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Neymar out of Clasico after Barcelona lose patience

April 23, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Barcelona will not risk calling up star forward Neymar for the potential title decider with Real Madrid, the Spanish champions said on Sunday, just hours before El Clasico.

Neymar

The loss of the suspended Brazilian forward deals a big blow to Barcelona’s hopes of denying their fierce rivals a first La Liga crown in five years.

Barcelona appealed to Spain’s Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAD) late on Friday over Neymar’s three-game ban in the hope it would be frozen, which would have allowed him to take part in the must-win showdown at the Santiago Bernabeu.

But with the pivotal clash looming — kick-off is at 1845 GMT on Sunday — Barcelona said they were abandoning their bid to have Neymar available.

“Given the legal uncertainty of the lack of a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport with the game tonight less than 12 hours away, and to focus all attention on the sporting aspect, the club has decided not to call up Neymar,” an angry Barcelona statement said.

The Catalans said the TAD had created “a huge legal void”.

Neymar is in the middle of a suspension for his red card and subsequent sarcastic applause of the officials in Barca’s damaging 2-0 defeat to Malaga two weeks ago.

The club argue that until a ruling on the appeal is held, Neymar’s ban should be suspended and therefore allow him to feature at the Bernabeu.

“As a coach I am prepared to play with Neymar or without him,” manager Luis Enrique said on Saturday.

In the absence of a TAD ruling, Barca would have been taking an enormous risk by playing Neymar as they could have been sanctioned with a defeat for fielding an ineligible player.

Enrique says his last Clasico — he will leave Barcelona this summer — is a must-win: Madrid hold a three-point lead at the top with a game in hand on their rivals.

“Given how close it is to the end of the season it is a decisive weekend,” said Enrique.

“This time a Clasico can decide or almost decide the league or leave it very open. For us it is like a final, only a win will do.”

Madrid could be boosted by the return of Gareth Bale from injury, but the fact the Welshman may not be risked is a further sign that Real have far more room for error.

Bale has been sidelined by an inflammation of the muscles around where he suffered ligament damage in his right ankle that kept him out for three months earlier in the season.

“He will be with us on Sunday,” said Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.

“You will see tomorrow what team we are going to start with.”

Should Bale not start, the on-form Isco is favourite to take his place, as he did for Madrid’s thrilling 4-2 Champions League win over Bayern Munich after extra-time in midweek.

Centre-backs Raphael Varane and Pepe are Madrid’s only injury absentees meaning Zidane is expected to name the same starting XI as against Bayern.

“There is a lot of tiredness, but also a lot of excitement and desire to keep doing what we are doing,” added the Frenchman.

Only victory will salvage Barca’s season after crashing out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage to Juventus in midweek.

“For some it means it is a very attractive challenge and for others it means pressure,” Enrique said.

“I prefer to take it as an attractive and marvellous challenge. It’s a chance to move level on points with Madrid.”

Cruden kicks Chiefs to tight win over Force

April 23, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden kicked the Waikato Chiefs to a grinding 16-7 Super Rugby win over the determined Western Force in Perth on Saturday.

Cruden

Cruden landed a conversion and three penalty goals from his four attempts to prove the difference after both sides finished with a try apiece.

In winning the Chiefs stretched New Zealand teams’ dominance over Australian opposition to 14-0 in this season’s Super Rugby.

The Force, with their future Super Rugby participation under major threat over SANZAAR restructuring for the 2018 season, never gave the Chiefs a moment’s peace and kept them under the shackles.

The Chiefs finished off a gruelling tour where they split their two games in South Africa against the Western Stormers and Central Cheetahs.

The Chiefs remain in third spot three points behind the Canterbury Crusaders in the New Zealand conference after seven wins from eight games.

“I was proud of the way the boys were able to dig in in that second 40 minutes and grind it out,” Cruden said.

“We knew that the Force coming off a bye and obviously everything they are going through would show an immense passion and pride and that’s certainly what they did.”

Parent body RugbyWA has launched legal action against the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) in a bid to keep threatened Force franchise afloat as the axe hovers over the Perth-based club.

Super Rugby’s governing body SANZAAR announced earlier this month that two South African teams and one from Australia would be axed from 2018, streamlining the 18-team competition to a three-conference 15-team format.

Both tries were scored in the first half with Liam Messam plunging over in the eighth minute and Force skipper Matt Hodgson scoring off the back of a rolling maul from a lineout win.

The Force suffered an injury setback midway through the opening half to their Wallaby back Dane Haylett-Petty, who came off with a damaged right hamstring.

The Chiefs have now won nine of their 11 meetings with the Force, but both of their losses have come in Perth.

Warriors put Blazers on brink, Gasol’s floater sinks Spurs

April 23, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Stephen Curry scored 14 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and the Golden State Warriors stormed back from a 16-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 119-113.

Curry

Klay Thompson tallied 24 points on Saturday for the Warriors, who seized a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven first-round Western Conference playoff series.

CJ McCollum scored 32 points and Damian Lillard added 31 for the Blazers, who will try to stay alive with a win in game four on Monday.

“They had a lot of adrenaline but we were able to withstand their runs and get back in the game,” said Curry. “I love these kind of moments. I have confidence in myself to make those shots.”

Elsewhere Saturday, Marc Gasol lifted Memphis to a 110-108 overtime win over the San Antonio Spurs with a clutch jump shot at the buzzer that allowed the Grizzlies to level their playoff series at 2-2.

Golden State was without forward Kevin Durant (calf injury), guard Shaun Livingston (finger) and forward Matt Barnes (ankle).

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also did not attend the game because of illness. His was replaced by assistant coach Mike Brown.

After the final buzzer, Curry collected the game ball and said he planned to deliver it to Kerr.

“Our coach is going through a lot right now,” Curry said. “He told us to go out and ‘win one for the Gipper.'”

Lillard scored 22 points and McCollum 17 as the Blazers went into halftime leading 67-54.

Curry and Thompson were a combined eight for 25 from the field at halftime.

In Memphis, Gasol’s floater over Spurs defender LaMarcus Aldridge with 0.7 seconds left capped a thrilling back and forth first round playoff contest Saturday in front of a crowd of 18,100.

Kawhi Leonard scored a playoff career high 43 points for the Spurs, including San Antonio’s final 16 points in the fourth quarter.

“Both teams played their hearts out,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Just a fantastic basketball game. The fans got their money’s worth. Marc made a great shot. L.A. (Aldridge) contested it very well, it (went) down.”

Leonard added eight rebounds, six steals and three assists. Leonard’s fade-away jumper with 12 seconds left in regulation gave San Antonio a 96-94 lead.

But Leonard’s brilliant performance was in vain as Mike Conley led Memphis with 35 points and had nine rebounds and eight assists.

Conley, who had 11 points in the final quarter, answered with a floater in the lane with four seconds left to tie the game at 96.

Leonard then missed a 21-footer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.

Memphis won despite making a franchise postseason record 23 turnovers that led to 31 San Antonio points.

Elsewhere, DeMar DeRozan, held scoreless from the floor a game earlier, struck for 33 points and nine rebounds to lead Toronto over Milwaukee 87-76.

The visiting Raptors pulled level with Milwaukee at 2-2 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series, which continues Monday in Toronto.

