By Iacovos ConstantinouTHE Limassol derby between leaders AEL and third-placed Apollon stands out in this week’s fixture list that starts with the local derby on Saturday and ends on Monday evening with Nea Salamina’s game against Ermis Aradippou.This will be AEL’s third consecutive game against opposition in the top quarter of the table and a win against their local rivals at the Tsirion Stadium will put them in a commanding position as they will be heading towards the play-off games with a potential four-point lead.However they will be denied the services of their defensive stalwart Edwin Ouon due to suspension and this may prove costly against a team that possesses perhaps the most lethal striker in the league, top scorer Gaston Sangoy of Argentina.Apollon, buoyed by their mid-week cup win over Omonia, know that if they lose, their title hopes will all but disappear as they will trail AEL by nine points. Apollon will also be without one of their key players as midfielder Rashid Hamtani is suspended for this crucial game.Second placed APOEL entertain Doxa Katokopias in a game which the Nicosia team is expected to win. The champions will be at full strength with left back Pipinis returning to action after injury. Doxa, having secured last Wednesday a place in the last four of the Cup for the first time in their history, and sitting comfortably in mid-table, may opt to rest some players.Anorthosis, a team that failed to live up to the pundits’ early expectations as title favourites, will go to the GSZ Stadium to face AEK Larnaca. The Famagusta team, booed off the field in their last game after another abject performance, will hope that AEK will be more concerned with their upcoming Cup quarter-final second leg tie against Ermis rather than their clash.Aris Limassol, hovering just above the automatic relegation zone, will not have an easy task against Omonia. Having been knocked out of the Cup in midweek, the Nicosia giants need a win to stay within range of the positions that can lead to European qualification.Ethnikos Achnas, unbeaten in the last three games, are expected to extend their run when they face AEK Kouklion while Enosis Neon Paralimni know that only three points will do against already relegated Alki if they are to have a chance of climbing out of the relegation zone.On Monday evening Nea Salamina will face Ermis Aradippou with the visiting team eager to maintain their push for a top-three finish.
By Martyn HermanManchester United’s squad have been warned. Slack off in training and new manager Louis van Gaal will be watching you.The 62-year-old Dutchman is leaving nothing to chance as he prepares in painstaking detail for the start of the Premier League season, introducing a range of new innovations.High-definition cameras have been installed at the club’s Carrington training facility, meaning every kick can be monitored by the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona coach charged with restoring the 20-time English champions back to the top after a woeful seventh-placed finish last season.The no-nonsense coach has also insisted on players speaking English at all times during training and has even replaced rectangular tables in the canteen with round ones to encourage conversation amongst his players.New pitches, to replicate the Old Trafford surface, have been put down at Carrington and Van Gaal has prioritised making the squad fitter than it was under former manager David Moyes who was sacked less than a season after taking over from Alex Ferguson.“I think it is a lot more detailed at the training ground now,” United defender Evans told a news conference in Michigan where United will play European champions Real Madrid in front of an expected 109,000 fans on Saturday.“They have spent thousands on it and a few of the lads have seen HD cameras around the pitch.“We have this system at the minute where he can watch us on the pitch.“I think a lot of teams use it but we are looking into it in quite a lot of detail,” Evans added. “He is saying ‘you should be five yards to the right’, we are able to see things that are happening live on the pitch.“That kind of scrutiny is new to every single player.“The case before was that as long as we got the results everything was fine.”United have produced encouraging displays in the States, beating Roma and Inter Milan, and Van Gaal is relishing the chance to evaluate his squad against Madrid.“It’s not a little club that we have to beat and now it’s Real Madrid,” he told the club’s website.“It’s nice to play against such teams and that you can show that you are at least equal.”
