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After good start, time for Balotelli to score away from home

JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer   PARIS (AP) — It is about time for Mario Balotelli to start scoring away from home. The Italian striker's return from suspension is much needed for Nice, which faces a difficult match at Bastia on Friday after losing ground last weekend. Nice unexpectedly dropped points by drawing 0-0 against struggling Metz, and Balotelli's absence — through suspension — was felt. The draw played into the hands of free-scoring Monaco, which moved to the top on goal difference, and defending champion Paris Saint-Germain, now only three points behind. Nice will be stronger with Balotelli leading the line, considering he averages nearly a goal a game since joining on a free transfer from Liverpool in the offseason. But the worrying statistic for Nice is that his eight league goals — and nine of the 10 he has scored overall — have all been at home. When Nice plays at home, it often dominates possession through its slick midfield and Balotelli, with his outstanding ability to hold the ball up, is regularly involved in the quick and neat approach play. It's a different story away from home, where Balotelli often drifts in and out of position as he roams for space to create opportunities out of nothing. Nice coach Lucien Favre needs Balotelli to be at his disciplined best on Friday, rather than in improvisational mode. Balotelli, who has a long history of controversy on and off the field, will also have to keep this cool. Although Bastia is only one place above the relegation zone, the Corsican side is always fiercely motivated at home, where the passionate locals at the compact 20,000-capacity Armand Cesari Stadium reserve their most vitriolic and hostile welcomes for southern clubs Nice and Marseille, and for PSG. Because of the seething animosity between Bastia and Nice fans — there have been violent clashes in the past — France's Interior Ministry decreed a ban on travelling fans. Any daring Nice fans trying to circumnavigate the ban will be prevented from trying to reach the island of Corsica either by sea — via the ports of Nice, Marseille and Toulon — or by air. Nice deplored the ban, which it says 'automatically deprives its fans of passion for the umpteenth time.' Favre, who took charge in the offseason after leaving German side Borussia Moenchengladbach, is bracing himself for a heated encounter. 'There's always something special about this game, so I've been told,' said Favre, who replaced Claude Puel after he joined Premier League club Southampton. 'In football, you always have commitment, headers, tackles. It's part of the game, if it's fair. It's up to us to react properly. You must control your emotions.' ___ GOALS GALORE Lorient's players can hardly be looking forward to the trip to play Monaco, given how many goals the French leaders are scoring. Last weekend's 4-1 rout of Marseille made it 60 league goals in 20 games — comfortably more than any other team in Europe's top five leagues — and 86 in 33 games overall this season. Bad news for Lorient, which is languishing in 19th place and has conceded 39 goals — more than any other team in the league. Monaco must be relieved it did not sell Colombian striker Radamel Falcao after he spent two unsuccessful seasons on loan at Manchester United and Chelsea as he fought back from a serious injury. Falcao has been an inspirational captain, scoring eight in the past seven games and 17 in all competitions this season. Behind him and strike partner Valere Germain, the midfield quartet of Tiemoue Bakayoko, Fabinho, Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva is striking a good balance. Bakayoko and Fabinho do much of the holding work, thus freeing up the skillful Lemar and the quick Silva to roam free. They were unstoppable against Marseille, with Lemar scoring an audacious lob and Silva netting twice. ___ A TIGHTER DEFENSE PSG is looking for a fifth straight win when it travels to play Nantes on Saturday. Following a rocky spell just before the mid-season winter break, PSG has won its two league games and two cup games since without fuss and without conceding a goal. But Nantes could be a different proposition, especially given how well the team is playing under coach Sergio Conceicao. Wednesday's 1-0 win over Caen was the sixth in seventh games since the former Portugal winger took charge in early December. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 19th, 2017

For Love of Game: Valdez takes lower paycheck to play in Thailand

Local volleyball superstar Alyssa Valdez will be receiving less than what a club in the Philippines can offer her as salary playing for 3BB Nakornnont but the experience of playing and carrying the country’s pride in the Thai League is more than enough compensation. The two-time UAAP champion is more focused on learning from her stint and going back to spread the knowledge and experience she gained at home. “I think this is really big (playing abroad). It’s well known na here sa Philippines yung volley. I think we need to level up and I think one way of getting it is for players going to different countries to play and go back here and share everything,” said the 23-year-old open hitter in an earlier interview. “’Yun naman din ang goal and para maging inspiration din sa mga bata na aspiring volleyball players.”    The former Ateneo de Manila Queen Eagle was formally welcomed by the Thai squad by presenting her the team’s jersey where she will wear the no. 9 uniform – the same jersey number she wore while playing and winning three titles for University of Sto. Tomas high school in the UAAP. As for the specifics of her contract, a source from Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc., which processed her release paper to play abroad, Valdez will earn 30,000 Baht (P42,000) as monthly salary while playing for the club in the Thai League and the Thai-Denmark Super League.                 Valdez’s monthly paycheck will be way below what she had earned with her last local team Bureau of Customs during the V-League Reinforced Conference few months back. The three-time UAAP Most Valuable Player reportedly received a six-digit contract from the Transformers for the two-month tournament. Valdez flew to Thailand last Sunday and will stay there until early April. She’ll debut for 3BB Nakornnont on January 29 against King-Bangkok. Valdez also vowed to return next month to join either the Cebu or Davao tryouts for the national team that will see action in the 29th Kuala Lumpur Southeast Asian Games.     The local volleyball phenom was a part of the national squad during the Singapore edition of the biennial meet where she was also chosen as Team Philippines flag-bearer during the traditional parade of nations.     --- Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles     .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 18th, 2017

Federer's 17 majors stack up nicely against everyone else

DENNIS PASSA, AP Sports Writer   MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The 64 players contesting second-round matches at the Australian Open on Wednesday have won a total of 36 Grand Slam singles titles. One guy, however, has nearly half of them. Of the 17 titles captured by Roger Federer, who plays American qualifier Noah Rubin at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday, four have been at Melbourne Park. Although he hasn't lifted the trophy here since 2010. Venus Williams, who will play Stefanie Voegele to open play on Rod Laver — has seven major titles. Others in action Wednesday are top-ranked Andy Murray and No. 4 Stan Wawrinka (3 majors each), defending champion Angelique Kerber and Svetlana Kuznetsova (2 each) and Marin Cilic and Garbine Muguruza, who have each won one major. Novak Djokovic, who has 12 Grand Slam titles of his own and is on the other side of the Australian Open draw, was quick to praise Federer as the Swiss star prepared to return from a six-month injury layoff. 'With Roger, you can always see a top level and quality of tennis ... that's what he brings,' Djokovic said last weekend. 'He brings this aura of a champion on and off the court. The sport definitely missed him. He's one of the most important people that ever held the racket.' ____ Here's a closer look at some of the second-round matches Wednesday: BIRTHDAY GIRL: Kerber, who plays fellow German Carina Witthoeft, will celebrate her 29th birthday on Wednesday. She is aiming to become the first player to defend the Australian Open women's title since Victoria Azarenka won in 2012 and 2013. ___ GOOD LUCK ANDREY: Murray plays Russian qualifier and 156th-ranked Andrey Rublev in a night match at Rod Laver Arena. The lowest-ranked player to beat Murray at a Grand Slam tournament is No. 91 Arnaud Clement at the 2005 U.S. Open. Overall, Murray has a 10-1 record against qualifiers at Grand Slam events. Still, Murray will be wary of Rublev. 'I know a little bit about him,' Murray said after his first-round win over Illya Marchenko. 'I never hit with him or played against him, but I've seen him play before and he goes for it. He doesn't hold back. He hits a big ball.' Murray has lost the Australian Open final five times in seven years, and never won the title. He hopes to have another chance this year to atone for his past defeats. 'I have had a lot of tough losses here, for sure,' he said. 'I have played some of my best tennis on hard courts here. But I keep coming back to try. I'll keep doing that until I'm done.' ___ AND GOOD LUCK NOAH: Federer has not lost to a player ranked as low as No. 200 Noah since losing to 249th-ranked Sergio Bruguera at Barcelona in 2000. In terms of Grand Slam events, the lowest-ranked player Federer has lost to was No. 154 Mario Ancic at 2002 Wimbledon. ___ LONGEVITY IN MELBOURNE: Venus Williams' match against Voegele comes in her 17th appearance at the Australian Open. She has never won the title in Melbourne, but was runner-up in 2003, losing to her younger sister, Serena. And for the record, her seven Grand Slam singles titles came five times at Wimbledon and twice at the U.S. Open. ___ ONCE A YEAR: Fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori plays France's Jeremy Chardy to open play on Hisense Arena, and their meeting has become an annual thing. Nishikori has a 4-2 edge in matches which they've contested once a year for the past six years. Nishikori is attempting to reach the third round at Melbourne Park for the seventh consecutive year. He lost to Grigor Dimitrov in the Brisbane International final two weeks ago. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 17th, 2017

