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Sir Clive Woodward: England must use intimidation as inspiration

England must use intimidation as inspiration in the cauldron of the Millennium Stadium

PUBLISHED:

22:49 GMT, 15 March 2013

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UPDATED:

08:13 GMT, 16 March 2013

The Millennium Stadium is a unique
ground. Sitting bang in the middle of the city of Cardiff, the stadium
feels like the beating heart of Wales on match days.

There are few venues around the world
where supporters can finish their pints with five minutes to spare,
pour out of the pubs and take their seats in time for kick-off.

As a coach, when you have said your
final few words to the team in the relative peace of the dressing room
and walk out to hear the crowd singing under that roof, it can feel like
you are emerging into the Colosseum in Rome.

Not intimidated: Chris Ashton dives over to score at the Millennium Stadium in 2011 when England beat Wales 26-19

Not intimidated: Chris Ashton dives over to score at the Millennium Stadium in 2011 when England beat Wales 26-19

More from Sir Clive Woodward…

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: It's time to pile on the pressure and use Cardiff cauldron to test mettle of England's players
14/03/13

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: 2013 v 2003 – how my Grand Slam heroes compare to today’s side gunning for Six Nations glory
14/03/13

EXCLUSIVE: Sir Clive Woodward talks Grand Slams with George North… Training has been brutal and we're ready to do battle
13/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: This is the last England game for six months with everyone available and Ashton has a point to prove
11/03/13

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: It's time for England to wake up and smell the roses
10/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: England must fear the Italians if they are to prevent the biggest Six Nations shock ever
08/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: Just like no-nonsense Johnno, Robshaw is a natural born leader
07/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: Ranting Rafa He's far too shrewd for that
28/02/13

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Stuart Lancaster and his players will
sense that fever with a welcome like no other. Despite the fierce
rivalry, you get better looked after in Wales than anywhere else – they
want to thrash you, but they want it to be a fair fight.

There are no silly games – nobody rushes you off the pitch or limits the number of balls you have for the warm-up.

Hostility is manifest in the passionate support, not stupid mind games.

In 2001, when I took England to
Wales for our first ever match at the Millennium Stadium, I decided we
should stay in Cardiff Bay because I wanted to be near town and a part
of the build-up, not stuck on the outskirts and excluded from the buzz.

You want to be in the thick of it so you're not overwhelmed when you come in on match day, particularly for a 5pm kick-off.

From the Monday morning of the build-up to that Test almost every press conference question was about the stadium.

'Intimidation' was clearly the theme but I made it clear that we were playing the Welsh team, not the stadium. I held a meeting that night and told the players to turn the word 'intimidation' into 'inspiration'.

Players prepare in different ways. Hooker Steve Thompson, for example, braced himself for the Cardiff cacophony by practising his lineout throwing with white noise blasting through his headphones. It paid off as on the day his set-piece was as accurate as ever.

The players had never been inside the ground until we were given a tour of the stadium the day before the game.

Time to shine: Ben Youngs goes through the motions under the Millennium Stadium roof

Time to shine: Ben Youngs goes through the motions under the Millennium Stadium roof

Ready for battle: Manu Tuilagi passes the ball during the England captain's run at the Millennium Stadium

Ready for battle: Manu Tuilagi passes the ball during the England captain's run at the Millennium Stadium

One game from glory: Stuart Lancaster hopes England can win their final game of the Six Nations and secure the Grand Slam

One game from glory: Stuart Lancaster hopes England can win their final game of the Six Nations and secure the Grand Slam

RBS 6 NATIONS TITLE – PERMUTATIONS

England's victory over Italy means a win against Wales in Cardiff would seal a first Grand Slam in a decade.

However, Wales have everything to play for because a victory for them could be enough to retain the RBS 6 Nations title and leave England empty-handed.

England are currently two points ahead of Wales in the table and with a points-difference advantage of 14.

Under tournament rules, if the points and points difference end level then the championship would be decided on tries scored.

Wales hold the advantage 7-5 going into the final round. If tries scored is also level, the title is shared.

Here, we examine the permutations:

ENGLAND WIN GRAND SLAM

An England victory by any margin would secure a first Grand Slam triumph in a decade.

ENGLAND WIN TITLE

An England defeat by six points or fewer would still be enough to seal the title.

If England lose by seven points but outscore Wales by three tries or more then Stuart Lancaster's men would win the title.

WALES WIN TITLE

A Wales victory by seven points, providing they stay ahead of England on tournament tries, would see Rob Howley's men retain the title.

TITLE SHARED

If Wales win by seven points but England score two more tries then the title would be shared.

I wanted my team, particularly the back three, to get used to catching high balls under the lights and watching the flight of balls against the closed roof.

We walked into the away dressing room to find giant cardboard cutouts of the entire Welsh team – bigger than life size.

You've never heard such laughter in your life. It turned out they were there for tourists as part of the stadium tour, but the stadium officials had genuinely forgotten to move them.

The facilities in the stadium are second to none.

The away dressing room is big and spacious, unlike at Murrayfield where there is a giant pillar in the middle.

