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Napoli, Juve in slanging match over referee

Juventus, 3-1 winners, reacted angrily after Napoli president Aurelio Di Laurentiis said a hairline decision which allowed Juve’s second goal to stand was “either bad faith or incompetence”.

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Juve’s win took them three points clear of AS Roma at the top and 13 ahead of Napoli, who are joint fifth.

“We are tired. Juventus are a strong team, and if they are helped by the referees, they become unbeatable,” Di Laurentiis said on Twitter.

“It’s unacceptable that six referees cannot see two players offside. Either it is bad faith or incompetence. These six referees should be banned for a long time.”

Napoli claimed that Martin Caceres was offside when he headed Juve’s second goal, although replays showed it was only a question of millimetres, if at all.

They were also angry after having a goal of their own disallowed shortly afterwards for a foul by Kalidou Koulibaly on Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

“They taught me a phrase when facing Juventus: ‘It can happen.’ On the offside it is very difficult to tell as Maggio is right behind Caceres,” Napoli coach Rafael Benitez said. “It can happen.

“The Koulibaly goal that was disallowed, it can happen. Koulibaly jumped, the goalkeeper fell into him, it was Buffon’s momentum that took him towards the defender. It is not a foul.”

Juventus, involved in a similar row following their 3-2 win over AS Roma in September, said they won fair and square.

“It was a transparent win, the result of a more than positive performance. I reject Di Laurentiis’s accusation,” said chief executive Giuseppe Marotta.

“The value of the team emerges during the course of the championship and in matches such as this one.”

(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne, editing by Ed Osmond)

Asian Cup qualification enough for Palestinian team

Split by political conflict, Palestine’s qualification for the tournament is an achievement in itself.

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Many of the team’s top players are drawn from different parts of the world, but linked by the passion and love for their ancestral homeland.

Among them is midfielder Jaka Ihbeisheh, who was born in Europe to a Slovenian mother and Palestinian father.

He said the Palestinian football team comes, for as much as any footballing reasons, with the aim of being an ambassador for its land.

“Sometimes football players and athletes are better ambassadors than politicians,” he said.

“We have a double job here. We have to play football good, make people proud and we have to carry the name of the State of Palestine all over the world.”

Swedish youth international Mahmoud Eid is another player who opted to represent Palestine at the senior level.

He sees his decision as a way of connecting with his identity, his people and to raise awareness of the territories struggle.

“You know all lot of people send money to Palestine, my family they send money all the time to but I want to do something different,” he said.

“I want to lift them up in the football area.  We want to make the people proud the most important thing for us, I know everybody is already really proud but we want to them that we wantmore.”   

With a team of semi-professional footballers, the team is unlikely to advance past the group stage.

But for these young men, simply appearing at the Asian Cup is a significant victory for themselves and their country.

 

France deploys troops at ‘sensitive’ sites

France is deploying 15,000 police and security forces to bolster security around “sensitive” sites and Jewish schools in the country, after attacks that left 17 dead, authorities say.

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Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said 10,000 soldiers will be called up from Tuesday to protect “sensitive sites in the whole country from tomorrow (Tuesday) evening”, given the “scale of threats” on France.

The troop deployment would come on top of 5000 police and security forces already mobilised on Monday to protect 717 schools and Jewish sites in the country.

Le Drian unveiled the fresh measures after an emergency meeting called by President Francois Hollande as attention turned to preventing a repeat of France’s bloodiest attacks in half a century.

“This is the first time that our troops have been mobilised to such an extent on our own soil,” the defence minister said, adding that he would prefer not to list the sites which are deemed sensitive.

Authorities are still hunting for possible accomplices of the three gunmen who carried out the three-day killing spree that began with a massacre of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly.

Amedy Coulibaly, who killed a policewoman in southern Paris then four Jewish shoppers in a hostage drama, probably received help from someone else, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said, pledging “the hunt will go on”.

The Jewish community has been particularly shaken by Friday’s attack on the kosher supermarket in eastern Paris, which came just two days after two other gunmen – Said Kouachi and his brother Cherif Kouachi – stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly, slaughtering 12 people.

As it emerged that Cherif Kouachi met Coulibaly in prison, Valls said France would move to isolate Islamist detainees from the rest of the prisoner population, so as to prevent jails from being used as a breeding ground for radicals.

This measure “must become widespread” but “it must be done discerningly and intelligently”, Valls said.

France turned its attention on Monday to plugging security holes blamed for failing to prevent the attacks, after millions united in historic rallies.

In the biggest show of solidarity, in Paris, more than a million people mourned the victims of three days of terror.

Investigators have been trying to hunt down Coulibaly’s partner, 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, but Turkey’s foreign minister said on Monday that she crossed into Syria from Turkey on January 8, the day her husband shot a policewoman to death on the outskirts of Paris and a day after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Coulibaly’s mother and sisters condemned his actions, saying “we hope there will not be any confusion between these odious acts and the Muslim religion”.

