Sunday, October 23, 2011

Newcastle stay unbeaten, Liverpool stall

Newcastle maintain unbeaten start to the season, sending Wigan Athletic to the bottom of the League with a 1-0 victory.
Liverpool's Luis Suarez (C) heads the ball towards goal during their match against Norwich City [Reuters]

Newcastle are fourth on 19 points after the 25-year-old France midfielder curled home a shot in the 81st minute, his first goal for the club since his move from Lille.
Liverpool's drive for a top-four place stalled when they were held to a 1-1 draw by promoted Norwich City at Anfield, leaving them in fifth place on 15 points, seven adrift of leaders Manchester City who play at second-placed Manchester United Sunday.
West Bromwich Albion won 2-1 at Aston Villa, Sunderland won 2-0 at Bolton Wanderers and Wolverhampton Wanderers drew 2-2 with Swansea City.
Although Newcastle were not at their best, they were still too strong for struggling Wigan who went down to a sixth successive league defeat, sliding into last place, equal on five points with Blackburn Rovers who play Tottenham Hotspur at Ewood Park Sunday.
Newcastle manager Alan Pardew told the BBC: "It was a really good effort by Wigan, they were faster than us at times.
It needed a bit of magic and it was a great goal, Yohan's technique was top class." Liverpool, who hit the woodwork three times at Anfield, could not capitalise after ex-Norwich player Craig Bellamy gave them the lead with the last kick of the first half.
Liverpool dominated for long periods but, apart from that goal, could find no way past Canaries keeper John Ruddy who made a series of brilliant saves, including one in the fifth minute of stoppage time from Luis Suarez.
Thumping header
Norwich's goal came after an hour when substitute Grant Holt marked his 100th appearance for the club with a thumping header, taking full advantage of poor keeping from Pepe Reina.
Ruddy, who had an outstanding match back on Merseyside where he used to play for Everton, told ESPN: "I'm just delighted with the point.
"I thought we rode our luck a bit in the first half, but in the second half we were a different animal."
The win left Norwich in seventh place, just three points behind Liverpool.
Wolves scored twice in the last five minutes through Kevin Doyle and Jamie O'Hara to end a run of five successive defeats with a 2-2 draw with Swansea.
"We have played better in the last five games and got nothing," McCarthy said. "We needed a break, and hopefully that is it.
"I'm not sure we are jumping around for joy as it has been a difficult day for us, but when you pick the bones out of it, it's a good point."
West Brom, Villa drama
Elsewhere in the Midlands there was drama in the derby between Villa and West Brom who came from behind to win in the league at Villa Park for the first time since 1979.
After Darren Bent gave Villa the lead with a 23rd-minute penalty, the match effectively turned when Villa defender Chris Herd was sent off for what looked like an innocuous tussle with West Brom's Jonas Olsson.
Referee Phil Dowd also awarded West Brom a penalty which Chris Brunt blasted high and wide, but he was more accurate with a corner on the stroke of halftime which was headed in by Olsson.
Paul Scharner hooked in what proved to West Brom's winner after 57 minutes. Sunderland won 2-0 at lowly Bolton Wanderers, Stephane Sessegnon and Nicklas Bendtner earning the visitors their first away win of the season and leaving Owen Coyle's men in the relegation zone along with Blackburn Rovers and Wigan.
Five matches are being played Sunday including the top-of-the-table clash between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford (1230 GMT).
Chelsea make the short trip for a west London derby at Queens Park Rangers (1500 GMT).

Genoa holds Juventus to draw

Genoa striker Andrea Caracciolo scored a late equaliser to hold Serie A leader Juventus to a 2-2 draw.

Juventus' Alessandro Del Piero reacts during the Serie A soccer match against Genoa at Juventus stadium [Reuters]

Leaders Juventus were robbed of the chance to go three points clear at the top of Serie A after a late goal from Andrea Carraciolo earned Genoa a 2-2 draw in Turin on Saturday.
Substitute Carraciolo poked home five minutes from time after Alessandro Matri had twice given the Bianconeri the lead in an entertaining match.
Matri opened the scoring with a close-range finish after six minutes but skipper Marco Rossi headed Genoa level just after the half-hour mark.
The Italian striker swept the home side ahead again on 58 minutes but Carraciolo's late strike means Juve top the table by just one point from Udinese, who host Novara on Sunday.
Fiorentina also drew 2-2 at home with Catania, a result that increases the pressure on Fiorentina coach Sinisa Mihajlovic.
Juventus, whose new stadium is being monitored by local authorities for structural safety, played the now familiar high-tempo pressing game of coach Antonio Conte and were soon in front.
Matri, restored to the starting line-up, deflected in Claudio Marchisio's shot from the edge of the area, and he almost grabbed a second on 25 minutes but his angled shot was blocked by the legs of goalkeeper Sebastien Frey.
Genoa were far from overawed by the electric atmosphere and equalised when Rossi escaped the marking of Giorgio Chiellini before meeting Alexander Merkel's inch-perfect cross with a downward header into the far corner.
Persistence pays off
The mercurial Mirko Vucinic, who was outstanding in the 2-0 win over AC Milan in Juve's last home match, was having a quiet night and it was Genoa who came closest to taking the lead at the start of the second half when the impressive Merkel's backheel shaved the post on 55 minutes.
Two minutes later the persistent Matri grabbed his second to restore Juve's lead, calmly sidefooting home from 12 metres after Andrea Pirlo had sold the Rossoblu defence a dummy.
Merkel saw his powerful header from Rossi's cross bounce back off the crossbar but the home side paid the price for sitting back on their lead when Carraciolo nipped in front of Chiellini at the near post to poke home Juraj Kucka's header.
Earlier on Saturday, a late goal from Maxi Lopez helped Catania snatch a 2-2 draw against Fiorentina.
In a thrilling game in Florence, the Argentine striker fired home on 83 minutes to give the Sicilians a richly deserved point after brilliant Stevan Jovetic strikes had twice given the Viola the lead.
The Montenegrin forward opened the scoring in the 20th minute with a clean strike from the edge of the box before bending a 20-metre effort high into the net after Gennaro Delvecchio had equalised from a corner just before halftime.
Mihajlovic, who was jeered by home fans after being sent from the bench for protesting, was given backing from president Andrea Della Valle.
"The mood in the dressing room is low but that's normal," he told Sky Sport channel.
"The first to be disappointed are the players and coach. I'm sorry for the fans but the coach's position is not under discussion."

Ronaldo fires Real top, Barca held by Sevilla

Fans ecstatic as Real Madrid notches a hat trick over Malaga to take over first place in La Liga.

