Tag Archives: touch

England"s rugby stars play with Flavia Cacace from Stricly Come Dancing

Strictly scrum dancing: TV queen Flavia joins England trio at training

By
Thom Drake

PUBLISHED:

12:49 GMT, 12 February 2013

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UPDATED:

16:16 GMT, 13 February 2013

England may have found their rhythm in the Six Nations but there were some more impressive dancing feet on show yesterday.

Flavia Cacace, the recent winner of Strictly Come Dancing with gymnast Louis Smith, swapped the ballroom for a rugby ball as she waltzed through a training session.

Brad Barritt, Alex Goode and Mike Brown took a break from England's attempts to win their first Grand Slam since Martin Johnson's heroes were triumphant in 2003, to join forces with the dancing star at the launch of O2 National Touch Rugby campaign at Ely's Yard.

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Eyes on the prize: Brad Barritt looks on as Strictly star Flavia Cacace dives for glory

Eyes on the prize: Brad Barritt looks on as Strictly star Flavia Cacace dives for glory

Handling: Flavia gets a good feel of the ball as she lines up alongside the England stars

Handling: Flavia gets a good feel of the ball as she lines up alongside the England stars

The trio were in good spirits just days after England battled to a superb win in Dublin on Sunday, and will hope to lead France a merry dance in their next eye-catching clash in two weeks' time.

England had not won in Ireland in 10 years, and that victory has given the rugby world another noticeable reminder what this young side has to offer.

But judging by these pictures, they are ready to be this year's movers and shakers…

Twirl: Flalvia shows the England boys a couple of moves

Twirl: Flalvia shows the England boys a couple of moves

Flying high: England are on a roll now with the Grand Slam within their grasp

Flying high: England are on a roll now with the Grand Slam within their grasp

VIDEO: Flavia Cacace tries out touch rugby with England stars

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MARTIN SAMUEL – THE DEBATE: Luis Suarez…just "wonderful", but could we have this man as the Footballer of the Year?

Luis Suarez… just 'wonderful', but could we have this man as the Footballer of the Year

/12/29/article-2254245-16A063BC000005DC-974_634x429.jpg” width=”634″ height=”429″ alt=”Kop idol: Suarez has the backing of the Liverpool supporters” class=”blkBorder” />

Kop idol: Suarez has the backing of the Liverpool supporters

Martin,
your colleague from the Times, Tony Evans, wrote a great piece last
season just after Suarez had deliberately ignored the handshake of
Patrice Evra at Old Trafford.

Evans,
a Liverpool scribe and fan, said of the Uruguayan: 'We are not talking
Ian Callaghan here. Suarez bites people. He handles the ball on the line
in World Cup Finals. He dives. He cheats. He verbally abuses opponents.
Luiz Suarez IS obnoxious.'

Enough said. Should Suarez be named Player of the year Should he hell as like.
Red Predictor, Manchester

I can completely understand this
point of view. Its existence was the crux of the piece. Yet we accept
human failings in art, and just look at the work, but expect footballers
to be morally upstanding.

Top bloke, Tony, by the way and a
true Liverpool man. I don’t actually disagree with a word he wrote
there, but would still ask whether an individual can overcome all of
those misgivings to cast a vote.

I said I would find it hard; but
you’ll notice I didn’t say for certain that I couldn’t. You have
stronger conviction on the issue, though, and I respect that.

Touch of class: Suarez took the ball on his chest before slotting home against Newcastle earlier this season

Touch of class: Suarez took the ball on his chest before slotting home against Newcastle earlier this season

Finished off: Suarez's goal against Newcastle was a perfect example of what he's capable of

Finished off: Suarez's goal against Newcastle was a perfect example of what he's capable of

Just goes to show it isn't really Footballer of the Year, it’s the nice person of the year. Ridiculous. Andypom, Wellington

No, it isn’t Andy, but some members of the Football Writers Association, young and old, do believe that being a role model is part of the package. It certainly was when the award was inaugurated and it could be argued that a positive image matters more than ever now, when there is so much dubious behaviour in the game. Not a view I subscribe to personally, but I recognise its sincerity.

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Suarez isn't good enough for the neutral to overlook all the bad things in his game. For every great goal there is an embarrassing dive. Liverpool fans forget that while they may be blinded and biased because he is scoring goals for them, all fans of other clubs see is an undoubtedly talented striker cheating and diving and screaming and stamping. Rinzler, Manchester

True, but the same could be said of many players. Club allegiances work like blinkers at times.

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I wonder who'd get ref of the year. Don’t you think it would be really
interesting to see the result of a ground-by-ground referendum on that
Jimboin, Preston

No.

Wind up: Suarez took a dive in front of Everton boss David Moyes to celebrate his goal in the Merseyside derby

Wind up: Suarez took a dive in front of Everton boss David Moyes to celebrate his goal in the Merseyside derby

Suarez is finally translating his goal scoring form from Holland to the Premier League but he needs to be able to sustain that form. A lot of players go through purple patches and later fade.
Musa, London

Absolutely. Before Suarez, I thought Juan Mata was going to be the outstanding player of the season and since the piece was written Robin Van Persie has come into his own. I was more interested in the idea that Suarez might sustain this form and how football might react to him then.

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Luis Suarez is NOT a racist. You can keep harping on about it all you like but the FA report said Suarez is not a racist; Patrice Evra said Suarez is not a racist. Yet you continue to act like he goes around with a white sheet over his head in his spare time. You are making yourself look ridiculous by continuing to portray him as the pantomime villain while your docile minions lap up every word. Simon, Swindon

Minions Minions I wish, mate. Simon, I’ve revisited the original piece and nowhere does it get into whether or not Suarez is actually racist.

It is, however, utterly disingenuous to pretend that having been banned for a substantial length of time for using racially charged language Suarez is not associated with the practice.

My point was that Suarez does have this pantomime villain status, making it hard to get the credit he deserves.

And by the way, I don’t want docility, just people who understand the argument and enjoy discussing or arguing it in a civilised way. Which I hope we’re doing here.

Spot of bother: Suarez was the World Cup villain in 2010 as he saw red for handball in the quarter-final with Ghana - but the Africans missed the penalty and the striker was a hero in Urugauy as they progressed (below)

Spot of bother: Suarez was the World Cup villain in 2010 as he saw red for handball in the quarter-final with Ghana – but the Africans missed the penalty and the striker was a hero in Urugauy as they progressed (below)

So let me get this straight Martin, you wouldn't vote for the best player in the league to pick up the best player award Metro El, Liverpool

Never said that. Read the piece. Could I vote for him, I asked, and replied: 'It would be very, very hard.'

That’s not the same as saying I couldn’t. The whole tone of the column suggested that, using my feelings towards art as a measure, I’d bite the bullet and go with the finest footballer, regardless.

Cheeky: Suarez celebrated after Uruguay dumped Ghana out of the World Cup in South Africa

Maybe the best behaved could have their own award, or perhaps even let them win Sports Personality of the Year. Izzie, Aldershot

Right, because Bradley Wiggins got that just for being a goody two-shoes.

