Tag Archives: assessment

Wojciech Szczesny spotted at nightclub after cup defeat

Szczesny and pals spotted enjoying a night out despite Arsenal catastrophe

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UPDATED:

13:46 GMT, 13 December 2012

The night after crashing out of the Capital One Cup in embarrassing fashion to League Two Bradford, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and a few team-mates dusted themselves off for a night out in London.

The Arsenal players were seen dressed up and enjoying themselves at hotspot the Aura Club on Wednesday night.

Man about town: Wojciech Szczesny relaxing the night after Arsenal's embarrassing defeat

Man about town: Wojciech Szczesny relaxing the night after Arsenal's embarrassing defeat

Arsenal’s season looks to be in
meltdown, with supporters finally turning on manager Arsene Wenger after
another cup defeat, arguably his worst defeat since taking over at the
club in 1996.

Wenger picked a strong side worth nearly 67million to face the League Two outfit — total cost 7,500 — but after scoring a late equaliser to take the tie to extra time Arsenal lost on penalties.

The under-fire manager was subjected to yet more humiliation when Bradford captain Gary Jones insisted Torquay had proved more difficult to beat than Arsenal.

Jones delivered a scathing assessment, arguing Arsenal players should hang their heads in shame after putting up less fight than Torquay in a League Two fixture three days earlier.

Mid-table Torquay kept Bradford at bay until bowing to an 85th-minute goal from one of Tuesday’s substitutes, Alan Connell, and Jones was in no doubt about who had inconvenienced them more.

‘I think it’s safe to say Torquay gave us a tougher game,’ said the 35-year old, whose previous claim to fame was making a record number of appearances for Rochdale.

‘It was like a role reversal, because Torquay defended really well against us, whereas it was us defending really well against Arsenal.

‘When you look at what the two teams cost (Bradford 7,500, Arsenal over 65million), it is an incredible result. Without a shadow of a doubt, if I was an Arsenal player heading home after that, I would be embarrassed.’

Upset: Arsenal went down to Bradford on penalties on Tuesday night

Upset: Arsenal went down to Bradford on penalties on Tuesday night

Five things Wales must work on to improve

Humbled Wales need to correct these five fatal flaws and save the autumn series

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UPDATED:

22:52 GMT, 11 November 2012

Eleven years to the day since Rob Howley lost to Argentina at the Millennium Stadium as a player, his side were humbled by the same margin in a pitiful 12-26 defeat.

Wales have failed to win the opening Test of their autumn campaign for 12 years, and the much-vaunted Grand Slam glory has been followed by four consecutive Test match losses (excluding one forgettable run-out against the Barbarians). So, what is going wrong

Floored: Centre Jamie Roberts is treated for concussion

Floored: Centre Jamie Roberts is treated for concussion

GET A GRIP

Argentina put Wales in a headlock and never let go. The hosts are serial slow starters and need to impose their game plan from kick-off, not let their opponents dictate play.

Fumble: Leigh Halfpenny spills a high ball under pressure from Juan Manuel Leguizamon

Fumble: Leigh Halfpenny spills a high ball under pressure from Juan Manuel Leguizamon

Full back Leigh Halfpenny fumbled an awkward ball in the first minute and it set the tone. As Argentina coach Santiago Phelan put it: ‘We took the initiative in the first 20 minutes. The intensity of the game was very high but in the Rugby Championship we learned how to play at this kind of intensity and velocity.’

That the wooden spoon collectors of the Rugby Championship should beat the Grand Slam champions of Europe tells us the north-south divide remains. Asked how the competitions compare, Pumas captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe put it simply: ‘The difference We’re playing against the first, second and third best teams in the world.’

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

Prop Gethin Jenkins was brutally honest. ‘It’s back to the drawing board,’ he said.

‘We’ve got to really look at ourselves. We played into their hands by trying to play too much rugby in our own territory.’

Wales are guilty of trying too hard and thinking about the next phase without properly executing the current one.

Honest assessment: Wales' prop Gethin Jenkins did not hold back with his views after the game

Honest assessment: Wales' prop Gethin Jenkins did not hold back with his views after the game

‘Thinking Clearly Under Pressure’ was a mantra of Sir Clive Woodward’s England side and Wales need a dose of it. Losing centre Jamie Roberts so early with concussion — after a nasty clash of heads with centre Gonzalo Tiesi — left them without their go-to guy.

LIONS WATCH

Leigh Halfpenny’s kicking is as flawless as ever — and he can jump a foot higher than rivals who are a foot taller in any aerial battle — but Wales were so flat no-one enhanced his reputation. Jamie Roberts’ importance was proved in his absence. Sam Warburton must show he can pull his team together when under the cosh.

The centre provides momentum to the side, particularly off the first phase, and without him stand-in coach Howley admitted Wales were one-paced.

There was no dynamism and no precision in their play. On more than one occasion, the flying giants on the flanks had to slow down so as not to get in front of team-mates during their lethargic attacks. Wales love the word momentum, but you must pick up speed first.

FRESHNESS OVER FITNESS

For all the flogging punishment suffered at their training camp in Poland, Wales lost the second half 20-3. They looked sluggish and half a step behind, lacking their trademark zip.

Thirty training sessions in seven days is impressive, but if that doesn’t translate into physical superiority on the pitch then it is just unnecessary torture. Jenkins admitted: ‘I don’t know whether they tired us out in the final 35 minutes, but they upped the tempo and we couldn’t deal with it.’

Putting in the preparation: Jonathan Davies comes out of the cryotherapy chamber in Poland where Wales went of a training camp

Putting in the preparation: Jonathan Davies comes out of the cryotherapy chamber in Poland where Wales went of a training camp

After the final whistle, Wales headed for their cryotherapy sauna in a converted police van in the car park. Argentina had a cold shower and a crate of Bulmers delivered to their changing room.

POWER OF THREES

Wales have lost three key positions in their 3, 6 and 12. Tighthead prop Adam Jones and blindside flanker Dan Lydiate are out for the autumn, and the concussion suffered by centre Roberts will be assessed on Monday. If it is deemed severe then the new IRB regulations could see him sit out the rest of the autumn.