Valdez assures LVPI she will attend national team tryouts

Former Ateneo de Manila Queen Eagle Alyssa Valdez promised to join the tryouts set by the Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc, for the national women’s team that will see action in the 29th Kuala Lumpur Southeast Asian Games on August 19 to 31. LVPI vice president Peter Cayco said that Valdez told him Saturday that the three-time UAAP Most Valuable Player will undergo the selection process just like other national squad aspirants. The Manila tryout is on January 28, 29 and 31 with legs in Cebu and Davao set next month. Each aspirant must complete the three-day tryout. The names of the players that will make the 20-woman pool will be announced on the last week of February. Valdez, a two-time UAAP champion who bannered the PHI team in the 2015 Singapore SEA Games, assured LVPI in a meeting with Cayco in the sports association’s office at Arellano-Taft before she flew to Thailand Sunday to join 3BB Nakornnont in the Thai League, that she will return home during the break to join any of the three tryouts. “Nakapag-usap kami noong Saturday ang sabi niya sa akin uuwi siya para sa tryouts,” Cayco said Tuesday during the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum at the Rizal Memorial Complex Media Center. Valdez will debut in the Thai League on January 29 making her unavailable for the Manila leg. She is expected to show up either in the Cebu or Davao leg.       National team head coach Francis Vicente, who discovered and molded Valdez into a star during her high school days as a University of Sto. Tomas player, pointed out that though Valdez is a cut above the rest with her volleyball skills, leadership and fan base she will still go under the scrutiny of the selection committee. “Alam naman natin na Alyssa Valdez is angat, sikat and sa akin din galing yan pero ayaw ko na kukunin ko na siya na, ‘O halika na rito wag ka na mag-tryout.’ Unfair naman ‘yun sa iba,” said Vicente. “Unfair naman yun kina Myla Pablo kina Grethcel Soltones e magaling din naman sila. Ayokong mabansagan na may kinikilingan. If she really wants to play in the national team kailangan niyang pumunta sa tryouts, no special treatment.”                             LVPI president Joey Romasanta commended the gesture of Valdez, who served as the country’s flag-bearer during the last SEA Games, saying that her willingness to join the tryouts during her break in the Thai League.          “’Yung sinabi ni Alyssa na uuwi siya rito to join the tryout for the national team is very commendable and a manifestation of her being a true athlete and her sincerest desire to serve the country via the national team,” said Roamsanta. “Ako, we are very hopeful that during the breaks in her (Thai League) schedule she will be able to join any of those tryouts.”       --- Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles             .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 17th, 2017

Rampant Monaco goes top of league with 4-1 win at Marseille

JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer   PARIS (AP) — Free-scoring Monaco moved to the top of the French league on goal difference by crushing Marseille 4-1 Sunday, tearing the home side apart with lightning counterattacks that took its season's tally to 60 league goals in 20 games. No other side in Europe's top five leagues has scored as many times as Monaco, which plays in a league often known for its tight defenses. This was the eighth time this season Monaco has scored at least four goals, with four of those matches away. 'We wanted to put in a big performance tonight,' Monaco forward Valere Germain said. 'We have quality players and we know we can do something special this season.' Nice, which drew 0-0 at home to Metz earlier Sunday, is in second place. Defending champion PSG is third, three points behind both Nice and Monaco. PSG and Monaco are involved in both domestic cup competitions and the Champions League, while Nice has only the league to play for. Marseille's tactical approach of all-out attack backfired as Monaco's speedy and nimble midfielders, Thomas Lemar and Bernardo Silva, made the most of the space on offer, as did top scorer Radamel Falcao. All three were on target, with Silva getting two and Falcao netting his eighth goal in the past seven games and 17th in all competitions. The 21-year-old Lemar, recently called up to the France squad, scored with a moment of audacious brilliance in the 16th minute. Challenging for the ball with Japanese defender Hiroki Sakai on the left flank, he headed the ball over Sakai, turned and then let the ball bounce before angling an exquisite lob over goalkeeper Yohann Pele. Falcao continued his scoring streak with another excellent finish five minutes later, running onto right back Djibril Sidibe's pass, drawing Pele off his line and feigning to curl the ball around him before dinking it inside the near post instead. Marseille rallied and Portuguese center half Jorge Rolando rose to powerfully head in 19-year-old midfielder Maxime Lopez's free kick in the 29th. But Monaco could have had further goals before the irrepressible Silva started and finished a move, timing his run perfectly to head past Pele from close range just before the interval. Shortly after the interval, Silva smacked a fierce shot in off the crossbar after Pele had saved a shot from Brazilian midfielder Fabinho, who was at the heart of another superbly orchestrated counterattack. 'It's a pleasure to play with great players like Falcao,' Lemar said. 'It helps young players like me.' Marseille lost the corresponding fixture 4-0 in Monaco and it was only slightly better this time. 'They were better than us in every department,' Marseille striker Bafetimbi Gomis said. 'There was a difference in class between the teams and you could see it.' ___ NICE 0, METZ 0 With star striker Mario Balotelli and creative midfielder Younes Belhanda both unavailable through suspension, Nice lacked its usual invention against resilient Metz, which played far better than expected from a 19th-placed team. 'We can live with a point,' Nice coach Lucien Favre said. 'Both teams could have won it.' Having completed his suspension, Balotelli will be back to lead the line against Bastia on Friday, Favre said. Nice striker Alassane Plea went close to scoring midway through the second half, when his angled shot flew just wide of the post. Nice conceded ground to PSG, which won 1-0 at Rennes on Saturday — with new signing Julian Draxler scoring a superb winner on his league debut. ___ CAEN 3, LYON 2 Alexandre Lacazette scored twice to take his season's tally to 15 league goals, but it wasn't enough as Lyon lost ground on PSG. Although fourth-placed Lyon has a game in hand, it is eight points behind PSG after losing for only the second time in 14 games. Croatian striker Ivan Santini starred for Normandy side Caen, scoring a penalty and the winner from a header after creating the first goal when his cross was turned into his own net by Lyon forward Maxwell Cornet. Lyon midfielder Lucas Tousart hit the crossbar with a rasping shot as Lyon went close to equalizing. 'We made too many basic errors,' Lyon midfielder Maxime Gonalons said. 'We're going to have to play much better if we want to achieve our objectives.' .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 15th, 2017

