Monthly Archives: January 2019

Scandals leave cloud over memorable 2014

On the fields of play, the action in 2014 was at times breathtaking.

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A German team, unshackled from its pragmatic past and playing with uninhibited flair, won a World Cup in Brazil that exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations.

Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the final at the sprawling Maracana in Rio de Janeiro thanks to a superb extra-time goal from baby-faced substitute Mario Goetze to lift the trophy for the first time since 1990.

The hosts buckled under the weight of expectation, finishing fourth, but never had the samba nation shone so brightly on the world stage.

Magnanimous in defeat, Brazil delivered a tournament that will be remembered for its contagious carnival atmosphere, infecting everyone from the golden sands of Copacabana Beach to the Amazon rainforest.

But the year did not end well for the beautiful game with FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, fending of more accusations of bribery over its decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 to Qatar.

FIFA cleared both of any of wrongdoing but the former U.S. prosecutor who led the investigation said it had misrepresented his findings and he later quit.

The timing of the 2022 World Cup is also causing problems with doctors warning the tournament will have to be moved from its usual summer slot to avoid the stifling heat in Qatar.

But any change could impact on the European leagues and potentially clash with the 2022 Winter Olympics, in either Beijing or Almaty, the only two cities in the bidding race.

The rest all dropped out, citing the astronomical $51 billion price tag for this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, and prompting the International Olympic Committee to introduce a raft of reforms.

Like Brazil’s World Cup, Russia’s Olympics went better than expected despite the inevitable collision between sport and politics. The buildup was overshadowed by threats of Islamist militant violence, an international outcry over a contentious “anti-gay propaganda” law and allegations of corruption.

JEALOUSY

Western critics labelled the Games a wasteful extravagance to show off modern Russia’s might. President Vladimir Putin said the complaints were fuelled by jealousy and reminiscent of the Cold War rhetoric that dominated Olympics in the 70s and 80s.

Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova won the women’s figure skating ahead of South Korea’s Kim Yuna, triggering complaints about the judging in the most-watched event of the Games.

In short-track speed-skating, Viktor Ahn won three gold medals for his adopted Russia — heaping yet more agony on his native South Koreans.

Ahn won three golds for South Korea in 2006 but swapped nations after he was not selected for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Forty-year-old Ole Einar Bjoerndalen beat the odds to set a record of 13 Winter Games medals by winning the biathlon sprint and the mixed relay while Dutch speed skater Irene Wust won five medals, matching the record at a single Winter Olympics.

Russia finished top of the medals table with 13 golds but the country’s recent surge in sport was questioned later in the year with allegations of systemic doping by Russian athletes.

Racism, doping and domestic violence dominated the American sporting landscape in 2014.

Donald Sterling, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, was banned for life and eventually agreed to sell the franchise after a racist rant that overshadowed the San Antonio Spurs’ victory over the Miami Heat in the championship final.

Alex Rodriguez, baseball’s highest-paid player, missed the entire MLB season after ending a legal challenge to his record suspension for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs.

The San Francisco Giants won the World Series for the third time in five seasons, with ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner playing the starring role.

The NFL, America’s richest and most watched sport, played its first Super Bowl in the New York area — with the Seattle Seahawks beating the Denver Bronocs.

But the sport was plunged into crisis when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on film punching his wife and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson used a tree branch to discipline his son.

The genteel sport of cricket was left heartbroken after the shock death of Australian batsman Phillip Hughes — who was killed when he was hit in the head by a ball.

His death triggered a global outpouring of grief not seen since Formula One driver Ayrton Senna was killed in a high-speed crash 20 years ago.

Britain’s Lewis Hamilton, who grew up idolising Senna, won his second F1 driver’s title while Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy won the British Open and PGA championships titles.

Serena Williams showed why she remains the queen of women’s tennis, winning her sixth U.S. Open and finishing the year as the world’s oldest number one, aged 33.

The men’s game saw some new names in the grand slam winners’ enclosure with Stan Wawrinka winning in Australia and Marin Cilic taking the U.S. Open.