Telling it like it is: Shaun Edwards gave an honest assessment

Telling it like it is: Shaun Edwards gave an honest assessment

Those three positions are vital for an attacking platform — Jones at the scrum, Lydiate at the breakdown and Roberts providing the go-forward off the first phase.

Defensive coach Shaun Edwards pulled no punches afterwards: ‘It was obvious there is a disparity between our first-choice 15 and the players who have got those positions now.’ It gets worse with lock Alun Wyn Jones out for the series with a nasty shoulder injury.

LOOMING LION

Howley is an impressive figure in training — for both his intelligence as a coach and his rapport with the players — but Warren Gatland still looms in the shadows. The Lions head coach was in Dublin on Saturday watching Ireland, but is he the missing link on matchday

Intelligent: Rob Howley is an impressive man

Intelligent: Rob Howley is an impressive man

Wales needed the proverbial rocket at half-time, instead they showed no real change after the break. Gatland returns for the final two games against New Zealand and Australia and his effect on the side will be intriguing. Next up for Wales is their bogey team Samoa at their bogey time — the dreaded Friday night slot — after only a six-day turnaround.

Lose that and Wales are staring down the barrel of a winless autumn. They haven’t beaten New Zealand since 1953 and are on a seven-match losing run against Australia. As hooker Richard Hibbard put it: ‘It just gets more and more physical with the hard-hitters to come.’

Audley Harrison interview before David Price fight

The 'new' Harrison is still talking a good fight as Price showdown looms large

By
Riath Al-samarrai

PUBLISHED:

19:30 GMT, 11 October 2012

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UPDATED:

19:30 GMT, 11 October 2012

Why does he do it to himself After nearly an hour of brutal self-assessment, with tangents covering the ‘cosmic universe’, womanising and his ‘spiritual awakening’, Audley Harrison comes up with an answer.

‘I grew up in north London and when I was a kid I used to go to this place, Stonebridge Adventure Playground,’ he says. ‘The elders used to beat us up, punch us in the leg 10 times because we used to mouth off at them.

‘I used to be the one who got back up and mouthed off again. They would come back, flatten me, punch me in the same place in my leg. My God, I couldn’t walk. But I would still give it the big ’un. Other people would say, “I’m sorry, please stop”. Not me. That’s how I am. Nothing stops me.’

Not ridicule, not shame. Nor, if you believe his latest claims, David Price, the 29-year-old Liverpool boxer of huge stature and promise whose British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles Harrison thinks he can win. In Price’s home city and at the age of 40, no less.

Out with the old Audley: Harrison in training for his fight with David Price

Out with the old Audley: Harrison in training for his fight with David Price

Of course, we’ve been here before. Almost two years have passed since Harrison stepped into a ring with David Haye after months of hype. He had spoken about his destiny to win a world title, about redemption, about future nominations for Sports Personality of the Year.

He landed one punch.

Today, he talks about ‘shocking the world’, that ‘redemption awaits’. It’s all been said so many times before in a career that has yielded five defeats against some mediocre opponents.

Same old likeable Audley but, then again, as he repeats so often in this conversation, this isn’t the same old Audley. This is the Audley of 2012 and to understand the Audley of 2012 he says you have to revisit the Audley of 2004.

‘I was a monster,’ he says. ‘I had been a playboy, didn’t care whose heart I broke. I was ruthlessly selfish. I realised in the amateurs, in 1996 against Danny Watts, that I had to become a robot. I froze that night so afterwards I stripped away all my emotions. I became a machine and it worked. But then that stuff in 2004 came and destroyed me.’

Get in the ring: Harrison will face David Price in Liverpool

Get in the ring: Harrison will face David Price in Liverpool

He is talking about the BBC’s decision not to renew his 1million contract. Harrison had blazed a trail as a fighter promoting himself and the Beeb did not like the arrangement. Harrison, at a time when he was still unbeaten and considered a genuine world title contender, would not back down.

‘I was such a control freak,’ he says. ‘Then the universe sent me a signal. I lost everything. Losing that deal hurt so much.’

He relocated to Los Angeles. ‘I was broken and needed to escape,’ he says. ‘It was the best thing I did. I had a spiritual awakening. I started becoming a human, thinking about others. Boxing went on the backburner. It has been a journey that helped me meet my wife and let us have our daughter.

‘But it was not an easy journey because, trust me, it is not easy for a fighter to just change like that.’

He refers to the night he choked against Danny Williams in his first defeat in 2005: ‘When I was a robot I was so arrogant I thought I could pull it out even if I hadn’t prepared right. That night all these new emotions got to me and I froze.’

Head-to-head: Price (right) will defend his British and Commonwealth titles against Harrison

Head-to-head: Price (right) will defend his British and Commonwealth titles against Harrison

Then came the decline leading up to the Haye debacle. ‘Like I said, it’s all part of a journey,’ Harrison says. ‘How could I become the champion of the world when I wasn’t champion of myself’

Now, after eight years, he says he has that control and believes he can be a ‘top boxer and a top person’.

‘People will think what they want to think, but I am a spiritual person and this all makes sense. I believe there is a reason that in an Olympic year I have been given my motivation back, my drive for boxing. I know there will be a bright sky for me after I fight David Price because I have prepared right. I believe that everything happens for a reason and so I can live with what the media say about me when I have not walked the walk after talking the talk.’

He goes back to the Haye fight. ‘Maybe that was the universe giving my own medicine,’ he says.

‘I was expelled from two schools. The first, Northwood, didn’t have many black people so I became chief bully in my year because that was the only way I knew to deal with it. There will have been a lot of people cheering when they saw me running around the ring scared of David Haye.’

Sorry showing: Harrison is floored by David Haye after three abysmal rounds

Sorry showing: Harrison is floored by David Haye after three abysmal rounds

Those same people might well be cheering a similar sight and others will continue to mock the achievements of an Olympic champion and former European title winner. By his own harsh judgment, Harrison has ‘so far failed as a boxer because the aim is to win a world title’.

But he’s still here taking dead legs for mouthing off.

Matt Lawton Interview: Lukas Podolski: I want to win titles at Arsenal

Podolski: I moved to Arsenal to fight for Premier League titles

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UPDATED:

23:43 GMT, 28 September 2012

Lukas Podolski delivers a candid assessment of his performances thus far at Arsenal. 'It is too early to say “Podolski is a hero”,' he says.