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Society is influenced by the media. Newspapers thrive off the controversy of the characters they depict. Suarez is classed as the player people love to hate, and the bad press he is subjected to week in week out is exaggerated and biased. Palm, Kidderminster

I wouldn’t disagree there. I think each season develops a narrative which drives the news agenda and once a player is cast as a certain character it is difficult to shake off his role in the story.

I think referees are influenced by this narrative, too, as Gareth Bale is now discovering. This means the same behaviour from different individuals will then be treated differently.

Some dives are forgotten, others attract headlines. I’m not justifying or condoning that but I would also argue that good journalists try to resist this trap.

I think Suarez gets a raw deal from referees, and the press, because he has been cast as one of the bad guys.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t contributed greatly to his own dismal reputation..

No goody two-shoes: SIR Bradley Wiggins has done alright for himself in terms of picking up honours

No goody two-shoes: SIR Bradley Wiggins has done alright for himself in terms of picking up honours

Every man commenting on here, regardless of colour, has called another man of a different skin tone a racist name at some time. Whether or not it was to the face, behind the back, in the school playground or driving the car, we have all done it. Move on. New York DJ, London

Speak for yourself mate. I’ve always thought racial language was either part of your vocabulary or not. I’m not being holier than thou, but I just don’t see how somebody is a temporary racist. You either see black men as n*****s, or you don’t.

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There is a flaw in your argument: why will Gary Glitter never be seen receiving a music award
Jimbo, Lincolnshire

Because he wasn’t any good, Jim. Come on. Look, I’ve got Rock and Roll Part 2 on my I-Pod but that’s basically a Glitter Band track with a killer riff and a bit of chanting. There’s a lot of Ike Turner on there, too. One for the ladies, as my wife always says whenever he comes on.

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If there is a black breakaway players' union in response to this, would Suarez, who is one quarter black, not be able to join; or would you have to be 100 per cent black

Would it exclude Rio Ferdinand as he's only 50 per cent black And isn't the idea of forming an exclusive union based on the lines of race in response to another player winning an award based on ability, racist Donga, York

To be fair the idea of a Footballer of the Year Award for Suarez precipitating a breakaway black union was my extrapolation of the controversy such a vote would cause, rather than any proposed event.

Your point about levels of blackness is well made though, and comes back to the Gil Scott-Heron quote about competitions among black people to be blackest.

Anything that divides is ultimately unhelpful and to split black and white players seems a backward step.

Not guilty: Suarez was accused by Wigan of stamping on David Jones this season but he escaped punishment

Not guilty: Suarez was accused by Wigan of stamping on David Jones this season but he escaped punishment

I thought sledding was a massive part of sport. Expatmac, Perth, Australia

No, sledding is a massive part of Polar exploration, like huskies and frostbite. Sledging is perceived to a part of sport, but it doesn’t have to be. And what Suarez was accused of wasn’t sledging anyway.

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Who cares who journalists make Footballer of the Year It's never mattered to anyone except the media, certainly not real football fans anyway. If Suarez finishes as top scorer there's nothing anyone can do to take that award off him. How funny it would be to see his big toothy grin receiving that trophy on the pages of your newspapers. Dobbelina, Camden

Well, the players who win the FWA award seem to care and the list of previous winners is pretty good company, too.

What you fail to understand is journalists are real football fans, too. They supported teams and paid to watch matches until work got in the way. That is why, like fans, they debate the issues, including the criteria of this award.

Now, Dobbelina, would you quit/you really make sick/with your fraudulent behaviour.

Ha ha, you’ve got to know your old school rap to get that one, which by the sounds of his alias, our friend from Camden does. So no offence taken, I hope.

Altogether now: Mistadobalina, MistaBobdobalina, Mistadobalina, MistaBobdobalina… And on that note, as we doff our caps to Del Tha Funky Homosapien (enjoy the clip), let’s try to clear a few things up.

Here is the introduction from Eric Cantona's winners’ entry on the Football Writers Association website, following his award in 1996.

'Controversial, yes, but never boring, Eric Cantona’s personality, presence, goals and achievements should be remembered more than any disciplinary excesses or references to sardines.'

Guess you didn't vote for him then, Martin. Smoke5screen, Liverpool

No, I don’t think I did. Actually, I don’t vote most years because I believe the decision is made too early when the season isn’t decided and I wouldn’t wish to commit to a view I might later contradict in a column. And, by the way, FWA members don’t vote en bloc. It’s not like the Labour leadership contest.

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Well this is a new one, comparing Suarez to an anti-Semite. Alex, Angola

No, I compared our attitude to unpalatable behaviour in the world of art to our attitudes towards sportsmen who transgress in a way that society finds unacceptable. Nowhere does it link Suarez as an individual to anti-Semitism.

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I don't know if they voted for Poet of the Year in Larkin's day but if they did he probably wouldn't win it anyway when up against poetry’s equivalent of Robin van Persie, who has been so sublime and superior to him. Nick, Sarlat

Now, look Nick, I don’t mind you voting Van Persie over Suarez, but if you’re going to come on here dissing Philip Larkin, we may have words.

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The question you should ask is: is there a better player than him No. Zanydave, Wirral

Maybe.

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If John Terry can be England captain then Luis Suarez can be player of the year.
Mooroondu, Brisbane

Terry isn’t England captain. Keep up.

Iconic: Suarez, like Kenny Dalglish during his playing days at Anfield, was handed the No 7 jersey

Iconic: Suarez, like Kenny Dalglish during his playing days at Anfield, was handed the No 7 jersey

So you're saying John Terry, a proud Englishman unlike that cheating Uruguayan, will end up winning John, Minneapolis

No. Nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. Terry is not even mentioned in the piece. Nothing to do with him at all. Sometimes it helps to read the piece rather than have your interpretation handed down by some twerp on Twitter.

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Too moralist, the British. Fabio Capello was right, they think everybody is wrong and they are right. Leaf27, Montreal

Yes, mate, that’s what’s holding the planet back: morality.

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Suarez is overrated, like Fernando Torres at Liverpool, a big fish in a little pond. He wouldn't last a season at a top club and needs more chances than Andy Cole. Wilson, Fleetwood

Seriously harsh this. I will admit that when a team is ordinary, as Liverpool are, one player can have a disproportionate influence and his ability becomes exaggerated because he is of such worth to that team.

Yet I think it is to Suarez’s credit that he is shouldering such a burden at Anfield.

As far as his chance-to-goal ratio, yes it could improve, but he is not meant to be the main goalscorer in the team. Liverpool messed up in the summer and left him marooned.

I know your post was made in November, and clairvoyance cannot be expected, but look at his performance against Queens Park Rangers on December 30, which was quite exceptional. Not just the stunning turn and straight run for the first goal, how about his contribution to the second

Steven Gerrard plays a long ball out of defence but slips as he strikes it, so it flies aimlessly into huge space on Rangers defensive left. Suarez then chases that lost cause, panicking the Rangers player who makes a hurried clearance, conceding possession.

From that, Liverpool hoof a long ball forward, Suarez wins the header and finds Stewart Downing, whose first touch is poor, but nobody has closed him down so gets another chance and plays Suarez in.

Suarez then drives into the penalty area, hits an excellent low cross which is blocked, the ball returns to him and he scores.

In that entire passage of play, the only quality contributions from either side are made by Suarez. Wonderful.

