intensity and tempo, and took the lead on 34 minutes.
Rafael was fortunate not to be shown a second yellow card in as many minutes after handling the ball following Suarez's clever touch and Gerrard sent David de Gea the wrong way from the penalty spot.

United briefly woke from their slumber as Wayne Rooney tested Simon Mignolet just before half-time, but Liverpool were awarded another penalty in the opening minute of the second half.

Phil Jones was penalised for a nudge on Joe Allen and, though De Gea guessed correctly on this occasion, Gerrard's precise penalty was beyond the United keeper's reach.
The Red Devils saw two penalty appeals waved away in the ensuing 10 minutes before Liverpool were awarded a third spot-kick when Daniel Sturridge went down under Vidic's challenge which resulted in a second yellow card for the United captain.

Gerrard stepped up for his hat-trick, only to strike the post, while Liverpool could have had a fourth penalty moments later when Sturridge appeared to be tripped by Michael Carrick.

Suarez was thwarted by a brilliant save by De Gea before the Uruguayan did beat the United keeper on 84 minutes with a neat finish after controlling Sturridge's mis-hit shot.

Steven Gerrard talks to Sky Sports' Rob Palmer about Liverpool's season so far ahead of their clash with Manchester Utd on Sunday.
The manner of the defeat against their arch-rivals will be even more galling for United, who now have to lift themselves for the second leg of their UEFA Champions League tie at home to Olympiakos on Wednesday.
This time last year United were 29 points ahead of Liverpool. They are now 14 behind their bitter rivals with nine matches of the season left and the 11-point gap to fourth place looks insurmountable.

United were given an early warning sign after just two minutes when Sturridge sprinted past Vidic but shot wide.

Suarez then latched onto Jon Flanagan's cutting pass and sprinted into the United box but he did not go down when Marouane Fellaini pulled his shorts.

Sturridge again got the better of Vidic and Jones with a burst of pace, but he fluffed his shot, and De Gea made his first save from Allen.

Flanagan was booked for his third foul of the game and Rafael soon joined him for a pointless sliding tackle on Gerrard.

Nemanja Vidic speaks exclusively to Geoff Shreeves about his decision to leave Man Utd and his favourite memories from his eight seasons at the club.
Moments later and Rafael handed the Reds the lead when the ball struck the Brazilian's outstretched right hand as Suarez tried to guide the ball past him.

Gerrard made no mistake from the spot, tucking the ball inside De Gea's left-hand post.

United had a strong five-minute spell before the break which involved Rooney drawing a top save from Mignolet, but just 30 seconds after the restart they imploded.

Jones clattered into the back of Allen and the referee pointed to the spot and Gerrard placed the ball to De Gea's left again.

United thought they should have had two penalties for a handball by Glen Johnson and a foul on Rooney by Martin Skrtel but referee Mark Clattenburg disagreed.

Robin van Persie, the man who won United the title last year, glanced a free header feebly wide from six yards.

A nightmare afternoon plumbed new depths when Vidic was given a second yellow card for bringing down Sturridge, although replays suggested the England striker had dived.

The only crumb of comfort for United was that Gerrard missed his hat-trick opportunity by hitting De Gea's right-hand post.

De Gea saved well from Suarez with eight minutes left but the Uruguayan did not miss moments later to complete a miserable day for United.

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Top-seeded Wichita State headed to St. Louis — with Kansas company

Some people reacted with anger and sympathy on behalf of Wichita State as CBS revealed the Midwest Region bracket. The top-seeded Shockers appeared to receive a tough break from the selection committee, which placed some of college basketball’s biggest names in between them and a return to the Final Four.

The unbeaten Shockers reacted with excitement. Anybody who thinks this team will shrink from playing Kentucky, Kansas State, Louisville or Duke doesn’t understand this team. They want to play the big names. The biggest reaction during Sunday’s selection show came when “Kentucky” popped up as a possible opponent.