'After only five or six games you cannot say “he's the best player and Arsenal are great”. I don't like this.

'After 20 matches and we have lost six matches everyone will be saying Arsenal is rubbish and Podolski is rubbish. We must wait. I signed for 4 years. Not for 5 or 6 matches.'

Fighter: Lukas Podolski wants to win Premier League titles with Arsenal

Fighter: Lukas Podolski wants to win Premier League titles with Arsenal

You can see why people at Arsenal seem to like this guy, and why they claim he has energized the place since arriving from Cologne in the summer.

He walks into the press room at Arsenal's training ground and makes a beeline for three German journalists he recognises. There are hugs and high-fives; a genuine sense of warmth.

When a photographer offers to show him the digital images he has just taken of him, Podolski studies them intently with a friendly hand on the guy's shoulder. 'Oh no, not that one,' he pleads.

He suddenly breaks into an anecdote about Michael Schumacher, his close friend and someone who grew up just five minutes from Podolski's humble family home.

Arms stretched out in front of him with hands gripping an imaginary steering wheel, Podolski starts describing how it felt to be travelling sideways at 120mph in Schumacher's Mercedes. A devilish grin on one German's face, a grimace on the other.

His English is excellent. 'I taught myself while in hotels on away trips and with the national team,' he explains proudly.

'You get a lot of free time.' He slips in a quick apology. 'If you remember I scored in Bloemfontein,' he says. 'Sorry England.'

He does then add that Germany were 'the better team that day' during the 2010 World Cup and it is hard to argue.

'England were strong,' he adds. 'Lots of fight, lots of heart. But I think we played the better football.

'But then I thought Bayern Munich were the better team in the Champions League final and Chelsea won. That is football.'

Football was Podolski's salvation. The son of Polish parents, they emigrated to Germany when he was two-years-old having been given Aussiedler status.

This was granted due to the fact that Podolski's paternal grandparents were German citizens prior to the Second World War, because their home town of Gliwice – known as Gleiwitz before 1945 – was then part of Germany.

Get in: Podolski has impressed since arriving in London

Get in: Podolski has impressed since arriving in London

GOAL MACHINE

2002-2006 Cologne
Appearances: 87 Goals: 51

2006-2009 B Munich
Appearances: 108 Goals: 26

2009-2012 Cologne
Appearances: 96 Goals: 35

2012- Arsenal
Appearances: 6 Goals: 3

And for Germany…
Caps: 103 Goals: 44

Watching brief:
LIVE on Saturday Sky Sports 2 from noon (KO 12.45).

But they arrived in Bergheim virtually penniless, his father taking a job in a factory, his mother a job in a school, and made their home in a flat in a high rise block occupied predominantly by immigrant families.

'Schumacher would have been in a much bigger house,' he says, joking.

'We lived in a tower block near the football stadium. Every day I played at the stadium. It was one minute from my house.

'You see the buildings when you drive to the stadium. When you come from Poland you have nothing.

'Your mother and father are working. You have only a bed for sleep. You have a kitchen and that's it. You must fight.

'I was lucky to have this stadium near the house; somewhere I could play football.

'It was tough for my family. My father was working, my mother was working. Sometimes I was alone at home after leaving school. My sister might cook something. Or I might go to buy something.

'But then I went straight to play football with friends, to play on the pitch.'

He was blessed with athletic ability. His father, Waldemar, was a first division player in Poland who would then secure a place in the side at Bergheim.

'I remember watching him,' says Podolski. 'During half-time I would run around on the pitch.'

He says his speed and strength actually comes from his mother, Krystyna, however.

'She was a top handball player,' he says, and she was; she played for Poland.

Had it not been for football, he says, he would have ended up 'on the street'.

Off they went: Podolski admits it would be better had Robin van Persie stayed

Off they went: Podolski admits it would be better had Alex Song stayed

Off they went: Podolski admits it would be better had Robin van Persie (left) and Alex Song (right) stayed

The replacements: Santi Cazorla has been drafted in at the Emirates

The replacements: Olivier Giroud has been drafted in at the Emirates

The replacements: Santi Cazorla (left) and Olivier Giroud (right) have been drafted in at the Emirates

The stadium at Bergheim was his sanctuary and it is why he now offers financial support to a club that plays in the ninth tier of German football.

At the Lukas Podolski Sportpark he has had pitches relaid, changing rooms rebuilt. He talks to the manager, Ingo Haselback, every day.

They discuss players and potential transfer targets. 'I love this place,' he says.

It was while playing at Bergheim, when he was 10 or 11-years-old, that he was first spotted by a scout at nearby Cologne.

'Cologne was my big team, my favourite team,' he says. 'I trained one week in Cologne and they asked me to sign for Cologne.

'At 17 or 18 the coach asked me to go the first-team training ground. I was lucky to have that coach.

'I made very quick progress. It was the guy who is the current national coach of Austria, Marcel Koller.

'He called me and I went into his office. He said: “You are very good, you come to the training camp for one week.”

'Then I trained for a lot of weeks in the team. In the first match against Hamburg I was in the squad and it was quick. My first game for the national team also came quick.'

It came when he was just 19, and despite having 'two hearts' – one for Germany, the other for Poland – he accepted Rudi Voller's invitation to play for Germany against Hungary on June 6 2004.

It would be the first of the 103 international caps he has so far amassed. A remarkable achievement for a player who is only 27.

Join me: Podolski (left) joined fellow German Per Mertesacker in north London

Join me: Podolski (left) joined fellow German Per Mertesacker in north London

Settling in: Podolski has adapted to life in London quickly

Settling in: Podolski has adapted to life in London quickly

He would make one appearance as a substitute at Euro 2004, but at the World Cup in 2006 he was prominent among the stars.

As well as the three goals that helped Jurgen Klinsmann's side progress to the semi-finals, he would be voted the young player of the tournament ahead of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

That summer Podolski also signed for Bayern Munich, but three years there proved largely frustrating for this gifted, versatile left-footed forward.

Not least because the subsequent signing of Luca Toni would limit his opportunities in the team.

