Raikkonen could walk out over wages

17Feb

The Finn, who is returning to Ferrari next season after two years with Lotus, also said he had considered not racing this weekend.

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The 2007 world champion broke his silence after failing to turn up at the Yas Marina circuit on Thursday, the traditional media day ahead of a grand prix weekend.

His comments followed media speculation the relationship between team and driver had broken down and came only hours after Lotus had attempted to portray the situation in a much more positive light.

“I came here only because hopefully we found an understanding on certain issues we have been having,” Raikkonen said after taking part in practice.

“Hopefully it will be fixed and we can finish the season as well as we can.”

Asked whether he could skip the final races in Austin, Texas, and Brazil, the Finn replied: “For sure. I enjoy racing, I enjoy driving – but a big part of it is business and sometimes when that is not dealt with like it should, we end up in an unfortunate situation.

“You have to put the line somewhere and if it goes over that … it is not really my fault any more.

“Sometimes it is not very nice when you hear you are not really a team player and you don’t have the interests of the team – but you have been paid zero euros the whole year,” added the 34-year-old.

Lotus, who say they are close to securing funding from new investors, have recognised previously that they owe Raikkonen outstanding salary but neither side has stated publicly the full extent of it.

RADIO ROW

The driver and team were involved in an angry exchange at last weekend’s Indian Grand Prix when track operations manager Alan Permane was heard swearing over the radio at Raikkonen as he told him to get out of team mate Romain Grosjean’s way.

Raikkonen, who won his title with Ferrari, replied with a similar expletive and his manager was later quoted as saying he had never heard of a team treating their driver in such a manner.

Lotus posted an interview with chairman Gerard Lopez on their website (www.lotusf1team.com) in which he spoke warmly of the driver and played down tensions.

Their partnership, he said, had been a “perfect fit”.

“One of the unfortunate things about being in the limelight is that people are always trying to make it look like there are huge fights going on,” added Lopez.

“A lot was made about the comments … during the course of a tense moment in a race but this was just one exchange taking a matter of seconds in the course of a two-year relationship.

“It certainly wasn’t the most beneficial few seconds but you have to step back and accept everyone is passionate about racing and sometimes these things do happen,” said Lopez.

Raikkonen made his comeback with the team last year after spending two years in rallying and other international motorsport series.

Lopez said Lotus had always believed in the Finn and wanted to keep him but were not able to match Ferrari’s offer. He hailed the Finn as the only reason the team was now fighting for second place in the standings.

“For us essentially he was the perfect puzzle piece and for him I think it was a perfect fit. I still think it’s one of the best partnerships in Formula One,” he said.

Lotus are 24 points behind Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, 28 adrift of second-placed Mercedes with three races to go.

(Editing by Alison Wildey and Tony Jimenez)

Everton ready to send message against Spurs – Martinez

17Feb

Everton are sixth, two points behind second-placed Liverpool and four off leaders Arsenal, and their one league loss was at Manchester City where they took the lead before losing 3-1.

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They have coped with the sale of midfielder Marouane Fellaini to Manchester United with ease and in Romelu Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, they boast one of the most lethal strikers in the top flight.

Martinez, who replaced Old Trafford-bound David Moyes at Goodison Park, has quickly established the eye-catching brand of passing football he ingrained at Wigan Athletic and Swansea City without sacrificing Everton’s steely core.

Tottenham are one point better off in fourth spot and Martinez believes the north London club, top-five finishers for the past four seasons, can act as a benchmark for his side.

“If we can win, I’m sure it sends out a message,” Spaniard Martinez, who will be without injured striker Arouna Kone, told a news conference on Friday.

“But there’s also a message internally; that you gain that confidence and belief in what you are doing.”

“This Spurs side can become something special but that’s why we’re looking forward to the challenge – because we feel that we are ready to face whatever we have got in front of us at Goodison,” Martinez added.

“I do feel that the environment that is created at Goodison is as positive as you can get as a home team and we want to use that to our advantage.”

Despite losing Welsh forward Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, Martinez said the squad Andre Villas-Boas has put together at White Hart Lane is as good as any in England.

“Gareth Bale was a phenomenal player for Spurs, there’s no two ways about it,” he said.

“But when you replace that with seven or eight players, you’re going to be in a stronger position because you don’t rely on that player.

“As a top-four club, sometimes you are outstanding at something. I think Spurs are developing to be outstanding at everything.”

Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas is impressed with Martinez’s start at Everton and the impact of Lukaku who has netted five times in seven league games.

“There is a massive difference from Moyes’ aggressive-type football to Roberto’s build-up play but there is no difference to the results they are getting,” he told Tottenham’s website (www.tottenhamhotspur.com).

“The team have bonded to Roberto’s ideas…he’s a very straightforward, open-minded coach.

“Lukaku is a player of great potential, he is strong but he’s also creative on the ball. He has a big motivation to show that he belongs to the top.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond and Alison Wildey)

Kovac calls up uncapped Males for Iceland playoff

17Feb

“The players looked like a disjointed group of individuals and not much of a team when I took over, but the lads are now very positive about our chances and we are convinced we will do what it takes to get the job done,” the former international midfielder told Croatian media on Friday.

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“As far as the new arrivals are concerned, Males earned his call-up with impressive form for his club and so did his Rijeka team mate Benko.

“I was a defensive midfielder like Males and I know very well what traits are needed to perform well in that position.”

Croatia visit Iceland on November 15 and play them at home in Zagreb’s Maksimir stadium four days later in one of Europe’s four playoffs for the continent’s last remaining berths.

Although Croatia were delighted to be pitted against Iceland in the playoffs, Kovac struck a note of caution and warned that his counterpart Lars Lagerback had a wealth of experience in big events.

“In Lagerback, Iceland have a fantastic coach who’s been to five major tournaments,” said the 42-year-old Kovac.

“They have a typical northern style, they are disciplined and very direct. Their football is simple and although Iceland often resort to the long-ball strategy, they have some skilled players who can keep it on the ground.

“It’s no accident they reached the playoffs and we are up against a physically strong and dynamic team, but if we play to the best of our abilities we should come out on top.”

Swede Lagerback guided his native country to two World Cups and as many European Championships before he steered Nigeria through the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Croatia finished second in Group A behind Belgium in qualifying, while Iceland clinched the runners-up spot in Group E behind Switzerland.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split)

Defenders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Josip Simunic (Dinamo Zagreb), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Ivan Strinic (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Gordon Schildenfeld (Panathinaikos), Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa)

Midfielders: Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Perisic (Vfl Wolfsburg), Mateo Kovacic (Inter Milan), Milan Badelj (Hamburg SV), Niko Kranjcar (Queens Park Rangers), Mate Males (Rijeka), Ivo Ilicevic (Hamburg SV)

Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich), Ivica Olic (Vfl Wolfsburg), Eduardo da Silva (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Everton), Ante Rebic (Fiorentina), Leon Benko (Rijeka).

(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Toby Davis)

Federer finds Masters’ touch just in time

17Feb

Switzerland’s former world number one, now ranked sixth, will face second seed Novak Djokovic in the last four in the build-up to next week’s ATP World Tour finals in London.

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“I knew it was a long time since I had been able to do that,” Federer told a news conference after his 6-3 4-6 6-3 victory over the fifth-ranked Argentine.

“So I’m happy now I won against a top 10 (player) again, especially just before London where I will have to play against three top 10 players in a row.

“It seems to be interesting and I’m happy that I made that first step today,” he added ahead of next week’s ATP World Tour Finals in London.

The 17-times grand slam champion has had his worst season in 10 years, having failed to reach any of the grand slam finals and appearing in only one Masters Series final so far.

His last victory over a top 10 player was in the Australian Open quarter-finals against then eighth-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.

Federer’s only title this season came on grass at Halle.

Del Potro beat him in the Basel Open final on Sunday before becoming the highest-ranked player to suffer defeat at the hands of the Swiss in nine months.

“Probably has to be,” Federer said when asked if Friday’s win had been his best of the season.

“I have had some decent matches along the way ‑ maybe against less famous players than Juan Martin ‑ so I’m happy it worked out well today,” added the Swiss, who revived some of his old brilliance at the Paris indoor event.

“I think it was a good match from start to finish. That’s definitely good for my confidence, because those are the kind of wins I need right now.”

Federer will play at the ATP season finale for the 12th time next week.

(Reporting by Gregory Blachier; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Classy Federer sets up clash with Djokovic

17Feb

Top seed Rafa Nadal destroyed local favourite Richard Gasquet 6-4 6-1 as he stepped up his bid for a record sixth Masters Series crown in the same season.