When we arrived on match day, I walked on to the pitch with Martin Johnson and we were booed by the supporters.

Johnno walked into the centre of the pitch and held his hands in the air – making it very clear this was exactly where he wanted to be.

The home and away dressing rooms are about 50 metres apart in a long corridor, so you are kept well away from your opponents.

While football players tend to hang out in the tunnel before coming out together that doesn't happen in rugby.

You come out separately – England to subdued cheers, Wales to pyrotechnics, blasting music and booming choirs.

The first time you see your opponents is when you line up for the anthems. It is all part of the magic.

One of the few things I miss from my coaching days is the dressing-room atmosphere on days like today.

It is the most electric place in the world with 20 minutes to go before
kickoff – a mix of adrenaline, fear and anticipation.

Ten players in
Lancaster's starting XV have never experienced that atmosphere and I
hope they are inspired, not intimidated.

Real champions thrive in enemy
territory. The dressing room against Wales was always noisier than at
home. Guys such as Lawrence Dallaglio, Will Greenwood and Matt Dawson
would come into their own.

All white on the night: Steve Thompson prepared by blasting white noise into his headphones

All white on the night: Steve Thompson prepared by blasting white noise into his headphones

Glorying in the rivalry: Martin Johnston was never one to be intimidated

Glorying in the rivalry: Martin Johnston was never one to be intimidated

Glorying in the rivalry: Martin Johnston was never one to be intimidated

I expect Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, Tom
Youngs and Geoff Parling to do the same, supporting captain Chris
Robshaw to deliver the final key messages and get everybody focused on
kick-off.

We won comfortably on that first trip – but that doesn't mean it wasn't a dramatic day.

After
the game we returned to the hotel to change for the post-match dinner
but travelling back to the stadium was a nightmare.

A
lot of supporters had been drinking all day and we were stuck in a sea
of red shirts, crawling through the crowds at three or four mph with a
giant red rose on the side of the coach.

Man alive: Lawrence Dallaglio came into his own in the dressing room

Man alive: Lawrence Dallaglio came into his own in the dressing room

I had a superstition and would sit front left in the coach. A man in the crowds caught my eye because he had obviously had a big day out but was running straight towards us as if he was planning to tackle the coach.

At the last minute, he sidestepped to his right in Gerald Davies-style but was promptly knocked out cold by the large wing mirror.

I stopped the coach and got out, followed by a few players and our doctor, who rushed to help while we radioed for the police.

Suddenly I realised there was me and most of the England team in the middle of a crowd of drunk fans standing over a prostrate Welshman. It looked like we had run him over!

People started pointing fingers and it all got a little tense.

Then a crowd of equally well-oiled England fans pushed their way to the front and it really started to get a bit tasty. The police arrived just in time and sense prevailed.

That was more than 10 years ago, when England had a far stronger team than Wales.

Since then, Wales have become something of a nation of experts in this tournament – to win three Grand Slams in the last eight years is an amazing achievement.

I had a great team and we only did it once. But Lancaster's team are winners and I believe they will be inspired by playing in Cardiff.

They have only ever been beaten by single figures so this game will be close.

If England keep their cool in the Cardiff cauldron, they are good enough to win.

I truly hope they do. It is time a new generation of Englishmen stepped up to the plate and won the Grand Slam.

MY SIX KEY BATTLE AREAS…

1. KEEP COOL IN THE CAULDRON

Show respect: Referee Steve Walsh (left) has a chat with France captain Thierry Dusautoir

Show respect: Referee Steve Walsh (left) has a chat with France captain Thierry Dusautoir

This England team have an abundance of testosterone flowing through them and Wales will target the players who have a history of reacting.

Joe Marler, Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton and Mike Brown have had their moments and this can be a good thing – the 2003 team were at their best when there was a bit of sulphur in the air.

But you have to tread the line between never taking a step backwards and not getting distracted or involved in anything that puts you or your team-mates off their game.

England have recieved two yellow cards in this tournament, another today could cost them the Grand Slam. Let the score do the talking and silence the crowd.

The message from Stuart Lancaster must be about finding the crucial balance – you have to compete for the ball at the breakdown, but needless penalties will kill your team.

Referee Steve Walsh was extremely strict at the contact zone in Dublin last weekend.

Listen to him, repeat his calls, react and adapt to how he is marshalling that breakdown.

If he starts penalising the tackler for not rolling away, then make a show of releasing the player early and doing what he asks.

Be smart – get the wrong side of Walsh and you're in trouble.

2. GO FORWARD BEFORE YOU GO WIDE

England have not scored a try against Wales for 196 minutes but it will be almost impossible for them to win without doing so in a game as tight as this, so they must sort out their attacking strategies.

The ambition was there against Italy, the failure was in execution.

There is no point passing the ball out wide if the opposition have more defenders in the line than you have attackers, as was often the case against Italy.

Please release me: Ben Youngs will be key to getting the ball out wide

Please release me: Ben Youngs will be key to getting the ball out wide

Use the early phases to charge directly forward and suck more defenders into the ruck and the narrow channels.

Then, when there is space out wide, release the ball.

Ben Youngs has to lead this, ordering the forwards to use their firepower and go 'route one' very early in the game.

