Wozniacki hoping to be fit for Melbourne

Caroline Wozniacki will fly to Melbourne from Sydney on Wednesday morning as she battles to prove her fitness for next week’s Australian Open.


The world No.4 forfeited her first-round match in the Sydney International against the experienced Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova after injuring her wrist in the first set.

Wozniacki was attended to by the courtside trainer on three occasions in the first set but lost 6-4 to the 25th-ranked Czech before retiring in the second with the score locked at one-all

With less than a week until the opening grand slam of the year, the Dane said it was more important to get receive treatment and give her the best possible chance of being able to play at Melbourne Park.

“I felt it during one shot, I hit it against the wind and hit it late and I felt it in my wrist,” Wozniacki said.

“I’ve had it before so I kind of know what it is.

“It’s painful every time I had to hit a backhand and I didn’t want make it worse before Melbourne, so I’m just going to try and get some treatment on it and try and get ready for next week.”

Wozniacki is confident she will be fit to play, but said the injury was a new one and the treatment from the trainer made no real difference to her discomfort.

“She taped it up and it didn’t really make a difference taped or not taped,” she said.

“I just felt like it was getting a little worse, so I felt like I wasn’t going to win the match without being able to hit like a proper backhand.

“I can only make it worse, and that’s really too negative. I thought it was better to get treatment and see what’s happening.

“I just need to take it day by day and see how it feels. Hopefully it’ll take a couple of days and it’ll be fine.”

Matosevic crashes out in Sydney

Australia’s Marinko Matosevic has hit out at Sydney International organisers after he crashed out in the first round to Italian world No.


51 Simone Bolelli in under at hour on Ken Rosewall Arena.

The 29-year-old, who reached the quarter-finals here last year, looked completely out of sorts as Bolelli eased to a 6-3 6-2 victory against the 80th-ranked Victorian on Monday.

A bitterly disappointed Matosevic was knocked out in the first round in Brisbane last week and then flew to Perth to play in the Hopman Cup and only arrived in Sydney late on Saturday night and asked to play his match on Tuesday.

With most of Sunday washed out with rain, Matosevic claimed he had no time to prepare until he walked out on court.

“My preparation was my warm-up today for my match,” he said.

“I was surprised I was playing today. I thought I would get a Tuesday start.

“I thought I was going to get one. I was told before I went to Hopman Cup they would ask for me.

“I wasn’t able to practice yesterday so it was a tough, tough preparation.”

On a quiet day in the men’s competition, fifth-seeded Argentine Leonardo Mayer beat Germany’s Benjamin Becker 7-6 6-2, with the sixth-seeded Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas seeing off Spain’s Nicolas Almagro 7-6 6-4.

Australia pair Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios are in action on Tuesday, as is former US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro, who plays his first match in 11 months.

Del Potro faces Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky in the first match on Ken Rosewall Arena, with Tomic up against Kazakh qualifier Mikhail Kukushkin.

Wimbledon quarter-finalist Kyrgios faces Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz in the evening session.

Cahill to fill in as Australia captain

Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said the 35-year-old striker would lead the side in Tuesday’s Group A clash with Oman after regular skipper Mile Jedinak was ruled out with an ankle injury.


Cahill captained Australia once before at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and said it was an honour to be given the job a second time.

“I don’t really want to put too much emphasis on it because Mile is our captain,” said Cahill.

“It’s a massive honour and something that is great in my career to have, but it’s a great responsibility that I will make sure I deliver in the right way.”

Australia won their opening match 4-1 against Kuwait in Melbourne and know a victory over Oman in Sydney would likely secure their place in the quarter-finals.

But Postecoglou said it was also important that the players remain fresh for the campaign so he planned to ring in several changes.

“We’ve learnt pretty clearly at the World Cup, by the third game against Spain we were pretty spent as a group because we relied on a core group of players,” Postecoglou said.

“We don’t want to fall into the same trap. We want to do well in all three games and tomorrow night is a very, very important game for us.”

Australia are overwhelming favourites to beat Oman, who lost their opening match 1-0 to South Korea, but Cahill said the Socceroos were expecting a tough encounter.

“We know that they’ve got a great squad and a coach that has been with them for a very long time,” Cahill said.

“So the familiarity for their team and of their players playing together, they’ve got the upper hand there.

“When it comes to us, we just have to focus on ourselves. We’ve trained well, we’ve had a great start. We know this is going to be a difficult opposition.”

