Archive for January, 2019

FA defends ticketing decision

The Football Association has defended its decision to sell 18,000 tickets to Poland fans for Tuesday’s crunch game at Wembley, the England vs Poland FIFA World Cup qualifier.

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Under FIFA rules, visiting teams are allowed 10 per cent of the seats available in qualification matches.

Given that Wembley holds 90,000, that entitles Poland to 9,000 tickets but the FA has decided to give the Poles 18,000.

Given the huge importance of Tuesday’s game, the decision has drawn criticism from some supporters but the organisation says it had to increase the away allocation as it feared Polish fans would end up causing a health and safety risk by buying tickets in the home section.

“The FA, working with the Polish FA, have provided 18,000 tickets to Polish supporters,” an FA spokesman said.

“With high demand for tickets from the large Polish community in England the FA took the decision, based on safety grounds, to ensure Polish fans were allocated space in a specific area of the ground rather than attempting to buy tickets in home areas.

“Tickets in the home areas have been restricted to previous buyers only, with no tickets now remaining for this fixture.

“This is the same process that was employed for the successful Scotland and Republic of Ireland fixtures earlier this year.”

It is understood that the FA took the decision to double the Polish allowance in consultation with the police.

England left-back Leighton Baines has no problem with the move.

“If it adds to the atmosphere, it is great,” the Everton defender said.

“I remember when we played Ghana – and I don’t know how many there were there – they were amazing and it just made it better.

“If these away fans add to the atmosphere the home fans are going to produce, then it just adds to the occasion.”

England must win their final Group H match to qualify for Brazil 2014. If they do not, then a tricky playoff awaits them.

Poland are already out of the running for qualification following a defeat to Ukraine last Friday and Baines concedes the visitors could be given a slight lift by the presence of so many of their own fans.

“It could work in that manner, but to put a more positive spin on it you’d rather play in a stadium with a good atmosphere rather than it be a half-empty stadium,” the 28-year-old said.

“It is not the norm. When we go out at Goodison Park normally we see a certain section for the away fans and the rest is for the home fans.

“I am not sure what the thinking is behind it but to be honest it is the first I have heard of it.”

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Nigeria beat Ethiopia in WC14 qualifying

Emmanuel Emenike converted a 90th-minute penalty for a second-half brace to lead Nigeria to a 2-1 win in Ethiopia in their World Cup playoff on Sunday, putting the African champions in strong contention for soccer’s main event in Brazil next year.

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In Sunday’s other playoff game, Samuel Eto’o reversed his brief international retirement and captained Cameroon in a 0-0 draw in Tunisia in their first leg.

Nigeria, this year’s African Cup winner, needed a late comeback in Addis Ababa after a determined Ethiopia dominated for the first hour. Nigeria’s Godfrey Oboabona had to clear off the line in the 23rd to deny Saladin Said an early goal for the Ethiopians and Behailu Assefa then put the hosts ahead in the 57th when goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama fumbled his shot into the net.

But Fenerbahce forward Emenike equalised 10 minutes later and struck from the spot at the end to give Nigeria a lead to take to their home leg in Calabar on November 16. Ethiopia are trying to qualify for the first time but missed a string of early chances as Nigeria closed in on a fifth World Cup.

Ethiopia were convinced Saladin’s first-half attempt had crossed the line, and their football federation will register a complaint with the Confederation of African Football against the referee.

Eto’o started for Cameroon after being convinced by state president Paul Biya to rejoin the squad for the crucial playoff. He had a subdued role as Tunisia started rapidly and Yassine Chikhaoui twice failed to capitalise when one-on-one with Cameroon goalkeeper Charles Itandje in the first five minutes.

“We are satisfied with the result,” Cameroon’s German coach Volker Finke said. “The final result is a good thing and now we have to win the next match.”

New Tunisia coach Ruud Krol introduced nine new players for the playoff after they lost their last game at home against Cape Verde. That defeat led former coach Nabil Maaloul to resign before Cape Verde were stripped of the victory for fielding an ineligible player and Tunisia were reinstated to the final round of Africa’s qualifying competition.