In Atlanta, the Atlanta Hawks led wire-to-wire en route to a dominating 116-98 victory over Washington, cutting the Wizards lead in the playoff series to 2-1.

Forward Paul Millsap registered his second consecutive double-double by finishing with 29 points and 14 rebounds as the Hawks clawed their way back into the Eastern Conference series.

Millsap was 12 of 20 from the floor and had five assists. The only blemish on his night was missing four-of-nine free throws.

Game four of the series is Monday in Atlanta.

After the game, Millsap and Washington’s Markieff Morris continued to fire verbal jabs at each other.

Morris called Millsap a “crybaby”.

“He’s a crybaby. You get all the calls when you’re a crybaby. That’s how I look at it,” Morris said.

Millsap added: “It definitely got personal now, yes.”

Atlanta also got 27 points and nine assists from Dennis Schroder. Rookie Taurean Prince scored 16 points.

Marquez takes fifth Americas pole in a row

April 23, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Four-time defending Moto Grand Prix of the Americas champion Marc Marquez captured his fifth consecutive event pole in dramatic style Saturday, edging series leader Maverick Vinales on his final qualifying lap.

MArquez

Honda rider Marquez saved the best for last to complete the fast lap in 2mins 2.741 secs to edge his Spanish compatriot, a Yamaha rider who won this season’s two opening races at Qatar and Argentina, by 0.130 of a second.

“This pole makes me feel really good because I honestly didn’t expect it,” Marquez said. “Actually I thought it would be difficult. In fact, even considering that this circuit suits my riding style, I’ve been struggling a bit this weekend.

“We knew that our opponents were very strong on new tires and we worked a lot on race distance and I felt better on race pace than on qualifying pace.

“But anyway, this is a track I love, so I told myself, ‘Let’s try,’ and on my last lap I pushed to my maximum, doing my best, and we got another pole here in Austin which is very good.”

Vinales’s teammate, Italy’s Valentino Rossi, completed the front row in another late charge for third in 2:03.673.

Marquez’s late run foiled Vinales, who also had seen no hope Marquez would claim the pole again.

“Honestly, I thought I had the pole,” Vinales said. “When I looked at the screen and saw that Marc was behind Valentino I said “Ah, maybe he will do it,” and in the end he did, so congratulations to him, because it was a nice lap for sure.

“We pushed at 100 percent and the bike was working really good. I’m also happy about the race pace. I think we did a great job and we can be there for sure.”

The front-row fight sets the stage for a showdown of the Spaniards in Sunday’s race over a 20-turn layout where Marquez has swept every GP race contested but Vinales has swept the 2017 start, winning two weeks ago in South America after Marquez crashed out early.

“We changed many things on the bike over the weekend and step-by-step we regained some confidence,” Marquez said. “So this afternoon we just focused on keeping a good pace and it worked well.”

Spain’s Dani Pedrosa, a Honda rider who has twice made trips to the Americas podium, was fourth and will be joined on the second row by French rookie Johann Zarco (Yamaha) and Spain’s former world champion Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati).

Italy’s Franco Morbidelli, seeking his third Moto2 win in a row to boost his season points lead, took the pole in 2:09.379 with compatriot Mattia Pasini 0.167 of a second back in second. Spain’s Alex Marquez was third in 2:09.671 with Japan’s Takaaki Nakagami fourth as the fastest five qualifiers were Kalex riders.

Spain’s Aron Canet smashed the Moto3 one-lap circuit record by seven-tenths of a second to grab his second career pole in 2:14.644.

The Honda rider, seeking his first victory, beat Spanish series points leader Joan Mir, winner of the season’s first two races riding a Honda, by .987 of a second with defending race champion Romano Fenati of Italy, also on Honda, in third, another .01 adrift.

Hazard fires Chelsea into Cup final

April 23, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Eden Hazard fired Chelsea into the FA Cup final as the Belgian’s blistering strike ensured Antonio Conte’s selection gamble paid off in his side’s dramatic 4-2 win over Tottenham on Saturday.

Tottenham

Blues boss Conte sprang a major surprise by starting with Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench in the Wembley semi-final as he looked ahead to the Premier League leaders’ vital fixture against Southampton on Tuesday.

But Conte’s bold moves proved inspired as Hazard’s replacement Willian put Chelsea ahead early on and then restored their lead in the second half after Harry Kane’s equaliser.

Dele Alli levelled again for Tottenham, but Conte had all the answers and, when he sent on Hazard, the Belgian blasted Chelsea back into the lead.

Nemanja Matic’s thunderous long-range effort sealed a final date against Arsenal or Manchester City, who meet in the second semi-final on Sunday.

Having seen their lead at the top of the league cut to four points by second placed Tottenham last weekend and looking vulnerable following a limp defeat at Manchester United, this should be a huge psychological boost for Conte’s men.

They rode their luck at times but showed a decisive killer instinct while their London rivals came up short in crunch time.

Tottenham, losers yet again at Wembley and still without an FA Cup final appearance since 1991, need an immediate response in their midweek trip to Crystal Palace if they are to get revenge by pipping Chelsea to the title.

Conte’s decision to pick Willian and Michy Batshuayi instead of Hazard and Costa triggered a round of second guessing, but it took just five minutes for the former Juventus coach to be vindicated.

Breaking at pace, Chelsea worked the ball towards Batshuayi and his deft backheel sent Pedro surging clear.

When the Spaniard was sent sprawling by Toby Alderweireld’s lunge, Chelsea were hoping for a more severe punishment than the yellow card shown by referee Martin Atkinson.

But their frustration was short-lived as Willian stepped up to exact retribution from the free-kick, the Brazilian’s superb 20-yard strike eluding Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris before nestling into the far corner.

Kane has been the spearhead of Tottenham’s impressive run this season and the England striker’s typically predatory finish drew them level in the 18th minute.

As Christian Eriksen prepared to whip over a cross, Kane was already on the move and his awareness gave him a valuable extra yard of space on Chelsea defender Nathan Ake as he stooped to guide a delicate header past Thibaut Courtois.

But, despite controlling possession for long periods, Pochettino’s side still ended the half behind as his decision to play Son Heung-Min out of position at left wingback was exposed in the 43rd minute.

Kante slipped a pass to Victor Moses and when the Nigerian’s surge into the penalty area was halted by Son’s rash tackle Atkinson gave the penalty on the advice of his linesman.

Batshuayi wanted to take it, but Conte demanded Willian step up and he stroked home the spot-kick in confident style.

It could have been a major momentum changer, yet Tottenham were level again in the 52nd minute.

Barely looking up as he received the ball, Eriksen unfurled a majestic pass towards Alli, who timed his run perfectly to slide in front of Luiz and direct a close-range finish past Courtois.

Conte responded by sending for the cavalry as Costa and Hazard came on for Willian and Batshuayi in the 61st minute, while Cesc Fabregas was introduced soon after.

Once again, Conte’s instincts were spot on and the Italian’s changes brought the winner in the 75th minute.

Fabregas’s corner was only partially cleared and Hazard seized the ball just inside the area before drilling a blistering finish beyond Lloris.

If that was a memorable strike, there was even better to come five minutes later when Hazard teed up Matic and Serb’s thunderous 30-yard rocket sent Chelsea into raptures.

