Friday, 28 February 2014

Schalke head to buoyant Bayern after Real rout

Schalke head to buoyant Bayern after Real rout

Last Updated: Friday, February 28, 2014, 10:06
Schalke head to buoyant Bayern after Real rout
Berlin: Fresh from their record European defeat at home to Real Madrid, Schalke 04 face another potential drubbing when they travel to all-conquering Bayern Munich on Saturday.

Schalke were routed 6-1 in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday as Real`s stars ran riot with Karem Benzema, Gareth Bale and Ballon d`Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo each netting two goals.

"We have no choice, but to write off the game," said Schalke midfielder Julian Draxler in the wake of the Real debacle.

"We have to get it out of our heads and prepare for Bayern."

Ronaldo finished with ten shots on goal, the same as the entire Schalke team.

The Royal Blues now face an equally tough challenge at Bayern, who have won all of their last 14 games and are on a record 47-match unbeaten run.

"They (Bayern) are even better than Real, but we`re not just going there to limit the damage," said Schalke`s director of sport Horst Heldt.

Bayern`s 4-0 romp at Hanover 96 last Sunday left Pep Guardiola`s European champions 19-points clear at the top of the table.

If they maintain their lead, their 24th German league title can be confirmed by the end of March at the latest and they have dropped just four points all season.

They are on course to become the first Bundesliga side to complete a season unbeaten.

In contrast, Schalke`s Real debacle was the worst home defeat by a German side in Champions League history and has had a physical effect, as well as battering their confidence.

Both centre-back Felipe Santana and central midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng are ruled out with leg injuries.

Left-back Sead Kolasinac has a bruised jaw and defensive midfielder Roman Neustaedter has a knee injury.

"It makes no sense to use ailing players, so others will have to get involved," said Heldt with a host of changes expected.

Bayern are set to welcome back left wing Xherdan Shaqiri while Franck Ribery continues to recover from buttocks surgery.

Germany star Bastian Schweinsteiger is set to make his second start after back-to-back injuries.

Third-placed Borussia Dortmund host Nuremberg on Saturday with concerns at centre-back.

Greece defender Sokratis is nursing a foot injury from their 4-2 Champions League last 16, first-leg win at Zenit St Petersburg.

Coach Jurgen Klopp is without both his first-choice centre backs.

Mats Hummels is on the verge of returning from an ankle knock while Neven Subotic is out for the season with a torn knee ligament.

Bayer Leverkusen are second in the table, but low on confidence as they host resurgent Mainz 05 after a horror sequence of seven losses in nine games.

Following the shock German Cup defeat at home to second-division Kaiserslautern, Bayer were routed 4-0 at home to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, then crashed 3-1 at Wolfsburg last weekend in the league.

"They have been the worst ten days," admitted striker Stefan Kiessling.

Leverkusen will be without winger Gonzalo Castro and defender Emir Spahic who are both suspended.

Mainz are ninth, but closing in on a top six place after losing just one of their last eight games.

There is a relegation battle brewing in the north German derby when strugglers Werder Bremen host Hamburg, who are third from bottom.

Hamburg`s new coach Mirko Slomka made his debut in last Saturday`s shock 3-0 win at home to Borussia Dortmund which broke their run of eight straight defeats.

Bremen are winless in their last 11 matches and have just one victory from their last 11 matches.Playing Friday (All times 1430 GMT unless stated)

Hertha Berlin v Freiburg (1930)


Borussia Dortmund v Nuremberg, Bayer Leverkusen v Mainz 05, Werder Bremen v Hamburg, Augsburg v Hanover 96, Eintracht Braunschweig v Bor. Moenchengladbach, Bayern Munich v Schalke 04 (1730)

Hoffenheim v VfL Wolfsburg, Eintracht Frankfurt v VfB Stuttgart (1630)
AFP -------------------

Conte: Giovinco is right to be angry when he fails to score

Conte: Giovinco is right to be angry when he fails to score

Conte: Giovinco is right to be angry when he fails to score

The striker did not get on the scoresheet for Juventus but put in a pivotal performance in their win at Trabzonspor, which left his boss delighted
Antonio Conte says Sebastian Giovinco is right to be "angry" at his lack of goals but was thrilled with his performance as Juventus defeated Trabzonspor in the Europa League last 32.

The striker complained earlier this week that he was being undeservedly left on the sidelines for the Bianconeri, but he was a key player in Turkey as he played a part in both goals to help the Serie A leaders to a 2-0 win on the night and a 4-0 aggregate triumph.

"Giovinco did well with the assists, but he is right to get angry when he doesn't score," Conte told Sky Sport after the match. "He is a striker, so he should want to score goals.

"In order to continue winning in Serie A and the Europa League I need everyone to perform. Some of these lads are mistreated by the critics, but they can gain confidence and form by playing well in these games."

The Juve coach insisted that Sunday's visit to AC Milan was not playing on his mind when he formulated a gameplan to face Trabzonspor, despite fielding a number of second-string players.

