Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Season is over for Becks

CHICAGO: David Beckham and the LA Galaxy were knocked out of playoff contention on Sunday when the Galaxy fell 1-0 to the Chicago Fire on the final day of Major League Soccer’s regular season.

The Galaxy, who had mounted a six-game unbeaten streak to keep their playoff hopes alive, needed a victory in order to advance to the eight-team championship playoffs of the 13-team league.

The Fire only needed a draw but managed to go one better with a 90th-minute goal to claim the last playoff spot, leaving English midfielder Beckham to lament the club’s early season struggles before his July arrival.

“We’ve had a good run, but obviously early season form is what has affected us more than anything,” Beckham said after the game. “We have to win games throughout the season instead of relying on the last five or six games to come back into it. But we’ve ended the season sort of on a high and we have to be positive about next season.” – AFP

Arsenal manager tells his young team not to be cocky

LONDON: Arsene Wenger has told his Arsenal players they can effectively clinch their place in the Champions League knockout stages as long as they don’t get over-confident against Slavia Prague today.

Wenger’s side have won their opening two Group H matches and another three points at the Emirates would leave them within touching distance of the second round.

After surging to the top of the Premier League and their European group during an 11-match winning run, Arsenal are heavily favoured to beat the Czech League leaders.

It would be easy for Arsenal’s talented young side to think they have to do little more than turn up to secure another win. So while Wenger paid lip service to Slavia’s ability to trouble his team, the Gunners manager believes the biggest obstacle to overcome is complacency.

“If we win tomorrow 90% of the work is done. It is a good mental test because we will see how we cope when we are favourites,” Wenger said.

“Sometimes the games that look easy at the start turn out to be the hardest. That is what we learned from last season. It is a tricky tie because you could think because we have beaten Sparta Prague we will beat Slavia Prague. We are the favourites but Champions League competition doesn’t work like that.

“We had problems to beat Steaua Bucharest. We had to dig very deep and they have beaten Steaua and scored two goals at Sevilla. If we are not focused we will have big problems with them.”

If Karel Jarolim’s side manage to keep Arsenal at bay early on, Wenger believes Theo Walcott has developed into the kind of impact player who can break the deadlock.

“I feel he has qualities that are very important for a striker,” Wenger said. “The timing of his movement is good, the quality of his movement is good.

“So overall I feel he has made good progress recently, even if at the start of the season he had to be a bit patient because it took him sometime to get back to his level. He has made more progress and moved forward.

“At his age you can only improve if you work in a dedicated way. He applies himself very well in training.

“Between 19 and 23 a striker moves forward. Look at how Robin van Persie arrived here and how he is today.”

While Arsenal are on their best winning run since 2002, Wenger believes there is still room for improvement.

He is impressed with the way they have cut the lapses in concentration that proved costly last season, but he wants his players to be more ruthless in front of goal.

“We still have to improve because I feel this team is 80% of its potential,” Wenger said.

“We are stronger because our team-work is better and we have learned from our mistakes. We conceded a lot of goals from counter-attacks and set-pieces.

“The challenge is to get the best out of them. That is down to humility, attitude and mental quality.” – AFP

Alonso: We blew it

MADRID: Fernando Alonso says McLaren would be celebrating a world championship victory instead of bemoaning a shock defeat had they used different tactics this season.

“McLaren got it wrong, they lost the championship for the mistaken decisions they made in the second part of the season,” the Spaniard told Radio station Cadena Ser yesterday. “It isn’t a secret that they haven’t helped me much. It wasn’t a very well organised season from the point of view of the management.”

“There was no sensation of being a team and the result speaks for itself. Each person will have to draw their own lessons from this season, but if we had taken a different approach we would have got different results.”

Alonso narrowly missed out on a third successive world title, finishing in third spot in the standings level on points with team-mate Lewis Hamilton and one behind winner Kimi Raikkonen.

Arriving from Renault as the man to restore McLaren’s fortunes after the Mercedes-powered team failed to win a race last year, Alonso has consistently complained that he did not receive the special treatment he warranted as a double world champion.

“What the boss said after China about the team racing against me and not Kimi was a clear declaration of intentions,” he said.

“In the last few races my hands and feet were tied. I had no power to make decisions. I had to race as they told me. McLaren lost and Ferrari did a better job than anyone else.”

Alonso added that he would be ashamed if McLaren’s appeal over alleged fuel irregularities by the BMW Sauber and Williams teams gifted the championship to Hamilton.

“Whoever gets the most points is the rightful champion. It would sink the sport if they won the title this way. I would be mortified if that happened.”

Alonso was tight-lipped about his plans for next season. Asked if his former team Renault were his number one choice if he were to leave McLaren he replied: “No, right now I’d say no.”

Although disappointed that Alonso had failed to win the title, Spanish media celebrated the fact that Hamilton had been deprived of the crown, saying that McLaren got their just deserts.

“McLaren gifted the championship to Kimi,” said sports daily AS. “The biggest embarrassment of the century,” said its rival Marca.

“The Ferrari family gave McLaren, that pretence of a team that was in reality a pack of egos united only by some stickers, a true lesson,” commented El Pais. – Reuters

Name the drug cheats, Graham told

BRISBANE: Former swimmer Elka Graham is tarnishing innocent athletes by refusing to disclose more about drug allegations she made in a newspaper column, Australian swimming chief Glenn Tasker said yesterday.

The dual Olympian claimed in a Sunday column that she was offered performance-enhancing drugs by another elite swimmer while training for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Tasker said that Graham had a responsibility to former team-mates and training partners, both in Australia and the United States.

“Literally anybody who swam with Elka in the years leading up to Athens, she’s cast doubt out there about who is it,” he said. “If she can give us a name then ASADA (Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority) will investigate.” – Reuters

Composer’s soundtrack from track sounds

BEIJING: Anyone who has ever wondered what sound world champion Liu Xiang makes when he starts a high hurdles race will find out when Chinese composer Tan Dun’s music for the Beijing Olympics is unveiled next year.

Hunan-born Tan Dun, best known for his Oscar-winning score for the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, intends to incorporate sounds made by China’s three best known Olympians in “organic music” he is composing for next August’s Games.

“(I will use the) sounds of water splashes made by diver Guo Jingjing, balls hit by basketball player Yao Ming and the race start of hurdler Liu Xiang,” Tan Dun told Xinhua news agency at the 9th China Shanghai International Arts Festival. – Reuters

Teetotal Wilkinson nursing World Cup hangover

LONDON: England’s teetotal fly-half Jonny Wilkinson revealed he broke the habit of a lifetime after the World Cup final defeat to South Africa on Saturday and ended up nursing a hangover.

“I suspect that it is widely known that I am teetotal. Well I broke the habit of pretty much a lifetime after the game on Saturday night and had a bit of a blow-out.

“It was the first time in years and simply seemed the right time and the right thing to do,” he wrote in his column in The Times.

He also said he felt like a spectator watching South Africa being presented with the Cup after their 15-6 victory in the Stade de France.

“It is important to respect and applaud the winners the way that Australia did for us (when England won in 2003).

“But it was a strange experience standing and watching the South Africans and the presentation of the Cup. I almost felt like a spectator as though I wasn’t there on the pitch at all.”

He also said his injured right ankle troubled him throughout the tournament and he had to have treatment on it almost every day and at half-time during the final.

“I haven’t been able to kick on the right foot at all,” he wrote. “It is fair to say that it has limited my options here.” – Agencies

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Race wins might not be enough for Kimi

Kimi Raikkonen takes a coffee break.
SAO PAULO: Kimi Raikkonen knows only too well that it takes more than winning races to be Formula One champion.

The Finn, who stepped into the shoes of now-retired seven-time champion Michael Schumacher at Ferrari this season, is the third man in this season's three-way battle down to the wire for the title.

Tomorrow's Brazilian Grand Prix will be the second time in his career that he has entered the season-ending race with a chance of becoming champion and he could end up disappointed once again.

Raikkonen, who celebrated his 28th birthday on Wednesday, is seven points adrift of McLaren's championship leader Lewis Hamilton and three behind the Briton's double world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso.

Yet the Finn has won more races (five) than any driver this season and even another victory at Interlagos tomorrow might not be enough.

If that happens, it would not be the first time that the 'Iceman' – one of the paddock's free spirits whose monosyllabic replies to reporters' questioning masks an old-style racing mentality – has failed to translate individual wins into overall success.

Raikkonen won as many races (seven) as Alonso in 2005 but still ended the season 21 points adrift of the Renault driver.

In 2003, when Schumacher won the championship and he was at McLaren, Raikkonen missed out on the title by just two points and despite having only one win to the German's six.

“We don't have much to lose and I think we will treat it more like a normal race,” he said of tomorrow's showdown. “Maybe we will need to do something during the race, but we won't do anything crazy because it probably won't work out.”

Away from the racetrack, Raikkonen is an altogether different character. His party antics made headlines when he was at McLaren and the move to the Italian glamour team does not appear to have cramped his style.

“If other people don't like what I do, I can't change them. And I like doing what I'm doing, so why stop? I'm not going to stop doing something just because some people don't like it,” he told Britain's Autosport magazine in August.

“The driving. That's the only thing I love about Formula One,” he said.

“If I had to deal with everything else in F1, then I would stop. But the driving makes me want to keep going.” – Reuters

Hamilton quickest in Brazil

SAO PAULO: McLaren’s championship leader Lewis Hamilton set the pace in yesterday’s free practice for the title-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix.