If the Shockers win their way to Arlington, Texas, for the national semifinals on April 5, they will earn it through a field that appears monumentally difficult.

“The best challenge out there is those big-name schools that you think you can’t beat,” WSU forward Cleanthony Early said. “And I feel like we can beat them, if we continue to play hard and do what we do.”

Before the Shockers can think about big names, they must fulfill the duty of the No. 1 seed and dispatch a No. 16. It’s usually easy, but they witnessed No. 16 Southern trail No. 1 Gonzaga by one point with 2:28 remaining last season in Salt Lake City. Gonzaga won 64-58, a performance which hinted at its loss to the Shockers two days later.

The Shockers (34-0) will play either Cal Poly (13-19) or Texas Southern (19-14) on Friday at Scottrade Center. Those teams meet Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio. The Shockers would face the Kansas State-Kentucky winner in the round of 32 on Sunday.

No. 1 seeds are 116-0 against the No. 16 seed.

The Scottrade Center, site of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, will be a madhouse starting Thursday with the public practices at noon. Kentucky and Kansas (in the South Region) own two of the largest fan bases in college basketball. Shocker fans started buying tickets for St. Louis at least a month ago. Kansas State adds a fourth team, with fans used to traveling, within driving distance.

While Wichita is 442 miles from St. Louis, Lexington is 334 and Manhattan is 368.

The challenge for WSU is to ignore the circus and focus on playing, first against an opponent they won’t know until Wednesday night. A year ago, the Shockers slipped relatively unnoticed into Salt Lake City — unable to fill a chartered flight with fans — as a No. 9 seed. This season, all eyes are on the nation’s lone unbeaten, some cheering and some wishing for their early demise. Before the Shockers can worry about Kentucky’s height or Kansas State’s Marcus Foster or a rematch with Louisville, it needs to win a game.

“Our bracket looks very stacked,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “Any time you’re going to play in this tournament, you really can’t think too far down the road. There will be upsets. People are going to talk about ‘You’re going to play this team or this team.’ You just need to take care of the business that is right in front of you, and that’s preparing for Texas Southern or Cal Poly.”

The Shockers excelled at taking each opponent seriously this season.

“We’ve got business to take care of and we’ve got to prepare properly,” Early said.

Grabbing one of four seeds atop a bracket adds another landmark to this historic season.

Wichita State is the Valley’s second No. 1 seed, joining 1979 Indiana State. It is WSU’s best seed in the tournament, topping a No. 5 in 2012. The Shockers are making a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance, a first for the program.

“My reaction was, very thankful,” WSU guard Ron Baker said. “You get chill bumps watching your team’s name pop up on the bracket. This year, as a one seed, it feels very special and we’ll hope to take advantage of it.”

The Shockers join a list of 45 schools to earn top seeds since the NCAA first ranked the field in 1979. North Carolina (14), Duke (12), Kentucky (11) and Kansas (10) lead the list. Since 2004, WSU, Gonzaga (2013), Memphis (2006, 2008) and Saint Joseph’s (2004) are the only schools outside the SEC, ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big 10 and Pacific-10 conferences to earn a No. 1 seed.

Preparations started immediately, thanks to the use of Internet-based video systems. The video portion of the scouting reports were done within an hour or so of the selection show. Assistant coach Steve Forbes will handle the scouting duties for Texas Southern. Greg Heiar will prepare for Cal Poly. Associate head coach Chris Jans will scout Kentucky and either Forbes or Heiar will switch to Kansas State after WSU’s first opponent is determined.

WSU will travel to St. Louis on Wednesday. Public and private practices and media sessions are scheduled for Thursday.

“Both of these teams will have our full respect,” WSU guard Fred VanVleet said. “We’ll know our opponent pretty well by tip-off.”

Reaction to the Mighty Midwest came quickly.