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The Spaniard, who is chasing his 11th title of the year and is the only player left in the tournament not to have already won the indoor event, next faces compatriot and title holder David Ferrer or 2005 champion Tomas Berdych.

Federer, who had lost his last three encounters with the towering Del Potro including the Basel Open final on Sunday, defeated a top-10 player for the first time since January and will now feature in his second Masters Series semi-final of the year.

He takes on Djokovic, who hammered Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka 6-1 6-4, for the first time since the 2012 ATP World Tour Finals.

World number seven Federer has a 16-13 record against the Serb who won their last meeting in London a year ago.

“Roger is probably experiencing the worst season he’s had in the last 10 years but he’s still a player to beat in every tournament because he’s Roger Federer, because he’s won 17 grand slams,” Djokovic told a news conference.

“You can’t underestimate him although maybe he’s not at the form where he was when he was number one in the world. But I watched his matches in Basel last week and here too and I think he’s playing really well.”

SEVENTEEN WINNERS

Federer showed his class in the first set of the quarter-final against Del Potro, clubbing 17 winners.

The Swiss was less sharp in the middle set and Del Potro, who did not have a single break chance until the 10th game of the second set, forced Federer into a decider.

Cheered on by a packed crowd, 2011 champion Federer then started to play more aggressively and broke serve in the seventh game.

“I think I did well to start stronger in the third set,” he said. “That was something I couldn’t quite do in Basel.

“Overall I was just hitting a better ball today and moving well and making good decisions time and time again. I was very happy with my level of play.”

Djokovic, the 2009 champion, sprinted into a 3-0 lead against Wawrinka.

He never loosened his grip and left the seventh-seeded Swiss with the feeling he had little chance of victory.

“When he plays that good it’s very difficult especially on this surface where he’s the best I believe,” Wawrinka said.

Ninth seed Gasquet probably felt much the same about Nadal, a player the Frenchman has yet to beat.

Gasquet, who will feature in next week’s Tour Finals for the first time since 2007, tried to control the net as often as possible to compensate for his lack of power but made too many mistakes and easily surrendered despite the home crowd’s support.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

Sheens wary of letting guard down v Fiji

15Jan

Kangaroos coach Tim Sheens admits Australia face a genuine Rugby League World Cup danger game against an ambitious Fiji in St Helens.

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The Group A teams meet on Saturday (Sunday morning AEDT), with Australia looking to take their game to the next level after a 28-20 win over England in the tournament opener.

The Kangaroos have won all three previous clashes with Fiji by more than 50 points but the Bati have never looked stronger; their squad littered with NRL talent across the park.

And while it would be a major surprise if the Kangaroos are seriously troubled, Sheens says Fiji are capable of exploiting any complacency or a lack of focus from his men.

“You can’t afford to let your guard and get beat,” Sheens said as Australia trained in drizzle at the 18,000-capacity Langtree Park on Friday.

“Realistically, from our point of view, we’ve got to come out and be aggressive, kick and chase and play what we know is our game.

“We’ll get our opportunities near their line but we don’t want to rush those opportunities.

“Ireland did that (in an opening 32-14 loss to Fiji) … we’re going to have to be a bit more clinical.”

The Petero Civoniceva-led Fijians were physical and aggressive in their opening match, with Sheens revealing Ireland and Canberra prop Brett White had told Kangaroos players he’d never been so sore after a game.

Sheens expects much of the same on what is expected to be a cold, wet night in St Helens.

“There’ll be the odd tackle that rocks the stadium,” he said.

“I think that’s what this sort of football is about.

“It’s been shown with Samoa and New Zealand, and a few of the other games, they’ve been very high impact.”

Sheens predicted debutants Josh Papalii and Boyd Corner would handle the occasion well and backed Daly Cherry-Evans to slot into the side smoothly at halfback in place of the rested Cooper Cronk.

Fiji will be without centre Wes Naiqama (back) but they won’t be lacking any belief, with tough forward Ashton Sims adamant the 2008 World Cup semi-finalists felt they could pull off what would be the tournament’s biggest ever upset.

“We’re going out there to win, there’s no two ways about it,” said Sims, one of three Sims brothers in the side.

“If there’s guys who don’t think we can win, I don’t really want to play.

“We’ve got our backs against the wall big time, I understand that, but most guys don’t player rugby league just to be competitive. We want to win.”