(Editing by Martyn Herman)

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No mega events but plenty on the sporting menu in 2015

Tens of millions of cricket obsessives in South Asia will ensure plenty of eyeballs on the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, while rugby’s equivalent is among many contenders for the title of the world’s third biggest tournament.

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The Tour de France, with a worldwide TV audience of 3.5 billion people every year, will be a battle royale between defending champion Vincenzo nibali, Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana in July.

The burgeoning popularity of European club football shows no sign of abating but men’s international football honours in 2015 will be confined to regional championships in Asia, Africa as well as South, Central and North America.

The finest female footballers from all five continents will gather in Canada in June and July to contest the seventh women’s World Cup, however, with Germany and the United States the early favourites.

The Olympic programme is on furlough but not so the athletes, who compete in world championships in track and field, swimming and a host of other sports as they embark on a trail they hope will climax with gold at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.

The July 24-Aug 9 swimming championships in the Russian city of Kazan will be without the biggest name in the sport after 18-times Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps was kicked off the U.S. team in the wake of a drink driving arrest.

Usain Bolt, however, looks certain to be back where it all began for him at the athletics world championships at Beijing’s Birds Nest, the venue for his stunning 100 and 200m victories in world record times at the 2008 Olympics.

Seven years on and the Jamaican sprinter, who will turn 29 the day before the championships begin on Aug. 22, remains his sport’s trump card as one of the few sportsmen or women to enjoy a truly global profile.

There will be much interest in whether two other members of that elite club, golfer Tiger Woods and tennis maestro Roger Federer, can arrest signs of decline and maintain their place at the top table on grounds of form rather than reputation.

Woods won the last of his 14 major titles two months before Bolt’s Beijing triumph and Rory McIlroy could go some way to replacing him as the face of golf if he can become the sixth player to win a career grand slam at the U.S. Masters in April.

Federer has won just one major title, his 17th, in the last four seasons and starts his year as always in Australia, which dominates the first quarter of the 2015 international sporting calendar.

As well as the Australian Open tennis, the country hosts football’s Asian Cup, the opening race in what looks likes being an intriguing Formula One season, and the cricket World Cup.

Australia have won four of the 10 cricket World Cups and will be confident of a fifth title on home soil from Feb 14 to March 29, with reigning champions India and South Africa the most likely to stop them.

India, whose 2011 triumph helped bolster the 50-over game against the threat of obsolescence in the face of the growth of the Twenty20 game, might struggle on the quick Australian tracks but conditions should suit a settled South Africa team.

New Zealand have won just two of the seven rugby World Cups — both on home soil — but still go in as favourites to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy every four years and the Sept 18-Oct 31 tournament in England is no exception.

South Africa and the hosts, the teams responsible for the only two defeats the world champions have suffered in 42 tests since they won the 2011 title, look most likely to benefit if the All Blacks once again falter in the northern hemisphere.

(Editing by Julien Pretot)

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Arsenal hotshot Sanchez ready to haunt Liverpool

Sanchez, who signed for the Gunners from Barcelona for around 35 million pounds in July, has scored 14 goals this season and has been the shining light in an Arsenal side that have lacked consistency.

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The Chilean’s creativity, finishing and work ethic would have made him the perfect replacement for Barcelona-bound striker Suarez, who scored 31 Premier League goals for Liverpool last season as the Reds challenged for the title.

However, the 26-year-old forward opted to sign for Arsenal.

Liverpool, languishing in 11th place in the league, have been short of attacking options with summer recruits Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert both misfiring and boss Brendan Rodgers has been left to rue missing out on Sanchez.

“All I know is that he (Sanchez) is a world class player,” Rodgers told a news conference on Friday. “He was someone who would have been perfect for us.

“He is an intelligent player and he has great work rate. We know he will be a threat.”

Rodgers’s loss has been Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger’s gain and the Frenchman been delighted with the way Sanchez has adapted to life in the Premier League.

“He (Sanchez) chose us and we’re very happy for that,” Wenger said. “I tried, like every manager, to convince the player that you can help him to develop the quality of his game, and that the way we play football would suit him.

“That’s why I think he has chosen us in the end.”