The 22-year-old Briton, who could become Formula One’s first rookie champion as well as the youngest on Sunday, topped the timesheets in the day’s second session with a lap of 1:12.767.

His Spanish team-mate, double world champion Fernando Alonso, was second in 1:12.889 on a drying track at Interlagos.

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, the last man in the three-way title battle, had led a Ferrari one-two in the wet morning session with a lap of 1:19.580.

The Finn, seven points behind Hamilton and three adrift of Alonso, slipped to fourth in the afternoon behind Brazilian team-mate Felipe Massa – last year’s winner in his home city.

Raikkonen needs to win tomorrow’s race and hope his McLaren rivals slip up if he is to have a realistic chance of lifting a Formula One crown that has eluded him before.

Alonso won both his previous titles at Interlagos and hopes for a third in a row tomorrow to make him the first driver since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1957 to win back-to-back championships with different teams.

Hamilton’s strong showing on a track he saw for the first time only on Thursday was overshadowed by a rule breach in the first session that saw him summoned by stewards.

The governing body said he had used two sets of wet-weather tyres, instead of the one allowed.

There is no set punishment for the offence and McLaren said they had simply made a mistake.

Meanwhile, Hamilton told a press conference on Thursday that his failure to win the Formula One championship in China this month has made him more relaxed and stronger ahead of tomorrow’s Brazilian title decider.

“It definitely didn’t make me more nervous. If anything it took pressure off my shoulders and I think I came out of it even stronger,” McLaren's 22-year-old British rookie said.

“I thought it would knock my confidence and put me on the back foot but I went away and thought about the weekend and I think now I’m even stronger than I was, for whatever reason,” he added.

“It was a good learning experience and coming here I feel a lot different compared to the last race. In the last race all the pressure was building up and everything was going on, on the Thursday and the Friday, and it wasn’t a great weekend.

“But I feel totally relaxed now and fully confident in the team and our ability to challenge for the title,” said Hamilton, who relaxed at his parents’ home in England after returning from China. – Reuters

Arsenal board agree new lockdown deal at AGM

LONDON: English Premier League club Arsenal have moved to ward off any takeover bid by extending a lockdown agreement that prevents board members selling shares to outside investors.

At the club’s AGM on Thursday chairman Peter Hill-Wood said directors had agreed to sell their stake only to “permitted persons”, such as family members, before April 2009 and had to give fellow board members first option until October 2012.

The existing lockdown deal was due to expire next April, raising the prospect that Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov could attempt to seize control of the north London club after the 54-year-old recently upped his stake to 23%.

In a statement Hill-Wood said: “Members of the board are committed long-term shareholders and to strengthen the current position they have entered into a new agreement which replaces the existing lockdown agreement which expires next April.

“Under the new agreement, the board members have agreed not to dispose of any of their interests in the club before April 18 2009, other than to certain permitted persons such as close family.

“After that date, for the remainder of the term of the agreement, they can only sell their shares to another person if the other parties to the agreement do not wish to buy them.”

The club last month announced record turnover figures after moving to the Emirates Stadium and the team top the EPL having won 10 matches in a row in all competitions.

“We had a very successful financial performance over the past year. Together with our very promising start to the season, in which Arsene Wenger’s team have won 12 of our first 13 matches, we are all very encouraged with the current performances of our club on and off the field,” Hill-Wood said. – Reuters

Beckham is back but Galaxy are held

LOS ANGELES: Former England captain David Beckham returned to action for the first time in seven weeks as his LA Galaxy were held to a 1-1 draw by New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer on Thursday.

Beckham came on as a 68th minute substitute, making his first appearance since suffering a knee injury on Aug 29.

The draw leaves Galaxy needing to win their final regular season game – away to the Chicago Fire tomorrow –– to have any chance of making the playoffs.

The Galaxy took the lead in the 15th minute when Troy Roberts headed in a Landon Donovan cross at the back post.

New York, already assured a playoff spot, drew level within a minute though as Jozy Altidore thundered home a header after a superb cross from Dave van den Bergh.

Beckham, who is not yet fully fit, received a warm welcome from the home supporters when he entered after the break but the former England captain made little impact on the game. – Reuters

Robben out for five weeks

MADRID: Real Madrid’s Holland winger Arjen Robben and Argentina defender Gabriel Heinze returned from international duty with injuries, the Spanish champions said on Thursday.

Robben, who had just returned to action after joining Real from Chelsea for 36mil euros with an injury, will be out for up to five weeks with a torn muscle in his left thigh.

He will miss Real’s Champions League Group C matches at home to Olympiakos Piraeus next week, and away in Greece at the beginning of next month.

The 23-year-old will also be out for the Euro 2008 qualifier between Holland and Luxembourg next month.

Robben has only made two starts for Real in the league so far.

Heinze, another recent recruit, will be sidelined for up to three weeks with a torn groin muscle, and looks set to miss both Champions League games as well.

Coach Bernd Schuster has a few problems in defence with Pepe and Christoph Metzelder working to recover from injuries.

Italy centreback Fabio Cannavaro resumed training with the rest of the Real squad on Thursday after taking time out with a bruised knee. – Reuters

Delayed Brazilians left out of Real, Barca squads

MADRID: The late return from international duty of Brazil’s Ronaldinho, Robinho and Julio Baptista has seen them left out of the Real Madrid and Barcelona squads for their Primera Liga fixtures today.

Forwards Robinho and Baptista missed Real’s last training session yesterday, before the trip north to face Espanyol, due to flight delays the club said.

“I am not worried because we have sufficient players to face Espanyol,” Real coach Bernd Schuster said.

Brazil beat Ecuador 5-0 in a World Cup qualifier in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday.

Local media reports said Brazil players, including Ronaldinho and Robinho, staged a wild party until the early hours of Thursday morning after the game.

Crocked: Real winger Arjen Robben will be out for five weeks.
“From what I have heard, it made me laugh, but obviously it isn’t something I like,” Schuster added.

“We know these things have to stop. We will speak to him (Robinho) and find his version of events and hopefully it isn’t as it seems.”

Ronaldinho also missed Barca’s last training session yesterday and was left out of the squad to play at Villarreal.

“I have only called up 18 players because Ronaldinho has yet to arrive,” said Barca coach Frank Rijkaard. “I want to speak to him and see how he is. Perhaps we can travel with 19.”

But after Ronaldinho arrived and spoke to Rijkaard, a statement on the club’s website ( said the forward would not travel with the team.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid will also be without winger Arjen Robben and defender Gabriel Heinze for their trip to Espanyol after the duo returned from international duty with injuries.

Robben will be out for up to five weeks with a torn muscle in his left thigh.

Heinze, another recent recruit, will be sidelined for up to three weeks with a torn groin muscle. – Reuters

Sairul and Tsuen Seng to meet in last eight of Dutch Open

PETALING JAYA: KLRC Bhd’s Sairul Amar Ayob and Lee Tsuen Seng guaranteed Malaysia at least one representative in the men’s singles semi-finals of the Dutch Open after both won their third round matches on Thursday.

Seventh seed Sairul beat Stanislav Pukhov of Russia 21-14, 21-18 to set up a quarter-final meeting against Tsuen Seng.

The second seeded Tsuen Seng, chasing his third international title of the year, beat England’s Rajiv Ouseph 21-13, 22-20.

Malaysian veteran Roslin Hashim is also through to the last eight.

The fifth seeded Roslin defeated Peter Mikkelsen of Denmark 21-19, 21-6 and will face China’s Wu Yunyong for a place in the last four.

KLRC Bhd’s Lim Pek Siah-Haw Chiou Hwee also reached the last eight of the women’s doubles competition after beating Americans Eva Lee-Mesinee Mangkalakiri 21-10, 21-18.

Pek Siah-Chiou Hwee will play second seeds Anastasia Russkikh-Ekaterina Ananina of Russia for a place in the semi-finals.

Champion Lorenzo signals intent with fastest time

CURRENT championship leader Jorge Lorenzo of Spain, bidding to retain his 250cc world title here, got his campaign off on the right note by taking provisional pole at the Sepang Circuit yesterday.

Lorenzo, astride an Aprilia, clocked 2:08.876 to knock Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso of Italy off the top spot in the late stages of the qualifying practice session.

Dovizioso was second fastest in 2:08.968 while Alvaro Bautista of Spain came in third fastest in 2:09.155. Thomas Luthi of Switzerland took the last front row position, clocking 2:09.387.

The 20-year-old Lorenzo needs only to finish 11th or better to retain his title on Sunday.

Following his ninth victory of the season in the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island last Sunday, he needs just five more points to clinch his second world title before moving into MotoGP next season with Yamaha.

Lorenzo, on 287 points, has a 45-point advantage over Italian Dovizioso.

Lorenzo is looking forward to sealing the world title in Sepang.

“The title is now that bit closer. Hopefully, I can finish the job in Malaysia, although I am not thinking too much about that. I just want to give everything I can like I did at Phillip Island,” said Lorenzo, who won eight races en route to winning the world title last year.

“The team have worked brilliantly. Hopefully, I can reward them for the great job they have done all season.”

Dovizioso, the only rider mathematically capable of denying the Spaniard a second world title, believes there is still a glimmer of hope that the title could yet be his.

“Every point won in the last two races will be crucial for us. We will keep on fighting in the remaining races,” he said.

The riders in the 125cc class, which got under way earlier in the day, had it tougher.

A brief shower at noon resulted in a slippery track, forcing most riders to reduce the number of practice laps.

Aprilia’s Pablo Nieto of Spain was fastest in 2:23.886.