The French press hailed Sunday’s rallies, the biggest in the country’s history in which nearly four million people poured into the streets, with some estimates putting the number in Paris alone at 1.6 million.

All major newspapers splashed photos of the sea of humanity on the French capital’s streets, with banner headlines reading “A people rise up”, “Freedom on the march,” and “France stands up”.

Hollande on Sunday led more than a million people on the march in Paris in tribute to the victims of the attacks as the crowd cried, “Not afraid”.

At the head of the vast and colourful procession in the capital, Hollande linked arms with world leaders including the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian president, in a historic display of unity.

The vast crowd chanted “Charlie, Charlie”, in honour of the cartoonists and journalists killed at Charlie Hebdo.

The crowd brandished banners saying “I’m French and I’m not scared” and, in tribute to the murdered cartoonists, “Make fun, not war” and “Ink should flow, not blood”.

The victims’ mourning families played a prominent role in the march, alongside representatives from around 50 countries.

Federer edges Hewitt in Fast4 tennis

It may have been a new format but it was the same old rivalry as Roger Federer fought his way to a tough win over Lleyton Hewitt in the Fast4 tennis exhibition on Monday night.

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The Swiss world No.2 continued his unbeaten run this summer with a 4-3 2-3 3-4 4-0 4-3 win over the Australian in the short-form contest at Sydney’s Qantas Credit Union Arena.

Coming off a four-match winning run in Brisbane, where he took the title in three sets over Milos Raonic on Sunday night, Federer showed no ill-effects from a morning flight and marketing commitments earlier in the day.

The match featured an experimental style of play with sets being won after four games, no deuces and play being allowed to continue after lets on serve.

Federer, who holds an 18-9 match record over Hewitt in regular match formats, was pushed all the way by his evergreen sparring partner, the contest going its full allotment of five shortened sets.

Both players looked in good touch, Hewitt offering plenty of “too goods” to Federer in the first set and a half before the world No.86 found some rhythm to get back into the contest.

Hewitt, who lost in the opening match of the Brisbane International against compatriot Sam Groth in his only other hitout of the year thus far, will now head to his hometown of Adelaide to play an exhibition match against Czech Tomas Berdych to round out his formal preparations for the Australian Open.

Federer is expected to head straight to Melbourne for the year’s opening grand slam.

Federer and Hewitt both said they could see a future for the format but were reserved about whether it would take off at the top level.

“You can know that the maximum length of the match is probably going to be an hour 45, it seems like,” Federer said.

“And that mentally is a good thing to know. You don’t have to pack seven shirts, you might only have to pack four shirts … it’s a more controlled environment, especially if there is a lot of heat and it is humid – that could possibly keep guys in the game for a little bit longer.”

Given the loss of courts in Australia and increasing competition from a range of sports, Hewitt was all for anything that got people interested in tennis.

“It’s about getting more people playing the game,” he said.

“It’s not just the juniors, it’s social tennis as well. Getting people talking about tennis is a big thing: to try and pump up tennis in Australia.”

Morgan injury opens door for evergreen Easter

Nick Easter inspired Harlequins to a 32-12 Premiership victory over Leicester on Saturday, defying his years to make hard yards in the loose and frequently finding holes in the defence with clever footwork and quick hands.

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Easter won the last of his 47 England caps in 2011 and has never played for his country under Lancaster but Morgan’s injury could force a rethink with the Six Nations looming large ahead of this year’s World Cup.

“I’ve stopped speaking to Stuart Lancaster about Nick,” Harlequins director of rugby Conor O’Shea told reporters. “Nick wants to play for England.

“Stuart’s worry has always been, will he get to the World Cup with the ability to play at that intensity and pace? Look at that performance against Leicester.”

The highlight of Easter’s display against Leicester was the gravity-defying one-handed offload which released Danny Care for the game’s opening try.

England have a well-organised and effective forward pack full of powerful scrummagers, strong runners and fierce tacklers but Lancaster is short of game-changers.

A back-row of Chris Robshaw, Tom Wood and, in the absence of Morgan, Billy Vunipola does not possess the guile and craft which Easter has in abundance.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have Nick at the club while I’ve been here – he plays at a level very few people can – that offload (to Care) wasn’t just world class, it was out of this world,” O’Shea said.

“The harder the going gets and the more we’re under pressure, the better he plays – I said to him four years ago I’d stop playing him every week, but I can’t stop playing him every week.”

(Editing by Justin Palmer)

Strikers-Thunder BBL clash rained off

The Big Bash League match between Adelaide Strikers and Sydney Thunder at Adelaide Oval has been abandoned because of heavy rain.