Having been thrashed 5-1 at Anfield last season, Arsenal boss Wenger does not expect Liverpool to be the same attacking force on Sunday and has called on his sixth-placed side to continue creeping up the table after a slow start.

“Last year Liverpool scored over 100 goals. Now they’re not on the same trend,” he said.

“We’ve won five of our last six games. We want to continue our strong run. Sunday’s a good game for us to show we can continue to attack well and defend well.”

(Reporting By Michael Hann; editing by Martyn Herman)

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Barcelona’s Neymar available for Cordoba clash

Neymar has not played since he scored Barca’s second goal in the 3-1 Champions League victory at home to Paris St Germain on Dec.

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10 and missed last weekend’s 0-0 La Liga draw at Getafe and Tuesday’s 8-1 drubbing of third-tier Huesca in the King’s Cup.

He trained with the rest of the squad on Friday before being given the all-clear by medical staff as Luis Enrique’s men prepare for their final outing before the two-week winter break.

“Let’s see tomorrow if he is in the squad and if he is in the squad he has a chance of playing,” Luis Enrique told a news conference.

A win for Barca at the Nou Camp would close the gap to leaders Real Madrid to one point.

Real’s game at home to Sevilla has been postponed until early February due to their participation in this week’s Club World Cup in Morocco.

Neymar has been on fine form this season and has scored 11 goals in La Liga and three in the Champions League.

Barca missed his pace and trickery in attack at Getafe, when they turned in a toothless performance that meant Real were able to stretch their advantage to four points.

Luis Enrique, in his first season in charge after taking over from Gerardo Martino, said Barca need to be more consistent if they are to return to winning ways this term.

Martino was replaced after the Catalan giants missed out on major silverware in 2013-14 for the first time in six years.

“We need to improve things,” Luis Enrique said.

“There is a team (Real) who are playing better than us,” added the former Barca, Real and Spain midfielder. “We have to play better as a team.”

Neymar’s Brazil team mate Dani Alves, who has a hamstring strain, was unable to train, Barca said on their website.

(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Martyn Herman/Mitch Phillips)

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Major sporting upsets of 2014

1.

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Brazil suffer 7-1 World Cup humiliation against Germany

“Historic Disgrace” screamed the Folha de S.Paulo’s headline, as a shocked nation digested a 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat by Germany on home soil.

While many pundits had speculated that this Brazil side lacked the sparkle of previous vintages, nobody predicted they would suffer perhaps the greatest shame in their illustrious footballing past.

Germany inflicted a swift and sudden demise, taking a 5-0 lead after 29 minutes in front of a stunned audience at Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao stadium.

Perhaps out of sympathy, Joachim Loew’s eventual champions lifted their foot off the gas and coasted home, scoring just twice more in the second half, before Oscar made an apologetic mark on the scoreboard for Brazil in the 90th minute.

2. Nishikori beats Djokovic in the U.S. open semi-finals

When you have just played back-to-back five-set, four hour marathon matches, the last person you would want to face would be an iron-willed world number one with a reputation for out-lasting everyone else on the tour.

A sweltering early September afternoon in New York, however, provided the unlikely stage for young Japanese Kei Nishikori to inflict a stunning four-set defeat on Novak Djokovic and deny the Serb a fifth successive trip to the U.S. Open final.

With the mercury tipping 100 degrees Fahrenheit and in stifling humidity on Arthur Ashe court, Nishikori proved tireless in grinding down Djokovic, winning 6-4 1-6 7-6(4) 6-3 to become the first Asian man to reach a grand slam final.

3. Shaun White flops at the Sochi Winter Olympics

The major draw of the 2014 Winter Games turned out to be one of its biggest disappointments after pulling out of his first event and failing to win a medal in his second.

After talking up his chances of completing a stunning double, United States’ snowboarder Shaun White withdrew from the Slopestyle, before his eight-year reign as Olympic halfpipe champion ended in a shock fourth-place finish.

It all proved a major letdown for the fans who made the arduous journey to the Russian resort hoping to see him produce his best gravity-defying tricks.