Mattia Pasini (2:26.592) of Italy was second fastest followed by Lukas Pesek (2:26.773) of the Czech Republic. Current championship leader Gabor Talmacsi was fourth fastest in 2:26.841.

Freebies await Convoy 1000 GP participants

A complimentary breakfast and gift vouchers for petrol and lubricants await participants of the inaugural Convoy 1000 GP, which is jointly organised by the Sepang International Circuit and Shell in conjunction with the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Sepang Circuit tomorrow.

Aimed at organising the biggest-ever convoy to Sepang, the event is open to all ticket purchasers for the Main Grandstand and K1 Grandstand special packages, which are priced at RM100 and RM50 respectively.

“Registration for the convoy on Sunday will start at 8am at the Bukit Jalil Stadium. Upon registration, participants will be given breakfast, a wrist tag for bike parking and a lubricant voucher courtesy of the organisers,” said SIC sales manager Ismadi Ishak.

Apart from the convoy organised by SIC, there are other bike convoys too, including a group of 1,500 bikers from Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, who are here for the Asian International Motorcycle Exhibition and the Tri-Nation Ride.

For the Convoy 1000 GP, participants will leave the Bukit Jalil Stadium parking area C and proceed to the Shell petrol station at the Sungei Besi toll for refuelling.

The convoy is expected to reach the circuit at 11am. Registration can also be done at the SIC Information Counter Welcome Centre today.

Iran youth side among title contenders

PENANG: The Iran national youth team are rated as the dark horses in the inaugural Penang Chief Minister Cup Asian Men's Basketball Invitation tournament that begins at the Han Chiang Indoor Stadium in Penang today.

None of the other seven teams in the fray have faced the Middle East outfit. But the Iranian Under-18 side are being accorded due respect, especially after being crowned champions in the West Asian Youth Championship in Teheran two months ago.

The Iran youth squad, who are making their debut in this part of the world, are equally clueless about the strength of their opponents in the tournament that will run until Oct 27.

The Middle East outfit are drawn in Group B together with the Thailand national side and club outfits Philippines' Spring Cooking Oil and Satria Muda of Indonesia.

The Korat SEA Games-bound Malaysian and Singaporean national teams, India and Chinese club side Tianjin complete the roster in Group A.

“We have no knowledge about our opponents as we have not played any East Asian sides for quite some time. I feel that we would be in a better position to rate our chances and our opponents' abilities after the first two days of competition,” said Iran team manager Hamid Geramian yesterday.

“Following our victorious campaign against the other Middle East countries' youth sides two months ago, this tournament will allow the players to keep their competitive edge.

“We are just a youth squad, and it would be interesting to see how my players fare against the top senior national and club teams in the region.”

Iran have brought the winning squad from the West Asian Youth Championships, and have beefed up the squad with two overaged players – Mohammad Reza Ebrahiminia and Ali Baheran.

Geramian named Emad Salmani, Arsalan Kazemi and Farbod Farman as the key players in the side. All three were named in the Asian All-Star youth team by the Asian Basketball Confederation.

Despite spending close to 24 hours in making their way to Penang from Teheran on Thursday, the Iranians did not show any signs of jet lag during their training session at the tournament venue yesterday.

Tournament favourites China Tianjin take on the Singapore in the tournament's opening game tonight.

The Malaysians, playing under the Penang Malaysia banner, open their campaign against India in the second Group A game.

China Tianjin vs Singapore (7pm)

Penang Malaysia vs India (9pm)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Henry out to crack Platini’s record in crucial clash

PARIS: Thierry Henry will be out to break Michel Platini’s scoring record when France entertain Lithuania in Nantes in yet another make-or-break Euro 2008 qualifier tomorrow.

Barcelona striker Henry netted his 41st goal with Les Bleus in a 6-0 thrashing of the Faroe Islands at the weekend, equalling the now UEFA president’s record.

“Beating Michel Platini would be something extraordinary,” said Henry, who had to wait for his 95th cap to score his 41st international goal, compared to the French playmaker, who netted it in the 68th of his 72 games with Les Bleus.

“However, it will not be important if the goal is useless.

“We have to beat Lithuania and look at the result of Scotland vs Italy.

Eyes on record: Striker Thierry Henry will be out to break Michel Platini’s mark of 41 international goals when France take on Lithuania in a Euro 2008 qualifier tomorrow.
“One of the two teams will drop points and it will then be up to us to go and grab something in Ukraine.”

France are third in the Group B standings, two points adrift of leaders Scotland and one behind world champions Italy with two matches remaining.

If they fail to beat both Lithuania and Ukraine in Kiev next month, the World Cup finalists will have to hope for Scotland or Italy to slip up.

“The Lithuania game is the second stage of a three-stage race, coach Raymond Domenech told the French federation’s Web site ( on Monday.

“It’s a work in progress. We know that we have to win the last two matches so we don’t have to bother with the others’ results.”

Domenech is expected to reshuffle the team who demolished the Faroe Islands, injecting experience and fresh blood after Les Bleus needed more than 24 hours to arrive in Torshavn because of bad weather.

Arsenal centre back William Gallas, who has not played since picking up a groin injury in August, should be fielded alongside Lilian Thuram with Barcelona’s Eric Abidal sliding back to the left flank.

Bakary Sagna should make room in the right back position for Lassana Diarra, who produced a man-of-the-match performance in Italy. Chelsea midfielder Florent Malouda is set to return in the midfield at the expense of PSG’s Jerome Rothen, who scored France’s fourth in Torshavn with a fine free kick.

However, Domenech will have to make do without Bolton Wanderers striker Nicolas Anelka, who has pulled out with a thigh injury and has been replaced by Monaco’s Frederic Piquionne.

Sevilla defender Julien Escude also had to pull out of the game through injury.

Olympique Lyon striker Karim Benzema, who has scored three goals from five appearances with France, is widely expected to pair up with Henry up front.

Possible France team: Mickael Landreau; Lassana Diarra, Lilian Thuram, William Gallas, Eric Abidal; Claude Makelele, Jeremy Toulalan, Florent Malouda, Franck Ribery; Karim Benzema, Thierry Henry. – Reuters

McClaren hails Rooney’s return to goal-scoring form

»We all know Wayne is a threat and I repeat, he has the potential to be world class« STEVE MCCLAREN
LONDON: Wayne Rooney’s welcome return to scoring form in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Estonia delighted England coach Steve McClaren, whose men are now just one win away from next year’s European Championship Finals.

England’s fifth successive 3-0 win in Group E meant that if they beat Russia in Moscow tomorrow they will qualify for the trip to Austria and Switzerland.

Rooney said before the Estonia game that he had not played at his best for England for some considerable time, while McClaren said the 21-year-old striker was “potentially world-class” but still had a long way to go to get there.

The comment clearly inspired Rooney, making his first England appearance for seven months, to have an excellent match.

He foraged deep in midfield, ran at defenders, linked well with Michael Owen in attack and crowned a very good afternoon’s work when he turned and fired home a left-foot shot from a Joe Cole cross to put England 2-0 up after 32 minutes.

It was his first goal in 16 competitive matches for England since he scored two against Croatia in Euro 2004 in Portugal.

McClaren said afterwards: “When players of his standard receive criticism, they have to prove themselves on the pitch. That is exactly what Wayne did, and now he has to do it consistently.

“He admitted himself that he had a point to prove and he has gone a long way to doing that.

“We all know Wayne is a threat and I repeat, he has the potential to be world class. I am delighted with his goal but his overall contribution to the team was very good. He got better and better as the game went on.”

England were 3-0 up after 33 minutes and although they did not maintain their high tempo start to the match, the points were secured.

Croatia top the table with 26 points from 10 matches, England have 23 from 10 and Russia 18 with a match in hand.

Russia can still pip England but even if Russia win on Wednesday, England will still qualify as long as they beat Croatia in their final match at Wembley on Nov 21, no matter what Russia do in their final matches away to Israel on Nov 17 and Andorra on Nov 21.

If tomorrow’s match is drawn, England would need a draw against Croatia to qualify.

Chelsea defender Ashley Cole was withdrawn from the squad on Sunday after picking up an ankle injury in the win over Estonia with Middlesbrough’s Luke Young brought in as a replacement.

There is also a fitness worry over defender John Terry, who missed the Wembley triumph because of a knee injury. – Reuters

Pumas: Our errors helped Springboks

PARIS: Puma mistakes and South African quality combined to end Argentina’s dream of reaching the World Cup final, coach Marcelo Loffreda said on Sunday.

Argentina’s 37-13 defeat in their semi-final at the Stade de France ended a run of five victories and sent the Springboks into their first final since they won the tournament in 1995.

“We were victims of our own errors, especially in the first-half,” said Loffreda, whose side were 24-6 down at half-time after three Springbok tries.

“The team obeyed our game plan perfectly. Simply, what happened was that we committed more errors than usual against a great and dangerous South African side that made us pay dearly.

“I’m very proud of the team and the players. We competed (in the tournament) with a handicap.

“As you know we don’t have an international competition,” he added, saying the players were not used to playing so many Test matches in succession.

“What we tried to do today was to keep the match even, keep the game close in scores but our mistakes, the result of their pressure, finished in tries and it became impossible to get back on the scoreboard.”

Loffreda added that New Zealander Steve Walsh’s refereeing had confused the Argentines.

“I think we couldn’t understand the referee today. We didn’t have explained to us what would happen in the maul, and twice in the first half we were penalised for obstruction.