Podolski reflects with some honesty on that particular period of his career but with no great bitterness.

'I don't really know what happened at Bayern Munich,' he says. 'It was hard for me, you don't play a lot of matches.

'The coaches don't give me the chances to play and show how good I am for Bayern Munich.

'There is a big difference, moving from the second division to the biggest club in Germany.

'It was difficult. I was 20 or 21 at a big club. I had not played for a big club like Bayern. I knew I could play better for Bayern but I left and went back to Cologne because football for me is fun.

'When you go to a club and always sit on the bench and look at the team it is not easy. I didn't have enough chances to show the coach how I played, so I moved on.'

He is passionate about Cologne. The tattoo on his right arm says as much. But a second spell there did not quite go to plan either.

Two thumbs up: The German sent his mother, father and a friend to check Arsenal out before deciding on a move

Two thumbs up: The German sent his mother, father and a friend to check Arsenal out before deciding on a move

'I had options to go to Italy, England and other clubs in Germany,' he says. 'But I wanted to go back to Cologne to help change the club.

'They said they wanted to build a team around me and to play in the top five or six in the Bundesliga.

'But after three years I realised it was not a good decision because they did nothing to build a team around me.

'I went back because it is my town, my club, I love the club. I wanted to change things.

'The manager and the president said things but after three years I saw nothing. I was a little bit angry about this because you see the stadium, the people are crazy about football. I left. I had an offer from Arsenal, this great club that plays in the Champions League. I had to go.'

He dispatched a party of trusted advisers to London to check out Arsenal.

'My wife, my father and my friend Nassim came here to see the training ground and the stadium,' he says.

'I was at the Euros. I couldn't tell the Germany coach I needed a couple of days to go to London.

'But they were very impressed. My dad said the place was fantastic, and I was happy with that. I was left with the feeling that Arsenal was a great club.'

Did the seven trophyless seasons prior to his arrival concern him

Remember this Podolski scored when Germany knocked England out of the South Africa World Cup in 2010

Remember this Podolski scored when Germany knocked England out of the South Africa World Cup in 2010

'It's not important only to win the trophies,' he says. 'We will fight for the Premier League. We will fight against Chelsea this weekend.

'But it was not important for me when I signed. I wasn't saying “oh, they've won nothing for seven years. I don't go there”. I like this club. I like the people here.

'I like the way they play football. You come to a new club and a new league and you never know how it will start. How the team plays.

'But I felt easy here from the first training session. Everyone was so helpful. The club helped me. The style of football is the kind I like. One or two touches. Quick passing. Fast at the front.

'In the offence I like to play with Cazorla. You see this in the matches. I am looking for him and he is looking for me. I like playing with him. I can't understand why he was playing for Villarreal and Malaga and not a bigger team earlier.

'I'm looking forward to playing the next four years with him.'

He agrees that 'it would have been better' had Robin Van Persie and Alex Song stayed.

'But we have Cazorla and Giroud now,' he says. 'Great players have left but we have to look forward.'

Did he look forward to that first day at training Was Arsene Wenger waiting to welcome him to London Colney

'He doesn't wait with flowers for me, “Podolski, you are here!” No, no.' Enough said.

With the big boys: Podolski played a part as Arsenal grabbed a point at the Etihad against Manchester City

With the big boys: Podolski played a part as Arsenal grabbed a point at the Etihad against Manchester City

Pepe Reina must prove he"s safe hands

Reina must prove he's safe hands as Liverpool stopper's form begins to raise questions

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 21 September 2012

For a man who is a creature of habit and exceptionally superstitious, the demolished petrol station on the road to Anfield will be troubling Pepe Reina.

Liverpool's goalkeeper follows a bizarre pre-match routine that involves him stopping at the same garage before every home game, regardless of whether he needs one litre or a couple of gallons, to ensure his tank is full to the brim.

This summer, though, the forecourt that has been as vital psychologically to Reina's preparations as any warm-up drill has disappeared.

Questionable: Pepe Reina's form has been erratic in recent weeks

Questionable: Pepe Reina's form has been erratic in recent weeks

Sadly for the Spaniard, so has his form. Mistakes against Hearts and Arsenal have highlighted the problem, but he would be the first to recognise that standards have slipped in the last two years.

Given Reina's iconic standing among Liverpool supporters and the outstanding reputation he holds within the game, that appraisal may seem harsh but just consider this self-assessment he gave during an interview with Sportsmail in December 2010.

'I'm not happy at all,' he said. 'I can be better in many ways. I'm disappointed because you always want to be really consistent and helping the team. I want to improve.'

Managers have changed since then but were you to ask him for a synopsis of how he has started this campaign, the answer would be the same.

As much as Liverpool need to beat Manchester United on Sunday, Reina needs a big performance in a big game.

Only a couple of years ago Reina,
whom Rafa Benitez signed from Villarreal for 6.5million in 2005,
smashed a club record for keeping 100 clean sheets in less than 200
appearances and crowned his first three campaigns by winning the Golden
Gloves.

So what has gone amiss There are a
number of theories.

The first is that there is a lack of competition for
a starting place as Reina's deputies Brad Jones and Peter Gulacsi are
not up to playing regularly in the top flight.

Come on! Some believe the frequent changes of coaching staff at Liverpool could be a factor

Come on! Some believe the frequent changes of coaching staff at Liverpool could be a factor

Secondly, there is a perception that he has become frustrated by Liverpool's inability to compete.

Perhaps the most significant point, though, centres on the coaching he is receiving.

Reina had a close bond with Jose Ochotorena when he first arrived and the rapport continued with Xavi Valero.

Any chance Although first choice at Liverpool, Reina is behind Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes in the Spain pecking order

Any chance Although first choice at Liverpool, Reina is behind Iker Casillas and Victor Valdes in the Spain pecking order

Since then he has worked with Mike Kelly – Roy Hodgson's long-time ally – and, currently, the former Tranmere keeper John Achterberg.

Many wonder whether the changes are impacting on Reina. There have been stories that the 30-year-old will be moved on but he has no desire to leave.

Just as importantly, Brendan Rodgers wants him to stay. 'I've never had a problem with Pepe,' said Rodgers. 'He's a key member of the squad.'