(Reporting by Julian Linden in Brisbane. Editing by Patrick Johnston)

Van Gaal no closer to title challenge than Moyes was

United, who spent 150 million pounds on new players in the summer, failed to get a shot on target at home for the first time in more than five years as they went down to a 1-0 defeat to the Saints who had not won at Old Trafford since 1988.


The defeat leaves United with 37 points from 21 matches, exactly the same total they had this time last year when David Moyes was manager, and they have scored one goal less. Moyes was sacked in April after less than a season in charge.

Van Gaal, who left Colombian striker Radamel Falcao out of the squad raising doubts about his future at the club, still had Angel Di Maria, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney in attack and Juan Mata went close twice to scoring late in the game.

An additional thorn in Van Gaal’s side on Sunday was that Southampton are coached by fellow Dutchman Ronald Koeman and the one-time Ajax Amsterdam colleagues have not been friends since Van Gaal was forced out of the club by Koeman in 2004.

The two gave each other a cursory handshake after the game which Van Gaal said Southampton were lucky to win.

“We didn’t create so much but we dominated the game. They came for a draw and they go away with a victory, that is disappointing,” he added.

“We played a much better game than Southampton. They were lucky to score out of nothing.”

United slipped to fourth, one place behind Southampton, and while there are still questions over how much progress they have made since Moyes left, there are also questions over the future of Falcao at United.

United must pay 46.0 million pounds to AS Monaco if the striker is to remain at United permanently when his loan deal ends in the summer.

Van Gaal said he opted to include teenager James Wilson on the bench rather than Falcao because of the England Under-20 international’s pace.

“Falcao wasn’t injured, he was just not selected in the squad,” Van Gaal said.

However, when Van Persie came off injured after 61 minutes, Ander Herrera replaced him, not Wilson.

Eight minutes later United went behind with the goal that sealed Saints victory.

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

Palestinians celebrate Asian Cup breakthrough

Hundreds of fans, including women and children, gathered at a large venue in Gaza City to watch their national team on a giant screen take on the title holders of Asia’s biggest football tournament play in a country that does not recognise them.


An eighth minute goal for Japan, scored by Yasuhito Endo, did not dampen spirits as drums continued to be heard, while fans called out the names of players and their team ‘Palestine’.

Goalkeeper Ramzi Saleh, who said before kick-off he wanted to use the tournament to promote his homeland, and the skilful forward Ashraf Al-Fawaghra received the bulk of the cheers.

Palestinians call their team ‘Al-Fedayi’ which means the one who sacrifices life for the sake of the homeland.

Japan predictably added further goals but still the party atmosphere flowed, with those in Gaza seeing Palestinian flags being waved by singing supporters inside the Newcastle Stadium.

“Regardless of the result we are very proud of our team, our players, who are flying the flag of Palestine in such international contests,” said Ali Abu Khalil, a high school student.

“Today we do not have the capability and the resources to compete but one day we will gain the way and the talent to win contests,” said the boy, wearing a Palestinian flag on his shoulders and surrounded by a group of friends.

Youth danced to the rhythm of the drum and national music in a large covered hall, the smoke of cigarettes clouding over those in attendance.

In a place torn apart by political differences, the Gaza Strip, home to 1.8 million people, sport represents a common source of entertainment and cafes get usually packed of people during football matches, especially the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga.


The national team are also keenly followed and have made great strides since being recognised by FIFA in 1998.

Last year they won the AFC Challenge Cup to qualify for the 16-team Asian Cup in Australia despite difficulties in arranging training camps, matches or even gathering their best players.

The Palestinians say that Israel, which controls coming and going from Gaza and the West Bank, has been restricting the movement of Palestinian athletes and have urged FIFA to step in and give out sanctions.

Israel cites security concerns for restricting movement between Gaza, controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, and the West Bank, where the Palestinians have limited self-rule.

Abdel-Salam Haniyeh, member of the Palestinian Higher Council of Youth and Sports, watched on with the hundreds in Gaza as the team, ranked 115th in the world by FIFA, fought on.

“We have lost to Japan, the strongest team in Asia and one of the world’s best football teams therefore, we can’t blame our brave players,” Haniyeh told Reuters.

“Our participation was not only of sport nature, it has also a political nature, the playing of the national anthem of Palestine and flying of the Palestinian flag is a source of pride for every Palestinian.”

Next up is a match against Jordan in Melbourne on Friday.

(Writing by Patrick Johnston; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

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”.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)