On Saturday, Didier Drogba scored as Ivory Coast beat Senegal 3-1 and Burkina Faso edged Algeria 3-2. Egypt are away in Ghana on Tuesday to complete the first-leg games. The five aggregate winners will represent Africa at the World Cup.

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Britain to ease China visa restrictions

Britain is going to make it easier for Chinese nationals to obtain visas in an effort to boost business between the two countries.

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Finance Minister George Osborne who is in China leading a British trade delegation, says the new measures will help the tens of thousands of Chinese visitors hoping to visit Britain.

“Have announced new measures to simplify + speed up visa applications for visitors from #China,” the minister wrote on his official Twitter account.

“Good for tourism and British business.”

According to extracts of a speech due to be delivered at Peking University later on Monday, Osborne will claim that the changes “will streamline and simplify the visa application process”.

Under the proposals,

Business people will also be able to apply for a “super-priority” visa, which will be processed within 24-hours rather than a week.

Osborne will also formally announce that the government is looking at rolling out nationwide its “mobile visa service”, currently being piloted in Beijing and Shanghai.

The service – aimed at business executives – enables visa teams to go to applicants’ workplaces to collect their forms and biometric data.

Some 210,000 visas were issued to Chinese nationals in 2012, adding around STG300 million ($A511.64 million) to the British economy.

The minister is trying to win over a Chinese government that has rebuffed Britain due to a meeting last year between Prime Minister David Cameron and the Dalai Lama.

Osborne was to say his visit was “the next big step” in UK-Sino relations and also insist “there is no country in the west more open to investment – especially from China” than Britain.

“I don’t want Britain to resent China’s success, I want us to celebrate it,” he will say.

“I don’t want us to try to resist your economic progress, I want Britain to share in it.

“Because more jobs and investment in China mean more jobs and investment in Britain. And that equals better lives for all,” he will add.

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Socceroos to prove themselves: Jedinak

Australia’s only regular starter in the English Premier League says every player in the Socceroos squad will have to prove themselves anew following the dramatic sacking of coach Holger Osieck.

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Crystal Palace midfielder Mile Jedinak argues everyone will need to stake their claim with a new national coach just eight months out from the World Cup.

“As a player you need to look at it that way,” the 29-year-old told reporters in London.

“You need to be hungry all the time to prove yourself.

“I don’t think you should ever be one to rest on your laurels or reputation.

“You should always try and put your best foot forward and I think that’s what’s going to be needed particularly on Tuesday but also in the lead-up to the World Cup when the change does happen.”

Caretaker coach Aurelio Vidmar will lead the Socceroos against Canada at Craven Cottage on Tuesday night London time (0600 AEDT Wednesday).

He’s refused to say if he is keen to apply for the job on a permanent basis.

Dutchman Guus Hiddink is the frontrunner to replace Osieck.

Other foreign candidates include former Chile and Argentina coach Marcelo Bielsa and ex-Chelsea manager Robert Di Matteo.

Australians Ange Postecoglou and Graham Arnold are also in the frame.

Whoever takes over the reins will have just three international matches to prepare the squad ahead of the mid-2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Two in November will likely be played in Australia with a March fixture expected in Europe.

Jedinak insists the next coach will have enough time to shape the team.

“It’s eight months still,” he said.

“Obviously we know there’s a lot of work to be done but I know from experience with this group that when it comes to work we get on with it.”

The former Central Coast Mariners player said the Socceroos squad was told of Osieck’s sacking at the team hotel after Friday’s 6-0 loss to France in Paris.

The outgoing coach made a speech and everyone was “taken aback by it all”, he said.

“It’s never a pleasant situation but it’s one we as a group have to come to accept sooner rather than later.

“We as a group are strong enough and professional enough to try and get on with the job.”

The loss to France followed a similar 6-0 drubbing by Brazil.

Jedinak says while it is never nice to suffer heavy losses it is important for Australia to test itself against the best.

“We’ve come short of that and people at home and experts probably thought we’d be better and we know we haven’t performed well enough in the last two games,” he said.

“There’s no better time than Tuesday to try and put that right.”

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Degenkolb wins Paris-Tours cycling classic

German cyclist John Degenkolb beat Dane Michael Morkov and Arnaud Demare of France on Sunday in a mass sprint to win the Paris-Tours classic.