Australian Open quotes: Rafael Nadal says no plans to retire

DENNIS PASSA, AP Sports Writer br /> MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal isn't planning to give up tennis anytime soon. Johanna Konta won't take too seriously her dominating win in the Sydney International last Friday. And Sam Stosur, who has never done well at her home Grand Slam tournament, isn't getting too down on herself after her preparation — or lack of it— for Melbourne Park. Following are some thoughts and impressions from players who spoke on Sunday, the day before the start of the Australian Open: ___ RAFAEL NADAL The takeaway: Rafa is not about to call it quits anytime soon. Nadal, a 14-time major winner, is coming off two lengthy injury layoffs last year, including 2 ½ months off after pulling out of the French Open before the third round with left wrist injury and another rest at the end of the season. Just don't ask him if he's ready to pull out a rod and reel, or a 9-iron. 'If I don't believe that I can be competitive, and when I mean competitive, is fighting for the things that I fought for during the last 10 years, I will be probably playing golf or fishing at home,' Nadal said. 'I am being honest ... I am here because I believe ... I can fight for the things that really motivate me.' Given his history with injuries, Nadal was asked if he was playing pain free. 'What do you mean 'pain-free'?' he said. 'I am not injured, no. Pain-free is a long time ago.' ___ JOHANNA KONTA The Sydney-born British player, a surprise semifinalist at Melbourne Park last year, won the Sydney International final against Agnieszka Radwanska last Friday, a victory so dominating that the Polish player, ranked third in the world, said: 'I can't remember playing someone like this on that level, that consistent for the whole match. I couldn't really say that I did something wrong. She was just playing amazing tennis.' Konta said Sunday she's not reading too much into those plaudits. 'Obviously to have beaten a player like Aga, I'm definitely very pleased with the level I played,' Konta said. 'But we all know that it's not a given. It doesn't decide how you will do in the next event. I'm taking it as a positive from the week itself, but I'm looking to, again, work hard here and really try to do the best that I can here.' ___ SAMANTHA STOSUR Competing in her 15th Australian Open, the highest-ranked Australian woman in the draw has never made it past the fourth round at Melbourne Park. Her preparation for her home major wasn't helped with first-round losses at Brisbane and Sydney 'I can't change it, it is what it is,' Stosur said of her early exits. 'I'm not going into my first round freaking out that I haven't had more than two matches. Like I said, I've done everything else that I can. Obviously it would have been really nice to have played more. But I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person in that situation from the first two weeks of the year.' The 18th-seeded Stosur has a tough first-round match against Heather Watson of Britain. ___ SIMONA HALEP The fourth-seeded Halep lost in the first round last year at Melbourne Park. This year she'll have the distinction of opening play on the main Rod Laver Arena on Monday, against American Shelby Rogers. 'I hope is going to be better this year ... it's special to open the tournament on the biggest stadium. I'm not thinking very much at that thing. I just have to go there. I know the opponent pretty well.' Halep beat Rogers in straight sets in the third round at the 2015 U.S. Open in their only previous meeting. ___ TOMMY HAAS The 38-year-old German veteran has said 2017 will be his last year on tour — he's taking over as tournament director at Indian Wells. Haas, who plays Benoit Paire of France in the first round, wants to go out with some dignity after a career of injuries. He has been ranked as high as No. 2, won 15 ATP Tour titles, reached the semifinals of the Australian Open three times and Wimbledon once, and won a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. His career has been stalled by injuries since he had shoulder surgery two years ago and right foot surgery in the middle of last year. 'I think it's important to find that right time, or that moment for you when you feel it's over and it's time to do something else,' Haas said Sunday. 'For me it's very important just to be back on tour and back here at the Australian Open. It's been a while since I've played here and I'm excited to get the opportunity to go out on the court one more time and compete.' And to keep playing, hoping that his best is once again around the corner. 'When you are a dreamer, and a lot of us are, you obviously like to play at your best level again, maybe play against some of the top players somewhere on a big stage and play a great matches,' Haas said. 'Maybe get far in a tournament one more time.' .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 15th, 2017

Valdez spreads wings, begins Thailand journey

Alyssa Valdez’s international club league career started Sunday when the Filipina volleyball superstar flew to Thailand to join 3BB Nakornnont.   The former UAAP three-time Most Valuable Player will start training with the club as 3BB Nakornnont prepares for the second round of the Thai League. Valdez will debut for 3BB on January 29 against King-Bangkok. “Siguro hindi ko rin ma-explain kung gaano ako ka-excited at kung gaano ako kinakabahan kasi it’s a different challenge,” said the 23-year-old Valdez in an interview with ABS-CBN Sports. “Kasi mag-isa lang ako, 'yung lahat ng mga external factors nandoon na rin.” Valdez, who was given the green light by the Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. to play abroad Saturday, will join her former Bureau of Customs teammates Kanjana Kuthaisong and Nattanicha Jaisaen. “At least naging teammates ko naman ang few players doon,’ she said. Valdez will stay in Thailand until early April as the team will also play in the Thai-Denmark Suepr League. But what excites Valdez, who bannered the national women’s volleyball team in its return to the Southeast Asian Games two years ago in Singapore, the most is the chance to go up against Thai superstar and Southeast Asia’s most popular player Pleumjit Thinkaow.   “Di ko ba nakakalaban sina Pleumjit and 'yung mga senior (players ng mga) teams,” said the Team Philippines flag-bearer during the 2015 SEA Games. “Noong SEA Games naman kasi last time hindi natin sila ka-bracket. I’m really excited.” “I’m really looking forward na makalaban talaga sila o makaharapan lang sila di ba?” she added. “Iba 'yung excitement kasi makakalaban mo ‘yung mga experienced teams tapos ‘yung team namin sobrang bata rin. Feeling ko matututo ako sa mga kids at the same time sa mga veteran ng Thailand also para ma-help pa kung ano 'yung mga kailangan kong i-improve as a player and as an individual also.”     --- Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles       .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 14th, 2017

Nobody is assured of a slot in the national team -- Vicente

Aspiring players seeking inclusion to the national women’s team will need to work and earn their spot to represent the country in the 29th Kuala Lumpur Southeast Asian Games. Head coach Francis Vicente buckled down to business after getting the nod from Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. Thursday to handle the team that will see action in the biennial meet set from August 19 to 31. The University of the East and national youth team mentor said that even the so-called stars and popular names will need to go through the process of screening and tryouts.   A national tryout set on February will be held in Manila, Cebu and Davao where Vicente will pick 16 players for the national pool. “Gusto ko ibalik ang dating sistema na halos magpatayan ang mga players para sa iilang slots sa national team,” said Vicente. “Gusto ko makita silang magutom kasi dun natin mapapatunayan na handa silang gawin lahat para sa bansa natin.” Once formed, the national team will participate in the Asian Under-23 Championship and Asian Senior Championship as part of their build up for the SEA Games.  Vicente, a decorated mentor who steered the University of Sto. Tomas girls high school team to numerous titles and molded the likes of Alyssa Valdez, Kim Fajardo and the Santiago sisters Dindin and Jaja into volleyball gems, said that he will be strict with the process of choosing the members of the national team. He’s looking at a player’s dedication and willingness to sacrifice for the flag and country.  “Nobody is assured of a slot in the national team,” said Vicente. “Even if you’re my former player like Alyssa Valdez, everybody has to go through the process.” “You have to dedicate yourself. You will no longer carry the colors of your university or your club or your league,” he added. “You will carry the colors of your country. So I want her to submit herself if ever she’s interested in joining the national team.”  Valdez, who was a part of the national team that competed in the Asian U-23 Championship and the 2015 Singapore SEA Games where she was also chosen as the country’s flag-bearer during the traditional parade of nations, is set to fly to Thailand on January 15 to join 3BB Nakornnont in the Thai League and Thai-Denmark Super League until April. Valdez, Dindin Santiago-Manabat, Jaja Santiago as well as Aby Marano, Rachel Anne Daquis, Jovelyn Gonzaga, Denden Lazaro, Jia Morado, Bea De Leon, Rhea Dimaculangan, Grethcel Soltones and Maika Ortiz represented the country in its first volleyball participation in the SEA Games since 2005.     --- Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 12th, 2017