Race row: Suarez was banned for eight matches after being found guilty of abusing Patrice Evra in 2011

Race row: Suarez was banned for eight matches after being found guilty of abusing Patrice Evra in 2011

No issue in voting for Suarez. I have never seen him as a diver. I recall only one clear dive where he was getting kicked all about the pitch by some very innocent thug-like defenders. I put going over easy on an equally negative level with shirt pulling and elbows in the back of the head. HM, Dublin

Same here. Don’t necessarily agree about just a single dive from the man but I am inclined to side with a creative player over the negative one when exchanging vices.

Not helping: Suarez refused to shake Evra's hand when the pair met for the first time following the race row

Not helping: Suarez refused to shake Evra's hand when the pair met for the first time following the race row

He has
been associated with too much of football’s dark side, as you state,
because it is all journalists ever talk about. There is never any
mention of him being a loyal, decent family man, the amount of spare
time he has spent in South Africa and his charity work. Chris, Fife

This is Chris Rock’s argument about people wanting credit for stuff they
are supposed to do. Loyal family man Millionaire that gives to
charity What do you want, a cookie

Would Marouane Fellaini at Everton not be up there He dominates every time he is on the pitch. Hard-working, honest midfielder who seems to run games for fun. Barto7, Liverpool

Yes he would. Yet after the performance against Stoke City before Christmas and his ban, would some now say he should be excluded This is one of my points: nobody’s perfect.

Demolition derby: Everton defender Sylvain Distin was raging with Suarez for this challenge

Demolition derby: Everton defender Sylvain Distin was raging with Suarez for this challenge

Translation: the football writers’ Footballer of the Year is a popularity contest and therefore worthless. Gray, Liverpool

Translation: you find it hard to grasp some pretty simple concepts and may need to concentrate more. Thank heavens for our next poster.

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Treason is only a matter of timing, as
the saying goes. If Larkin and Pound were about today, producing their
works while espousing their views, it would take a huge effort to see
past the man and into the written word. Society would rightly condemn
them and probably, for the most part, ignore their work.

They've
benefited from the passing of time, and a society whose condemnations
are tempered, rightly or wrongly, by a sense of 'that's what it was like
back then'.

You don't have to be a role model to win Footballer of the
Year, but you do have to avoid being the kind of player Suarez is. He
might be good at football, but can you really brush the racist comment,
the very obvious diving and the catalogue of video evidence which shows
him being reckless in the challenge, under the carpet

His antics make
it too hard to separate the player from the man. Fats, London

Very hard to take issue with any of that, Fats. You are probably right
that modern sensibilities have changed thought processes and a
right-wing extremist in the arts would be marginalised.

I’m thinking of
the controversy that surrounded Morrissey when he toyed with nationalist
imagery a few years ago, or the reaction to the anti-gay lyrics of
reggae dancehall tracks like Boom /12/29/article-2254245-16AE5851000005DC-397_634x388.jpg” width=”634″ height=”388″ alt=”Tasty A Dutch paper branded Suarez the 'Cannibal of Ajax' after he bit PSV's Otman Bakkal during a game” class=”blkBorder” />

Tasty A Dutch paper branded Suarez the 'Cannibal of Ajax' after he bit PSV's Otman Bakkal during a game

The writer isn't saying Suarez shouldn't win it, he's saying that he won't – not because he thinks that he shouldn't, but because others think that he shouldn't. Tommy, Belfast

Thanks, Tommy, and I mean that. Would you be interested in providing a weekly translation service for the column It would really help some people: I’m particularly thinking Piers Morgan. And this next bloke.

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You say Suarez is the best player in the Premier League by a mile, yet you won't vote for him. That says more about you than it does about him. You're not voting for Footballer of the Year, your vote is going to someone you'd like to be mates with. Where is the merit in that
Rocky Soul, United Kingdom

Where does it say I wouldn’t vote for Suarez I said I’d find it hard, that’s all. As for being mates, is that how you think it works I voted for you, please be my friend. I’ve got friends. Nice friends. I didn’t get them by pressing a red button.

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Do you think Suarez would care about being Footballer of the Year, especially one voted for by the Fleet Street hacks who plague Twitter spreading their lies and bile Doubt it. He is a team player and all about Liverpool. He can be an idiot at times, but show me a top player who hasn’t been these days. Fowler1070, Liverpool

Oh, come on, I’m not having that. It doesn’t go with the territory that to succeed in football, or sport, ethical behaviour must go out of the window. Lionel Messi seems to do all right, or Juan Mata.

As for Twitter, I’m not on it mate. Never will be. With a name like Fowler1070, it sounds as if you are though. Apologies if I’m wrong.

At his best: Suarez scored a hat-trick against Norwich earlier this season

At his best: Suarez scored a hat-trick against Norwich earlier this season

The award is for best footballer, not best person. If Suarez was English the author would have a different view. Andrew, Bridgend

That’s not true, Andrew. If John Terry was a contender for Footballer of the Year I would have written exactly the same piece. But he’s not.

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So let's sum up the cons against Suarez. He once called Patrice Evra something inoffensive in Spanish-speaking countries, a year ago, and the Daily Mail claims diving is eliminated from football whenever Suarez is not on the pitch. You guys have built a silly hype around him and robbed yourselves of watching this fantastic talent due to a witch hunt. Reality Check, London

Get real. Without revisiting old ground what Suarez said is not inoffensive in Spanish-speaking countries; it depends on the context. And nobody is deprived of watching Suarez.

The whole article was in praise of him as a footballer, which suggests I take great pleasure in his ability. Indeed, to even flag up his potential to be Footballer of the Year is a tribute.

I think Suarez is a wonderful player. I couldn’t really have made that clearer. For the alternate view, however…

Goals galore: Suarez has been finding the net this season

One unsavory incident should exclude a player from receiving this award. To win Footballer of the Year, a player should have shown exemplary character aligned with superb footballing intellect. He should be technically superior to his peers, able to show discipline on the pitch and be an example to young players. Robbie G, Dunbar

Wow, let’s hope Mother Theresa has a left foot because if Robbie gets his way, she’ll be the only candidate next year.

Tough standards from our man from Dunbar and we’ll have to leave it there, I’m afraid.

Thank you to all who contributed, even though you didn’t know what you were contributing to at the time.

No doubt the views of Mr G will find favour with some inside the Football Writers’ Association, but if Suarez continues to play as he did at Loftus Road, this one will run and run.

Andy Murray looks to regain lethal touch

Murray looking to shake bad habits and regain killer touch at ATP World Tour Finals

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UPDATED:

15:52 GMT, 4 November 2012

Andy Murray will focus all his energies on winning the final point in his matches at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London this week after developing an unwelcome habit since becoming a grand slam champion in New York two months ago.

The Scot has played in three tournaments since winning the US Open, in Tokyo, Shanghai and Paris, and in all of them he has held match points in clashes he went on to lose.

In Tokyo it was a semi-final meeting with Canada's Milos Raonic, then a classic final in Shanghai against Novak Djokovic where he had five chances to win, before last week he lost to Poland's Jerzy Janowicz at the Paris Masters.