“But in the second-half South Africa were not penalised (for the same thing). We were disconcerted.

“The referee was not saying when it’s hands off in the ruck. Our players are used to northern hemisphere refereeing, Walsh is from the southern hemisphere.”

Captain Agustin Pichot was visibly upset by the defeat and had a lump in his throat when he spoke.

He said he was sad “about not reaching the dream and when you don’t get there you’re left with the feeling that something’s missing.

“I’m not going to have another opportunity to win the World Cup (but) it’s a good sadness, we’re okay, we did all we could.” – Reuters

South Africa set up final showdown against England

PARIS: Bryan Habana equalled Jonah Lomu’s World Cup try-scoring record to help South Africa join England in this Saturday’s final with a ruthless 37-13 win over Argentina at the Stade de France on Sunday.

Habana showed why he remains the deadliest finisher in the game with two spectacular tries as the Springboks produced an awesome display of power and speed to reach their first final since they won the Webb Ellis Cup at home 12 years ago.

“We had a pretty distinct plan for the first 40 and I think that went pretty well,” Springboks captain John Smit said in a televised interview.

Touchdown: Argentina’s Horacio Agulla fails to stop South Africa’s Fourie du Preez from scoring a try during their World Cup semifinal match at the Stade de France Stadium on Sunday. South Africa won 37-13. – Reuters
“We rested on our laurels in the first part of the second-half but their try certainly switched us back on and we got back into Test rugby and got ourselves back on the front foot. We’re pretty happy with how things went today.”

Argentina had provided one of the great feel-good stories of a tournament packed with surprises by making the last four for the first time but wilted under the enormous pressure applied by the Springboks.

The Pumas were unable to dominate the South African scrum the way they had with other teams and made too many crucial mistakes after being battered by the South African defenders.

Sportsmanship: Argentinian players applauding their victorious South African counterparts after their World Cup semi-final match on Sunday. – AP
“It was a really tough game. South Africa are a really good team,” said Argentina coach Marcelo Loffreda. “They were very consistent. We made a lot of errors and we paid a high price.”

The Springboks scored four tries, all from Argentina mistakes, with Habana helping himself to two to overtake Australian Drew Mitchell as the tournament’s top try-scorer and match New Zealander Lomu’s record haul of eight in the 1999 World Cup.

Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and number eight Danie Rossouw also crossed while fullback Percy Montgomery kicked seven from seven for a personal haul of 17 points.

The Pumas managed a consolation try from outside centre Manuel Contepomi but made too many errors to mount a sustained challenge.

They gifted the Springboks a try after just seven minutes when du Preez intercepted a poorly-judged pass from Felipe Contepomi and sprinted 70m, then conceded two more tries before half-time off turnovers.

Habana’s instincts for making something out of nothing saw him score a 60m try after Schalk Burger stripped Argentine No 8 Gonzalo Longo of the ball and Francois Steyn flung it wide to Habana, who chipped the ball over Lucas Borges to score at the other end of the field.

Felipe Contepomi booted two first-half penalties to calm Argentina’s nerves before another blunder on the stroke of half-time handed the Springboks a third try, flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez dropping a sloppy pass from Agustin Pichot that led to Rossouw scoring.

Argentina briefly threatened to make a comeback when Manuel Contepomi was given the benefit of the doubt and awarded a try early in the second half but they faded in the last quarter as tempers started to fray.

The Springboks piled on 13 unanswered points and Habana bagged his second with an 80m intercept. – Reuters

Farique bags double win in Japan to open up 10-point lead

PETALING JAYA: Petronas Syntium’s Mohd Farique Hairuman opened up a 10-point lead in the Asian Touring Car Championships (ATCC) after securing his third double win of the season at the Autopolis International Racing Circuit in Japan over the weekend.

Standing tall: Mohd Farique Hairuman (centre) of Petronas Syntium Team celebrates on the podium after winning Round 8 of the Asian Touring Car Championships at the Autopolis International Racing Circuit in Japan on Sunday. With him are second-placed Masaki Kano (left) and third-placed Cheung Chi Sing.
The Malaysian started sixth on the reverse grid order in Round 8 on Sunday and won the race in 21:28.074. Farique had won Round 7 on Saturday in 21:23.856.

The 23-year-old is certainly on track to winning the championships for the first time.

He has won six of the eight races thus far and has 100 points.

His other double victories were achieved in Sepang and Chengdu.

The blot on his record this season was gaining only 10 points (a third place) from the two races in the third-leg in Sentul, Indonesia. The last two races of the championships will be held in Zhuhai on Nov 3 and 4.

“Winning two races in Japan is a good feeling. I have to thank the guys in the team for the great job over the weekend.

“I am looking forward to Zhuhai and I hope to repeat the great results we got here,” said Farique.

Rexy wants Chong Ming as sparring partner

PETALING JAYA: Doubles coach Rexy Mainaky hopes that Chan Chong Ming will stay on as a sparring partner to boost the standard of the younger players in the national team.

Rexy said yesterday that Chong Ming's decision to quit came as a surprise.

“This is disappointing news for our men's doubles. He is quite a good player and he still has a future in the game. Maybe, he thinks he cannot go far anymore,” said Rexy.

“He did tell me that he wanted to slow down ... wanted to relax and enjoy playing badminton. He did not want to shoulder too much pressure.”

Rexy hoped that BAM general manager Kenny Goh and chief coach Yap Kim Hock would be able to convince Chong Ming to be a sparring partner after his contract expires at the end of next month.

“Other players still look up to him. If Chong Ming is keen to help it will be great for the players, especially the younger one,” he said.

Chong Ming's decision to quit the national team reduced the fight for two places to the China Open (Nov 20-25) and Hong Kong Open (Nov 27-Dec 2) to three pairs – Mohd Fairuzizuan Mohd Tazari-Mohd Zakry Abdul Latif, Gan Teik Chai-Lin Woon Fui and Tan Bin Shen-Ong Soon Hock.

Yesterday, Bin Shen-Soon Hock defeated Teik Chai-Woon Fui 21-11, 22-20 in the selection trials to decide which pairs will be sent. Fairuzizuan-Zakry will stake their claim today against Bin Shen-Soon Hock and Teik Chai-Woon Fui.

The top two national pairs – Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong (world No. 1) and Choong Tan Fook-Lee Wan Wah (No. 6) – are assured of their entries.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Nice medal haul from Special Olympics

SHANGHAI: Malaysia won four gold, eight silver and seven bronze medals at the Special Olympics World Summer Games, which was concluded here Thursday.

The gold came from Muhammad Nasrullah Ramdan (male long jump), Mok Kwang Chien (male shot put), Cory Chua Li Eng (female bowling singles) and Vishnu Kumar Alagu (male bocce singles).

Silver medallists were Nasrullah (400m race), the male 4X100m relay team, Nur Zubaina Zubir (female long jump), the female bowling team, Tan Seng Kit (male bowling singles), Jaysaminth Savinder (male bowling singles), Nurul Azirah Gapar (female bocce singles) and the female doubles bocce team.

Mohd Khairil Anuar Azmee (male 100m race) and his mates Nur Zubaina (female 400m race), Tan Siaw Man (female shot put), Chew Choon Yeh (male long jump) and the male bowling and bocce teams added seven bronze medals to the tally.

Held every four years, the Games aims to provide athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

About 10,000 athletes and coaches from 167 countries and regions participated in the event from Oct 2 to 11.

Checa moves up to superbike

LONDON: Spanish rider Carlos Checa will leave MotoGP at the end of the season to ride for the Honda Ten Kate team in the World Superbike series, he announced on his website ( on Tuesday.

“I'm looking forward to this new challenge,” Checa said.

“It's a great opportunity as I know my results won't be hampered by technical difficulties as has been the case for the past two years,” added Checa, who will be replaced at the LCR Honda MotoGP team by Frenchman Randy De Puniet. – Reuters

Nakajima joins elite club of fathers and sons

TOKYO: Japanese driver Kazuki Nakajima says he is raring to go all out in his first Formula One race in Brazil this month and join the elite club of fathers and sons in the world's premier motor racing.

“As I have nothing to lose, I will go full out,” said the 22-year-old son of Satoru Nakajima, who was the first regular Japanese F1 driver and raced for Lotus and Tyrrell in the mid-1980s and early 1990s.

He was speaking to Japanese media by telephone from his home in Oxford, England, on Tuesday when Williams announced the younger Nakajima, the team's official test and reserve driver, would race at Interlagos, Sao Paolo, on Oct 21.

He will replace veteran Alexander Wurz who retired from the sport on Monday.

“I was told about the plan after the Chinese Grand Prix (on Sunday). I have mixed feelings as I think about Wurz. But I want to enjoy while driving,” he said, according to Japanese sports dailies.

The Nakajimas will be the first Japanese to have experienced F1 as father and son.

“I didn't think much about it. But I think it's something special,” said the younger Nakajima, who drove the Williams FW29 during Friday practice at the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.

The Williams team said the Brazilian GP is “not an evaluation exercise for a race seat in 2008.”

Brazil was where his father, now 54, made his F1 debut in the opening round in 1987, although the circuit was not the same – Autodromo de Jacarepagua in Rio De Janeiro.

Other fathers and sons in F1 included Graham and Damon Hill, Gillles and Jacques Villeneuve, Wilson and Christian Fittipaldi, Mario and Michael Andretti, Keke and Nico Roseberg, and Jack and David Brabham. – AFP

Sharapova, Mauresmo exit Moscow

MOSCOW: Second seed Maria Sharapova was unceremoniously bundled out of the Kremlin Cup yesterday, losing to Belarus' Victoria Azarenka 7-6, 6-2 in the second round.