Unbeaten Crusaders lead Kiwi Super juggernaut

April 23, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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The Canterbury Crusaders remained unbeaten as New Zealand teams dominated Super Rugby this weekend ahead of June’s British and Irish Lions tour.

Crusaders

The seven-time champions smashed leading South African contenders Western Stormers 57-24 in Christchurch as Kiwi teams won all four of their encounters.

George Bridge claimed a hat-trick and Kieran Read added a double in the Crusaders eight-try romp to remain unbeaten after eight matches.

The Crusaders raced to a 36-3 lead by half-time as the Cape Town-based Stormers suffered back-to-back losses after falling to the Golden Lions last week.

The Christchurch team lead the powerful New Zealand conference by three points from defending champions Wellington Hurricanes and Waikato Chiefs.

A hat-trick of tries for centre Vince Aso helped the Hurricanes to a 56-21 thumping of Australian conference leaders ACT Brumbies in Napier on Friday.

The Hurricanes scored eight tries to three in the bonus-point win, piling on 42 unanswered second-half points after trailing 14-21 at the break.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was in the stands to run his eye over the Hurricanes ahead of the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour.

“There’s so many guys putting their hands up it’s great,” Hansen said.

In Perth, All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden kicked the Chiefs to a grinding 16-7 win over the endangered Western Force, landing a conversion and three penalty goals with both sides finishing with a try each.

In winning, the Chiefs stretched New Zealand teams’ dominance over Australian opposition to 14-0 in this season’s competition.

The Force, with their future Super Rugby participation under major threat over SANZAAR restructuring for the 2018 season, fought to the end but the Chiefs were too strong.

The Otago Highlanders were the fourth Kiwi winners with a 40-15 bonus-point victory over Japan’s Sunwolves in Invercargill.

South Africa’s threatened Southern Kings rose above their off-field turmoil with a spirited 26-24 upset win over the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney.

The Port Elizabeth-based Kings, who are also fighting to stay in next year’s competition along with the Central Cheetahs, fought back from 17-0 down to win only their fourth game in two years.

“It has been an absolutely emotional tour for us with all the news regarding Super Rugby,” Kings skipper Lionel Cronje said.

The Golden Lions are the clear leaders of the second South Africa conference, edging out the Jaguares of Argentina 24-21 win in Johannesburg.

Melbourne Rebels, another team under threat of being culled, drew 9-9 with South Africa’s Coastal Sharks in Durban.

The Northern Bulls won the all-South African encounter with the Cheetahs 20-14 in Pretoria.

The Auckland Blues and Queensland Reds had byes this weekend.

Live updates: L E Blaze Trophy – Kingswood College Vs Wesley College

April 22, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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18:16 – At full time. Kingswood College 40. Wesley College 39.

18:14 – Wesley College scores under the post to reduce the lead. 39-40.

16:13 – Last few minutes of play at Bogambara.

16:10 – Kingswood College extend their lead once again with another converted try. 40-32.

16:08 – Wesley College makes another comeback with a converted try to reduce the gap. 32-33.

16:00 – Kingswood College makes it 33-25 with another converted try.

17:52 – Wesley College reduce the margin to a solitary point with a converted try. 25-26.

17:45 – Kingswood College extend their lead with another penalty. 26-18.

17:44 – Wesley College keep their hopes alive with a converted try. 18-23.

17:38 – Kingswood College further extend their lead with another unconverted try. 23-11.

17:34 – Second half underway at Bogambara Stadium.

17:25 – At half time. Kingswood College 18. Wesley College 11.

17:23 – Kingswood College further extend their lead with an unconverted try. 18-11.

17:20 – Wesley College score their first try to reduce the gap. 11-13.

17:07 – Kingswood College extend their lead with their second penalty. 13-6.

17:03 – Kingswood College increase the lead with a penalty. 10-3.

17:02 – Kingswood College increase the lead with a penalty. 10-3.

17:01 – Wesley College put over a penalty to reduce the lead. 3-7.

16:49 – Kingswood College takes the lead with a converted try. 7-0.

16:39 – Wesley College vs Kingswood College kicked off at Bogambara Stadium now.

16:14 – Wesley College vs Kingswood College L. E. Blaze Trophy rugby encounter. At the Bogambara Stadium. Kick off in few minutes.

Relentless Monaco dream on after reaching semis

April 20, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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A brilliant Monaco side that has taken Europe by storm will not relent in their bid for glory after beating Borussia Dortmund to reach the Champions League semi-finals, promised coach Leonardo Jardim.

Monaco

The team from the Mediterranean principality were too good for their German opponents in Wednesday’s quarter-final second leg, winning 3-1 at the Stade Louis II to advance 6-3 on aggregate.

“We have won nothing, but we have made history,” declared Portuguese coach Jardim after the game, as his side extended a run that began in the third qualifying round against Fenerbahce last July, nine months ago.

Teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe, skipper Radamel Falcao and substitute Valere Germain got their goals with Marco Reus netting for Dortmund on a memorable night for the hosts.

The last team to come through two qualifying rounds to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League was Dynamo Kiev in 1999, although the format was different in those days.

Nobody expected Monaco — conquerors of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the last round — to get this far but they have done it playing a superb brand of football that has yielded 141 goals so far this season.

Now they are preparing for their first semi-final appearance since 2004 as they join Juventus, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in the draw.

None of those teams will fancy playing Monaco, who for all Paris Saint-Germain’s efforts in recent years will be the first French representative in the last four since Lyon in 2010.

“We have taken France into the semi-finals. We want to go out and enjoy it but all four sides are capable of winning the competition,” warned Jardim, whose team were visited by Prince Albert in the dressing room afterwards.

Monaco are not just fighting for glory in Europe — they are also top of the French league and in the French Cup semi-finals, but fatigue is their biggest foe now.

“It’s not easy to play in Europe and try to win the league. We are the team that has played the most games in Europe, so it’s tough,” added a coach who has been linked to Arsenal in the British media.

“Maybe if we had lost in the last 16 we would be fresher now, but we won’t ask our players to change their mentality. We just need to recover well.”

A crunch game at Lyon awaits in the league at the weekend as they look to keep going on all fronts.

“If I have to choose, it’s normal to prefer to win the Champions League, but maybe our chances of winning it are slimmer than winning the league. We will give everything in both,” added the coach.

For Dortmund, elimination was hard to take but the tie was overshadowed by the bomb attack on their team bus en route to last week’s first leg which left Marc Bartra with a broken wrist.

Bartra was there to support his teammates in Monaco but it was another difficult night as their bus was delayed in leaving for the ground, held up by police for security reasons.

“It was the worst thing that could happen a week after the attack — everyone was on the bus ready to go but we were not allowed to,” said coach Thomas Tuchel.

The kick-off was delayed by five minutes but Dortmund’s concentration was again affected.

“It’s only eight days after the terrible attack so we shouldn’t lend too much significance to the team’s performance,” added Tuchel, who was taking charge of Dortmund for the 100th time.

“It was very difficult for the players so I can’t be too critical. We felt ready to push for a semi-final place before the tie but things changed dramatically.”

Dortmund are fourth in the Bundesliga and Tuchel added: “Our path does not end here. We will not be favourites next year but we need to qualify first and then be as unpleasant to play against as possible.”