Killer touch: Andy Murray (left) is focusing his energy on closing games after squandering match points in all three tournaments since his US Open win

Killer touch: Andy Murray (left) is focusing his energy on closing games after squandering match points in all three tournaments since his US Open win

In it to win it: Murray (left) wants to repeat his Olympic glory in London by winning the ATP Finals at the O2 Arena

In it to win it: Murray (left) wants to repeat his Olympic glory in London by winning the ATP Finals at the O2 Arena

This run has also come after Murray talked about how confident he normally feels in finishing off matches.

The 25-year-old said: 'I did say in Shanghai when you speak about things like that it's bound to go against you. I'm aware how hard it is to finish matches off. It's not an easy thing to do.

'In Shanghai I didn't just play against Novak, I played three matches previously. I've played hundreds and hundreds of matches on tour and sometimes it's going to go your way, sometimes it's not.

'I don't feel in the match with Novak I did too much wrong. I was disappointed with last week, I didn't feel like I focused as hard as I needed to when I was serving for the match.

'That's something this week I'll make sure I play one point at a time, take my time and fight for every single point. I need to try to do a better job of that.'

Murray may not have made much impact in Paris with his tennis but the 25-year-old did cause a bit of a stir with his comments about cycling and drug-testing in sport.

They were taken as a slur on cycling in some quarters and Murray took to Twitter to explain himself in the face of criticism from a few cycling fans.

The line up: The players were in London on Saturday at the official launch of the tournament

The line up: The players were in London on Saturday at the official launch of the tournament

See you there: Murray is in the same group as Novak Djokovic (centre right)

See you there: Murray is in the same group as Novak Djokovic (centre right)

The Scot has plenty of experience of remarks being interpreted in a different way to what he intended, notably with a joke he made about the England football team in 2006.

Murray said: 'What happened in cycling is pretty shocking and you just want to make sure you can completely rule anything like that out in your own sport, because I love tennis, so you'd hate for anything like that to happen.

'A lot of things you can say may come across the wrong way. It's not always easy when you're in a room filled with people and you get asked a question you have to answer straight away.

'One or two words can make something you meant in the right way come across badly. I try my best to not make any silly comments or say anything jokingly that may be taken out of context.

Eyes on the prize: Murray was warming up for the tournament over the weekend

Eyes on the prize: Murray was warming up for the tournament over the weekend

Eyes on the prize: Murray was warming up for the tournament over the weekend

Down to you: Andy Murray (left) and coach Ivan Lendl (right) are hoping to add another tournament win in Murray's best year yet

Down to you: Andy Murray (left) and coach Ivan Lendl (right) are hoping to add another tournament win in Murray's best year yet

'It's unfortunate it comes across that way sometimes. I'll just try better to not make any more mistakes like that.'

Murray opens proceedings in the singles competition at the World Tour Finals on Monday afternoon against Czech Tomas Berdych, with Djokovic taking on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in the other Group A clash in the evening.

The tournament is being held at the O2 Arena for the fourth year after London signed a five-year contract to take over from Shanghai in 2009.

It has been a huge success, with organisers expecting even bigger attendances this year, and a deal to extend the contract is thought to be not far away from being signed.

Murray said: 'If it does stay here then that's obviously good. I think they do a great job here, they put on an excellent show and everyone seems to enjoy it.

'From a players' point of view, because we've finished the year in Europe, it's nice to have a tournament of this size being convenient, you wouldn't want it being a hassle for guys to go to. London has been a great spot.'

Fulham 1 Aston Villa 0 – match report

Fulham 1 Aston Villa 0: Baird pops up late to pile pressure on Lambert

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UPDATED:

16:23 GMT, 20 October 2012

Fulham midfielder Chris Baird upstaged his returning team-mate Dimitar Berbatov with the late winner as Fulham condemned Aston Villa to more away day misery.

Baird got a deft touch to John Arne Riise's near-post corner to beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan and deny Villa what looked increasingly like a battling point.

Fulham had been the better side, with Berbatov in commanding form on his comeback from a hip injury, but they had failed to convert a hatful of chances.

Winner: Baird is mobbed after his goal

Winner: Baird is mobbed after his goal

MATCH FACTS

Fulham: Schwarzer, Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise, Sidwell (Karagounis 84), Baird, Richardson (Dejagah 70), Rodallega, Berbatov, Petric (Diarra 64).

Subs Not Used: Stockdale, Senderos, Kasami, Kacaniklic.

Booked: Riise.

Goal: Baird 84.

Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Baker (Lichaj 62), Bennett, Ireland (N'Zogbia 66), El Ahmadi, Delph, Holman, Bent (Benteke 75), Agbonlahor.

Subs Not Used: Given, Albrighton, Bannan, Weimann.

Booked: El Ahmadi, Lichaj.

Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside).

Attendance: 25,693.

Click here for the latest Premier League results, fixtures and table

The home support were beginning to get
edgy when the man they hail as 'Bairdinho' popped up with the kind of
finish Berbatov would have been proud of to snatch the points for
Fulham.

Villa, who had not won on the road in 13 Barclays Premier League matches
dating back to January, had a chance to rescue a point but Christian
Benteke missed a sitter from close-range.

Benteke had been sent on for Darren Bent, who was restored to the Villa
starting line-up after being dropped for the last two matches.

Bent failed to make much of impression – glancing one header wide and
otherwise cutting a picture of frustration up front – unlike Berbatov.

The serene Bulgarian was immediately into the action, playing a key role
as Fulham pressed Guzan into action twice inside the first five
minutes.

Berbatov found a yard of space inside the Villa box and turned on Kieran
Richardson's pass but Guzan reacted quickly to palm the shot away from
an acute angle.

The Bulgarian still has this wonderful ability to play the game at his
own pace and he calmly held off the attentions of Nathan Baker to bring
Sascha Riether into the box.

High hopes: Aston Villa's Fabien Delph (right) is challenged by Steve Sidwell

High hopes: Aston Villa's Fabien Delph (right) is challenged by Steve Sidwell

The German full-back squeezed a pass through to Richardson six yards out
but Guzan blocked his shot and Riether's effort from the rebound went
wide.

Baker's response was to hack Berbatov down from behind, which seemed
just about the only way Villa were going to win the ball off him.

Fulham appeared capable of scoring every time they were in possession.

Eyes on the ball: Dimitar Berbatov take on the Villa defence

Eyes on the ball: Dimitar Berbatov take on the Villa defence

Chris Baird and Steve Sidwell anchored the midfield and they always had
runners, with John Arne Riise and Riether given the freedom to attack
from full-back and stretch Villa.

At times Fulham played with five attackers as Richardson, Hugo Rodallega
and the busy Mladen Petric supported Berbatov in causing Villa
problems.

Brede Hangeland ran out of defence and slid a pass to Berbatov, who
clipped a magnificent cross on the turn towards Baird but the header was
wide.

Plenty to ponder: Villa boss Paul Lambert

Plenty to ponder: Villa boss Paul Lambert

Gabriel Agbonlahor created Villa's first opportunity himself, cutting in
from the left before unleashing a deflected shot which brought a diving
save from Mark Schwarzer.

Bent could not get enough on Matthew Lowton's cross from the right wing
and his glancing header drifted harmlessly wide but that was as close as
Villa came in the first half.