It was Sharapova's second successive defeat by an 18-year-old after the world number four went out of the third round of the US Open last month to Pole Agnieszka Radwanska.

In her first match in almost six weeks, Sharapova, who had been nursing a shoulder injury, looked a shadow of the player who won two grand slam titles as a teenager. She made 45 unforced errors and served seven double faults in a match lasting one hour 49 minutes.

It also marked the third year in a row that the Florida-based Russian's stay in Moscow has ended in disappointment.

She was forced to pull out with a foot injury last year and was beaten in the quarter-finals in 2005.

Quick exit: France's Amelie Mauresmo hits a return against Vera Zvonareva of Russia during their Kremlin Cup match in Moscow. Zvonareva won 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 – Reuters
Earlier, Russia's Vera Zvonareva recorded her first win over Amelie Mauresmo when she came from behind to beat the sixth-seeded Frenchwoman 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round.

Mauresmo's compatriot, fifth seed and Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli, was also sent home by unseeded Russian Vera Dushevina 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.

On a day of upsets, seventh seed Patty Schnyder of Switzerland was knocked out by another unseeded Russian Elena Dementieva 6-3, 6-4.

In the quarter-finals, Dushevina will face top seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, who beat Argentina's Gisela Dulko 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, while Dementieva meets Azarenka.

In the men's draw, fourth seed Paul-Henri Mathieu of France, who won his first professional title in Moscow five years ago, became the first player into the last eight with a straightforward 6-3, 6-4 win over Russian wildcard Igor Kunitsyn.

Eighth seed Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany joined Mathieu after outlasting Croatian qualifier Marin Cilic 7-6, 1-6, 6-4.

  • BANGKOK: Top seed Jelena Jankovic retired from the Bangkok Open after suffering from heat illness in her first round match with China's Zi Yan yesterday.

    On a humid evening in the Thai capital, Jankovic let slip a one set lead to the gutsy Chinese and called it a day after a medical timeout, having lost the second set tiebreak.

    The world number three had looked in good form during the first set, racing through her service games and unloading a torrent of topspin-loaded drives from her forehand and backhand to win 6-4.

    Jankovic was dictating the match from the baseline, forcing frequent errors from Zi, whom she had darting across the court for most of the first set.

    But the determined Chinese battled back in the second, breaking Jankovic after four games as the heat and a series of marathon rallies took their toll on the Serb, who told medical staff she was experiencing breathing difficulties.

  • VIENNA: Top seed Novak Djokovic made a faltering start to his first ATP match in a month on Tuesday, beating America's Robby Ginepri 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the Vienna Open.

    Djokovic will next face Czech lucky loser Tomas Zib who upset Germany's Florian Mayer 6-1, 6-4 earlier in the day.

    Former world number one Juan Carlos Ferrero also booked a place in the second round after beating fifth seed Guillermo Canas 3-6, 6-3, 7-6. – Agencies

  • All Black Howlett arrested in London

    WELLINGTON: All Black winger Doug Howlett was arrested by police in London after two cars were damaged outside the team hotel, All Blacks manager Darren Shand said yesterday.

    The incident happened early on Tuesday at the Hilton Hotel near Heathrow Airport as half the squad were already on their way back to New Zealand after their shock 20-18 quarter-final loss to France.

    Howlett: Due to take up a contract with Irish club Munster. – Reuters
    “It is a serious matter and we are concerned that something of this nature has occurred at what is already a disappointing time for the team and for our supporters,” Shand said in a statement.

    Howlett became the record try scorer for the All Blacks during the World Cup but then missed out on selection for the quarter-final.

    The 29-year-old was not due to leave London with most of the remaining members of the squad later yesterday. He is due to take up a contract with Irish club Munster.

    Shand said the All Blacks would wait for the police to complete their inquiries before deciding what action to take.

    No other team members were involved in the incident.

    Apparently unaware of the arrest, All Black coach Graham Henry praised the behaviour of the team after arriving back in New Zealand, describing them as role models for the country.

    Henry said they had been welcomed by people all over the world.

    “They believe they are the best young sporting team that ever stays in their hotels, the most open and friendly and easy to get along with,” he told journalists at Christchurch airport. – AFP

    One-week ban for Fiji’s Bai

    PARIS: Fiji's Seremaia Bai has been suspended for one week for a dangerous tackle during the World Cup quarter-final against South Africa, tournament organisers said yesterday.

    Bai, who played at flyhalf in Fiji's 37-20 defeat in Marseille on Sunday, had been cited on Monday for the tackle on Danie Rossouw in which he made contact with the South African number eight's head.

    The Fijian could have been suspended for two weeks but a previously unblemished record in a long career playing club rugby in a number of countries was taken into account.

    Because Fiji were eliminated, the week's ban will end on Oct. 28, taking in the weekend of Oct. 27-28 when Bai would have returned to action for French championship runners-up Clermont. – Reuters

    Golden oldies prepare for their last stand

    PARIS: This weekend's World Cup semi-finals will not only see the title dreams of two countries shattered.

    Defeat will also bring down the international curtain on some of the game's most durable stars.

    They will experience the same misery suffered by Wallaby greats George Gregan and Stephen Larkham when their team were knocked out by England in the quarter-finals.

    At least they had already tasted World Cup success in 1999.

    Compatriots Stirling Mortlock, Phil Waugh and George Smith are unlikely now ever to do so, twice denied by England in 2003 and 2007.

    The same could be said for France, the Wallabies' victims in the 1999 final.

    Surviving members of that team, Raphael Ibanez, Fabien Pelous, Pieter de Villiers and Christophe Dominici, could well face the final cut against England this Saturday in the semi-finals.

    For Ibanez, Pelous and Dominici, it will be the second successive time that the English will have denied them at the last-four stage.

    For Pelous, last Saturday's quarter-final victory over the All Blacks, was particularly sweet as it gave him possibly two more matches in the blue jersey.

    Dominici also doesn't want to leave the stage without having the Webb Ellis trophy in his hands.

    “I have had a lot of ups and a lot of downs,” said the 35-year-old.

    “One was when I deliberately tripped Jason Robinson in the 2003 semi-final and was sin-binned. That lost us valuable momentum.

    “When I trudged off at the final whistle I looked at those players who knew that their last chance had gone and I said: 'My God, I never want to feel like that'. I was determined to keep on going to have another chance.”

    England veterans Lawrence Dallaglio, Mike Catt, Robinson and Mark Regan have already lifted the trophy.

    “Of course it's sad for players who give their all to the international cause to leave the sport without that cachet but in the end there is, and can only be, one winner,” said 36-year-old Catt. – AFP

    France: One more loss and we’re out

    CLAIREFONTAINE: France are in a make-or-break position in their bid to qualify for Euro 2008, coach Raymond Domenech said on Tuesday.

    “We have a gun pointed at our head. That’s good, it’s going to motivate us,” Domenech tsaid.

    France travel to the Faroe Islands on Saturday before taking on Lithuania in Nantes on Oct 17. Les Bleus, who will travel to Ukraine next month, are third in Group B, one point behind Italy and two behind leaders Scotland.

    “It’s like playing Cup matches – we lose a game, we’re out. We know that,” Domenech added.

    “We will have to fight and play much faster,” he said, referring to France’s 1-0 shock defeat against Scotland last month.

    “If we want to qualify, we need to win our three remaining matches.” – Reuter

    FIFA approve trial of goalmouth referees

    ZURICH: Football’s world governing body FIFA are to experiment with two additional goalmouth referees at the Club World Cup competition in Japan in December.

    The move, heavily championed by European governing body (UEFA) president Michel Platini (pic), was confirmed during the first meeting of FIFA’s new Strategic Committee, chaired by Platini in Zurich on Tuesday.

    A FIFA spokesman said the precise role of the two extra officials, including their general positioning, would be determined in the run-up to the competition.

    FIFA had already announced that they would use the tournament to continue tests on goal-line technology developed by ball manufacturer adidas, using a chip in the match ball to determine whether shots had crossed the line.

    The International Football Association Board (IFAB), who govern the laws of football, gave provisional backing to the use of goal-line technology during a meeting in March.

    IFAB insisted that the technology had to be instantaneous and 100% accurate with decisions transmitted only to the match officials.

    Tuesday’s Strategic Committee meeting also involved talks on disputed issues, including the future look of the international match calendar and the row over compensating clubs whose players were injured on international duty.

    The committee said they had agreed to set up working groups to discuss both issues. – Reuters

    West Ham’s Ashton out for up to six weeks

    LONDON: West Ham United striker Dean Ashton has been ruled out of action for up to six weeks after suffering a knee ligament injury, the Premier League club said on Tuesday.

    Ashton, who returned this season after a year out with a broken ankle sustained in training with England in August 2006, hurt his knee on Saturday and had to pull out of England’s Euro 2008 qualifiers against Estonia on Saturday and Russia next Wednesday.

    “We received the results of Dean’s scan and they were what we expected, which is that he had sprained the upper third of his medial ligament,” West Ham’s head physiotherapist George Cooper told the club’s website (

    “In the majority of cases it will take up to six weeks for full recovery.” – Reuters

    Kuala Lumpur make return after a two-year absence

    KUALA LUMPUR: Former champions Kuala Lumpur will make a return to the Razak Cup hockey tournament after a two-year lapse.

    The tournament will be held in Kuantan from Oct 26-Nov 4.