According to the Associated Press, four of the teams in the Midwest are among the top eight in the nation —No. 2 WSU, No. 5 Louisville, No. 7 Duke and No. 8 Michigan.

Three 2013 Final Four teams — WSU, second-seeded Michigan and fourth-seeded Louisville, the defending NCAA champion, are in the Midwest. So is Saint Louis, ranked No. 10 less than a month ago. Seventh-seeded Texas finished in a tie for third in the Big 12 and owns wins over North Carolina, Iowa State and Kansas.

WSU, Duke and Michigan are ranked in the top 11 of the RPI, according to Louisville, which has won five straight games by 10 or more points, is a favorite of Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistics. He ranks them No. 2 nationally with its offensive and defensive efficiency both in the top 10. WSU is the only other team ranked in the top 10 of both.

The committee also hit WSU hard with its map skills.

Should WSU and Louisville advance to the Sweet 16, they meet in Indianapolis in a regional semifinal, 114 miles from Louisville and 676 from Wichita, which hardly seems like geographic protection for the region’s top seed.

“No one in that committee room had the common sense to look at the Midwest and say, this is ridiculous?” wrote Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated on Twitter.

Eric Prisbell of USA Today Tweeted: “My worst fear: Louisville a 4 with WSU a 1. Totally ridiculous. No way Louisville is a 4 seed.”

The Shockers, after two months of talk about their schedule and their worthiness as a NCAA title contender, are ready for the main event.

“Once you get to the NCAA Tournament, it seems like a whole season in itself,” Baker said. “We can put everything behind us and focus.”

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Money may send Vince Wilfork away

The 32-year-old defensive tackle asked for his release after apparently feeling spurned by recent contract discussions, according to the NFL Network. When reached yesterday, Wilfork’s agent, Kennard McGuire, had no comment.

As surprising as it may be, the signs existed of an unhappy ending with Wilfork’s $11.6 million cap hit in 2014. Financially, the Patriots would save $8 million against the cap by granting Wilfork’s request, so the business side of it works in the team’s favor.

The final season of Wilfork’s five-year, $40 million contract included $7.5 million in base salary, a $400,000 workout bonus and $200,000 weight bonus, plus the prorated portion of his $18 million signing bonus, accounting for $3.6 million in dead money.

So, the Pats didn’t want Wilfork to account for an $11.6 million cap hit a year after tearing his Achilles, and made their attempt to tweak that margin. Because Wilfork fought so hard in 2010 for his contract, the thought of taking a pay cut after 10 years of service was likely nauseating.

It’s possible the Pats offered an extension to Wilfork to spread out the cap hit to future years, but the high probability of a team-friendly offer appeared to irk him, which became evident with yesterday’s news of his asking to be released.

Wilfork is now betting on himself. In terms of actual cash, he would have made a minimum of $7.5 million in salary in 2014, and if he’s healthy enough after surgery, he would have earned the extra $600,000 with good attendance during the team’s nine-week offseason workout program.

In terms of average annual value, defensive tackle Paul Soliai set the market this offseason by earning $6.6 million per season in his five-year, $33 million deal with the Falcons, and Wilfork’s situation isn’t conducive to that type of deal. So, it’s clear he’s going to take less money by playing elsewhere in 2014, but Wilfork is likely taking the long-term view.

If he signs a one-year, prove-it deal, Wilfork could cash in next offseason with a two- or three-year contract that could ultimately net more money than he believes he’d receive immediately with the Pats. Considering Wilfork was a first-time first-team All-Pro in his last full season before the injury, it’s understandable why he’d feel confident in himself.

Pride might also be in play.

There’s no doubt the Patriots broke from their traditional philosophy Wednesday night by signing cornerback Darrelle Revis and making him the highest-paid player on the defense, as well as the second highest-paid player in the locker room.

Wilfork might shake his head and wonder why the big deal happened so quickly with Revis, who signed five hours after getting cut by the Buccaneers, and it’s been so difficult for him to get his own money, plus others who had come before him.