"I am very happy because from the first minute of the first leg we played the game the right way," Conte added. "We did things as we had planned in this second leg.

"I had said before: I did not plan on coming here to just defend the 2-0 lead. I always play to win and to score goals, and not just think of Milan."

Juventus will face fellow Serie A side Fiorentina in the last 16 of the competition. --------------

Adebayor: Sherwood has given me a stage to play on

Adebayor: Sherwood has given me a stage to play on

Adebayor: Sherwood has given me a stage to play on

The striker scored twice against Dnipro on Thursday night as Spurs set up a Europa League last-16 clash with Benfica, and he has praised his manager for giving him an opportunity

Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor has thanked manager Tim Sherwood for "giving me a stage to play on".

Adebayor had been frozen out of the squad under former Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas, but has been brought back into the fray since Sherwood took over in December.

The Togo striker has scored 11 goals in 15 outings, including two a 3-1 win over Dnipro in the Europa League last-32 Thursday, goals which helped send the Londoners through 3-2 on aggregate.

"I'm playing well for my team and I'm happy for my team," he told ITV. "I just have to keep playing well. I have to say big thank you for Tim for giving me a stage to play on. We just have to keep focused."

Spurs went 1-0 down on the night, meaning they needed three goals in 42 minutes to progress to the next round.

Christian Eriksen pulled one back and Adebayor struck a brace to set up a last-16 tie with Benfica, and the former Arsenal and Manchester City man was never afraid the match was beyond them.

"No, not at all," he added. "I know we have quality up front and on the bench. We knew it would be very difficult because they have an advantage after leading 1-0.

"We just kept our focus very well. When Eriksen scored that goal it put us on the way. We went through so we're very happy." ---------------

'Ridiculous' critics just want to hurt Barcelona - Alba

'Ridiculous' critics just want to hurt Barcelona - Alba

'Ridiculous' critics just want to hurt Barcelona - Alba

The defender hits out at those "slagging off" the Catalans and insists that the team are perfectly poised to continue their challenge for three trophies this season

Jordi Alba has lashed out at "ridiculous" critics of Barcelona, claiming people are simply out to harm the reigning La Liga champions.

The Catalans have fallen behind Real Madrid in the race for the title in Spain, albeit only by three points, but have made it to the Copa del Rey final and have a healthy 2-0 lead heading into the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at Camp Nou against Manchester City.

However, their altered style of play under Gerardo Martino and two defeats in February have combined to draw criticism in the direction of the Catalans, but the left-back dismissed it as hearsay that is created to derail the club's hopes of success.

"The criticism is coming from people from outside the club that want to do us harm," Alba, 24, told reporters at a promotional event. "It's just a slagging off, it's nothing objective.

"These days, many ridiculous things have been said, but the team are calm about it.

"We're doing fine in all three of the competitions and we're out to win every one of them. It's important that in all three it's up to us. We have to be united."

Barca are back in La Liga action on Sunday at home to Almeria, where a win could see them return to the top of the table if Atletico Madrid defeat Real Madrid at the Vicente Calderon earlier that day. -------------

Chicharito denies criticising Van Persie over Manchester United 'team-mates' comments

Chicharito denies criticising Van Persie over Manchester United 'team-mates' comments

Chicharito denies criticising Van Persie over Manchester United 'team-mates' comments

The Mexican posted a picture on Instagram with a caption which highlighted the importance of unity following the Dutchman's claims that he was finding it "difficult" on the pitch
Chicharito insists he has not criticised Robin van Persie over the Dutchman’s comments after Manchester United’s defeat to Olympiakos.

Van Persie had claimed he was finding it difficult to find space on the pitch following United's 2-0 defeat in Greece on Tuesday and indicated that he has had to adapt his own game to suit his team-mates.

"Sometimes I try to find ways to do more but in the areas I wanted to play, my team-mates were often there. This makes it difficult for me,” Van Persie told NOS.

"Then I have to change my tactics to suit my team-mates, and play outside my zone. It's a pity.”

On Thursday, Chicharito posted a picture on Instagram with the caption: “Without your team-mates you can't be somebody in football, always be thankful’.”

But the Mexican, who has made 25 appearances under David Moyes this season, insists the message was not related to Van Persie’s post-match views.

“I need to put this cause things get a little out of context,” Chicharito posted on Twitter.

“Why do the press always take comments out of context, my comment on Instagram had nothing to do with RVP.

“We are great team-mates working for the same goal, the TEAM! & because the team isn’t doing as well as we’d like everyone just wants to make everything look like a bad thing!” ---------------

PSG ready for test from resurgent Marseille

PSG ready for test from resurgent Marseille

Last Updated: Friday, February 28, 2014, 10:11
PSG ready for test from resurgent Marseille
Paris: Paris Saint-Germain host Marseille in France`s fiercest rivalry on Sunday night with the capital club hoping to have Edinson Cavani back to help them see off their resurgent opponents.

Laurent Blanc`s PSG side have had a superb last 10 days, crushing Bayer Leverkusen 4-0 in the Champions League and then beating Toulouse 4-2 away last Sunday to maintain their five-point lead over Monaco at the top of the Ligue 1 table.