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo celebrate their victory over Malaga at La Rosaleda stadium [Reuters]

Cristiano Ronaldo fired Real Madrid top of La Liga with a superb 14-minute hat-trick in a 4-0 win at Malaga as Barcelona were held 0-0 in a stormy encounter at home to Sevilla on Saturday.
Gonzalo Higuain opened the scoring against Malaga and Ronaldo, the world's most expensive player, rattled in three more before the break to take Real's goal tally to 25 from their last six games in all competitions.
Barcelona were denied by an inspired performance from goalkeeper Javi Varas who crowned his display with a stoppage-time penalty save from Lionel Messi as his side finished with nine men at the Nou Camp.
Real climbed to 19 points from eight games, one ahead of Barca. Unbeaten Sevilla are fourth with 16 points and big-spending Malaga are sixth with 13.
"Our first half was fantastic and that's where we won the game," Ronaldo told reporters.
"I haven't taken the match ball because I don't have space for them all," he added, after his third three-goal haul this season.
Sporting Gijon logged their first win of the season with a 2-0 home victory over promoted Granada, first-half goals from David Barral and Andre Castro dragging them off the foot of the standings and easing the pressure on coach Manuel Preciado.
The Asturians pushed north-coast rivals Racing Santander down to 20th on goal difference after Hector Cuper's winless side suffered a 1-0 home defeat to Espanyol.
Knockout blow
Both Malaga and Real had penalty appeals waved away in a pulsating start at the Rosaleda, but the hosts were unable to stay the pace as Jose Mourinho's side ripped into them.
Higuain rounded the keeper to score after a clever pass behind the defence from his Argentina team mate Angel Di Maria.
Di Maria also laid on the second, his dipping cross from the right being side-footed home by Ronaldo and the knockout blow came when Malaga's defence parted for Ronaldo to fire in from outside the area just five minutes later.
The Portuguese wrapped up his hat-trick with a back-heel volley after a corner was headed back into the danger area in the 37th minute.
Malaga restored some pride with a battling second-half display, twice hitting the woodwork, but the damage had been done.
Barca hold Sevilla
Sevilla keeper Varas pulled off a string of impressive saves against Barca and when he was eventually beaten in the second half Andres Iniesta's lob bounced on the crossbar.
Iniesta was brought down for a disputed penalty at the end and Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute was sent off, after first kicking the ball off the penalty spot, and then tussling with Cesc Fabregas as the visitors disputed the decision.
Varas saved Messi's spot kick and Sevilla defender Fernando Navarro was also sent off in the tense last seconds as he brought down Pedro on the edge of the area.
"I think we played a good game, but goalkeepers also play and we have to congratulate Varas for a great performance today," Barca coach Pep Guardiola said.

D-Day minus one: The Captains

Al Jazeera's Paul Rhys on the men who will lead New Zealand and France into the Rugby World Cup final at Eden Park.
Leader of the pack: McCaw has won 57 of his 65 Tests as captain but the World Cup is still to be earned [GALLO/GETTY]

Two men from very different corners of the world will lead their teams out at Eden Park on Sunday for what each will hope is the crowning moment of his career.
Richie McCaw will captain New Zealand in the final of Rugby World Cup 2011, while the man aiming to stop the All Blacks from winning the tournament on home soil is the French skipper, Thierry Dusautoir.
McCaw, 30, was born in the countryside outside Oamaru in Otago province, one of the South Island's rugby heartlands.
You could easily miss his little town of Kurow, signposted inland from State Highway 1 in the 360km stretch between Dunedin and Christchurch, unless your passenger happened to be from New Zealand and mumbled "Richie McCaw country" as you drove past.
Dusautoir, 29, comes from the industrial city of Abidjan in Ivory Coast, and has an Ivorian mother and a French father.
This week he was nominated for the IRB world player of the year award – despite only beginning to play rugby at the age of 16. He is one win away from leading France to a first World Cup trophy.
The captains spoke of their mutual admiration on Saturday as they met the media for the last time before the match. And both had a simple message: the World Cup final is just an opportunity that has to be taken.
"I've got a lot of respect for the way he plays, especially how he influences the guys around him," said McCaw, who has won the world player of the year title three times during his 102-cap Test career.
"We've had different roads getting to the final.
"The boys are motivated, they're excited. But we're up against a team that will be exactly the same and it's about doing the job for 80 minutes.
Dusautoir is clapped off the Eden Park pitch after grinding out a one-point win over Wales [GALLO/GETTY]
"A lot of guys have been through one, if not two experiences that haven't been too flash, and you'd like to think that just hardens the resolve and the desire."
That desire is strong in an All Blacks team that has consistently failed to produce in the World Cup.
Since winning an embryonic tournament in 1987, they have been to just one final, and experienced painful exits to the French in 1999 and 2007.
Their only World Cup wins over France came in the first tournament, in the bronze match in 2003, and in the pool stages this year.
"From my point of view, what happened back in 2003, I never understood what it took to win a World Cup," said McCaw.
"Perhaps I didn't fully understand again in '07, but in those experiences you realise that to win it you've got to be the best team in that tournament regardless of what's happened beforehand, and you've got to produce the goods when it counts.
"I think a lot of the guys that have been around a while understand that. There's absolutely no guarantees."
New Zealand have stormed to the final, winning all their matches and playing the best rugby of any team. France have lost twice – to the All Blacks and to Tonga – and scraped through their semi-final against Wales, winning 9-8 against a side that played with 14 men for most of the match.
Ill temper and petulance have dogged their tournament.
Coach Marc Lievremont quelled what appeared to be a mini-revolt during the group stages, and the players didn't take kindly to being called "spoilt brats" by the former finalist, after they refused his request not to go out and celebrate after beating the Welsh.
"There are 15 problems on the pitch tomorrow and not necessarily Richie McCaw. I have great respect for him, but the list would go on and on if I had to mention all the players that I respect"
Thierry Dusautoir, France captain
Dusautoir has been excluded from that criticism, with Lievremont making a point of praising the blindside flanker's attitude compared to the rest of the squad.
On Saturday, Dusautoir said that the controversy meant nothing in the context of the job at hand.
"All children dream of being world champion and we are going back to our dreams this week," he said.
"The desire is there and what we need to be doing is making the most of this opportunity we have been given."
He also recognised the challenge posed by McCaw, who is the best openside flanker – indeed, the best player – in the world. But the final will not be won by focussing on individuals.
"There are 15 problems on the pitch tomorrow and not necessarily Richie McCaw," said Dusautoir.
"He is a legend in this sport and he has more than 100 caps for the All Blacks, and he has captained them for six or seven years now.
"I have great respect for him, but the list would go on and on if I had to mention all the players that I respect."
McCaw is the most experienced New Zealand captain in history, was the first All Black to reach 100 caps, and has 57 wins in 65 matches as captain – more than any other skipper.
He is already a hero in his homeland and abroad – radio stations have been broadcasting poems about him this week – and such is the position rugby holds in Kiwi hearts, he is likely to reach near-mythological status if he lifts the Webb Ellis Cup on Sunday.
McCaw at training in Auckland the day before leading the All Blacks into the World Cup final [GALLO/GETTY]
"Being captain of the All Blacks, it's a huge honour for starters, but there's a lot of responsibility that comes with it," he said.
"The expectation is that you set the standards that have been forged over a long period of time, and I guess I've got to – along with the coaches – drive that, and you've still got to go out and be a top player.
"I look at it as a huge privilege every time you take the field. But you better go do the job, and I guess having the right men around you to drive those standards and that attitude is the key.
"I won't be around forever, but hopefully when I leave one day people will see that all the history that has gone before, all the standards that have been set, have been upheld if not raised."
The Webb Ellis Cup would look natural in McCaw's hands. But for all his achievements, it is still there to be won or lost.
If the All Blacks fall at the final hurdle again, it could remain free of his fingerprints for good.
"I don't think you should touch it till you've earned it," he said, when asked if he had given the trophy an experimental heft.
"We've got guys who are good enough but that means nothing.
"It's not about who-deserves-what. It's about who goes out and plays that game."