    KL, the 16-time champions, will feature in Division Two. They skipped the tournament for the last two years following the Malaysia Hockey Federation’s decision to change the eligibility rules to allow players to play for their home states.

    Seasoned campaigner: Maninderjit Singh is one of the former internationals in the KL team.
    “We have decided to make a comeback for the good of hockey,” said KL Hockey Association (KLHA) secretary V. Rajamanickam.

    “We are in the process of rebuilding the team. We will have a squad of youth and experience for the tournament.”

    He added that they would be banking on former internationals like defenders Mohd Amin Rahim and Maninderjit Singh and forwards Mohd Fairuz Ramli and M. Kaliswaran to lead the team.

    “We also have the services of three national juniors – Mohd Razie (Abdul Rahim), Nabil Fiqri (Mohd Noor) and Hafifi Hafiz. The other players will be from the Sapura team who featured in the Malaysia Hockey League (MHL) and Setapak High School players,” said Rajamanickam, adding that they would only start their training next week.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Women to make debut in Olympic qualifying tournament

    KUALA LUMPUR: The national women's hockey team will be taking part in an Olympic qualifying tournament for the first time in Vancouver.

    The National Sports Council (NSC) director of international preparations Ariffin Ghani said that the invitation from the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to play in the tournament scheduled for April 26-May 4 was based on the results of two major competitions last year - Commonwealth and also Asian Games.

    “We finished fifth in the Doha Asiad and it was the first time we took part in the Games after an absence of 20 years. In the Commonwealth Games, Malaysia managed to beat South Africa in finishing sixth in an 11-team tournament,” he said.

    In the latest world rankings, Malaysia are the fifth ranked Asian team behind China, Japan, South Korea and India.

    The qualifiers offer only a ticket to the Beijing Olympics and Malaysia will be up against South Korea, Canada, Italy, Cuba and Ireland.

    Meanwhile, the national women's team can look forward to playing in the SEA Games.

    The Thai organisers had wanted to drop the competition from the programme but Ariffin said that they had not received official word on the issue and preparations are going on as usual.

    “We will be up against Thailand and Singapore and we should have no problem winning the gold,” he said.

    Murray rings alarm bell over betting scams

    LONDON: British number one Andy Murray has fuelled suspicions that match-fixing in tennis is rife by claiming most players are aware it goes on.

    “It is pretty disappointing for all the players, but everyone knows that it goes on,” Murray told BBC Radio yesterday, while admitting that it was virtually impossible for tennis authorities to police players who deliberately lose certain games to ensure a certain result.

    “It's difficult to prove if someone has tanked a match or not tried,” Murray said. “They can try their best until the last couple of games in each set and then make some mistakes, hit a couple of double faults and that is it.”

    Top stars like Murray scarcely need the money reportedly on offer from crooked betting rings, but the Scot understands why some journeyman players might be tempted.

    “There are some guys who have to come to tournaments every single week and out of their first-round-loser's cheque – about 2,500 euros – they have to pay for their air fares.

    “A career lasts probably only 10 or 12 years and you have to make all your money while you're still playing. But it's not really acceptable.”

    The ATP are currently investigating irregular betting patterns regarding a surprise defeat suffered by top Russian player Nikolay Davydenko in a tournament at Sopot, Poland in August.

    The match, which attracted US$7mil in bets, 10 times the usual amount, was won by Argentina's Martin Vassallo Arguello 2-6, 6-3, 2-1 with Davydenko retiring with a foot injury. – AFP

    McClaren calls for repeat dose from players, fans

    LONDON: England manager Steve McClaren has called for his players to dish up a repeat dose of last month’s back-to-back wins in their upcoming Euro 2008 qualifiers against Russia and Estonia.

    After a troubled start to his time in charge of England, McClaren is finally experiencing a sense of unity as England’s Euro 2008 qualifying campaign reaches its climax.

    Getting ready: Italian coach Roberto Donadoni (right) fights for the ball with Gennaro Gattuso (left) and Fabio Grosso during their training session in Florence yesterday. Italy are preparing for Saturday’s Euro 2008 Group B match against Georgia. – AFP
    Certainly, there were no complaints from the home fans last month as McClaren’s men recorded back-to-back three-goal wins over Israel and major Group E rivals Russia.

    Those victories mean England now occupy pole position in their bid to accompany likely table-toppers Croatia into next summer’s Finals.

    But McClaren is eager to ensure the momentum is not lost on Saturday when Estonia head to Wembley for a contest which should provide the ideal confidence boost ahead of the trip to Moscow four days later for a re-match with Guus Hiddink’s Russia that will probably determine England’s fate.

    “Before the Israel game I called for everyone to push together on behalf of the team,” said McClaren.

    “The reaction was amazing and the atmosphere transmitted itself over to the players, so we ended up with a performance everyone wanted.

    “Those last two wins have put us in an excellent position. But the job is still to be completed, which is why the fans must realise they have such an important role to play this weekend.”

    McClaren has already hinted at changes for Estonia’s visit as he looks to ensure his strongest possible side is available for the Moscow adventure.

    Skipper John Terry, central defensive partner Rio Ferdinand and Chelsea duo Joe and Ashley Cole are most at risk given they are a caution away from suspension.

    Michael Owen and Frank Lampard both played for their clubs at the weekend and will need to have their fitness assessed before McClaren finalises his line-up.

    Yet the former Middlesbrough boss is acutely aware he cannot risk an unexpected slip-up against an Estonia side whose only point – with the exception of a win over Andorra – came against Macedonia, a team England failed to beat on home soil 12 months ago.

    “Russia is the make-or-break game for us but sometimes you can be too clever with yourself,” said McClaren.

    “You should go into every game respecting your opponents and realising you are never going to get an easy game.

    “Ask any of the managers whose teams were playing in Europe this week and they will tell you exactly the same thing.

    “They might play clubs they have never heard of, who they think they should beat, and still have difficult games against them. I know that because I have experienced it myself.

    “If you go into any game not respecting your opponent or not taking them seriously, you are going to be in trouble.

    “Estonia are a tough, organised team who will play with a dogged determination to keep us out.”

    McClaren will be without strikers Dean Ashton and Andy Johnson, who miss out with respective knee and ankle problems.

    West Ham striker Ashton said: “It’s frustrating but there are plenty of players with the same sort of luck and I’m not going to get too down about it.

    “`It is part of the game and one of those things.” – AFP

    German giants drawn with Red Star in UEFA Cup

    LONDON: Former European champions Bayern Munich and Red Star Belgrade came out together in the draw for the group stages of the UEFA Cup yesterday.

    Forty teams were drawn into eight groups of five with the top three going through to form the last 32 alongside eight sides from the Champions League.

    Spanish club Villareal face a tough task in Group C where they will face AEK Athens, Fiorentina, Czech outfit Mlada Boleslav and Swedish club Elfsborg Boras.

    Amongst the other top-seeded teams in the competition, Panathinaikos must face Lokomotiv Moscow, Atletico Madrid and 1983 winners Aberdeen, while Bayer Leverkusen are also up against Russian opposition in the form of Spartak Moscow.

    Anderlecht will meet twice winners Tottenham Hotspur in a repeat of the 1984 UEFA Cup final. They are joined in Group G by Spanish club Getafe and Hapoel Tel Aviv.

    Turkish club Galatasaray, winners in 2000, will be hopeful of finishing in the top three of Group H, which also includes Girondins Bordeaux and Austria Vienna.

    Clubs play two matches at home and two matches away in the groups. The fixture schedule will be announced later.

    Sevilla, winners for the past two seasons, are playing in the Champions League although could still end up in the UEFA Cup if they finish third in their group. – Reuters

    FIFA Ethics panel to have World Cup bidding role

    ZURICH: FIFA’s newly formed Ethics Committee are to be given a role in future World Cup bidding procedures, according to a statement by the committee’s chairman Sebastian Coe.

    Following a meeting with FIFA president Sepp Blatter in Zurich yesterday, Coe said the committee would “discuss their role in the bidding process for the 2018 FIFA World Cup” when they hold their first working meeting in December.

    The statement, published on FIFA’s website (, gave no further details as to the precise role of the Ethics Committee in the bidding process.

    No timeframe has yet been set for the 2018 World Cup bids with FIFA’s Executive Committee yet to decide if they will stick with their current practice of rotating World Cups by continent.

    Coe said the committee would also take a decision over “irregularities” in the selection of Kenyan match officials for FIFA’s 2007 list of international referees.

    The controversial settlement reached with former secretary general Urs Linsi will not be on the agenda, however.

    Switzerland’s SonntagsZeitung newspaper last month claimed that Linsi had received a payout of around 8mil Swiss Francs from FIFA after managing to secure an eight-year renewal of his contract shortly before his dismissal.

    According to yesterday’s statement, the issue was only “touched upon” during yesterday’s meeting and would instead be taken up by FIFA’s executive committee at the end of October.

    FIFA’s Ethics Committee was formed in September 2006 following the executive committee’s approval of a new Code of Ethics.

    Their only previous official meeting came shortly after the committee was founded and did not examine any specific cases. – Reuters

    Malaysia chalk up their first victory in Australia

    PETALING JAYA: Striker Mohd Safee Sali went on target to give Malaysia their first win in their playing tour of Australia, beating Perth Soccer 1-0 on Sunday.

    The national team preparing for the pre-World Cup qualifiers lost their opening game in Perth to the same side (1-3) last Tuesday before chalking up a goalless draw against Asfield FC on Friday.