But until he recaptures his top form, questions will keep being asked. What better place to start answering them than in the biggest game of all.

London 2012 Paralympics: Ellie Simmonds wins gold in 400m freestyle

Simmonds smashes 400m freestyle world record as she takes GB's second Paralympic gold in the pool

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UPDATED:

17:54 GMT, 1 September 2012

Ellie Simmonds claimed ParalympicsGB's second gold medal in the pool of London 2012 when she triumphed in her S6 400 metres freestyle shoot-out against Victoria Arlen and demolished the American's world record by more than five seconds.

Victory in five minutes 19.17 seconds followed the gold won by Jonathan Fox on the opening night and came immediately after Simmonds' Swansea team-mate Matthew Whorwood secured bronze in the previous race in the men's equivalent.

Tears of joy! Ellie Simmonds smashed the world record by five seconds on her way to 400m gold

Tears of joy! Ellie Simmonds smashed the world record by five seconds on her way to 400m gold

The crowd at the Aquatics Centre had grown increasingly more raucous as Whorwood made his way to the bronze in the previous race and on Simmonds' introduction the noise was intense.

The pair were neck and neck going into the final turn with the Briton 0.08 secs ahead and as she pulled away, the American had no answer as Simmonds touched first to send the crowd into a frenzy.

It was only at 2pm on Saturday that Arlen's participation in the race was confirmed in a statement released by the International Paralympic Committee.

Earlier this week the American swimmer had been deemed ineligible for competition and excluded from London 2012.

The United States' appeal to the IPC was upheld and the 17-year-old was reinstated on Thursday.

In a two-stage process, Arlen passed an initial assessment but she was also observed during racing on Saturday and it was only following the morning's heat that any doubt surrounding her involvement in her three S6 freestyle events was dispelled with a review in a year's time.

Unstoppable: Simmonds was in disbelief when she took the gold in London

Unstoppable: Simmonds was in disbelief when she took the gold in London

A swimmer's classification can change for different strokes because the nature of their impairment may affect their ability to perform a particular stroke.

This applies to Arlen who competes in the SB5 class in breaststroke in which she will continue to be observed.

Simmonds struggled to keep her emotions in check as she came to terms with her achievement.

'I need to sort myself out because I don't want to cry again,' she told Channel 4.

'I just went out there and gave it my all. I'm exhausted but I can't wait to see my coach (Billy Pye).

'I'm exhausted. I can't believe I did it.

Congratulations: Victoria Arlen embraces Simmonds after being beaten by the Briton

Congratulations: Victoria Arlen embraces Simmonds after being beaten by the Briton

'It was so tough. I saw her (Arlen) on the last 100 and I was like, “I'm going to have to put my head down' and I thought, 'I'm going to do it for for everyone who's supported me”.'

Asked whether the uncertainty surrounding Arlen's participation had affected her, she said: 'Not really. I think it pushed me even harder.

'I knew that she was on it tonight, I knew I had to go there and give it everything, but 5.19 – my coach said it was going to be won in a 5.19 but I didn't believe him.

'I just put my head down and gave it everything. I was exhausted but I just put my head down and went for it.

'Everyone was wishing me good luck which was so nice. I did it for myself, I did it for my family.'

With the medley still to come, she added: 'I'm on form. I've just done a six-second PB so everything's going really well so I'm just going to go back, enjoy this moment, enjoy my medal and my presentation. I'm excited.'

London 2012 Olympics: Sportsmail"s verdict on Women"s first entry into the Boxing ring

'Warrior Girls' win right to respect in the ring on Olympics debut

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UPDATED:

23:55 GMT, 5 August 2012

As the female boxers took Olympic ring for the first time Sportsmail sent two reporters to the ExCeL. Boxing reporter Jeff Powell and Laura Williamson gave their contrasting perspectives on the sport.

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It's not exactly my cup of tea, though I do back boxing's suffragettes

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On the front foot: Great Britain's Natasha Jonas goes on the attack against Quanitta Underwood

The suffragettes of the modern Games ignored all that and kept on campaigning.

Their Sabbath day of emancipation
came at the ExCeL arena in London's Docklands. Posterity demands that we
record who threw the first punch for Olympic equality.

Unfortunately the opening blows from a
Russian, the inaugural winner, and a North Korean were landed in unison
and no easier to separate than the first two finishers in the women's
triathlon.

We will do here what they should have done with that gold medal in Hyde Park – award the honour jointly.

History duly served, curiosity gave
way to objective assessment, along with earsplitting enthusiasm for two
very different members of the fairer sex. Mary Kom is a mother of two
from a poor village who has become a folk heroine in India, where she
has a street named after her.

Knock down: Jonas sends Underwood down to the canvas

Knock down: Jonas sends Underwood down to the canvas

The winner of five world amateur
titles, she entered the ring to a huge roar from the Asian community and
gave us an all-action impersonation of Manny Pacquiao on the way to
beating a rugged Pole. The first British woman to break the glass
ceiling – or should that be the glass jaw – is a Liverpool sweetheart.

Natasha Jonas, a 28-yearold lightweight, kept the British medal hunt going by outpointing America's Quanitta Underwood.

The result was hard-earned and fair
enough but the margin – 21-13 – so preposterously wide as to raise
further eyebrows about the judging here.

But there was no questioning the
significance of the moment. Jonas said: 'It's brilliant to be part of
history and it's been a long time coming but my main focus has to be on
the boxing.'

So it does with Ireland's highly
rated Katie Taylor coming up very fast this afternoon. So here we are,
doffing a serious cap to young women wearing head guards.

Making their mark: Jonas and Underwood fight for the first time in the Olympics

Making their mark: Jonas and Underwood fight for the first time in the Olympics

Did I ever in my earlier journalistic
life expect to be reporting in the sports section on women getting
beaten up No. But 30 years ago there were no lady reporters in our
press boxes at sports ground.

Is women's boxing to my taste Not
entirely but I defend absolutely their right to engage in whatever sport
they fancy. How good is it Rob McCracken, GB's boxing coach and
trainer of world super-middleweight champion Carl Froch, says: 'If you
stand 40 or 50 yards back from the ring you could mistake quite a few of
them for male boxers.'

