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Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is refusing to write off their chances of finishing in the top four of the Premier League after their 1-0 defeat at Hull City.

However, it is significant that he is already planning how to strengthen his team ahead of next season.

Rodgers is realistic enough to know that their Champions League ambitions are surely over as they lie seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester United with an inferior goal difference and only four games to play.

A place in the Europa League is also far from assured, underlining why Rodgers is under pressure after a season when they have not been able to cope with the sale of Luis Suarez and injuries to Daniel Sturridge, the two men whose goals were so important to Liverpool last season.

"You can't hide the fact we've lost over 50 goals," said Rodgers.

 

"Even with those players we weren't tipped to get in the top four and we haven't got those players now. We have to work with what we've got.

"Now we have to look to improve the squad and it's always great if you can get marquee players to come in and help you. The owners will support that.

"We want to be in the top four, but that was always going to be difficult because we were playing catch up for a lot of the season.

"We lost a couple of big games which dented our confidence a bit. I need to build a team that can get through the rough waters as well. We need a team that can get through the smooth and the rough.

"That will be my challenge - to rebuild a group that can get through the rough waters."

 

 

 

 

Reigning champion Kei Nishikori booked his place in the Barcelona Open final with a 6-1, 6-2 thrashing of Slovakia's Martin Klizan on Saturday.

Klizan had won the only previous meeting between the two in a shock straight sets win over an injury-plagued Nishikori at last year's French Open.

However, there was never any danger of a repeat in the Catalan capital as the Japanese romped through the first set in just 28 minutes.

Klizan offered some more resistence at the start of the second set as he held onto his serve in a marathon opening game that included eight deuces.

 

 

 

Real Madrid have the unenviable task of beating city rivals Atletico Madrid at the eighth attempt this season if they are to progress to a fifth consecutive Champions League semi-final.
The European champions have failed to overcome Atletico in seven games since beating Los Rojiblancos in last season's Champions League final, including last week's 0-0 draw in the first-leg at the Vicente Calderon, and have also been struck by a series of injuries and suspensions to key players.
Luka Modric and Gareth Bale will miss out after limping off with knee and calf injuries respectively in the 3-1 win over Malaga at the weekend, whilst Marcelo is banned and Karim Benzema faces a race against time to be fit due to a knee problem.
Given those absences, the return to fitness and form of James Rodriguez is a huge boost for Los Blancos.
The Colombian World Cup star has scored twice in four games after a two-month injury layoff due to a broken foot to take his tally to an impressive 14 in his first season at the Bernabeu.
"Before I was out I was scoring goals, playing at a good level and now I think it is the same," he told Madrid's website.
"I want to continue like this, using my characteristics to help the team achieve important objectives.
"We are all dreaming of getting through this round and if I can score as well then it would be great. The most important thing is to win and get through this very difficult game, but we are in our own stadium with our own fans. I think it could be a great game."

 

Paul Downton's turbulent and brief reign as managing director of England Cricket came to an end after just over a year in charge on Wednesday when the England and Wales Cricket Board announced he would be leaving his post.

The former England wicketkeeper played a key role in the highly controversial decision to axe star batsman Kevin Pietersen from the national set-up after England's 2013/14 Ashes whitewash in Australia.

Downton's watch also coincided with England's woeful performance in the recent World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, where the team exited before the knockout phase.

"The existing England team set-up will change with immediate effect, with Paul Downton leaving his position as Managing Director of England Cricket," an ECB statement said.

"A new leadership appointment, focused on performance will now be created and report directly to the chief executive."

The Pietersen affair and England's World Cup debacle made Downton's position precarious and he appeared to be undermined when incoming ECB chairman Colin Graves seemed to offer an olive branch to Pietersen.

Downton's lack of clarity over why the ECB had acted in the way they did in ditching former England captain Pietersen led to to widespread criticism.

It prompted months of speculation, culminating in South Africa-born Pietersen's damning autobiography, released in October last year, which prompted fresh blood-letting within English cricket.

Pietersen, who has spoken of his desire to play for England again, has rejoined Surrey for the 2015 county season in an attempt to boost his chances of an international recall.

The arrival of a new chief executive in Tom Harrison did little for Downton, who took charge 15 months ago when Harrison's predecessor, David Collier, was in post at Lord's.

- 'Accountable structure' -

Harrison, announcing the changes in the set-up, said Wednesday: "The England Cricket Department needs to deliver performance at the highest level and our structure needs to be accountable for reaching the standards we aspire to.

"The new role we are putting in place will deliver an environment where world-class performance is at the heart of everything we do."

Downton's time in charge also saw England lose a home Test series to Sri Lanka last season but, after falling behind, they recovered to defeat India 3-1 in a subsequent five-match series.

Harrison, who took over in January, had previously spoken of his desire to streamline the ECB, with Graves too calling for change.