Riise whipped one cross in for Berbatov, who did well to force a save
from Guzan, and then another for Rodallega but the Colombian headed
wide.

Striking it Rich: Fulham's Kieran Richardson has an effort on goal

Striking it Rich: Fulham's Kieran Richardson has an effort on goal

Agbonlahor was working hard for Villa and he tried to pick out Bent in
the Fulham box but Sidwell, enjoying a strong game against his old club,
was on hand to intercept.

Villa started the second-half brightly, with Agbonlahor heading over the
bar from Lowton's cross but Fulham still looked the more likely team to
score.

Karim El Ahmadi was booked for a foul on Berbatov that checked a Fulham counter-attack.

Close encounter: Sidwell is closed down by Stephen Ireland

Close encounter: Sidwell is closed down by Stephen Ireland

Berbatov failed to make decent contact as he attempted an acrobatic
volley after Rodallega's cross had fallen to him at the far post.

Villa failed to clear their lines properly and it required a brave block
from Lowton to deny Richardson, before Bent was replaced by Benteke.

Ashkan Dejagah came on for Fulham to make his debut and was quickly in
the thick of the action, stinging Guzan's hands with a 25-yard drive
after some sublime build-up play.

On the up: Fulham cemented their place in the top half

On the up: Fulham cemented their place in the top half

Struggling: Villa have now gone four games without a win

Struggling: Villa have now gone four games without a win

Then came the breakthrough. Baird stole in front of Eric Lichaj, Fabian
Delph and Bennett to get a touch to Riise's corner and beat Guzan at the
near post.

The reaction inside Craven Cottage as much one of relief as celebration – although that should have been cut short immediately.

Charles N'Zogbia squared the ball to Benteke six yards out but he
inexplicably failed to hit the target and with that miss went Villa's
hopes of a point.

Game over: Baird beats Guzan from inside the box

Game over: Baird beats Guzan from inside the box

Game over: Baird beats Guzan from inside the box

London 2012 Olympics: Michael Phelps equals record medal tally in 200m butterfly

Phelps beaten to 200m butterfly gold by Le Clos… but equals record medal tally

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UPDATED:

19:06 GMT, 31 July 2012

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LIVE RESULTS |
EVENT SCHEDULE |
MEDALS TABLE

Michael Phelps joy at equalling the all-time Olympic medal tally was tainted by being pipped right at the death of the 200m butterfly final by South African Chad Le Clos.

The 27-year-old started the evening with 14 gold, one silver and two bronze medals over three Olympic Games since 2004.

His second place was sufficient to see him move alongside Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, whose record had stood since 1964.

Pipped to the post: Phelps narrowly missed out on the gold medal

Pipped to the post: Phelps narrowly missed out on the gold medal

However, the American has always
maintained he is not interested in medal counts and will be furious with
himself after le Clos beat him on the touch.

Gold standard: Le Clos was the big winner - taking gold in the 200m butterfly

Gold standard: Le Clos was the big winner – taking gold in the 200m butterfly

Portsmouth could become extinct on August 10 – Trevor Birch

Pompey on the ropes as club warned they face extinction on August 10

|

UPDATED:

23:29 GMT, 24 July 2012

Portsmouth administrator Trevor Birch has warned the club will go out of business on August 10 unless an agreement can be reached over the wages of their senior players.

Eight senior players were understood to be in disagreement over unpaid salaries, although Luke Varney has since joined Leeds.

Supporters group SOS Pompey handed over an open letter to the players at the club's training ground in a bid to persuade players to compromise on their wages and Birch has said former owner Balram Chainrai could pull out of a proposed deal to buy the club if more players are not moved on.

Through the wire: Portsmouth are clinging on to survival

Through the wire: Portsmouth are clinging on to survival

And Birch told ESPN Soccernet today: 'Everybody, including the players, have been served notice that the club will close down on August 10.'

Defender Tal Ben Haim and striker Kanu are among the players owed significant wages, with both players reportedly claiming around 3million in unpaid salary.

And Birch said. 'The only way the club can be saved is if the players accept compromise deals.

'The Football League are in constant touch and know the situation, the PFA are also aware of it and are doing all they can to help.

'If the new owner does not take over the liabilities and guarantee 10million to football creditors then the Football League will not transfer its share and the club will go under.

Deadline: The club come become extinct on August 10

Deadline: The club could become extinct on August 10

'To save the club we are frantically trying to negotiate with players such as Kanu and Tal (Ben) Haim. We have offered Tal (Ben) Haim a substantial compromise which he has turned down, so it is difficult to negotiate.

'Perhaps he is playing a game of bluff. Perhaps he thinks we are bluffing that the new owner will save the club and still pay him or accept his liabilities going forward.

Veteran: Kanu is owed money by Portsmouth

Veteran: Kanu is owed money by Portsmouth

'We are now reaching a critical time, time is running out. I can only hope by serving notice that the club will shut down on August 10 that this will concentrate people's minds.'

Pompey are due to face Plymouth in the Capital One Cup on August 14 before starting their npower League One campaign – for which they will face a 10-point deduction – against south coast rivals Bournemouth four days later at Fratton Park.

Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor earlier described the situation as embarrassing for the game and said some players had been 'unfairly intimidated', but agreed all parties had to agree to lose out if the club was to stay in business.

'It's about everybody getting in the same room, the players, the club, the administrators, the potential new owners and deal with the situation rather than looking at it separately,' Taylor told Sky Sports News.

'If not there's no transparency as to how serious the situation is. If this club is going to survive we need everybody to have something – but not all that they are owed, otherwise everybody's just going to get nothing.'

Taylor added: 'There's been a bit of unfair intimidation on a few of the high earners. There's about eight I think that needed to go, to get settlements done and half of those have gone now.

'We've managed to get some security from the Premier League, they've been very co-operative on parachute payments, the Football League have told the owners they can't get all the money back that they put into the club originally, so they've got to take a hit.'

Spain don"t match Brazil 1970: JEFF POWELL

Jeff Powell: Hats off to Del Bosque but his team cannot match the Golden Gods of Brazil

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UPDATED:

23:27 GMT, 2 July 2012

The most wondrous player of all consecrated Brazil as the cathedral of the beautiful game and now Spain are this generation’s heirs to Pele’s glittering vision of football.

The performance against Italy, which put the finishing touch to a pleasing European Championship, was rich in technical quality, artistic touch and sheer class. As such, it performed a priceless service to football on this continent.

All the more so since it stifled at birth the heresy that the Chelsea syndrome – massing defiantly in the trench of the penalty area in hope of snatching victory with occasional sorties across the battlefield – had become a signpost to a moribund future.

Golden Gods: Brazil, with Pele as their star, lit up the world with their World Cup triumph in 1970

Golden Gods: Brazil, with Pele as their star, lit up the world with their World Cup triumph in 1970

Nearly, but not quite: Spain may well be kings of the world right now, but they haven't surpassed Brazil 1970

Nearly, but not quite: Spain may well be kings of the world right now, but they haven't surpassed Brazil 1970

Muchas gracias, senores.

That duly said, the stampede to acclaim this Spanish team as the greatest in history is as feverish and hasty as the annual, wild-eyed and usually inebriated running with the bulls at Pamplona.