3. OPTIONS ARE KEY TO ATTACK

Talisman Owen Farrell returns and England will take confidence in having their best half-back pairing in the spine of the side, but full back Alex Goode is key to offering a second option in attack.

The clash of the centres will be monstrous in midfield but I hope Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi have the confidence not just to run into contact but to pass the ball before contact.

Use Tuilagi as a decoy and out-think the Welsh. This is where Goode is key.

Goode idea: Alex Goode can be used to out-think Wales

Goode idea: Alex Goode can be used to out-think Wales

He has gone quiet in games, so he needs to come into the attack as a second receiver to create plays and get the side playing more expansively.

Barritt and Tuilagi can become a great pairing but they need Goode to give Farrell more options in the inside centre role.

4. IT'S A MISTAKE TO FOCUS ONLY ON THE DANGERMEN

Alex Cuthbert and George North are giant dangers on the wing – I couldn't believe just how big George was when I met him!

He is such an intelligent player, too, so Chris Ashton has his work cut out. Both wingers come looking for crash balls either inside or outside the fly-half.

But Wales' back line have the footballing ability to miss the winger out and if England focus on one player they can get caught out.

England just need to keep their defensive shape. If the big guys come at you hard it is about technique – hit them hard and low.

North star: Wales winger George North could cause all sorts of problems for England

North star: Wales winger George North could cause all sorts of problems for England

If your technique is sloppy – and England have been guilty of going in too high recently – then you will look stupid.

I expect a big step up in England's tackling today, Ashton included.

Both defensive coaches, Andy Farrell and Shaun Edwards, have brought huge rugby league influences into these sides.

League is fundamentally a simpler game with a bigger emphasis on defence, especially the blitz defence where players rush up and 'get in the face' of attackers.

Wales have gone 277 minutes without conceding a try (they could beat my team's tournament record of 319 minutes).

The challenge is keeping your shape when your lungs are burning and your brain is starved of oxygen.

This game will be won in the last 10 minutes and that is when the fitness of these two teams will be tested.

Power play: Stopping Sam Warburton in his tracks will be one of England's big challenges

Power play: Stopping Sam Warburton
in his tracks will be one of England's big
challenges

5. TARGET WARBURTON

It is less than 100 days to the first Lions Test and the backrow battle will be fascinating – but the turnover contest is not a question of Chris Robshaw v Sam Warburton.

Whichever England player arrives at the breakdown first has to target Warburton. Against a player of his strength, you have to decide – attack the ball or attack him.

You need to try to get him off the ball before he sets up in that 'crouched jackal' position over it.

Once he is set up, you won't be able to move him, so hit him as early as you can within the laws of the game.

6. GET THE BALL IN AND OUT OF THE SCRUM

The bigger the game, the bigger the basics. Basics are the scrum, the lineout and the restart.

For all the attacking flair in these teams out wide, if you do not nail those three foundations then you cannot create real momentum.

In the front row, Joe Marler and Dan Cole must deal with Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, who have been the cornerstone of Wales' three Grand Slams, so England have to be clever.

The stadium turf has a tendency to cut up so you want to get the ball in, out and away.

Win the engagement and use the scrum as a platform to restart your attack quickly.

If you leave the ball in and the scrum collapses you give the referee an opportunity to penalise you.

At restarts, England must be aware of the aerial threat of North and Cuthbert, who can out-jump forwards. Do not let them get to the ball first.

Mario Balotelli racist abuse: Paolo Berlusconi AC Milan vice president

Berlusconi's brother makes racist remark about Balotelli… and he just happens to be AC Milan's vice president

By
Nick Pisa

PUBLISHED:

21:59 GMT, 5 February 2013

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UPDATED:

22:10 GMT, 5 February 2013

Racist: Paolo Berlusconi

Racist: Paolo Berlusconi

Mario Balotelli is at the centre of a race controversy after he was called 'a little n*****' by the brother of AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi.

Newspaper boss Paolo Berlusconi, 64, made the shock remarks about Balotelli, 22, at a political rally just hours ahead of the former Manchester City player's debut for AC Milan following his return to Italy.

Berlusconi was attending a rally for FabrizioSala, the candidate for his brother's right wing coalition People of Freedom party when he made the comments – which were greeted with laughter by the audience.

After initially cracking a joke about Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino, Berlusconi turned his attention to striker Balotelli and said: 'I've finished. Right we are all off to see the family's little n*****. He's a madhead. All the young ladies are invited as well – you can even have a chance to meet the president (Silvio Berlusconi).'

Paolo Berlusconi's comments were greeted with laughter by the crowd and video footage of the rally in Monza on the outskirts of Milan showed him smiling at himself.

The incident was uploaded onto several Italian newspaper websites which were immediately flooded with dozens of outraged comments one said: 'What an insult for Italy and Italians' while another on La Repubblica read: 'I didn't know the brother was a clown – they really are a family of buffoons.'