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Degenkolb completed the 235km trek from Authon-du-Perche to Tours in five hours, 29 minutes and 19 seconds.

“It was a fast and hectic race,” Degenkolb said. “The situation was always changing. We had a good plan and I think we rode a smart race.

“There was always someone from our team in the important groups, and there was always someone to take responsibility for the chase.”

Defending champion Marco Marcato of Italy attacked in the Cote de Beau Soleil and was followed by six riders – Degenkolb, Morkov, Dutchman Jetse Bol, Sep Vanmarcke of Belgium, Demare and fellow and Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel.

Bol escaped 6km from the finish but could not hold off a late charge from the pack in the last kilometre.

Degenkolb was tipped as a strong favourite after winning the Paris-Bourges race on Thursday. Demare made his move on the Avenue de Grammont but was overtaken by the powerful Argos-Shimano rider, who earned his sixth victory of the season.

“He raced a really classy race,” Argos-Shimano manager Christian Guiberteau said. “He was the top favourite, and that’s not an easy position to be in. But he was always in control in the finale and no one could stop him in the end.”

Bryan Coquard of France, a 2012 Olympic runner-up in the omnium, fell in a crash about 24km from the finish. The Frenchman managed to get back onto his bike and rejoined the pack but was out of contention in the sprint.

In the first hour of the race, Sebastian Lander of Denmark, Latvian Aleksejs Saramotins and Frenchmen Yannick Martinez and Julien Duval broke away to build a lead that stretched to 11 minutes. But the pack reeled them in with 11km left.

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Afghan election fraud row intensifies

A power struggle at the top of Afghanistan’s election commission is threatening to sway the outcome of the country’s presidential ballot, as officials argue over how many votes to discard because of fraud.

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The Electoral Complaints Commission is probing more than 2,000 fraud claims.

The head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), who was appointed by President Hamid Karzai, is pressuring his staff to include all the votes, despite widespread evidence of vote rigging. Most of the fraud is in support of Mr Karzai, The Indipendent reports.

If Azizullah Ludin, the chairman of the IEC, gets his way, most analysts predict Karzai will win the election in the first round.

“He wants to publish everything and let the Election Complaints Commission take responsibility for working out which votes werefraudulent,” said an official involved in the process.

The complaints commission has the authority to discard dodgy votes, but Afghan and international officials admit it would be politically very difficult for them to change the result.

Meanwhile, the leader of Kandahar’s Bareez tribe has told the BBC that nearly 30,000 votes were cast fraudulently for President Hamid Karzai instead of a challenger.

Mr Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who heads the Kandahar provincial council, called the claims “baseless”.

Full investigation

Speaking to Daud Qarizadah of the BBC’s Persian television service, the Bareez tribal leader, Haji Mohammed Bareez, said that ballot boxes from one district were “stuffed” with fraudulent votes in favour of Mr Karzai.

The tribe believes it has been deprived of its votes and wants a full investigation by the complaints commission, which has the power to throw them out if they are proved invalid.

‘No preference’ for second round in Afghan vote

Earlier US special envoy Richard Holbrooke said the international community has no preference as to whether a second round run-off should be held to decide the winner of the Afghan presidential poll.

“We have no candidates and no preference as to a first round victory or a run-off,” he told reporters at the French foreign ministry ahead of a meeting of the international community’s senior envoys to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Our advocacy is for a fair process overseen by the Independent Electoral Commission, taking into account the decisions of the electoral complaints commission,” Holbrooke added.

Diplomats had previously said Holbrooke would prefer Afghanistan to hold a second round run-off between President Hamid Karzai and his rival Abdullah Abdullah in order to improve the credibility of a race marred by fraud claims.

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Visa beats expectations with 3rd quarter profit

Visa Inc<v.

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n>, the world’s largest credit and debit card processing network, beat expectations with a quarterly profit of $716 million, as consumers resumed spending.

The San Francisco-based transaction processing company reported net income of 97 cents per share for the third quarter ended June 30.

That was down slightly from Visa’s year-earlier net income of $729 million, or 97 cents per share, which included proceeds from the sale of the company’s stake in VisaNet do Brasil. Excluding the impact of that sale, Visa earned 67 cents per share a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected Visa to report earnings of 93 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Visa saw “continued improvements” in the volume of payments it processed during the quarter, Chief Executive Joseph Saunders said in a news release.

