Goalkeeper Hart still sweating on City place

17Mar

Hart sat out the 2-0 League Cup victory over Newcastle United on Wednesday, although that was expected as understudy Costel Pantilimon is a regular in the competition.

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Pellegrini would not say whether the tall Romanian, who has yet to appear in the Premier League, would be wearing the gloves in place of Hart for Saturday’s home clash.

“Tomorrow you will know the XI that starts,” the Chilean told a news conference on Friday. “It’s a decision I have to take every week.”

City captain Vincent Kompany is still sidelined and not expected to be fit until after the international break later this month, meaning he will also miss next week’s trip to Sunderland.

The talismanic Belgium international has not played since aggravating a thigh injury against Everton on October 5, having initially hurt it on the opening day of the season.

“Vincent is progressing, I think after the international break he will be back, but not before,” Pellegrini said.

“He is a very important player, but we have a strong squad and the other players can play.”

Defensive midfielder Javi Garcia and Montenegro striker Stevan Jovetic are also out after picking up knocks during the extra-time victory over Newcastle.

Robert Snodgrass and Nathan Redmond are injury doubts for struggling Norwich, who lie third from bottom with eight points from nine matches.

City have won all four of their league games at the Etihad Stadium this season but Pellegrini still expected a tough battle.

“Norwich are a very good team. If we think we are playing at home, so we will win easy, I think it is a very big mistake.”

(Reporting by Josh Reich; Editing by Alison Wildey)

Irish say RLWC pressure is on England

17Mar

Ireland coach Mark Aston believes England are a team under pressure and he’s hoping to turn up the heat in Saturday’s Rugby League World Cup group match at Huddersfield.

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Both teams go into the game – their first meeting since the quarter-finals in 2000, when the Irish squandered a 10-4 lead to go down 26-16 – on the back of an opening defeat and Aston is warning that Fiji will be no pushovers for England in their final group match.

Aston, whose side lost 32-14 to the Fijians in a bruising clash in Rochdale on Monday, seized on England’s humiliating pre-tournament defeat by Italy and the attempted cover-up of a subsequent major disciplinary breach in their camp to claim all the pressure is on Steve McNamara’s men.

England have since opened their tournament campaign with a 28-20 defeat to Australia and Aston said: “They need to win and, if they were to lose three games on the bounce, they’re under the pump because that Avidin team are pretty handy.

“There is no expectation on us, except from ourselves. We want to be a lot better than we were last week. We are expecting to raise the bar and we are expecting to come away with the result.”

Aston, who has masterminded back-to-back Championship Grand Finals for equally unfancied Sheffield Eagles, says his side can draw encouragement from the deeds of Scotland, Italy and the United States in a World Cup so far full of surprises.

“We got a lot of belief out of the Fiji game,” he said. “We looked at the review with a lot of confidence. We weren’t far off.

“We’ve looked at England and we know there are areas in there where, if we are clinical and we play to the structure we’ve talked about, we can break them down.

“Look what Scotland, Italy and the United States have done and England slipped up against Italy.”

The introduction of Brett White, who played for Australia in the 2009 Four Nations Series, Rory Kostjasyn, Api Pewhairangi and James Hasson from the NRL has made the Irish dark horses and they have a potential match-winner in 2009 Super League Man of Steel Pat Richards.

The goal-kicking winger, who is one of seven survivors from Ireland’s memorable 2008 World Cup campaign, will, barring a major upset, be making his final appearance on English soil as he prepares to return to Australia after next week’s clash with the Kangaroos in Limerick.

“I think this will probably be my last game in England and I’m looking forward to the opportunity of playing in front of a full house against England on home turf,” Richards said.

“We know it doesn’t get any easier after Fiji but we’ll be better for the run and hopefully put a good performance in.”