4. Seattle Seahawks thrash Denver Broncos to win Super Bowl

A Seattle defence made up of a bunch of overlooked and unwanted players completely nullified a Peyton Manning-led offence that had set an NFL record for points in a season in one of the most one-sided Super Bowl’s ever.

The 43-8 thrashing was a performance worthy of some of the greatest defensive teams in NFL history and drew comparisons with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ “Steel Curtain”, the 1985 Chicago Bears with William “Refrigerator” Perry, and the Ray Lewis-led Baltimore Ravens of 2000.

“A bunch of misfits, that’s what they called us,” said defensive end Red Bryant. “A bunch of nobodies. Inexperienced. Ain’t never been there. You see what misfits get you. You see what over-achievers get you.”

5. Western Sydney Wanderers winning the AFC Champions League

Coach Tony Popovic took over at the Western Sydney Wanderers in 2012 when they had no strip, no playing staff and no facilities.

That did not prevent them going on to win the Asian Champions League title 900 days later in their maiden campaign, defying huge odds to overcome much wealthier Asian powerhouses.

A 0-0 draw against twice Asian champions Al-Hilal in front of 65,000 fans in the Saudi capital in November was enough to secure a 1-0 aggregate victory and earn plenty of plaudits for former Socceroo Popovic.

(Editing by Martyn Herman)

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Five best performances of 2014

1.

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MADISON BUMGARNER (BASEBALL)

San Francisco pitcher Madison Bumgarner saved the day and the World Series for the Giants with a Game Seven effort that capped a record-breaking performance in the Fall Classic.

The 25-year-old country boy from North Carolina put a spell over the Kansas City Royals, pitching five shutout innings of relief to preserve a deciding one-run win on two days rest after winning twice as a starting pitcher.

The 6-foot-5 lefty was credited with the longest save in Series history and totalled 21 innings, nine hits, one run, 17 strikeouts and one walk in the best-of-seven. In winning a third championship ring he set all-time career World Series marks for lowest ERA (0.25) and fewest hits per nine innings (3.5).

2. LIONEL MESSI (FOOTBALL)

More milestones fell in 2014 to Lionel Messi, who in typically breathtaking fashion became the all-time leading scorer in La Liga and the Champions League with two hat-tricks in the space of four days.

Three goals against Sevilla took his La Liga total to 253, before a treble against APOEL Nicosia set a Champions League scoring record of 74 goals.

The four-times World Player of the Year surpassed the previous La Liga mark of 251 set by former Athletic Bilbao striker Telmo Zarra in 1955 and the Champions League record of 71 he jointly held with former Real Madrid striker Raul.

It was a superb way to crown a year in which he won the Golden Ball award for best player at the Brazil World Cup having led Argentina to the final.

3. ROHIT SHARMA (CRICKET)

Rohit Sharma, playing his first match for India in 10 weeks after suffering a finger injury and shoulder strain, shattered the one-day world record for a batsman with a monumental opening knock of 264 against Sri Lanka.

Sharma’s boundary runs alone amounted to 186 as he blitzed nine sixes and 33 fours from 173 deliveries in racing past the previous record 219 set by compatriot Virender Sehwag in 2011. Sri Lanka responded with 251 in the match.

The remarkable run made Sharma the first to register a second ODI double hundred, having scored 209 against Australia last year. Sehwag and former team mate Sachin Tendulkar are the only others to reach 200 in one-day internationals.

4. VIKTOR AHN (SPEED SKATING)

Eight years after his previous Olympic appearance, Viktor Ahn competed under a new name and for a new country but was the same dominant force in short track as he skated to three gold medals at the Sochi Olympics for Russia.

Ahn took his Olympic haul to a short track career record six golds with wins in the 500m, 1,000m and 5,000m relay after being a triple champion for South Korea as Ahn Hyun-soo at the 2006 Turin Games.

The 29-year-old missed the 2010 Olympics due to a knee injury and a falling out with the Korean Skating Union that led him to switch allegiance to Russia in his drive to become short track’s most successful Olympic racer.

5. SAN ANTONIO SPURS (BASKETBALL)

With an inspiring display of teamwork and skill, relentless ball movement and dedicated defense, the San Antonio Spurs ended the two-year reign of the Miami Heat and LeBron James as NBA champions with a sublime run to the title.