Warriors cut down Blazers, Westbrook runs out of gas

April 20, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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The Golden State Warriors clamped down on defense as they cruised to a 110-81 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, taking a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Warriors

Playing without injured star Kevin Durant, Golden State held Portland to just 12 points in the third quarter Wednesday to post their 11th straight home win over the Trail Blazers in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference semi-final series.

Durant missed the game with a calf strain.

“You got to be aggressive. Tonight we didn’t really get it going and we had some dry spots but we won the game with our defense,” said Warriors star Stephen Curry. “We asserted ourselves in first quarter that set the tone for the game.”

Curry had 19 points and Klay Thompson added 16 as the Warriors won easily despite scoring 11 fewer points than in their 121-109 win in the opening game of the series.

JaVale McGee said they miss not having Durant in the lineup but they also know how to adjust when he is not there.

“We have confidence. We have had to play without KD for a lot of games earlier so we are used to it. But we need KD. We need his scoring,” said McGee, who came off the bench to score 15 points.

The teams will travel to Portland for the next two meetings in the best-of-seven series, with the Warriors taking their lead into game three on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams caught fire in the fourth quarter as the Houston Rockets rallied for a 115-111 playoff win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, who lost despite another historic 50-point night by Russell Westbrook.

The Rockets erased a 15-point deficit to take a 2-0 lead after game two of their Western Conference series.

Westbrook delivered a triple-double of 51 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds but couldn’t get the ball to drop when it counted. He shot a dismal four of 18 in the fourth quarter.

His scoring total was the highest for a postseason triple-double in NBA history.

Despite the historic night, Westbrook failed to find his teammates with passes as he appeared to run out of steam in the final quarter.

He missed 14 shots in the fourth, the most misses in any quarter in the last 20 NBA playoffs.

“I wasn’t tired,” Westbrook said. “I don’t care about the (personal stats). We lost.”

“It’s not like it is going to be a surprise to anybody. We know what we have to do,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni of stopping Westbrook.

Gordon gave the Rockets their first lead with his three-pointer at the 8:07 mark of the fourth quarter at 96-94.

Gordon delivered another clutch basket with 1:48 remaining, drilling a 28-footer off a James Harden pass to extend the lead to eight.

Harden finished with 35 points and eight assists and was a perfect 18 for 18 from the free-throw line.

Game three is Friday in Oklahoma City.

In Washington, Bradley Beal scored 16 of his 31 points in the final quarter as the Washington Wizards seized a 2-0 lead in their first-round series with a 109-101 win.

John Wall delivered a team high 32 points as he and Beal tallied 20 of the Wizards’ final 21 points in a penalty filled contest.

Game three is in Atlanta on Saturday as the Wizards have won five in a row over the Hawks.

Paul Millsap had 27 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks. Dennis Schroder scored 23 points and Tim Hardaway had 19. Atlanta committed 18 turnovers.

After game one, Millsap made a point of calling out what he considered overly aggressive play from the Wizards — “They were playing MMA,” he said.

In game two, the teams were whistled for 55 fouls and took a combined 71 free throws. Atlanta was 33 of 38 and Washington finished 24 of 33.

Washington’s Marcin Gortat easily controlled the head-to-head matchup as Dwight Howard’s struggles in the playoffs continued. Hawks center Howard had just six points and seven rebounds.

Live updates: SLC Super Provincial Limited Over tournament – Colombo Vs Kandy, Dambulla Vs Galle

April 20, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Result: Dambulla won by 1 wicket.

17:54 – Dambulla (target 251) 251/9 in 50 overs

D. Perera 29, A. Priyanjan 33, C. Karunaratne 2/23, C. de Silva 2/36.

17:29 – Dambulla (target 251) 199/6 in 42 overs. M. Siriwardena 39, M. Pushpakumara 2/25.

16:51 – Dambulla 164/5 in 34 overs

H. Cooray 46, M. Siriwardena 30 n.o, C. Karunaratne 2/12.

Result: Colombo won by 106 runs.

16:49 – Kandy 182 all out in 38 overs

C. Kapugedara 36, S. Pathirana 46, S. Senanayake 3/39, H. de Silva 3/37.

15:13 – Dambulla (target 251) 43/0 in 7 overs

U. Jayasundera 28 n.o.

15:12 – Kandy (target 289) 66/5 in 14 overs

S. Weerakkody 28, H. de Silva 2/3.

14:36 – Dambulla (target 251) 14/0 in 2 overs.

14:35 – Kandy (target 289) 37/2 in 7 overs.

13:47 – Galle 250/8 in 50 overs

C. de Silva 56, S. Prasanna 46, S. Lakmal 33 n.o, M. Siriwardena 2/18, D. Perera 2/28.

13:44 – Colombo 288/8 in 50 overs

D. Chandimal 76, H. De Silva 49, N. Pradeep 3/56.

12:51 – Galle 154/6 in 38 overs

C. de Silva 44 n.o, D. Karunaratne 24, D. Perera 2/24

12:48 – Colombo 231/4 in 43 overs

D. Chandimal 61 n.o, H. de Silva 42 n.o, C. Asalanka 2/32.

12:03- Galle 114/6 in 29 overs

C. de Silva 25 n.o, D. Karunaratne 24, D. Perera 2/24.

12:00 – Colombo 153/4 in 32 overs

L. Thirimanne 49, D. Chandimal 23 n.o, C. Asalanka 2/32.

11:12- Galle 58/2 in 15 overs

U. Tharanga 26.

11:10 – Colombo 96/1 in 19 overs

D. Munaweera 52, L. Thirimanne 39 n.o.

10:31 – Galle 34/1 in 7 overs

U. Tharanga 25 n.o.

10:28 – Colombo 44/0 in 8 overs

D. Munaweera 25 n.o

Colombo won the toss and elected to bat vs Kandy; Galle won the toss and elected to bat vs Dambulla

Steely Juventus shut down Barca to kill off comeback hopes

April 20, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Barcelona’s hopes of staging another sensational Champions League comeback fell flat against a hardened Juventus side who held the Catalans to a 0-0 draw on Wednesday at the Nou Camp to reach the semi-finals 3-0 on aggregate.

TOPSHOT-FBL-EUR-C1-BARCELONA-JUVENTUS

The Italian champions barely gave Barca a glimmer of hope of repeating their historic turnaround against Paris St Germain in the last 16 and protected their healthy advantage from the first leg by starving the hosts of space and clear sights of goal.

Lionel Messi came closest to giving Barca a route back into the contest with four strikes at goal but failed to hit the target with any of them and frequently came up short against Juve’s intimidating centre-back pairing of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci.

Twice European champions Juve lacked the spark and power of their thrilling first-leg victory in Turin, but there was rarely any doubt they would exact revenge for their defeat to Barca in the 2015 Champions League final by reaching the semis for a 12th time.

Barca coach Luis Enrique had said before the game that if Barca managed to strike early then the noise of the Nou Camp would suck the other goals in.

Juventus, however, showed in the opening stages that they are made of sterner stuff than PSG, who gave up a 4-0 first-leg advantage Massimiliano Allegris side pressed Barca in their own half and limited the supply to the front three.

Messi almost managed to pick out Jordi Alba with a hooked pass and later played a one-two with the Spaniard before dragging narrowly wide of the far post.

