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Chelsea ruined Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio's debut as the controversial Italian was left to rue his new side's misfortune in a 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Di Canio's appointment as Martin O'Neill's successor last weekend was greeted with a storm of negative headlines about his extremist right-wing political views, but more worrying for Sunderland fans was the decision to thrust a volatile character with no top-flight managerial experience into a relegation dogfight.

The former Lazio and West Ham forward has taken charge of a team in freefall and their situation is even more perilous after a frustrating afternoon in west London extended their winless to nine matches.

Initially it seemed Di Canio was about to mastermind a dream debut as Cesar Azpilicueta's own goal gave Sunderland a deserved lead on the stroke of half-time.

There was no lack of effort from Sunderland, but Di Canio's luck was out as Matthew Kilgallon's bizarre own goal handed Chelsea an equaliser and Branislav Ivanovic netted the winner with a strike he knew little about.

Di Canio now has six games to prove he hasn't been cursed after crossing paths with the Black Cats, while Chelsea go into the final weeks of the season in upbeat mood after securing a third successive win in all competitions.

A gruelling week that started with an FA Cup triumph against Manchester United and featured a Europa League win over Rubin Kazan, ended with the Blues climbing above Tottenham and Arsenal into third place in the Premier League.

All eyes were on Di Canio as he emerged onto the touchline just before kick-off and made a beeline for the Chelsea bench and embraced John Terry, one of the few supportive voices in a torrid week.

Di Canio almost enjoyed the perfect start when Stephane Sessegnon escaped some sloppy marking from Ivanovic and fired into the side-netting from a tight angle in the opening moments.

It was clear Sunderland's players were keen to impress Di Canio, but Craig Gardner was fortunate to escape with only a booking after a lunging foul on Senegal striker Demba Ba.

Di Canio has never been the shy, retiring type and he paced the touchline with trademark intensity, responding with furious, arm-waving reaction when Sessegnon chose the wrong option.

Outsider Auroras Encore won the Grand National here on Saturday at Aintree racecourse.

 

Chelsea will resume their quest to become the first British side to win all three major European club competitions when they host Russian hopefuls Rubin Kazan in their Europa League quarter-final first-leg tie on Thursday.

Last season's Champions League triumph left the west Londoners with just Europa League honours missing from the club's trophy cabinet, having already lifted the now-defunct Cup Winners' Cup on two occasions -- 1970/71 and 1997/98.

Despite a forgettable Premier League campaign, Rafael Benitez's maligned tenure at Stamford Bridge still has the Blues in the hunt for both domestic and European silverware after Chelsea despatched rivals Manchester United on Monday to progress to the last four of the FA Cup.

Chelsea will likely be without defensive duo Ashley Cole (hamstring) and Gary Cahill (knee) for both legs of the clash.

However goalkeeper Petr Cech, who helped preserve the Blues' 1-0 victory over United, insists the defending European champions will enter the fixture in a positive frame of mind.

"It's always important to beat big teams for the confidence. We are not having such a fantastic season in terms of the league, but (the win over United) shows we can still beat the top teams and it gives us confidence to play another game on Thursday," he said.

In Rubin, Chelsea face a side that has already eliminated holders Atletico Madrid and one that is unbeaten in five European away games.

Benitez's charges though boast an imposing home record on the continental stage with an 11-game unbeaten streak of their own. They also own a perfect record against Russian opposition with four wins from as many matches.

Of the eight teams left in the competition, Tottenham are the only club to have previously lifted the trophy (1971/72 and 1983/84).

Spurs host Swiss pacesetters Basel in the first leg, a pairing that ostensibly favours Andre Villas-Boas' men.

"I think hopefully going past Basel would mean a lot to the club -- being present in a European semi-final.

"We dream of winning trophies so our focus on the Europa League won't shift," said Villas-Boas.

New Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio on Tuesday faced a barrage of questions about his support for fascism, after his appointment prompted a club director to quit and outrage among many fans.

The club in northeast England, a former industrial area built on coal mining, ship-building and heavy industry, also provoked the ire of one trade union, which has demanded that they remove its banner from their Stadium of Light ground.

Di Canio, facing the media for the first time since succeeding Martin O'Neill on Sunday, was repeatedly asked whether he was a fascist, in reference to a statement he made in 2005 when he said: "I am a fascist, not a racist".

The former Lazio, Celtic and West Ham United striker, who was also once banned for giving a raised-arm salute to hardcore fans of the Rome club, responded: "I don't have to answer that anymore.

"There was a very good statement from the club, very, very clear words that came from me. I don't want to talk anymore about politics. We're not in the Houses of Parliament. I'm not a political person.

"I only want to talk about football... In 45 years, I've never had a problem with anyone."

The news conference in Sunderland was not carried live by television channels amid the controversy unleashed by Di Canio's appointment in a predominantly working class area of Britain where left-wing political support has traditionally been strong.