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Alex Ross’s impressive 30 not out from 11 balls had guided the strikers to 5-119 from their rain-reduced 10 overs, and Sydney were 18 without loss from just one over when play was finally stopped for good.

Both sides collect a point from the match, which guarantees Adelaide a finals berth. The Thunder’s hopes of finals action remain slim.

“It’s disappointing for both teams,” Strikers coach Darren Berry said.

“I’m sure the Thunder will be disappointed: they would’ve wanted a short game tonight with the rain.”

Ross starred for the Strikers with a knock that included four sixes, combining with skipper Johan Botha to put on 22 runs in the final over.

Adelaide opener Craig Simmons survived a dropped catch on his way to 21 runs before he was eventually was caught by Daniel Hughes off Chris Tremain’s delivery as the visitors slowed the Strikers’ run rate.

Ryan Ten den Doeschate entered the fray and belted Tremain for two sixes in the same over to kick-start a mid-innings revival for the Strikers, including sending one into the Chappell Stand.

Jono Dean chipped in with seven runs while Travis Head smashed a four and two sixes to finish with 18 runs from his spell in the middle.

But the star of the innings was Ross, who smashed Ian Moran for two sixes with his opening two deliveries.

Ross helped the Strikers hit three more sixes in the final over of the shortened innings, while Johan Botha was not out for 12.

Sydney’s best with the ball was Gurinder Sandhu, who collected 1-7 from his two overs, while Tremain collected two wickets and Moran and Josh Lalor one each.

For Sydney, Jason Roy looked like he was going to help steer the visitors and give Adelaide’s total a nudge with 14 runs from the first over.

He smashed Kane Richardson for a six from the opening delivery, before consecutive fours helped push their tally to 0-18 before the match was abandoned.

We need to start scoring again, says Allardyce

The teams drew 1-1 at Goodison Park last week and Allardyce is looking to guide his team to a first win in six matches.

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West Ham took the lead in their last three games against West Bromwich Albion, Everton and Swansea City but were pegged back to 1-1 on each occasion.

“It’s a concern, we are not as free scoring as we were,” Allardyce told a news conference. “The results have dipped a bit but the performances haven’t.

“One thing that has to happen is we get to more resilient defensively. We’re becoming a much more creative side but our defensive weaknesses have been exploited too much.

“In order to win football games you need to make sure you’re strong enough in both departments.

“We’ve only had four clean sheets so far and that’s not good enough to keep you in the top six.”

West Ham have slipped back to seventh in the Premier League but Everton are on an even worse run having lost four and drawn two of their last six matches.

They needed a last-minute equaliser from Romelu Lukaku to rescue a 1-1 draw against the Hammers at Goodison last week but gave an improved performance to draw 1-1 with Manchester City on Saturday.

Everton are 12th in the table but will take heart from a good recent record at Upton Park where they have lost just once in their last nine league and Cup games since 2002-03.

Allardyce missed Saturday’s draw at Swansea with a chest infection but said he felt better after seeing Andy Carroll’s stunning goal from the edge of the box.

“I had it live on a stream,” he said. “It was a fantastic piece of skill and a brilliant finish from the time he first touched it to the shot.”

(Reporting by Mike Collett, editing by Ed Osmond)

Low $A to lure more foreign stores to Aust

More major foreign retailers are expected to set up shop in Australia in 2015 thanks to the dollar’s recent plunge.

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The Aussie dollar has dropped about 12 US cents to around 82 US cents in the past four months, pushing up the cost of imported goods as a result.

But the recent falls have also made it cheaper for foreign retailers thinking about opening their doors in Australia.

A raft of foreign companies have flocked to Australia’s shores in recent years, including Swedish clothing giant H&M and the world’s biggest cosmetic chain Sephora.

A major report on the international retail industry by accounting giant Deloitte says more are likely to follow, meaning greater choice for Aussie shoppers, but also more competition for home-grown retailers.

Deloitte says underperforming Australian retailers could find themselves takeover targets by foreign predators, similar to David Jones and Country Road being swallowed by South Africa’s Woolworths in 2014.

It warns local retailers that 85 per cent of the world’s biggest retailers are not yet operating in Australia, meaning competition is only likely to increase.

“With a weakening Australian dollar and ever-increasing competitive pressures, we expect to see further interest by overseas retailers in the Australian retail market,” Deloitte Australia partner David White said on Tuesday.

“The ability to innovate, drive improved processes and to connect with the consumer will be critical in order to remain competitive.”

British retail giant Marks & Spencer, the US-based Ashley Furniture, and Germany’s Schwarz Unternehmens Treuhand KG, which owns the discount supermarket chain Lidl, are all tipped to be interested in a move Down Under.

Thirty seven of the world’s top 250 retailers already operate in Australia, with clothing/footwear companies and supermarkets the dominant players.