    The team under the charge of coach B. Sathianathan will play their last match on the tour against Floreat Athena today.

    Malaysia are away to Bahrain for the first leg of the qualifiers on Oct 21. The return match will be played on Oct 28.

    Malaysians in tough group at Asian Indoor Games

    PETALING JAYA: The national women's futsal team have been drawn in a tough Group A with fancied Iran, Japan and Thailand in the Asian Indoor Games in Macau from Oct 24-Nov 4.

    Coach Chiew Chun Yong said that the championships would provide the team good warm-up matches ahead of the Korat SEA Games in December.

    Group B comprises Vietnam, Uzbekistan and the Philippines.

    Aussie champ silences ‘crasher’ critics

    MELBOURNE: Australia's new world motorcycling champion Casey Stoner said yesterday he was looking forward to enjoying his home Grand Prix this weekend after silencing critics who called him a “crasher.”

    The 21-year-old ace told a news conference in Melbourne attended by some 500 fans that he had been stung by criticism over the number of crashes he had in his career from people such as former Aussie world champion Wayne Gardner.

    Thanks: MotoGP world champion Casey Stoner receives a drawing from a young fan during a meeting in Melbourne yesterday. – AFP
    “The last few years I felt a little bit of pressure from people calling me a crasher and all these sorts of things when they really didn't understand what was going on,” Stoner said.

    “It sort of frustrated me a little bit, and also scared me – the fact I didn't want to crash each race so people couldn't say things about it.

    “I think I've silenced a lot of people about me,” said the young star, who stayed upright all year while winning eight out of 14 races and sealing the world title two weeks ago in Japan with three rounds remaining.

    Stoner credited the Ducati team he joined this season for helping him to the title in just his second year in MotoGP.

    “With the right package and the right team behind you, things can be sorted out.”

    He goes into the race at Phillip Island this weekend knowing that thousands of fans will be backing him to match Australia's previous two world champions, Gardner and Mick Doohan, who both won their home Grand Prix.

    Opening practice begins on Friday for the race on Sunday. – AFP

    Scrum-half Gomarsall revels in England revival

    PARIS: It just keeps getting better and better for England scrum-half Andy Gomarsall as his international Indian summer turns into a blazing World Cup heatwave.

    A year ago Gomarsall was without a club and though he managed to force his way back into the England squad he was still third choice scrum-half behind Shaun Perry and Peter Richards coming into the tournament.

    However, not only has the 33-year-old forced his way to the top of the pecking order, he has been one of England's best performers in their remarkable World Cup comeback and is itching to play in Saturday's semi-final against France.

    “I'm still pinching myself a bit,” Gomarsall told a news conference in Paris yesterday, adding that he was pretty sure his international days were over when he was sacked by Worcester last year.

    “I always felt there was some unfinished business with playing for England, there was a burning light there and I just kept going for it. I'm here now and just looking forward.”

    That was something he was doing 12 years ago when he was called up as injury cover for Dewi Morris ahead of England's World Cup quarter-final against Australia, though he did not make the squad and had to wait a year for his first cap.

    “Twelve years on it's happened again, though I would have hoped it wouldn't have taken this long to become involved.” – Reuters

    France: Champions are tougher opponents than All Blacks

    CARDIFF: France prop Pieter De Villiers believes beating England in the World Cup semi-final could be a tougher proposition than seeing off the All Blacks.

    France stunned tournament favourites New Zealand 20-18 in the quarter-finals, but De Villiers has warned his team-mates over complacency when they take on the defending champions at the Stade de France in Paris on Saturday.

    Friends and foes: France’s Sebastien Chabal will be locking horns with several club team-mates in the semi-final against England on Saturday
    “We had to find something special to beat the All Blacks but that was only a quarter-final,” said the 35-year-old veteran of 68 Tests.

    “The World Cup isn't finished. Now we have a more difficult semi-final.”

    De Villiers is one of four survivors from the 1999 French team, along with Raphael Ibanez, Fabien Pelous and Christophe Dominici, which beat New Zealand in the semi-finals with a stunning 43-31 upset.

    However, they then limped to a disappointing 35-12 loss to Australia in the final.

    De Villiers also insists that France cannot read too much into their 21-15 and 22-9 wins over England in World Cup warm-up matches in August and claims that the English are a much better side now.

    “Those games were between two teams who were preparing for the World Cup,” said the Stade Francais forward.

    “England had doubts and problems. Today, all that has changed. They played a great match to beat Australia (12-10 in the quarter-finals) and it showed they believed themselves to be world champions.”

    Sad exit: All Blacks winger Joe Rocokoko (centre) sits with teammates as they wait for their flight to New Zealand at the Heathrow Airport in London on Monday. – AP
    France are aware that England may have the advantage when it comes to the forwards battle on Saturday and have bitter memories of their 26-18 defeat at Twickenham in the Six Nations this year where the French pack struggled.

    That power was in evidence in Marseille on Saturday with the widely-praised performance of English prop Andrew Sheridan who missed the August meeting.

    But De Villiers says France can take heart from their pack's performance against the All Blacks.

    “It was a great challenge,” said the prop. “We had wanted to face their scrum which, for many years, has been the best in the world.

    “We rocked them in the second half and that had a psychological effect on them.”

    De Villiers has an extra motivation for France to win on Saturday.

    A victory would set-up a possible final showdown with South Africa, the country of his birth.

    The Springboks tackle Argentina in the other semi-final on Sunday. – AFP

    Caveman Chabal ready for friendly fire in semi-finals

    PARIS: Sebastien Chabal, the imposing, bearded image of the World Cup, won't allow sentiment to distract him when France clash with England in the World Cup semi-finals on Saturday.

    Chabal, one of three French players who ply their club trade in England, is part of the Sale Sharks squad from where the English have drawn Andrew Sheridan and Mark Cueto and where Jason Robinson played last season.

    England should not expect any favours from the man called the Caveman when they meet at the Stade de France.

    When Chabal came face-to-face with his club-mates in the Six Nations in 2005, he left fly-half Charlie Hodgson in no doubt as to his intentions.

    “I left Chabal a message,” said Sale coach Kingsley Jones at the time.

    “I said it's great that he and Sebastien Bruno were playing, then I said: 'Please don't run at Charlie too much.' In fact, my actual words were: 'Don't kill him'.”

    Niels de Vos, Sale's chief executive, also shuddered at the potential damage.

    “When he and Charlie were selected, I overheard him say to Charlie in his broken English: “When we play, I run at you.” And a big grin spread across his face. In France his nickname is 'The Anaesthetist'.”

    There will be plenty of interest in Saturday's match at Adams Park in High Wycombe, to the west of London, where European champions Wasps are based.

    They can boast six players in the England squad – former international skipper Lawrence Dallaglio, Simon Shaw, Josh Lewsey, Paul Sackey, Joe Worsley and current captain Phil Vickery. – AFP

    Rugby News Oct 10

    Argentine duo up for World Player tilt

    PARIS: Argentines Juan Martin Hernandez and Felipe Contepomi are on the five-man shortlist announced on Monday for the IRB World Player of the Year award.

    If either were successful it would be the first time a player from Argentina, who have reached their first ever World Cup semi-final, won the coveted title.

    France centre Yannick Jauzion, South Africa wing Bryan Habana and New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, who won the award last year, have also been shortlisted.

    It is particularly significant that two Pumas should be shortlisted as Argentina do not take part in an annual international competition.

    Fly-half Hernandez, who also helped Stade Francais win the French club championship this year, has been at the helm of Argentina's impressive run to the last four of the World Cup.

    Contepomi, a flyhalf for Leinster who has played a key midfield role alongside Hernandez, is the tournament's second highest scorer with 64 points in the Pumas' five victories. – Reuters

    SEA Games News Oct 10

    Korat 90% ready for the Games

    KORAT: With less than two months for the 24th SEA Games here, the Nakhon Ratchasima provincial government said all venues would be ready for the regional biennial games by Oct 31.

    The province, located about 260km north-east of Bangkok, is also setting aside political differences and concerns on security to ensure a smooth games when it starts on Dec 6.

    Over the weekend, a test-run of facilities and organisational skills were held to show its readiness to play host to over 6,000 athletes and officials, with a countdown event at the King's 80th Birthday Anniversary Stadium.

    More than 20,000 people, clad in yellow shirts, thronged the stadium, located about 10km from the city centre, to join representatives from Bangkok-based Asean diplomats to witness the glittering countdown, marked by spectacular fireworks.

    “We are already 90 per cent ready and I can assure you all the venues will be completed by Oct 31. We are not so concern over traffic congestion as the schools will be closed and we have back-up plans,” Nakhon Ratchasima Governor Suthee Makboon said. – Bernama

    Powerboat News Oct 10

    F2000 powerboat race heads for Sabah


    KOTA KINABALU: The state capital will be the venue of the Formula 2000 World Cup on Dec 1 and 2. The event, being held for the first time in Sabah, will see 20 of the top powerboat racers competing.

    The Malaysian leg of the race would be the last in this year’s F2000 circuit. This year's legs include Portugal (March 26 and 27), Latvia (Aug 18 and 19) and Saudi Arabia (Oct 17 and 18).

    Organised by Power Sports Events Sdn Bhd, the powerboat race, featuring participants from 11 countries, would be held in the sea area just off downtown Kota Kinabalu.

    Power Sports managing director Zachary Aman said among the top racers for the event are Latvia’s Alex Carella and Briton Owen Jelf.