Ivan Rakitic and Neymar also missed the target with hopeful efforts but Juventus’ aggressive gameplan limited how much attacking Barca could do without leaving themselves exposed.

Gonzalo Higuain cracked a shot over the bar before the break while the probing Juan Cuadrado almost picked out the Argentine striker in the middle, but was thwarted by a brilliant block from Gerard Pique.

Barca increased their grip on possession after the break and spent most of the remainder of the game in their opponents’ half trying to carve out chances, but Juve were always ready for them.

Messi whipped a free kick onto the roof of the net and slammed another shot wide before spurning his best chance, a volley which fizzed over the bar.

Barca right back Sergi Roberto attempted a repeat of his heroic strike against PSG, but also missed the target, unable to prevent his side’s second successive elimination at the quarter-final stage, which will provoke much soul-searching at the five-times European champions.

Ronaldo hat-trick fires Real into semis

April 19, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Cristiano Ronaldo scored a controversial hat-trick to become the first man to reach 100 Champions League goals as Real Madrid overcame 10-man Bayern Munich 4-2 after extra time in Tuesday’s thrilling quarter-final second leg.

Ronaldo

The holders surged through 6-3 on aggregate at an exhilarated Santiago Bernabeu to take their place in Friday’s semi-final draw for a record seventh consecutive year.

But Real were pushed all the way by Bayern, who battled back from a 2-1 first-leg deficit to send the tie into extra time thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s penalty and an own goal from Sergio Ramos.

However, after Arturo Vidal was sent off, Ronaldo hit the century mark in Europe’s top club competition on 104 minutes and completed his hat-trick five minutes later.

Bayern were left incensed, though, as Ronaldo’s second and third goals were clearly offside.

“To score six goals against a team like Bayern Munich isn’t easy so we deserved to go through,” the Portuguese striker told Spanish TV station Antena 3.

“Real Madrid is Real Madrid, we are used to suffering and we are happy to be in the semis once again.”

Marco Asensio gave a night of high-class action the finale it deserved with a sensational solo goal to rub salt in Bayern wounds.

“The (red) card for Arturo wasn’t a card and then the two goals from Cristiano are offside so clearly we are not happy,” said Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti.

“In a quarter-final you have to put a better referee, or it is the moment to introduce video refereeing, which is what UEFA are trying because there are too many errors.”

The German champions had been beaten on their previous four trips to Spain without even scoring a goal.

However, knowing they needed at least two to progress, Ancelotti’s men started on the front foot and were left to rue a huge opportunity just eight minutes in.

Marcelo made a miraculous block to deny Thiago Alcantara before former Real winger Arjen Robben scuffed into the side-netting on his trusted left foot.

Much like the first leg, Madrid weathered the early storm and had plenty of chances to go in front before half time.

Jerome Boateng bailed out a rare mistake from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer as he cleared off the line from Ramos after Neuer fumbled a simple cross.

The half-time whistle brought some respite to proceedings on the field, although the Bayern fans were involved in a minor clash with police at the break.

The disturbances quickly died down and Bayern soon gave the travelling 4,000 from Germany something to cheer when play resumed.

Another goal-line clearance by Marcelo from Robben’s dinked effort temporarily saved Madrid.

But the hosts didn’t escape moments later when referee Viktor Kassai pointed to the spot as Robben went down under a challenge from Casemiro.

Lewandowski stayed cool under the pressure and converted from the spot for his 39th goal of the season.

Ronaldo looked to have eased Madrid’s nerves when he steered Casemiro’s cross into the far corner 14 minutes from time.

However, Real’s celebrations were very short-lived as just a minute later the ball ricocheted around their box and Ramos turned into his own net.

The balance of a topsy-turvy tie turned Madrid’s way again with five minutes remaining as just as in the first leg, Bayern were reduced to 10 men when Vidal saw a second yellow card for chopping down Asensio.

The extra man proved decisive as Madrid settled the tie with a three-goal burst either side of half time in extra time.

Ronaldo took advantage at not being flagged for offside as he controlled and fired low past Neuer to become the first man to reach a Champions League century.

Four minutes into the second period of extra time he had Marcelo to thank for a brilliant run and unselfish pass that allowed the Portuguese the simplest of finishes to complete his hat-trick despite again being in an offside position.

And Asensio sealed victory in sensational style with a stunning solo run and low right-footed finish as many Bayern players sank to their knees knowing Champions League glory had passed them by for another year.

Vardy in vain as Atletico end Leicester fairytale

April 19, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Jamie Vardy scored in vain as Leicester City’s Champions League fairytale came to a valiant end following a 1-1 quarter-final draw at home to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday.

Atletico

Seeking to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit, Leicester fell further behind to Saul Niguez’s first-half header, before Vardy’s 61st-minute strike gave them hope.

But despite heavy Leicester pressure and furious noise inside the King Power Stadium, Atletico completed a 2-1 aggregate win to reach the semi-finals for the third time in four seasons.

“We had them rattled with the effort and commitment we showed. It’s no discredit to lose to a team of that calibre,” Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare told BT Sport.

“The whole club, from the supporters to the players to the owners can be immensely proud, but I’ve just said to the players that they should want more of this and they’ve agreed that that’s what they want.”

Leicester had hoped to become the competition’s first debutant semi-finalists since Villarreal in 2006, but they were unable to engineer a repeat of their last-16 triumph against Sevilla.

Their exit brings to an end a golden adventure sparked by last season’s stunning Premier League title win.

Having successfully staved off the threat of relegation under new manager Shakespeare, the rest of their season now holds nothing more than a return to pre-title normality.

It is the third time Atletico have eliminated Leicester from continental competition, after previous triumphs in the 1961-62 European Cup Winners’ Cup and the 1997-98 UEFA Cup.

Beaten by city foes Real Madrid in the 2014 and 2016 finals, Diego Simeone’s side can continue to dream that this will be the year they finally end their wait for European football’s biggest prize.

“I’m full of emotion and pride at the performance of my team,” said Simeone.

“I also have to say, what a great performance from our opponents. It was almost a pleasure to compete against them.”

Leicester’s desire to make the most of the occasion was clear from the start, pyrotechnics greeting the players as they came out while fans twirled blue, white and gold foil flags distributed by the club.

But whereas Leicester had quickly taken charge of their second-leg match against Sevilla in the previous round, Atletico made it clear they would not be pushed around.

They defended with their customary tenacity, while two dangerous crosses from Yannick Carrasco — preferred up front to the fit-again Kevin Gameiro — demonstrated their threat on the counter.

It was just as Leicester were threatening to make inroads, Shinji Okazaki stabbing wide at the near post from Vardy’s cross, that the visitors tightened their grip on the tie.

Filipe Luis was given space to shape a cross into the box from the left and the unmarked Saul expertly guided a header past Kasper Schmeichel’s outstretched right hand.

Riyad Mahrez volleyed straight at Jan Oblak at the other end after Marc Albrighton’s cross was headed away, but it was the voices of the away fans that rang loudest as the half-time whistle sounded.

The second half brought with it drastic changes for the hosts, with Ben Chilwell and Leonardo Ulloa replacing Yohan Benalouane and Okazaki as Shakespeare switched to a bold 3-4-3 system.

Antoine Griezmann gave them a scare with an early dart into the box, but Atletico soon found themselves on the back foot.