Wozniacki's Sydney run ends again before quarterfinals

SYDNEY (AP) — Former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki's streak of not advancing past the quarterfinals in her past seven Sydney Internationals was extended in stifling heat on Wednesday. In temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for much of the match, Wozniacki lost 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-4 to Barbora Strycova in a duel that stretched to 3 hours, 19 minutes. Both players were treated for foot injuries during a grueling second set on Ken Rosewall Arena. Wozniacki came back from 5-2 down in that set, and then 5-0 in the tiebreaker, to win it and force a third set. 'It was brutal out there ... but you just try and think like you're on a beach drinking pina coladas,' Wozniacki said. 'That's basically your train of thought. You know that it's the same for both players, so I was just trying to mentally just try and keep cool.' Strycova will meet the winner of the night match between second-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska and qualifier Duan Yingying in Friday's semifinals. Former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard continued her strong start to the year with a 6-2, 6-3 quarterfinal win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Bouchard had a breakout season in 2014, reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open and French Open before making the final at Wimbledon. But she has only gone past the fourth round at a major once since then and slipped to No. 46 at the end of last year. 'I feel more and more confident every day,' Bouchard said Wednesday. 'I feel like I'm getting back into the rhythm of things a little bit, but it's a long road ...' The Canadian's semifinal opponent will be Sydney-born Johanna Konta of Britain, who beat Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 7-5. Konta broke Kasatkina's service in the 11th game, helped by a double-fault to set up break point in that game. Last year at the Australian Open, Konta became the first British women to make a Grand Slam semifinal since 1983 before losing to eventual champion Angelique Kerber. In men's play at Sydney, two-time defending champion Viktor Troicki beat Paolo Lorenzi 6-3, 6-4. Second-seeded Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay defeated Nicolas Mahut of France 6-4, 2-6, 6-2. At Auckland, New Zealand, American John Isner narrowly avoided the fate of two former champions when he beat Tunisia's Malek Jaziri in a third-set tiebreaker to advance 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (6) to make the quarterfinals of the ASB Classic. Isner won his last three points with volleys at the net. 'The way I need to finish points is that if I can I have to try and finish them at the net,' Isner said. 'I did that three times in a row and I'm very proud of that.' Four former champions were scheduled to play second-round matches Wednesday but by the time the second-seeded Isner took the court, two had bowed out. Defending champion and No. 1-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut was forced to withdraw before play began because of a stomach virus, handing New Zealander Ruben Statham a place in the second round as a lucky loser from the qualifying rounds. The 2015 champion Jiri Vesely was due to play Bautista Agut and thought he had caught a break when the Spaniard withdrew and the 434th-ranked Statham took his place. But Vesely had a tussle on his hands before winning 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-3. Four-time champion David Ferrer was first up on center court and lost 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (4) to Robin Haase of the Netherlands. At the WTA's Hobart International, former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova was beaten 2-6, 6-3, 7-5 by Japanese qualifier Risa Ozaki. Ozaki will next meet Romanian Monica Niculescu. Top-seeded Kiki Bertens advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 11th, 2017

Hopefully may way -- Valdez on joining SEA Games national team

Former Ateneo de Manila Queen Eagle Alyssa Valdez hopes to get a compromise when Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. conducts its tryouts for the national women’s team that will see action in the 29th Southeast Asian Games. Valdez, who was a part of the PHI Team that participated in the 2015 edition of the biennial meet in Singapore, will be away for four months to play in Thailand and will not be available if the appointed head coach conducts the tryouts within the first quarter of the year. Valdez will fly to Thailand on January 15 to join 3BB Nakornnont and play in the Thai League and Thai-Denmark Super League. LVPI is set to name the national team mentor this week. The sports association is looking to form a 16-woman pool that will train as early as possible for the August 19 to 31 meet. “Ako I think as an athlete as a Filipino athlete, ‘yun din naman ang ultimate goal mo (to be a part of the national team) aside from your dreams na makapaglaro internationally,” who also played for the Nationals that participated in the Asian U-23 Women’s Volleyball Championship held in Pasig two years ago. LVPI acting president Peter Cayco earlier said that this SEA Games team will be a mix of six veterans, six young bloods and four reserves as the country guns for a medal after its last podium finish back in the 2005 Manila edition when the Pinay volleybelles snatched a bronze medal.     He also added that LVPI wants to pick players that are willing to give their full commitment to the squad. With Valdez set to play in Thailand, the three-time UAAP Most Valuable Player is looking for a way to get a nod for another tour of duty. “But if 'yung mga circumstances hindi ko rin kayang (bigyan ng time) kasi siyempre may responsibilities ka din. Kasi di ba magi-start na sila ng training? And I’m away din so ayun hopefully magawan din ng paraan,” said the two-time UAAP champion. “I think in both parties naman like Thailand wouldn’t hinder me naman (to play for the national team) for sure kung sa country naman maiintindihan nila ‘yun. Hopefully may way din (na makasali ako sa national team).” The 23-year-old hitter showcased her skills and talents during the country’s first participation in the SEA Games since 2005 and was chosen as the country’s flag-bearer marching aplomb ahead of the 600-strong Team Philippines.   Valdez wants to get another crack of representing the country. “Ultimate dream mo is to represent the country,” she said. “I would really love to do that if given a chance.”       --- Follow this writer on Twitter, @fromtheriles .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 10th, 2017