By Pritha SarkarIt was sharp, quick and brutal as Novak Djokovic finally dropped the French Open guillotine on Rafa Nadal – ending the most remarkable of Roland Garros reigns in ruthless fashion on Wednesday.The champion, who was rumoured to have red clay pumping through his veins after ruling the Paris slam for nine of the last ten years, tamely surrendered his crown.A double fault ended the most miserable of miserable days for the Spaniard, with Djokovic proving that even players of Nadal’s stature can be turned into mere mortals.The manner of Djokovic’s 7-5 6-3 6-1 execution was impressive enough but unfortunately for the Serb, no one was running out on court to hand him a gleaming trophy for condemning Nadal to only his second defeat at Roland Garros.For this was merely a quarter-final.To get his hands on the Musketeers’ Cup and complete the coveted career grand slam, the world number one will first have to tackle Andy Murray – a 7-6(4) 6-2 5-7 6-1 winner over David Ferrer – and then win the final on Sunday.A match befitting the final of any grand slam stage came two rounds too early due to Nadal’s slide down the rankings.While injuries and appendicitis kept Nadal off court during the second half of 2014, 2015 has not exactly been a stellar year by his own high standards – he arrived in Paris without winning a European claycourt event for the first time in over a decade.Nadal’s woes meant he entered Roland Garros ranked seventh, which set him on the path to a horror 29th birthday date with Djokovic.The traffic-stopping 44th showdown between the two was dubbed ‘The Superbowl on clay’ by John McEnroe but there was nothing ‘super’ about it during the opening exchanges because within a blink of an eye, Djokovic was 4-0 up.As Djokovic unleashed an assortment of lethal backhands, forehands and volleys, McEnroe exclaimed: “Nadal unbelievably has no idea what he’s doing – that spells trouble.”There was trouble with Nadal’s forehand, there was trouble with his usually reliable top spin and there was trouble with his serve.“Novak had me under control most of the time. He was better than me. That’s it, simple,” said the sixth seed after suffering only his second loss in 72 matches in Roland Garros.“I’m gonna fight. I lost in 2009 (to Robin Soderling) and that was not the end. I lost in 2015 and this is not the end,” added Nadal, who produced only three forehand winners during the two hour 27 minute mauling.Even when Nadal came back to level the set at 4-4, his shots seemed to lack the firepower that in the past left countless opponents gasping for air.Djokovic, who had lost six previous French Open tussles against Nadal, stayed cool and collected throughout the contest to notch up his 21st win against his Roland Garros nemesis.“It’s definitely a big win, a match that I will remember for a long time,” said Djokovic.“At the end of the day, he’s human. I understand that people are questioning his game. But if you need a reminder of who he is, you just look at his career stats and grand slams that he won.”Djokovic’s next test will be against a player who also boasts a 15-0 record on red dirt this year.Murray’s triumph over Ferrer ended a miserable day for the Spaniards, who will not feature in the last four here for the first time since 2009.While Djokovic harbours hopes of becoming only the eighth man to win all four majors, Serena Williams showed that she is primed to win a 20th grand slam singles title.After surviving three tough three setters, she subjected poor 2012 finalist Sara Errani to a 6-1 6-3 hammering to prove that it will take a brave woman to deny her a third title in a city she calls her second home.Standing in her way to a final date on Saturday is surprise Swiss semi-finalist Timea Bacsinszky, who toppled little-known Belgian Alison van Uytvanck 6-4 7-5.
By Mike CollettChelsea forgot their Premier League woes and got their Champions League campaign off to a flying start with a 4-0 thrashing of Israeli champions Maccabi Tel Aviv in their opening Group G match at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.Despite Eden Hazard blazing an early penalty high over the bar, Chelsea scored twice in the first half with Willian finding the net with a 30-metre free kick after 15 minutes and Oscar scoring from their second penalty with the last kick of the opening 45 minutes.Diego Costa, who replaced Willian after the Brazilian was injured after 20 minutes, brilliantly volleyed in Chelsea’s third after 58 minutes with Cesc Fabregas finishing off a breakaway for the fourth after 78.Maccabi, back in the competition proper for the first time in 10 years, went close through skipper Eran Zahavi and Nosakhare Igiebor, but Chelsea, 17th in the Premier League with one win from five matches, were never seriously troubled.Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho made six changes to the side beaten 3-1 at Everton on Saturday with captain John Terry among those on the bench, although Fabregas, who has lacked his usual creative inspiration, retained his place and had a hand in the third as well as scoring for the first time since April.The lack of confidence and poor form that has blighted Chelsea’s start to the campaign was apparent when Hazard blazed his penalty over the bar.German referee Felix Zwayer showed leniency to Maccabi’s Serbian keeper Predrag Rajkovic though, only giving him a yellow card for bringing down Willian – and the goalie did not have to move as Hazard fired high and wide.Willian avenged that foul in the 15th minute when his 30-metre free kick bounced once and flew past the slow-moving Rajkovic to give Chelsea a deserved lead.Chelsea dominated but had to wait until the last kick of stoppage time before doubling the lead when Oscar scored from the spot after former Chelsea defender Tal Ben Haim scythed down substitute Diego Costa.Costa volleyed Chelsea’s third on the turn just before the hour mark and Fabregas tapped in a fourth as Chelsea won their opening home Champions League match of the season under Mourinho for the first time, at the fourth attempt