Probable teams:

England: S Tomkins (Wigan); R Hall (Leeds), K Watkins (Leeds), L Cudjoe (Huddersfield), T Briscoe (Hull); R Chase (Castleford), K Sinfield (Leeds, capt); C Hill (Warrington), J Roby (St Helens), G Burgess (South Sydney), B Westwood (Warrington), B Ferres (Huddersfield), S O’Loughlin (Wigan). Subs: G Widdop (Melbourne), T Burgess (South Sydney), G Graham (Canterbury Bulldogs), C Ablett (Leeds).

Ireland: J Mendeika (Warrington); D Blanch (Catalan Dragons), S Littler (Leigh), A Pewhairangi (Parramatta), P Richards (Wigan); B Currie (Warrington), L Finn (Featherstone, capt); B White (Canberra), R Kostjasyn (North Queensland), A Mullally (Huddersfield), S Finnigan (Leigh), D Allen (Widnes),T McCarthy (Warrington). Subs: B Beswick (Leigh), L Ambler (Halifax), K Haggerty (Barrow), J Hasson (Manly).

Referee: T Alibert (France).

Vettel back on top in Abu Dhabi

17Mar

The 26-year-old German, who secured his fourth successive title in India last weekend, scorched around the Yas Marina circuit with a best time of one minute 41.

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335 seconds in the evening session.

Australian team mate Mark Webber was 0.155 slower.

Lotus’s Romain Grosjean, whose team mate Kimi Raikkonen won last year’s race, was fastest in the searing heat of the afternoon in 1:44.241 but had a front brake failure under the floodlights.

Force India’s Paul Di Resta and McLaren’s Jenson Button both suffered punctures.

Lewis Hamilton, winner in 2011 and twice on pole at the circuit, was second quickest for Mercedes in the opening session, just 0.192 slower than Grosjean, and third in the evening.

Raikkonen, who triggered speculation about his relationship with the team when he failed to appear for Thursday’s media activities at the circuit, finally turned up and was sixth and fourth fastest respectively in the two sessions.

Grosjean has beaten Raikkonen in the last two races and finished on the podium in the last three.

Vettel, the sport’s youngest quadruple champion, is chasing his seventh successive race victory to equal fellow-German Michael Schumacher’s 2004 streak.

That is the longest winning run of the modern era, with the record of nine set by Italian Alberto Ascari over the 1952 and 1953 seasons.

Red Bull have already clinched their fourth successive constructors’ title and the focus is now on whether anyone can stop Red Bull and Vettel winning the last three races of the year.

Vettel has won two of the four races held in Abu Dhabi, including 2010 when he clinched his first championship.

Webber was fourth quickest before the sun set and the floodlights came on, with Nico Rosberg fifth for Mercedes in both sessions.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who had been the only man mathematically capable of making Vettel wait for the title in India, was 12th and eighth with Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa 17th and 10th.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

Moyes says improving United must maintain momentum

17Mar

However, with central defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic both coming through this week’s emphatic League Cup win over Norwich City unscathed after injuries, Moyes was upbeat in his news conference.

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“We’ve started to string together one or two half-decent results and hopefully that will build a bit of momentum,” Moyes said.

“We’ve been a bit up and down, winning one then losing one, so we’ll hopefully try and get into a bit more consistency.”

United scrambled to a 3-2 home victory over Stoke City last weekend, having twice trailed, and will be anxious to pick up three points at Fulham before facing leaders Arsenal at home in their next league fixture.

“It’s a gap (at the top) and we have to work to try and close it. We’ll take one game at a time and get closer to the top. That’s the plan but there’s a long way to go,” Moyes said.

Robin van Persie was rested against Norwich because of some niggles but is expected to return to face Martin Jol’s Fulham at Craven Cottage, although Danny Welbeck is ruled out with fluid on the knee.

The return of Ferdinand and Vidic, who have not started a league game together since the 4-1 defeat at Manchester City in September, has given Moyes plenty of defensive options.

