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Lazar Markovic scored the only goal as improving Liverpool provisionally closed to within four points of the Premier League's top four by winning 1-0 at Sunderland on Saturday.

At a gusty Stadium of Light, the 20-year-old Serbia winger's ninth-minute strike -- his first Premier League goal -- enabled Liverpool to extend their unbeaten run to five league games.

Gus Poyet's Sunderland, who had Liam Bridcutt sent off for two bookable offences, remain three points above the relegation zone with only one win from their last 11 games.

Having earlier seen a penalty appeal waved away after tumbling under a challenge from Wes Brown, Markovic put Liverpool ahead when he gathered a pass from Fabio Borini and prodded the ball between Costel Pantilimon's legs.

Markovic then hit the bar with a spectacular, improvised scissors kick as Liverpool dominated, while former Sunderland loanee Borini rounded Pantilimon, only to find the side-netting.

The visitors lost Steven Gerrard at half-time, with Dejan Lovren coming on, but their position was strengthened in the 49th minute when Bridcutt was shown a second yellow card for impeding Emre Can.

 

 

 

Villarreal registered their seventh consecutive win in all competitions to move above Sevilla on goal difference into fifth in La Liga thanks to a 3-0 victory over Deportivo la Coruna on Sunday.

Jonathan dos Santos got the hosts off to the perfect start when the on-loan Barcelona midfielder slammed home his first goal for the club.

Argentine striker Luciano Vietto then added to his fine debut season in Spain with two simple finishes five minutes apart midway through the second-half to make the game safe before the hosts ended with 10 men when substitute Tomas Pina was sent-off.

Marcelino's men shot themselves back into contention for a return to the Champions League by inflicting Atletico Madrid's first defeat at the Vicente Calderon for 19 months last weekend and were in no mood to lose any ground in the battle for the top four as they flew out of the blocks.

They were rewarded with the opening goal after just 10 minutes when Fabricio could only parry Denis Cheryshev's low effort into the path of Dos Santos who gratefully steered the ball into an empty net.

The Deportivo 'keeper redeemed himself with fine saves from Cheryshev, Vietto and Ikechukwu Uche to keep the visitors in the game at half-time.

But despite an improved start to the second period they were hit again on the counter-attack for the crucial second goal 22 minutes from time when Victor Ruiz squared for Vietto to tap home.

 

 

The temperament around the Arsenal camp was anything besides bubbly this weekend after an excruciating thrashing to Stoke.

However Gunners stars have brought some welcome light help to incidents by wearing a few Christmas jumpers for a decent cause.

 

 

 

Two-time world champion Lewis Hamilton said Monday he is determined to keep winning Formula One titles after his triumph in Abu Dhabi.

After a night of partying following Sunday's Grand Prix victory, the 29-year-old Briton said he would get immediately down to work improving the car for next season.

"We want to be able to go into next season and compete again and be as strong as possible.

"That's obviously going to be the goal and I have absolute faith in the team that we will come back very, very strong next year."

Hamilton's victory, after Mercedes teammate and season long rival Nico Rosberg made a poor start from pole position and then suffered mechanical problems on his way to finishing 14th, added a second title to the first won in 2008.

 

Mercedes dominated the season with a record 16 wins in 19 races – 11 to Hamilton and five to Rosberg – and produced speed and consistency that left their rivals stranded.

The team now appear poised to enjoy an era of supremacy like that of Germans Michael Schumacher, at Ferrari, and Sebastian Vettel, at Red Bull.

"The first title was an exceptional and an incredible feeling for me,” said Hamilton.

"That was achieving a life-long goal of getting to Formula One and winning the world championship. I don't know if I was in a place to really embrace it and absorb it in the way I can today.

"Being a part of this team is definitely a more satisfying feeling. Winning this championship with this team -- a young team that has worked so hard to get to where we are," he added.

"To be a part of that is something really very special.

"You see the atmosphere in the team, you see the guys at the factory and what's gone on with the partnership with Petronas and all the guys back at the factories in Brackley and Brixworth putting the team together.

 

 

Norwegian prodigy Magnus Carlsen retained his title as World Chess Champion on Sunday, defeating rival Viswanathan Anand for the second year in a row.