I suppose they will take that as a
compliment. Concessions are made to the female of the jabbing species.
They box four two-minute rounds, the men three three-minute rounds.

Although that it is just a minute
shorter in total, it is a darn sight easier. Nor, to my personal relief,
are any of these girls likely to venture into the ruthless, brutal,
life-threatening world of the professionals.

Hartlepool's Savannah Marshall, the
world middleweight amateur champion who opens her campaign today, states
categorically she will be back for more Olympics.

Girl power may not rule the ring but
if and when they deliver medals later this week they will join Jessica
Ennis et al among the toasts of the town. And why not, when women go to
war for our country

Watching the action: Sportsmail's Laura Williamson and Jeff Powell at the women's boxing

Watching the action: Sportsmail's Laura Williamson and Jeff Powell at the women's boxing

Challenging to watch, but I admire all these women stand for

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Out for the count: Jonas sees Underwood go to the floor

They've probably encountered far
worse than being patronised or mocked; perhaps even being stopped from
doing the sport they love. But 36 of them, including three Britons, have
made it to the Olympic stage. This is something to be celebrated.

'We're both there in the ring, both
being warrior women and trying to do our best,' said British lightweight
Natasha Jonas, who beat American Quanitta Underwood in her first-round
fight yesterday.

'Warrior women.' I like that. But
it's one thing to hear and speak about women's boxing and the
overwhelmingly positive, empowering message the sport sends out. It's
quite another to watch it.

To see a woman getting punched in the
face, her nose buckling under the pressure of another woman's glove, is
a challenging image. It's very new and still rare and that's a
difficult combination to get your head around.

I wasn't sure how I would feel when I
saw it. As a sporting spectacle, seeing 'Magnificent Mary', five-time
world champion Mary Kom, fighting for India at flyweight was right up
there.

Her twin sons celebrated their fifth
birthday as their mother, a police officer, won convincingly. There were
female India supporters brandishing flags like they were cheering on MS
Dhoni at a Twenty20 international.

She's done it! Natasha Jonas celebrates her win

She's done it! Natasha Jonas celebrates her win

How brilliant is that I also liked
the fact there are no skirts and no frills to distinguish the women from
the men. 'If you're sitting far enough away you can't even tell they're
girls,' said someone.

This is a good thing: of course it's
slower and not as powerful, but these women don't need to get bogged
down in bikinis like some sort of half-time entertainment act. But I'm
skirting around (no pun intended) the crux of the issue again here.

How does it feel to see a woman
getting hit I didn't find it as shocking as watching a judoka – of
either sex – get flipped on to their back, but it took me a few rounds
to start to marvel at the power and speed of the punches.

My attention was instantly drawn to
the athlete on the receiving end, which is not how it should be. It did
feel different to watching a man get hit.

It's because I'm not used to it: boys
get into fights at school and girls rip each other to shreds with
words, generally. I felt tangled. I fiercely admire what these women
stand for and I desperately want to say I enjoyed watching them, just as
I would enjoy a tennis or football match.

But I couldn't help but feel like a
voyeur rather than a spectator. Women's boxing challenges the
preconceptions of the likes of my Australian friend, but I found it
challenging as well – far more than I thought I would.

But I'm going to stick with it. New
and different isn't necessarily a bad thing. And anyway, I need to learn
how to give Mr Enlightened a swift right hook next time.

Chelsea victory over Barcelona was a triumph of sheer will – Martin Samuel

Stuff purism, Chelsea's victory over Barcelona was a triumph of sheer will

|

UPDATED:

00:00 GMT, 25 April 2012

The captain got sent off. The other centre half lasted 12 minutes. Just about everybody who could not afford to get booked got booked. Jose Bosingwa played centre half for 64 minutes. In the Nou Camp. Against Lionel Messi and the best team in the world – a team who have now scored 104 goals at home this season. And they have, remember, no permanent manager.

Yet somehow, against all the odds, logic, expectation, the formbook, the coaching manuals and every credible assessment of how to run a football club (continuity, long-term planning) or win a football match at the Nou Camp (keep 10 men on the field, don't let Barcelona score two goals before half-time or give away a penalty), Chelsea have made it to the Champions League final.

They get there on one leg, missing John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles – and hoping against hope that Gary Cahill and David Luiz return from injury – but do not bet against them in whatever circumstance. Never bet against them after this.

Oh, what a night! It was all stacked against the Blues who forged a memorable victory

Oh, what a night! It was all stacked against the Blues who forged a memorable victory

In the stadium in which Manchester United went into injury time as losers and emerged European champions, Chelsea did the impossible: they pulled off something new under the sun, something never seen before, a rearguard action of heroic dimensions.

Inter Milan progressed to a Champions League final here when down to 10 men two years ago, but they actually lost 1-0 on the night. Not only did Chelsea win through with a numerical disadvantage, they did not lose the game, either.

Fernando Torres equalised, late, one on one, as Barcelona's players sunk to the same turf that caressed Bayern Munich's disbelieving, vanquished team here in 1999. Those lucky enough to have witnessed both nights were reunited with a memory; that of stunned incomprehension at what had unfolded coupled with an intense feeling of elation.

Stuff purism; this was one of the great nights, simply because it was about more than just beauty and technique. It was about bravery, determination, a refusal to bow, a triumph of sheer will. It was not Chelsea's destiny to be in Munich; it was their destiny to leave Catalonia defeated, as most teams do. They changed the narrative; they made this happen, somehow.

Rash: Terry's red card could have ended all hope for Chelsea who rallied to progress to the final

Rash: Terry's red card could have ended all hope for Chelsea who rallied to progress to the final

Rash: Terry's red card could have ended all hope for Chelsea who rallied to progress to the final

There is a scene at the end of the film The Right Stuff. General Chuck Yeager has crashed his Lockheed NF-104A fighter jet trying to set a new altitude record. He ejects at the last moment, the aircraft in flames. Presumed dead, as smoke from the wreckage floats across the desert plain, a figure can be seen limping over the horizon.

Battered, bloodied, charred, he still manages to walk in defiance to the ambulance. As the smouldering dot makes its shuffling path, a bystander peers quizzically. 'Is that a man' he asks. 'Yes,' comes the reply. 'That's a man.' And that is Chelsea, too.