Cristiano Ronaldo wins FIFA best player award for 4th time

GRAHAM DUNBAR, AP Sports Writer br /> ZURICH (AP) — Capping what he called the best year of his career, Cristiano Ronaldo won his fourth FIFA best player award on Monday. The double European champion with Portugal and Real Madrid beat great rival Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann to complete a sweep of top individual awards. 'It was a year that was magnificent at a personal level and at a sporting level,' the 31-year-old Ronaldo said in Portuguese in his acceptance speech, which he began by exclaiming 'Wow, wow, wow.' Ronaldo's fourth career FIFA award closed the gap on five-time winner Messi, who has been the runner-up to each Ronaldo victory. His 34.54 percent of total voting points in a 23-candidate ballot was clearly better than Messi's 26.42 percent. Griezmann got 7.53 percent. Voting was by national team captains and coaches, selected media, and fans online. Messi did not attend after being pulled out hours before the ceremony by his club Barcelona to prepare for a cup match on Wednesday. 'Of course, I wish that they (Barcelona players) had been here tonight like in the other years. We have to respect the decision,' Ronaldo said. Yet again, Ronaldo and Messi snubbed each other on ballot papers they got as captains of Portugal and Argentina. Ronaldo selected three Real Madrid teammates headed by Gareth Bale, and Messi picked Luis Suarez atop an all-Barcelona ballot. Ronaldo's 2016 trophy haul included the European Championship, Champions League, and Club World Cup, plus individual best player awards from UEFA and France Football magazine. 'I won a lot trophies, collective and individual, so I am proud,' said Ronaldo, adding he would send the inaugural silver FIFA Best trophy to the museum dedicated to his career on his home island, Madeira. Messi's Barcelona won the Spanish league and cup double in 2016, though Argentina lost another Copa America final. Griezmann's France and Atletico Madrid lost their finals to Ronaldo's teams. Ronaldo's mentors for club and country were beaten to the coaching award by Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri, who earned the prize for a stunning English Premier League title. 'What happened last year was something strange. The God of football said Leicester must win,' said Ranieri, who was in his first season at the unfashionable provincial club widely tipped for relegation. Ranieri rose from his seat and politely shook hands with his two opponents, Madrid's Zinedine Zidane and Portugal's Fernando Santos, plus their partners before heading to the stage. The 65-year-old Italian collected his trophy from Diego Maradona, who earlier Monday played in an exhibition match with other retired greats at FIFA headquarters. Carli Lloyd of the United States won a FIFA player prize for the second straight year, despite a quarterfinals exit at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. With gold-medal winner Melanie Behringer of Germany in third place, Lloyd got more than 20 percent of the vote and five-time winner Marta of Brazil was runner-up with 16.6 percent. Behringer got 12.34 percent. 'I honestly was not expecting this,' Lloyd said. 'I know Melanie did fantastic in the Olympics.' Germany did win the women's coaching prize as Silvia Neid earned her second FIFA prize, after also winning the 2010 award. Neid beat two previous winners: last year's winner, Jill Ellis of the United States, and Pia Sundhage of Sweden, the Olympic silver medalist. The Puskas Award for best goal was won in an online poll by Mohd Faiz Subri, who scored with a wildly swerving long-range free kick for Malaysian club Penang. A players' vote organized by international union FIFPro gave a World XI of: Manuel Neuer (Germany, Bayern Munich); Dani Alves (Brazil, Barcelona/Juventus), Sergio Ramos (Spain, Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Spain, Barcelona), Marcelo (Brazil, Real Madrid); Toni Kroos (Germany, Real Madrid), Andres Iniesta (Spain, Barcelona), Luka Modric (Croatia, Real Madrid); Messi, Luis Suarez (Uruguay, Barcelona), Ronaldo. The First FIFA fan award was chosen by fans and was made to supporters of Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, who joined in singing the English club's anthem 'You'll Never Walk Alone' before a Europa League quarterfinal. The other nominees were Iceland fans at Euro 2016, and Dutch club ADO Den Haag, whose fans brought soft toys to children supporting rival team Feyenoord. FIFA made its Fair Play Award to Atletico Nacional, the Colombian club which was scheduled to host Chapecoense in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final on Nov. 30. After most of the Brazilian team died in a plane crash flying to the match, Atletico Nacional asked the South American soccer confederation to present the title and trophy to Chapecoense. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 9th, 2017

Jose Mourinho to face the 'new Mourinho' in League Cup

JUSTIN PALMER, Associated Press br /> LONDON (AP) — Jose Mourinho is preparing to face the man who has been dubbed the 'new Jose Mourinho.' The Manchester United manager will lead his team against Hull on Tuesday in the first leg of the League Cup semifinals. Hull is coached by Marco Silva, a Portuguese manager who has drawn comparisons with Mourinho. 'I'm Marco Silva only,' said Silva, who has been called a 'kid friend' by Mourinho. 'He's a friend also,' Silva said. 'All Portuguese coaches are proud of him for what he did before and for me, what he continues to do in his career.' Hull has been struggling in the Premier League, sitting in last place with only 13 points, while United has won eight consecutive matches and next faces Liverpool in the league on Sunday. 'We play against Liverpool, a big match for us, but we want to be in the (League Cup) final,' Mourinho said. 'So we are going to face this Hull match with everything we have, all the power we have, as we know it's two legs but the second leg is away. If we can do something in the first leg that gives us the advantage, so we will try to do that.' Liverpool plays at Southampton on Wednesday in the other League Cup semifinal, only days after the team was held to a 0-0 draw by Plymouth in the FA Cup. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has since defended his decision of making 10 changes and fielding the club's youngest ever starting lineup against Plymouth. 'If you want to see it (the result) in a bad way then I am 100 percent responsible, I have no problem with that,' Klopp said. Besides the two legs of the League Cup and the match against United, Liverpool also has a replay at Plymouth and matches against Swansea and league leader Chelsea in January. ___ UNITED RECALL After resting a number of key players in Saturday's 4-0 FA Cup win over Reading, Mourinho said he will recall Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Tuesday. Defender Marcos Rojo is a doubt with a muscle injury, however, after coming off in the first half against Reading. United are unable to call on defender Eric Bailly, who is away at the African Cup of Nations. ___ ROONEY TO WAIT? With Zlatan Ibrahimovic back in the starting lineup, Wayne Rooney may have to wait for his chance to become Manchester United's all-time leading scorer after netting his 249th goal for the club against Reading, equaling Bobby Charlton's milestone. ___ FONTE DILEMMA Southampton, which lost all three of its Premier League games over the holiday period and was held to a 2-2 draw by Norwich in the FA Cup over the weekend, has been hit by a transfer request from captain Jose Fonte. The Portugal defender was left out against Norwich and it remains to be seen if manager Claude Puel will recall the 33-year-old Fonte. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 9th, 2017

Former No. 1 Wozniacki beats Olympic champion Puig in Sydney

SYDNEY (AP) — Former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki stepped up her preparations for the Australian Open with 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 win over Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig at the Sydney International on Monday. Wozniacki, who finished back-to-back years at No. 1 in the rankings in 2010 and '11, has never won a major and is determined to make up for a first-round exit at the Australian Open last year. Puig fought back to win the second set and force a decider but the Rio champion eventually succumbed after 2 hours and 10 minutes. Third-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, last year's WTA Finals champion and a finalist at the Australian Open in 2014, opened in Sydney with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Laura Siegemund, advancing along with No. 6-seeded Johanna Konta and No. 9 Roberta Vinci. Americans Christina McHale and CoCo Vandeweghe had wins over seeded players, with McHale beating No. 4 Kateryna Bondarenko 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 and Vandeweghe leading 6-2, 4-0 when No. 8 Elena Vesnina retired from their match. Australian hope Sam Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, had another first-round defeat, losing 6-3, 6-1 to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 63 minutes. On the men's side, fifth-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber beat Fabio Fognini 6-4, 6-4, Matthew Barton beat Kyle Edmund 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) and Daniel Evans had a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over Thiago Monteiro. At the Hobart International, Andrew Petkovic opened with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Nicole Gibbs and No. 11 Johanna Larsson beat Kristyna Pliskova 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-1. Lucie Safarova also advanced, while former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone lost to Jana Jett and No. 7-seeded Kristina Mladenovic was beaten by Elise Mertens. At Auckland, New Zealand, seventh-seeded Steve Johnson overcame an early struggle in a match of contrasting styles to beat Stephane Robert of France 6-4, 6-3 in the opening round of the ASB Classic. Johnson struggled to bring his heavy serve to bear at the start of the match and quickly found himself a break down at 3-1 in the first set. He also took time to find his feet against Robert who troubled him with his softer groundstrokes, deft touches and his thread-the-needle passing shots. 'At the start of the year you don't have much momentum and you try to figure out your game again and how everything works,' Johnson said. 'He came out and played a great game. 'I was in a lot of games on his serve in the first so I just sort of hung around and then fortunately got a break in the second and held onto my serve.' The match pivoted on eighth game when Johnson was finally able to draw level on his sixth breakpoint chance. He then began to serve more confidently, taking the ninth game with his sixth ace of the match and breaking Robert again to end the set. Sixth-seeded Feliciano Lopez rebounded to beat No. 1,035-ranked local wild-card entry Michael Venus 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. Also advancing were Jiri Vesely, who won his only ATP title to date in Auckland in 2015, and Robin Haase. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 9th, 2017