Since then they have been boosted by the news that France midfielder Blaise Matuidi has finally put pen to paper on a new contract tying him to the Parc des Princes until 2018.

Now there is real hope that Uruguay striker Cavani will be able to make his comeback after four weeks on the sidelines with a thigh injury.

"The objective is to have him at our disposal against Marseille," revealed Blanc.

"We will have to see how the injury evolves, but when I see him in training I think he is close to being ready. In any case, we are not going to take any risks, but things are on the right track."

Bitter rivals Marseille come into the `Classique` boosted by their recent improved form under interim coach Jose Anigo, which has reignited their hopes of finishing in the top three and qualifying for next season`s Champions League.

Inspired by Andre-Pierre Gignac, who has scored 12 times in 13 games, OM have won three and drawn two of their last five league matches.

That run of results has allowed them to close to within three points of Lille, who remain on the podium despite a poor start to 2014.Now, though, Marseille must try to end a sequence of four successive defeats in all competitions against their old foes.

"It is a really exciting match, but to get a result against Paris would be a massive achievement for us," said midfielder Alaixys Romao.

"If we raise our game than why can`t we win? We have improved over the last few weeks and are defending better.

"It will be difficult but over one game who knows. Paris don`t intimidate me. They play good football so you just hope to show that you can compete at their level."

Meanwhile, second-placed Monaco continue their chase of the leaders with a tough trip to Saint-Etienne, who are fourth.

Monaco are unbeaten in 2014 and their Colombian playmaker James Rodriguez says the race is still alive, especially if PSG slip up against Marseille.

"Personally I want to win the title but we know that Paris are very strong," said the 22-year-old.

"To get in front of them, we have to show more intensity in our game and win every match because the margin of error is very small. We all know anything can happen in the championship, and Marseille can win at Paris for example."

Elsewhere, Lyon have dragged themselves back into the race for European places but they face a tough test on Sunday at home against Montpellier, who are unbeaten in eight Ligue 1 matches under the leadership of Rolland Courbis.

Remi Garde`s team are five points behind Lille, who travel to bottom side Ajaccio.

While the Corsicans have been cut adrift, Herve Renard`s Sochaux have caught a glimmer of light in the their bid to stave off relegation as they sit five points from safety ahead of a home clash with Bordeaux.

Third-from-bottom Valenciennes are two points from safety and travel to Reims, while the pick of the other games is a Brittany derby between Rennes and Guingamp.
Fixtures (all times 1900 GMT unless noted):


Evian v Nantes (1930)

Saint-Etienne v Monaco (1600), Lorient v Bastia, Nice v Toulouse, Reims v Valenciennes, Rennes v Guingamp, Sochaux v Bordeaux

Ajaccio v Lille (1300), Lyon v Montpellier (1600), Paris Saint-Germain v Marseille (2000)
AFP ------------------------

Ronaldo returns as in-form Real visit Atletico

Ronaldo returns as in-form Real visit Atletico

Last Updated: Friday, February 28, 2014, 10:14
Ronaldo returns as in-form Real visit Atletico
Madrid: Real Madrid head into the fourth Madrid derby of the season at Atletico on Sunday following their 6-1 thrashing of Schalke in the Champions League and buoyed by the return of Cristiano Ronaldo.

After losing 1-0 at home to Atletico in La Liga back in September, Real gained revenge over their local rivals with a comprehensive 5-0 aggregate win in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey earlier this month.

Carlo Ancelotti`s men have also usurped Atletico in the league in recent weeks.

Los Rojiblancos` shock defeats to Almeria and Osasuna have allowed Real to open up a three-point lead over both Atletico and Barcelona at the top of the table.

Real will be further boosted by the return of Cristiano Ronaldo to league action after the Ballon d`Or winner missed his side`s last three domestic games for his red card and dissent shown in their 1-1 draw away to Athletic Bilbao on February 2.

The Portuguese captain returned in customary fashion, scoring twice as Real all but secured their place in the last eight of the Champions League with their demolition of Schalke, and he is looking to channel his frustration at the length of the ban to good effect this weekend.

"What`s done is done. I am frustrated about it because what I did wasn`t deserving of a three-game ban, but I am happy to return and score two goals," he said.

"We are motivated for the derby, we are Real Madrid and we will give everything to win."

Atletico, meanwhile, should be refreshed by a rare midweek off as they aim to put a run of four defeats in six games behind them.

Midfielder Koke recognised the task that faces his side at the Vicente Calderon, but insisted that even in Real`s current form no side is invincible.

"You always like to play against Madrid, above all if you can beat them. It is a derby, which is always a special game," he told the club`s website.
"No one is invincible in this world. Defensively they are very good and in attack they have important players with excellent individual skills. We are facing a great team and we will try to do everything as best we can. It will be a great game."

With one or both sides from the capital set to drop points, Barcelona can take advantage when they host Almeria at the Camp Nou on Sunday.