That’s just a theory.

However, the combination of Wilfork’s business sense and the timing of his request make it intriguing to connect the dots.

With so much in play from each side, there are positives for Wilfork and the Patriots to stand their ground, even if that results in a divorce.

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No Mo Black Mamba: Kobe Bryant To Miss The Rest Of NBA 2014 Season


According to Eben Gregory, The Los Angeles Lakers have ruled Kobe Bryant out for the remainder of the season after a re-examination of the veteran guard’s injured knee showed it still hasn’t healed.
Kobe has been out of the game since he fractured the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee. The injury was a tough break for the Laker star after he worked so hard to come back from a tragic achilles tear suffered last season.

Bryant himself spoke about it as well. Said Kobe,
“Obviously this has been a frustrating and disappointing season, but I appreciate all the support I’ve received from the Lakers and the fans and look forward to being back and ready for the start of training camp. I don’t want to say I’ll be back at the top of my game, because everybody is going to think I’m crazy and an old player not letting go, that sort of thing, but that’s what it’s going to be. The amount of time that we’re looking at in terms of being able to get as healthy as possible and then get in shape so that you don’t come back and get hurt again, by the time that’s ready to go you’re looking at a week left in the season or whatever the case may be and it didn’t really seem worth it. You just continue to try to ramp up. Now I find myself really looking at a seven-month training program. Just doing everything I can to get my body ready and be 100 percent and I have seven months to do that. So, I feel pretty good about it.”
Said team physician Steve Lombardo.

“With Kobe’s injury still not healed, the amount of time he’d need to rehab and be ready to play, and the amount of time remaining in the season, we’ve simply run out of time for him to return. However, Kobe will have the entire offseason to heal, rehab and prepare, and we look forward to him being 100 percent for the start of next season.”

Bryant said he made his decision to sit out the rest of the way Tuesday, prior to the final evaluation.

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Chicago Bulls’ swingman Mike Dunleavy returns with vengeance

Chicago: Mike Dunleavy shook off a cruel elbow in the second quarter that left him bloodied and bruised before returning in the third to take down Houston with a superb offensive performance.
The 33-year-old Chicago Bulls swingman needed 10 stitches at half-time to close a nasty gash over his right eye after being floored by a cruel elbow from the Rockets’ Chandler Parsons.
Rather than let it end his night, Dunleavy scored 18 of his 21 points in the third quarter to lift Chicago to a 111-87 win over Houston Thursday night at the United Centre arena.
“The doctor said I had thick skin,” said Dunleavy, who is the son of former NBA star and NBA head coach Mike Dunleavy Sr.
Parsons drove to the basket, leading with his left elbow that smashed into the face of Dunleavy. Parsons was slapped with an offensive foul on the play.
Dunleavy said he was just holding his ground and didn’t see the elbow coming. His face, though, ended up as a bloody mess. He got up off the ground and rushed to the locker room while a trainer held a towel up to try and stop the bleeding.
“No point in hanging around the court and getting blood everywhere,” said Dunleavy.
The incident took place with just under eight minutes left before halftime.
“It feels alright,” Dunleavy said. “I got hit with an elbow trying to take a charge.
“It happens. You hang around this league enough and you are going to get hit. They did a good job of stitching me up and I was able to get back in quick enough.”
Dunleavy returned to the court to start the third and came out with vengeance. He scored 10 points during Chicago’s 20-2 run to open the period that extended their lead to 70-44 halfway through the quarter.
Dunleavy went seven-of-11 from the field in the third, including three-of-four from three point range.
“The hit knocked a little sense into me, I guess,” Dunleavy said.
Joking aside, Dunleavy said besides the deep cut he also suffered a sore neck due to the whiplash motion of being hit.
“I think it inspired the team,” said Joakim Noah. “He had a huge knot on his head, looking like [Evander] Holyfield, the white version ... It was good for Duke’s street credibility.”
Noah narrowly missed a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for Chicago, which won for the 12th time in the last 16 games. Kirk Hinrich scored 19, Carlos Boozer 18 and D.J. Augustin 13 for the Bulls.
Chicago held Houston star James Harden to a season-low tying eight points.
The Rockets have lost two consecutive contests following a five-game winning streak. It’s the first time Houston has lost back to back games since January 24-25.
Jeremy Lin paced their attack with 21 points. They also got 12 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks from Dwight Howard.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

