Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wenger delight at Arsenal spirit

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes his side's comeback victory over Standard Liege in the Champions League could prove pivotal for their season.

The Gunners went 2-0 down within five minutes in Belgium, but hit back late on to win the Group H opener 3-2.

That followed back-to-back Premier League defeats, and Wenger said: "When you're at a big club, you cannot afford to have too many defeats on the trot.

"After being 2-0 down, this will strengthen belief within the group."

The result gave Arsenal their first away victory in Europe since they beat Fenerbahce 5-2 in October 2008 and puts them top of Group H by virtue of goals scored.

In the group's other encounter, Greek side Olympiakos claimed a 1-0 home win against Dutch debutants AZ Alkmaar.

Arsenal will aim to consolidate their position when they host Olympiacos, who on Wednesday announced Brazil legend Zico as their new manager, at the Emirates Stadium on 29 September.

And Wenger will be keen for his side to make a better start to that match than they did against Liege at a vibrant Maurice Dufrasne Stadium.
Less than two minutes were on the clock when Eliaquim Mangala capitalised on an Eduardo error to fire past goalkeeper Vito Mannone and, two minutes later, Milan Jovanovic converted a penalty after William Gallas clipped the Serbia forward.

"We were caught cold by a team who were really ready and started out of the blocks at full power," said Wenger.

"Standard gave absolutely everything. They played like it was a cup final, with full commitment - and they deserve a lot of credit.

"When you go 2-0 down after five minutes, you know you have a big task in front of you. To win away from home in the Champions League and score three goals will always be tough.

"You are in a position where you have to attack with full power, without restriction, and know that the next goal will kill you.

The Gunners regained their composure and hit back on the stroke of half-time through Nicklas Bendtner, before Thomas Vermaelen tapped home and Eduardo converted a Cesc Fabregas corner from close range with his knee to complete the comeback.

"We could not afford to concede a third goal but had to try to come back to 2-1 at least before half-time - which is what we did," Wenger continued.

"In the second half, the game dropped a bit in physical intensity. When they got tired, we got some set-pieces and took advantage."

And the Frenchman admitted it was "inevitable" Eduardo would have a say in the match having been cleared to play after his two-match European suspension was rescinded this week.

The Croatia striker was initially banned by European football's governing body after being found guilty of diving to win a penalty in the Champions League qualifier against Celtic on 26 August.

"It is always inevitable with Eduardo," said Wenger. "He was caught out on the first goal but he is a guy who can always turn up on crosses because he has that anticipation."

As for the penalty his side conceded and the equaliser with which Arsenal scored - when Alex Song, from what appeared to be an offside position, seemed to handle the ball in the build-up - Wenger added: "The penalty looked harsh, but I have not seen it again.

"As for our equaliser, it was impossible to see from the bench."

Meanwhile, Liege coach Laszlo Boloni lamented the fact his side dropped so deep after taking the early lead.

"We started very well, but were not strong enough mentally to continue the same way in the second half," he said. "We sat back in midfield, so all the pressure was too much for us.

"Arsenal had good help from the referee at their second goal - two players were offside and there was also a handball.

"This was the moment when they got more motivation and we lost ours, but the biggest problem was we have to play better."

Liverpool hope for power surge

As with Chelsea on Tuesday, the currency that counts at this stage of the Champions League is points not performances. Liverpool's subdued display will not be recalled if they reach the knockout phase, which they surely will.

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Liverpool hope for power surge

Post categories: Champions League, Football

Phil McNulty | 23:44 UK time, Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Liverpool's great European nights at Anfield can - according to managing director Christian Purslow - supply him with a surge of energy on a par with being plugged into the National Grid. This was not one of them.

The particular occasion Purslow had in mind was the 2005 Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, so comparisons with an opening group game against Debrecen, Hungary's first representatives in this phase for 14 years, are unfair.

If ever a game needed a few thousand volts shot through it to jolt it into life, it was this undistinguished affair settled by Dirk Kuyt's goal in first-half stoppage time.

This was more power cut than power surge. Even Anfield itself was lacking its usual electricity, with the rare sight of empty seats and a wave of supreme indifference sweeping around Liverpool's supporters at the final whistle.

Liverpool's win was more memorable for milestones than the match itself. It was their 100th win in Europe's elite competition in Rafael Benitez's 300th game as manager.

And yet, for all the failings of a disjointed performance, this was a satisfactory end to a satisfactory week for Liverpool, with Purslow rightly proclaiming the benefits of a new £80m shirt sponsorship deal with investment bank Standard Chartered.

As with Chelsea on Tuesday, the currency that counts at this stage of the Champions League is points not performances. Liverpool's subdued display will not be recalled if they reach the knockout phase, which they surely will.

Dirk Kuyt scores for LiverpoolDirk Kuyt scores Liverpool's winner against Standard Liege

A win was what was required to round off a spell where they have reasserted a measure of authority on the pitch with victories over Bolton, Burnley and now Debrecen and flexed muscle off the pitch with the new shirt deal and a positive blizzard of statements of intent.
It does not take a massive leap of the imagination to hear Sir Alex Ferguson's teeth grinding as some brave soul plucks up the courage to read those words to him.

Time will tell whether more actions will follow these bold statements. There is no bad news in signing such a lucrative deal, but Liverpool's fans will only feel the warm glow of Purslow's words when they see how much of Standard Bank's cash lands in Benitez's lap and how long it takes for foundations to be laid for a new stadium on Stanley Park.

The new deal is a promising starting point and there is a sense around Anfield that the club is finally moving forward again and that there is, although you should whisper this one, a semblance of normality returning after recent boardroom traumas.
It was against this backdrop that Liverpool's latest Champions League pursuit began. Benitez admits Liverpool's priority this season is the Premier League, but offer a proud son of Madrid a place in the final at the Bernabeu next May and he might just reconsider.

And the sight of Fernando Torres, the one-time icon of Atletico Madrid, strolling around the Anfield pitch cradling his baby daughter an hour after the final whistle while deep in conversation with another team-mate from the city Pepe Reina, was a reminder that there are special incentives at work in this tournament for Liverpool.
simply playing at Anfield was illustrated by members of the club's hierarchy cheering wildly when they won a corner - then producing cameras to record the moment for posterity.

And their spirits were helped by a Liverpool team who struggled for rhythm. Kuyt did well in the role Steven Gerrard has made his own just behind Torres. The captain dropped to a deeper role, but the sooner he is restored to riding shotgun with Torres the better as far as Liverpool are concerned.

Gerrard kept Lucas company in central midfield while Javier Mascherano remained on the bench. The Argentine's season has simply failed to get going and it is to be hoped, for his and Liverpool's sake, that this is a temporary blip and not leftovers from the blocking of a summer switch to Barcelona.