Who knows what state they will be in when they finally limp into Munich's Allianz Arena on May 19 But in spirit they have the right stuff, too. Yeager talked of pushing the envelope, and that is what Chelsea have done against Barcelona. Forget the dreary advocates of purity, and consider what a phenomenal achievement it is to defeat Barcelona over three hours of football with a plainly inferior group of players.

Think of the concentration, think of the resolve. Think of how it must have felt when captain John Terry was sent off and, shortly after, Barcelona increased their lead to 2-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate. Then consider that, from there, Chelsea drew the game 2-2.

It was at the lowest point, two goals and a man down, that one mocking amateur bookie offered odds of 999-1 for Chelsea to draw on Betfair – and found a taker. Upside 1, downside 999, the look on his face when Torres scored that equaliser: priceless.

Net result: Torres' late strike also meant Chelsea left the Nou Camp undefeated

Net result: Torres' late strike also meant Chelsea left the Nou Camp undefeated

Net result: Torres' late strike also meant Chelsea left the Nou Camp undefeated

If Chelsea were brave, there was foolishness, too, and it came in the unlikeliest form: that of Terry, so often their rock, so nearly the millstone around their neck. The conspiracy theorists will gather en masse again, claiming Chelsea will be denied their captain in Munich by dark UEFA-inspired forces. But there really is no excuse this time.

Whether Barcelona striker Alexis Sanchez went down too easily or Terry's red card punishment fitted his crime is immaterial. The fact is he committed a completely unnecessary, unimpressively sneaky foul that rebounded personally and professionally in the worst way possible: a red card and out of the Final.

There will be the standard advances made on Terry's behalf, the standard sinister motives offered for Barcelona's supposed hold over referees, but ignore them. This was a clear cut case. To knee an opponent in the back of the leg is a foul. Strike one. The seriousness of the offence is intensified if committed unnecessarily off the ball rather than in play. Strike two. And if seen, will most certainly provoke a red card. Strike three and out.

Terry, normally the most focused of minds under pressure, allowed his game to be touched by an entirely random factor the moment he assaulted Sanchez. It was out of character in its indiscipline and a dereliction of the duty he holds most proud. Having saved Chelsea time and again at Stamford Bridge, on this occasion his senses left him, and he left his team-mates in the lurch.

Deflated and defeated: pep's Barcelona side were tipped for the trophy

Deflated and defeated: pep's Barcelona side were tipped for the trophy

Deflated and defeated: pep's Barcelona side were tipped for the trophy

Sanchez enjoyed his fall but Terry can have no complaints. His initial claim that he did not act deliberately was later converted to an admission of guilt and an apology. He has saved his teammates enough times to be forgiven, but that is no mitigation. With Cahill already off injured, it was his duty to take no chances and he could easily have cost Chelsea the game.

That he did not is testament to an outstanding group whose fortunes have been transformed late in the season by interim manager Roberto Di Matteo. Not that this triumph can be explained in tactical terms; there is no book that describes what a coach should do when he loses every central defender and the spiritual guide of his team, although it helps to have Petr Cech in goal.

Watching him move around Chelsea's team hotel yesterday, a tall, bookish-looking young man in smart spectacles, Clark Kent to the Nou Camp's Superman, it was hard to comprehend the two personas. Not that Cech's appearance was all that confounded logical minds. Why did Chelsea reach Munich Because they really, really wanted to.

Every decade or so, a game comes along that is impervious to common sense. Sir Alex Ferguson said it best. Chelsea, bloody hell.

Italian job: Di Matteo has masterminded a real change in fortunes for the club

Italian job: Di Matteo has masterminded a real change in fortunes for the club

Italian job: Di Matteo has masterminded a real change in fortunes for the club and their fans (below)

John Higgins says he"s not been trying hard enough

EXCLUSIVE: I've not been trying hard enough, admits struggling world champ Higgins

|

UPDATED:

13:01 GMT, 19 April 2012

It’s not often you meet a world champion who is low on confidence. But John Higgins, who won the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship in May 2011, has endured a torrid year.

Failing to win a single event on snooker’s busy calendar is not something you expect of a four-time winner of the sport’s greatest prize, but you do expect them to put an appropriate amount of effort into their endeavours – something Higgins is willing but not proud to admit he has not done.

When asked about his year, he was open and honest.

‘It’s been poor, it’s been very poor,’ he said. ‘It’s not been what I would have expected or hoped for. I’ve not been putting the correct amount of effort back into the game, which you need to. To be a top level sportsman you need to put a lot of time and effort in, and I’ve not been doing that.

Frank assessment: Higgins was critical of his form in the last year

Frank assessment: Higgins was critical of his form in the last year

‘You need to practice five or six days a week. I’ve been lucky if it’s even been one or two. That goes to show you where the problem lies.’

Higgins' most recent failure was at the China Open, which saw him eliminated in the second-round by Peter Ebdon. His conqueror eventually went on to win the tournament, but that proved scant consolation for the Scot, whose admission he was not especially disappointed with his exit highlighted his general malaise.

‘I’m not too disappointed with my performance there because it just joined a list of the other disappointments I’ve had this year,’ Higgins drolly explained.

When Higgins won last year’s World Championship, it looked like being a springboard for further success after some distressing events in his life.

Frame-fixing allegations were a source of trouble for the player after an undercover operation by the now-defunct News of the World, and although the charges were dropped, Higgins was still slapped with a 75,000 fine and banned for six months for bringing the game into disrepute.

Worse still, Higgins’ father and mentor, John Snr, died two months before the tournament began after losing his battle with cancer, prompting the Wizard of Wishaw to shed tears after his victory.

Testing times: Higgins lost his father last year

Testing times: Higgins lost his father last year

Was this the reason Higgins found it difficult to put in the right application away from events ‘Possibly, yeah,’ he said. ‘You can only be human when things like that happen. Obviously it’s tough. It’s always tough when you lose someone close to you.

‘It’s hard to try and get used to that but everyone in life has to go through that, you just have to do it the best you can.’

