Poyet leaves Sunderland with relegation looming

Sunderland are 17th in the 20-team league with 26 points, one place and one point above the relegation zone with only nine matches left to play.

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They have won only one of their last 12 league games.

“I would like to thank Gus for his endeavours during his time at the club, in particular last season’s ‘great escape’ and cup final appearance, which will live long in the memory of every Sunderland fan,” chairman Ellis Short said in a statement on the club website (南宁夜网.safc广西桑拿,).

“Sadly, we have not made the progress that any of us had hoped for this season and we find ourselves battling, once again, at the wrong end of the table.

“We have therefore made the difficult decision that a change is needed.”

The 46-year-old Poyet, who had been in charge at the Stadium of Light for 75 matches since October 2013, saved the Black Cats from relegation last season when they won four of their last five games to escape from the bottom three and finish 14th.

He also steered them into their first major final for 22 years although they were beaten 3-1 by Manchester City in the League Cup at Wembley.

But the Uruguayan has become the sixth Premier League manager to leave this season with Sunderland winning only four of their 29 league matches.

Defeats included an 8-0 loss at Southampton, the joint worst in their league history, while Saturday’s reverse to Villa was their heaviest at home since 2007.

Poyet succeeded Paolo di Canio as manager with the team bottom of the Premier League and although their results improved slightly after his arrival they were still bottom of the table with five matches to play.

Unlikely wins at Chelsea and Manchester United, however, as well as home victories over Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion secured their top-flight place for an eighth successive season.

Poyet antagonised Sunderland’s fans this season by saying they were “living in the past” and thousands streamed out of the ground as they went 4-0 down to Villa before halftime. Some angry supporters had to be restrained as they headed towards Poyet in the dugout.

(This version of the story corrects Poyet’s age to 46 in sixth paragraph)

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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Russian official dismisses 2018 boycott suggestion

Meanwhile, football’s world governing body FIFA said it believed the 2018 tournament in Russia would be a “force for good”.

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Vyacheslav Koloskov, a former FIFA vice-president, said attempts to disrupt the tournament would fail, just as they had with last year’s Sochi Winter Olympics after some observers objected to Russia’s anti-gay propaganda laws.

“In terms of a boycott, unfortunately Poroshenko is not the first person to talk about this,” Koloskov told Reuters by telephone.

“There were also attempts to boycott the Winter Olympics. No one was able to do anything then and I think exactly the same will happen with regards to the World Cup.

“Sepp Blatter often says that politics is politics and football is football. Of course he will not allow a boycott to happen. In Ukraine they don’t know anymore what they are trying to achieve. First one thing, then another, then a third thing…

“We will host the 2018 World Cup and we will host it well.”

“I would not want to compare things with the 1980 Olympics when a number of countries boycotted it due to political motives,” he added.

Koloskov warned that if a country qualified and decided not to take part, they could be banned from the next World Cup.

“I don’t think anyone will be risking a boycott given the likely consequences,” he said

PROMOTE DIALOGUE

FIFA said in a statement to Reuters that it “deplores any form of violence and will continue to use its tournaments to promote dialogue, understanding and peace among peoples.”

“History has shown so far that boycotting sport events or a policy of isolation or confrontation are not the most effective ways to solve problems,” FIFA said.

“FIFA is convinced that, through football, particularly the FIFA World Cup and its international spotlight, we can achieve positive change in the world, but football cannot be seen as a solution for all issues, particularly those related to world politics.

“We have seen that the FIFA World Cup can be a force for good and FIFA believes this will be the case for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.”

Poroshenko had used social media to voice his views, posting on his personal Twitter feed: “While ever there are Russian forces in Ukraine, I believe that holding the World Cup in that country (Russia) is not possible.”

In an interview with German newspaper Bild, he urged his country’s allies to consider a boycott if Moscow does not pull all its troops out of his country’s territory.

“I think there has to be discussion of a boycott of this World Cup,” said Poroshenko, who was in Berlin on an official visit on Monday.

The Ukrainian president is to ask Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel to push for tougher sanctions on Russia because of what he described as repeated separatist violations of the ceasefire which she helped broker last month.

(Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne, additional reporting by Stephen Brown and Richard Balmforth, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Giovinco hopes for Azzurri future while thriving in Toronto

Giovinco surprised many when he left Italian champions Juventus in January to move to the Canadian club for a reported annual salary in excess of $7 million — a league high.

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The Turin-born forward played in Italy’s last friendly in November against Albania but reports suggest Conte may leave him out of the European Championship qualifier against Bulgaria and friendly against England this month since he is just in early season in MLS.