Former No. 1 Wozniacki beats Olympic champion Puig in Sydney

SYDNEY (AP) — Former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki continued her preparations for the Australian Open with 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 win over Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig at the Sydney International on Monday. Wozniacki, who finished back-to-back years at No. 1 in the rankings in 2010 and '11, has never won a major and is determined to make up for a first-round exit at the Australian Open last year. Puig fought back to win the second set and force a decider but the Rio champion eventually succumbed after 2 hours and 10 minutes. Third-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, last year's WTA Finals champion and a finalist at the Australian Open in 2014, opened in Sydney with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Laura Siegemund, advancing along with No. 6-seeded Johanna Konta and No. 9 Roberta Vinci. Americans Christina McHale and CoCo Vandeweghe had wins over seeded players, with McHale beating No. 4 Kateryna Bondarenko 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 and Vandeweghe leading 6-2, 4-0 when No. 8 Elena Vesnina retired from their match. Australian hope Sam Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champion, had another first-round defeat, losing 6-3, 6-1 to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 63 minutes. On the men's side, Matthew Barton beat Kyle Edmund 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) and Daniel Evans had a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over Thiago Monteiro. At the Hobart International, Andrew Petkovic opened with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Nicole Gibbs and No. 11 Johanna Larsson beat Kristyna Pliskova 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-1. Lucie Safarova also advanced, while former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone lost to Jana Jett and No. 7-seeded Kristina Mladenovic was beaten by Elise Mertens. At Auckland, New Zealand, seventh-seeded Steve Johnson overcame an early struggle in a match of contrasting styles to beat Stephane Robert of France 6-4, 6-3 in the opening round of the ASB Classic. Johnson struggled to bring his heavy serve to bear at the start of the match and quickly found himself a break down at 3-1 in the first set. He also took time to find his feet against Robert who troubled him with his softer groundstrokes, deft touches and his thread-the-needle passing shots. 'At the start of the year you don't have much momentum and you try to figure out your game again and how everything works,' Johnson said. 'He came out and played a great game. 'I was in a lot of games on his serve in the first so I just sort of hung around and then fortunately got a break in the second and held onto my serve.' The match pivoted on eighth game when Johnson was finally able to draw level on his sixth breakpoint chance. He then began to serve more confidently, taking the ninth game with his sixth ace of the match and breaking Robert again to end the set. Jiri Vesely, who won his only ATP title to date in Auckland in 2015, advanced to the second round with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Horacio Zeballos, while Robin Haase beat New Zealand qualifier Finn Tearney 6-4, 7-5. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 9th, 2017

Steve Johnson beats Stephane Robert in ASB Classic 1st round

  SYDNEY (AP) — Seventh-seeded American Steve Johnson overcame an early struggle in a match of contrasting fortunes to beat Stephane Robert of France 6-4, 6-3 Monday in the opening round of the ASB Classic tennis tournament in Auckland. Johnson, ranked 33, struggled to bring his heavy serve to bear at the start of the match and quickly found himself a break down at 3-1 in the first set. He also took time to find his feet against Robert who troubled him with his softer groundstrokes, deft touches and his thread-the-needle passing shots. The contrast between the players was shown in the fact that while Johnson was bent on wielding his powerful forehand from the back of the court, Robert played more than 60 percent of points from inside the baseline. Johnson hit nine forehand winners to Robert's seven but Robert had 10 backhand winners to Johnson's four. 'At the start of the year you don't have much momentum and you try to figure out your game again and how everything works,' Johnson said. 'He came out and played a great game. 'I was in a lot of games on his serve in the first so I just sort of hung around and then fortunately got a break in the second and held onto my serve.' The match pivoted around the marathon eighth game of the first set when Johnson was finally able to draw level on his sixth break point chance. He then began to serve more confidently, taking the ninth game with his sixth ace of the match and breaking Robert again to end the set in 51 minutes. Johnson's serve was more influential in the second set — he gave up only one point in his first three service games and broke Robert in the sixth game to lead 4-2. But the Frenchman refused to give up, held for 5-3 and saved two points in the ninth game before Johnson closed out the set and match 6-3. Johnson sent down 11 aces to Robert's three and Robert also paid for his six double faults to Johnson's three. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 8th, 2017

Klopp's decision to field youngest ever side backfires

br /> JEROME PUGMIRE, AP Sports Writer   Juergen Klopp's decision to field Liverpool's youngest ever team backfired Sunday as the Premier League title contender was held 0-0 at home by fourth-tier Plymouth in the third round of the FA Cup. Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino also made sweeping changes, and was made to sweat as his side left it late to beat second-tier Aston Villa 2-0. Chelsea had an easier time, sweeping aside third-tier Peterborough 4-1, with Spanish forward Pedro scoring twice. With games coming thick and fast during the festive season and a midweek trip to Southampton looming in the first leg of the League Cup semifinals, Klopp made 10 changes from the team that drew 2-2 with Sunderland on Monday. But instead of keeping players rested for other competitions, the Liverpool manager now faces an unwanted replay at Plymouth. 'It's my responsibility, the whole thing, the lineup and performance. We could have done better,' Klopp said. 'If you want to see it (the result) in a bad way then I am 100 percent responsible, I have no problem with that.' Liverpool is in second place in the Premier League and well positioned to challenge for the title. Plymouth is second, too, but in the far less glamorous League Two. Despite this it still seemed a risky move by Klopp to select a team with an average age of 21 years, 296 days. 'There is a long season still to go and we need to change,' Klopp said. 'If you make that many changes, it doesn't make it easier for the boys.' The 17-year-old Ben Woodburn — Liverpool's youngest-ever scorer — made his full debut alongside 19-year-olds Ovie Ejaria and Sheyi Ojo in a three-man attacking midfield supporting lone striker Divock Origi. Trent Alexander-Arnold made only his second Liverpool start. Attacking midfielder Adam Lallana, forward Roberto Firmino and England striker Daniel Sturridge were on the bench. Woodburn and Ojo went close early on as Liverpool dominated. But for all of its possession, Liverpool struggled to create further chances. 'We started well but then we lost patience too early,' Klopp said. Klopp brought on Sturridge shortly after the hour mark, and he went close almost immediately with a low shot past the right post. Sturridge then clipped another shot narrowly wide as Liverpool continued to push forward. But even with the introduction of Lallana and Firmino late on — and six minutes of injury time — the winner never came. There were no such frustrations at Stamford Bridge, with Belgium striker Michy Batshuayi and Brazil midfielder Willian getting the other goals. Defender Ben Davies put Tottenham ahead and South Korea forward Son Heung-min scored for Tottenham in the last 20 minutes, while Middlesbrough eased past second-tier Sheffield Wednesday 3-0. Also, 16-year-old Ryan Sessegnon scored Fulham's winner in a 2-1 win at Cardiff — a match pitting teams from the second-tier Championship. Defending champion Manchester United crushed Championship side Reading 4-0 on Saturday, but Premier League Bournemouth, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke lost to lower-league opponents, while Arsenal needed a late winner against Preston to reach the fourth round. ___ CHELSEA 4, PETERBOROUGH 1 Striker Michy Batshuayi got a rare start and welcome goal for his club while Spanish forward Pedro made it three in three games. After Pedro put Chelsea ahead in the 18th minute, Batshuayi made it 2-0 shortly before halftime. Midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek expertly cushioned a cross from the right into Batshuayi's path, and he drilled in a low shot into the bottom corner for his fourth goal of the season. Since joining from French club Marseille for a reported fee of 33 million pounds (around $40 million), Batshuayi has struggled to get games and he had not scored since netting twice in the League Cup on Aug. 23. Pedro set up Willian's goal in the 53rd for 3-0 and — after John Terry was shown a straight red card for hauling back Lee Angol — forward Tom Nichols scored for the visitors. With 15 minutes left, Pedro's curling shot completed a comfortable win. ___ TOTTENHAM 2, ASTON VILLA 0 Defender Ben Davies' first goal for the club was a timely one after second-tier Aston Villa frustrated the home side. Mauricio Pochettino made nine changes from the Tottenham side that beat Chelsea 2-0 in the Premier League on Wednesday and fans at White Hart Lane had to wait until Davies headed home in the 71st minute. South Korea forward Son Heung-min turned in a cross from France midfielder Moussa Sissoko with 10 minutes left. ___ MIDDLESBROUGH 3, SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY 0 Central midfielder Grant Leadbitter put the Premier League side ahead with a free kick in the 58th minute, and Spanish forward Alvaro Negredo showed his alertness to make it 2-0 shortly after. Negredo charged down goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith's attempted clearance, and the ball went off Negredo and into the net. Dutch midfielder Marten de Roon wrapped up the win against the Championship side in injury time. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 8th, 2017