The Catalans were also blown away last weekend when they lost 3-1 at Real Sociedad to finish the weekend behind Real Madrid for the first time since 2012.

However, with Barca still to face Real at the Santiago Bernabeu on March 23, Cesc Fabregas believes his side are still capable of retaining their title.

"We are the first ones to know that we didn`t play well. We lacked mobility, intensity and precision, which are vital things in modern day football," the midfielder said.

"We have analysed it, we know where we failed and now we have to recover all that we lost there.

"It is in our own hands. I believe a lot in this squad and these players, as much for what they have done in the past as their present. We are ready to do something great this season."

Fabregas and Xavi are expected to be recalled to the side after they were controversially rested by coach Gerardo Martino against Sociedad.

Javier Mascherano will also return to the heart of the defence alongside Marc Bartra as Gerard Pique faces a brief spell on the sidelines due to a calf injury.
Fixtures (all times GMT)


Athletic Bilbao v Granada (1930)

Malaga v Valladolid (1500), Levante v Osasuna (1700), Getafe v Espanyol (1900), Elche v Celta Vigo (2100)

Villarreal v Real Betis (1100), Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid (1600), Sevilla v Real Sociedad (1800), Rayo Vallecano v Valencia (2000), Barcelona v Almeria (2000)
AFP -------------------------

Balotelli a doubt as resurgent Milan host Juve

Balotelli a doubt as resurgent Milan host Juve

Last Updated: Friday, February 28, 2014, 10:17
Balotelli a doubt as resurgent Milan host Juve
Milan: AC Milan could be without striker Mario Balotelli for the San Siro clash against Juventus Sunday when the Rossoneri will look to capitalise on the champions` midweek endeavours in the Europa League.

Juventus are unbeaten in their last 17 league games, a streak in which Antonio Conte`s men have won 15 times and settled for draws only twice on their way to building a nine-point lead on second-placed Roma.

Roma, who have a game in hand, host Inter in Serie A`s only Saturday game.

However Conte has regularly expressed fears that his side`s ambitions in Europe could affect their bid for a third consecutive scudetto.

Juve qualified for the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday with a 4-0 aggregate victory over Trabzonspor, when Arturo Vidal and Pablo Daniel Osvaldo scored first-half goals to secure a 2-0 second-leg win.

Fernando Llorente (10) and Carlos Tevez (14), who have 24 league goals between them, were both rested meaning they should be relatively fresh for the visit to Milan.

Daniele Bonera, who returns to Milan`s squad along with fellow defender Mattia De Sciglio, has acknowledged the pair`s threat but said the Rossoneri mean to continue their resurgence from a disastrous start to the season.

"We know we have a long road ahead of us but we`re not afraid of Juventus," Bonera told the Milan Channel.

"Tevez and Llorente are a good combo, the numbers speak for themselves. But we are starting to find a balance and we want to continue our recent run of good results."

Milan have lost only once in six games since Clarence Seedorf took over as coach but the Dutchman is set to be without Balotelli for a second successive game due to a shoulder injury suffered recently in a Champions League 1-1 draw at home to Atletico Madrid.
Giampaolo Pazzini could be handed his second successive start, after last week`s 2-0 win away to Sampdoria, but would play with a face mask to protect his nose after suffering a face injury last week.

On Saturday, title-challengers Roma will host Inter in a half-empty stadium.

Earlier this week a Roma appeal against extra sections of the Olympic Stadium being closed was rejected by Italy`s top sports arbitration court.

The initial sanction closing both ends of the stadium for two home games was originally delivered after Roma`s fans were charged with "territorial discrimination" having targeted Napoli with offensive chants.

Roma have already served one of those bans and made light of the comparative lack of fans after a 3-0 home win over Sampdoria by mockingly running in line to pay tribute to a tribune devoid of any fans.

Inter travel to the Olympic Stadium sitting fifth, but 11 points off the final Champions League qualifying spot held by third-placed Napoli having been held 1-1 at home by Cagliari last week.

Brazilian midfielder Hernanes should return to Walter Mazzarri`s starting line-up, with on-form Mauro Icardi set to partner fellow Argentinian Rodrigo Palacio in attack with Diego Milito on the bench.

Napoli, who squeezed into the Europa League last 16 thanks to a 3-1 win over Swansea City, travel to struggling Livorno looking for the three points that would keep Fiorentina at bay and tighten their grip on a Champions League spot.

Fiorentina, who also qualified for the Europa League last 16 with a 4-2 aggregate victory over Danish outfit Esbjerg, sit fourth with a six-point deficit to Napoli ahead of their trip to Lazio.


Roma v Inter (1945 GMT)


Cagliari v Udinese (1130), Atalanta v Chievo, Genoa v Catania, Verona v Bologna, Sassuolo v Parma, Torino v Sampdoria (all 1400), Livorno v Napoli (1730), Fiorentina v Lazio, Milan v Juventus (1945)
AFP --------------------------

AC Milan target Brazilian players Doria, Gabriel

AC Milan target Brazilian players Doria, Gabriel

Last Updated: Friday, February 28, 2014, 11:00
AC Milan target Brazilian players Doria, Gabriel
Rio de Janeiro: AC Milan are reportedly preparing a summer move for highly rated Brazilian pair Doria and Gabriel.