Visa reported revenue of $2 billion for the quarter, a 23 percent increase from a year earlier, slightly above expectations. Analysts on average had expected the company to report $1.97 billion in revenue.

But the company is at increased risk of losing revenues from the sweeping regulatory reform bill U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law last week. The bill overshadowed Visa’s shares for most of the quarter, driving them down more than 14 percent since early May.

The new law will restrict the processing fees that banks and networks receive from merchants every time a consumer pays for a good with a debit card. Visa dominates the U.S. debit processing market and is more exposed than its rival MasterCard Inc to a cutback in debit interchange fees.

Saunders said in the news release that Visa expects the U.S. debit market to “undergo changes” after the law is implemented, but “it is too early to fully and accurately gauge the impact of the legislation.”

Visa shares closed down 1.87 percent on Wednesday, at $75.18.

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Explosives found on sunken S.Korean warship

Traces of explosive have been found on the wreckage of South Korean warship destroyed in a mystery blast in March and are similar to the type used in torpedos, a report said.

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Four metal fragments which have also been found are an alloy of aluminum and magnesium used in a torpedo’s casing, Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified government official as saying.

The report, if confirmed, would further strengthen suspicions that a North Korean torpedo blew the corvette apart near the disputed border on March 26 with the loss of 46 lives.

The defence ministry denied the report, as it did a similar report on Thursday.

Investigation continues

A multinational investigation team has been analysing wreckage and fragments “but no conclusion has yet been made”, spokesman Won Tae-Jae said.

Investigators have said a powerful external blast tore the 1,200-tonne ship in two — apparently limiting the possible causes to a torpedo or a mine.

The explosive traces were found to be of a high explosive called RDX, which is used in torpedoes but not mines, Yonhap quoted the official as saying on condition of anonymity.

Experts from the United States, Sweden, Australia and Britain have joined the investigation to ensure it is transparent.

After it ends, probably this month, Won said South Korea could invite experts from China and Russia — countries close to North Korea — to inspect the ship’s wreckage.

North Korea Blamed

President Lee Myung-Bak hinted Tuesday that North Korea was involved in the sinking. He promised a “resolute” response when the cause is established following the probe.

The South has not publicly ruled out a military response if the North is proved to have sunk the Cheonan, but has said it would probably take the issue to the UN Security Council.

As a veto-wielding Council member, China’s support would be crucial in anmy attempt to punish its ally.

Lee said results of the probe would be discussed with China.

North Korea has denied responsibility for the sinking.

The area where the Cheonan went down was the scene of deadly naval clashes in 1999 and 2002 and of a firefight last November which left a North Korean patrol boat in flames.

South Korean and US officials have said efforts to restart six-party talks on the North’s nuclear disarmament should be put on hold till the warship investigation is complete.

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US coast under threat as oil spill worsens

A giant oil slick threatened to pollute the fragile wetlands of Louisiana, as officials warned that toxic crude was pouring into the Gulf of Mexico five times faster than previously thought.

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Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal called on the US government for emergency help to stave off an environmental disaster after a sudden change in the wind direction turned week-long response efforts on their head.

In another massive blow, the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that more than 200,000 gallons of oil a day were now thought to be streaming into the sea from the debris of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which sank off the US southern coast last week following a deadly explosion.

British energy giant BP, which leases the rig and has been leading the response to the disaster along with the US Coast Guard, acknowledged the new leak but said it believed the flow of oil was unchanged at 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, a day.

Jindal said NOAA reports also suggested that a portion of the slick, which has a 600-mile (965-kilometer) circumference, had broken off and due to strong onshore winds could hit coastal nature reserves as early as Thursday.

Impacts of oil spill

“At this time, the Pass-A-Loutre Wildlife Management Area is expected to see the first impact of the oil spill,” he said, adding that he had spoken to US Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano to seek additional assistance.

More than 20 miles (30 kilometers) of booms, inflatable barriers that float on the sea surface and are intended to contain the spill, have been placed along the Louisiana coast but Jindal said more were needed.