Blatter: FIFA will re-examine bribes inquiry

FIFA president Sepp Blatter says external committee will lead an investigation into the collapse of marketing partner.

Sepp Blatter is taking action to prove FIFA can be trusted to look after football [GALLO/GETTY] 

FIFA president Sepp Blatter went on the offensive on Friday, hoping his new anti-corruption drive will ease the pressure on his scandal-hit organisation and bring transparency into the world body.

Blatter, who won a bruising and controversial election battle to see off former Asian football supremo Mohamed bin Hammam earlier this year, said he will create a committee of good governance as well as four new task forces.

The FIFA chief insisted that this new committee of good governance was essential if reforms agreed by the FIFA Congress in June were to be advanced.

"This committee will establish necessary anti-corruption measures and codes of conduct," said Blatter.

The new committee should be made up of 15 people, mostly from the world of football but also containing politicians.

FIFA has been mired in corruption allegations since June with Blatter's battle with Qatar's Hammam particularly bitter.

Hammam was eventually banned for life from all football-related activity after being accused of trying to buy votes in the election.

He has constantly denied the allegations and has vowed to clear his name.

New probe

Blatter was determined to come out fighting on Friday at the conclusion of the first executive committee since his re-election.

"In any family that has hundreds of millions of people as is the case with FIFA, there will be some who are corrupt," he said.

"What you cannot say is that the whole family is corrupt."
"In any family that has hundreds of millions of people as is the case with FIFA, there will be some who are corrupt"
Sepp Blatter
Blatter also said that he would open a new probe into the collapse of ISL, the former marketing partner of FIFA.

Documents relating to the International Sport and Leisure group will be re-examined at a December 16 and 17 meeting in an attempt to probe allegations that illegal payments were made to certain FIFA officials in exchange for TV and commercial rights.

"The executive committee stated its full support for the release of the dossier on the ISL case," said a FIFA statement.

"However, this can only be done after a thorough legal analysis because of the complexity of the matter.

"The case will be opened at the next meeting of the Executive Committee in December 2011. It will then be given to an independent body for further examination."

Racing authority relax whipping rules

After jockeys rebel against new whip rules The British Horse Racing Authority have revised penalties.

 Christophe Soumillon riding Cirrus Des Aigles (C, stripped cap) was punished after race at Ascot [GALLO/GETTY] 

The British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) on Friday announced revisions to recently toughened whip rules and rescinded penalties that created controversy among jockeys.

As a result, Richard Hughes will return to racing, after handing in his licence in protest at having two bans in four
days, and Christophe Soumillon will receive his share of winnings from a feature race at Ascot last Saturday.

Soumillon struck his mount once more than the then-rules permitted and he was livid at having to forfeit his prize money of around $79,000.

The major changes include removal of a five-hits limit in the final furlong, or after the final obstacle, but the restriction to seven hits in a flat race and eight over jumps remains.
"The board is committed to the highest standards of regulation in the sport and ensuring that British Horseracing
continues to lead the way in matters of equine welfare"

BHA statement
Jockeys had struggled to accept the tougher rules introduced on October 10. Their unrest led to media reports that some leading jockeys planned to disrupt the sport by going on strike.

A BHA statement added that riders will now not lose riding fees while suspended for whip offences and will lose a percentage of winnings only if an offence is penalised with a ban of seven days or more, instead of three days.

"The board is committed to the highest standards of regulation in the sport and ensuring that British Horseracing continues to lead the way in matters of equine welfare," the statement said.

"This is a sport not without its challenges, but they will always be outweighed by the sport's strengths. These challenges will best be met - and are being met - by finding a common purpose amongst the sport's participants, and by putting the sport first."

The revised rules came into force for all meetings on Friday.

Roy Keane: 'Keep your neighbours quiet'

Former Man United captain Roy Keane tells Al Jazeera to never count out Alex Ferguson's men and not to forget Chelsea.

Love affair: Roy Keane spent a lot of his career kissing the Barclays Premier League trophy [GALLO/GETTY] 

The English Premier League’s most decorated captain Roy Keane is not going to be dragged into pre-match hype before his former club Manchester United meet Manchester City on Sunday.
It comes as little surprise that Keane, a player who has won the Premier League seven times with United, believes the talking should be done on the pitch.

Keane may be uncomfortable with pre-match exaggerations but could the derby be an occasion for manager Alex Ferguson to fire his side up with a passionate dressing room speech. 

"Ferguson has good players, good strategy and good organisation but he doesn’t really say too much before a game. He likes to think his players are well equipped," Keane said.
"Manchester City are challenging for the title and are local rivals. If you cannot be fired up for this game you should get out of it."
Once described by Ferguson as 'noisy neighbours' Keane agrees that a good performance is vital to keep the blue side of Manchester quiet.
"It is important to keep your neighbours quiet. When you’ve been at the top you want to stay there."
"It isn’t just three points. People talk about bragging rights but it is more than that. It is all about keeping your neighbours quiet. If you lose you never hear the end of it"
Roy Keane
After a 17 year playing career and four years of management, Keane holds a special place in his heart for the big derbies.
From his days at United and Celtic, and as manager of Sunderland - who have a vicious rivalry with Newcastle - Keane has a good knowledge of the passion involved when two local teams clash.
"Derbies are special. You just feel it in the atmosphere, on the pitch, on the streets where you live. People are talking about the game all the time."
"It isn’t just three points. People talk about bragging rights but it is more than that. It is all about keeping your neighbours quiet. If you lose you never hear the end of it."
Regardless of what happens between United and City at Old Trafford on Sunday, Keane thinks it might be another team that benefits from the big occasion.