It does not take a long memory to recall that Liverpool have had their struggles in group games in the past before emerging as contenders in the closing stages of the Champions League.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Spain's Pitch for Soccer Dominance

Stars, World Titles and Lavish Spending Push La Liga to the Fore; Can England Keep Up?

As the UEFA Champions League, soccer's top club tournament, kicked off its group stage this week, all eyes were on two teams, both Spanish: Barcelona, the defending champion, and its arch-rival, Real Madrid, who this summer went on an unprecedented spending spree for some of the world's best players.
In the never-ending debate over which nation boasts the best domestic league, events in the past four months have led many to suggest the balance has tipped decisively towards Spain's La Liga at the expense of England's Premier League.

Barcelona won the Champions League last May and added Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic to an already fearsome lineup that includes Argentine star Lionel Messi and Spanish national team vice captain Xavi Hernández. But it was Real Madrid that grabbed the headlines last summer, shattering the world transfer record twice within a few days to acquire the Brazilian star Kaká from AC Milan for $89 million and the Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United for $131 million.

The club made a further outlay of $140 million on another five players including striker Karim Benzema from Lyon and midfielder Xabi Alonso from Liverpool bringing the total to around $360 million and making this easily the most expensive squad ever assembled. Real Madrid beat Zurich 5-2 in Tuesday's Champions League match.

It wasn't just the amount of money spent that represents a watershed in the game. It was the fact that Real Madrid knocked on the doors of its biggest rivals and forced them to give up their biggest stars. Imagine the Washington Redskins picking up Tom Brady from the New England Patriots, DeMarcus Ware from the Dallas Cowboys, Adrian Peterson from the Minnesota Vikings and Asante Samuel from the Philadelphia Eagles and you begin to get the picture.

The man who made this happen, Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez, has had the media camped out on his doorstep since he was elected to the post on June 1 which is pretty much the way he likes it.

This is Mr. Pérez's second stint in the office. In the first, between 2000 and 2006, he regularly showed what a combination of showmanship, dream-peddling and cold, hard cash can do. He made a habit of signing the best player available year after year, often at great expense, and sold the notion that you could build a great team with half a dozen superstars and a supporting cast of cheap youngsters. Eventually the club's lack of depth became telling, and he resigned in 2006.

This time Mr. Pérez's heavy spending includes some less glamorous workmanlike players such as Raul Albiol, a defender acquired from Valencia for $21 million.

Whether it works on the pitch, Real's spending coupled with Barcelona's response has given La Liga a stronger aura of glamour. "I think the other teams would understand if I said that the two most important leagues are the Spanish league and the Premier League," Mr. Pérez says. "For many years, the emphasis was on the Italian league. It's true that the Premier League has acquired a greater role in the past few years. But I'd say the Spanish league has always been in there, fighting."
Highest Grossing Clubs

Mr. Pérez has a gift for turning non-events into world-wide media phenomena, whether it be Mr. Ronaldo's July unveiling at the club's Santiago Bernabeu stadium (with 80,000 supporters showing up to watch him say a few words) or the news that Mr. Ronaldo and Kaká had both spent more than $300,000 to rent personal boxes at the Bernabeu. Putting a dollar figure on all this is difficult, but these spectacles clearly add to the sense that what happens at Real really, really matters.

Liga enthusiasts will point out that it's not just about glitz. Even before this summer, Real and Barcelona were the world's No. 1 and No. 3 highest grossing clubs, according to the "Football Money League" report compiled annually by Deloitte and Touche. Seven of the top nine vote-getters for the Ballon d'Or award (European soccer's MVP) now ply their trade in Spain, and the Spanish national team is the reigning European champion. "We're happy with the level of play in Spain which, in my view, is where you best combine skill with physical play," Mr. Pérez said.

What that says about the strength of La Liga as a whole, or whether its top-heavy business model is sustainable over time, is a different matter. Barcelona and Real Madrid dominate media attention and fan interest in the league, not just domestically, but worldwide. This is reflected in their TV contracts, as, in Spain, clubs negotiate their own rights deals. Both clubs earn in excess of $125 million per season, a figure which, last year, was more than seventeen times higher that of the smallest club, Numancia.

England's Premier League has gone for a more equitable approach, the "rising-tide-lifts-all-ships" philosophy long pushed by American leagues like the NFL. Manchester United England's defending champions, who defeated Turkey's Besiktas 1-0 in Champions League play Tuesday received the highest broadcast and sponsorship payout last season, but it was a comparatively paltry $85.7 million.
Sharing the Spoils

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore says the league distributes its broadcast and sponsorship income so the ratio between the top and bottom teams is never more than 1.6 to 1. "In Spain, Italy and even France it is many times higher," he says. The league helps its top clubs compete with European rivals, he says, "whilst allowing the others in our competition to compete with them."

English clubs have dominated the Champions League, supplying nine of the 12 semifinalists in the past three seasons. Globally, the Premier League's popularity has been unrivaled. "Our model works for us," Mr. Scudamore says.

On Tuesday, UEFA's Executive Committee ratified a "Financial Fair Play" proposal which will explore ways to prevent indebted clubs from competing in European competitions starting in 2012.

In any event, the next Champions League final, which will be held at the Bernabeu in May, should tell us which league has the edge on the pitch and quite possibly, which model is the best for promoting a league.
—Thomas Catan contributed to this article.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Liverpool 4 - 0 Burnley

A Yossi Benayoun hat-trick inspired a dominant Liverpool to a comfortable victory over Burnley at Anfield.

The midfielder cut inside Graham Alexander and slid in a shot across keeper Brian Jensen for the opener.

Jensen could only parry Benayoun's shot at the end of a swift counter-attack and Dirk Kuyt slotted in the loose ball to extend the Reds' lead.

Benayoun then twice tapped in Steven Gerrard and Andriy Voronin passes to round off an impressive display.

The creativity produced by Israeli international Benayoun showed he can help ease the pressure on Gerrard and Fernando Torres and provided a contrast to keeper Pepe Reina's forthright words ahead of the match.

Reina claimed winning the Premier League was "not a realistic option" for the Reds as he revealed there was an air of "resignation" at the lack of funds spent on the squad.

He also cited an absence of enough players of "vision" at Liverpool compared to the Anfield side's rivals.

The lack of players to open up defences against teams like Burnley cost the Reds dearly last season as they twice drew with newly-promoted sides at home and dropped four points, which would have won them the title.

Benayoun - whether riled by Reina's words or not - appeared determined to prove his team-mate wrong.

He latched on to an angled Glen Johnson ball and cut inside Alexander before side footing in a shot across Jensen for his first.

What are your thoughts on the game?

Reds boss Rafael Benitez has always emphasised the importance of his side getting the opening goal to bring teams out of their shell and so it proved.

Burnley pushed forward more after going a goal down and were caught out as Liverpool sucked them in before going up the other end and scoring - Kuyt side footing in after Benayoun's shot was only parried by Jensen.

