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Vincent Kompany only Premier League player to make World XI 2012, as Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney miss out

The best division in the world Probably not! Kompany is only Premier League player to be voted into Team of the Year XI 2012

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UPDATED:

15:47 GMT, 14 December 2012

Is the Premier League really the best league in the world Do we really boast the best teams made up of the greatest footballing talents on the planet On this evidence, we're not even close.

Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany was the only player from the English top-flight to be voted into the World XI 2012 by a panel of experts.

The big Belgian centre half partners Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos at the heart of the defence, as the pair are flanked by Barcelona’s Jordi Alba and Bayern Munich’s Philipp Lahm in a water-tight back four.

Lone representative: Vincent Kompany was the only Premier League player to make the final World XI of 2012

Lone representative: Vincent Kompany was the only Premier League player to make the final World XI of 2012

Waiting in the wings: Jordi Alba

Waiting in the wings: Philipp Lahm

Waiting in the wings: Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munich (right) and Jordi Alba (left) would play at full back

Water-tight: Sergio Ramos completes the back four, partnering Kompany at in the middle

Water-tight: Sergio Ramos completes the back four, partnering Kompany at in the middle

THE FULL WORLD XI 2012

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid, Spain)

Defenders: Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich, Germany), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid, Spain), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City, Belgium), Jordi Alba (Barcelona, Spain)

Midfielders: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona, Spain), Xavi (Barcelona, Spain), Andrea Pirlo (Juventus, Italy)

Forwards: Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid, Colombia), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Portugal), Lionel Messi (Barcelona, Argentina)

The World XI was voted for by a panel of experts at worldsoccer.com

The back four would – hypothetically, of course – deputise in front of Real Madrid and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Kompany’s team-mates David Silva and Yaya Toure may have been disappointed to hear that they missed out on a place in the midfield.

But they could have little complaint with the trio the experts voted in in their place. Diminutive Barcelona maestros Xavi and Iniesta partner Italian playmaker Andrea Pirlo in the middle.

This classy midfield would surely be prone to a rapid counter attack – should the opposition ever get the ball off them – but the three experienced playmakers are among the best passers in the game.

No one can argue with the front three though – not even Premier League marksmen Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney.

Barca boys: Andres Iniesta

Barca boys: Xavi

Barca boys: Xavi (right) and Barcelona team-mate Andres Iniesta (left) play in midfield

Maestro: Andrea Pirlo (right) partners the Barcelona duo

Maestro: Andrea Pirlo (right) partners the Barcelona duo

Lionel Messi, Radamel Falcao and Cristiano Ronaldo make up the fearsome front line. Between the three of them they have scored 52 league goals already this season.

Messi alone has scored 23 of those in just 15 games, and the Argentine netted a brace in midweek to take his goal tally in 2012 to a record 88 goals.

Falcao, who has been targeted by Chelsea and Manchester City has been a revelation during his time at Atletico Madrid. Perhaps his performance of the season came when he demolished Chelsea in the final of the Super Cup with an expertly taken hat-trick.

Ronaldo has gone from strength to strength since leaving Manchester United for a record 82million for Real Madrid in 2009. The Portugal captain has seen his side struggle somewhat in the league this season, although he's still managed to notch up 13 goals in La Liga before hailing in the New Year.

The panel of over 100 journalists and experts at worldsoccer.com only gave United striker Rooney a solitary vote – the same as his City rival Sergio Aguero.

Obvious Lionel Messi was unsurprisingly voted into the team

Obvious Lionel Messi was unsurprisingly voted into the team

Another one: Radamel Falcao joins Messi in the line-up over the likes of Robin van Persie

Another one: Radamel Falcao joins Messi in the line-up over the likes of Robin van Persie

Sitting pretty: Ronaldo leads the line in a team dominated by La Liga players

Sitting pretty: Ronaldo leads the line in a team dominated by La Liga players

Van Persie and Tottenham winger Gareth Bale got a little closer to the final XI. The Dutchman, whose derby-winning free-kick against City on Sunday was his 10th goal of the campaign, received 18 votes, and Bale racked up nine votes to make it into the midfield.

The closest Premier League goalkeeper to usurping Casillas between the sticks was Chelsea's Petr Cech with 15 votes. City stopper Joe Hart only managed two.

Luis Suarez was overlooked by each and every member of the panel, and didn't receive a single vote on the day former director of football at Liverpool, Damien Comolli, declared him as one of the best players in the world.