"Chelsea will be enjoying the fact United and City are getting all the headlines and are the two favourites to win the league," he said.
"If you were Chelsea manager you would be extremely pleased with what is going on in Manchester.
"They will be kicking lumps out of each other and if it is a draw and Chelsea get a win, they will be top of the table."
The arrival of Andre Villas Boas has boosted a Chelsea side that have slowly improved through the season and who few would rule out from being eventual champions come May.
With United no longer enjoying the supremacy they did a decade ago, the English Premier League is arguably more popular that ever.
"All this is great for the league. It is good to see Man City are making progress. Then you've got Chelsea and Liverpool. For the neutral it’s great, that’s why the league is so popular."
'Two sides to every story'

On the Carlos Tevez affair, Keane is wise enough not to cast his own judgement.
The Irish star caused his own scandal when he packed his bags and left the 2002 World Cup after a huge row with manager Mick McCarthy over preparations for the tournament.
“There are two sides to every story. Tevez was trying to defend himself but I cannot possibly understand why a player wouldn’t want to come off the bench."
What would Keane have done if Tevez had refused to play for him?

"It is difficult to comment on what you should have done, there has been a lot of confusion in the aftermath. I’m not sure what I would have done but I’m pretty sure I would have been pretty angry."
From a player who saw a record breaking 13 red cards in his career, this is perhaps an understatement.
  Keane is impressed with the way Man City have responded to the Carlos Tevez affair [GETTY] 
Although his loyalty still lies with United, Keane is quick to praise the City players for the way they have responded to the incident around their troubled striker.

"The players have won all their games since Bayern Munch and I think they have reacted pretty well over the last couple of weeks."
Although millions will be tuning in to watch United's match-up with their ever-improving local rivals, far fewer are likely to be placing a bet on the game.
Keane is equally undecided about the outcome.
"I am predicting a draw for Sunday. I can’t see them beating United. But what I have learned to do is never bet against United, they enjoy the challenge and are dangerous at home."
After talking to Keane, it is clear he would give anything to be involved in the match on Sunday, and have the chance to sway the game one way or the other.
While the game on Sunday is massive for both teams, Keane only cares about the action on the pitch.
"There is too much hype. I’ve probably spoken about it too much. But I have to make my money by talking about the game now that I no longer play. Talking on the pitch, it is about talking on the pitch. It is about performing on the day."

Australia beat Wales for World Cup third

Wallabies finish tournament on high note with a 21-18 third place playoff win at New Zealand's Eden Park

 Ben McCalman (C) of the Wallabies celebrates after scoring his team's second try against Wales [GALLO/GETTY] 

Australia rebounded from their semi-final loss to New Zealand to defeat Wales 21-18 in a frenetic but scrappy third place playoff at Eden Park in New Zealand.
Although Friday's win was of little consolation to the Wallabies after missing out on Sunday's final, they did show some occasional glimpses of their ability to run the ball by adopting a more adventurous performance in a match that had little at stake other than ensuring the winner would be seeded third for the next World Cup in 2015.
Australia inside centre Berrick Barnes and number eight Ben McCalman both scored tries while Barnes also added a late drop goal and wing James O'Connor landed a conversion and two rugby penalties.
Wing Shane Williams and fullback Leigh Halfpenny scored tries for Wales, while flyhalf James Hook opened the team's scoring with a first half penalty. Hook's replacement Stephen Jones landed a second penalty and a conversion in the last play of the match.
New Zealand play France in Sunday's final, also at Eden Park, in a repeat of the 1987 decider.
Curtains for Cooper
Australia's victory was soured by what appeared to be knee injuries to fullback Kurtley Beale, who collided with McCalman, and flyhalf Quade Cooper who shifted direction off his right foot and crumpled immediately to the ground in agony.
Beset by a loss of form and confidence and harassed by hostile crowds, Cooper struggled to express his talent at a tournament which could have been his triumph.

Under slightly less pressure in the playoff, Cooper seemed to have a new spring in his step. Playing more often at first receiver behind a Wallabies pack that was generally going forward, he showed some of his finer passing touches and an ability to bring runners into play.
"You actually come back with a stronger ACL. He'll be back playing Super rugby but obviously that whole experience and that adversity will challenge him. But no doubt he'll come out of that stronger for it"
Aussie coach Robbie Deans
But in the 21st minute, carrying the ball in another Australian attack, he changed direction sharply, appeared to step and twist awkwardly and fell to the ground in pain.

The New Zealand fans who had harried Cooper so relentlessly throughout the tournament, booing his every touch of the ball, were suddenly contrite and he left the field to sympathetic applause.

"We don't have a medical opinion yet but having experienced it myself and having witnessed the event I suspect it's a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament", coach Robbie Deans said.

"Quade was okay. He's aware that it's a significant injury but with technology these days he'll come back good to go.

"You actually come back with a stronger ACL. He'll be back playing Super rugby but obviously that whole experience and that adversity will challenge him. But no doubt he'll come out of that stronger for it."

D-Day minus two: The Coach

All Blacks coach Graham Henry hopes to achieve 'peace' with win over France as he names unchanged XV for the final.

Henry has the chance to lead the All Blacks to their first World Cup win in 24 years at Eden Park [GALLO/GETTY]

Graham Henry, the head coach of the All Blacks, walks into the room and sits down in front of 27 TV cameras and dozens of journalists at the New Zealand team hotel in Auckland.
It is two days before his team will play France in the Rugby World Cup final, in front of a home crowd of 60,000 at Eden Park, and a worldwide television audience of an estimated half a billion.
Expectation is reaching fever pitch in New Zealand, where they haven't seen the All Blacks lift the Webb Ellis Cup since 1987.
Henry opens proceedings. "No questions? Thank you for coming."
Whatever happens on Sunday, this is almost certainly Henry's last game in charge.
He bucked the trend in 2007, when he and his staff held onto their jobs after the crushing disappointment of a quarter-final exit to France.
Greatest chance
Now a team that has been consistently the best in the world without having the top silverware to show for it has its greatest chance, with a collection of battle-hardened players who may just be the finest to have worn the shirt.
"A lot of us have been together for eight years, and then you throw in Richie (McCaw) and Daniel (Carter) and Mils (Muliaina)," Henry said.
Henry said that flanker Richie McCaw had gone 'from strength to strength' as captain [GALLO/GETTY]
"I know those last two aren't playing right now. But the players have basically taken over the team. They've taken a huge responsibility. So I've got nothing to do."
Henry has coached some fine players in a career with Auckland, the Blues, Wales, the British and Irish Lions and now New Zealand.
Mentioned among those on Friday were such legends as Michael Jones and Zinzan Brooke, but captain McCaw could cement his place as the best yet.
McCaw is already without parallel as an openside flanker, and earned his 100th Test cap in the 37-17 Pool A victory over the French last month.
"He's got that built-in respect but he's also earned respect by the way he plays and leads the team," said Henry.
"He's the most experienced All Blacks captain of all time and goes from strength to strength."
Henry named the same starting XV that beat Australia 20-6 in their semi-final last week, with Israel Dagg at full-back (Muliaina's All Black career was ended by a shoulder injury in the quarter-finals) and Aaron Cruden continuing at fly half, with first choice Carter also out of the tournament.
He said he wouldn't need to give his players any last-minute prep before they step onto the pitch.
"I don't talk. Seriously. Sunday night, before they run out onto the field, is their time," Henry said.
"They've to get their own minds settled and on the job. People talking to them is a big waste of time. In fact, it's a distraction."
Open wound
Henry, 65, has been open about the pain that defeat in 2007 caused him, and said the culmination of this World Cup would mean "internal peace" for him and his family.
"Mum is 95 years old, and she'll be delighted when it's finished," he said.
"She thinks I'm under pressure, but she doesn't understand that I don't do much.”
Henry can eventually escape the spotlight after Sunday, but that will be made much easier for him and his country if France are denied their first trophy in their third final.
"They've got a tremendous loose trio and backs who can bite you," he said of the French challenge.
"This French team, we're not sure who is going to turn up, so we've got to prepare for them being the best team in the world.
"We've been the leading team in the world during my time but not the world champions, and it will just be marvelous to have that tile because they've got every other one, Richie McCaw and the boys.
"We don’t deserve the title until we've done the job, but I think they are good enough."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Whelan wheeling at Liverpool's 'greedy' plan

