Month: July 2019

Independiente, Racing get Argentine league reality check

Independiente, with high hopes after their promotion, conceded four goals in the second half against leaders Velez Sarsfield at their Libertadores de America ground in a second successive defeat on Saturday.

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Striker Lucas Pratto, whom Velez hung on to despite efforts by title holders River Plate to sign him last month, gave Velez a two-goal lead to take his tournament tally to three.

“I’d like to be the (championship) top scorer but we’ve lost 14 goals with Mauro Zarate’s departure,” Pratto said referring to his former strike partner who left Velez for West Ham United in England. “We need to replace that quantity of goals.”

Midfielder Leonardo Rolon scored the third with what is known in South America as an Olympic goal, curling the ball into the net directly from a corner, and substitute Lucas Romero completed the rout.

“I’m to blame because I’m the soul of this team,” said Independiente coach Jorge Almiron. “They were better than us in everything…. (but) we’ll recover.”

Velez are the only team with a maximum nine points after three rounds of matches. Godoy Cruz or River can edge to within two points of Velez if one of them wins their clash in Mendoza on Sunday.

Racing, whose busy off-season recruiting included the return of striker Diego Milito, made a fine start to the tournament with two wins and had fans dreaming of the title but were brought down to earth in a 4-0 rout at Tigre on Friday.

There was last-minute drama for both the Rosario teams in their matches on Saturday.

Rosario Central beat Gimnasia 2-1 at home with a penalty in stoppage time by defender Rafael Delgado and neighbours Newell’s Old Boys were held 3-3 at home by Gimnasia.

Newell’s were 3-2 up against Belgrano with Maxi Rodriguez’s second penalty in the 87th minute but the visitors snatched a point when substitute Emiliano Rigoni scored their third equaliser of a yo-yo match at the Marcelo Bielsa stadium.

(Writing by Rex Gowar; editing by Martyn Herman)

Foley killing an ‘utter betrayal’: Britain

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond says the killing of US journalist James Foley by a man speaking with an English accent was an “utter betrayal of our country”.

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Hammond’s comments came amid growing concern in London that British passport holders who travel to fight in Iraq and Syria could return to commit attacks on British soil.

The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group posted a video of Foley’s killing online Tuesday.

In it, a masked militant with a London accent executed the journalist, who had been missing since his capture in Syria in 2012.

The Sunday Times newspaper, citing unnamed senior government sources, reported that intelligence services MI5 and MI6 have identified the fighter suspected of killing Foley but the sources did not divulge the suspect’s name.

“It is horrifying to think that the perpetrator of this heinous act could have been brought up in Britain,” Hammond wrote in an article published in this week’s Sunday Times.

“It is an utter betrayal of our country, our values and everything the British people stand for.”

Hammond also warned that IS was “turning a swathe of Iraq and Syria into a terrorist state as a base for launching attacks on the West.”

He added: “Unless they are stopped, sooner or later they will seek to strike us on British soil.”

Britain has ruled out sending ground troops into Iraq to fight the jihadists.

But it is taking steps including sending equipment to Kurdish peshmerga fighters to help combat them, as well as offering humanitarian assistance.

The government is under pressure at home to step up action to prevent the radicalisation of young Muslims in Britain, some of whom then travel abroad to fight.

More than 500 Britons have travelled to Syria or Iraq to fight with jihadists in the last few years, according to the intelligence services.

Home Secretary Theresa May indicated Saturday that she could invoke fresh powers to combat radicalisation.

But the main opposition Labour Party has accused the government of not moving quickly enough or providing enough specifics on what it intends to do.

Militants target main refinery in Iraq

Iran, which is helping Iraq in its fight against jihadist-led militants, has sent its foreign minister to Baghdad, as gunmen made a renewed push for the country’s main oil refinery.

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The United States, whose warplanes have launched more than 90 air strikes against Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Iraq since August 8, has said operations against the group in Syria may also be necessary.

Washington has also ramped up its rhetoric over the grisly IS beheading in Syria of abducted American journalist James Foley, calling it “a terrorist attack against our country”.

The toll rose Sunday to more than 35 dead in a string of attacks across Iraq the day before, as officials sought to defuse tensions after 70 people were gunned down at a Sunni mosque by suspected Shi’ite militiamen.

Iraq is struggling to regain ground lost to a major IS-led militant offensive which began in June and quickly overran large areas of five provinces, sweeping security forces aside.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was to meet caretaker premier Nuri al-Maliki, prime minister-designate Haidar al-Abadi and other officials in Baghdad on Sunday.

Tehran has said it is advising Iraq’s federal government and its autonomous Kurdish region, which are battling to push back IS-led militants.

However, evidence including the death of an Iranian pilot and the presence of several Iranian Su-25 warplanes points to a more direct military role by Iraq’s Shi’ite neighbour to the east.

As Zarif visited Baghdad, security forces backed by air support battled a renewed militant push towards the Baiji refinery, which once accounted for some 50 per cent of Iraq’s supplies of refined petroleum products, and has been targeted in the past.

The latest unrest came as the death toll from a string of attacks in and north of Baghdad on Saturday rose to at least 37, a health official said.

Officials have been trying to calm tensions caused by an attack two days ago on a Sunni mosque in Diyala province.

The attack, in which worshippers were sprayed with machine gun fire, killed at least 70 people and wounded 20, officials said.

Dubbed by rights group Amnesty International a “massacre” that Iraqi authorities “must properly investigate”, the attack threatens to increase anger among the Sunni Muslim minority with the Shi’ite-led government at a time when the anti-IS drive depends on their cooperation.