There were chants of 'where is Traore' from Burnley fans in reference to former Reds defender Djimi Traore's own goal for them when they knocked Liverpool out of the 2005 FA Cup.

But there was little threat of them instigating any such humiliation this time around.

Two Martin Paterson long-range strikes were Burnley's only threat but they were comfortably gathered by Reina as Liverpool rarely looked in trouble.

Burnley will stick to good football - Coyle

Gerrard, playing in a deeper midfield role with Javier Mascherano missing, still made an impact in attack as he forced his way into the Burnley box before squaring a ball for Benayoun to tap in.

An unmarked Benayoun again eased in from close range after Voronin's pass to emphasise the emphatic nature of the victory, while a clean sheet will also please Benitez after the side's recent struggles in defence.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez:
"Yossi had been away on international duty and done a lot of travelling, but he wanted to play.

"It is important to him to show his quality in every training session and every match.

"Over the seasons he has shown his value coming off the bench, but now he is showing how important he can be with movement and passing from the start."

Burnley boss Owen Coyle:
"We started really well, and looked comfortable. But if you switch off against players like these, you will be punished.

"I can't argue with the result, we were playing against world-class players.

"But I was annoyed with the first goal we conceded, we backed off and allowed Yossi Benayoun to get his shot in

Fury stuns McDermott in title win

Heavyweight prospect Tyson Fury claimed the English title with a controversial points victory over champion John McDermott at Brentwood Leisure Centre.

The 21-year-old Manchester fighter was awarded the bout 98-92, which left McDermott, 29, stunned at the result.

Fury put the Essex fighter under early pressure with his solid jab.

But McDermott responded well with a late rally and after 10 rounds felt he had done enough, only for referee Terry O'Connor to hold Fury's arms aloft.

The clash was hyped a real grudge match and a rematch looks to be on the cards after such a close call.

But McDermott's promoter Frank Maloney was left fuming at the result, saying on Sky Sports: "I'm sure I will be called up before the (British Boxing) Board for my behaviour but Terry O'Connor is a disgrace to British boxing for what he's done here.

"Why do I want to be in the business when you're getting robbed? At least Dick Turpin has a mask on when he robs you."

But Fury insisted he had done enough to take the belt, adding: "I deserved it. I worked very hard for that. John was a lot harder than I thought he'd be, all credit to him.

"But I thought I worked the harder throughout the fight and I deserved to win. If he wants a re-match, let's get it on. I will stop him next time."

Hamilton storms to Italian pole

By Sam Lyon

Lewis Hamilton produced a stunning late lap to snatch pole position for the Italian Grand Prix in his McLaren.

The world champion stormed to a time of one minute 24.066 seconds to wrestle the position from Force India's Adrian Sutil, who was 0.195secs behind.

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen followed in third ahead of Hamilton's team-mate Heikki Kovalainen and the Brawn cars of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button.

Red Bull pair Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber managed only ninth and 10th.

And the title hopefuls, who trail Button by 16 points in the drivers' championship, will not be comforted by the fact their fuel weights - which show the true pace of the cars with the amount of fuel on board taken into account - reveal they were 8th and 10th fastest on the day.However, with the top 10 appearing to be split between one and two-stop strategies and a mere 0.7seconds separating the fuel-corrected pace of the top four cars, a fascinating encounter looks to be in store on Sunday.
Hamilton, who is to make two fuel stops compared to the Brawns' one, made the most of his lighter fuel load as he ran a late flying lap to pip Sutil - who himself had only just posted a lap of 1:24.261 - into second spot.

"That was a very close qualifying session, but the team did a great job this weekend. The car was feeling very good this weekend and I was able to put the lap together," said Hamilton.

"It's such a great feeling when you can put one lap together. We have to wait and see what the strategies are for everyone tomorrow, but we needed to be where we are.

"We're in the best position to start the race, and it's great to have Kers (power-boost) so I can boost off the line, be clear of any incident, and try to control it from there."

As expected, the McLarens and Ferrari's leading driver Raikkonen were boosted by their Kers system, with Monza boasting a full-throttle percentage of up to 70%, and the Finn gave the home fans something to cheer in securing a second-row spot ahead of compatriot Kovalainen.
But the happiest team on the grid could well be Brawn - with Button looking to have found his form again having watched his drivers' championship lead cut from a peak of 26 points in June after five races without a podium finish.

Team boss Ross Brawn said: "We are very happy with our positions, especially because of our strategy. It's a pretty perfect position to be honest."

And Button could barely hide his delight as he revealed: "We are pretty heavy. I don't know how much fuel they can get into the Red Bulls but we will see.

"The car felt good and I am happy. The tyre temperature will not be an issue - we are not having any problems getting heat into them - and all the Kers cars are in front of us as well, so all in all it's been a good session for us."

Barrichello, though, faces an anxious wait to see if his team recommend a gearbox change that would cost him a five-grid penalty.

The Brazilian first encountered the problem in Spa, when he crossed the line with his car emitting smoke, and there are doubts it can last the race on Sunday.

"It felt alright," he said, "but sometimes you are a single person fighting with 50 of them in the factory. If they tell me I cannot race with it then I cannot say no."
Webber, meanwhile, conceded the qualifying result was the best he and Vettel could have hoped for.

"It was probably pretty close to what we expected," said the Australian.

"We can't pass the Kers cars on the grid, we know that, so we will have to try something with the pit stops. That was as good as it could have got."

Elsewhere, Ferrari debutant Giancarlo Fisichella, having crashed out of final practice after locking his front-right tyre round Parabolica, was a high-profile casualty in Q2 as he had to settle for 14th on the grid.

And the contrast with his old team Force India could hardly have been more marked, with India billionaire Vijay Mallya's team getting both drivers into Q3 for the first time in Formula 1.

With Sutil second on the grid, Vitantonio Liuzzi produced an excellent qualifying performance on his Force India debut, beating Renault's Fernando Alonso into eighth with an impressive lap of 1:25.043.

The most surprising casualties of the second qualifying session, though, were the two BMWs, who had been tipped to surprise the front-runners by Red Bull boss Christian Horner on Friday morning.
Nick Heidfeld suffered engine trouble at the start of Q2, his seventh of the season, and shortly after the same problem struck team-mate Robert Kubica.

That leaves both with just one new engine to last them for the rest of the season given the eight-engine limit imposed upon teams in this campaign.

Williams, aware this weekend was most likely all about damage limitation from the outset given their struggles on the low downforce Monza circuit, lost both Kazuki Nakajima and Nico Rosberg in Q1 - their worst qualifying result of the season - joining Toyota's Timo Glock and the two Toro Rossos at the back of the grid.

US Open officials say they are ready to "develop" plans for a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium but any decision remains "some time" away.

This year's event has been disrupted by rain and an extra day's play will be required for the second year running.