Wigan Chairman Dave Whelan says Liverpool's desire to take control of own TV rights could destroy English football.

Whelan is soaked with champagne after Wigan avoid relegation with a 1-0 win over Stoke in 2011 [GALLO/GETTY] 
Liverpool's idea of negotiating their own overseas television rights rather than be part of the Premier League's collective selling model, would "rip the heart out of English football" Dave Whelan, the chairman of Wigan Athletic said on Thursday.

"This is the worst idea I have ever heard. If Liverpool want to ruin the Premier League and rip the heart out of English football, this is the way to go about it.

"I'm so angry, I cannot believe it," Whelan wrote in a column in the Daily Telegraph.

He added: "This is down to one word - greed. They take, take, take. They want more and more.
"I'm so angry, I cannot believe it"
Dave Whelan
"They want to take all the money for themselves, but they know the top six cannot play each other every week, so they will eventually look to Europe and the creation of a European League."

On Wednesday Liverpool's managing director Ian Ayre said the break-up of the established broadcasting deal for English top flight clubs is "a debate that has to happen" with the Anfield club favouring the Spanish model which allows Barcelona and Real Madrid to negotiate their own individual deals.

In England the $2.2 billion international rights deal, that covers the 2010-13 period, is shared equally between all the Premier League clubs.

Liverpool argue that if England's biggest clubs want to compete with the likes of Real and Barcelona, they need to earn more money and the way to do that is by increasing their revenue from overseas TV deals.
League of their own 

Ayre said the Premier League's four biggest global draws - Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal - deserve a bigger share, when the current deal ends in 2013, to match their global popularity.

"Personally I think the game-changer is going out and recognising our brand globally," said Ayre.

"Maybe the path will be individual TV rights like they do in Spain. There are so many things moving in that particular area. 

"What is absolutely certain is that, with the greatest of respect to our colleagues in the Premier League, but if you're a Bolton fan in Bolton, then you subscribe to Sky because you want to watch Bolton. Everyone gets that. Likewise, if you're a Liverpool fan from Liverpool, you subscribe.

"But if you're in Kuala Lumpur there isn't anyone subscribing to Astro, or ESPN to watch Bolton, or if they are it's a very small number. Whereas the large majority are subscribing because they want to watch Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal.
Reds' director Ian Ayre believes his club should gain financially from overseas populaity [GALLO/GETTY] 
"So is it right that the international rights are shared equally between all the clubs?" said Ayre whose club, along with all the others in the Premier league, last season received $28 million each from the overseas TV deal.

His comments left Whelan fuming. 

"I am not speaking as the chairman of Wigan, but on behalf of English football. The reason our league is so popular is because of the excitement," Whelan said.

"The smaller clubs cannot realistically win the title, but they can, on any given weekend, hold their own against one of the top six. If this proposal happened, the gap between the rich and poor would become even larger than it already is.

"It would wreck the game, but they don't care about that, they care about money. I cannot see it happening.

"Most of the Premier League chairmen think like me. We will fight this if it is proposed by Liverpool, or anyone else, we have to."

Any change to the current collective TV arrangement - the so-called Founder Members' Agreement - would require a proposal to be put before the Premier League and 14 of the 20 clubs voting in favour of a new commercial arrangement. 

Liverpool plan to raise the issue at the next Premier League meeting, British media reported.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Five other nations join Euro 2012 party

Denmark, Russia, Greece, Sweden and France qualify for 2012 finals while Scotland miss out and Ireland make playoffs.

Sweden qualified for the 2012 Euros in Poland and Ukraine with a 3-2 victory over the Netherlands [GALLO/GETTY] 
France grabbed a place at Euro 2012 after a late Samir Nasri penalty salvaged a 1-1 draw at home to Bosnia on Tuesday while Denmark also qualified for the finals by beating Portugal 2-1.

Russia made sure of their ticket for the tournament by thrashing Andorra 6-0 and Euro 2004 winners Greece topped their group to qualify with a 2-1 win in Georgia.

Sweden's 3-2 victory over Netherlands meant they also went through as the best of the runners-up in the nine groups. Their win ended a 100 percent record for the Dutch in the section.
Sweden had taken an early lead through Kim Kallstrom before the Dutch - winners of the title in 1988 - stormed back to take a 2-1 lead with goals by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Dirk Kuyt.
Their lead only lasted two minutes as Sebastian Larsson levelled from the penalty spot and two minutes after that in the 53rd minute the hosts got their winner through Ola Toivonen.
Denmark upset the odds as they beat Portugal 2-1 in their final Euro 2012 Group H qualifier to top the table at the expense of the Portuguese.
Denmark, European champions in 1992, secured their place with goals by Michael Krohn-Dehli and Sunderland striker Nicklas Bendtner - Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo scored a consolation goal in time added on.
Portugal even miss out on the best runners-up spot that secures an automatic place at the finals and will have to fight their way through a play-off to be present at a tournament where they reached the final in 2004.

Greece reached their third straight European Championship on Tuesday after substitute Giorgos Fotakis and veteran Angelos Charisteas scored late goals to secure a 2-1 win over Georgia in their final qualifier.
Russian players celebrate a comfortable 6-0 win over Andorra [GALLO/GETTY]
Fotakis blasted an equaliser past Georgia goalkeeper Nukri Revishvili from outside the area in the 79th minute and Charisteas added the winner six minutes later.