Another notable absence was Sweden and Paris Saint-Germain's brooding striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who only received 20 votes to be part of the front three alongside Messi and Ronaldo.

He scored one of the goals of the year when he leapt off the ground to score a propeller kick against England last month.

Brazilian sensation Neymar also missed out on the squad. The 20-year-old Santos striker would have been the only player in the squad who plays outside Europe.

Bizarrely, Suarez's team-mate Glenn Johnson received a single vote in the awards conducted by the prestigious football site to depose Lahm at right back.

The Premier League only had one representative in Kompany, but La Liga dominated the squad. Eight of the XI played in La Liga, and seven of those for Barcelona or Real Madrid.

Is the English top-flight the most exciting and competitive league in the world Maybe. Does it have the best players On this evidence, it's an overwhelming no.

Just the one United striker Wayne Rooney only got one vote

Just the one United striker Wayne Rooney only got one vote

Sorry Luis! Suarez didn't receive a single vote from the panel

Sorry Luis! Suarez didn't receive a single vote from the panel

Lewis Hamilton sticks obscene message on his McLaren helmet again

Lewis Hams it up by sticking obscene message on his McLaren helmet again

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UPDATED:

23:53 GMT, 16 November 2012

If anyone could upstage Formula One's return to the United States amid a potential championship decider with one crass act it was Lewis Hamilton in practice.

He emblazoned his helmet with the initials H.A.M. – short for hard as a m*****f*****.

Tough guy: Lewis Hamilton shows off his helmet

Tough guy: Lewis Hamilton shows off his helmet

We can deduce that was the nudge-nudge meaning because he tweeted the same initials at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in August, advising his followers to look up the meaning if they did not know it.

It remains to be seen whether he will be told to remove the offending words ahead of qualifying on Saturday, or Sunday's race.

The timing is embarrassing because the ruling body, the FIA, warned drivers only a few days ago to moderate their language after Kimi Raikennon and Sebestain Vettel both swore in the heat of the moment on the podium in Abu Dhabi.

Lewis Hamilton of McLaren

Hamilton's McLaren team have regularly failed to exercise any form of discipline over their occasionally errant driver. They did not even fine him when he posted secret team telemetry on line, also at Belgium.

That may partly have been because they were trying to woo him into staying with them, but now he has agreed to join Mercedes next year they may take a more hard line approach.

Drivers generally gave high marks for the new $400 million track hosting the first U.S. Grand Prix since 2007.

'It's a great track to drive,' added Hamilton, who won the world championship in 2008.

'Generally, the track is cool all around. The turn one is pretty unique going uphill. It's definitely not easy. I think a lot of people are going to have some troubles this weekend.'

Ticketless Newcastle fans will not be arrested in Bruges during Europa League clash

Ticketless Newcastle fans will not be arrested in Bruges but are still warned to stay away

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UPDATED:

17:20 GMT, 1 November 2012

Belgian police have withdrawn their threat to arrest ticketless Newcastle United fans trying to make their way to next week’s Europa Cup clash in Bruges.

Newcastle have been given less than 2,500 tickets for the return leg of the Group D game on Thursday, but at least twice that number could make the trip over the North Sea.

Amid fears that visitors from Tyneside would attempt to get tickets among home fans, including the Bruges Ultras, police in the city originally threatened to arrest any supporters without tickets who attempt to breach a security cordon round the Jan Breydel Stadium. But they have now announced they will simply be 'sent away'.

In Bruges: Newcastle travel to Belgium for the Europa League clash next week

In Bruges: Newcastle travel to Belgium for the Europa League clash next week

A Bruges Police spokesman said: 'A meeting point will be installed in the very centre of the town, on the Market Place on November 8, from noon till 6pm local time.

'Ticket holders will be informed in due course where and when they are expected to gather in order to be accompanied from the Market Place (local name Markt) to the stadium, some miles further uptown.

'Fans who do not have a ticket are not expected to go or be anywhere near the football stadium. When spotted in the vicinity of the stadium, they will be sent away.

'Tickets have to be bought beforehand. They cannot be bought the day of, nor the day preceding, the football game.'

Fans have also been advised to carry proof of identity at all times, something they must show officers when requested to do so.

They also intend to use hashtags #CLUNEW and #politiebrugge on social networking site Twitter for visitors.