After left wing-back Chilwell thrashed over, Leicester levelled, Vardy slamming in from inside the six-yard box after Chilwell’s shot had been charged down by Stefan Savic.

The final half-hour was virtually one-way traffic, but Atletico repelled everything Leicester threw at them.

Ulloa and Vardy both had shots blocked, while Vardy’s flick was caught by Oblak and Mahrez whipped a free-kick narrowly over the bar.

Leicester captain Wes Morgan, passed fit to play after six games out with a back problem, succumbed to injury late on, symbolically hobbling off as Leicester’s European dream faded away.

Kandy hoping to consolidate

April 18, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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By Chris Dhambarage

The SLC Super Provincial Limited Overs Cricket Tournament will resume after the festival break with two vital games on the card scheduled for Thursday (20).

The unbeaten Kandy Team will be looking to consolidate their position as they take on Colombo at the NCC Grounds in Maitland Place while Dambulla will confront Galle in another match at the Dambulla Stadium.

Kandy, led by veteran Chamara Kapugedera have got off to a flying start having recorded back-to-back victories over Galle and Dambulla respectively in their two opening fixtures.

But this time Kandy will be tested by a strong Colombo outfit which has experienced mixed fortunes in their two opening games of the tournament.

In fact, Colombo captained by wicket-keeper batsman Dinesh Chandimal, are yet to notch up their first win of the tournament.

They figured in an exciting tie against Dambulla in the opening match and then suffered a shock 188-run defeat at the hands of Galle in their second outing at Maitland Crescent.

Colombo of course will be banking heavily on their Skipper Dinesh Chandimal to produce a repeat performance after he smashed an unbeaten 116 during their run chase against Dambulla.

In addition, the Colombo Team is packed with a number of aggressive stroke makers in the calibre of Shehan Jayasuriya, Wanidu Hasaranga, Dilruwan Perera, Thisara Perera, Angelo Perera and Kithuruwan Vithanage.

The Kandy Team have also rallied around mostly through their batsmen and will be looking to register their third successive victory in the tournament.

In fact, in both outings Kandy were able to compile over 300 runs with Skipper Kapugedera, Lahiru Madushanka, Ramith Rambukwella, Charith Asalanka and Hashan Dumindu making their presence felt.

Meanwhile, Galle will be looking to register their second successive victory when they take on Dambulla in another SLC Super Provincial Limited Overs Cricket Tournament match at the Dambulla Stadium on Thursday (20).

Galle currently occupies the second spot in the points table having collected five points from their two outings with one victory and one defeat.

However, Galle had the satisfaction of overcoming a strong Colombo side in their previous fixture and they did in style while also collecting a bonus point following their massive 188-run triumph.

They will be hoping to keep the same momentum and a lot will depend on their inform batsmen Sadeera Samarawickrema, Skipper Upul Tharanga, Dhananjaya de Silva and Dasun Shanaka who have been among the runs in the previous two games.

In fact, dashing opener Samarawickrema is in tremendous form having hammered a sparkling century in the match against Kandy.

In contrast, Dambulla led by opening batsman Kusal Janith Perera are looking to register their first win in the tournament and they have collected only two points so far after an exciting tie against Colombo.

The Dambulla team is packed with some exciting young players with Lahiru Milantha and Harsha Cooray showing early form with the bat while scoring two magnificent centuries.

Barca need five to beat Juve – Luis Enrique

April 18, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Barcelona will need to hit at least five goals past Juventus to produce another miracle Champions League comeback, but have nothing to lose according to outgoing coach Luis Enrique.

Barcelona news conference - UEFA Champions League Quarterfinal

The Catalans made Champions League history by overcoming a 4-0 first leg deficit to beat Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 in the last round, but have another mountain to climb at the Camp Nou on Wednesday as they trail their quarter-final tie 3-0.

“We need to score fewer goals,” said an upbeat Enrique facing what could be his last European game in charge. “But bearing in mind the opponent could have chances and the goal can come at any moment, our objective is to score five.”

Enrique foresaw Barca’s recovery in the last 16, claiming an attack laced with the potential of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar was capable of scoring six against the French champions.

And he called for an expected near 100,000 crowd to play their part as they did against PSG.

“We don’t have anything to lose. We are free from pressure. Juventus have the semi-finals in their pocket and will have to decide whether to sit back or attack,” he added.

“We only have one option which is to attack, attack and attack again.

“I am sure that if we score the first goal, the Camp Nou will score the second and the third will come of its own accord.”

Barca captain Andres Iniesta was more cautious in his optimism, recognising the first leg in Turin had been “a terrible result.”

However, he believes Barca have the potential to at least create some doubt in Juventus minds.

“Nowadays teams respect us a lot. I am convinced they know we can cause them problems,” said Iniesta.

“We have the potential, the players and reason to believe we can turn this tie around or at least get close to it.

“We need to create doubts so at some point they see the tie is in danger.

“Everything depends on playing a perfect game in every sense.”

Barca scored three times in the final two minutes plus stoppage time as PSG froze in a grandstand finish six weeks ago.

And Enrique insisted Barca can’t lose belief even if the goals don’t come early against a Juventus defence that has conceded just two in nine Champions League games this season.

“Don’t leave in the 80th minute,” he said in a message to the fans.

“We are going to try until the end. Those of us who experienced the game against PSG have another chance to experience a historic night.

“We have seen that Barca can score three goals in three minutes so we will stay together until the 95th minute.”

Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini won his latest battle with Luis Suarez in the first leg after the Uruguayan famously bit the Italian at the 2014 World Cup.

Chiellini scored his side’s third goal a week ago after Paulo Dybala’s early double and insists Juventus will need all their experience to stand up to Barca’s “sharks”.

“We will have to play without fear because they are like sharks – they smell blood and they finish you off,” he told Sky Sports Italia.

The visitors were handed a big injury boost as Dybala has been passed fit to play despite picking up an ankle injury in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Pescara.

Barca will welcome back Iniesta and Neymar from the side that beat Real Sociedad 3-2 at the weekend with Messi’s double in that match taking him within two of 500 goals for the club.

Cavs, Spurs march on in NBA playoffs

April 18, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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The Cleveland Cavaliers overcame a bout of fourth quarter jitters to take a grip of their NBA playoff series against the Indiana Pacers on Monday as San Antonio seized control of their duel with Memphis.

Indiana Pacers v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Two

Cleveland appeared to be coasting to victory after opening up an 18-point lead at the end of the third quarter at the Quicken Loans Arena.

But the Cavs put the home fans through the ringer in a nervy finale as the Pacers punished a litany of mistakes to cut the gap to four points with 18 seconds remaining.

It mirrored a similar shaky finish in Game 1, when Indiana wiped out a 10-point fourth quarter lead before Cleveland ground out a win. They also blew a 26-point fourth quarter lead in a defeat to Atlanta earlier this month.

But the NBA Champions just about held their nerve on Monday, eventually winning 117-111 thanks to a 37-point haul from Kyrie Irving as well as 27 points from Kevin Love and 25 from LeBron James.

James was unfazed by the Pacers’ fourth quarter fightback after the Cavs held on to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 3 takes place in Memphis on Thursday.

“We’re right there,” said James, who also had 10 rebounds and seven assists. “We’re right there of what we know we can become, and we’ll figure it out.” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue blamed fatigue for the high turnover count that allowed San Antonio to claw their way back into the contest in the fourth quarter.

