By Iain RogersClashes between Real Madrid and Barcelona are rarely short on drama and Saturday’s La Liga ‘Clasico’ (7pm) may have more than its usual share with Luis Suarez poised to return from a biting ban and Barca team-mate Lionel Messi on the brink of equalling the top-flight scoring record.Watched by millions around the world, meetings between the European heavyweights have, over the years, showcased the spectacular talents of the game’s best, while occasionally being marred by ugly controversy.The matches are also played out against the background of national politics and the latest edition has an added edge given the ongoing battle between the central government in Madrid and the Catalan administration in Barcelona over the region’s independence drive.It is not for nothing that a recent book chronicling the Real-Barca rivalry by Spanish football specialist Sid Lowe was entitled ‘Fear and Loathing in La Liga’.Those who have graced the ‘Clasico’ over the years include Real greats Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Raul and Barca legends Ladislao Kubala, Cesar Rodriguez and Diego Maradona, while the current crop of players boasts multiple Ballon d’Or winners Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi.The unseemly side of arguably the biggest fixture in club football has seen Barca fans toss the head of a suckling pig at Real midfielder Figo – who left Barca to join their arch rivals – and his Portuguese compatriot Jose Mourinho, at the time in charge at Real, poking Barca assistant coach Tito Vilanova in the eye during a mass brawl.Saturday’s game at the Bernabeu, the 169th La Liga meeting between the world’s richest clubs by income, is unlikely to produce incidents of similar magnitude and Barca will be hoping Suarez and Messi make headlines for the right reasons.Suarez’s four-month ban for biting an opponent at the World Cup expires on Friday and the Uruguay forward could make his official Barca debut in a formidable three-pronged attack with Messi and Neymar.Messi, meanwhile, is one goal short of the Liga scoring record of 251, set six decades ago by Telmo Zarra, and the 27-year-old Argentina captain is the leading scorer in ‘Clasicos’ with 21 goals in all competitions, two more than Di Stefano.Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic, who joined from Sevilla in the close season and could feature in his first Real-Barca game, summed up what taking part in a ‘Clasico’ means to a player.“I dreamed about it as a child but now I don’t want to dream about it I want to experience it,” Rakitic said in an interview with Spanish television broadcaster Gol Television this week.“I used to watch them at home with my wife as a football fan because it’s a match in which the world’s best players clash,” added the Croatia international.“Hopefully I won’t have to watch it on TV again because I want to experience it on the pitch.”After an early-season wobble, Real have been in scintillating form in recent weeks and Ronaldo has netted a jaw-dropping 15 goals in seven La Liga outings.Messi and Neymar have also been typically prolific, with the Argentine on seven goals and the Brazilian on eight.A win for leaders Barca, who have yet to concede a goal in eight La Liga matches this term and won both fixtures last season, would stretch their advantage over third-placed Real to seven points.Real are likely to be without Wales winger and record signing Gareth Bale, who has a buttock muscle strain and missed the Liverpool game, while Spain centre back Sergio Ramos has been sidelined by a calf injury.“We’re in good form and in good shape, focused and playing really well,” Real coach Carlo Ancelotti said after Wednesday’s 3-0 Champions League success at Liverpool.“We go into the Clasico in great shape and Barcelona also go into the match in ideal condition.”The stage is set then for another titanic battle when there will be far more than a mere three points in the La Liga title race at stake.