But the estimated $100m cost of a roof remains a major issue.

"We are substantially farther along the road of consideration than we were six months ago," said US Tennis Association chief Gordon Smith.

"There had been a few preliminary studies regarding a roof.

"We have gone past the consideration stage of 'Are we going to at least look at plans?' to actually developing plans, which at some point in the not-too-distant future will give us some idea of cost."

He added: "It will be some time before there's any decision made on whether or not to go forward with the roof.

We would be looking at issues some years down the road and the present economy has not slowed the process at all."

The main courts at the Australian Open and Wimbledon each have a roof, and there are plans to construct one at the French Open.

But the size of the Arthur Ashe Stadium, which has a capacity of 23,000, makes it a more expensive process than at the other Grand Slam tournaments.

"Would be great to have a roof," said Smith. "Would be great to have the money to put the roof up. It's a much more difficult decision.

"The reason is we're non-profit. Our mission is to grow and develop the game of tennis.

"Are you going to spend $100m or more, we don't know exactly, on a roof that you might use once a year, which would be the average, or is the money better spent promoting the game?"An alternative to building a roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium would be to do so on the Louis Armstrong Stadium or Grandstand Stadium.

"The master planning group is going to consider a wide range of options," said Smith.

"Once we understand the cost of the roof over Ashe, it could lead to some consideration of other options. Nothing is out at this point.

"When we look at the design considerations, the cost of that, consideration of another stadium is not off the table."

The 'Super Saturday' format of playing both men's singles semi-finals and the women's final on the same day, before the men return 24 hours later for their final, has also come in for criticism.

"We have a particular finals scenario that we've had in place for several decades, and we're comfortable that it is, in fact, fair," said tournament director Jim Curley.

"If you were to ask a player, would they say it's ideal? No, they would not say it's ideal. A player would like to get a day in between the semis and the finals. We all know that.

"It's important from our USTA perspective to promote and develop the growth of the game.

"It gets to a much larger audience, and that's one of the reasons why we do it."

Super Woods shoots course record

Tiger Woods broke the course record at Cog Hill to take a huge lead into the final round of the BMW Championship.

The world number one opened his round with a bogey but recovered to card a stunning nine-under-par 62 to build a seven-shot lead over the field.

His nearest rivals are fellow American Brandt Snedeker (66) and Australian Marc Leishman (68), with England's Luke Donald 10 shots off the lead.

The previous best at Cog Hill was a 63, held by seven players, including Woods.

Tottenham 1 - 3 Man Utd

By Jonathan Stevenson

Manchester United produced a superb display to fight back from a goal behind and win away at Tottenham, despite Paul Scholes' sending off.

Spurs went ahead when Jermain Defoe fired in an acrobatic overhead kick only 38 seconds in, but Ryan Giggs' majestic free-kick levelled matters.

Anderson fired home his first United goal from the edge of the box, before Scholes saw red for two bookings.

Peter Crouch hit the crossbar, but Wayne Rooney's solo goal wrapped it up.

Rooney's goal was an exhibition of counter-attacking play from the 10 men and a brutal response to those wondering whether United would carry the same threat without Cristiano Ronaldo this season.

It was a thoroughly deserved victory, especially as United were forced to play for over half an hour without Scholes against a team that had won all four of their Premier League games this season.

And until Scholes' unfortunate dismissal, it was the two old stagers of the side in the former England midfielder and Giggs who brilliantly led United's renaissance, after they succumbed to the quickest goal of the campaign thus far.

With only 38 seconds on the clock and White Hart Lane still a veritable cauldron of anticipatory noise, Defoe produced a moment of sheer class to stun the champions.

Red card was a bit harsh - Giggs

Under pressure from Crouch as he tried to deal with a long ball into the United box, Nemanja Vidic could only head into the air and Defoe pounced to dispatch a magnificent overhead kick into the bottom corner from eight yards.

The occasionally unplayable Crouch went close with two long-range volleys, but as the game wore on the influence of Scholes and Giggs gradually increased and with 25 minutes on the clock, the Welsh wizard conjured up yet another memorable moment in his stellar career.

After Dimitar Berbatov had been brought down by Wilson Palacios, the 35-year-old, who was captain for the day on his 700th start for United, bent a quite wonderful free-kick into Carlo Cuducini's top corner to keep up his record of scoring in every Premier League season since its inception in 1992.
Jermain Defoe scores Tottenham's opener
Defoe produces a supreme finish to give Spurs an early lead

United were suddenly flying and - prompted by Scholes - some of their football was an absolute joy to behold. In the space of 10 seconds, Cudicini saved from Rooney, Berbatov's shot was blocked on the line by Sebastien Bassong and the Bulgarian then fired over.

The visitors deserved to go in front, but when they did their goal came from a most unlikely source.

A corner from the United right was half-cleared to Scholes and after his shot hit Ledley King, Anderson rifled in his first competitive United goal in his 76th appearance from the edge of the box.

Spurs needed half-time to reassess and the introduction of Jermaine Jenas almost paid immediate dividends, but after he teed up Robbie Keane to shoot the striker's effort was expertly deflected over by Vidic.

Jenas himself went close when Foster tipped away his curling 25-yarder, before Crouch rose highest to power a header against the United crossbar as Spurs piled the pressure on.

United's task appeared to get harder when Scholes was dismissed by referee Andre Marriner for two fouls, the second a very harsh decision after a collision with Tom Huddlestone.

Redknapp regrets missed opportunity

But United and Rooney in particular were proving a real menace on the break and after he saw one shot tipped against the bar by Cudicini, he settled it with their next attack.

Fletcher's long-range pass found Rooney outside the Spurs box and he easily foxed Alan Hutton before keeping his cool to slot between the legs of the advancing Cudicini.

Ominously for the rest of the league, United - so often slow starters - moved up to second in the Premier League.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Real deals put La Roja in the shade

You might have thought that with Spain poised to book their ticket to South Africa on Wednesday - if they win against Estonia at home and Bosnia fail to beat Turkey - that the excitement would be reaching fever pitch.

After all, Spain is not a country usually noted for its stoic sensibilities where such matters as qualifying for the World Cup are concerned.

However, you would be wrong. Completely wrong.

Typical of the lack of interest in the game is that the Spanish Football Federation have shuffled it off to be played in provincial Merida.

Where? If you are looking at a map of the Iberian peninsula, start by looking close to the Portuguese border parallel to Lisbon.

The federation proudly told the world on Monday that the game was finally a sell-out. Well, as Merida's tiny Romano stadium only holds 15,000, usually playing host to the equivalent of Spanish fourth division games, it would have been a huge embarrassment if it wasn't.

The main point of interest has been speculation on how many goals David Villa may be able to get against the minnows from the Baltic, who currently lie 112 notches below second-placed Spain in the current Fifa rankings
David Villa's strike rate for Spain has been impressive

The Valencia striker has found the net while in the jersey of La Roja - The Red, as the Spanish team are widely known - a phenomenal 33 times in 51 outings and he is inexorably closing in on the record of 44 goals held by Real Madrid's Raul.