“I just saw turnovers,” Lue said. “We’ve gotta take care of the basketball. We turned the ball over and it hurt us. Nineteen turnovers for 24 points. It’s hard to win playoff games like that.”

The victory came at a cost for Cleveland however, with guard J.R. Smith limping off with a hamstring injury. However Smith’s replacement, Iman Shumpert, impressed from the bench with five points.

“We have so many pieces on this team, but everyone has to stay ready,” Irving said of Shumpert’s cameo.

“He had that mindset, came in and executed, and it’s hard to come off the bench right after halftime. We just need Shump to stay focused and understand the task at hand and I think he did a good job of that tonight.”

In San Antonio, Memphis coach David Fizdale was left fuming after watching his team slide to a 96-82 loss against the Spurs in their Western Conference showdown.

Kawhi Leonard finished with 37 points as the Spurs took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series at AT&T Center.

But Fizdale unleashed a spectacular post-game tirade against the officiating crew, which is almost certain to bring disciplinary action from the league.

Fizdale complained bitterly that officials had unfairly skewed the free throw count against his players.

“It was a very poorly officiated basketball game,” Fizdale fumed. “First half we had 19 shots in the paint and had six free throws. They shot 11 times in the paint and had 23 free throws.

“I’m not a numbers guy but that doesn’t seem to add up. Overall we shot ball in the paint 35 times and we had 15 free throws – for the game. They shot 18 times and had 32 free throws. Explain it to me.” Officials had shown “disrespect” to his team, Fizdale added.

“I’m not going to let them treat us that way. That’s unacceptable. That’s unprofessional. My guys dug in that game and earned the right to be in that game — and they did not even give us a chance,” Fizdale told journalists.

The series now moves to Memphis for Game 3 on Thursday.

Netball star Tharjini moving Down Under

April 18, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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By Channaka de Silva

The biggest star Sri Lanka has ever produced in netball Tharjini Sivalingam left for Australia for a six-month playing and training contract in a move that may signal the end of an era.

But the humble sports icon also gave a clear indication that it is still not too late if the country’s sporting authorities are ready to wake up to the reality and think about the country than playing petty sports politics.

Tharjini was the world’s number one netball player at the peak of her career when she was named as the Best Shooter at the 2011 World Netball Championships but was forced to depart from the National Team in 2014 due to dirty politics played by corrupt officials.

Tharjini, at 35, is still capable of matching the best in the trade but has been confined to watching in horror as Sri Lanka slid down the world ladder largely due to her self-inflicted exile.

She proved a point while routinely starring for the Seylan Bank Team and for the Mercantile Netball Association Team in domestic tournaments.

Scholarship

But when she received a scholarship from one of Australia’s strongest netball clubs, City West Falcons in Melbourne, she grabbed it with both hands realising it presented her with an opportunity to both stamp her class and also to send a message to the Sri Lankan netball authorities.

“There’s no place I love more than my motherland. I am what I am today because I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to play for Sri Lanka. My dream has always been to play for Sri Lanka. It has never changed a bit. Given the chance, I would be delighted to help Sri Lanka do better” Tharjini told Daily Mirror on the eve of her departure to Australia.

Asked if she would consider the possibility of playing for Australia in the case she gets an offer, Tharjini couldn’t be clearer.

“My only dream is to play for Sri Lanka again. No one can take away my love for my motherland” she insisted.

At six feet and ten inches, Tharjini has often been talked about more as a freakishly tall person than for her outstanding netball skills.

She used her height to great advantage in a sport where it provides an obvious edge, not much different from freakishly gifted Muttiah Muralitharan whose permanently bent arm and unusually rotatable wrist propelled him to be a world record holder in cricket.

Tharjini who was born as the fifth of six children in a family in Evenai, Punnalaikattuvan, Jaffna first grabbed the attention of scouts in 2004 during a district netball tournament in Vavuniya where she represented the Batticaloa District as she was doing her Bachelors at the Eastern University. She was immediately invited to join the National Team and the rest was history.

Undisputed star

She steadily rose through the rankings and was the undisputed star when Sri Lanka became the Asian Champions in 2009. In the crucial final Tharjini scored 74 out of the 77 points and easily bagged the Best Shooter’s award for her total score of 380 in the tournament.

Tharjini was appointed Sri Lanka Captain in 2011, but usual Sri Lankan politics prevailed easily and mercilessly over the brilliantly skilled but poorly connected player and she was relegated to be a ‘joint captain’ in a shocking move for the Asian Championships held in Sri Lanka.

The netball authorities perhaps felt it was still not time for a player from Jaffna to captain Sri Lanka!Being continuously disgusted with corrupt officials and politics they played that led the game to ruins, several past Sri Lanka captains finally made a mass exit from the national netball pool and Tharjini was the most prominent name among them.

Some of the others included star players in the calibre of Shashikala Samarasinghe, Kumerini de Silva and Marissa Fernando.

Even the celebrated Coach Thilaka Jinadasa who guided Sri Lanka to several titles, left unceremoniously but was eagerly snapped up quickly by Brunei as their National Coach.

Tharjini would be rubbing shoulders with the world’s best players from today in Australia but she promised her heart would always be a few thousand miles away. “I still hope I would be able to lift Sri Lanka netball up” she added.

Revenge for Mourinho as Man Utd stun Chelsea

April 17, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho masterminded a brilliant and unexpected 2-0 home victory over former club Chelsea on Sunday to breathe new life into the Premier League title race.

Manchester United

Mourinho gambled by resting Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera’s goals gave United a win that leaves Chelsea just four points above Tottenham Hotspur with six games to play.

Victory at Old Trafford also lifted United to within four points of fourth-place Manchester City, on whom they have a game in hand, ahead of the derby at the Etihad Stadium on April 27.

It was a personal triumph for Mourinho, who saw his side thrashed 4-0 at Chelsea in October and was branded “Judas” by fans of his old club during last month’s FA Cup defeat at Stamford Bridge.

A wet, cold Manchester afternoon was the setting for United to end a run of 12 games without victory against Chelsea, stretching back to a 3-2 away win in October 2012.

Chelsea have now lost twice in four games, having gone down 2-1 at home to Crystal Palace earlier this month, which will give in-form Spurs fresh hope that the Blues may yet collapse as the finishing line nears.

The top two meet at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-finals next weekend in what now looks a significant test of Chelsea’s mettle.

United, meanwhile, will approach Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg at home to Anderlecht, which is poised at 1-1, on the back of their best display under Mourinho.

Chelsea were without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois due to an ankle problem, while Marcos Alonso succumbed to a virus, bringing Asmir Begovic and Kurt Zouma into their usual first XI.

Mourinho set United up to stop Chelsea, with Herrera and Matteo Darmian tasked with the responsibility of tracking dangermen Eden Hazard and Pedro wherever they went.

But despite Herrera’s chief role as a stifler, he created United’s seventh-minute opener, albeit in contentious circumstances.

He seemed to block Nemanja Matic’s pass with his right hand, but referee Robert Madley played on, enabling Herrera to split the Chelsea defence with a sublime through ball for Rashford.

The 19-year-old raced in behind David Luiz before clipping a shot past Begovic for his ninth goal of the season.