By Mark GleesonMoeen Ali took three wickets on Wednesday as England made quick work of securing victory in the first Test by bundling out South Africa for 174 before lunch and ensure a 241-run win on the last day at Kingsmead in DurbanIt was only the second triumph in the opening Test of a series for England in 11 years as South Africa’s status as the top-ranked Test nation looked distinctly hollow, extending their number of successive Tests without a win to seven.England will take a massive morale boost into the rest of the four-test series with a quick turnaround time before the second test starts in Cape Town on Saturday.South Africa already had their backs to the wall at 136 for four wickets overnight, chasing an improbable 416 for a win, and their hopes of survival rested heavily on AB de Villiers.But the stumper-batsman lasted only three balls at the start of the final day and was out on his overnight score of 37.De Villiers was trapped leg before wicket to Ali and failed to overturn the decision on review with the television technology showing the ball would have grazed the leg stump.South Africa had still not added a run to their overnight tally when Temba Bavuma was stumped by Jonny Bairstow off Ali’s bowling in just his second over of the day.Nightwatchman Dale Steyn was bowled by Steven Finn, who had been the wrecker-in-chief late on the fourth day, and Kyle Abbott was also trapped lbw by Ali as England grabbed the first four wickets of the day for just seven runs.Dane Piedt tried his best at stonewalling, going 27 balls without scoring before edging a ball from Chris Woakes onto his pads, which popped up for James Taylor to catch at short-leg.The last man out was Morne Morkel, leg before to Stuart Broad for eight, leaving JP Duminy 26 not out as he held up one end for South Africa.Finn finished with figures of 4-42, while Ali took 3-47.The second test at Newlands runs from Jan. 2-6 with the two remaining matches in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
By Shravanth Vijayakumar Manager Arsene Wenger has rejected doubts about Arsenal’s title credentials, saying statistics back him up about the Premier League leaders on New Year’s Day.Monday’s comfortable 2-0 win over Bournemouth ensured the Gunners end the year on top of the table, above Leicester City on goal difference.Arsenal have ended the year on top of the Premier League table on three previous occasions in the last 14 years but they could not go on to win the title in any of those seasons.“It shows you that we have a good chance as the statistics show you that eight of the past 11 years the team who was top on New Year’s Day won it,” Wenger told reporters.“I believe that we are mature enough and that we have the requested quality to fight and compete.“You question our mentality, I don’t. We have to rise above that and show that we can deal with all that and I believe we have to be guided by playing better football and being a real team in every game and show that we can be competitive.“The most important thing is to feel, at the end of the season, that we have given absolutely everything to be successful.“After that, if somebody has been better than us, we will accept it, but we want to fight to show that we have a chance.“I will remind you that only one team won the league without losing a game. That is Arsenal Football Club. It is not the date (New Year’s Day) that is decided you win the league.Arsenal last won the league in 2004 when the famous ‘Invincibles’ side romped to the title without losing a single game that campaign.Wenger’s men host third-from-bottom Newcastle United in the league on Saturday.
By Alan BaldwinFirst time Olympic winners, including Australian teen Kyle Chalmers in the 100 metres freestyle, plundered three of the four golds in the Rio pool on Wednesday but there was no getting past Katie Ledecky.On a night of novelty, with Mireia Belmonte becoming Spain’s first women’s Olympic swimming gold medallist and Dmitry Balandin winning Kazakhstan’s first medal and title in the sport at a Games, freestyle phenomenon Ledecky provided consistency.Swimming the anchor leg of the 4x200m freestyle relay, the American reeled in the Australian women and brought home her third gold of the Rio Games.It also gave Missy Franklin, the now-struggling 2012 sensation, a first gold of the Games after she swam in the heats but not the final.“I think I was prepared for any circumstance, whether we were ahead or behind. I just knew that these three girls were going to put me in a good position to finish it out and I knew I could do it,” Ledecky said.“It’s so easy to get up and swim fast when you’re swimming for three other people.”Olympic debutant Chalmers swam fast for himself, eclipsing better-fancied team mate Cameron McEvoy to take his first individual Olympic gold medal after claiming bronze in Sunday’s 4x100m freestyle.Trailing seventh at the turn, Chalmers powered through the field in the last 50 metres to become the first Australian man to win the event since Mike Wenden at the Mexico City Games in 1968.The victory also made him Australia’s youngest swimming Olympic champion since Ian Thorpe won gold at the 2000 Sydney Games aged 17.“I have definitely flown under the radar,” said the Australian of a win that took him by surprise.“I flew under the radio at the trials, I stayed away from the media and just did my own thing.“Coming into this, I didn’t think it was possible,” he added of the victory.UNDER THE RADARBelgium’s Pieter Timmers won the silver medal and defending champion Nathan Adrian of the United States the bronze.Balandin said he had also flown in ‘under the radar.’“I think the whole of Kazakhstan is celebrating right now,” he said of his 200m breaststroke win.Belmonte won the 200m butterfly after an individual medley bronze on Saturday. She won two silvers in 2012 in the 200m butterfly and 800m freestyle.In the heats for Thursday’s women’s 100m freestyle final, Australia’s Campbell sisters Bronte and Cate will swim against each other after winning gold together in the 4x100m relay.Michael Phelps was also back in action in the heats for the 200m individual medley, after winning two golds on Tuesday to take his career haul to 21.Phelps, 31, is bidding to become the first swimmer to win the same event at four consecutive Olympics.He and old rival and U.S. team mate Ryan Lochte were the fastest qualifiers.Lochte, who has 12 Olympic medals to Phelps’ 25, is swimming the 200 IM as his sole individual event in Rio.