Rather than rallying to the national cause though, the big issue among Spain's chattering classes remains Raul and his newly acquired chums, that €253m (£222m) experiment in conspicuous consumption embarked upon by the Real club president Florentino Perez.

The summer arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema as well as bit-part players in this soap opera like the former Liverpool pair of Alvaro Arbolea and Xabi Alonso continue to dominate the agenda here.

Neither of Spain's two leading daily sports papers had anything to do with the national team as their main headlines on Monday. Instead, it was all about Real Madrid yet again, just as it has been since 20 May when the construction magnate took over at the helm of the historic club for the second occasion.

Real's first serious match of the season, a 3-2 home win in La Liga over Deportivo La Coruna just over a week ago, is still being mulled over as the media at large try to work out what it means for the rest of the season.

The truth is, obviously, that nobody can know for sure.

However, here are my thoughts, which valiantly, and possibly in vain, try to encapsulate some of the more lucid opinions.

On the positive side, Kaka and Benzama look as though they have quickly built up a good working relationship, with the Brazilian roaming down the right wing. They should be a source of plenty of goals.

Xabi Alonso also appeared to be very effective when working in tandem with the former Arsenal and Portsmouth midfielder Lass Diarra, who has become a Real fans' favourite thanks to his indefatigable work rate.

On the other side of the coin, perhaps it's best to temporarily draw a veil over Real's current defensive deficiencies but the completely new back four should be expected to improve.

More worryingly for Perez, Ronaldo's performance against Deportivo, as it had been during most of the pre-season matches, was limp.

Perez, who paid Manchester United a world-record fee of £80m, must be wondering how long it will be before Ronaldo starts to justify the massive outlay.

To a certain extent, Perez's own personal prestige - with anyone who is not a hard-core Real fan sniggering their socks off - depends on Ronaldo even more than anyone else.

The next test for Perez's second generation of 'galacticos' comes this Saturday night at Espanyol.

It will be an encounter imbued with a lot of mixed emotions.

The cash-strapped Barcelona-based club will inaugurate their new stadium, finally having a place to call their own after 12 years as tenants at the city's Olympic stadium, but there will be sombre memories that Espanyol's popular former club captain Daniel Jarque will not be there to celebrate the occasion.

Jarque, who was only 26, died of a heart attack while on a pre-season tour of Italy last month. He was a close friend of several Real players, including goalkeeper Iker Casillas with whom he played in Spain's junior teams, and more than 15,000 people paid their last respects to him in the days following his death.

Tevez completes Man Utd transfer

Manchester United have finally completed the signing of Argentine striker Carlos Tevez.

The summer saga involving Tevez eventually came to an end when the Premier League approved the deal - thought to be a two-year loan.

The 23-year-old had become a free agent when his agent Kia Joorabchian paid former club West Ham a £2m settlement.

Tevez is eligible to play against Reading on Sunday but the striker is not yet match fit.

His first game is likely to be the derby at Manchester City on Sunday 19 August.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: "Carlos has surprised us. We thought he would need more training but he looks in great shape.

"It is a difficult situation to assess because a derby game can be frenetic. Once we know he can play, we can make a decision quite easily."

Tevez's registration as a United player brings to an end a long-running saga, which began back in April when West Ham were fined for breaching league rules when they signed the striker and his Argentine team-mate Javier Mascherano.

And with that, the most boring transfer saga ever was laid to rest


The Hammers' response was to tear up an agreement they had with Joorabchian - who claimed to own the striker's economic rights.

But when it emerged Tevez wanted to join United, the Hammers, backed by the Premier League, insisted they should receive the transfer fee, prompting Joorabchian to take legal action.

Joorabchian eventually agreed to pay West Ham £2m to release Tevez from his contract, allowing the Argentine to join United on a similar deal to the one that took Mascherano to Liverpool in January.

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has promised to tighten the rules to avoid a repeat of the saga.

"What made this an unbelievable story was an unbelievable series of events," he told BBC Radio Five Live.

"West Ham were all-but relegated at Christmas and then Tevez scored a few goals right at the end of the season and they were able to escape.

"It's unscripted drama and one of the things that makes football so interesting but in other ways it looks like a road crash in how some of the events appear."

Nadal & Gonzalez delayed by rain

Venue: Flushing Meadows, New York Date: 31 August - 13 September
BBC coverage: Live text commentaries on the website from 1600 BST each day, regular updates on 5 live, full commentary on 5 live sports extra in week two, both finals on 5 live. Live on Sky Sports and Eurosport.World number three Rafael Nadal took the first set against 11th seed Fernando Gonzalez before rain stopped play in their US Open quarter-final.

Third seed Nadal saved two set points and had treatment for an abdominal injury, but still led 7-6 (7-4) 6-6 (3-2) when rain hit the night session.

It was the second interruption, after the players had been forced off for 75 minutes early in the second set.

Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro awaits the winner in the semi-finals.

Nadal was four points from taking a two-set lead when play ended for the day but Gonzalez will remain hopeful after pushing the Spaniard hard.

Their match was scheduled to resume after the women's semi-final between Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams on Arthur Ashe Stadium court.

But further rain on Friday has meant there will be no play before 1900 BST and it may be moved to Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Gonzalez earned two set points in the 12th game of the first set but missed a good chance on a second-serve return, and fell behind early in the ensuing tie-break.

Nadal took it but then immediately called for the trainer and showed signs of discomfort during the three-minute medical timeout.

His play remained of the highest quality though and Gonzalez found himself staring down the barrel at 15-40 in game 10 of the second set, but the Chilean came up with two huge serves and managed to force a second tie-break.

That was going with serve when bad weather intervened for the second time at 10.20pm local time as Gonzalez prepared to serve trailing 3-2, although play was not officially called off until past midnight.

The eventual winner of this match will now to have to play for four successive days if they are to win the title.

In the earlier match, sixth seed Del Potro came back from a set and a break down to beat Croatia's Marin Cilic and reach the semi-finals.

Cilic, conqueror of Andy Murray in round four, made a fine start to his first Grand Slam quarter-final, but Del Potro broke in game six of the second set and never looked back, coming through 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-1.

Is it me, or has Del Potro's tennis gone up a level or two since the French Open?


Del Potro will go into his first US Open semi-final in buoyant mood after finishing so strongly against fellow 20-year-old Cilic, but knowing he needs a faster start.

"I cannot start the match like today," Del Potro said afterwards. "I was thinking about other things, and the weather was bad. But it was bad for both players.

"I just need to be in focus in the beginning of the match until the last point and play my game."

He added: "My dream is win this tournament. I'm so close to doing it, but now I am focusing on the semis."