The 23-year-old world number one beat India's Anand, title-holder of the championship from 2007 to 2013 when he was dethroned by Carlsen, in two of 11 games of the competition, with the others ending in draws.

"I am very happy," Carlsen was quoted as saying by Russian press agency TASS. "It was a very difficult match, much more difficult than last year."

"Anand is a very strong chess player, but he had practically no chance of winning."

Carlsen had been playing since November 8 against Anand, who is nearly 20 years his senior, in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The victory, secured with a difference of just two points, will mean one million euros ($1.2 million) in prize money for Carlsen just a week before his 24th birthday.

"Overall, throughout the match, Carlsen played better than I did," Anand was quoted as saying by TASS.

"I tried, but the risk didn't work out. Carlsen didn't make a mistake. I had nothing left to do but take risks."

Carlsen turned grandmaster at 13 and in 2010, aged only 19, became the youngest player in history to be ranked world number one. He won the Candidates Tournament in 2013 to earn the right to challenge Anand.

His breakthrough in chess came in 2004, when as a 13-year-old he defeated Russian former world champion Anatoly Karpov, forced Russian legend Garry Kasparov to a draw, and became a grandmaster.

Before Carlsen captured the championship crown in 2013, the last Westerner to hold the title was American legend Bobby Fischer who relinquished it in 1975.

Carlsen missed by a few weeks becoming the youngest world champion, a record set by his one-time coach Kasparov in 1985.

 

 

 

 

 

England landed in Sri Lanka yesterday.

It was drizzling. It much of the time rains in Colombo at this point of year. Seven one-day internationals are planned for this visit, considered to be critical if for England's group holding before the World Cup, yet the explanation behind the extreme number might likewise be joined with a suspicion that few may be deficient.

On entry, the squad of 15 just about to a man took to the exercise center, as is the path with the advanced cricketer. In the event that the occasional storm endures in the south-west when the true business begins, their holding may be carried out there – and without a doubt on an arrangement of machine amusements.

 

 

Map, tent, water, food: check. All needed to scale the snow-capped peak of Africa's highest mountain Kilimanjaro.

Bat, ball, stumps, pads: check. Also needed when you're hoping to break the world record for the highest game of cricket ever played.

Two teams are taking part in a gruelling eight-day trek up the vast extinct volcano, to play a full Twenty20 game in the ice-covered crater just below its rugged peak, at 5,785 metres (19,000 feet).

"Kilimanjaro is definitely not somewhere I thought I'd bowl a few overs, but the challenge thanks to the altitude is huge... bring it on!" English bowling legend Ashley Giles, one of the captains of the mixed professional and amateur teams, told AFP.

The eccentric dream, to hear the thwack of willow on leather over three miles (five kilometres) high, was thought up by expedition leader David Harper, a British hotel real estate consultant.

Harper said he planned the match in a bar after his wife told him the "only way he was ever likely to play cricket at the highest level would be if he played on the top of a mountain".

After a week of climbing that began Saturday, teams plan to reach the peak at dawn on Friday.

But they then must play a full game in the crater of the dormant volcano, laying down a plastic track for the wicket over the ash before playing in the thin, freezing air surrounded by vast blocks of ice.

 

South African icon Makhaya Ntini, the country's first black Test player, is also taking part in what he called an "massive, exciting challenge".

There will be half the level of oxygen than at sea level for the game, doubling energy needed for the match.

The teams are taking oxygen tanks for medical emergencies.

But while flurries of snow may be possible in the bitter cold, organiser Harper promises that at least "rain is unlikely to stop play".

Qualified umpires will ensure the charity game is played properly -- and is eligible to break the record.

 

The mainly English team also includes players from Australia, Canada, Kenya and South Africa.

"It is a incredible challenge," said Heather Knight, the other team captain, who back home is vice-captain of the English women's team.

The expedition of over 30 players and umpires -- and an AFP journalist -- are making the trek to the top, along with a Tanzanian support team of over a hundred, helping to carry the kit and food up to the top.

The current record for the world's highest game is 5,165 metres (16,945 feet), played in the Himalayas at Everest base camp in Nepal in 2009.

If successful, the game on Kilimanjaro will be over 600 metres higher.

 

 

 

 

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.