Lotus demand improvement from Romain Grosjean

Grosjean hit by warning from Lotus with Boullier demanding improvement from hot-head

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UPDATED:

19:37 GMT, 9 October 2012

Romain Grosjean faces an uncertain future following his latest first-lap calamity after Lotus team principal Eric Boullier demanded an improvement from his hot-headed driver.

Grosjean has been involved in nine collisions in 15 races this season — seven on the opening lap — prompting Red Bull’s Mark Webber to brand him a ‘nutcase’ after being shunted by the 26-year-old in last Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

In addition, former driver and Sky F1 pundit Johnny Herbert claimed it was time for Lotus to wave ‘bye-bye’ to Grosjean, who has already served a one-race ban for causing a spectacular pile-up at the Belgian Grand Prix.

Errors: Romain Grosjean

Errors: Romain Grosjean's latest misdemeanour occurred in Japan

Asked whether Grosjean’s latest rush of blood would see him dropped by Lotus next season, Boullier warned: ‘Not yet, but I expect to see an improvement.’

Conceding he had been at fault again, Grosjean said: ‘It was a stupid mistake. Mark came to see me after the race and was obviously not happy but I apologised and we have to move on.’

McLaren’s Jenson Button was also critical and the 2011 GP2 champion can expect a further dressing-down from more experienced rivals at the drivers’ meeting ahead of Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix.

Boullier admitted his driver must brace himself for harsh words but claimed others had tried to capitalise on Grosjean’s desire to avoid trouble.

‘We could see in Singapore, when Romain was back after his race ban, that some other drivers were putting extra pressure on him at the start,’ added Boullier.

Pushing it: Grosjean's future is uncertain

Pushing it: Grosjean's future is uncertain

‘In Singapore to an extent and in Suzuka he was almost trying to overcompensate by focusing on staying out of trouble, which in the last race had the opposite effect.’

Meanwhile Grosjean’s Lotus team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen, is keeping fans guessing as to his next move.

The 2007 world champion is starring in a YouTube video titled What Will Kimi Do Next in which he signs a mystery contract before pressing his finger to his lips.

He is set to announce a decision on his 33rd birthday next Wednesday.

Jonathan Legear crashes through petrol station

Belgian midfielder crashes through petrol station causing over 200k damages

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UPDATED:

11:43 GMT, 9 October 2012

We’ve all slightly overshot the petrol pump when parking to fill up our motors, but it’s very unlikely you’ve gone as far as Belgian international, Jonathan Legear.

The 25-year-old is due in court and set to be banned from driving for at least two weeks after crashing his Porsche through a service garage in the Belgian town of Tongerenat at 5.30am – causing injury to one customer.

Shocking footage shows the midfielder, who plays for Russian Premier League side Terek Grozny, careering the car at speed through the entrance of the garage before stopping at the cash till – forcing Jeffrey Dewallef to twist his ankle while jumping to take evasive action.

Earlier days: Jonathan Legear spent seven years at Anderlecht before joining Terek in 2011

Earlier days: Jonathan Legear spent seven years at Anderlecht before joining Terek in 2011

Damage costs to the Esso garage are estimated to be just over 200,000 by the owner and Legear is set to be charged of involuntary assault – he denies being severely drunk.

The midfielder, who was last capped in two qualifying games for Euro 2012, apologised through his lawyer for his actions but could still face time in jail for the incident.

Other customers inside the store were fortunate not to be in Legear’s path as they looked on, with security videos showing him smash a scooter before crashing through glass doors.

Court spokesman Michel Zegers said Monday that there is no reason to prevent Legear from rejoining Grozny ‘as long as he does not drive there himself.’

Lewis Hamilton to choose between McLaren and Mercedes before Japanese Grand Prix

Hamilton to decide whether to quit McLaren for Mercedes before Japanese Grand Prix

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UPDATED:

19:03 GMT, 27 September 2012

Lewis Hamilton is to make a decision on his Formula One future before next weekend's Japanese Grand Prix.

Hamilton's answer, on whether he remains with McLaren or opts to move to Mercedes, could potentially come as early as Friday, although it is understood the situation is not 100 per cent finalised.

The likelihood is Hamilton will continue his partnership with McLaren that now stretches back 14 years after he was initially signed up as a 13-year-old.

Decision to make: McLaren star Lewis Hamilton's future remains unclear

Decision to make: McLaren star Lewis Hamilton's future remains unclear

A source close to McLaren said after the Singapore Grand Prix on Sunday that a contract to stay loyal to the Woking-based marque was '85-90 per cent' resolved.