Downton, 58, replaced Hugh Morris in October 2013, shortly before the Ashes whitewash.

His departure appears as much down to his strident public backing for England captain Alastair Cook, only for the opening batsman to be sacked as one-day skipper and dropped from the World Cup squad shortly before Christmas ahead of England's warm-up campaign.

England then endured one of their most humiliating World Cup campaigns, failing to beat a Test nation and defeating only Scotland and Afghanistan.

This led to renewed criticism of England coach Peter Moores, controversially brought back for a second stint in charge of the national side with Downton hailing him as the "coach of his generation"

Harrison paid tribute to Downton by saying he was a man of "great integrity".

Downton's departure from the ECB will inevitably shift the spotlight back on to Moores, with England currently on tour in the West Indies, where their three Test-series starts in Antigua next week.

 

 

History will be made on the dark waters of London's River Thames on Saturday when women's crews from Oxford and Cambridge universities attack the men's Boat Race course for the very first time.

Female teams from the prestigious universities first competed against each other 88 years ago, but this weekend will mark the first time they do so on the same stretch of river as the men.

In another first, the race will be shown live on BBC television, while a crowd of over 250,000 people is expected for what has been heralded as a triumphant moment in the history of women's sport in Britain.

"I think it's a symbolic breakthrough, because of the longevity of this race," Helena Morrissey, sponsor of the women's race, told AFP.

"It's 186 years since the men of Oxford and Cambridge first rowed competitively against each other and it's taken quite a long time to get to this point on Saturday. It shows anything is possible."

Saturday's race, over a 6.8-kilometre length of river between Putney and Mortlake in west London, represents a big step up for the female eights and their coxes, who previously raced over 2km at Henley, some 100km upriver.

But in stark contrast to the first women's event, they will take to the water on level pegging with their male counterparts, whose own race follows an hour later.

The inaugural women's race, in 1927, was preceded by detailed discussions about what those competing should wear.

According to contemporary accounts, the matter was only resolved when one of the Cambridge rowers sat on a stool in front of university staff and simulated the action of rowing to ascertain whether shorts or a tunic best protected her modesty.

When the day of the contest arrived, The Times reported that the two teams took to the river separately and were judged on "steadiness, finish, rhythm and other matters of style" rather than speed alone.

- Sponsorship deal -

It was not until 1935 that the two boats were allowed to actually race and there were several more false starts before the event finally became a permanent fixture.

Now, fired by a haul of three British gold medals in the female events at the 2012 London Olympics, interest in women's rowing is on the up, with the number of participants in Britain rising from 9,600 to 13,450 in the three years leading up to January 2013.

But this weekend's breakthrough moment would not have arrived had it not been for Morrissey, chief executive of race sponsors Newton Investment Management.

A Cambridge graduate (who coxed "very badly", but did not row while at university) dismayed by the imbalance between the men's and women's races, Morrissey donated £30,000 ($44,540, 41,070 euros) in 2011 to bring the latter event up to scratch.

 

 

 

 

The England under-19 women's team will replay the final seconds of their European Championship qualifier against Norway later on Thursday after UEFA accepted the referee had made a mistake in the original fixture.

Norway were winning 2-1 in Belfast on Saturday when the sixth minute of stoppage time saw England awarded a penalty by German referee Marija Kurtes.

Leah Williamson scored from the spot but Kurtes disallowed the goal because an England player had encroached into the box before the kick was taken.

The final minute of the match followed and Norway appeared to have won 2-1.

However, the laws of football state that Kurtes should have ordered the penalty to be re-taken and UEFA, European football's governing body, said Thursday it had no choice but to order the final moments of the match be replayed from the point of the penalty kick.

"We originally wrote that Norway had qualified", UEFA said on its website.

"But on 8 April the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body announced that Norway's game against England on 4 April will be replayed from the minute a penalty kick was awarded to England, who were 2-1 down at the time."

 

 

 

 

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said he felt "like a kid" after claiming the first trophy of his second Stamford Bridge tenure with a League Cup final victory over Tottenham Hotspur.

A deflected John Terry strike and a Kyle Walker own goal gave Chelsea a 2-0 win at a rain-soaked Wembley on Sunday and earned Mourinho his third success in the competition after two triumphs during his first spell as the west London club's manager.

It ended a 914-day wait for silverware for the 52-year-old Portuguese -- the longest of his managerial career -- and he expressed hope that it was a sign of things to come for his nascent Chelsea team.

"For me it's very important to feel that I'm a kid," said Mourinho, whose previous trophy had been the 2012 Spanish Super Cup he won with Real Madrid.

"Before the game I had the same feelings as my first final, I don't know how many years ago. It's important for me to feel the same happiness after the victory. It's important for me to feel that I am a kid at 52 years old.

"I know I have a team to build, which is what we are doing, but I feed myself with titles. It's difficult for me to live without winning things, even knowing that we are doing the work to be stable for many years.