A guide to FIFA's options for expanding the 2026 World Cup

GRAHAM DUNBAR, AP Sports Writer   FIFA is preparing to decide Tuesday on adding 16 more teams to the 2026 World Cup for a 48-team tournament. President Gianni Infantino's favored format would break with soccer tradition to play in groups of only three teams. Two would advance from each group to a Round of 32 knockout bracket. If agreed by the Infantino-chaired FIFA Council in Zurich, the 2026 hosting contest could formally open in weeks. A co-hosted North American bid is widely seen as the best option. Here are some things to know about overhauling the greatest competition in the world's most popular sport: ___ WHY EXPAND? A bigger World Cup was an Infantino campaign promise before his election last February, when his plan was 40 teams. It might have been key. Infantino's momentum for victory in a second-round poll was a three-vote lead over Sheik Salman of Bahrain in the first. Sheik Salman had promised only to review if more World Cup teams were wanted. Infantino also pledged to give more of FIFA's money to member federations — all 211 are now entitled to $5 million from each World Cup — and send more to continental and regional soccer bodies. So, more teams also had to mean more games, earning more revenue from broadcasters and sponsors. The '16x3' format arguably works better with only group winners advancing. But that would leave total matches unchanged at 64. Infantino also wants to create fervor in the extra countries which would qualify. In the short-term, competing national teams attract more sponsors. The long-term goal is appealing to more young people who are the future players, fans and officials. Expect to hear much FIFA talk of helping the next Costa Rica or Iceland — feelgood stories at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 — by inviting 16 more teams to the party. ___ 48-TEAM OPTIONS A near-consensus is growing around the '16x3' option revealed just one month ago. All 80 games would be played in exclusive time slots. That's more hours of TV exposure for sponsors and sales time for broadcasters in the same 32-day tournament period. By advancing two teams from each group, a Round of 32 ensures most teams still play at least three matches. FIFA's own analysis predicts this format will raise revenue by 20 percent from the equivalent $5.5 billion forecast from the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The flaw for purists is planning for penalty shootouts to settle drawn group matches. If each game has a 'winner' that guards against teams colluding on a mutually favorable result in the last group games. Previously, Infantino suggested an opening playoff round of 16 matches to decide who would join 16 seeded teams in a traditional 32-team group phase. That was unacceptable to many FIFA members federations who said 'one-and-done' teams were not part of a real World Cup. It also would stretch the tournament to 39 days. ___ 40-TEAM OPTIONS Infantino's plan from one year ago is now almost friendless. Either of two options, 10 groups of four teams or eight five-team groups, gives lopsided or weak match schedules, FIFA judged. In '10x4,' only 76 matches are played and only six group runners-up advance from a muddled tiebreaker process to a Round of 16. In '8x5,' the 88 matches include meaningless ones in a flabby group phase ripe for collusion. Also, the four semifinalists would play eight matches and that workload is unacceptable to European clubs releasing employees to national-team duty. ___ PROVEN 32-TEAM FORMAT Why fix something that is not broken? Germany, the defending champion, has publicly asked this question. The 32-team format and perfect 64-match bracket has worked well since being introduced at the 1998 World Cup in France (where Europe had 15 teams). FIFA acknowledged that it produces the best soccer — 'the highest absolute quality' of games pitting high-ranked teams against each other. Recall that former winners Italy, England and Uruguay were drawn in the same 2014 World Cup group — and yet Costa Rica finished top. Still, enough of FIFA's 211 members want change and their chance to play. ___ WHO WILL PLAY? A big question is likely not being resolved Tuesday. FIFA has yet to announce exactly how many entry slots each of six confederations would get for their own qualifying program. Quotas for a 40-team World Cup were proposed in December 2015 by a FIFA advisory group that included Infantino, then UEFA's general secretary. Some saw a cynical move to sweeten skeptical FIFA voters who were being asked to vote through modernizing and anti-corruption reforms on the same day they picked a new president. Then, assuming a single host nation would get automatic entry, the proposal for sharing 39 qualifying slots was: Europe 14; Africa 7; Asia 6; South America 5; North, Central America and Caribbean 5; Oceania 1; plus a final slot awarded 'based on sporting merits using a method yet to be defined.' Going from 40 to 48 can add at least one more from each continent. Who could those new teams be? On current form, maybe Wales and Panama, Congo and Burkina Faso, Uzbekistan and Oman, will bring something new to the 2026 World Cup. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 8th, 2017