Given the current economic climate, McLaren's initial offer saw them slash the 27-year-old's yearly salary by a third from 10million to around 6.75m and on a par with team-mate Jenson Button, resulting in the need to look elsewhere.

With management company, XIX Entertainment run by impresario Simon Fuller, known to have entered into negotiations with Mercedes, the German manufacturing giant then put in a sizeable bid.

It is understood Mercedes also offered Hamilton greater freedom with regard to his image rights and less impact on his personal time from corporate sponsorship appearances.

With McLaren's hand forced, they are believed to have increased their annual salary offer by a further 2m, and more in line with Mercedes.

Further negotiations have taken place behind the scenes these past few days since the race at the Marina Bay Street Circuit where team principal Martin Whitmarsh and Hamilton both appeared more relaxed.

Rollercoaster: Hamilton has had an up-and-down season at McLaren

Rollercoaster: Hamilton has had an up-and-down season at McLaren

It was in stark contrast to the tense atmosphere that pervaded the paddock at Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix as Hamilton landed in hot water with the team for tweeting telemetry data from qualifying.

A few days later, when former team boss and current BBC television pundit Eddie Jordan remarked a deal with Mercedes was done and an announcement imminent, it sparked a feeding frenzy at Monza ahead of the race in Italy, with Hamilton bombarded with questions.

Hamilton, however, kept his cool on the track to win from pole and thrust himself back in the title hunt, following which McLaren began their concerted push to retain the 2008 world champion.

Another pole followed in Singapore, yet despite what Hamilton described as a 'heart-breaking' gearbox failure when comfortably leading, he was positive and upbeat when he spoke after the race.

It was similar with Whitmarsh who claimed McLaren and Hamilton 'are a good team together', with the latter dealing with his disappointment 'as a world champion'.

Flashing the cash: Mercedes have tried to tempt Hamilton to their team

Flashing the cash: Mercedes have tried to tempt Hamilton to their team

Whitmarsh refused to speculate on whether a deal would be done before Japan, which starts next Friday in Suzuka, but it now appears certain that will be the case, with McLaren seemingly beating Mercedes to Hamilton's signature.

Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn today indicated talks were ongoing with Michael Schumacher, whose three-year contract expires at the end of the current campaign.

'It's still under discussion, I'm afraid,' said Brawn on BBC Radio 5 Live.
'I can't comment very much on that, but Michael's been a huge asset to the team, he's really taken us forward.

'I do think Michael contributes an awful lot, so I think the decision for Michael to stay or not continue is a difficult one.

'Obviously he's very involved in that decision, and discussions are ongoing at the moment.'

Asked whether Hamilton could be joining Mercedes, Brawn naturally ducked the issue, adding: 'I think any ambitious team looks at the top drivers and we're an ambitious team.

'But I think there's an awful lot of speculation. We will have some things to say in the next few weeks, next few months, and then all will become clear.'

When contacted, McLaren issued a 'no comment'.

Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke faces alleged violent car-jacking claims

New Villa frontman Benteke fights to clear his name after car-jacking claims

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UPDATED:

10:06 GMT, 10 September 2012

Aston Villa's summer signing Christian Benteke is fighting to clear his name after allegations he was involved in a violent car-jacking in his native Belgium.

The Belgian international striker, who joined on a 7m deal from Genk this summer, and two friends were accused of brutally beating a motorist and making off in his Volkswagen Polo car.

The 21-year-old Congolese-born player was arrested at the scene in Liege, Belgium, held overnight and brought before the Palais de Justice, accused of taking part in the car-jacking, the Birmingham Mail reported.

'Dream move': Christian Benteke, a Belgian international striker, joined Aston Villa on transfer deadline day

'Dream move': Christian Benteke, a Belgian international striker, joined Aston Villa on transfer deadline day

All three men were later released and both Genk and Villa rushed to issue statements denying the charges.

The Belgian club said that Benteke was interviewed by police merely as a witness to the attack, which happened last November.

Villa insisted that other witnesses had verified Benteke played no part in the car-jacking.

A club statement read: 'Christian and his legal team have co-operated with the investigation and witnesses confirmed he took no part in the matters alleged.'

Goal getter: Benteke in action for his former club Genk, where he had a prolific goalscoring record in the Belgian top flight

Goal getter: Benteke in action for his former club Genk, where he had a prolific goalscoring record in the Belgian top flight

Belgian sports journalist Jan Haupsie reported the two men, aged 23 and 24, claim they had paid the victim 6000 euros a day earlier for another car, a Volkswagen Golf, which later showed up on police records as stolen.