Clic, the 16th seed, got going in sensational fashion, breaking Del Potro in game five and, after serving out the first set, again at the start of the second.

But Del Potro, who initially seemed ill-at-ease with the cold conditions on Arthur Ashe Stadium, hit back to level at 3-3 and dominated from there on in.

Cilic completely lost his range as Del Potro broke at 4-3 before the Argentine served out the second set and then wrapped up the third in 36 minutes.

The fourth set was even more one-sided until Cilic offered late resistance with a break at 0-5 - but Del Potro responded immediately to seal his triumph in two hours and 32 minutes.

"The beginning of the match I was playing really good and moving him around a lot," said Cilic, "and I found after the first set that it got a lot cooler and the court was a little bit hard to play on.

"The ball wasn't going through the court as much as it was in the beginning, and then he was like all the time on top of me and not letting me find any other solution to get back."

West Ham close in on Franco deal

West Ham are set to give Mexico striker Guillermo Franco a medical ahead of signing him on a free transfer.

Franco's contract with Villarreal expired during the summer and he was set for a move to Estudiantes in his home country before that fell through.

But the 32-year-old, who played for Mexico at the 2006 World Cup, has now been drafted in by Upton Park boss Gianfranco Zola.

"I'm sure he is a player who can make a good contribution," said Zola.

Franco has been on international duty with Mexico and scored in the 3-0 win away to Costa Rica on Saturday.

He is expected to sign a one-year deal with West Ham but will not be available for this weekend's game at Wigan.

"I'm happy because I'm going to an English team and I believe that is a good opportunity for me," said Franco.

Sutil on top as Force India shine

By Sean Chaney

Force India's Adrian Sutil continued his team's good recent form with the fastest lap in Friday's second practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

Sutil was 0.239 seconds faster than Renault's Romain Grosjean as his team look to build on their first podium finish, achieved in Belgium in August.

Brawn's championship leader Jenson Button was 19th while McLaren's morning pace-setter Lewis Hamilton was 11th.

The Red Bull duo of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were 14th and 18th.

Sutil topped the timesheets for much of the second session but Renault rookie Grosjean, competing in only his third grand prix, nipped in with a faster effort in the closing stages to briefly lead the way.

Page last updated at 13:43 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 14:43 UK
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Sutil on top as Force India shine
Force India's Adrian Sutil

Highlights - Sutil fastest at Monza

By Sean Chaney

Force India's Adrian Sutil continued his team's good recent form with the fastest lap in Friday's second practice for the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

Sutil was 0.239 seconds faster than Renault's Romain Grosjean as his team look to build on their first podium finish, achieved in Belgium in August.

Brawn's championship leader Jenson Button was 19th while McLaren's morning pace-setter Lewis Hamilton was 11th.

The Red Bull duo of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were 14th and 18th.

Sutil topped the timesheets for much of the second session but Renault rookie Grosjean, competing in only his third grand prix, nipped in with a faster effort in the closing stages to briefly lead the way.

I think Fisi will do a solid job. He can only improve once he is familiar with the Ferrari and its controls. I would just have expected more in second practise


That provoked an immediate response from Sutil who promptly clocked an effort of one minute 23.924 to set the fastest time of the day.

"It was a very, very good time," said Sutil, "it came as a result of some good work, a great set-up and getting the tyres to work well.

"Everything went well today. The car was working perfectly and we can be very happy about the result.

"We didn't try specifically to go fastest but if you are on top of your game and the car is working well there is no reason why you could not be P1 at the end of the session.

"It was a very productive day on a very cool track and it's good to have some fun right now."

Giancarlo Fisichella finished second for Force India in the last race in Belgium, but the 36-year-old Italian has since been drafted in by Ferrari to replace the beleaguered Luca Badoer for the rest of the season.

Fisichella made a promising start in the day's first practice session by out-performing team-mate Kimi Raikkonen but he was bottom of the timesheets after the second session, 1.619 seconds off the pace.

Practice sessions are rarely the most reliable barometer of race pace as teams often use Friday's two 90-minute run-outs to analyse and assess how their cars react to various fuel, aerodynamic and technical scenarios.

Sutil topped the timesheets in third practice for the European Grand Prix in August, but the 26-year-old German finished 10th in Valencia.

The ban on in-season testing this year has meant Friday practice sessions have been even harder to decode as there is no way of knowing what fuel loads or race set-ups the teams are running.

Brawn boss Ross Brawn confirmed that his team had used Friday's sessions to understand how their cars would react to the unique low down force challenge of Monza.

"The fact that we haven't had the opportunity to test here this year, meant Friday's practice sessions were particularly important to work on the set-up of the car," said Brawn.

"It feels very different running with such low downforce, said Button, "but the car has been performing reasonably well.

"We need to work on the fine-tuning of the set-up overnight to ensure that I'm completely happy with the balance before qualifying."

McLaren's Hamilton set the pace in the morning session in Monza but the defending world champion was 11th quickest in the second session.

"This afternoon was spent on heavier fuel-loads, confirmed Hamilton. "So you can't read too much into the times, but I'm encouraged by where we are."

Hamilton's team-mate Heikki Kovalainen backed up his second-quickest time in the morning session by going fourth quickest in an unpredictable second session and the Finn said afterwards that he thought the Kers power-boost system was a big advantage.

"The Kers advantage here is nearly four 10ths per lap so it's really helpful along the straights and out of the slower corners," said Kovalainen.

"Others have more down force compared with us, but we have this fantastic Kers button.

"It is funny the teams have all adopted different technical solutions but the lap times are still very close together - that's the beauty of Formula 1."

Renault reintroduced their Kers system especially for Monza and that decision seemed to pay dividends as Grosjean and Fernando Alonso set the second and third fastest times on Friday afternoon.

The Kers button makes the car accelerate faster, so it spends longer at a higher speed on the straights than cars without it, which is particularly advantageous on Monza's long high-speed straights.

McLaren, Renault and Ferrari are the only cars running the non-compulsory Kers system in Italy.

Vettel's lowly position of 18th can be partially put down to his need to conserve engines, the German blew two engines at the European Grand Prix in Valencia and has now used seven of his eight engine quota for the season.

While Vettel completed 27 laps on Friday afternoon, his team-mate Webber managed even fewer, just 25, the Australian was kept in his garage as his Red Bull team repaired a chaffed electrical loom.

"It was a mixed day," said Webber. "We had an electrical problem in P2, which probably cost us about a run and a half, so it was a good recovery from the guys to get the car turned back around.

"Mileage is important here, as it's the first time we've driven in Monza this year - normally we test here beforehand.

"We've got a bit of pace to find, but I'm sure we'll be in the running tomorrow."

Button's closest championship challenger, his Brawn team-mate Rubens Barrichello, was 16th fastest around the low-downforce Monza circuit.