By Iacovos ConstantinouTHE men in black (or green, or mauve, or blue or pink nowadays) were the unsavoury ‘stars’ of the final round of the Cyprus football championship this week before the Christmas break.In all but one of the seven games played, the officials managed to grab the headlines by willfully or not affecting the results with ludicrous decisions.The worrying aspect is that both inexperienced and experienced officials were guilty of such decisions. On the positive side, if one can call it positive, is that the gaffes were not intentionally made to favour a particular team, but merely because that is the standard of Cyprus refereeing.In the game between Paralimni and Ermis the ref disallowed what looked like a perfectly good goal and then minutes from the end awarded a non-existent (the striker who won the penalty managed to trip over his own legs outside the box) penalty to the team he had wronged earlier on in the game.Anorthosis, who so far this season had been accused by other clubs and fans of getting the rub of the green, got the short end of the stick this time.The referee awarded their opponents, Ethnikos, a penalty that even had their own players bewildered – in fact everybody believed that the ref had blown for simulation.The same referee then decided at the end of the 90 minutes to add on a further five for added time but when that was up and he still had some energy to burn, he added an extra three minutes for reasons known only to him.The referee of the Salamina v Ayia Napa game has to sit down and re-read the rules of football.The hawk-eyed official spotted a defender dragging an opponent to the ground in the penalty area with the ball in play elsewhere. A yellow card was brandished to the defender but for some reason no penalty was awarded.In the two big games between APOEL v AEK and AEL v Apollon, legitimate penalty claims were waved away while in the APOEL v AEK match, leg-breaking challenges that should have warranted red cards went completely unpunished.The icing on the cake though must be Omonia’s winning goal against Doxa. In the build-up, the ball had clearly gone out of play by a foot or so but neither the referee nor his assistant spotted it.A clean bill of health from their optician is a must for both if they are to officiate again.Doxa’s hapless coach was red carded for arguing the obvious to the ref but he should know better. He is no Sir Alex Ferguson or Manchester United as Tottenham’s Pedro Mendes will probably testify following an infamous incident in the Premier League back in 2005 (below).
Garbine Muguruza achieved the rare feat of overpowering Serena Williams to claim her maiden grand slam title with a 7-5 6-4 win over the world number one and defending champion in the French Open final on Saturday.The 22-year-old fourth seed, who lost to Williams in last year’s Wimbledon final, became the first Spaniard to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1998.“This is the big tournament in Spain and Rafa (Nadal) is our cbampion,” she said courtside, referring to the nine-times men’s winner who pulled out injured last week.Although her hard-hitting game seems more suited to faster surfaces, Muguruza won 14 consecutive sets en route to the final after losing her opening set of the tournament.A self-confessed anxious player, she managed her emotions on Court Philippe Chatrier, saving six of eight break points against Williams, who had only lost only four of her 26 previous major singles finals.It was Muguruza’s first final on the slow surface and she relied on a powerful first serve and jaw-dropping winners down the line to subdue the American in a battle of will.Muguruza celebrates victoryWilliams, who was gunning for a professional era record 22nd major title, got off to a solid start, winning her first service game to love and putting pressure on her opponent’s serve.In the fourth game, which lasted nine minutes, Muguruza saved a break point with an unreturnable forehand, then a second with an ace.An ugly double fault, however, earned Muguruza the first break of the match, which she consolidated by holding serve in the sixth game with a flat forehand winner down the line to lead 4-2.Williams, 34, stepped into the court and put Muguruza on the back foot, breaking back for 4-4 when Muguruza sent a backhand long.An unreturnable crosscourt forehand gave Muguruza another break. Serving for the set, she showed early nerves in the 12th game before converting her third opportunity with a sizzling backhand winner.A weak Williams backhand put Muguruza up a break in the second, only for the Spaniard to serve consecutive double faults as the American broke back for 1-1.But she unleashed another forehand down the line to regain the advantage and held for 3-1.Williams saved four match points to hold but on Muguruza’s fifth opportunity to seal the contest in the following game she landed a lob on the base line and sank to her knees in apparent disbelief at winning the title.Serena Williams reacts after losing the gameGarbine Muguruza