England manager Sam Allardyce will make three changes for his first match in charge against Slovakia on Sunday (7pm) in their opening Group F qualifier for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, British media reported.Defender John Stones plus midfielders Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana are recalled, replacing Chris Smalling, Dele Alli and Daniel Sturridge from the team that suffered a shock 2-1 defeat by Iceland in the last 16 at Euro 2016.Goalkeeper Joe Hart, who has left Manchester City for Torino on a season-long loan after falling out of favour under Pep Guardiola, keeps his place for the game at Trnava’s City Arena.Manchester City’s new £47.5 million signing Stones, who did not feature at the Euros in France, will partner Cahill in central defence, with Tottenham Hotspur’s Kyle Walker and Danny Rose retained in the full-back positions.Eric Dier holds on to the defensive midfield role alongside Henderson, with captain Wayne Rooney, who will become England’s most capped outfield player surpassing David Beckham’s 115, in an attacking role just behind forward Harry Kane.Raheem Sterling and Lallana will play on the flanks.England were held to a disappointing 0-0 draw by Slovakia in the group stage at Euro 2016 after then manager Roy Hodgson surprisingly made several changes to his team but Allardyce reckons they will be a different proposition at home.“I didn’t watch them in the Euros because I think different tactics will be used by Slovakia when they are playing at home,” he was quoted as saying by The Independent website.“They only needed a point in the Euros, so they sat back and were very defensively minded and really chose not to attack at all because they only needed a point. I think the onus will now be on them to come and attack us and win their home game.“It will be very important for them and their manager and that might hopefully leave our creative players a little bit more space to break them down where they failed in the Euros.”However, Allardyce, who rejected the chance to play a warm-up friendly at Wembley Stadium, knows he is already under pressure to ensure England get off to a good start.“Massively, yes,” he said. “And there is a huge need to at the very least come back with a result.”England team:Joe Hart; Kyle Walker, Gary Cahill, John Stones, Danny Rose; Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson; Adam Lallana, Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling; Harry Kane
In his speech at the official opening of the PNG Power National Softball Club Fast Pitch tournament, President of the PNG Softball Federation, Ralph Tarasomo said teams from Western Highlands had always made the journey to take part in the national or club championships.”They always give their heart and soul when they take part.”We are happy to bring softball back to Hagen after some 15 years,” said Tarasomo.The Club Championships will end on Sunday with the finals.