“I don’t know, only he knows,” Giovinco, who has played 21 times for the Italian national team, told Reuters. “If it is opportune, he will call me.”

But the 28-year-old striker doesn’t believe that his move to MLS has automatically ended his international career.

“It is not like that all. The door is open,” he said, adding that he continued to have a good rapport with Conte, who coached him at Juventus before taking the Azzurri job. “We have a good relationship but it is a normal one. It’s not like we speak every day or something.”

Conte was publicly supportive of Giovinco’s decision to move to MLS at a time when many in Italy questioned his decision to leave Serie A for the emerging North American league – a drop in standard, albeit with a handsome pay rise.

The former Parma player says many of his old friends from Italian football are fascinated by MLS.

“They are curious. I think they know that I have made an excellent choice. There are many who would like to come and play over here,” said Giovinco.

The deals to bring England internationals Frank Lampard to New York City FC and Steven Gerrard to LA Galaxy, both of which will see those players move after the end of the current Premier League season, grabbed more attention than Giovinco’s transfer but in many ways his switch was more significant.

Age-wise, the forward is in his peak years rather than, like many of the big names who have moved to MLS, in the twilight of his career.

While MLS teams are always conscious of marketing opportunities, Toronto, who have one win and one defeat from their opening two games, clearly expect Giovinco to make a huge impact, primarily, on the field.

Toronto coach Greg Vanney says the speedy and diminutive forward has fit in perfectly at the club.

“I couldn’t have imagined it being better. He is a great personality, he loves playing the game and he is fun to watch and obviously to coach and he is very humble,” he told Reuters.

Vanney enthuses when he considers the options that Giovinco provides him with in attack.

“He’s so quick, his first touch is so precise, he can do a lot of things, he wins himself time and with his quickness he can get away from people. He is going to be great for us,” he said.

The player admits though that he is still adjusting to playing with a new club in a new league.

“There is a big difference in terms of the rhythm of the game and the style of play but I will try to adapt as soon as possible,” said Giovinco.

“I’ve been watching all the games I can from MLS on television. It is going to be difficult for sure we have to look to continuously improve.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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Morris eyes off Blues fullback spot

Brett Morris believes a number of established NSW fullbacks are entitled to be upset if a blow-in like himself is installed as the Blues No.

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1 in this season’s State of Origin series.

The race for Jarryd Hayne’s vacated custodian role is on in earnest just two rounds into the NRL season.

Canterbury coach Des Hasler has installed new Bulldogs fullback Morris as an early favourite for the key position, after a stunning start in the opening two rounds of 2015.

All 10 of Morris’ NSW appearances have come on the wing.

“It’s a totally different ball game, the rep scene,” Morris said.

“Obviously I’ve played a lot of wing there and not much fullback so if the opportunity comes and they want me to play there I would put my hand up.

“There are a lot of guys, playing fullback for a lot of years, that would probably be a bit filthy if a makeshift fullback jumped in.

“Obviously that is one position that is up for grabs at NSW this year with Jarryd going.

“There are a lot of great No.1s out there, it is only my second week there and I’m not looking too far ahead,”

Morris crossed for two tries in Canterbury’s win over Parramatta on Friday, after running for 203m and scoring a try the week before in the loss to Penrith.

But he has plenty of opposition in the fight to be Hayne’s successor against the likes of Brett Stewart, Josh Dugan, Will Hopoate, Matt Moylan and even James Tedesco.

“I thought Hoppa played well against us and he played well last week,” Morris said.

“Brett Stewart has been a great player for so many years.

“It’s nice to hear (my name put forward) from Des, but my main focus in on club footy, you don’t really have a say in it anyway – the selectors pick the side.

“I have always been a firm believer that I will always do whatever is best for the team.

“There has been a lot of hard work in the pre-season to get ready for the role of fullback.

“I’m really enjoying it at the moment.”

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France blocks websites over terror concern

France has blocked five websites accused of condoning terrorism, in the first use of new government powers that came into force in February.

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One of the sites – al-Hayat Media Center – is accused of links to the Islamic State group, the interior ministry said on Monday.

The site “islamic-news.info” has also been blocked since the end of last week.

The banning order was given to internet service providers, who had 24 hours to take “all necessary measures to block the listing of these addresses” under the new rules.

They were introduced as part of a package of counter-terrorism measures approved by parliament in November.

Critics argued they could breach citizens’ rights by bypassing the need for a judge to make the banning orders.

Other powers include the right to stop people travelling out of the country if they are suspected of trying to join jihadist groups.