“I think both (Vidic and Ferdinand) are very close to full fitness,” Moyes said. “They showed that in midweek when playing Premier League opposition.

“They both played for 90 minutes so I can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be ready to be selected or involved.

“Van Persie has been fine. He’s trained well and worked quite well this week so hopefully he will be okay.”

Like Moyes, Fulham manager Jol has been under scrutiny with his side just two points above the bottom three and knocked out of the League Cup by Championship (second division) Leicester City.

Fulham have won only once at home in the league this season and the attacking partnership of former United player Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Bent is yet to click.

“Tomorrow is a big game for us and if we can get a good result then the world will look different,” Jol said.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)

Russian stay-aways threaten to make Fed Cup final a romp

17Mar

“Very happy to play my first match at Fedcup tomorrow, will give my all.

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Let’s go Russia,” said the 18-year-old.

Khromacheva will share the singles responsibilities with Alexandra Panova, ranked 136 in the world, against the red-hot Italian favourites featuring 13th-ranked Roberta Vinci and world number seven Sara Errani.

It has all the makings of a rout in Cagliari, Sardinia after three of Russia’s top players, with the exception of the injured Maria Sharapova, opted to play in the WTA’s Tournament of Champions in Bulgaria.

Eleven Russian women are ranked higher than Panova whose grand slam record amounts to five first-round losses while Khromacheva plays almost entirely on the second-tier ITF circuit rather than the main Tour.

How different this weekend’s clash, the 50th Fed Cup final, could have looked had 18th ranked Maria Kirilenko, Elena Vesnina (25) and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (26) opted to represent their country rather than play in a tournament which offers a lucrative end to the season for players who failed to qualify for the WTA Tour Finals in Istanbul last week.

Russia have only lost once in six meetings against Italy but without that trio and the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova, both of whom have called time on their Fed Cup careers, Russia stand little chance against the Italians who are looking to win it for the fourth time.

It begs the question as to how the women’s tour organisers the WTA and International Tennis Federation (ITF), who run the Fed Cup, Davis Cup and grand slams, could schedule both events for the same week.

In an interview with the BBC, Vesnina defended her decision not to take part in the Fed Cup final.

“I’ve been playing Fed Cup for eight years and I have won the Fed Cup twice, so I already know that feeling,” Vesnina, who played a leading role in getting Russia to the final, said.

“It means a lot to me to play for my country and I have always done that with pleasure. But I have qualified for the first time in my career for this Championship and I have a chance to end the year in the top 20.”

The WTA insisted those who were eligible to play in the Fed Cup final could have done so without any repercussions while the ITF described the circumstances as an “isolated incident”.

“It’s a shame that this has happened in our 50th year but 22 of the top 30 in the world have played in the Fed Cup this year and we believe that a strong Fed Cup can only be good for the appeal of the women’s game,” an ITF spokesman told Reuters.

With the men’s ATP Tour final next week in London and the Davis Cup final the following week, the ITF have been left with little wriggle room to play the Fed Cup final in a blank week, opting to schedule it the same week as the Tournament of Champions which began five years ago.

However, this is the first time that the Fed Cup final has been so directly impacted as in the past players such as Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic opted to play for their country rather than at the WTA event.

Next year the Fed Cup final will move back one week into the gap created by the ATP Tour finals also going back one week instead of butting up against the Paris Masters.

“We would obviously prefer both teams to be at full strength this weekend, but believe this is an isolated situation and still expect a hard-fought tie in front of a sell-out crowd in Cagliari,” ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti said in a statement.

“By moving the date of the Fed Cup Final into a free week in 2014, we have shown flexibility and concern for the players in helping them to continue to represent their country in this prestigious competition.”

In the meantime Errani is desperately trying to find out something about her obscure Russian opponent.

“I don’t know Khromacheva very much. I will try to ask somebody who knows her and see on the internet how she plays,” Errani told the ITF’s website.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Toby Davis)