World T20 2014: Why we think that India cannot win the championship


The world T20 is around the corner and all the teams and fans are warming up to put up the contender ship for their respective countries. A total of 16 teams will be fighting for the title, 8 out of which would undergo a qualifying round before the main tournament starts.

The Indian team which has been on a bad run since the South African tour has a lot to worry about in the limited over format of the game. They have now lost 9 of their last 12 games, winning only two. Now the T2o format is an entirely different scenario than that of the 50 over format, but you can’t deny that the basic of the game is the same. India has not been able to give a complete team performance since the champions trophy now, and the lack of balance in the team is clearly visible. Here we take a look at the area of concern for the Indian team in the shorter format.

Now we are not talking about the IPL or any other domestic league, what we do want to put forward is that the Indian team last played a t20 international match on 10th October 2013 against the Australians, which they did manage to win due to career best figures from Yuvraj Singh. Before that India had not played another T20 in another 10 months, so for the records, they have played only one T20 international in the last 15 months. We can always argue that they get enough experience in the IPL, but we should also not forget that even the IPL was a year back

The bowling department has been one of the flaws that India has now carried for generations with themselves. We have never produced a bowler that can literally scare an opponent. Yes, there have been moments of brilliance by someone or the other and there has always been promise, but that never expands into anything. The team that is going to the T20 world cup is carrying the same bowling attack as the previous tournament. A bowling attack that has shown promise in the one day format, but T20 again is an entirely different format and we have seen again and again how the Indian bowlers crumble under pressure

The Indian middle order is far from what you can call as balanced. Yes we do have returning names like Yuvraj and Raina, who are huge when it comes to the T20 format but then even those two have not played any games at the international arena in the last 6 months or so. When it comes to cricket, practice and form matters, and these two far away from what you can call as good form, plus you also have the short ball problem with both of them. One might think that M S Dhoni would prove to be saviors as far as the middle order is concerned, but his record in T20 internationals doesn’t say much either as he is yet to score a half century in the shorter format. His strike rate also happens to be only 114.88 per 100 balls; something that is highly under achieving as far as M S Dhoni is concerned.

Another major concern is regarding the selection of the spinners, the team has management has yet not been able to decide about whom to play and whom to not. Since Ravindra Jadeja sure to play, considering his all-round performance in the recent tournaments, the team management will have to take a decision on whether to give chances to a newly sparked Amit Mishra or to maintain their Ashwin love affair, a love affair which doesn’t seem to bring about any profits when it’s required the most.

With so much to improve and so many hurdles to overcome, it seems very unlikely that the Indian team has any major chance of winning this world T20. We do believe in miracle, and one can give the example of the 2007 t20 world cup triumph as one, but a team can be one time lucky. Will luck do a favor on the Indian team for the second time? Only time will tell.

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UAE to host first stage of 2014 IPL cricket - organisers

South Africa hosted the second IPL in 2009 when the cash-awash tournament clashed with the multi-phased election that year.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will host the first leg of this year's Indian Premier League cricket (IPL), the organisers said on Wednesday.

The lucrative Twenty20 tournament this year clashes with the parliamentary election in the world's biggest democracy.  A staggering 814 million Indians will be eligible to vote from April 7 in what would be the biggest election the world has ever seen.