It was a display of a sea of colours as 15 of the country’s top softball clubs marched around the oval flying high their provincial flags and the national flag to open the championships as well as celebrate 41 years of PNG’s independence.Present to officially open the championships was State Enterprises Minister, William Duma.Duma, who is also the Member for Hagen welcomed the teams to the province.”I’ve always been a strong supporter of sports in Western Highlands sponsoring sports like soccer, basketball and netball.”I believe more people playing sports means a healthy country,” said Duma.Duma showed his support for the code of softball giving K10,000 to add on to the prize money for the championships and an additional K10, 000 to the 15 teams to help with their expenses during their stay in the province.Deputy President of the Hagen Softball Association, John Horaki added that the people of Hagen appreciated the championships being brought to the Highlands after a long time.”We appreciate your presence here. It’s unfortunate that not all clubs around the country could make it.”Your safety is guaranteed here. Enjoy the championships and play your best,” said Horaki.Day two of the championships resumed after the opening ceremony.
Wilder is rehabbing injuries sustained in the fourth defence of his WBC heavyweight title and expects Joshua, the IBF champion, to find a “willing and determined” opponent in Eric Molina on December 10, live on Sky Sports Box Office.Wilder believes Molina was chosen as a challenger partly to introduce Joshua to an American audience with a view to a blockbuster unification bout next year.”This is the build-up, if he is able to get the job done, to a unification fight,” Wilder told Sky Sports.”If he comes victorious, everyone wants to see him fight the man. And I am the man. No matter what people say, I am the man, especially in America.”[Joshua’s upcoming fight] is good for the viewers of America. This fight will get a few more Americans on tune with who Joshua is.”2017 will be a beautiful year. Our goal is to unify the division so we need others that want to put their title on the line.”2017 is all about risk-taking and I think it’s going to happen. There’s so much going on with belts and sanctions but, if I have my pick, I want to come back with a bang and unify the division with somebody.”If you’re at the top, no matter who you are – especially if you’re a belt-holder – we want you.”Wilder and Joshua are currently the only recognised world heavyweight champions after Tyson Fury vacated his WBA ‘Super’ and WBO belts.
Speaking exclusively to Sporting News cageside at Madison Square Garden ahead of a historic night of fights, Gallen said the tall poppy syndrome that pervades Australian sport would quickly put any McGregor-like character back in his place.Case in point: Jarryd Hayne.“Being at the top of the NRL, it’s sometimes a little bit disappointing because I saw the way Jarryd Hayne spoke when he came back and it was all very much about himself – I didn’t mind it,” said Gallen.“I thought it was confidence, but other people take it the wrong way.“Sport in America and sport in Australia is so different because of that.“We have a real tall poppy syndrome in Australia. It keeps people grounded in some respect, but it’s also not ideal in other respects.”Gallen will step into the boxing ring for the sixth time to fight Junior Paulo later this month, but says there’s little chance he’ll be able to bring the same brash approach as McGregor.“He’s very charismatic, Conor, he knows how to get the crowd going and I suppose that’s why there’s going to be tens of thousands of people here tonight because he’s the boss at the moment,” the Premiership winning captain said.“I just love the way McGregor carries on. I couldn’t do it – I couldn’t. I’d love to be as out there and loose as he is, but it’s pretty tough to do.“It definitely wouldn’t fly in Australia, but if anyone could do it, it’d be Conor McGregor.“It’s tall poppy syndrome and Haynesy’s said nothing wrong at all and I praise him for what he’s done.“And it’s not just rugby league, it’s all sports, everything in life. It’s just the way it is.”
Deputy chairwoman of the FIFA organising committee, Sonia Bien Aime, gave closing remarks on the tournament, saying she would like to commend the fans and supporters.“I have been to many and I must admit that I was blown away and surprised, even I was told that the people are friendly, but what I have seen in the stadium is just amazing,” she said.She added that she really didn’t know what to expect when she got here.“But the way it turns out was just amazing and I was tremendously surprised to see people still supporting the other teams, even though the PNG team has left the tournament. This is just how passionate you people are with sports.”Moreover, to go out and actually spread the campaign is another major part of the tournament which FIFA is proud to say, being the host nation, we have done well.“The Live your Goals campaign, the meri football league and End Violence campaign were the outstanding FIFA campaigns throughout this tournament and we are proud to say that the host nation has done well.”