    “This is the best opportunity for powerboat enthusiasts to watch some of the racers in action,” Zachary said after state Tourism, Culture and Environment minister Datuk Masidi Manjum unveiled the event’s logo here on Wednesday.

    F2000 World Cup promoter Abdul Salam Fairooz said Sabah was bound to attract more Middle Eastern tourists with the race being held in the state.

    “This race receives wide publicity from the international media including the print and electronic media in Saudi Arabia,” he added.

    Abdul Salam said the event would also enable Malaysians to learn more about world class powerboat races.

    Monday, October 8, 2007

    Celtic fan assaults dida

    Celic vs Ac Milan - Dida Incident

    Celti vs Ac Milan (2-1)

    Perform Perfect Swing

    Amazing Golf Shot

    Be Patient

    Rugby News Oct 8 (2)

    South Africa primed and ready for Fiji in quarter-finals

    MARSEILLE: There's no disguising this one. South Africa vs Fiji should be a mismatch of a Rugby World Cup quarter-final.

    Fiji would have to produce the perfect game to upset South Africa and advance to the semi-finals. So that's what coach Ilie Tabua is asking his squad to do.

    Fiji qualified for their first World Cup quarter-final since the inaugural edition in 1987 with a 38-34 upset last weekend over Wales, considered the best match so far of the tournament.

    “After a win like that it would be easy for the players to think 'this is done'. It can be hard to get the focus back,'' Tabua said. “But we have told the players we need to perform better than last week. We are aiming to play the perfect game.

    “If you can play the perfect game ... the result will come.''

    But something about the vibe in the South African squad indicates they're not about to let a golden chance for a second World Cup title slip lightly.

    “We've come to a stage now where the big guns have to put their hands up,'' said winger Bryan Habana, who has crossed for six tries in three matches. “I'm very excited.''

    Coach Jake White is wary of the Fijian running game, and named the most experienced ever Springboks lineup to shut them down.

    The draw has opened up perfectly for the Springboks with the recognised heavyweights on the other side in the knockout rounds.

    The winners of the South Africa-Fiji match meet either Argentina or Scotland in the semi-finals, increasing Springbok confidence of making the final.

    “The most important thing for us is not wondering who we're going to be playing against,'' White said. “Because when we left South Africa people were saying we'd be playing Wales in Marseille.

    “People said that France would win their pool and they didn't. None of those things have occurred.''

    South Africa won all four group games, including a 36-0 thumping of defending champion England. Fiji had three tight wins over Japan, Canada and Wales, and their second-string lineup was trounced 55-12 by Australia.

    With that in mind, veteran prop Os du Randt, the only survivor of South Africa's World Cup winning team and the 1996 Test win over Fiji, thought the Springboks were ideally placed.

    “I couldn't have asked for a better scenario – it's like first prize for us,'' du Randt said. “But first prize really would be if New Zealand don't make it'' to the final. – AP

    Rugby News Oct 8

    England in upset win

    MARSEILLE: England stunned Australia 12-10 to reach the World Cup semi-finals yesterday after they finally produced a performance worthy of their world-champion status in a monumental battle with their old sporting rivals.

    England's mighty pack earned the victory with an awesome scrummaging display while Jonny Wilkinson, Australia's destroyer in the final four years ago, delivered all the points.

    Australia went into the game as huge odds-on favourites but, apart from a first-half Lote Tuqiri try, always struggled to get into the game as they were starved of possession.

    It was not quite a repeat of the scrum demolition of Twickenham two years ago but near enough to ensure their dangerous backs did most of their work under pressure.

    Australia coach John Connolly said he was at a complete loss to explain his team's flat performance.

    “It was our worst performance of the tournament for sure,” he said.

    Australia skipper Stirling Mortlock, who missed a long-range penalty at the death that might have won his team the game, said it was another bitter pill to swallow.

    “We're all bitterly disappointed with the way we played today but you have to give credit to England,” Mortlock said.

    “Bowing out in the quarter-final of the World Cup is disappointing no matter who you play, but obviously the history we have with England adds something extra.”

    England were unrecognisable from the team thrashed 36-0 by South Africa three weeks ago and can now look forward to a Paris semi-final against either New Zealand or France, who meet later yesterday in Cardiff.

    “I'm delighted for the players, they've put a tremendous amount of work in since the South Africa game and they reaped their rewards this afternoon,” coach Brian Ashton told ITV.

    The scrum, identified by the world champions as an area of advantage, was initially something of a shambles with Irish referee Alain Rolland penalising both sides after a series of collapses.

    Wilkinson and Mortlock both nailed two and missed two as the swirling wind made goal-kicking awkward but Australia claimed the only try of the first half in the 33rd minute.

    A long period of pressure ended with flyhalf Berrick Barnes showing deft hands to supply the crash-running Mortlock and he set up wing Tuqiri, Australia's tryscorer in the 2003 final, for his first score of the tournament.

    England, though, regrouped strongly. Mike Catt, in his fourth quarter-final, offered an assured presence at centre while Jason Robinson was a constant threat and they were unfortunate to reach half-time 10-6 behind after Wilkinson's double penalty miss.

    The flyhalf, whose 12-point tally took him ahead of Scot Gavin Hastings as the World Cup's all-time leading scorer, closed the gap to a point when he hauled himself groggily off the floor to land a 52nd-minute shot.

    England's tails were up, their scrum was in total ascendancy and the crowd roaring them on as they earned another penalty on the hour for Wilkinson to put them 12-10 ahead.

    England threw on Matt Stevens for captain Phil Vickery to keep up the scrum pressure while a series of Australian changes failed to stem the flood.

    Wilkinson had the chance to stretch England's lead with six minutes remaining but missed from halfway.

    In the final four years ago, it was England who failed to score in the second half but that dubious honour changed hands this time as Mortlock’s late kick fell short.

    England, who knocked Australia out in the quarter-finals in 1995 on the only other occasion the double-champions had failed to make the last four, held on the ball just long enough in the nerve-shredding final minutes to complete a remarkable turnaround.

    Skipper Phil Vickery said self-belief and 'good old-fashioned' guts got England home.

    “There were lots of things that went into today's win, but ultimately we showed what England can do and good old-fashioned guts.” – Reuters

    Sunday, October 7, 2007

    Motor Racing Oct7

    Magnificent Seven put through the mill

    KUALA LUMPUR: Despite it being the fasting month, seven young Malaysian Speedway racers are being put through the mill at the Bukit Jalil Family Park Speedway Circuit here in order to get the chance to represent Malaysia at the Malaysian International Speedway Cup 2007 on Oct 27.

    The training of the seven, dubbed Malaysia’s Speedway Magnificient Seven for their sterling performances during the just-concluded NFC Speedway Championship here, is being conducted by nine-time world Speedway champion Ivan Mauger.

    It was initiated by the Malaysia Motorsports Organisers and Competitors Association (MMOCA), the organisers of the FIM sanctioned Malaysian International Speedway Cup in collaboration with Speedway Malaysia.

    Only four of them will get the opportunity to match their skills against four foreign racers come Oct 27.

    “Their progress is comparable to new Speedway riders from Europe where the Speedway tradition has already run into its hundredth year. In fact, I would say that given the limited experience all these seven boys had on the 500cc bikes (during the NFC championship), I’m very impressed.

    “We should be able to get them ready in time by Oct 27 when four of them will be selected by MMOCA under my recommendation and evaluation to compete with four other very experienced international Speedway riders from New Zealand, Australia, Britain and Japan,” Mauger told Bernama.

    The riders in training are Rody Sofian Buang, 25, Muhd Helmy Hamzah (18), Mohd Abdussobur Turino (20), Mohd Haniff Borhan (21), Mohd Ariff Mohd Ali (21), Azizi Anuar (24) and Nazrie Ramli (28). – Bernama

    Thursday, October 4, 2007

    Rugby News Oct 4

    All Blacks skipper: We won’t make same mistakes

    CARDIFF: All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw insists New Zealand will not make the same mistakes they made in 1999 when they resume their rivalry with France in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.

    New Zealand squandered a half-time lead to lose an epic semi-final to the French at Twickenham eight years ago.

    Rising high: New Zealand’s Ali Williams catches the ball at a training session in Cardiff, Wales. The All Blacks are preparing for their quarter-final match against France on Saturday. – AP
    In 2003, their World Cup dreams were shattered again at the semi-final stage, this time at the hands of Australia but McCaw and his men are on full alert for any potential muggers this time round.

    “Disappointment,” is how McCaw summed up the 1999 defeat.

    “All New Zealand took it hard. They love the All Blacks and want them to do well.

    “We have been through a lot since 1999 and 2003. The guys who went through it know what's required. But we are a different team to '03 and to '99. We are better and will get better for Saturday and have to do what it takes.”

    As captain, McCaw admitted he has a crucial role to play at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday as New Zealand attempt to erase those past disappointments and take another step closer to a second world title.

    “It's important to be the leader of the team and it's an honour because there are a lot of guys on the team who could do this job,” said McCaw who will win his 59th cap this weekend.

    “But just being an All Black is an honour. You don't see yourself as different to anyone else.”

    McCaw believes experience will also see them through against France.

    “(In 1999 and 2003) there were a lot of guys that were new to the team and they didn't offer as much in terms of leadership. Now there are lots of guys that have been around for a long time and they put their hands up to say what can be done.”

    Against France, the All Blacks will concentrate on thwarting their rivals' preference for the running game.

    “When you play against them you don't allow them to use the ball, you stop them being able to chuck the ball around. You can't allow the space for them to do that,” he said. – AFP