Army and police officers said the assault on the Musab bin Omair Mosque in Diyala came after Shi’ite militiamen were killed in clashes, while other sources said it followed a roadside bombing near a militia patrol.

Although some officers blamed IS for the attack, most accounts, including one from an eyewitness, pointed to Shi’ite militiamen.

The government turned to militias to bolster its flagging forces during the IS-led offensive, but in doing so it has encouraged a resurgence of groups involved in brutal sectarian killings in past years.

The United Nations, meanwhile, warned that the Shi’ite Turkmen-majority northern Iraqi town of Amerli is under threat of a “massacre” by jihadists who have besieged it for more than two months.

“The situation of the people in Amerli is desperate and demands immediate action to prevent the possible massacre of its citizens,” UN Iraq envoy Nickolay Mladenov said in a statement.

Aussie swimmers get mojo back

Australia officially have their mojo back after notching 10 gold, eight silver and eight bronze at the Pan Pacific swimming championships.

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At the completion of the four-day meet they trailed only the world No.1 US (14 gold, 12 silver, 14 bronze) – a team that boasts Olympic great Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky – who broke the women’s 1500m freestyle world record on Sunday night.

Cate Campbell became Australia’s first 50m Pan Pacs champion by clocking a meet record 23.96 on Sunday – equalling the world’s fastest time of 2014 – to claim gold ahead of sister Bronte (24.56).

Cate then combined with Lorna Tonks, Emily Seebohm and Alicia Coutts to seal Australia’s 4x100m medley relay win (3:55.49) over Olympic champions the United States.

But it was perhaps Cameron McEvoy who typified Australia’s changing fortunes in the pool best.

After the London Olympic disaster which yielded one swimming gold, McEvoy was revealed as part of the “Stilnox Six” following the Australian 4x100m freestyle relay squad’s infamous pre-2012 Games bonding session.

Two years later he is Australia’s poster boy after taking 100m freestyle gold before anchoring the 4x100m relay team’s upset over the US on Saturday night.

It ensured Australia’s men’s and women’s sprint relay teams downed their US counterparts at the same meet for the first time in 12 years.

But McEvoy said the team still needed to keep things in check.

“We have to stay grounded and look forward because at the European titles (this month) we would have come fourth (in the 4x100m relay),” he said on Sunday.

“But it’s always good to get one up on the Americans like that.”

With McEvoy’s feats, Thomas Fraser-Holmes now the 200m freestyle world No.1 and Mack Horton a long distance prodigy the Australian men’s team – which had failed to claim an individual gold at the last two Olympics – is definitely on the rise.

The women meanwhile have world 100m champion Cate Campbell plus sister Bronte set to dominate the freestyle sprints, youngster Taylor McKeown ready to take up Leisel Jones’ breaststroke mantle while Seebohm landed a psychological blow on backstroke queen Franklin.

Australia topped the Glasgow Commonwealth Games pool tally with 57 medals (19 gold) but the US were expected to provide a sobering yardstick.

However they kept the Americans honest, the Australians easily eclipsing their last Pan Pacs tally of four gold, 12 silver and 10 bronze in 2010.

In other results, Australia’s Mitch Larkin, Jake Packard, Tommaso D’Orsogna and McEvoy took 4x100m medley bronze (3:33.45) behind the US (3:29.94).

American Maya Dirado (2:09.93) won the 200m IM ahead of Australian Coutts (2nd; 2:10.25).

Canada’s Ryan Cochrane (7:45.39) won the 800m freestyle ahead of Australia’s Horton (7:47.73).

In the women’s 200m breaststroke Australia’s McKeown claimed bronze (2:22.89) behind Japan’s Kanako Watanabe (2:21.41).

Brazil’s Bruno Fratus (21.44 meet record) claimed the 50m freestyle ahead of Australia’s Cameron McEvoy (4th; 22.07).

Japan’s Yasuhir Koseki won the 200m breaststroke (2:08.57).

Van Gaal says United title win would be ‘a miracle’

After finishing seventh last year, United opened their campaign optimistic that Dutch master-tactician van Gaal could oversee a return to the upper echelons of the Premier League table.

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However that optimism was punctured by a shock 2-1 loss against Swansea City at Old Trafford last Saturday – their first home league loss to the Welsh club.

It was also their first opening-day loss at home since 1972 and was enough to convince van Gaal that a successful title challenge would be unlikely.

“Would it be a miracle to win the league this season? I think so but it is also possible, always possible but it would be very difficult,” van Gaal said.

“It is possible to win a title in the first year but it is very difficult.

“I think [the Manchester United owners] understand [the size of the task] or I would not have accepted the job.

“I have discussed everything, long discussions where I have shown myself as I am always open.

“It is why we discussed three years and not one year. We discussed the consequences of them hiring me. I told them from my experiences with my former clubs the start was difficult.”

Van Gaal won the title in his first season at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich but thinks his current squad lacks balance to do the same.

The 63-year-old has a wealth of attacking talent at his disposal but lacks the defensive strength-in-depth to challenge Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Alexander Buttner all left Old Trafford during the close-season with left back’s Luke Shaw and Argentine Marcos Rojo their only replacements.

“When I took over from Bobby Robson at Barcelona he had won three titles so the selection of players was stable at the time.

“When I got to Bayern Munich the selection was not stable. What we did was a miracle.

“The problem I have at United is this selection is not in balance. There are five number nines and six number 10s and so on. And we don’t have defenders.”

United face Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.

(Reporting By Tom Hayward; editing by Martyn Herman)