Haupsie said: 'The men were stopped in Liege by police who confiscated the car and told them it had been stolen on October 14 from an address in Paris.

'The next day the two men called up their friend, Christian, and asked him for a lift so that they could confront the seller, who was referred to in court as Kevin.'

Benteke completed his 'dream move' to Villa on transfer deadline day, signing a four-year deal believed to be worth around 7m.

The move went through after Genk had rejected two bids and at one point Benteke had threatened to sue the club if they didn't sanction his move.

Villa manager Paul Lambert felt the player was the perfect partner for his other strikers, Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor.

After his move went through, Benteke told Sky Sports News: 'I am still young and I have realised my dream. My dream was to come here and I am very happy.

'I hope I will be a success. I am motivated.

'It was difficult and I say thank you to Genk and everyone there. I will go forward for a new challenge.

'I think every player wants to come to the Premier League and I am very happy.'

He scored 19 times in 37 league appearances for Genk last season and has five senior Belgium caps.

New Villa frontman Benteke fights to clear his name after allegations of violent car-jacking

New Villa frontman Benteke fights to clear his name after allegations of violent car-jacking

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UPDATED:

08:49 GMT, 10 September 2012

Aston Villa's summer signing Christian Benteke is fighting to clear his name after allegations he was involved in a violent car-jacking in his native Belgium.

The Belgian international striker, who joined on a 7m deal from Genk this summer, and two friends were accused of brutally beating a motorist and making off in his Volkswagen Polo car.

The 21-year-old Congolese-born player was arrested at the scene in Liege, Belgium, held overnight and brought before the Palais de Justice, accused of taking part in the car-jacking, the Birmingham Mail reported.

'Dream move': Christian Benteke, a Belgian international striker, joined Aston Villa on transfer deadline day

'Dream move': Christian Benteke, a Belgian international striker, joined Aston Villa on transfer deadline day

All three men were later released and both Genk and Villa rushed to issue statements denying the charges.

The Belgian club said that Benteke was interviewed by police merely as a witness to the attack, which happened last November.

Villa insisted that other witnesses had verified Benteke played no part in the car-jacking.

A club statement read: 'Christian and his legal team have co-operated with the investigation and witnesses confirmed he took no part in the matters alleged.'

Goal getter: Benteke in action for his former club Genk, where he had a prolific goalscoring record in the Belgian top flight

Goal getter: Benteke in action for his former club Genk, where he had a prolific goalscoring record in the Belgian top flight

Belgian sports journalist Jan Haupsie reported the two men, aged 23 and 24, claim they had paid the victim 6000 euros a day earlier for another car, a Volkswagen Golf, which later showed up on police records as stolen.

Haupsie said: 'The men were stopped in Liege by police who confiscated the car and told them it had been stolen on October 14 from an address in Paris.

'The next day the two men called up their friend, Christian, and asked him for a lift so that they could confront the seller, who was referred to in court as Kevin.'

Benteke completed his 'dream move' to Villa on transfer deadline day, signing a four-year deal believed to be worth around 7m.

The move went through after Genk had rejected two bids and at one point Benteke had threatened to sue the club if they didn't sanction his move.

Villa manager Paul Lambert felt the player was the perfect partner for his other strikers, Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor.

After his move went through, Benteke told Sky Sports News: 'I am still young and I have realised my dream. My dream was to come here and I am very happy.

'I hope I will be a success. I am motivated.

'It was difficult and I say thank you to Genk and everyone there. I will go forward for a new challenge.

'I think every player wants to come to the Premier League and I am very happy.'

He scored 19 times in 37 league appearances for Genk last season and has five senior Belgium caps.

Mark Cavendish: I want to leave Team Sky

Cavendish: I want a divorce from Sky, but it's got to be amicable

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UPDATED:

19:09 GMT, 8 September 2012

Mark Cavendish has confirmed his desire to leave Team Sky less than a year after signing for the British squad.

The 27-year-old 23-time Tour de France stage winner and 2011 world champion is seeking an amicable end to his contract, which was agreed last October and has two further years to run, as his personal ambitions and Team Sky's do not match.

He aims to meet Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford for discussions over his future during the Tour of Britain, amid rumours of a link up with Belgian team Omega Pharma-QuickStep.