 

World No. 1 Serena Williams rallied to defeat world No. 2 Maria Sharapova 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 on Saturday in the WTA Miami final, winning the event for a record sixth time to claim her 48th career tour title.

Williams, who had shared the all-time Miami women's title mark with Steffi Graf, won the last 10 games in adding to a trophy haul that included crowns in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008 and runner-up efforts in 1999 and 2009.

It was the 11th match victory in a row for Williams over Sharapova, coming in their first meeting as the top two players in the world rankings, and gave the 31-year-old American a 12-2 edge in their all-time rivalry.

Williams became only the fourth woman in the modern era to win the same event six times, joining Graf, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Graf's husband, Andre Agassi, won the Miami men's title six times.

Williams, a 15-time Grand Slam singles champion, also became the oldest women's champion in Miami history, four months older than Evert when the legend won here in 1986 at 31 years and two months of age.

Sharapova suffered her fifth championship-match loss at Miami and still looks for her first Miami title after having been denied a 29th career WTA triumph.

Four-time Grand Slam title winner Sharapova had won 11 matches in a row without dropping a set since losing to Williams in a Doha semi-final.

Sharapova's only two victories over Williams came in 2004 in the Wimbledon final and the WTA Los Angeles final.

 

Former world number one Rafael Nadal cruised to his 38th claycourt title at the Mexican Open, claiming his second title in three events since returning from a seven-month injury layoff.

Nadal, who has never lost to a fellow Spaniard in a final, kept his perfect record intact by routing reigning three-time champion David Ferrer 6-0, 6-2.

Second seed Nadal, who also won this event in 2005, was appearing in his third final of the year. He won in Sao Paulo on February 17 and was runner-up in Vina del Mar, Chile, the previous week.

 

Former England coach Steve McClaren said on Tuesday that he has resigned from Dutch club FC Twente, after a string of poor results that has sent them sliding down the league table.

McClaren, 51, said he held talks with the club's management after Saturday's 2-1 defeat away to Heerenveen to thrash out a way forward, which he said had to include finishing in the top four of the Dutch division and regular qualification for Europe.

The Enschede side were joint top after the winter break but have slipped to fifth in the league, six points adrift of leaders PSV Eindhoven, after four draws and two defeats in six matches, triggering criticism and protests from fans.

"Saturday's result has seen further adverse reactions and with two home games coming up we feel the team needs the support and backing from the supporters," McClaren said.

"I also needed assurances about my position both now and in the future which I know in the present situation is difficult.

"After much discussion and deliberation those assurances weren't forthcoming and we have agreed it's in the best interest of the club that I leave.

Arsenal's hopes of ending their eight-year trophy drought suffered a huge setback after they were dumped out of the FA Cup at home to second-tier Blackburn Rovers on Saturday.

Colin Kazim-Richards scored the only goal in Indian-owned Blackburn's 1-0 victory when he struck in the 72nd minute after Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny failed to hold Martin Olsson's shot.

 

Security firm G4S has been awarded its first Government contract since the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics security fiasco to continue running a centre for young offenders.

G4S Care and Justice Services will continue to provide services at Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent for a further two years after securing a contract extension.

The announcement comes after the firm revealed a bigger-than-expected £70 million hit on its Olympics contract for failing to provide all of its 10,400 contracted guards.

Located in Chatham, Medway opened in April 1998 and was originally designed to accommodate 40 boys but it expanded in 2002 to accommodate 76 young people, including boys and girls.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has unveiled plans to shake up youth custody in Britain, which would see "secure colleges" set up in a bid to improve the education of youth offenders.

Paul Cook, managing director G4S children's services, said the centre delivers "excellent services with outstanding outcomes for young people".

The agreement extends the 15-year contract, in place since the centre opened, by 23 months and was agreed by the Youth Justice Board (YJB) for England and Wales. It is expected to save the YJB £4.6 million.

The announcement comes as Ofsted published a positive report following an unannounced inspection of the centre last November.

 

Liverpool were left to regret a string of missed chances as Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg completed a convincing 2-0 victory in their Europa League last-32, first leg match on Thursday.

Two goals in three minutes midway through the second half turned the tide in Zenit's favour after both sides had squandered a hatful of opportunities on a badly churned-up pitch in Russia's former Imperial capital.

First, big-money Brazilian signing Hulk put the Russians ahead in the 69th minute with a blistering shot from the edge of the area which just clipped Martin Skrtel to wrong-foot Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.

Then on 72 minutes, Sergei Semak turned up the heat on Liverpool when he ghosted in behind Skrtel and Glenn Johson to arrive unmarked on the left to clinically dispatch Aleksandr Anyukov's cross from the right past Reina.

For Liverpool, Luis Suarez was the chief culprit and could have a hat-trick in the first half alone but for some profligate finishing.

But his worst miss came early in the second half as a good collective move orchestrated by Steven Gerrard ended with Stewart Downing teeing up Suarez in front of goal but he curled his shot casually wide.

That leaves Liverpool with an uphill struggle in the home leg at Anfield.