Dream debut: Balotelli netted twice on his AC Milan debut

Dream debut: Balotelli netted twice on his AC Milan debut

Dream debut: Balotelli netted twice on his AC Milan debut

Paolo Berlusconi, who is vice president of AC Milan, is also the editor of il Giornale which is seen as a mouthpiece for Silvio Berlusconi and his People of Freedom party, and like his older brother he has been involved in several corruption scandals.

In 2002 he was found guilty of false accounting and given a nine-month sentence and ordered to pay a 49 million Euro fine while three years ago he was given a further four months for another charge of false accounting.

Racism is a growing problem in Italian football and by coincidence last month AC Milan walked off the pitch during a friendly after Kevin-Prince Boateng was subjected to racist taunts.

International duty: Balotelli is currently away with the Italy squad

International duty: Balotelli is currently away with the Italy squad

Balotelli himself was often targeted by racists while playing for Inter Milan and it was one of the reasons he decided to quit Serie A and try out the Premier League, but his return also sparked ugly chants from rival Juventusf ans who sang at a game last week: 'If we jump Balotelli dies.'

Last year regional councillor Paolo Ciani – from a right-wing party – posted a picture on his Facebook page, which depicted the Italy international working in a field of cabbages as an immigrant worker.

Harlequins 53 Zebre 5: Heineken Cup Pool Three rout

Harlequins 53 Zebre 5: Robshaw keeps his promise as Italians are brushed aside

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UPDATED:

21:07 GMT, 15 December 2012

Captain Chris Robshaw promised that Harlequins would make a name for themselves in Europe after they won the Premiership and Saturday's thumping victory means they can enjoy Christmas on the brink of ensuring a home Heineken Cup quarter-final.

No team will fancy a trip to the Stoop to take on a Quins side brimming with confidence, although few will be as poor as Italian minnows Zebre, formed only last May after the Aironi team hit financial problems and had their licence revoked by the Italian Rugby Federation.

Zebra cross: Danny Care of Quins celebrates as he runs in a try

Zebra cross: Danny Care of Quins celebrates as he runs in a try

Two more victories in Pool Three would give director of rugby Conor O'Shea's Quins top seeding in the knockout stages.

'We want to be successful here and we all vowed to kick on after winning the Premiership last May,' said O'Shea.

'If you see how we've done so far
this season, we've won 13 out of 16 games, we're top of the Premiership,
we're top of our Heineken Cup pool unbeaten, we've won both LV Cup
games so far and we're in the A League final, so we are definitely doing
OK. But we don't just want to win this pool, we want a home
quarterfinal.'

Bearing in mind Quins have won all
four Pool Three games so far, already lead second-placed Biarritz by ten
points and have Connacht at home in four weeks before a final trip to
Biarritz, they are superbly placed.

On the run: Ugo Monye evades a tackle from Zebra's Giovanbattista Venditti (left)

On the run: Ugo Monye evades a tackle from Zebra's Giovanbattista Venditti (left)

To put Zebre's quality into
perspective, they came to south-west London on the back of ten straight
defeats in their first ten games in the RaboDirect Pro12 League.

They have gained only four losing
bonus points and three successive defeats in this Heineken Cup pool –
including last weekend's 57-15 home setback to Quins – indicate their
dire lack of class.

Saturday was no better, with Quins
running in seven tries – two in the first half from Tom Casson and a
penalty try, and five after the break from Ben Botica, Tom Guest, Sam
Smith, Danny Care and Karl Dickson.

Nick Evans scored 18 points with eight successful kicks out of nine attempts. Zebre managed one response in the first half.

Turning heads: Chris Robshaw is wrapped up by the the Zebre defence

Turning heads: Chris Robshaw is wrapped up by the the Zebre defence

To put Zebre's quality into
perspective, they came to south-west London on the back of ten straight
defeats in their first ten games in the RaboDirect Pro12 League.

They have gained only four losing
bonus points and three successive defeats in this Heineken Cup pool –
including last weekend's 57-15 home setback to Quins – indicate their
dire lack of class.

Saturday was no better, with Quins
running in seven tries – two in the first half from Tom Casson and a
penalty try, and five after the break from Ben Botica, Tom Guest, Sam
Smith, Danny Care and Karl Dickson.

Nick Evans scored 18 points with eight successful kicks out of nine attempts. Zebre managed one response in the first half.

That prompted O'Shea to question why
the visitors – who simply add weight to the Anglo-French TV row with the
ERC at the moment over involving more English and French teams and
fewer from the smaller nations in the tournament – are even in the
Heineken Cup.

Six appeal: Sam Smith runs in to score his side's sixth try

Six appeal: Sam Smith runs in to score his side's sixth try

That is before there is even a
discussion over the absurdity of Zebre, one of just two Italian clubs in
the competition, receiving three times as much money as Quins, who are
one of six English clubs taking part.

'We shared the same hotel as Zebre in
August in the south of France for pre-season and their players were
meeting up for the first time,' said O'Shea.

'It was difficult in this game
because we were so superior that it became a mental challenge. You're
damned if you do and damned if you don't. And it makes no sense for
Zebre to get three times as much money as we do for playing in this
competition.

Pass master: Tom Casson offloads the ball

Pass master: Tom Casson offloads the ball

'We won the Amlin Cup three times,
the last time, in 2011, serving as a launchpad for our recent successes,
so that competition should be good enough for a team like Zebre.