Russian piracy charges remain: Greenpeace

15Jan

Greenpeace says that, contrary to an earlier statement, Russian investigators have not dropped piracy charges against 28 international activists and 2 journalists detained in the Arctic city of Murmansk.

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Investigators filed hooliganism charges against all 30 detainees over the past week, but failed to withdraw the piracy charges, the environmentalist organisation said.

Among those facing charges are Tasmanian Colin Russell and Australian permanent resident Alexandra Harris.

The Russian Investigative Committee said on October 23 that it had converted the piracy charges into hooligan charges.

A woman who picked up the phone at the Committee’s press service on Friday refused to elaborate, saying that the agency would not make any further comments.

Greenpeace said that as a result, the 30 detainees stand accused of both piracy and hooliganism, which carry maximum sentences of 15 and 7 years, respectively.

The organisation’s executive director Kumi Naidoo said the detainees should be immediately released once the piracy charge is withdrawn because international law prohibits one country from seizing another’s vessels in international waters, except in extreme cases such as piracy.

“Allowing states to seize each other’s vessels for lesser trumped up charges would be a major threat to international relations and commerce,” he said.

Russia seized the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and detained its multinational crew in September, after activists had attempted to storm an oil rig in the remote Pechora Sea.

The organisation says that oil drilling in the Arctic is irresponsibly dangerous and risks destroying the sensitive environment.

However, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday that Greenpeace themselves had damaged the environment.

“Our country cannot support activities that potentially harm the environment and endanger humans,” Medvedev said at a joint press conference with his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault, the Interfax news agency reported.

The prime minister explained that oil platforms were so dangerous that even noble-minded protests against them are irresponsible.

“Nobody has the right to break the laws related to their operation” he argued.

Medvedev promised Ayrault that Russia would handle the case “just and strictly in accordance to law”.

Greenpeace said on Friday it understood from diplomatic sources that the 30 are being moved from a detention centre in Murmansk to a jail in St Petersburg.

Naidoo said: “The detainees shouldn’t be in jail at all, they should be free to join their families and to restart their lives.

“St Petersburg has some daylight in the winter months, unlike Murmansk, and families and consular officials will now find it easier to visit the 30.

“But there is no guarantee that conditions inside the new detention centre will be any better than in Murmansk. In fact, they could be worse.

“There is no justification whatsoever to keep the Arctic 30 in any prison for a day longer. They are prisoners of conscience who acted out of a determination to protect us all, and they should be free.”

Afridi, Irfan bowl Pakistan to win over SA

15Jan

Leg-spinner Shahid Afridi and paceman Mohammad Irfan shared six wickets as Pakistan thumped South Africa by 66 runs in the second day-night cricket match in Dubai on Friday.

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Afridi took 3-26 and Irfan finished with 3-53 as Pakistan defended a low total of 209 to square the five-match series at 1-1.

South Africa pulled off a sensational one-run win in the first match in Sharjah on Wednesday.

The remaining matches will be played in Abu Dhabi (November 6 and 8) and in Sharjah (November 11).

Saeed Ajmal (2-15) also shared the bowling spoils as South Africa were bowled out for 143 in 40.4 overs with Ryan McLaren top-scoring with 29 not out.

“It was a really good performance, especially after getting out for a low score, our bowlers did the job for us again,” said Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul Haq.

South African captain AB de Villiers admitted his team’s batting was a concern.

“We have a few issues in the batting and it’s up to us to turn it around. I’m very disappointed. Pakistan were too good for us.”

Misbah attacked with slow bowlers as early as the fifth over, introducing Mohammad Hafeez who dried up the runs after Colin Ingram fell for four in the second over of the innings.

Ajmal accounted for Graeme Smith (14), who was bowled off his legs with South Africa on 43.

Six balls later Jean-Paul Duminy, who struck three boundaries in his 25, fell in paceman Mohammad Irfan’s second spell, caught in the slips.

When on 21, Duminy completed 3,000 one-day runs in his 106th match.

Afridi struck with his first ball, trapping Faf du Plessis for 12 and in his next over he had dangerman De Villiers caught behind for 10, leaving South Africa reeling at 5-73.

It became 6-83 when Hafeez caught David Miller, who had made 11, in front of the wicket with a sharp delivery.