With Chelsea striker Diego Costa spending more time provoking his opponents than taking shots at goal, David de Gea was a virtual spectator between the posts for United.

Costa became embroiled in penalty-box tangles with United centre-backs Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo and was booked for a late challenge on Paul Pogba.

With the willing Jesse Lingard in support of Rashford, United looked far more lively going forward.

Ashley Young twice spurned presentable shooting opportunities from the edge of the box, while Rashford saw a cross headed onto the roof of the net by Gary Cahill.

Short of a 25-yard drive by Costa that flashed wide in stoppage time, the half-time whistle sounded without Chelsea having offered anything in attack.

Any hopes the visitors had of masterminding a turnaround vanished within four minutes of kick-off in the second half as Herrera doubled United’s lead.

Zouma’s tackle on the burrowing Young sent the ball rolling into Herrera’s path and his drilled effort flicked off Zouma to fly past the grounded Begovic.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte sent on Cesc Fabregas for Victor Moses, with Pedro moving to wing-back, but still the league leaders toiled, Pedro twice curling shots over De Gea’s bar.

At the other end Rashford remained a constant menace, teeing up Lingard to bend a shot over and twice going close himself, ruffling the side-netting and testing Begovic at his near post.

When he departed in the 82nd minute, with Ibrahimovic taking his place, he was accorded a richly deserved standing ovation.

Warriors rout Portland, Butler shines for Bulls in NBA playoffs

April 17, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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The Golden State Warriors clamped down in the fourth quarter to pull away to a 121-109 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday in game one of their NBA playoff series.

Warrios

Golden State, aiming to get back to the NBA finals for a third straight year and regain the crown they surrendered last season to the Cleveland Cavaliers, had 32 points from Kevin Durant in his first playoff game as a Warrior.

Stephen Curry added 29. Draymond Green was everywhere, finishing with 19 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists, five blocked shots and three steals for the Warriors.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler scored 15 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter as the Chicago Bulls held on to beat the Boston Celtics 106-102 in the opener of a first-round Eastern Conference series.

Golden State withstood 75 combined points from the Trail Blazers duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to triumph in a game that saw 22 lead changes.

They were tied at halftime and knotted at 88-88 after three quarters.

But the Warriors opened the fourth frame with a 15-2 scoring run to seize control.

Backup point guard Ian Clark contributed seven points in the flurry, but it was increased defensive pressure that really turned the tide.

“We let them get to their spots in the first half,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “they still made some tough shots, which they’re going to do. I thought we did a better job in the second half of being a little more physical.”

The Trail Blazers pulled within 105-99 with 5:16 to play. But Green tipped in a Curry miss and Durant produced three straight baskets to stretch Golden State’s lead to 113-99 with 3:36 remaining.

Durant, acquired as a free agent after the Warriors’ loss to the Cavs in last year’s finals, connected on 12 of his 20 shots and also pulled down 10 rebounds.

Game two of the series, a rematch of a Western Conference semi-final last season, is on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in the West, the Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder tipped off in a series featuring the top contenders in the Most Valuable Player race — Thunder star Russell Westbrook and the Rockets’ James Harden.

Sunday’s Eastern Conference action got under way in Washington, where John Wall scored 15 of his 32 points in a dominant third quarter to lead the Wizards to a 114-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in their series opener.

Wall also handed out 14 assists while teammate Bradley Beal scored 22 points and Markieff Morris added 21.

German guard Dennis Schroder led the Hawks with 25 points and Paul Millsap had 19. Atlanta made 32 of 39 free throws, but connected on just 43.6 percent of their shots from the floor and turned the ball over 21 times.

In Boston, Butler scored five points during an 8-0 run midway through the final period that put the Bulls in control on an emotional night at the Boston Garden.

Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas played the day after his younger sister, Chyna, was killed in a car accident.

Thomas led the Celtics with 33 points, hitting a layup with seven seconds left to cut Chicago’s lead to 104-102.

But Butler dribbled off a few seconds and sealed the victory with a two free throws with just three seconds on the clock.

Game two of the series is Tuesday at the Garden.

Barcelona eye another famous comeback with semis in sight

April 17, 2017 · Leave a Comment 

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Little over a month after producing the greatest comeback in Champions League history, Barcelona need another special turnaround as they face Juventus in the second leg of their quarter-final on Wednesday.

Barcelona

Luis Enrique’s side were taken apart in the first leg in Turin, losing 3-0 to a Juve team inspired by Paulo Dybala, who scored twice.

In the last 16 they became the first team ever to overturn a 4-0 deficit when they beat Paris Saint-Germain 6-1 in the return at the Camp Nou, so fans are hoping for a similar “remuntada” this time.

“We are going to take as many risks as we need to the point that we could go out with eight strikers, as we have nothing to lose,” said Luis Enrique after Saturday’s 3-2 defeat of Real Sociedad.

The Barcelona coach also called for supporters “to have faith in these players who have won everything. This is a squad of champions.”

But he added: “The thing is that we are used to always eating beluga caviar. That can’t go on forever.”

Barca welcome back midfielder Sergio Busquets from suspension, while Juve are hopeful Dybala will be ready after he came off in the 2-0 weekend win at Pescara with a sprained ankle.

“We have four days and we need to be optimistic,” declared coach Massimiliano Allegri.

In contrast to their fierce rivals, Real Madrid are very much on course for a semi-final berth after their 2-1 win away to Bayern Munich last week.

The sides clash at the Santiago Bernabeu in Tuesday’s second leg with the Germans looking to become just the third side to overturn a first-leg home defeat to win a Champions League tie.

Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti has fitness concerns with leading scorer Robert Lewandowski hopeful of returning from a shoulder injury.

Defenders Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng are also fighting to be fit, while Javi Martinez is suspended.

“We go to Madrid well aware of the fact that nothing is impossible,” Thomas Mueller told Bundesliga.com.

“We’re annoyed any time we don’t win, but we have our own way of playing. No matter what problems or injuries we have to deal with, we’re always able to put a strong team out there on the pitch.”

Gareth Bale is struggling to shake off a calf problem for Real, who have lost just twice in 12 past home meetings with Bayern.

Borussia Dortmund go to Monaco still shaken by the events of last week, when the first leg between the clubs was postponed by 24 hours following the bomb attack on the German team’s bus en route to the game.

Dortmund went on to lose 3-2 to the French league leaders but morale was lifted as they got back to winning ways in the Bundesliga at the weekend, beating Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1.

After that game, the Dortmund players paid tribute to defender Marc Bartra by holding his number five shirt aloft as they celebrated in front of their fans.

Spanish international Bartra had earlier been released from hospital after having surgery on a broken wrist suffered in the attack.

“This gesture shows how important the things off the field are to us at this moment, and that Marc gets better soon and that we are all still here,” said Dortmund captain Marcel Schmelzer.

Monaco, looking to become the first French side in the Champions League semi-finals since Lyon seven years ago, are missing the banned Fabinho as well as Djibril Sidibe, who is recovering from appendicitis.

Leicester City have defensive concerns as they look to turn around a 1-0 deficit when they host last season’s runners-up Atletico Madrid.

Robert Huth is suspended and the Foxes are hoping Wes Morgan can return from a back injury as the English champions look to extend their run in Europe. Atletico have French striker Kevin Gameiro back from a groin injury.

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