'They should have no divine right to
play in the Heineken Cup. It does Italian rugby no good – either for
their fans or commercially – to see Zebre stuffed like this.'

Few at the Stoop will disagree with
that sentiment although, as the happy home fans ventured into the night,
the talk was centred upon Harlequins adding European glory to domestic
silverware.

Phillipe Mexes scores wonder goal in AC Milan v Anderlecht

Better than Ibrahimovic Mexes scores incredible overhead kick for AC Milan… and he's a DEFENDER!

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UPDATED:

09:20 GMT, 22 November 2012

Could this goal be as good as Zlatan Ibrahimovic's ingenious propeller-kick against England

Phillipe Mexes scored AC Milan's second goal against Anderlecht as they beat the Belgian side 3-1 in Champions League Group C.

In sensational style, the French defender chested a lofty set-piece on the edge of the area before launching himself in pursuit of the ball and connecting with a sweet overhead kick.

What a goal: Phillippe Mexes fired a wonder goal in for AC Milan

What a goal: Phillippe Mexes fired a wonder goal in for AC Milan

Over it goes: Mexes' goal is similar to the masterful propeller kick scored by Zlatan Ibrahimovic some weeks ago

Over it goes: Mexes' goal is similar to the masterful propeller kick scored by Zlatan Ibrahimovic some weeks ago

Did you see that Mexes, a centre half, looked in disbelief after he scored the second goal for Milan

Did you see that Mexes, a centre half, looked in disbelief after he scored the second goal for Milan

The centre half's volley looped across the box, over the helpless goalkeeper and into the top corner.

Mexes' wonderful goal comes soon after Ibrahimovic scored four goals for Sweden against England in Stockholm.

The giant Swede latched onto an errant Joe Hart header from 25 yards out for his masterful fourth goal.

BETTER THAN THIS… RE-LIVE IBRAHIMOVIC'S WONDER GOAL

Before the ball could hit the ground Ibrahimovic had thrown himself into the air, swung his boot at the ball and fired it over Hart and into the empty England goal, being dubbed one of the greatest goals ever in the process.

Milan's win at Anderlecht meant
they will join Malaga in the knockout stages. Stephan El Shaarawy put the Italians in front before Bram Nuytinck was sent off for Anderlecht.

After Mexes scored the Ibrahimovic Mark II goal, Tom De Sutter clawed one back for the Belgians before Alexandre Pato fired home the third.

As good as mine Ibrahimovic (centre) and his Paris Saint-Germain side won elsewhere

As good as mine Ibrahimovic (centre) and his Paris Saint-Germain side won elsewhere

In on it: Ezequiel Lavezzi opened the scoring against Dynamo Kiev

In on it: Ezequiel Lavezzi opened the scoring against Dynamo Kiev

Malaga went through as Group C
winners despite blowing an early 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with Zenit St
Petersburg in Russia. Diego Buonanotte and Sebastian Fernandez put the
Spaniards in front with just nine minutes gone, before Danny and Viktor
Fayzulin rescued a point.

Manchester City went out of the competition after drawing 1-1 at home to Real Madrid in Group D.

Meanwhile Borussia Dortmund guaranteed progression as group winners with Robert Lewandowski scoring twice in a 4-1 thrashing of Ajax at the Amsterdam ArenA.

Marco Reus, Mario Gotze and Lewandowski put the in-form Germans out of sight by half-time, and after Lewandowski had added his second of the night, Danny Hoesen grabbed a consolation for the home side with four minutes left.

No sweat: Borussia Dortmund progressed as group winners over Manchester City and Real Madrid

No sweat: Borussia Dortmund progressed as group winners over Manchester City and Real Madrid

Battling it out: Porto's Lucho Gonzalez scores against Dinamo Zagreb

Battling it out: Porto's Lucho Gonzalez scores against Dinamo Zagreb

Porto and Paris St Germain will play off in Paris next month to determine the winners of Group A after both sides underlined their progression to the knockout stages with easy wins tonight.

Porto remain a point clear at the top of the group after a 3-0 home win over pointless Dinamo Zagreb, Lucho Gonzalez putting them ahead in the 20th minute before second-half strikes from Joao Moutinho and Silvestre Varela.

And the French side also rubber-stamped their qualification with a 2-0 win over Dynamo Kiev in Ukraine, with Ezequiel Lavezzi opening the scoring on the stroke of half-time and adding a second soon after the break.

Christian Fuchs scored the only goal of the game in the 77th minute as Schalke 04 beat Olympiakos to ensure qualification from Group B and give them a one-point advantage over second-placed Arsenal.

Max Biaggi retires from motorcycling

Four-time world champion Biaggi calls time on motorcycling career

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UPDATED:

18:56 GMT, 7 November 2012

Four-time 250cc world champion Max Biaggi has announced his retirement from motorcycle racing.

The 41-year-old Italian, who also won the World Superbike Championship twice, made the announcement at a press conference organised at Rome's Vallelunga circuit, where he began his career.