The selfless Spurs, with a roster full of international players led by an ageless core of Tim Duncan, French point guard Tony Parker and Argentine swingman Manu Ginobili, won in five games, taking each of their four wins by 15 points or more.

Kawhi Leonard, 23, was named Finals MVP after successfully duelling James, who left Miami to return home to the Cavaliers after the Heat’s streak of 11 straight playoff series wins was snapped by the Spurs, whose 70-point differential and 52.8 percent shooting from the field were both Finals records.

(Compiled by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Toby Davis)

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Van Gaal still chasing perfection at in-form United

After a sluggish start to the season, United have found their feet and the 3-0 win over fierce rivals Liverpool last weekend moved them on to 31 points from 16 matches.

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Despite showing signs of improvement and closing the gap on leaders Chelsea to eight points, Van Gaal is still searching for that elusive perfect performance.

“When you win six times in a row the confidence is rising, but I’m still looking for a game that is more close to the perfect game,” the Dutchman told a news conference on Friday.

“For me, the performance is very important. When you perform well, you win more and that’s what I want to show to the fans.

“The players want to show that. The guarantee of wins is much bigger when we perform better.”

United travel to 13th-placed Aston Villa on Saturday on the back of their convincing win over Liverpool, but Van Gaal does not envisage that result having any bearing against a Villa side that have started to move up the table in recent weeks.

“I don’t think one game can have a big influence,” Van Gaal said. “The team can improve more but I don’t think it was a great surprise that we won.

“They (Villa) haven’t lost so much. They draw, they win, and when they lose it’s always by a one-goal difference. It shall be very difficult.”

Angel Di Maria, who has not featured since United’s 3-0 win over Hull City on Nov. 29 due to a hamstring injury, could return to the bench against Villa.

“He (Di Maria) has trained this week with us but he’s not match-fit after one week,” Van Gaal said. “I have to make my decision because we have one training session to go.”

Colombian striker Radamel Falcao has struggled with injuries since joining on loan from AS Monaco and Van Gaal refused to be drawn on whether he would start against Villa.

“He shows fitness in the training sessions,” he said. “Maybe I shall select him for the bench or maybe I shall select him for the starting lineup. Wait and see.”

(Reporting By Michael Hann; editing by Toby Davis)

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Nyman finds Val Gardena to his taste again

In his 13 years on the World Cup circuit, the 32-year-old has only won three races, all of them in Val Gardena — the first in 2006 and the second two years ago.

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After his third triumph he was asked the secret: “Pasta! Good Italian pasta!” he said.

Whatever his diet, his victory this time, in one minute 55.89 seconds, was probably less of a surprise as the Utah skier had already made it on to the podium at Beaver Creek earlier this month and had been fastest in training on Thursday.

Norway’s Olympic super-G champion Kjetil Jansrud, winner of the first two downhills of the winter, was the only skier to come close to the American, finishing 0.31 seconds slower for his fifth podium in five speed events this season.

Italy’s Dominik Paris was third, more than a second adrift.

“Of my three victories, this is the best because I beat skiers of the calibre of Jansrud and Paris,” Nyman said.

“I was a bit lucky with my starting number because I had good visibility at the top and I could let my skis go.”

Injuries have been part of Nyman’s history and he failed to make the American A team this season, having to pay $20,000 to race according to regulations imposed by the team since 2008.

That investment has paid off, with $30,000 (19,155 pounds) awarded to World Cup race winners.

“My ambition this season is not to win single events or the worlds at home in Beaver Creek. It’s more consistency,” he said.

Austrian Florian Scheiber crashed on the tricky, bumpy course and had to be flown to a hospital in Bolzano.

Nothing was immediately known about his condition.

Canada’s Jan Hudec also hurt himself in a jump and managed to ski down the course despite a suspected knee ligament injury.

(Reporting by Patrick Lang; editing by Martyn Herman)

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Biggest sporting flops of 2014

Brazil (Football)

Anything less than a World Cup win on home soil was always going to be seen as a failure but nobody could have predicted Brazil would suffer a 7-1 semi-final drubbing by Germany, one of the greatest shocks in football history.

