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)