Voting will be held in nine stages, staggered until May 12, and results are due to be announced on May 16.  With poll security being the government's priority, UAE would host at least 16 IPL matches from April 16-30, the Indian cricket board said in a statement without naming the venues.

Local media claimed Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah would host those matches. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has approached the interior ministry for permission to host the May 1-12 matches in states where polling would be over, but has kept Bangladesh as a standby in case the government cannot provide security.

"BCCI will abide by the decision of the authorities in this regard. If it is not possible to play in India during this period, IPL matches will be held in Bangladesh," the board said.  

The last set of matches culminating in the June 1 final would be held in India, the board said, promising to share tournament schedules soon. South Africa hosted the second IPL in 2009 when the cash-awash tournament clashed with the multi-phased election that year.

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Phil Jackson’s fiancee Jeanie Buss - wearing New York sweatshirt - says Knicks job ‘his decision to make’

 Phil Jackson's fiance Jeanie Buss walks her and Phil's dog, Princess, outside of their beach front home in Playa Del Rey, Calif., on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.
Jeanie Buss, Phil Jackson's fiancee, sports a New York sweatshirt for a morning walk.

LOS ANGELES — As the world awaits official word on whether Phil Jackson will save the Knicks, his fiancee, Lakers president Jeanie Buss, hinted Wednesday morning that she has the answer.

While wearing a sweatshirt with NEW YORK across the front as she walked her diabetic 11-year-old Maltese in front of the Playa Del Rey home she shares with Jackson, Buss told the Daily News that while it’s “not appropriate for me to talk about that ... Of course I wouldn’t stop him. It’s his decision to make, of course.”

Jeanie Buss says she would not stop Phil Jackson from taking a front-office gig with the Knicks.
Jeanie Buss says she would not stop Phil Jackson from taking a front-office gig with the Knicks.

Asked if New York has a special place in Jackson’s heart, Buss, who is also the Lakers’ NBA Board of Governors representative, responded: "Of course! It's where he was a player. And you know, I'm there a lot for Board of Governors meetings," she said.
Buss laughed when it was suggested the sweatshirt was a sign of where Jackson was heading.

 Phil Jackson shares the beach front home (c.) in Playa Del Rey, Calif, with Jeanie Buss.
Phil Jackson shares the beach front home (c.) in Playa Del Rey, Calif, with Jeanie Buss.

Jeanie Buss out for a morning stroll with dog Princess outside of their beach front home.
Jeanie Buss out for a morning stroll with dog Princess outside of their beach front home.

One of the big questions surrounding Jackson’s decision on whether to accept the Knicks’ offer of a front office position is how much time he would be willing to spend in New York. It has been reported that Jackson might prefer a consulting role with the team that would allow him to still spend time in L.A.
As she walked back to her house from a grassy park overlooking a lagoon, Buss was asked if they would have to give up their idyllic beachside lifestyle and move to New York, Buss answered:
"Isn't it nice down here?" she said, smiling as she walked away with her dog Princess in her arms.

“It’s my favorite sweatshirt,” she said.

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Are Broncos risking future to win now?

The Denver Broncos own the NFL’s best regular-season record in the two seasons since quarterback Peyton Manning improbably hit the market and signed with them. However, they are only 2-2 in the playoffs over that span, compared to a combined 12-3-1 for the more defensively oriented Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens. And after enduring a Super Bowl humiliation last month, there was no way the Broncos could sit by idly and hope for a different result next time. They were going to address their defense in some fashion, but could anyone have expected this? 

One day into free agency, the Broncos slammed the accelerator to the floor in a clear push to win a championship before the nearly 38-year-old Manning's career is finished. While the money Denver allocated for cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward sent a clear message on its own, the Broncos’ immediate interest in the recently released DeMarcus Ware left little doubt. The question is whether the Broncos can have it both ways. Will their win-now mentality cause them to pay a steep price later? 

Every NFL general manager would tell you successful franchises ideally build through the draft and supplement with value buys in free agency.

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