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To make matters worse, the Brazilians followed that up with a another woeful performance to lose 3-0 to the Netherlands in the third-place playoff.

The poor showing at the month-long tournament will remain a black spot for a country that has one of football’s proudest traditions — with five World Cup titles, more than any other nation.

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Russia (Ice hockey)

The men’s ice hockey gold medal was one of Russia’s top priorities at the Sochi Olympics, and winning the event for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 was supposed to offer the world a symbol of the country’s might.

Facing massive pressure each time they played, the talented squad had a mediocre preliminary round that forced them into a do-or-die qualification game versus Norway, which they won easily as a nation exhaled for one more day.

But the toll of playing four games in five days showed as Russian dreams of celebrating a gold medal victory on home soil were crushed in a 3-1 quarter-final loss to Finland.

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Shaun White (Snowboarding)

The American snowboarder was one of the biggest draws in Sochi where he was looking to join a rare pantheon of Winter Olympic greats as the first from his young sport to win three golds in one individual event.

The 2006 and 2010 champion’s triple gold bid in the halfpipe was looking good after the morning qualification where he was the top finisher but things started to unravel in his first run in the finals when he fell twice.

White, needing a flawless run in his second run to win gold, was the night’s final competitor and while he didn’t fall, two stumbles left the world’s most famous snowboarder off the medal podium in fourth place.

– –

Denver Broncos (National Football League)

Clear favourites to win the Super Bowl before the season started, Denver reached the NFL’s championship game in impressive fashion as the first team to score over 600 points in a season.

The Broncos were built around future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, who had thrown a record 55 touchdown passes that season and was seeking a second Super Bowl title that, in the eyes of many, would have made him the greatest quarterback of all time.

But Denver were humiliated from the start as the game’s opening snap sailed over Manning’s head for a safety that put his team behind. The Seattle Seahawks went on to win the biggest game in American professional sports 43-8, the third-worst rout in Super Bowl history.

– –

Sebastian Vettel (Motor Racing)

Vettel won four consecutive Formula One world championships and the last nine races of 2013 but his run of success ended in 2014 when the Red Bull driver went through the entire season without a victory.

Reliability problems and his car’s underperforming Renault engine had something to do with that but Vettel would have a had a more solid case had he not been eclipsed by team mate Daniel Ricciardo, who took three wins and was the only driver outside the Mercedes team to stand on the top step of the podium.

Formula One greats are supposed to show their greatness by making a difference and getting more out of a poorly-performing car than might be supposed possible. On that score alone, Vettel flopped.

(Compiled by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Justin Palmer)

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Pakistan’s Ajmal returns to action, eyes World Cup

The 37-year old Ajmal played for Pakistan A against Kenya in Lahore, bowling six overs and taking one wicket with a remodelled action.

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“I was playing a proper match after nearly three months but I felt comfortable with my corrected action,” Ajmal told reporters.

“I didn’t hold myself back and bowled all my deliveries and I am still very hopeful my action will be cleared before the World Cup because it is an event I want to be part of very much,” he added.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is leaving no stone unturned to get Ajmal’s action cleared by the ICC to ensure his availability for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand that starts in February.

The off-spinner, who was deadly with his doosra deliveries in his 35 tests and 111 one-day matches before his suspension, stuck to bowling off-breaks against Kenya.

He will play another match against Kenya on Saturday.

Iqbal Qasim, a member of the PCB bowling action review committee, which is monitoring Ajmal’s progress, said they wanted to see if he remained as effective as before with his altered action.

“The idea behind selecting him is to get him ready for the ICC bowling action review test before the World Cup,” he told Reuters.

“He definitely has improved his action and the more he plays we think he will loosen up and get better,” he added.

Pakistan’s all-rounder Muhammad Hafeez is also currently suspended from bowling in international cricket by the ICC due to an illegal action.

Both the off-spinners have been Pakistan’s top bowlers in limited overs cricket in the last two years.

(Editing by Toby Davis)

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