Quoted in the Corriere dello Sport, Biaggi said: 'I've chosen to quit and, unlike others, it's not because of physical issues or because I haven't found a competitive bike.

Taken to the Max: Biaggi has called time on his motorcycling career

Taken to the Max: Biaggi has called time on his motorcycling career

'I've turned down a contract with Aprilia that was identical to the one I had this year, with the same bike, for the same money.

'I believe I've missed enough time with my children and my partner already, and I think it's right that I dedicate myself to them because time flies and I can't stop that.

'I'm not some old politician, attached to my chair, it's only fair that I make way for the youngsters.'

Biaggi pre-empted his media briefing by taking to his official Twitter account.

He tweeted: 'It is a new dawn for me today, nothing will be like it was before. Onwards and upwards, though!'

Legend: The Italian won the World Superbike Championship on two occasions

Legend: The Italian won the World Superbike Championship on two occasions

Known as 'The Roman Emperor', Biaggi rode his first grand prix season at the age of 20 in 1992, winning 29 races and four straight titles in the quarter-litre category with Aprilia and Honda.

Biaggi's rivalry with countryman Valentino Rossi raised the popularity of the premier 500cc category from 1998, as the two Italians beckoned in the MotoGP era.

Forced to sit out the whole 2006 season as Dani Pedrosa took his position, Biaggi soon switched to the World Superbike Championship and won on his debut in Qatar, for Alstare Suzuki.

Biaggi returned to Aprilia to claim a single win in 2009, before taking his first WSBK title in 2010 and wrestling the crown back from Carlos Checa at Magny-Cours last month.

The search is now on for a new team-mate for Aprilia's Eugene Laverty, with the 2013 season starting at Phillip Island in February.

AC Milan chief"s profound love for Mario Balotelli

Milan's 'profound love' for Balotelli! Italians turn on the charm in pursuit of City star

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UPDATED:

12:57 GMT, 5 November 2012

AC Milan have subtly reopened their pursuit of Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli after the striker's latest public spat with Roberto Mancini.

The Italian was hauled off after 70 uninspiring minutes of the champions' snore draw with West Ham on Saturday, and was noticeably frustrated as he stormed back to his seat, mouthing his angry feelings towards the manager.

City slicker: Mario Balotelli is continuing to attract attention from his homeland

City slicker: Mario Balotelli is continuing to attract attention from his homeland

City slicker: Mario Balotelli is continuing to attract attention from his homeland

Mancini pulled no punches after the match, hitting out at his 25million man.

The Italian said: 'I think that a player like Balotelli, when he has a chance like to today, he should score.

'Because when you are a top player, if you have a chance, you should score this – but I don't think he didn't want to score.'

On the player's reaction to being substituted, Mancini added: 'It's normal. A player is never happy to leave the pitch, but if Mario had scored he'd have stayed on the pitch.

'I'm the manager, I decide. I cannot play with four strikers.

'He should be disappointed with the chance he missed, not leaving the pitch in the last 25 minutes. It was a bad chance he missed.'

Balotelli moved to the Premier League from Inter in 2010 and has made several trips back to Milan, most recently to watch the city's big football derby.

Despite his connections to Inter, Balotelli left the club under a cloud and would have little concern joining their fierce rivals.

And it seems AC Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani is warming to the idea despite admitting it would be difficult.

Speaking on Monday, he said: 'I have a profound love for Mario Balotelli, but many loves in life don't always end well.'

Strop: Balotelli was unhappy with Roberto Mancini's decision to sub him after a poor show at West Ham

Strop: Balotelli was unhappy with Roberto Mancini's decision to sub him after a poor show at West Ham

Strop: Balotelli was unhappy with Roberto Mancini's decision to sub him after a poor show at West Ham

Galliani also took the opportunity to dismiss rumours in his homeland that AC Milan's star turn this season, Stephen El Shaarawy, would be making a move to the Premier League.

The Italy international, nicknamed 'The Pharaoh', has enjoyed a stellar campaign to date, scoring 10 times in 17 Serie A games.

Hot property: Stephan El Shaarawy has been in fabulous form for AC Milan

Hot property: Stephan El Shaarawy has been in fabulous form for AC Milan

But Galliani insists any talk of a switch for the 20-year-old is wide of the mark.

He added: 'Manchester City are interested in signing El Shaarawy Enough of this talk. He has contract with Milan until 2017, and soon he will sign an extension until 2018. He’s an enchanting player.'

Mario Balotelli less dramatic than Inspector Montalbano – Edge of the Box

Think Balotelli's a drama queen Try Montalbano

By
Mark Webster

PUBLISHED:

00:01 GMT, 5 November 2012

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UPDATED:

00:01 GMT, 5 November 2012

I for one could not be more grateful that BBC 4 are running the Sicilian detective series Inspector Montalbano.

I am learning so much. First of all, I now know that every building on the island seems to be made from the same cream coloured rock.

That, or some rather over-zealous local council official went a bit crazy with the magnolia paint they clearly got a great deal on.

Nothing to write home about: Mario Balotelli was relatively restrained

Nothing to write home about: Mario Balotelli was relatively restrained

Second, I have learned that only about eight people live there.