McLaren and Wayne Parnell (21) put on 35 for the seventh wicket but it only delayed the inevitable as South Africa slumped to their second lowest total against Pakistan, behind the 101 they made in Sharjah in 2000.

For Pakistan, Ahmed Shehzad was the mainstay with an 85-ball 58.

Hafeez (26), Afridi (26) and skipper Misbah (25) failed to capitalise on good starts as McLaren (4-34) and Morne Morkel (3-38) ran through the innings.

Shehzad had steadied the innings during a 48-run second wicket partnership with Hafeez and another 60 for the third wicket with Misbah before McLaren derailed the innings with a double strike.

Hafeez played on and was bowled in McLaren’s first over.

When he had made eight, Misbah completed 1,000 one-day runs in 2013, becoming the third batsman to achieve the milestone after Australia’s George Bailey and India’s Virat Kohli.

But Misbah perished in rather soft fashion, flicking McLaren straight into the hands of mid-wicket. He hit a boundary and a six off 44 balls.

Dortmund flatten Stuttgart 6-1 with Lewandowski hat-trick

15Jan

The Poland striker, who is top of the scorers’ list with nine goals, scored three times in just 18 minutes to lift Dortmund to 28 points, two ahead of Bayern Munich who are in action on Saturday.

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Stuttgart, who suffered their first defeat in eight league games under coach Thomas Schneider, took an unexpected early lead when Karim Haggui headed in an Alexandru Maxim corner but any joy was shortlived.

Dortmund, who host Arsenal in the Champions League next week, reacted almost instantly, scoring twice in three minutes to go in front leaving the Stuttgart defence in tatters with their pace.

Defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos levelled with a well-taken header in the 19th minute before Marco Reus slotted in his sixth league goal after a solo run.

They picked up where they left off nine minutes after the restart with Reus turning provider to flick the ball through to Robert Lewandowski to slot in.

The Poland striker added another two minutes later when he chased down a through ball from Henrikh Mkhitaryan to beat keeper Sven Ulreich.

He completed his hat-trick in the 72nd after Jakub Blaszczykowski’s shot was palmed onto the bar by Ulreich and Lewandowski beat Stuttgart’s defenders to the ball to tap in.

Substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang got his seventh goal of the campaign when he lobbed the ball over Ulreich in the 81st minute as Dortmund matched their own club record of six straight home wins since the start of the season.

Treble winners Bayern travel to Hoffenheim where they will look to stay unbeaten for a 36th straight game and equal a 30-year-old Bundesliga record set by Hamburg SV in 1982/83.

Third-placed Bayer Leverkusen take on bottom-placed Eintracht Braunschweig.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Toby Davis)

Mowen backs new Brumbies model

15Jan

The selfless attitudes of Laurie Fisher and Stephen Larkham will ensure the Brumbies’ new co-coaching model will continue their Super Rugby rise, according to Wallabies skipper Ben Mowen.

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The Brumbies No.8 has endorsed the European-style structure which sees “director of rugby” Fisher take over from Jake White as the main man and Larkham become “head coach”.

The appointments were announced in Canberra on Friday and newly-appointed Test captain Mowen could not have been happier as he prepared for Australia’s clash with England in London.

He confirmed the buck would stop with Fisher but the pair would continue to work hand in glove as they did under South African White for the past two years.

“It’s definitely the best way forward for us,” the Brumbies captain said. “You definitely didn’t want to lose one of those guys.”

“I think it’s very fitting that we get the best of both worlds from both those guys.”

Under White, who controversially cut short his four-year contract to return to South Africa, breakdown guru Fisher was the forwards coach while former Wallabies playmaker guided the backs.

The partnership had an immediate impact last year by helping take the ACT team from 13th to seventh, before losing a tight Super Rugby decider to the Chiefs this season.

While Fisher’s new role will see him take up more off-field responsibilities, he will also remain a hands-on mentor.

Fisher was Larkham’s former coach at the Brumbies for three seasons before the five-eighth retired in 2007.

“The important thing the players were really happy with making the shift to that formation it enables the contact hours to remain the same for those two guys,” Mowen said.

“The final word will be with Laurie as director.

“But I know the way those two guys operate is always back and forth.

“They’re very selfless people so the direction of the team will always come first. They have the right formation there.”

The Queensland Reds carried the same sort of model in 2013 with Ewen McKenzie in charge as director of rugby and assistant Richard Graham titled head coach.

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