Nearly half of those foreign players operating in Australia have their headquarters the US.

Among them is supermarket chain Costco, which comes second behind Wal-Mart in Deloitte’s list of the top 250 retailers.

Much further down the list, which is based on revenue, are Australia’s Woolworths and Wesfarmers, at numbers 18 and 22 respectively.

The Deloitte report said retail sales growth in Australia during 2014 was the best for several years, thanks to low interest rates encouraging consumers to spend more.

However growth in 2015 could be affected by shaky consumer confidence and the federal government’s planned budget savings, it said.

THE WORLD’S TOP RETAILERS (BY REVENUE)

1. Wal-Mart, US, $US476.3m

2. Costco, US, $US105.15m

3. Carrefour, France, $US98.7m

4. Schwarz Unternehmens Treuhand, Germany, $US98.7m

5. Tesco, UK, $US98.6m

6. The Kroger, US, $US98.4m

7. Metro, Germany, $US86.4m

8. Aldi, Germany, $US81.1m

9. The Home Depot, US, $US78.8m

10. Target Corporation, US, $US72.6m

18. Woolworths, Australia, $US54.5m

22. Wesfarmers, Australia, $US50.7m

(Source: Deloitte)

Magical goal sees Iraq beat Jordan 1-0 at Asian Cup

Kasim, who plays for Swindon Town in the third tier of English football, scored the winner in the 77th minute with a touch of Messi magic and a little slice of luck.

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Taking the ball from outside the Jordan box, the 23-year-old dribbled his way past three defenders, then unleashed his shot at goal.

The ball took a deflection off the outstretched boot of Tareq Khattab, leaving Jordan captain and goalkeeper Amer Shafi with no chance of making the save.

Kasim’s spectacular strike ended what had been a relatively dour contest with teams adopting a cautious approach to the Group D clash at Lang Park.

Although it was their first match of the tournament, the stakes could not have been higher for both teams, with defending champions Japan having launched their Group D campaign with a 4-0 rout of Palestine earlier in the evening.

“The first match in the competition is very important,” said Iraq coach Radhi Shenaishil.

“The Jordanian team was very strong but our players did their job today and we have three points in the group stage.”

Iraq are now in the box seat to reach the quarter-finals and perhaps start another fairytale run reminiscent of their 2007 Asian Cup triumph, which became a rare moment for celebration in the war-torn country.

Few people had given Iraq any chance of going far this time after a haphazard preparation brought about by the troubles at home, forced to train and play qualifiers in other neighbouring countries, including Jordan.

Neither Iraq nor Jordan had won a match since March last year and Jordan’s defeat was compounded by the sending off of Anas Bani-Yaseen, who picked up a second yellow card in a fiery match during which the referee made seven bookings.

Although Iraq had the lion’s share of possession, they still had to survive some anxious moments from a Jordan team coached by former English international Ray Wilkins.

Jordan’s best chance came in the second half when a cross fell at the feet of Mohammad Mustafa who instinctively fired at the target but straight at the Iraqi goalkeeper Jalal Hassan.

“Obviously we’re disappointed. I felt we were more than equal and worthy of a point,” said Wilkins.

“We’ve gone a long period now without any luck and Iraq’s lucky goal today was very disappointing from my point of view. But this is football.”

(Editing by Justin Palmer)

Update due on Mars probe mystery

A media briefing is expected to shed light on the mystery of what happened to Beagle 2, the British Mars probe that vanished while attempting a Christmas Day landing on the planet in 2003.

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The UK Space Agency is refusing to discuss in advance what will be revealed at the briefing on January 16, which it describes as an “update” on the ill-fated mission.

A spokesman said: “Obviously there will be a lot of speculation but we can’t say anything at present. It will definitely be of interest.”

Beagle 2 hitched a ride with the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter and was designed to search for signs of past or present life on the Red Planet.

The lander was successfully released from the orbiter on December 19 but the expected signal confirming touch down on Christmas Day was never received. Eventually the probe was presumed lost.

A subsequent report on the failure was unable to come to a definite conclusion about the craft’s fate. It was thought unlikely that it “missed” the planet or burned up in the atmosphere. Other possible scenarios involved malfunctions of Beagle 2’s parachutes or cushioning airbags.

In 2005 Professor Colin Pillinger, the late Open University scientist who was the driving force behind Beagle 2, claimed images of the Martian surface may have revealed a fuzzy glimpse of Beagle 2.

He thought the probe might have hit the ground too hard, due to the atmosphere being thinner than usual because of dust storms.

According to Prof Pillinger, who died in May last year, the images captured by the US space agency Nasa’s Mars Global Surveyor orbiter suggested that Beagle 2 came down in a crater closed to the planned landing site.

Beagle 2 was a unique space mission in that it was largely funded by private donations and money raised by promotional campaigns led by Prof Pillinger.