On the beach, in the town, at the police station, on the roads – not a soul, save for the Inspector, his sidekicks, the odd suspect or witness, and the fragrant young woman he’ll take for a giant plate of so-fresh-it's-still-squirming seafood that he’ll eat with her on the terrace of his favourite restaurant. Which is empty.

Thirdly, I have been getting a weekly crash course in the Italian language, as spoken by Italians. Close study has revealed you say ‘pronto’ when you answer the phone and that aside from a mouth to form words, you also need rolling eyes, fully shruggable shoulders and very wavey arms to be able to express yourself eloquently.

It is, all in all, great late night telly. It is not, however, the great Mario Balotelli.

Not my word, you understand. Nor, indeed, Alan Shearer’s if Saturday’s exchange on Match Of The Day was anything to go by.

The inscrutable Geordie was all fixed grin and no eye contact as his opposite Alan – Hansen – informed the Shearer right ear that ‘you called him great twice’ as once again Manchester City’s enfant terrible striker was put under the microscope.

A shining wall of gritted teeth, through which the former centre forward growled ‘I said good’, said happy. While the eyes said ‘as soon as the red light goes off on that camera..’.

In spite all of this, I really couldn’t fathom from what I’d seen of their highlights, just why it was all about Mario again Even Gary Lineker sounded a little surprised as he made the very same point, and I must say it did feel like they were hammering an editorial square peg into a round hole.

Smooth: Inspector Montalbano (right) with one of his 'fragrant' beauties

Smooth: Inspector Montalbano (right) with one of his 'fragrant' beauties

Sure, we saw images of a manager barking instructions at a player, and the same player looking disgruntled at coming off and sitting solemnly on the bench as he zipped up his coat. Yet no water bottles appeared to go flying. Nor did he make straight for the tunnel. All in all, by Sicilian TV body language standards, the pair might have barely exchanged brief ‘how do you dos’.

Which probably explains why Mancini looked as baffled as Lineker had done, when asked twice in the post match interview if it got on his nerves answering questions about Mario Balotelli. Think I might have spotted the eyes on a bit of a roll then!

Of course the young Italian will make headlines again. However, on November 3rd, he seemed to do nothing to warrant it. Lest we forget, though, you’re likely reading this on 5th of November. So if you ARE looking for some Super Mario gunpowder, treason and plot…

Come the following morning on Sky Sports, and there wasn’t even really a mention of him on Goals On Sunday in their coverage of Man City’s trip to West Ham. As the theme song says, Sunday mornings are decidedly ‘easy’ in the exceptionally capable hands of Ben Shephard and Chris Kamara, and they were clearly much more laid back about what they’d seen at Upton Park.

Personable: Chris Kamara is normally relaxed

Personable: Chris Kamara is normally relaxed

Which is – unless Kammy is on a mission with the officials – the way of a pair who are one of the best teams in televised sport. Their rapport puts them right up there with the BBC’s F1 boys and Jeff Stelling and the team on a Saturday.

What’s more, it helps make their weekly guests feel really relaxed, so that you get so much more from the players and managers who arrive on their settee than you’ll see pretty much anywhere else on the box.

It’s a long show, happy to take it’s time in allowing everyone to have their say about all the action and incidents, as well as discuss their own careers and lives. This week was no exception, with two excellent guests in former Bolton colleagues Stuart Holden and Patrice Muamba.

By Kammy’s standard in particular, this was a rather sombre day on the shirt front, but young American Holden certainly helped brighten the place up with a pair of truly appalling union flag socks. He was also very engaging, funny and pretty ‘northern’ nowadays in the accent department, which certainly helped with the dead pan delivery when he enquired at the end of the show as to where he could make a donation to Kammy’s Movember ‘tache

However, it was the presence of Muamba that really made the morning. The fact that he was there and well would have been good enough. But it was also a pleasure to listen to a man whose quietly spoken, thoughtful words couldn’t have been further away from where Mario’s do their business.

Ben pointed out that they had been inundated with well wishers on email enquiring about his future. Patrice replied that he would ‘take his time… then see where I fit in, in the football world’.

Here’s hoping it somewhere nice and snug. The game could do with his company.

Nicklas Bendtner has dig at Arsenal training

Arsenal training is nothing compared to Juventus! Bendtner takes dig at Gunners

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UPDATED:

09:57 GMT, 15 October 2012

Nicklas Bendtner has taken a swipe at Arsenal by claiming the training programme at Juventus is the best he has been involved in.

Bendtner joined the Italians on loan for the season just before the summer transfer window closed.

The Denmark striker had arrived at Arsenal in 2004 but failed to establish himself in the team and had loan spells at Birmingham and Sunderland before moving to Serie A.

Fighting fit: Nicklas Bendtner (No 11) is loving life at Juventus

Fighting fit: Nicklas Bendtner (No 11) is loving life at Juventus

'At Juventus, the training has been
different to – and much harder than – anything I've done before,' he
said in Ekstra Bladet. 'Because of that, my form is at a peak. I'm
much sharper.

'Without playing, I'm down to fighting weight and that's never happened before.'