It is being led by commentators who never saw the Brazil of 1970 – to name but one mystical XI to be conjured from the mists of time – or who were too young to appreciate the glory they witnessed.

Spain are seductively attractive. Brazil are frequently not only beautiful but majestic. It was a delight to watch Spain’s kaleidoscopic passing bewilder Italy. Brazil in full flood inspire awe and amazement.

Spain deserve the praise heaped upon them for bracketing successive Euro triumphs around a World Cup.

Class above: Brazil, like Spain only more convincingly, thrashed Italy in their signature final performance

Class above: Brazil, like Spain only more convincingly, thrashed Italy in their signature final performance

Brazil are beyond comparison as winners of five World Cups on four continents, to go with their eight South American championships. But it is not in the calibrating of results that ultimate greatness resides. It is in the manner of those achievements.

Spain 2012 are acclaimed as the most highly polished of football machines but they are a Rolls-Royce whereas Brazil ’70 were an F1 McLaren.

There are times – even in that generally disappointing World Cup in South Africa – when Spain are possession without penetration. Brazil, with their foot to the floor, are 11 rapiers driven into the heart of mere mortal opponents.

Spain 2012 are a wonderfully accomplished team. Brazil ’70 were a team of superstars dedicated not just to a cause but an ideal, a dream of what football should be.

They also prevailed against rivals superior to any faced by Spain in this period of ascendancy.

England took a more accomplished team to Mexico even than the one which Bobby Moore led to this country’s solitary World Cup win four years earlier. Brazil beat them.

West Germany, who were building powerfully towards victory in 1974, defeated England before losing such a stupendous semi-final to an Italy team so much more profound than the one we saw in Kiev on Sunday night that it is revered as the Match of the Century.

Brazil then eviscerated Italy 4-1 with the ultimate final performance, one crowned by the most sublime multi-pass goal thundered in by Carlos Alberto.

A team of superstars Pretty much. Pele, Tostao, Jairzinho and Rivelino were stellar forwards, Carlos Alberto an inspiring captain as well as exemplary full back, Clodoaldo a creative maestro. And at the hub of it all was Gerson, the fearsome template for the modern, all-purpose midfielders of today.

As individuals, this Spain do not compare. More importantly, the special Brazil teams play with a sense of adventure. It is in the ethos of drama, excitement and danger that Brazil surpass them, also.

Visionaries: Hungary, led by Ferenc Puskas (centre, front) were the first great post-war side

Visionaries: Hungary, led by Ferenc Puskas (centre, front) were the first great post-war side

Jeff Powell's greatest team

And they are not alone. Spain are hailed
as revolutionaries. At least two others were more astonishing
pioneers… the Hungary of Puskas in the ’50s, the first foreigners to
conquer Wembley, then Holland with Total Football in the ’70s.

No, neither won the World Cup, but this
is not about bare results. If it were, the argument against Brazil
could not have started. Nor is it limited to that when we reach back
into the past, again, to recall the Argentina of ’78. Kempes, Luque,
Ardiles and Passarella — forget the nonsense about a host fix — were
more dynamic.

In distilling the greatest international football team of all time, the willingness to take risk is one of the most potent ingredients.

Spain take such precious care of the ball that at times they can be less than expansive with its use.

The most important lesson they have taught English football has been over-simplified in critiques which put the cart before the horse.

It is not the passing which comes first but the subtle, angled, swift movement which makes possible such precise delivery of the ball.

For that, we should all be duly grateful. As they should be for their manager. If not the best team ever seen, they have arguably the finest of all coaches. Vicente del Bosque (left) has organised, energised and convinced a collection of very good players — but not one of whom would get into a well- reasoned all-time World Xl — to become admirable world champions. Viva Espana.

They are simply the best of their era. But that doesn’t make them the greatest of all time. Not until and unless they do something even more remarkable in Brazil 2014.

Not by a long shot.

1970 v 2012: The best of the best

Wimbledon 2012: British girls struggle at SW19

Brit girls are losers in this reality show as ladies crash back to earth at SW19

|

UPDATED:

23:34 GMT, 28 June 2012

What a difference a day – and a touch of class – makes. Back on Court No 2, where the previous day, Heather Watson had thrilled home tennis fans, Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha, Britain's leading women for much of the last decade, crashed out in spectacular fashion.

It would have been acutely embarrassing but for the quality of the opposition. Baltacha, try as she might – and no one can ever accuse her of not giving her all – managed just three consolation games against Petra Kvitova, the defending champion and No 4 seed.

Keothavong, who performed well below her best, suffered a 6-1, 6-1 beating by recent French Open finalist Sara Errani. The so-called graveyard of champions had turned into the graveyard of British pretensions.

Sun setting: Baltacha was totally outclassed by defending champ Kvitova

Sun setting: Baltacha was totally outclassed by defending champ Kvitova

Watson may have given us hope for the future but the present can still be painful. This was pretty much fingers-over-the-eyes viewing from a British perspective, a reminder that one good performance does not signal a revolution.

Baltacha and Kvitova had been scheduled for No 1 court. A late switch due to the length of previous matches took the game to the court where Keothavong had earlier offered little in the way of resistance.

Like her British team-mate before her, Baltacha lost her opening serve with a string of unforced errors. The situation worsened as the Czech player reeled off the next five games to take the first set in just 21 minutes.

Baltacha just could not cope with Kvitova's power. The court was half in sunshine and half in shadow, though for long enough it seemed to be only the latter for the Brit who lost the first four games of the second set.

The humiliation of the double bagel – 6-0, 6-0 – beckoned. Suddenly, a shaft of light. Baltacha held her serve, broke Kvitova and held again for an unexpected run of three games. That proved her last success.

Heading out: Keothavong (right) is out but Watson (left) remains a huge hope

Heading out: Keothavong (right) is out but Watson (left) remains a huge hope

Heading out: Keothavong (right) is out but Watson (left) remains a huge hope

'Come on, come on,' she shouted time and again in an attempt at self encouragement. Once too often, as it happened, as she prematurely celebrated the winning of a point, which would have given her the first game of the second set, only for Kvitova to make a brilliant return.

'I had a bit of a Serena moment and shouted “come on”,' she said referring to a famous Serena Williams incident. 'I did not think she would get to the ball.'

No 'come ons' for Keothavong who maintained an apparently unemotional detachment from proceedings.

'For every match at Wimbledon, you've got to get excited about it,' Keothavong insisted. 'And I do. But when you're making error after error, it's hard to let out a, “Come on”.'

Enlarge

British ladies

She had looked flat from the start, not so much losing as donating the first game with a double fault, a foot fault and assorted mistakes. Twice in the second set she committed the cardinal tennis sin of dropping serve with a double fault. It is not as if she lacks experience.

Of those in the main women's draw,
Keothavong is fourth in the number of appearances behind the Williams
sisters and Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand. This was Keothavong's 12th
Wimbledon, Baltacha's 11th. Four times Keothavong has reached the second
round and no further, adding up to four victories and 12 defeats.

Not much of a yield, it has to be
said. 'I have been around for a while,' the 28-year-old said, 'but there
are girls older than me who are still out there winning Slams and doing
really well.