Both caught the eye of Milan coach Clarence Seedorf during the former Dutch international`s 18-month spell as a player at Botafogo, which ended last month, reported Xinhua.

Central defender Doria is Brazil`s under-20 captain and has also been linked to Barcelona and Juventus.

Gabriel, 21, is a central midfielder who is known to be highly rated by Seedorf.

Milan are currently ninth in Italy`s Serie A standings, 10 points behind a Champions League place with only 13 matches remaining.

Seedorf is understood to have requested a raft of new signings to bolster his squad ahead of next season.
IANS ---------------------

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Evra: Manchester United players are behind Moyes

Evra: Manchester United players are behind Moyes

Evra: Manchester United players are behind Moyes

The French defender has lent his support to the Scottish manager despite an underwhelming season, while he could be forced to "study the possibilities" of a move away
Patrice Evra has backed under pressure Manchester United manager David Moyes and insists a dip in form was inevitable after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

The Red Devils have struggled under the stewardship of the former Everton boss this season, slipping 15 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea and exiting both domestic cup competitions.

A miserable season for the Old Trafford outfit was compounded by a 2-0 loss against Olympiakos in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, but Evra insists Moyes retains the full backing of the squad.

"There was a big change, nobody likes change," the defender told French radio station RMC Sport, acknowledging the impact made by Ferguson during his lengthy tenure at Old Trafford.

"We are behind the new manager; we will do everything to qualify for the next Champions League, my love for the club will not change."

As reported by Goal, Evra is being targeted by Inter as the Italians look to bolster their back-line, but the Frenchman revealed he had not considered his future at Old Trafford yet - though could be forced to consider his options.

"I love Manchester," he added. "When my love is broken with Manchester, I will study the possibilities.

"Everyone respects me, I feel at home here. It's beautiful. I have very good relations with the new coach." ----------------

Asafa Powell now set to learn his fate April 10

Asafa Powell now set to learn his fate April 10

Last Updated: Thursday, February 27, 2014, 19:29
Asafa Powell now set to learn his fate April 10
Kingston: Jamaican sprint star Asafa Powell must wait until April 10 to learn if he can resume his career this year after submissions were completed Wednesday in a doping hearing.

The three-member Jamaica Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel heard final arguments from attorneys representing Powell and the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) completed submissions in the case today.

Powell, a former world 100-metre champion, and training partner Sherone Simpson tested positive for the banned stimulant oxilofrine after the 100m final at the Jamaican national championships last June 21.

Powell, who set a world record in the 100 metres in 2008 with a time of 9.74 seconds, blames Canadian physical therapist Chris Xuereb for the positive test, saying he provided the nutritional supplement, Epiphany D1, that resulted in the positive test.

JADCO lawyer Lackston Robinson pushed for a two-year competition ban for Powell, whose attorney, Kwame Gordon, asked for leniency.

Robinson said Powell`s blind trust of Xuereb, whom he had known for less than two months, was "not only significant negligence but gross negligence" and cited discrepancies in testimony by Powell, Simpson and their manager, Paul Doyle.

A bottle of Epiphany D1 submitted for testing to a US lab by Doyle showed traces of oxilofrine while one bought by the lab from the Epiphany D1 website did not test positive for the same substance.

"The one that Mr. Doyle submitted had a rock-like substance this one didn`t have," Robinson said. "Mr. Doyle`s own was sealed, just the cap. This one the entire bottle was sealed and then the cotton ball placement was different with this sample and was on the top of the capsules."

Robinson said JADCO does not accept that Epiphany D1 contained the substance oxilofrine found in Powell`s sample last June.

"Mr. Powell in his evidence suggested he took very little care in ensuring what he was taking was not contaminated," Robinson said.

Gordon says JADCO has no scientific evidence to suggest the banned substance was not in the bottles used by Powell and Simpson, who learns her fate April 8.

Robinson argued that given the information from the base sample tested in the US lab, JADCO does not need more evidence.
AFP ------------------------

Federer pushed to the limit by canny Stepanek

Federer pushed to the limit by canny Stepanek

Last Updated: Thursday, February 27, 2014, 09:17
Federer pushed to the limit by canny Stepanek
Dubai: Former men`s world number one Roger Federer had to dig deep to progress to the quarter-finals of the Dubai Open on Wednesday eventually beating fellow veteran Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-7 (4/7) 6-3 in their second round clash.

The 32-year-old Grand Slam record-holder -- who has won the Dubai title a record five times -- struggled for long periods against a 35-year-old who is barely a full-timer on the ATP Tour these days.

Federer was four times within a point of going 0-3 down in the final set, any one of which could have inspired the talented and unpredictable Czech to close out the game.

Once Federer had held on in that game, and broken back, he created some momentum of his own, and the ace which took him to 4-2 signalled he had turned the tide.