Although Higgins has never been a crowd favourite, it seems possible that the reaction towards the unsavoury allegations could be affecting his game. In the semi-final of the 2011 tournament he was heckled by an accusatory spectator.

But Higgins refused to give the idea any credence. ‘It was a one-off,’ he said. ‘The crowds have been good ever since.’

The crowds and atmosphere at Sheffield’s Crucible Higgins ranks as the best in snooker.

‘You can’t get any better than playing in the crucible, in that gladiatorial arena,’ he said. ‘There’s been years I’ve been there and really, really struggled, and lost quite heavily.

Wizard of Wishaw: Higgins is going for his fifth world title

Wizard of Wishaw: Higgins is going for his fifth world title

‘It’s a very unforgiving arena. You play well and it can be great, but you can have the worst moments of your career there.

In 1998, 2007, 2008 and 2011 Higgins enjoyed some of the great times there. Will 2012 be the next ‘I’ve been putting in seven days a week,’ he said. ‘But it could be too little, too late. It’s only been for three weeks I’ve been putting the practise in, so we’ll need to wait and see.

‘But the World Championship is a funny tournament. You can go down there without any confidence behind you but if you win a match you can pick it up from there.’

And it seems Higgins is excited about the direction the sport of snooker is heading in, under dynamic chief Barry Hearn. He said: ‘He’s had a great effect. It’s been the most important thing that we’ve had in snooker for the last 10 to 20 years.

‘He’s breathed a new life into the sport. It was going nowhere a few years ago, now it is full steam ahead.’

It seems Higgins is finding inspiration within himself as well, as he pledged to get back on track in the new snooker year ahead – starting with the World Championships.

Pledge: Higgins is looking to get his career back on track

Pledge: Higgins is looking to get his career back on track

‘I love the game of snooker. I love competing,’ he insisted. ‘There’s a fear there also you don’t want to fall too far down the rankings. A fear that drives you on to stay at the top level for as long as you can.’

This fear is compounded by young challengers looking to make their mark on the world stage – Higgins won the 2011 final against rising star Judd Trump.

‘Last year he brought something different to the Championship and the atmosphere he brought with him was great,’ explained Higgins. ‘He’s young, good looking, and he loved going on his twitter during the breaks. He’s been great for snooker and he will be great for snooker in the coming years.’

But the veteran does not see eye to eye with Trump on everything. The youngster said he would be in favour of a shot clock being introduced into some of snooker’s classic tournaments, but Higgins is not enamoured with the idea.

Defending champion: Higgins will look to repeat last year's performance

Defending champion: Higgins will look to repeat last year's performance

‘I don’t think so,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t be against a maximum time to play a shot but when you put a shot clock on for 15 to 20 seconds to play a shot, that’s too far.

‘I would be lost. I don’t really enjoy the shot clock. I’m not a slow player, but I don’t think the idea of people telling you when to hit a shot should come into it. It’s like saying to Tiger Woods you’ve got 10 seconds to run up there and hit the golf ball down the middle of the fairway. It should not happen.'

But with new players like Trump springing up the sport is thriving. Hearn has made many changes and introduced plenty of new events. With renewed vigour and determination, Higgins is looking forwards.

He said: ‘Things happen in life for a reason. You should not have regrets at all in life. Live for tomorrow, don’t think about the past.’

It will be a lot easier for Higgins to forget his last year if it ends with his fifth World Championship triumph.

Anti-F1 feeling grows in Bahrain as protestors target Grand Prix

Anti-F1 feeling grows in Bahrain as protestors target Grand Prix

|

UPDATED:

07:30 GMT, 17 April 2012

Anti-government protesters in Bahrain
are expected to step up their campaign this week which is set to have an
impact on Formula One.

A demonstration, declared by one as
'a huge rally', is planned for Tuesday in the village of Al Dair on the
doorstep of the Gulf kingdom's international airport.

Volatile: Protesters clash with police in Bahrain

Volatile: Protesters clash with police in Bahrain

It is understood the focus will not only centre on pro-democracy rights, but also anti-F1 as the race returns this weekend after a two-year absence.

On Wednesday, when most F1 personnel are due to arrive, what has been described by a risk assessment group as 'a vehicular rally' is to take place along the two highways that lead up to the airport.

Although the protests appear to be the latest in a long line of campaigns that have taken place since the 'Day of Rage' 14 months ago, the suspicion is the rebels are intent on taking their cause closer to F1 as Sunday's race looms.

Green light: FIA president Jean Todt confident Bahrain race will go-ahead

Green light: FIA president Jean Todt confident Bahrain race will go-ahead

Gatherings are also planned in Bab Al Bahrain in north Manama, and Tubli, a village south west of the capital.

Of greater significance, however, is a demonstration scheduled for Thursday in Manama, which has avoided any unrest of late.

The protesters have so far been confined to the villages, which has prompted many to claim Bahrain is peaceful and fit again to host the race.

For the most part that has certainly been
the case, with the FIA claiming on Saturday security was not an issue,
and the reason why they decided to give the event the green light.

Campaigners are set to step up the protests

Concern: Anti-government protesters are expected to step up their campaign

However, whilst the demonstrations mentioned are planned, what is unknown are the actions of a dissident group known as the Coalition Youth of the Feb 14 Revolution.

The Coalition have previously declared 'three days of anger' over the course of the race weekend, and have vowed to do all they can to disrupt proceedings.

Regardless, FIA president Jean Todt insisted on Sunday there are 'good and secure conditions'.

Todt finally broke his silence on Bahrain following the race in China, speaking to German television station RTL.

Race must go on: F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone says Bahrain GP will go ahead

Race must go on: F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone says Bahrain GP will go ahead

Todt said: 'We have spoken… with representatives of the government, with the embassies and with neighbouring countries, as well as with European foreign ministries.

'We have made an extensive examination with a lot of checks. It is clear the grand prix can go ahead.

'There has been some controversy about it, but the FIA is a sports organisation. We are only interested in sport, not politics.'

Despite that, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander has become the latest MP to call for the race to be cancelled.

Alexander said: 'F1 bosses should call off the scheduled Bahrain Grand Prix.

'To go ahead at present risks sending the wrong signal at a time when the authorities in Bahrain should be focused on delivering real reform.'