Sprint king: Mark Cavendish celebrates as he wins the sixth stage of the Tur of Denmark last month

Sprint king: Mark Cavendish celebrates as he wins the sixth stage of the Tur of Denmark last month

It is understood the talks will centre around any severance agreement and whether Team Sky will demand compensation for one of the most coveted figures in the sport.

Cavendish has had a successful season, winning 12 times, including three stages at the Tour won by Bradley Wiggins, but it was that victory which demonstrated to the Manxman that his relationship with the British squad could not work.

Speaking in Ipswich ahead of the Tour of Britain, Cavendish said: 'We had this idea that we could have this British super team that could win stages and dominate.

'Dave sold me the idea last year but for some reason it hasn't worked out like that. It's difficult to do.

'It's like a long distance relationship with a girl. Everything is great but you live apart and it can't work out.

'But you want to be friends and you would rather the best thing happens so that everything can remain good and that you can stay close.

'I've been very happy at Sky. I don't want to compromise Sky and hopefully Sky won't compromise me.'

Lewis Hamilton finishes sixth fastest at first Monza practice

Would Lew believe it Mercedes fastest as Hamilton finishes sixth in Monza practice

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UPDATED:

11:11 GMT, 7 September 2012

Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg proved there is potentially life in Mercedes yet this season as the German duo finished top and third on the timesheet for first practice ahead of Sunday's Italian Grand Prix.

The German manufacturing giant have suffered an alarming fall of late, with speculation mounting that McLaren's Lewis Hamilton will be brought into the team for next season in a 60million deal.

Rosberg has collected just two points from his last four races, whilst qualifying for both men recently has been awful, but with Monza unique on the Formula One calendar as it requires a specific package to assist with downforce, Mercedes at least produced a start to suggest they will not be so woeful on this occasion.

Leading the way: Schumacher (above) and Rosberg (below) showed promising signs on Friday

Leading the way: Schumacher (above) and Rosberg (below) showed promising signs on Friday

Leading the way: Schumacher (above) and Rosberg (below) showed promising signs on Friday

Seven-times champion Schumacher, whose future is the cause of considerable speculation, with Hamilton rumoured to be taking his seat from 2013, conjured a lap around the track situated in Monza's park of one minute 25.422secs.

Belgian GP race-winner just five days ago, and runner-up at this circuit for the last three races, Jenson Button was second in his McLaren, three tenths of a second adrift.

Rosberg was in close attendance to the Briton, just 0.039secs down ahead of Ferrari pair Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.

Off the pace: Hamilton finished down in sixth place

Off the pace: Hamilton finished down in sixth place

Off the pace: Hamilton finished down in sixth place

There was a moment of concern for the home fans, however, when championship leader Alonso ground to a halt late on at the first chicane, with the suggested issue a transmission problem.

Alonso and Massa were both within half a second of Schumacher and followed by Hamilton, who finished 0.522secs down, with Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen a further tenth of a second adrift in seventh.

Sergio Perez in his Sauber was the best of the rest but some way off the pace as the Mexican was 0.9secs behind Schumacher, with Red Bull's Mark Webber and Williams' Pastor Maldonado completing the top 10.

Kickaround: Rosberg plays football in the paddock

Kickaround: Rosberg plays football in the paddock

Kickaround: Rosberg plays football in the paddock

Venezuelan Maldonado, who will start Sunday's race with a 10-place grid penalty – picking up two separate five-place demotions for incidents at Spa – also pulled up late on but with wisps of smoke coming from his car.

Reigning champion Sebastian Vettel was 11th, a fraction over a second down, followed by Force India's Nico Hulkenberg and Williams reserve Valtteri Bottas.

In 15th was Jerome D'Ambrosio, standing in for Romain Grosjean at Lotus this weekend, with the Frenchman the first driver to serve a race ban for 18 years after causing a first corner pile-up at Spa.

On the Button: Jenson was second fastest on Friday morning

On the Button: Jenson was second fastest on Friday morning

On the Button: Jenson was second fastest on Friday morning

D'Ambrosio, who drove for Virgin Racing last year – now Marussia, was 1.758secs off the pace, with Force India reserve Jules Bianchi right behind him as he stepped in for Paul di Resta for first practice only.

At the bottom of the timesheet, but making history as the first driver from China to compete in a F1 weekend was Ma Qing Hua.

Standing in for Narain Karthikeyan in first practice, Ma was 5.8secs behind Schumacher, but more comparatively just 1.9secs off team-mate Pedro de la Rosa.