The 2004 champions won Group F ahead with 24 points, two better than Croatia which beat Latvia 2-0 to secure at least a spot in next month's playoff. A draw would have been enough to put Greece through to next year's tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

Russia routed minnow Andorra 6-0 to end up as Group B winners.

Alan Dzagoev put Russia ahead in the fifth minute and defender Sergei Ignashevich made it 2-0 by scoring off Andrei Arshavin's free kick in the 26th.

Roman Pavlyuchenko scored his fourth goal in seven matches on the half hour mark before Dzagoev sent Russia into the break with a 4-0 lead.

Denis Glushakov scored his first goal for Russia in the 69th before Diniyar Bilyaletdinov capped the rout by scoring with a low shot from 25 meters (yards) out in the 78th.

Russia finished with 23 points, two points ahead of Ireland which qualified for next month's Euro 2012 playoff after a 2-1 victory over Armenia in Dublin.
Super Spain
David Silva scored twice and provided on David Villa's 50th goal for Spain as the defending champions denied Scotland a playoff place with a 3-1 win.
Scotland's loss allowed the Czech Republic to overtake them and finish second in Group I after they beat Lithuania 4-1. Scotland needed to match the Czech's result to clinch a spot in next month's playoff.
World Cup champion Spain has won 14 straight competitive matches and finished Group I perfect after an eighth straight victory.
Bosnia, who have never qualified for a major tournament, finished second behind France in Group D and will play off over two legs for a place in Poland and Ukraine.
Edin Dzeko had given Bosnia, who needed a win to steal top spot from the French, the lead just before halftime.
The other playoff teams will be Estonia and Montenegro -two more potential Euro newcomers - along with Turkey.
The draw for the playoffs will be made in Krakow on Thursday.
Spain, England, Germany, Netherlands and Italy had already qualified along with co-hosts Poland and Ukraine.

Rogge in no rush to take Olympics back to US

IOC President Jacques Rogge has a careful balancing act to perform to keep all nations happy [GALLO/GETTY] 
If there's any sense of urgency to bring the Olympics back to the United States, the president of the IOC is not tipping his hand.

In an interview on Tuesday, Jacques Rogge said returning the games to big countries - for instance, the U.S. after a drought of at least 20 years - is no more or less important than someday taking them to Africa.

Rogge has carefully cultivated this down-the-middle approach in his 10 years as the IOC's leader. He offered neither encouragement nor discouragement to the U.S., which pumps the most money into the Olympic
movement but guaranteed to go at least two decades between taking its turn as host.

"It's important that the games come back there,'' Rogge said of the U.S., China and Russia, the three countries generally considered the biggest in the Olympics.

"But we are also very happy to bring games to regions or subcontinents or continents where they've never been organized. One day, the games will be held in Africa and that will be a very important aspect."
"One day, the games will be held in Africa and that will be a very important aspect"
IOC President Jacques Rogge 
China hosted the 2008 Olympics and Russia will host the Winter Games in 2014. Rio de Janeiro will host the first Olympics in South America in 2016.

The U.S. last hosted in 2002 - the Salt Lake City Winter Games.

Neither the U.S. nor any African country bid for 2020, meaning the next American chance would be for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Africa's next best chance won't likely come until 2024. Rogge, whose term expires in 2013, won't be around to see either of those games awarded and would not bite when asked which was closer to holding an Olympics.

"To win the games you have to bid," he said.

"If you don't bid, you have no chance."

The U.S. Olympic Committee says it won't bid until it resolves a long-simmering feud with the IOC over revenue sharing. Currently, the USOC receives a 20 percent share of global sponsorship revenues and a 12.75 percent cut of U.S. broadcast rights deals. The IOC wants more of that money.

Negotiations were fast-tracked over the summer in an apparent attempt to iron something out in time for the USOC to meet the September deadline to bid for 2020. But no agreement was reached and any plans were put on hold.

Last month, however, USOC CEO Scott Blackmun said the federation always remains interested in bidding.

"I think 20 years is long enough," Blackmun said.

"I think it's important that we host the games in the United States as a way to keep Americans connected to the team."

New openings and broader horizons
In the interview on Tuesday, Rogge agreed with Blackmun's sentiment, but said, "the ones who will benefit the most will be the USOC, of course."

"The Olympic movement, as a whole, would benefit from coming back to major countries on a regular basis," Rogge said.

"But at the same time, we need to have openings for new horizons and for regions where no games were
ever organized."

Denver has been mentioned as a potential 2022 candidate. Rogge said he didn't know enough about Denver's infrastructure to comment on its viability.

Denver was awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics but later turned them down - a historical footnote that Rogge said would not work against the Mile High City if it were to bid again.

"The issue of Denver is not an issue anymore," Rogge said.

"There is absolutely no grudge whatsoever in the IOC for what happened in Denver more than 40 years ago."

Watson: 'Claims damaging to game of cricket'

Australian cricketer Shane Watson is worried about the damage the current match-fixing trial is doing to cricket.
Watson was blown away by allegations although said Australia cricket body is on-top of match-fixing [GALLO/GETTY]
Claims that Australian players were some of he biggest match-fixers in cricket were shocking, damaging and threatened the integrity of the game, allrounder Shane Watson said on Tuesday.

The Australia opener said the unproven allegations, made by the player agent at the center of the Pakistan spot-fixing case, were "unbelievably" disappointing.

Agent Mazhar Majeed's claims that Australians were involved in fixing parts of matches for betting scams were made in recordings played to a London court on Monday during the trial of former Pakistan captain Salman Butt and bowler Mohammed Asif.

They are accused of corruption relating to a Test match against England at Lord's in August 2011.

But Majeed did not name any Australian players and did not back up his assertions with any evidence.

"Very disappointing and pretty shocking really to see these allegations that have come out from this court case that is going on at the moment," Watson said from South Africa, where he is on tour with Australia's team.

"I know from my perspective how damaging they really are to the game of cricket, but also to the individuals.

"It's just very disappointing these things happen because it challenges the integrity of the game we all love so much."

Watson added Australia's cricket body was "on top of" match-fixing problems.
The tape recordings were made by the prosecution's chief witness Mazhar Mahmood, an undercover journalist who was working for the now-defunct British tabloid newspaper The News of the World.

On the tape, Majeed told Mahmood that Australian players would fix "brackets," a set period of a match on which gamblers bet, for example, on how many runs will be scored.

"The Australians, they are the biggest, they have 10 brackets a game," Majeed said.

In Cape Town, Watson said unproven claims like Majeed's made people suspicious of anything unusual or unpredictable in sport.

"Crazy events sometimes do happen so you never want people questioning what exactly is going on. So it's very disappointing when these things come out," Watson said.