Bendtner, 24, has made just one league appearance for Juve but added: 'I think Juventus are aware of what I can do.

'When you come to a new club, you have to learn about things. In seven games, they have won six and drawn one, so it's fine.'

After scoring for his country in a
draw against Bulgaria on Friday, Bendtner is set to meet a few familiar
faces when the Danes face Italy on Tuesday night.

He said: 'Of course, it will be
enjoyable to play against Italy, who have eight Juventus players in
their squad. They know me and I know them, so I don't know if anyone
has an advantage.

'For me, it's a battle that Denmark
must win rather than a battle that Nicklas must win. I think we need to
win as a team – it's not something I have to win as an individual.'

Gary Hooper is Liverpool target

Rodgers considers Celtic hitman Hooper as he aims to improve Liverpool attack

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UPDATED:

08:18 GMT, 13 October 2012

Celtic's Gary Hooper is a Liverpool target as Brendan Rodgers aims to add another forward to his squad in January.

The Reds are in the middle of a striking crisis at the moment with Luis Suarez being the only fit option at the club.

Impressive: Gary Hooper has played well for Celtic

Impressive: Gary Hooper has played well for Celtic

Fabio Borini broke his foot with Italy U21s earlier this week and Andy Carroll is on loan at West Ham.

According to talkSPORT Hooper's Celtic contract talks have broken down which leaves Liverpool in a good position as they look to pick up the 24-year-old.

Hooper signed for the Scottish champions in 2010 and has impressed for Neil Lennon's side since.

Blow: Fabio Borini broke his right foot with Italy U21s

Blow: Fabio Borini broke his right foot with Italy U21s

Liverpool could be set for a compensation wrangle with the Italian FA after it emerged Borini reported for international duty already carrying an injury.

The Italians discovered when they sent him for x-rays that he already had a crack in his ankle from a problem he sustained against Manchester United last month.

Ospreys 38 Treviso 17: Winning Heineken Cup start for Welsh outift

Ospreys 38 Treviso 17: Winning start for Welsh outfit in their Heineken Cup campaign

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UPDATED:

22:13 GMT, 12 October 2012

Ospreys opened their Heineken Cup campaign with a bonus-point win over Treviso at the Liberty Stadium but only after snuffing out a spirited second-half comeback by the Italians.

The Welsh region were indebted to tries from Eli Walker, Hanno Dirksen, with two, and Ashley Beck, while 18 points came from the boot of outside-half Dan Biggar.

Treviso scored two tries through Manoa Vosawai and Luke McLean, while Kris Burton supplied seven points with the boot.

Ospreys' Pool Two victory was some revenge for their 12-6 defeat at the hands of the Italian side in the opening game of the RaboDirect PRO12.

Beck in business: Ashley Beck crosses for a try at the Liberty Stadium

Beck in business: Ashley Beck crosses for a try at the Liberty Stadium

Treviso suffered a setback when Alessandro Zanni, their 66-cap Italy openside, pulled out just before kick-off with a back injury. There had earlier been better news for Ospreys with Justin Tipuric reporting fit despite suffering a hip injury.

Ospreys made a positive start with Biggar kicking three penalties in the opening 15 minutes. He put over his first attempt in the fourth minute after the home side had attacked from the opening two line-outs. The lead was extended to 6-0 four minutes later when Biggar was successful with a long-range effort after Treviso had transgressed at a scrum as their front eight struggled.

Treviso did get a foothold in the Ospreys 22 but it was immediately snuffed out by some aggressive counter-rucking by the Welsh region, and at the other end the Italians' indiscipline accounted for another penalty which Biggar kicked to extend the lead to 9-0.

On the run: Andrew Bishop breaks through the Treviso defence

On the run: Andrew Bishop breaks through the Treviso defence

Treviso got on the scoreboard with a penalty for Burton on 18 minutes but almost immediately Walker sent the home fans wild with a fine try after weaving his past four would-be tacklers. Biggar converted to give the Ospreys a 16-3 lead.

After a dust-up between the packs referee Neil Paterson sent Wales prop Adam Jones and Treviso captain Antonio Pavenello to the sin-bin. And Treviso found themselves down to 13 men for two minutes when Vosawai also got yellow-carded after a line-out infringement.

But Ospreys coach Steve Tandy will not have been happy with his side's lapses of concentration at the end of the half which forced them to defend for their lives to preserve their 13-point interval lead.

After regrouping at half-time the Ospreys hit Treviso with a second try four minutes after the break with Dirksen going over in the right corner taking a pass out of the back door from Richard Fussell. Biggar converted as the Ospreys lead was extended to 20.

But Ospreys were then left stunned by two Treviso tries in the space of as many minutes. First Vosawai was on the end of a drive from a line-out before McLean sprinted in unopposed. Burton converted both to cut the home lead to six points.

Biggar stopped the rot on 64 minutes when he put the Ospreys back two scores ahead with his fourth penalty goal. After hammering at the door for 10 minutes Ospreys scored a third try when Dirksen went over for his second after collecting a chip from scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i.

And four seconds from the end of time Beck went over for the all-important bonus-point try to end a tricky match on a high note for the region.