"It was a difficult match and a bit typical of a second round at Dubai, and I found it difficult to get rhythm," admitted Federer.

"Radek is talented and agile, and it didn`t look good for a while in the third set.

"It was a bit frustrating. I didn`t take advantage after the first set when you hope to keep it going.

"At the start of the second he stuck in a quick break and I was under pressure for the rest of that set.

"I had to figure out how to deal with it. I am glad I made it."

Stepanek -- who has played only four games on the Tour this year -- also showed a remarkable ability to raise his game as it became evident he had a chance of pulling off a big result, and he mixed up his tactics with unorthodox brilliance.

When Federer broke back from 5-3 down in the second set he seemed to be out of danger.

However the opening point of the tie-break had to be played three times - Federer winning a Hawkeye appeal and the umpire over-ruling the next line decision - and that appeared to have an effect on the Swiss.

When Federer double faulted it left him trailing 6-2, and although he saved two set points, Stepanek was soon performing one of his notoriously extravagant celebrations and hop-skipping his way into a deciding set.

Federer turned it round by reining in his ambitions, and mixing in a little containment with his forcefulness and will take note of that when he takes on Lukas Rosol, conqueror of Rafa Nadal at Wimbledon two years ago, in Wednesday`s quarter-finals.

The last match of the day saw Novak Djokovic, who will equal Federer`s record of five titles if he succeeds again, also reach the quarter-finals, beating Roberto Bautista Agut, the world number 51 from Spain, 6-1, 6-3.

Although it was only Djokovic`s second match in more than five weeks, the top-seeded Serb was untroubled, and earned a meeting with Mikhail Youzhny, the Russian who has reached the Dubai final twice.

If Djokovic beats Youzhny he should have a semi-final with Federer.

Earlier Stepanek`s compatriot Tomas Berdych cruised into the quarter-finals and looks in the type of form that could see him reach the final for a second successive year.

The world number six was the only top ten player not to have won a title last year, though an overwhelming 6-2, 6-1 victory over Sergiy Stakhovsky now hinted how his chances of remedying that are improving.

Berdych has lost only ten games in four sets of tennis here, his steep serve and fierce forehands proving formidable weapons, and the win was his 13th in 14 matches.

He next plays Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the fifth-seeded Frenchman, who rushed here from contesting the final in Marseille on Sunday, and who was pleased to get a day`s rest when Nikolay Davydenko, the former world number three from Russia, withdrew with an injured rib.
AFP ------------------------

Forensics key to Pistorius case

Forensics key to Pistorius case

Last Updated: Thursday, February 27, 2014, 11:25
Forensics key to Pistorius case
Fallen South African athletic star Oscar Pistorius will rely on a hand-picked team of forensic experts when he mounts his defence against murder charges at a trial beginning Monday.

"We are going to see a clash of experts in this case. It is going to be an issue of how the forensics plays out," according to David Klatzow, a South African forensic scientist not linked to the case.

Pistorius, the 27-year-old Paralympian and Olympian dubbed the "Blade Runner" for his prosthetic legs, is on trial for the premeditated murder of his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, whom he shot dead on Valentine`s Day 2013.

He is expected to argue he shot his 29-year-old lover through a locked toilet door at his home believing she was an intruder.

The prosecution will use forensics to show that, far from being scared, Pistorius fired at Steenkamp from a close distance, repeatedly and with premeditation.

"The precise positions at which the shots were fired; the grouping of the shots; the number of shots that were fired," are among the key points to be raked over by experts according to Klatzow.

"Ballistic evidence is going to show that Oscar was very close to the door and that is going to be a difficult thing, I think, for him to explain away."

"It doesn`t make sense to approach the danger more closely," said Klatzow.

"His next problem is he fired so many shots," he added. "He will have difficulty justifying the reasonableness of firing four shots."
To address those problems, Pistorius will call on at least four forensic scientists, ranging in expertise from guns to blood splatter, to testify in his defence.

The all South African forensic team includes forensic geologist Roger Dixon, private forensic pathologist Reggie Perumal, and gun experts Thomas Wolmarans and Jannie van der Westhuizen.

Team Pistorius is unusual for its size and depth in South Africa, a country with a 25 percent unemployment rate where the average annual income is around $9,500 (7000 euro).

"It`s a question of resources," said Stephen Tuson, criminal law adjunct professor at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

"Many trials are run with the barest minimum of forensic evidence, a post-mortem report by the pathologist and maybe a few photographs."

All the experts, except Perumal, are based in Pretoria, where Pistorius has lived with his uncle, businessman Arnold Pistorius, in preparation of the trial.

It makes sense that Pistorius hired people from his own country, said Michael Baden, a forensic expert speaking from New York.

"In my experience, the local experts are given more credibility by judges... than someone who could be called a carpet bagger or hired gun," said Baden, author of "Dead Reckoning: The New Science of Catching Killers."

But Pistorius also looked overseas for help. Pistorius has also hired The Evidence Room, an American forensic animation firm based in Cleveland, Ohio, to digitally recreate the crime scene using computer animation, a craft popularized in movies such as Toy Story and Shrek.

