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Long-time FIFA incumbent Sepp Blatter will have at least one rival for next year's presidential election as former senior FIFA executive Jerome Champagne confirmed on Monday he would contest it.

The 56-year-old Frenchman, who worked closely with Blatter between 2002 and 2005 when he was deputy secretary-general, said on Twitter he had sent a letter to FIFA headquarters in Switzerland that he would be a candidate confirming his initial declaration in London back in January.

Champagne had said at the time of the original declaration that he did not think he could beat 77-year-old Blatter, who has been in charge since 1998, if he ran but he had a chance if UEFA chief Michel Platini was a candidate.

Since then, though, Blatter has declared himself as a candidate despite stating beforehand he would not stand again and Platini pulled back from the brink even though he declared in Brazil prior to the World Cup finals in June that he could no longer support Blatter.

Champagne, a former diplomat who worked on France's successful bid for the right to host the 1998 World Cup before joining FIFA as an international advisor, said he was delighted that a debate had begun about the future of FIFA and football and thought more candidates would throw their hat into the ring.

"I have the honor of informing you that I have just written to the FIFA Ad-hoc Electoral Committee and its president, Mr. Domenico Scala, to confirm my intention to run for FIFA president," said Champagne in a letter to football federations posted on his website.

"This confirmation has of course been made in accordance with the current FIFA regulations and in line with the announcement of my candidature of 20 January 2014 in London, in the same location where The Football Association was founded in 1863, the first of the 209 FIFA member associations.

 

 

Neil Warnock has returned to Crystal Palace as manager to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Tony Pulis, the Premier League club announced on Wednesday.

Warnock, who previously managed Palace between 2007 and 2010, takes over after Pulis abruptly left Selhurst Park on the eve of the season amid reports of a disagreement with co-chairman Steve Parish.

 

 

 

 

Toulon open the defence of their Top 14 crown against Bayonne on Friday with a sprinkling of foreign talent making up for the absence of Jonny Wilkinson and Joe van Niekerk.

The Mourad Boudjellal-financed club won not only the Bouclier Brennus last season, but also the European Cup for a second successive year.

Key squad members Wilkinson and van Niekerk have since both retired, ex-All Black prop Carl Hayman taking over the captaincy of a star-studded team bolstered by the arrival of Wales and Lions full-back Leigh Halfpenny and Australian utility back James O'Connor.

The back-row is boosted by the signings of Georgian giant Mamuka Gorgodze from Montpellier and South African Gerhard Vosloo from Clermont, while France international front-row forwards Fabien Barcella, Guilhem Guirado and Alexandre Menini have been snapped up from relegated Biarritz and Perpignan.

Halfpenny was left in no doubt about the weight of expectation coming in to Toulon.

"It's a huge challenge coming to Toulon, a challenge I was looking for in my rugby career. It's a challenge in rugby and in my life," said Halfpenny, who was elected Player of the Tournament in the 2013 Six Nations and Man of the Series in the British and Irish Lions' triumphant tour of Australia later that year.

 

 

"The team here is fantastic, full of quality players from around the world.

"Its success speaks for itself over the last couple of years and I'm very excited to be part of it."

But Halfpenny will certainly not have it all his own way, given the strength in depth of the squad, notably with current full-back Delon Armitage in sparkling form last season.

"Looking at the squad, there's quality in every position, it gives you massive confidence. There's huge competition for places," the Welshman admitted.

Toulon coach Bernard Laporte added: "Six finals in three years and three titles for Toulon, it's fantastic.

"I can understand that it might be tough to get going again after a title, aged 34 or 35, it's human, you no longer have the same hunger or determination.

"The eight newcomers will have to bring their appetite, a desire to integrate into the team and prove they deserve to be in the club."

 

 

Halfpenny is one of the latest raft of Welsh players to join the exodus from the Principality as the row between the Welsh Rugby Union and four regions drags on.

Outstanding centre Jonathan Davies has left Scarlets for Clermont, while towering lock Luke Charteris teams up with international teammates Jamie Roberts, Dan Lydiate and Mike Phillips at Racing-Metro.

Racing will likely be one of the clubs contending for league honours after its expensively-assembled squad showed what it was capable of after finally gelling at the end of last season.

Clermont have seen coach Vern Cotter take over the Scotland national team, and hardened lock Nathan Hines (Sale), winger Sivivatu Sitiveni (Castres), full-back Lee Byrne (Dragons) and centre Regan King (Scarlets) have all also moved on.