Crews began a controlled “trial” burn of the thickest parts of the giant slick but a cruel change in the wind direction threatened to undo their good work and become a far more important factor.

Crews to do a ‘control burn’

Two skimming vessels dispatched by the US Coast Guard and British Petroleum (BP) swept dense concentrations of oil in the center of the slick into a 500-foot (150-meter) fire-resistant boom.

They then towed it to a five-mile “burn zone” inside the slick, roughly 50 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi river, where it was set alight by a fuel source on a special float and allowed to burn for approximately one hour.

Similar efforts on past spills have burnt off between 50 and 90 percent of the oil captured and crews planned to conduct several more burns in the coming days to try and keep the slick at bay.

Nevertheless, Charlie Henry, a scientific support coordinator from NOAA, said there was a “high risk” that strong southeasterly winds would push emulsified oil and “tar balls” into the Mississippi delta area by Friday night.

Mopping up spill could be ‘impossible’

If large quantities of the crude drift into Louisiana’s marshy wetlands, mopping it up would be next to impossible.

It would be disastrous for natural parks full of waterfowl and rare wildlife and could also imperil the southern state’s 2.4-billion-dollar-a-year fisheries industry, which produces a significant portion of US seafood.

The Deepwater Horizon platform sank last Thursday, two days after a huge explosion that killed 11 workers.

The accident has not disrupted offshore energy operations in the Gulf, which account for 30 percent of all US oil production and 11 percent of domestic gas production.

BP, which leased the semi-submersible rig from Houston-based contractor Transocean, has been operating four robotic submarines some 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) down on the seabed to try and cap the ruptured well.

They have failed so far to fully activate a giant 450-tonne valve system, called a blowout preventer, that should have shut off the oil as soon as the disaster happened but only partially reduced the flow.

Hopes pinned on dome to catch oil

As a back-up, engineers are frantically constructing a giant dome that could be placed over the leaks to trap the oil, allowing it to be pumped up to container ships on the surface.

Another Transocean drilling rig is also on stand-by to drill two relief wells that could divert the oil flow to new pipes and storage vessels.

But that would take up to three months and the dome is seen as a better interim bet even though engineers need two to four weeks to build it.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, who is leading the government’s response to the disaster, warned that if the well is not secured the spill could end up being one of the worst in US history.

This was before announcing herself the new NOAA leak figure of 5,000 barrels a day.

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Republicans have presidency in sight

President Barack Obama’s top Republican foe in the US Senate says that the party’s number one goal after elections next week must be to retake the White House in 2012.

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“Our single biggest political goal is to give our nominee for president the maximum opportunity to be successful,” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the National Journal, which focuses on US politics and policy.

Amid deep US voter anger at the sour economy and high unemployment, analysts say Republicans are on track to recapture the House of Representatives in the November 2 vote but will fall shy of retaking the Senate.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said Obama was “in a fighting mood” ahead of the elections and pointed to McConnell’s comments as a sign that the president’s opponents would pursue an “obstruction” strategy.

Obama “feels like we’ve got a good message and that the American people, as they get more and more engaged in these races, as they are now, see clearly what the stakes are,” said Burton.

In the interview, McConnell underlined that Republicans must be careful not to repeat the mistakes they made after retaking the Congress in 1994 — only to see then-president Bill Clinton coast to reelection in 1996.

“We need to work smarter than we did, and not become the foil off which (President Obama) pivots,” said the lawmaker, whose home state of Kentucky could elect a new senator backed by the arch-conservative “Tea Party” movement.

McConnell, whose preferred candidate lost Kentucky’s Republican primary to “Tea Party” hopeful Rand Paul, warned the movement not to expect sweeping changes in Washington as long as Obama is president.

“One of the things we will have to remind newcomers and those who have supported them is that even though we will have a larger Republican conference, we do not control the government and cannot control the government when the president holds the veto pen,” McConnell told the National Journal.

“We need to have a humble, grateful response about this election,” he added, wryly noting: “Incidentally, there is no polling data that suggests (the voters) love us.”

Despite their strong standing ahead of the mid-term elections, Republicans still face strong skepticism from the US public, more of whom blame former president George W. Bush for the wretched economy than blame Obama.

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