"It`s basically a virtual environment, it`s just such a great way of explaining things," says Brian Brill, manager at Mountain Graphix, a forensic animation firm in Dillon, Colorado.

Brill, who used to be a ski patroller before animating accident scenes, said he usually charges around $200 an hour.

The price tag for complicated cases can run as high as $20,000, he said. But the 46-year-old said the video evidence is priceless.

"A picture is a thousand words, so basically an animation is a thousand pictures," he said, "it`s great for explaining the lay of the land."

Pistorius`s investment may well be a shrewd one, according to Klatzow.

"I am hoping that it does not turn out to be a case of duelling experts. But all too often this is what happens."

"You have the state expert who says categorically black, you have go the defence expert who says categorically white. It ends up as often highly technical duel."

"What often happens unfortunately is the judge ends up weighing experts rather than experts` testimony."
AFP ------------------------

Anti-gay bill vetoed after sporting pressure

Anti-gay bill vetoed after sporting pressure

Last Updated: Thursday, February 27, 2014, 11:29
Anti-gay bill vetoed after sporting pressure
A controversial anti-gay bill was vetoed Wednesday by Arizona governor Jan Brewer only hours after pressure from American sports leagues that pump millions of dollars into the US state`s economy.

The National Football League, which will stage Super Bowl 49 next February in Arizona, as well as Major League Baseball and Arizona`s NBA and Women`s NBA teams made it clear they did not want to see Senate Bill 1062 become law.

The bill would have let businesses refuse to serve gays and lesbians for religious reasons, drawing protest marches at the state capitol and raising fears from Arizona businesses about possible lost tourism and convention income.

The NFL championship spectacle, which organizers estimated produced $550 to $600 million in economic impact for the New York region earlier this month, could potentially have been moved from Arizona for the second time.

While no overt threat was made to yank the Super Bowl, it was clear the NFL was watching Brewer.

"Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other improper standard," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement before the decision.

"We are following the issue in Arizona and will continue to do so."

The Phoenix area already has the stigma of being the only host in Super Bowl history to ever have the big game stripped away.

The NFL moved the 1993 Super Bowl from Arizona to Pasadena, California, after Arizona voters in 1990 failed to approve a paid state holiday in tribute to the slain African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

After a 1992 Arizona vote creating a paid state holiday to honor King, the NFL staged the 1996 Super Bowl at Arizona State University`s Sun Devil Stadium in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe.Major League Baseball, which has half of its 30 clubs staging hundreds of pre-season exhibition games in the Phoenix area over the next month, came out against the bill Wednesday, invoking the name of the first African-American player in the sport in doing so.

"As the sport of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball and its 30 clubs stand united behind the principles of respect, inclusion and acceptance," it said in a statement.

"Those values are fundamental to our game`s diverse players, employees and fans. We welcome individuals of different sexual orientations, races, religions, genders and national origins."

It added: "MLB has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation... Accordingly, MLB will neither support nor tolerate any words, attitudes or actions that imperil the inclusive communities that we have strived to foster within our game."

The NBA Phoenix Suns, who play 41 home games in Arizona, and the Women`s NBA Arizona Mercury, who boast openly gay star Brittney Griner, also came out solidly against the measure.

"Sports has the unique power to unite, to bring together a community without regard to individual differences," they said in a statement.

"The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury are proud members of this community and we embrace fans, families and businesses of every stripe."

"We are steadfastly committed to the principles of inclusivity and acceptance and cannot support anything that is not in line with that philosophy," they added.

The 2014 WNBA All-Star Game is set to be played at Phoenix on July 19.
Also among those against the measure was the host committee of Super Bowl 49, set for the domed home stadium of the Arizona Cardinals in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale.

"We do not support this legislation," it said in a statement.

Area business leaders had made their feelings clear to the Super Bowl group.

"A key part of the mission for the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee is to promote the economic vitality of Arizona," the committee said.

"On that matter we have heard loud and clear from our various stakeholders that adoption of this legislation would not only run contrary to that goal but deal a significant blow to the state`s economic growth potential."

The controversy came as the NFL prepares to welcome Michael Sam, a college standout who is openly gay and expected to be selected in May`s NFL Draft and become the league`s first openly homosexual player.

Last Sunday, Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in an NBA game.
AFP -----------------------

Bayern better now than ever before - Rummenigge

Bayern better now than ever before - Rummenigge

Bayern better now than ever before - Rummenigge

The Bavarians chief thinks the current group, coached by Pep Guardiola, is stronger even than the side 45 years ago which had Gerd Muller and Franz Beckenbauer

Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge believes the club are potentially going through the best-ever spell in their 114-year history.

February 27 marks the Bavarians' birthday and title victories in the Bundeliga, the Champions League, DFB-Pokal, Uefa Super Cup and Club World Cup in the past 12 months means they can celebrate in some style.