NBA season cancelled for two weeks

Basketball is latest sport to be affected by strikes as players and league fail to reach agreement before season starts.

Looking stern: NBA Commissioner David Stern confirmed that the season will be delayed [GALLO/GETTY]
The National Basketball Association (NBA) has cancelled the first two weeks of the regular season after the league owners and players were unable to resolve a bitter labour dispute on Monday.

The decision, confirmed by NBA commissioner David Stern, was made after both parties failed to draw up a new collective bargaining agreement in a last-ditch meeting in New York.

The season was scheduled to start on November 1 and the abandonment covers all games originally scheduled to be played through to November 14.

"Despite extensive efforts, we have not been able to reach a new agreement with the players' union that allows all 30 teams to be able to compete for a championship while fairly compensating our players," NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement.

The league said refunds plus interest were available for all NBA season-ticket holders for all pre-season and regular-season games that were cancelled.

Among the games that have gone is the planned opening day that would have pitted the champions, the Dallas Mavericks, at home to the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder at the L.A. Lakers.

Standing firm

Players Association (NBPA) president Derek Fisher, of the Lakers, said the move was not a surprise.

"I continue to believe that we've been more than fair and reasonable in our approach. This is what we anticipated would happen, and here we are," he said, in comments reported by CBS Sports website.

"This is not just about dollars and cents for players. It's about a system for our guys to operate under."
NBPA executive director Billy Hunter said that he hoped missing the opening games would help prove to the owners that the players were standing firm.

"Unfortunately maybe we need to miss a few games for them to know there's resolve among the players," he said.

NBA owners contend the league lost $300 million last season with 22 of 30 teams in the red. They had wanted the league's share of basketball-related income increased from 50 to 57 percent, along with a firm salary cap and shorter contracts.

The players had offered to reduce their share from 57 to 53 percent. The league has said owners were willing to discuss a 50-50 split.

Cooper: 'Pressure's on the All Blacks'

Australia fly-half Quade Cooper insists New Zealand are under greater pressure to deliver in World Cup semi-final.

Not just the All Blacks in the spotlight - New Zealand-born Cooper had an eratic game in Australia's 11-9 escape against South Africa and will be hoping for a better performance [GALLO/GETTY]
Australia flyhalf Quade Cooper believes the pressure will all be on the land of his birth when the Wallabies face off against the All Blacks in the semi-finals of World Cup this weekend.
The mercurial 23-year-old Maori, who was born and grew up in New Zealand before moving to Australia as a teenager, has been dubbed public enemy number one by the local media and roundly booed during Australia's five matches so far.
Cooper admitted the catcalling was not a distraction and said the pressure on the All Blacks to finally win a World Cup to add to their sole 1987 triumph would probably trump concerns about him scoring the winning points against them.
Pressure's on
"That would be a bit of a tough one for them to swallow, I guess, but I'm sure that they've got a lot more things to worry about than myself," he said.
"They're supposed to have won the World Cup for the past three tournaments and this is no different.
"A lot of pressure is on them to win this competition on their home soil, so I'm sure they'll be worrying about how they go about their game, more so than myself."
Cooper's form has not been as sparkling as it was when he was driving the Queensland Reds to the Super 15 title and Australia to the Tri-Nations title earlier this year.
Largely starved of possession in the 11-9 win over the Springboks last weekend, Cooper made some questionable calls when he did get the ball.
"It wasn't the brightest performance," he said.
"But with great teams, great athletes, it shows the character to not play at your best game and still come away with the points.
"It's been a tough competition and we've been up against very good opposition throughout the World Cup and this week's no different," he added.
"We're up against the number one team in the world and the guys who are supposed to win the tournament."
Team performance
Cooper said his own personal performance was not his greatest concern.
"Having a good game is going to play second fiddle to winning the game," he said.
"I don't care if I have a shocker and we win as a team.
"I'd much rather walk off the field as a winning team than walk off having the greatest game of my career and we lose the game.
"These are the moments you play rugby for, for an opportunity to play against the best team in the world, right in their backyard, in the World Cup semi-final," he added.
"You can't picture it any better than that."
And, Cooper said, not everyone in New Zealand considered him the enemy.
"My Nan up in Kaikohe (in the northern tip of New Zealand) sends me a lot of text messages and says all her friends from the local bowls club are right behind me, and so that gives you a heartwarming boost of confidence," he said.

China make it five in a row

China's men secure a fifth straight gold medal at the world gymnastics champs in Tokyo, crushing Japanese dreams

Line up and say cheese: China's team show their bling [GALLO/GETTY]
China's dominance of the world gymnastics championships continued on Wednesday in Tokyo with a fifth straight gold medal to edge Japan and the United States.
China finished with 275.161 points, more than two points ahead of Japan (273.093) and the United States (273.083), who earned their first medal since 2003.
China have dominated men's gymnastics over the last decade, winning every world title since 2003 as well as two of the last three Olympic golds.
On top
Looking vulnerable after finishing behind both Japan and the United States in qualifying, the Chinese looked anything but ordinary as they walked off the floor holding their index fingers in the air, No. 1 yet again.
Sitting a close third with two events to go, China pulled away with spectacular showings on high bar and floor exercise led by Zhang Chenglong.
The defending high bar champion managed great height on his release moves and landed each easily.
On the floor exercise, Zou Kai landed each pass perfectly and the Chinese started celebrating early despite two-time world champion Kohei Uchimura of Japan still waiting to compete on high bar.
Uchimura peeled off on a somersault high above the bar for his routine to fall short of Zhang's, but it was still difficult enough to keep the Japanese ahead of the Americans, who were undone by errors.
Jonathan Horton landed his vault on his knees, his face buried in the mat, while 18-year-old John Orozco looked unsteady on still rings.
Still, the Americans will come away encouraged for next summer's London Olympics following their first medal at the worlds since a silver performance in 2003.