But Davies is just one of a number of exciting players to join, others including All Black winger Zac Guildford and English full-back Nick Abendanon, whose free-running game could be perfectly suited to the Top 14.

Montpellier finished second after the regulation season last year and have attracted one-time Australia captain Ben Mowen and Kiwi lock Tom Donnelly to what should be, once again, a dynamic team.

Toby Flood was Toulouse's key signing, the accomplished England fly-half and goalkicker successfully pried away from Leicester just one year away from the 2015 World Cup.

Toulouse, four-time European champions and multiple winners of the French league, struggled through last season with an underpowered pack, but coach Guy Noves has brought in All Blacks Corey Flynn and Neemia Tialata, and veteran France No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy from Biarritz.

 

 

 

 

Unheralded youngsters Tyler Blackett and Reece James were among the players hoping to feature for injury-ravaged Manchester United in their Premier League opener at home to Swansea City on Saturday.

United launch the 2014-15 campaign against the Welsh side, in what will be Louis van Gaal's first competitive game as manager and Wayne Rooney's first competitive game as captain.

The winds of change have swept through Old Trafford since last season's dismal seventh-place finish, but hopes of a strong start to the campaign have been jeopardised by a raft of injuries.

Striker Robin van Persie is still short of fitness after his exertions under Van Gaal with Holland at the World Cup, while Antonio Valencia, Jonny Evans, Danny Welbeck and new signing Luke Shaw are all out.

Neither Blackett nor James, both of whom are 20, have ever played a competitive game for United, but despite Shaw's absence, Van Gaal does not believe that his side will have problems at left-back.

"I don't think so," the Dutchman said when asked if it was an area of concern.

"We have played in the USA (during pre-season) with Ashley Young and Reece James in that position, so that position is very well-covered."

Later on Saturday, last season's FA Cup winners Arsenal will launch their assault on the Premier League title at home to Crystal Palace, who parted company with manager Tony Pulis on Friday.

 

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who saw his side outclass league champions Manchester City 3-0 in the Community Shield last week, is expected to hand a competitive debut to star signing Alexis Sanchez.

However, Arsenal will be without their German World Cup-winning trio of Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski, and Wenger is worried that the start of the season has come too soon for his side.

"We are a bit short in our preparation," said the Frenchman.

"We had 11 players at the World Cup. Many of them had longer holidays after that. We could have done with one week later, with all the competitions."

 

 

With Pulis having left Palace after a reported disagreement with co-chairman Steve Parish, assistant manager Steve Parish will be in temporary charge for the trip to the Emirates Stadium.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Championship winners Leicester City will play their first top-flight game since 2004 when they host Everton, while fellow promoted side Queens Park Rangers welcome Hull City to Loftus Road.

In the day's other games, Alan Irvine begins his career as West Bromwich Albion manager at home to Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur visit London rivals West Ham United, and Stoke City host Aston Villa.

Saturday's games will witness the first usage of vanishing spray -- used by referees to police distances at free-kicks -- in the English top division.

Manchester City begin their title defence at Newcastle United on Sunday, with manager Manuel Pellegrini refusing to reveal who will start in goal for the champions.

 

 

New signing Willy Caballero played in the Community Shield loss to Arsenal and Pellegrini hinted that the Argentine's superior fitness gave him the edge over last season's number one, Joe Hart.

 

 

 

 

French 13th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the Toronto Masters title on Sunday with a 7-5, 7-6 (7/3) victory over second seeded Roger Federer.

Tsonga hit 11 aces and 26 winners while Federer, two days after his 33rd birthday, was undone by 37 unforced errors.

The 29-year-old Tsonga had knocked out world number one Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray on his way to the final.

It was Tsonga's second career Masters 1000 title, coming almost six years after his first at Paris Bercy in 2008.

He is just the second French player after Guy Forget to win two titles at the Masters level.

 

 

 

 

 

Felipe Massa, starting on the second row, somersaulted spectacularly out of the German Grand on Sunday after his Williams was bumped at the first bend.

Massa's car came to rest in the safety gravel. The Brazilian walked away unscathed but clearly frustrated after the accident triggered when Kevin Magnussen's McLaren clipped the rear of his car.

"Big crash for Felipe but he is out the car and heading back to the garage," Williams said on its Twitter account.

Magnussen continued, although the Danish driver reported damage to his front right tyre.

The race restarted after a brief interlude when the safety car appeared, with Mercedes' Nico Rosberg leading from pole.