With Pep Guardiola's side sitting top of the league by an astonishing 19 points in the current campaign, and with a 2-0 first-leg advantage secured over Arsenal in Europe, Rummenigge is contemplating the possibility that the current Roten players form the best collection that the German giants have ever seen.

"Last season was simply brilliant," the former West Germany star told Bayern's official website. "We're writing a success story at the moment in a way we've never experienced before.

"We've had a lot of great teams over the years, starting in the 1970s with Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Sepp Maier when we won the European Cup three times on the trot. An incredible achievement!

"But it was a different time back then. The quality we've got on the pitch and on the bench now is out of this world. The club are possibly going through its best period to date."

Bayern resume competitive action when they host Schalke - who were pummelled 6-1 by Real Madrid in the Champions League on Wednesday - in Munich on Saturday, with kick off at 18:30CET. -----------

Xavi admits frustration with Barcelona role

Xavi admits frustration with Barcelona role

Xavi admits frustration with Barcelona role

The midfielder is not happy with his changed role at the Liga champions, while he is unaware of a potential Carles Puyol exit at the end of the season
Barcelona midfielder Xavi has voiced his frustration with his reduced playing time under head coach Gerardo Martino this season, but has insisted that he will never cause any problems over his changed status.

The 34-year-old has completed only nine out of 25 Primera Division games so far this term as he is no longer an undisputed starter at the Catalans and has admitted that it is not easy to cope with his new role.

"It’s frustrating for me when I don’t get the chance to participate, but I always respect the coach," the midfielder was quoted as saying by Marca.

"It’s the coach who has the final say. I am educated enough to know that I cannot override the coach’s decisions.

"At Barca, we all know that none of us are above the coach."

Xavi also had his say on the situation of Carles Puyol amid ongoing speculation that the experienced defender could leave the Camp Nou side this summer.

However, he stressed that the centre-back has not discussed a potential exit or retiring from professional football.

"Puyol is still under contract. He hasn’t said anything to me or the others," Xavi continued.

"He seems perfectly relaxed, as he always does. He’s our captain, our leader and hasn’t said a word about leaving." ----------------

Chelsea team up with 'The Simpsons' for merchandise deal

Chelsea team up with 'The Simpsons' for merchandise deal

Chelsea team up with 'The Simpsons' for merchandise deal

The animated sitcom - the longest-running scripted programme in American history - is set to lend the image of characters Homer and Bart to Blues-themed products

Chelsea have announced an unusual commercial deal which sees them team up with legendary American TV programme 'The Simpsons'.

The merchandising arrangement, struck with Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products, will see the creation of Blues-branded items featuring Homer and Bart Simpson in the club's colours.

The artists of the animated sitcom, which has been commissioned for a 26th season by Fox, have created life-sized cutouts of several key players - including the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard - in characteristic yellow-skinned style to celebrate.

"It's great to see myself and the other players as Simpsons characters," Terry told the club's official website.

"'The Simpsons' was and still is my favourite show and is now my kids' too. I can't wait to see what Bart and Homer will look like as Chelsea players."

Fernando Torres was also responded positively to the link-up via his personal Twitter page:
The Simpsons . What do you think? #chelseasimpsons #cech #terry #lampard @hazardeden10 @Torres
— Fernando Torres (@Torres) February 27, 2014 /

Chief executive Ron Gourlay also welcomed the news, declaring: "We are very pleased to announce such an exciting partnership. 'The Simpsons' is a hugely popular show and I hope Chelsea fans will enjoy seeing its main characters in our colours." --------------

Higuain: Napoli struggled when Swansea equalised

Higuain: Napoli struggled when Swansea equalised

Higuain: Napoli struggled when Swansea equalised

The Argentine says the Premier League visitors made it difficult for the hosts, but was delighted that he could help fire the Partenopei through in the Europe League

Gonzalo Higuain admitted Napoli struggled to bounce back after conceding an equaliser to Swansea on Thursday, but was thrilled with their late salvo which saw them triumph in their Europa League last-32 tie.

The Partenopei, who were held to a 0-0 draw at the Liberty Stadium last week, were fired ahead by Lorenzo Insigne early on but Jonathan de Guzman's leveller left the Stadio San Paolo unsettled.

However, the former Real Madrid striker popped up to score his 20th goal of the season in a Napoli shirt, with Gokhan Inler bagging a complementary third for the hosts in stoppage-time.

Higuain suggested that a 3-1 win on the night was a little flattering for Rafa Benitez's men and stressed the result is more important than his goalscoring performance.

"We knew it was an important game and it was a difficult struggle," the Argentine, 26, told Mediaset Premium. "Swansea forced us to wait over 70 minutes to secure the win.

"I want to thank my team and our fans for helping us to gain this qualification. We started the game well, though after the equaliser we fell back a bit, but we can be satisfied with the outcome.

"It's more important that the result was good than getting a goal, I'm happy with that."

Napoli will face Porto in the last 16 of the Europa League, after the Portuguese giants defeated Eintracht Frankfurt on away goals on Thursday in a 5-5 aggregate result. ------------