Pacquiao is 'too quick' for Cotto

Manny Pacquiao insists he will be too quick for Miguel Cotto when the two men meet in Las Vegas on 14 November.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Senior Open: Bernhard Langer

Taken at the Senior Open golf at Sunningdale on Saturday, 25 July 2009.

Roddick powers to late-night win

Fifth seed Andy Roddick maintained his good form as he swept past France's Marc Gicquel in the night session to reach the third round of the US Open.

The American won 6-1 6-4 6-4 in a match that finished after midnight local time on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Roddick goes on to face 6ft 9ins American John Isner, who beat Turkey's Marsel Ilhan 6-3 6-4 7-6 (7-1)

Fourth seed Novak Djokovic earlier made smooth progress into round three with a straight-sets win over Carsten Ball.

The Serb, 22, came through 6-3 6-4 6-4 and will next face American qualifier Jesse Witten for a place in the last 16.

Djokovic could only break once in each set against the big-serving Australian and missed a further 13 break-point chances.

"It's always hard to predict what to expect in the match against a guy who you don't know basically," said Djokovic.
He was serving between 130, 140mph throughout the whole match. He was going for the serves. I knew he was going to try to be aggressive."

Djokovic added: "Physically I feel great. I feel ready. I feel confident on the court, mentally motivated and willing to do more. I just have a big desire to perform good and to win the matches."

James Blake, the 21st seed, enjoyed a dramatic 6-4 3-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 win over Olivier Rochus that saw the schedule pushed back on Arthur Ashe Stadium and the night session delayed.

As a result, Roddick did not begin his match until 10.20pm, but the 2003 champion had few problems despite some flamboyant hitting from Gicquel.

"Even in the second set when he got down, he started playing a little bit more aggressively and that was certainly the case in the last game," said Roddick.

"He came back and I was getting a little nervous there but I'm glad I was able to pull it out."

Looking ahead to his match with the 6ft 9ins Isner, Roddick added: "John's been playing a lot better and it's going to be a completely different match-up.

"I'm not going to be able to break as much as in these first couple of matches and it's going to come down to a couple of points here and there."

Two-time semi-finalist Nikolay Davydenko swept aside Jan Hernych 6-4 6-1 6-2 to reach the third round.

Spain's Fernando Verdasco, seeded 10th, also won easily, to set up a clash with in-form veteran Tommy Haas.

The 25-year-old - who won his first ATP Tour title in New Haven last week - triumphed 6-3 6-0 6-3 in less than 90 minutes against Florent Serra of France.

Germany's Haas, the 20th seed, had to work slightly harder, converting just two of 18 break points before eventually beating Robert Kendrick 6-4 6-4 7-6 (7-3).

The victory was Hass's 30th at Flushing Meadow and the 31-year-old says that he is enjoying his tennis as his career moves into its final years.

"Other aches and pains come along as you get older," said the German, who has had surgery on his shoulder three times.

"Anybody will tell you that. But it's still good enough for me to go out there and compete."

Robin Soderling, seeded 12th, was handed an easy passage into round three when his Spanish opponent Marcel Granollers was forced to retire in the third game of their match with a back injury.

Sam Querrey, the 22nd seed, also made progress thanks to a 7-5 6-7 (8-6) 6-4 6-4 win over Kevin Kim and will play Soderling next.

And another American, Witten, continued his unexpected run of wins by seeing off Argentina's Maximo Gonzalez 6-7 (7-3) 6-4 7-5 6-2.

World Cup bid eyes Olympic venue

The 2012 London Olympic Stadium could be used as part of the bid for England to host the 2018 World Cup.

The 'London United' group proposes Wembley, the Emirates, Tottenham's planned new ground and the Olympic Stadium in Stratford should host games.

"The stadium and Olympic Park would strengthen the bid in a whole variety of ways," said Simon Greenberg, chairman of London United.

"That includes the legacy aspect as one of the world's most modern stadia."

There has long been debate about what should be done with the stadium, which will include an athletics track, after the Games, with the future of the track and the seating capacity undecided at the moment.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said it would be "foolish" not to consider the stadium as part of the World Cup bid, but three years ago when there was talk of the venue being used as a football stadium, his predecessor Ken Livingston said there was a "legally binding contract, more like an international treaty" that it was to be used for athletics.

"(Being in the World Cup bid) is clearly subject to a final decision to be made about its capacity - but that decision is likely to post-date our final proposal," added Greenberg.

"It would also compliment the other stadiums in London, which are among the best in the world. Overall, it is a natural to be included in our proposal."

Fifa rules state any ground hoping to host World Cup group matches must have a minimum capacity of 40,000, and 60,000 for quarter-finals and beyond.

The England 2018 bid team will not make a final decision on its list of preferred venues until December, after the applicant cities - Birmingham, Bristol, Derby, Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Newcastle/Gateshead, Nottingham, Plymouth, Sheffield and Sunderland - have made their final round of presentations to the Football Association.

They will then select between 12 and 18 match venues as part of their final bid which will be made to Fifa ahead of the vote in December 2010.

Fisichella makes Ferrari switch

Giancarlo Fisichella will drive for Ferrari for the rest of the season before becoming reserve driver in 2010 after being released by Force India.

Dunne accuses Man City over exit

Richard Dunne has accused Manchester City executive chairman Garry Cook of trying to sell him behind his back.

Dunne, 29, moved to Aston Villa on transfer deadline day after nine years at Eastlands but was disappointed with the manner of his departure.

"From June I was getting calls saying Garry Cook has been trying to sell me behind my back," claimed Dunne.

"I've been honest with them - they should have been the same with me rather than doing it behind my back."

Dunne, who is on international duty with the Republic of Ireland, said he had gone to Cook earlier in the year and told him if he had any problems to come and deal with him directly.

He added: "I'm disappointed with people who say one thing and then completely do the other.

"Garry Cook has come in and he doesn't really understand football. All he wants is big-money players. He doesn't understand the core of the club and where it begins.

"I'm not a baby, I'm not going to cry just because the club want to sell me. I don't mind, just don't do it behind my back."

City spent £118m in the summer transfer window on the likes of Carlos Tevez, Gareth Barry, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott.

But they told Dunne they had to sell him, for a fee of £6m, to balance the books.

"They told me they have a certain amount of money they have to recoup each season to make things look better on the books," said the defender.

"I could understand if I was getting sold for 200m euros but it was a bit strange really.

"It just needed people to be honest with me, there were a lot of things going on throughout the summer."

Live - England v Australia

British boxers eye world medals

By Nabil Hassan
Khalid Yafai and Luke Campbell will be the Brits to watch in Milan as the World Championships begin on Tuesday.

They are part of a seven-man squad but there is no Bradley Saunders who broke his left thumb in a training bout.

The British Amateur Boxing Association has set a target of one medal, two fewer than in Chicago two years ago.