Argentina stunned by Venezuela

Argentina's strong start in South American 2014 World Cup qualifiers grinds to a halt with 1-0 loss to hosts Venezuela.
Nineteenth time lucky for Venezuela who took their first points off Argentina ever in qualifying [AFP]
The euphoria of Argentina's opening World Cup qualifying win over Chile vanished at a stroke on Tuesday as the two-time world champions slumped to an historic 1-0 loss to Venezuela.
Fernando Amorebieta bagged the only goal to stun Alejandro Sabella's side and send them back to square one, just when it seemed Friday's 4-1 thrashing of Chile had exorcised demons of a summer Copa America failure on home soil.
After the Chile game, Sabella, who replaced Sergio Batista in the wake of a Copa quarter-final loss to eventual champions Uruguay, had ventured that the team had laid to rest an "apparent collective psychosis" regarding how Lionel Messi fits into the national team.
Last Friday, Barcelona wizard Messi had shone as brightly as ever in the national shirt, scoring one and laying on another for Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain.
But that was Buenos Aires.
On Tuesday it was a hot and sticky Puerto La Cruz in the Venezuelan Caribbean, which saw Argentina fail to kick on from last week's promising showing.
Amorebieta's powerful header from a corner on the hour settled the contest at the Jose Antonio Anzoategui, where the visitors huffed and puffed but proved unable to blow the Venezuelans' house down, making Argentina's home date with Bolivia on November 11 a must-win affair.
The hosts had also come into the qualifiers determined to prove themselves and desperate to show that their first ever run to the Copa semi-finals was no fluke, after an opening qualifying loss in Ecuador.
Messi and Higuain sought in vain to impose their experience on the encounter as Venezuela stuck doggedly to their task.
In desperation, Sabella threw on Paris Saint-Germain's budding star Javier Pastore for Angel Di Maria, but to no avail.
Sabella said afterwards that the sticky conditions had been a factor.
"Maybe the heat was a factor, the humidity, the fact we played Friday and then had to travel," he said.
"But we have to take things game by game and look at the things we need to work on - the qualifiers are a long road."
Sabella added: "It was a game of two halves. The first, in general, was all Argentina - we had a few chances. The second was different in that they had more of a midfield presence and started throwing people forward."
Counterpart Cesar Farias was delighted.
"This team asked a lot of the right questions and when you do that, you (can) come up with some fine responses. This is important and gave us an historic victory," said Farias, whose charges next travel to Colombia.
Late equaliser
Argentina now trail Uruguay, who conceded a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw against Paraguay, the side they defeated 3-0 in the Copa final.
Veteran Uruguay forward Diego Forlan netted his 32nd goal in the national shirt midway through the second half to move beyond the mark he previously shared with 1920s and 1930s hero Hector Scarone.
But in a dramatic finale, Richard Ortiz snatched the equaliser with seconds of injury time remaining.
"It was intense and there weren't many chances," said Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez, whose men now top the group by a point and who next host Chile.
But he added that "every point is a step nearer the goal" of qualifying as one of the best four sides in the group, this time shorn of already-qualified 2014 hosts Brazil.
The team finishing fifth can also qualify via the play-offs.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, Colombia edged out Bolivia 2-1 in La Paz courtesy of a late goal from Atletico Madrid's Radamel Falcao, who had only come on 12 minutes earlier in place of Teofilo Gutierrez.
"This was all planned," said Colombia coach Leonel Alvarez.
"I talked with Falcao and after Teo (Gutierrez) had put in his shift Falcao, came on fresh as
a daisy."
Bolivia generally fare well at 3,600 metres altitude at their Hernando Siles stadium but this time were outfoxed.
In the other game, Chile beat Peru 4-2 in an entertaining encounter, with Waldo Ponce, Eduardo Vargas, Gary Medel and Humberto Suazo on target for Chile, while Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson netted consolations for Peru.

Asia's big guns fire in World Cup qualifiers

Japan, Australia and Iran stamp their authority on Asian World Cup qualifying as North Korean hopes fade.
It took Japan just 11 minutes to open the scoring in Osaka [GALLO/GETTY]
Japan trounced hapless Tajikistan 8-0 in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday as Asia's big guns fired and Iran launched a security crackdown before their clash with Bahrain.
Australia looked sure to progress after a 3-0 win over Oman kept them on maximum points in Group D, and South Korea moved towards the last stage with a 2-1 win against UAE.
Thailand held Frank Rijkaard's Saudi Arabia to a 0-0 draw, but North Korea's hopes of reaching a second World Cup in a row suffered a setback with a 1-0 home loss to Uzbekistan.
Iraq edged a tense clash with China 1-0 and there were also wins for Jordan and Qatar as 10 games swung into action across the region.
Rampant Japan were the big winners as they totted up four goals in each half against Tajikistan in Osaka, led by Mike Havenaar and Shinji Okazaki who both bagged a brace.
"This victory gives us a very good feeling. I knew hopes among fans were high. The players responded with their good performance today," said coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
South Korea had a second-half own goal to thank as UAE defender Ismail Hamdan's inadvertent strike helped them to a 2-1 win in Suwon. Arsenal's Park Chu-Young had opened the scoring and UAE pulled one back in second-half injury time.
An own goal also played a part in the other match in the group as Lebanon twice led - thanks to a brace by Hassan Maatouk - only for Mahmoud Younes to put into his own net in the 88th minute to allow Kuwait steal a 2-2 draw.
The Lebanese, though, can still entertain hopes of taking second as they have bounced back impressively after a humiliating 6-0 opening match walloping by South Korea going on to beat the hapless UAE 3-1 in their previous match.
In Sydney, Brett Holman, Josh Kennedy and Mile Jedinak were all on the scoresheet as Australia registered their third win out of three and looked certain to progress.
"The target was to win and to win well," said captain Lucas Neill.
"Now we've got one foot in the next round but we've still got a lot of work to do."
In Pyongyang, Alexander Geynrikh's first-half strike was enough to secure a 1-0 win for Uzbekistan, who are level on seven points with Japan at the top of Group C.
North Korea, who lashed out against their low FIFA ranking after being drawn in a tough group for the third round, would have targeted the Uzbek clash in Pyongyang as a must-win as they scrap for the second qualifying spot.
The North Koreans competed at their first World Cup since 1966 last year, but they disappointed at the Asian Cup in January after being bracketed with holders Iraq and three-time winners Iran in another unkind draw.
Jordan took a big step towards their first berth in the final qualifying stage with a 3-0 away win over Singapore, while Qatar came out on top of a 3-2 slug-fest against Indonesia in Jakarta.
China's ex-Real Madrid coach Jose Antonio Camacho admitted the defeat to Iraq, who played 25 minutes with 10 men, had put their qualification hopes in jeopardy.
"It's going to be difficult to qualify from here but it's not impossible. We will try harder in the next game to see what we can do," he said.
Rijkaard, who was hired for the Saudis' World Cup campaign, may also come under pressure after failing to win any of the first three games.
"The Saudi team still have a chance because we will play Thailand on our home soil as Oman lost to Australia," insisted the former Barcelona boss.
Meanwhile in Tehran, security was ramped up at Iran's Azadi Stadium following political tensions with Group E rivals and Gulf neighbours Bahrain over Manama's tough clampdown on Shiite dissidents.
However, the game was virtually over as a contest inside the first minute as the visitors had Rashed Al Hooti sent off and the hosts then cruised to a 6-0 thrashing of their rivals.
The winners and runners-up of the five groups will be drawn into two pools for the round-robin fourth stage, with the eventual top two in each section earning a ticket to the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
The two third-placed teams will then face each other for the right to contest an intercontinental play-off.