'I still enjoy what I'm doing and I
still feel like I can improve. I know I'm capable of playing better
tennis. That keeps me motivated.

'As long as I'm enjoying it and fit and healthy, there are worse ways to make a living.'

Unwittingly, one must assume, she had touched on one of the main criticisms of the Lawn Tennis Assocation, to whit providing mediocre players with a considerable livelihood.

Her two singles matches here will bring a cheque for 23,125. Both British players will be back at Wimbledon for the Olympic Games. An occasion for a 'come on' or two.

Germany v Greece – Euro 2012 live

EURO 2012 LIVE: Germany v Greece – follow the quarter-final action as it happens

|

UPDATED:

19:07 GMT, 22 June 2012

Follow Sportsmail's coverage of Euro 2012 as Germany take on surprise package Greece at the PGE Arena in Gdansk for their quarter-final. Joachim Low's team surprised no one by topping Group B and are heavily fancied to progress ahead of the Greeks who overcame huge odds to finish runners-up in Group A ahead of Russia and Poland. Email me your thoughts on the match at [email protected] or contact me on Twitter @Ripinho.

Germany 0-0 Greece (7.45pm)

Click here for the live goals as they go in

Germany: Neuer, Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Khedira, Reus, Ozil, Schurrle, Klose.
Subs: Wiese, Gundogan, Schmelzer, Howedes, Podolski, Muller, Bender, Mertesacker, Kroos, Gotze, Gomez, Zieler.

Greece: Sifakis, Torosidis, Papastathopoulos, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Tzavelas, Makos, Maniatis, Ninis, Katsouranis, Samaras, Salpingidis.
Subs: Chalkias, Malezas, Liberopoulos, Mitroglou, Fotakis, Gekas, Fortounis, Fetfatzidis, Tzorvas.

Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)

20min: Greece will be happy that they haven't allowed Germany too many shots on goal so far.

Low's side are not showing much urgency right now but then Greece do still possess a threat on the counter attack.

17min: From InfostradaLive:

Greece are now the team with the most yellow cards this tournament: 10 yellow cards. Italy and Croatia are second with nine yellow cards.

14min: A few rough hand tactics from Greece as Girogos Samaras is booked after an unnecessary lunge on Bastian Schweinsteiger.

11min: Greece are ripped to shreds with a one-touch move, but are fortunate when Marco Reus's shot from 20 yards bounces up before he hits it and causes him to slice wide.

8min: That's a little better from the Greeks as they at least start to have some possession in Germany's half. No chances since the correctly disallowed goal.

5min: And Germany already find the back of the net. Michalis Sifakis spills Sami Khedira's shot, but Andrea Schurrle is offside as he taps home the rebound. Very shaky start from the Greeks.

3min: Interesting game plan from the Germans. They are allowing the Greek centre-backs to have the ball but as soon as the ball is passed anywhere else they are instantly pressing.

Battle: Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger (left) and Greece's Giannis Maniatis vie for the ball

Battle: Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger (left) and Greece's Giannis Maniatis vie for the ball

Kick-off: Greece get us going.

19.43: Probably predictably, the German anthem is given a few jeers at the start.

In the stands, German chancellor Angela Merkel is sat next to UEFA president Michel Platini.

19.40: It will sure be interesting if they are still drawing at half-time. Meanwhile on the pitch both teams make their way out.

19.36: So how much hope are we giving Greece Can they get away with the same containing game that saw them squeeze through Group A

I think we can expect a similar pattern to the Czech Republic v Portugal game last night, where the Czechs were pretty much camped in their own half. It will be hard to see the Greeks making half-time goalless though but we will wait and see.

All smiles: German Chancellor Angela Merkel (green) speaks with UEFA president Michel Platini

All smiles: German Chancellor Angela Merkel (green) speaks with UEFA president Michel Platini

19.31: Germany have had slip ups in in the group stage of major tournaments in recent years, but there was to be no errors this time around.

They impressively won the group of death that contained Holland, Portugal and Denmark with maximum points – matching their 100 per cent record of 10 out of 10 wins in qualifying…can anyone stop them

19.26: From InfostradaLive:

Philipp Lahm will be making his 13th appearance in a ECh match tonight, equalling the team record by Jurgen Klinsmann and Thomas Hassler.

19.23: However I feel that statistic might be wrong. I swear I have seen Greece defeat Germany before…in Munich too.

19.20: So in more than one way, Greece are up against it tonight. They have never beaten Germany in eight previous games with their last meeting coming in 2001 when the Germans won 4-2 in a World Cup qualifier.

19.15: From OptaJoe:

21 – Before tonight, excluding third place play-offs, Lukas Podolski had started Germany's last 21 games at major tournaments. Omitted.

19.10: So as you can see from the pictures below this is more than a game to the Greeks. Their financial state and political friction with Germany was always going to provide a sub-plot to this match – let's just hope it doesn't boil over on the pitch.

19.05: Well Joachim Low's caught us napping there. That's four changes to the Germany side as Jerome Boateng returns from suspension to take his place in defence while Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle and Miroslav Klose replace Thomas Muller, Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski.

Guys and dolls: A steward inside the PGE Arena in Gdansk attempts to confiscate a doll that depicts German chancellor Angela Merkel from the Greek supporters

Guys and dolls: A steward inside the PGE Arena in Gdansk attempts to confiscate a doll that depicts German chancellor Angela Merkel from the Greek supporters

Guys and dolls: A steward inside the PGE Arena in Gdansk attempts to confiscate a doll that depicts German chancellor Angela Merkel from the Greek supporters

19.00: The teams in full from Gdansk:

Greece: Sifakis, Maniatis, Tzavellas, Papadopoulos, Torossidis, Papastathopoulos, Makos, Ninis, Katsouranis, Samaras, Salpingidis.
Subs: Chalkias, Tzorvas, Malezas, Fotakis, Fortounis, Fetfatzidis, Liberopoulos, Mitroglou, Gekas.

Germany: Neuer, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm, Boateng, Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Ozil, Schurrle, Reus, Klose.
Subs: Wiese, Zieler, Schmelzer, Howedes, Mertesacker, Gundogan, Muller, Bender, Kroos, Gotze, Podolski, Gomez.

18.55: Germany starting XI:

Neuer, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm, Boateng, Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Ozil, Schurrle, Reus, Klose

18.50: Hands up, who has gone and stuck their life savings on Germany reaching the semi-finals tonight

I can't blame you if you have, this has got to be the biggest mis-match in a European Championship quarter-final since France took on Greece in Euro 2004………right, on second thoughts I'm glad I didn't place that bet now.

Back in the side: Miroslav Klose makes his first start in the tournament for Germany

Back in the side: Miroslav Klose makes his first start in the tournament for Germany

Kevin Pietersen ODI retirement – Top Spin by Lawrence Booth

If Pietersen can afford to retire, we know where we stand

By
Lawrence Booth

PUBLISHED:

07:52 GMT, 5 June 2012

|

UPDATED:

07:52 GMT, 5 June 2012

TOP SPIN ON TWITTER

For more cricketing musings, please follow right here @the_topspin

If the back and forth in the Kevin Pietersen debate resembles one of those tedious clay-court baseline rallies (his fault, their fault, his fault, their fault), then one thing is clear: all national boards bar India’s are now at the mercy of their players.