"It is a young and inexperienced squad and our target reflects that," BABA performance director Kevin Hickey told BBC Sport.

"But in terms of having boxers who can deliver at this level now then we feel Khalid Yafai and Luke Campbell, who won the European Championships in Liverpool last year, have the necessary experience.

"They have had a taste of boxing at this sort of level, while for the other five it is more of a learning curve.

"To target two medals would be unrealistic but it would be fantastic if we could achieve it."

Tommy Stubbs, Andrew Selby, Thomas Stalker, Scott Cardle and Steve Simmons make up the group.

Stubbs and Yafai, a Beijing Olympian, returned from June's European Union amateur boxing championships in Denmark with gold medals.

And Campbell became England's first European amateur champion for 47 years in November 2008.

Missing out on a place in the squad was light-heavyweight Obed Mbwakongo who was heavily beaten at the EU championships in June and heavyweight Danny Price, who has been dropped from the podium programme because of poor performance.

BABA squad for World Amateur Championships in Milan:

Tommy Stubbs (48kg), Khalid Yafai (51kg), Luke Campbell (54 kg), Andrew Selby (54kg), Thomas Stalker (60kg), Scott Cardle (64kg), Steve Simmons (91kg).

British boxing's next generation

By Nabil Hassan

It is a long road to London 2012, but Britain's boxers begin that journey in Italy this week at the World Championships in Milan.

With the Olympics in London now less than three years away, a young group of seven face their first international test at the 12-day competition which begins on 1 September.

Having tasted European glory over the past year, the GB squad now gets its first opportunity to test itself against the cream of world boxing with Cuba, China and India likely to prove the sternest competition of the 100 nations competing in Italy.

The squad have been putting the finishing touches to their preparations at a training camp in France and are all set to do battle in Milan.

But there is still a lot of hard work to be done before the current GB crop can be considered in the same class as the Beijing group, of who only Bradley Saunders - who is currently injured - and Khalid Yafai remain.

Olympic middleweight champ James DeGale and bronze-medallists Tony Jeffries and David Price have all turned professional.

However, British Amateur Boxing Association (BABA) performance director Kevin Hickey feels the systems are now in place to make Britain as competitive, if not more so, in London 2012.
"It is an early building stage and we have three years to go in terms of the Olympic cycle," Hickey told BBC Sport.

"We are confident that we have the structure and system in place to produce future Olympic gold medallists such as James DeGale in 2012.

"The success through the year to date has been very solid and very promising. The influx of talent we have coming through is making us very confident of good medal return in London."

It is a squad that is three men short of the one that will appear at the Olympics, but BABA officials are determined that they take a team that will be competitive in Milan.

"In terms of numbers it really reflects where we are at this point in terms of filling places for 2012," added Hickey.

"There are some weights that we have not yet got a boxer of the right quality in the programme to give this level of exposure.

"You cannot take chances, especially with the 2012 programme, you are looking for enhancement and progression over the next three years which means if they are not ready they cannot be exposed too early.

"To throw someone in who is not experienced at international level would have a negative impact on their potential of making it to 2012.
So what of the squad?
It includes 20-year-old flyweight Khalid Yafai from Birmingham who appeared at last year's Olympics and who in June won gold at the European Union Amateur Boxing Championships in Denmark.

Yafai was also senior ABA national champion at the age of 17 and is an exciting prospect.

There are also high hopes for Hull's 21-year-old bantamweight Luke Campbell who in 2008 became England's first European amateur champion for 47 years.

And 19-year-old Manchester light-flyweight Tommy Stubbs, who like Yafai won gold in Denmark, is another boxer to keep an eye on.

All three are expected to be in the mix for medals in Milan and Hickey is excited at their chances of glory ahead of 2012.

"Realistically it is early days and this is a very young and inexperienced squad," said Hickey.

"But in terms of having got the necessary experience to be successful in Milan then we have two boxers in Khalid and Luke who can deliver on the world stage.

"Looking at other exciting young talent then I guess Tommy Stubbs in the 48kg category is one for people to look out for.

"He is a character in his own right, he's one eight out of eight bouts this season. He's senior ABA champion and he also won the EU Championships this year.

"Tommy has an unorthodox style, bags of confidence and has a huge character. He may have to move up a weight for 2012, and as far as Milan is concerned he could do something."
Another boxer in the squad who could be competitive in Milan is Liverpool's 25-year-old Thomas Stalker who took silver at the EU Championships, having won the GB Championships in Liverpool in May.

The other members of the team are bantamweight Andrew Selby, light-welterweight Scott Cardle and heavyweight Steve Simmons.

But the squad will be without Saunders, who recently fractured his thumb in a training bout in Dublin.

Hickey's greatest success to date as been the introduction of the three tier squad system that will ensure GB's elite boxers are competitive up until 2012.

The system will be completed by the end of the year and involves the current 10-man podium squad being supported by a similarly sized development squad.

In turn a 10-man feeder squad will come to Sheffield once a month and provide competition for the development group which will then in turn provide pressure on the podium boxers.

It is just one of a number of measures that officials hope will bring rewards in London in three years' time.

Mayweather is fresh for Marquez

Floyd Mayweather is confident there will no ring rust when he returns to action after a long lay-off against Juan Manuel Marquez on 19 September.

The former five-weight world champion, 32, is back after retiring in December 2007, after he beat Ricky Hatton.

"I feel fast, strong and my timing is there," said the American.

"I feel the same way as before I left. Actually I feel a little better. I think the break helped because I haven't had a break since 1987."

Mayweather, who has won all of his 39 fights with 25 knockouts, faces the formidable Marquez for The Ring welterweight title at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
And Mayweather said maintaining his unbeaten record had been the key motivating factor in preparing for the fight.

"When you go out there [against a fighter] with an undefeated record, there is no pressure on these fighters because they have nothing to lose," he said.

"If Marquez gets beat in 12 rounds or he gets knocked out, they are still going to love him in his country because he had the chance to face the best. They will say: 'You lost but you lost to the best'.

"But in the US it doesn't work like that so we have to work that much harder to stay on top.

"If I win, it's normal. If a guy gives me a tough fight or even comes close to winning, that's abnormal. Everybody expects me to dominate.

"It's extremely important for me to go out there to perform well and dominate.

"I've got to go out there and be smart, be intelligent and listen to my uncle Roger [Mayweather, Floyd's trainer]. If I do that, we will come out 'A' OK."

Mexican Marquez, 36, is a former three-weight world champion, but has only ever fought as high as lightweight before.

However, he has 50 wins from 55 professional encounters, with 37 knockouts, and has drawn once and lost narrowly to Filipino superstar Manny Pacquiao.

"He is Mexico's numero uno," said Mayweather. "He's one hell of a fighter with over 50 wins and champion in more than just one weight class.

"Believe me, Marquez is not going to lay down. There's going to be blood, sweat and tears on 19 September."