Ronaldo favored to win his 4th FIFA award as world's best

GRAHAM DUNBAR, AP Sports Writer br /> Cristiano Ronaldo's remarkable run of success can continue with a fourth FIFA award as the world's best player on Monday. A European champion with club and country last year, the Real Madrid and Portugal forward is favored to beat great rival Lionel Messi and France forward Antoine Griezmann when winners of the rebranded Best FIFA Football Awards are presented in Zurich. Messi leads Ronaldo 5-3 in their career-long duel for FIFA's top individual prize. However, Ronaldo is set to complete a hat-trick of major awards for 2016 after taking home trophies presented by UEFA and France Football magazine's prestiguous Golden Ball. FIFA will also name the best women's player, and the best coaches in men's and women's soccer. Voting is by national team captains and coaches, selected journalists and — for the first time — an online poll of fans. Each category counts for 25 percent of the points. Here is a look ahead to the awards ceremony: ___ CRISTIANO RONALDO After Messi in 2015, it was Ronaldo's turn to win the Champions League in 2016 as the prolific scorer netted 16 goals in the competition. He also got the decisive penalty in a shootout after a 1-1 draw with Griezmann's Atletico Madrid. But where he really dominated Messi was on the national-team stage. Ronaldo captained Portugal to a long-awaited first title at the European Championship — two weeks after Messi's Argentina again lost the Copa America final to Chile. Portugal seemed a long way from glory, and faced a humiliating group-stage exit, before Ronaldo's two goals helped salvage a 3-3 draw with Hungary. He also netted in the 2-0 semifinal win against Wales. In the final against host France, Ronaldo went off injured in the first half, then returned to the bench for extra time as — with his knee strapped — he passionately urged teammates on to a 1-0 win. For good measure, Ronaldo scored a Club World Cup final hat trick against Kashima Antlers in December, but that was after FIFA voting had closed. ___ LIONEL MESSI Messi looks to extend a streak of being winner or runner-up in nine straight seasons since placing second behind Kaka of Brazil in 2007. Last year, Messi and won a Spanish league and Cup double with Barcelona. Yet there was another painful Copa America final loss — a third straight year Argentina lost a major final without scoring — and a Champions League quarterfinal exit against Atletico. Nearing his 30th birthday, Messi's prolific scoring rate has not slowed, and 10 goals in the Champions League group stage means that Ronaldo's season record of 17 — set in 2013-14 — is within his sight this year. ___ ANTOINE GRIEZMANN Griezmann's goals helped get France and Atletico Madrid into major finals in 2016. In the Champions League final in Milan, Atletico trailed 1-0 to its city rival when Griezmann missed with a penalty kick that struck the crossbar. Still, he confidently converted his kick in the penalty shootout. Griezmann's six goals at Euro 2016 made him the tournament top scorer. In a tricky round of 16 match, his two goals overturned an early Ireland lead, and he also struck twice — including a coolly taken penalty — against favored Germany in the semifinals. However, he missed two good chances in the final against Portugal as France 1-0 in extra time. ___ COACHING AWARD Could the coach of a provincial club side beat the men who coached European champions Real Madrid and Portugal? Yes, when that coach is Italian Claudio Ranieri and his team, unheralded Leicester City, won an English Premier League title that delighted and stunned fans worldwide. Zinedine Zidane started 2016 having never coached a senior match. The newly appointed Madrid coach won a Champions League title within five months and started 2017 riding a 37-match unbeaten run. Fernando Santos marshalled one of the less obviously talented Portugal teams of recent years to win Euro 2016 despite winning only one of its seven matches during the 90 minutes. ___ WOMEN'S AWARDS Germany's Olympic gold medal-winning team is favored to sweep the awards. Midfielder Melanie Behringer is challenging two past FIFA award winners: defending champion Carli Lloyd of the United States and five-time winner Marta of Brazil. All three coaching candidates are previous FIFA award winners: Silvia Neid of Germany, last year's winner Jill Ellis of the United States and Pia Sundhage of Sweden. ___ FIFA AWARDS FIFA has added a Fan Award to its annual ceremony, and all three candidates from an online poll are European. Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, whose fans sang You'll Never Walk Alone before a Europa League match at Anfield; Dutch club ADO Den Haag, whose fans brought soft toys to children supporting rival team Feyenoord; and the Iceland fans at Euro 2016 for their inspirational clapping salute to players after games. A fans' vote will also decide the Puskas Award for best goal. The candidates are: Marlone of Corinthians, Daniuska Rodriguez of the Venezuela women's Under-17 team, and Mohd Faiz Subri of Malaysian side Penang. FIFA will also present a Fair Play award, and members of the players' union FIFPro worldwide have voted to select a World XI team. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 6th, 2017

Coach Conte hopes Oscar, Mikel departures are the only ones

Associated Press br /> LONDON (AP) — Coach Antonio Conte hopes he has seen the last of the Chelsea exodus to the lucrative Chinese Super League. Midfielder John Obi Mikel followed hot on the heels of Brazilian playmaker Oscar's big-money move to Shanghai SIPG when he joined Tianjin TEDA on Friday. Although neither were key players in Conte's squad this season, the Chelsea coach does not want any more of his players following them. 'I hope this offer from China finishes with Mikel and Oscar,' Conte said Friday. 'I think that it's important now to remain with this squad.' The Italian, who took charge this season, hinted at bringing in reinforcements in the January transfer window but said the Premier League leader is 'not close' to recruiting anyone yet. He has, however, ruled out bringing in a center back with France defender Kurt Zouma available again following a long-term knee injury. 'I don't think we need another central defender,' Conte said. Zouma will start Sunday's FA Cup third round match against third-tier Peterborough at Stamford Bridge, as will Belgium striker Michy Batshuayi, who has been given limited opportunities since his move from Marseille in the summer. 'I have a good opportunity in this game to see Michy from the start,' Conte said. 'I think it's important. He's working a lot. I'm seeing that he's improving. Sunday for him, but also for other players, could be a good opportunity to show me that he deserves to play more.' Chelsea's run of 13 consecutive league wins ended with a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham on Wednesday and Italian Conte wants a quick response. 'One defeat is enough for us now. In every game our mentality must be that we have to try to win every game,' he said. 'FA Cup or league (it) doesn't change. I want always the same mentality, the right mentality, a winning mentality.'   .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 6th, 2017

Roger Federer loses close match to Zverev at Hopman Cup

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Roger Federer found himself overmatched — just — by a younger and stronger-serving opponent on Wednesday, losing 7-6 (1), 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4) to 19-year-old Alexander Zverev of Germany at the Hopman Cup. The 35-year-old Federer was playing just his second match since returning from a six-month layoff because of a left knee injury. He led 5-2 in the first set, but ran into an opponent whose first-serve percentage exceeded 80 percent midway through the final set of the 2 ½-hour match in the mixed teams tournament. 'I thought we both played really well,' Zverev said of his second career win over Federer. 'But I always play unbelievable against him.' Serving to stay in the match at 5-6, someone in the 13,700-capacity crowd at Perth Arena crowd yelled out: 'Let's have another tiebreaker.' Non-plussed, Zverev smiled and replied: 'What do you think I am trying to do?' Andrea Petkovic will try to clinch the match for Germany when she plays Federer's Swiss teammate Belinda Bencic in women's singles, with a mixed doubles match to follow. Switzerland won its opening match against Britain. A comeback victory over Germany would leave France and Switzerland playing for a spot in Saturday's final when they conclude round-robin play on Friday. Otherwise, Switzerland, Germany and France would all be 1-1 going into the last set of round-robin matches. Earlier Wednesday, France's Kristina Mladenovic and Richard Gasquet won their singles matches to give France victory over Britain. Mladenovic beat Heather Watson 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 before Gasquet defeated Dan Evans 6-4, 6-2. Gasquet and Mladenovic later defeated Evans and Watson 4-3, 4-3 in mixed doubles, played in the Fast4 format, to complete a sweep. Temperatures during the opening match rose to as high as 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), forcing both players to conserve their energy. 'It was definitely difficult,' said Mladenovic, who estimated she drank seven bottles of fluid during the match. 'Sometimes you would like to try to put more intensity, but you have to be smart sometimes and maybe not run down every single ball.' The United States, represented by Coco Vandeweghe and Jack Sock, have already qualified for the final from Group B after beating Czech Republic and Spain in its opening matches. On Thursday, Czech Republic plays Spain and defending champion Australia takes on the U.S. .....»»

Category: sportsSource:  abscbnRelated NewsJan 4th, 2017