Of course, this has been true for a while. Just ask Barisal Burners/Matabeleland Tuskers legend Chris Gayle. But when the biggest name in the world’s second-most powerful cricket country decides he can afford to quit two of the international’s game three formats, we know where we stand.

Bowing out: Pietersen retired from limited overs international cricket last week

Bowing out: Pietersen retired from limited overs international cricket last week

More from Lawrence Booth…

Top Spin: Forget 'competing', it's time West Indies had a touch of class…
29/05/12

The Top Spin: England must reacquaint themselves with what they do best at Trent Bridge
22/05/12

The Top Spin: Late bloomer Anderson is England's man for all seasons
15/05/12

The Top Spin: Come in No 6! Five pressing questions for England to answer this summer
07/05/12

The Top Spin: Forget the rain… the lack of Gayle-force Windies dampens series
30/04/12

The Top Spin: Come what May tortured batsmen will weather cruel April's storm
24/04/12

Top Spin: Time for Twenty20 to pay some of Test cricket's bills… it's what families do
17/04/12

The Top Spin: Chastened, not disheartened – why England can afford a smile again
10/04/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Before we jump down any throats, it
should be made clear that Pietersen has not yet signed to play in this
year’s Big Bash League. His agent is even on the record saying this will
not happen.

But it’s hard to imagine that a
batsman who is not yet 32 will – between now and his retirement – limit
himself to Test matches, a bit of IPL and some county cricket for
Surrey… especially if his decision to sacrifice ODI and Twenty20
international cricket begets an unintended consequence in the Test-match
dressing-room.

Still, let’s take Pietersen’s stated
reason for his limited-overs retirement at face value. He cites the
‘increasing demands on my body’, and here, to a degree – but only to a
degree, since the extra cricket he plays in the IPL is entirely his
choice – the game’s administrators should pay attention.

At the risk of repeating ourselves,
the international schedule is almost as ridiculous and ramshackle as the
English domestic calendar, with its chaotic mixture of different
starting days and times, and quarts squeezed into pint pots. The
international calendar, a Babel’s Tower of commercial opportunities, is
exhausting enough to keep track of. Goodness knows how the players cope.

So when Pietersen is accused of
chasing the money, let’s be quite clear that he is merely following the
example set by those above him.

Greed is now an unquestioned part of
the game, even though anyone who questions it is usually scolded for
threatening to deny star cricketers the right to earn as much cash as
possible (and here I admit that the difference between owning three
houses or four is lost on me).

The excess of international cricket
was borne out on Sunday, when Jimmy Anderson was rested from this week’s
third Test against West Indies at Edgbaston. Squad rotation has become a
necessary evil, not least in a calendar year in which England play 15
Tests, almost twice as many as they did in 2011.

Packed schedule: England play 15 Test matches this year

Packed schedule: England play 15 Test matches this year

Top Spin

The ECB, then, can feel irritated by
Pietersen’s decision; equally, behind the scenes there are those who
wonder how many other England cricketers would willingly give up a large
chunk of their international careers.

But they should not be surprised. And
if they are surprised, they are simply being complacent. Well-paid
though their centrally contracted players are, a few stand to earn more
from a life of Tests and Twenty20 freelancing. We may not like it. But
that’s the way it is.

The mercy, for the time being, is
that Pietersen is unlikely to trigger a stampede. By and large, national
pride still counts for plenty among England’s cricketers. Players may
grumble occasionally, as Graeme Swann has done about the 50-over format.
But still they turn out for their country, knowing it is how posterity
will judge them.

England, though, have been warned –
not just by Pietersen, but by cricketers from the less well-off nations
who increasingly place lucre above national lustre.

Loyalty is a two-way street. But there will always be those who spy something more attractive travelling in the other direction.

Parting shot: Pietersen hit two 50-over tons in Pakistan

Parting shot: Pietersen hit two 50-over tons in Pakistan

THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS
Ireland’s Indian creates history

Until now, Sion Mills CC in County Tyrone traded on the fact that, in 1969, it played host to the day Ireland bowled out West Indies for 25. But another legend was added on Sunday when Dundrum’s Indian professional Ravi Patel cracked six sixes in an over during an innings of 167 (including 18 sixes) in the Ulster Shield.

The previous day Patel, who hails from Pune and lives alone in a caravan five minutes from the Irish Sea in County Down, had scored 53 from 15 balls. Reporting the innings on Facebook, he was goaded by friends into trying for six sixes on the Sunday. And he delivered. In a radio interview on Monday he said he had already played in the Indian Cricket League. Perhaps the IPL will now come calling…

Get that tournament a window!

The news that some of New Zealand’s finest may miss the first Test at Lord’s next May because of a clause in their contracts which allows them to play five weeks of IPL is yet more evidence that the IPL needs a window on the Future Tours Programme.

Double-booked: Kiwi stars such as Brendon McCullum (above) could miss the Test series in England next summer

Double-booked: Kiwi stars such as Brendon McCullum (above) could miss the Test series in England next summer

The first part of the English summer, in which the weaker of the two touring sides traditionally visits, is becoming a farce: Sri Lankans turned up under-prepared in 2011, West Indies are missing some beguiling names this year, and next year it will be New Zealand’s turn to take cricket’s realpolitik on the chin. Who wants to pay good money to watch England duff up a New Zealand side without Brendon McCullum, Dan Vettori and Ross Taylor

Since the IPL appears to be here to stay, the only solution is to treat it as the ICC treat the Champions League, and slot it into the FTP. Ideally, of course, the BCCI would recognise the damage the tournament is doing to other cricket nations and agree to limit its span to four or five weeks (this year, it lasted 7). But a longer window, which would at least allow other countries to sort out their schedule so as not to belittle their own attempts to stage international cricket, may be the best we can hope for.

In good Nick: Compton has made a fine start to the season

In good Nick: Compton has made a fine start to the season

Deprived by the rain

Bad luck to Nick Compton, who was denied the chance to become the first player to score 1,000 first-class runs before the end of May since Graeme Hick in 1988 because of the weather. The temptation, in any case, is to belittle Compton’s near-achievement, since this season began in late March. And yet the 13 first-class innings he squeezed in between then and now are only two more than Hick required to reach the mark 24 years ago.

And the remarkable thing about Hick’s feat is that his sequence included two double failures at an apparently crucial moment in the pursuit: 8 and 11 against Somerset at New Road (not long after taking a handy unbeaten 405 off them at Taunton), followed by 6 and 7 at Grace Road against Leicestershire. By the time the touring West Indians visited Worcester on May 28, Hick was still 153 short of four figures. Against an attack including Patrick Patterson, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop, he made 172. Not bad, really.

But will it make any difference…

It was easy to miss in the ICC press release last week, but a provisional independent report into the accuracy of international cricket’s two ball-tracking devices suggested 100 per cent agreement with 14 ‘examined sequences’ from last year’s South Africa v Australia Test series. Much more of this, and one or two administrators may have to concede that Hawk-Eye and Virtual Eye are not the educated guesswork they conveniently believe them to be.