Burnley midfielder Joey Barton has been suspended from the game for 18 months with immediate effect after admitting to an FA misconduct charge over betting on matches.Barton, who said he will appeal the length of his ban, was charged with placing 1,260 bets on football matches or competitions from 26 March, 2006, to 13 May, 2016, in breach of FA rules which outlaw gambling on games.The FA said in a statement that the 34-year-old was suspended from “all football activity” with immediate effect, fined 30,000 pounds ($38,500) and warned as to his future conduct.There was no suggestion that Barton was involved in match-fixing.In a statement, Barton, who says he has struggled with an addiction to gambling, noted that in a “handful” of cases he had bet on his own club to lose games but only when he was not selected to play for the team.He said that since 2004 he had made over 15,000 bets across a whole range of sports with about 1,200 placed on football and that his betting account did not attempt to hide his identity.“I am very disappointed at the harshness of the sanction. The decision effectively forces me into an early retirement from playing football. To be clear from the outset here this is not match fixing and at no point in any of this is my integrity in question,” he said in a statement.“I accept that I broke the rules governing professional footballers, but I do feel the penalty is heavier than it might be for other less controversial players,” said the midfielder, who was involved in violent incidents earlier in his career.“I have fought addiction to gambling and provided the FA with a medical report about my problem. I’m disappointed it wasn’t taken into proper consideration,” he said.In his lengthy statement Barton also pointed out the heavy involvement of the gambling industry in British football where bookmakers act as sponsors at several levels.“That all means this is not an easy environment in which to try to stop gambling, or even to encourage people within the sport that betting is wrong,” he said.The former Manchester City and Newcastle United midfielder, who made one appearance for England in 2007, helped Burnley win promotion to the Premier League last season and returned to the club in January after a brief spell with Glasgow Rangers.Burnley are 16th in the league standings, five points above the relegation zone with four games left to play.
Real Madrid thrashed Deportivo La Coruna 6-2 to stay level with Barcelona at the top of La Liga on Wednesday after the Catalans crushed Osasuna 7-1, condemning the minnows to relegation.Lionel Messi, Andre Gomes and Paco Alcacer scored twice each and Javier Mascherano netted his first goal for the club from the penalty spot as Barcelona built on Sunday’s Clasico victory.Real, though, showed they would not be easily toppled.Zinedine Zidane made nine changes for the trip to the Riazor but Madrid’s reserves still made light work of Depor, with Isco running the show and finding the net along with James Rodriguez, who hit a brace, Alvaro Morata, Lucas Vazquez and substitute Casemiro.Madrid have 78 points from 33 games, while Barcelona have the same tally from one game more.Osasuna, rooted in 20th place, were relegated after 17th-placed Leganes beat Las Palmas 3-0 to move 12 points clear of the bottom club, an insurmountable total with four games to go because of their inferior head-to-head record.“We had to win. We have suffered a lot since January. We’ve lacked both points and luck, and when that’s the case it’s hard to turn things around,” said Osasuna coach Petar Vasiljevic.Messi opened the scoring with a mazy dribble capped with a neat chip over goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu before Gomes volleyed home Ivan Rakitic’s cross to double the lead.Roberto Torres whipped in a free kick just after halftime to drag his team back into the match before Barcelona ran riot with a flurry of goals.“I think it was a complete performance,” said Barcelona coach Luis Enrique. “When they got back to 2-1, which was the worst moment because they’re back in the game and you never know, we were able to put our foot on the accelerator and close the game out.“The way we played, we deserved to win by a large margin.”Madrid deserved much the same against Depor after dominating from the start.It took Alvaro Morata just 52 seconds to find the net after being played in by Isco with James Rodriguez slamming home the second from a Lucas Vazquez cross.Florin Andone scored from close range, stabbing home Gael Kakuta’s cross-shot in the 35th minute, to give his side a glimmer of hope but nine minutes later Vazquez scored Madrid’s third.Rodriguez and Isco struck before Joselu’s header gave Depor fans some late cheer but Casemiro had the last word and restored Madrid’s four-goal lead in the 87th minute.“Isco was phenomenal,” said Zidane. “He does things on the pitch that not everybody can. The fans congratulated him, I am happy for him, for the work he does. When he has to play he always does his job.”
Fifteen other nations are turning their attention to the host nation Papua New Guinea and wondering if they can deliver such a striking tournament.Despite ongoing talks, preparations for the games continue ahead of schedule.All are due to be completed before November 13.
The Barras’ sixth successive win in the WCL Championship has put them on 12 competition points.They are just ahead of the second-placed Netherlands (12) because of a superior net run rate.From 8 matches, the Barras have recorded 6 wins and 2 losses with a net run rate of +0.037.The current points ladder:PNG (12), Netherlands (12), Scotland (11), Hong Kong (9), Kenya (6), Nepal (6), Namibia (2), United Arab Emirates (2).There are three more rounds to go in the ICC WCL Championship.