Massa has suffered wretched luck this campaign.

 

 

 

 

Germany inflicted a historic 7-1 rout on hosts Brazil on Tuesday to reach the World Cup final as Miroslav Klose became the all-time leading scorer in the history of the tournament.

Brazil have never suffered such a big defeat in any international tournament and never put on such a shambolic defensive performance as during an 18 minute first half period when Germany scored four goals, three of them in just 179 seconds.

 

 

 

Brazilian fans launched fireworks, danced and breathed a huge collective sigh of relief Saturday after their team narrowly escaped an embarrassing World Cup exit.

Brazilians watching in their homes, at bars and on giant public screens exploded with joy after the Selecao won a heart-stopping penalty shootout against Chile in the tournament's first knock-out game.

They shouted "Brazil! Brazil!" from their apartment and car windows, blowing on plastic vuvuzela horns and setting off fireworks.

The country had been staring at a potential repeat of a national trauma: The 1950 World Cup final defeat against Uruguay the last time the tournament was played in Brazil.

Some also feared that defeat could have revived an anti-World Cup protest movement that has faded into the background.

As Saturday's game in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte headed toward the penalty shootout, cities from Brasilia to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro became eerily quiet.

In Sao Paulo, where 25,000 people watched at an official "fan fest," Brazilians bedecked in the yellow team jersey held hands or looked away in agony for each penalty shot. The few Chileans also held each other.

Screams erupted after every penalty Brazil scored, groans when they missed.

In the end, the throngs of Brazilians danced and sang.

But many were worried about the team's performance in a game that ended in a 1-1 tie and was only won thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who stopped two penalties to send his team through to the quarter-finals.

"I don't have much confidence. Brazil need to improve a lot. Otherwise, they'll destroy our hearts," said Adriano Sacon, 40, who had made a tower of 23 empty plastic cups, one for each beer he drank during what he described as "a very tense game."

 

 

 

 

 

Uruguay striker Luis Suarez sparked a Twitter storm with his World Cup bite scandal, from pictures of him with a muzzle to a reaction from once-bitten boxing legend Evander Holyfield.

Uruguay's 1-0 victory over Italy on Tuesday, which qualified them to the second round at the European team's expense, was overshadowed by allegations Suarez got away with biting defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder.

"I guess any part of the body is up for eating," wrote Holyfield, whose ear was partly chomped off by rival Mike Tyson in a 1997 heavyweight fight.

Other social media users published photo montages of the Liverpool forward, who had been sanctioned twice before for biting players in the Netherlands and England.

One picture shows him with the mask of Hannibal Lecter, the fictional, cannibalistic serial killer portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in "Silence of the Lambs."

In another movie meme, Suarez replaced the shark in an old poster of the movie "Jaws" with the comment: "Someone call Steven Spielberg."

Others have him sporting a dog's flea collar and many more with vampire fangs, or as part of the cast of the zombie television show "Walking Dead."

The incident made the front page of the New York Times web site, while the Huffington Post's British version used the headline "Chewy Luis and the Blues."

Suarez, meanwhile, shrugged the accusations that he bit Chiellini, telling Uruguayan television: "There are things that happen on the pitch, and you should not make such a big deal out of them."

The Italian player was adamant Suarez had bitten him, showing his wound to the referee during the game and telling Italian television that he still had a mark after the game.

An AFP picture showing Chiellini crying out in apparent pain and pulling down the top of his shirt to show apparent bite marks while Suarez rubbed his teeth went viral within minutes of the final whistle.

 

 

 

A whopping 68 percent of Brazilians believe their team's name is on the World Cup -- and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is the man to deliver it.

With Brazil's tournament opening clash with Croatia looming on Thursday, a survey by polling firm Datafolha underscored the sense of national expectation surrounding Scolari's squad.

An overwhelming majority of Brazilians expect the country's players to clinch a sixth World Cup crown next month.

Five percent were betting on Germany, while just three percent liked arch-rivals Argentina and reigning champions Spain.

The poll also revealed a high level of confidence in Scolari to mastermind the win, with 68 percent rating his performance as great or good.

Fourteen percent said it was average and two percent said it was bad or terrible.

Sixteen percent did not respond.

The rating is better than the 51 percent Scolari had in June 2002, in the middle of the World Cup in Japan and South Korea -- which Brazil went on to win, its fifth world title.

Scolari returned to coach the national team in 2012, replacing Mano Menezes.