"I need to feed myself with titles. It's important for me, it's important for the boys. For the club it's one more cup.

"But it's the first one of the new team. You have Petr Cech, John Terry, (Didier) Drogba, and after that everybody belongs to a new generation of players. So as a team, very, very important."

One of Chelsea's new generation to feature prominently at Wembley was 20-year-old French centre-back Kurt Zouma, pressed into action as an auxiliary holding midfielder in the absence of the suspended Nemanja Matic.

"It's very difficult for a central defender to play there," Mourinho said.

"Because central defenders, they don't (usually) have pressure from behind. They are pressed in their faces, not pressed from behind.

"In that position, you're surrounded by players. You have to think quick, you have to decide quick. It's very, very difficult, but our new Marcel Desailly, he worked hard during the week and did a fantastic job for us."

 

- Pochettino proud -

 

Mourinho's first League Cup success, in 2005, proved the precursor to back-to-back league titles, but although Manchester City's 2-1 loss at Liverpool earlier on Sunday left Chelsea five points clear in the Premier League with a game in hand, he said there was still a long way to go.

 

 

 

Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke has been appointed captain of Europe for the 2016 Ryder Cup against the United States, the European team announced on Wednesday.

"I am naturally extremely proud to be selected as European Ryder Cup captain for 2016," Clarke said in a statement on the European Ryder Cup team website.

"The Ryder Cup has been a massive part of my life and my career, so to have the chance to lead Europe next year is a huge honour."

Former British Open champion Clarke, 46, beat off competition from Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Bjorn to succeed Paul McGinley, who led Europe to a five-point victory over the USA at Gleneagles last September.

Clarke, who was the favourite for the role, played in five Ryder Cups and was vice-captain in 2010 and 2012.

He will now lead Europe's bid for a fourth successive victory at Hazeltine in Chaska, Minnesota on September 30-October 2 next year.

"I am lucky to have played and worked under some fantastic captains in my seven Ryder Cups to date and I look forward to the challenge of trying to follow in their footsteps and help Europe to a fourth consecutive Ryder Cup victory at Hazeltine next year," Clarke added.

McGinley joined predecessors Jose Maria Olazabal and Colin Montgomerie, European Tour chief executive George O'Grady and players' representative David Howell on a five-man selection panel that convened to appoint a new captain at Wentworth, south-west of London.

Montgomerie told Sky Sports News the decision to appoint Clarke had been "unanimous".

McGinley's relationship with Clarke was believed to have become strained after the latter reneged on a pledge not to challenge McGinley for the captaincy in 2014.

But after leading Europe to a 16.5-11.5 success at Gleneagles, McGinley said that he would not let his personal feelings colour his thoughts about who should succeed him.

 

 

 

England bagged early World Cup bragging rights by clawing back a 10-point deficit to claim a thrilling 21-16 victory over Wales in the opening match of the Six Nations on Friday.

Wales stormed out to a 10-0 lead in the opening nine minutes at an electric Millennium Stadium after a Rhys Webb try converted by Leigh Halfpenny, who also added a penalty.

But the visitors, missing a raft of first choices through injury, responded with tries from Bath backs Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph, George Ford kicking a conversion and three penalties, as Halfpenny added another and Dan Biggar a drop-goal for the home side.

"I just wanted to knock it over for the lads," said man of the match Ford.

"The performance -- especially by the pack -- was outstanding. We felt comfortable in the first half but had a bit of poor start."

Joseph said that England believe they have the strength and talent to take on any side in World Cup year.

"It's incredible. No greater feeling to come here to Wales and win, probably one of our greatest rivals," he told the BBC.

 

"But the boys dug deep and got the win we deserved. There's a lot of confidence in the side and we've got the belief we can attack and penetrate."

Wales captain Sam Warburton admitted his side fell off the pace after the interval.

"We're very disappointed, it's not the start we wanted. The second half we struggled to get momentum and it seemed like England were on top for large parts," he said.

The victory, coming after the 30-3 humiliation England suffered in the corresponding fixture two years ago, sets up the World Cup it hosts nicely, with the English drawn in the same tough pool as Wales, Australia and Fiji, with only two teams qualifying for the knock-out phase.

After a five-minute delay to the kick-off, Halfpenny booted a touchline penalty in the second minute after Jonny May infringed.

 

 

 

Japan's Kei Nishikori fought past a tough Australian challenge from Jordan Thompson to post a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7/4) opening win at the Kooyong Classic on Wednesday.

The defending champion at the eight-man tune-up for the Australian Open needed just over two hours to earn the victory.

US Open finalist Nishikori, ranked fifth in the world, was forced to work hard in swirling winds at Kooyong Club.

"Conditions made it tough to play," said the 25-year-old Nishikori.

"It was difficult for me to be aggressive. But I played a good tiebreak and I'm happy to win today."