Six French citizens aged between 23 and 28 had their passports and identity cards confiscated in February for a period of six months. The order can be renewed.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said at the time that 40 more people were likely to be barred from travelling in the coming weeks.

He visited California last month, meeting major internet firms in a bid to improve information-sharing about online jihadist networks, and was due to meet internet company bosses again in Paris in early April.

The interior ministry has set up a warning system through which friends and family can alert authorities about potential jihadist cases.

Cazeneuve said last month that the ministry had been alerted to over 1000 cases and that “several dozen” planned trips to Syria and Iraq had been prevented as a result.

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Crimea marks year since annexation vote

Crimea has kicked off celebrations to mark one year since a controversial vote that led to Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.

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Fireworks and concerts were planned in the Black Sea peninsula on Monday for the festivities a year after the controversial poll saw residents vote under the watchful eye of elite Russian troops in unmarked uniforms who had swarmed key sites in Crimea two weeks earlier.

Pro-Russian authorities said nearly 97 per cent of Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine and become part of Russia in the hastily-organised referendum, but with no independent observers allowed the poll was widely dismissed abroad.

Two days later Putin signed a treaty incorporating Crimea into Russia, sending his ties with the West into a tailspin but boosting his popularity at home to record highs that official statistics said hit 88 per cent last week.

As the red, white and blue Russian flag fluttered throughout the peninsula on Monday, the European Union criticised the growing militarisation of Crimea, the home of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, under Moscow rule.

“One year after the holding of an illegal and illegitimate referendum of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia, the European Union is firmly committed to the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

In a documentary broadcast on Sunday, Putin presented himself as the saviour of Crimea forced to deploy troops to prevent a war with “nationalists” in Kiev.

He also said that at the time he had prepared to put his nuclear forces on alert in case of western intervention.

The annexation of Crimea was a critical event in the Ukrainian crisis, which many believe triggered the separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine where more than 6000 have since been killed in fighting.

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Aid workers struggle with scale of Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s shocked president has described the cyclone that hammered the tiny South Pacific archipelago as a “monster” and says climate change is partly to blame for the devastation.

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Aid agencies say conditions in cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu are among the most challenging they have ever faced with fears of disease rife.

The official death toll in Port Vila, where relief workers said up to 90 per cent of homes have been damaged, stands at six with more than 30 injured, although aid workers believe this is likely a fraction of the fatalities caused by the storm.

Relief flights, including from Australia and New Zealand, continued arriving in the battered capital Port Vila after Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam tore through on Friday night packing wind gusts of up to 320 kilometres an hour.

But workers on the ground say there is no way to distribute desperately needed supplies across the archipelago’s 80 islands, warning it would take days to reach remote villages flattened by the storm.

Oxfam country director in Port Vila Colin Collett van Rooyen said a lack of enough clean water, temporary toilets, water purification tablets and hygiene kits needed to be addressed rapidly.

“Friday night was the first emergency with the arrival of Cyclone Pam, disease will be the second emergency without clean water, sanitation and hygiene provision,” he said.

“There are more than 100,000 people likely homeless, every school destroyed, full evacuation centres, damage to health facilities and the morgue.”

Charlotte Gillan, an Australian paramedic who lives in the village of Tango on the outskirts of Port Vila, said the front part of her house had collapsed.

“I fought tears seeing that devastation,” she said, adding that disease was now her main concern.

Save the Children’s Vanuatu director Tom Skirrow said the logistical challenges were even worse than for Super Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in November 2013, leaving more than 7,350 people dead or missing and ravaging an area as big as Portugal.

“I was present for the Haiyan response and I would 100 per cent tell you that this is a much more difficult logistical problem,” he said.

Aurelia Balpe, head of the Pacific office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, agreed the task facing aid agencies was likely unprecedented in the region.

Skirrow said flights over remote islands in the archipelago, which spans more than 12,000 square kilometres, had confirmed widespread destruction elsewhere in the impoverished nation of 270,000.

Balpe said initial reports from two volunteers in the northern Torres and Banks islands were not as devastating, but no contact had been established with other areas and it appeared the southern island of Tanna had suffered widespread damage.

President Baldwin Lonsdale said changing weather patterns were partly to blame for the destruction.

“Climate change is contributing to the disaster in Vanuatu,” the emotional leader said before leaving Japan, where he was attending a UN disaster meeting.

“This is a very devastating cyclone in Vanuatu. I term it as a monster, a monster.

“It’s a setback for the government and for the people of Vanuatu. After all the development that has taken place, all this development has been wiped out.”

The president said because of the break in communications, even he could not reach his family.

“We do not know if our families are safe or not. As the leader of the nation, my whole heart is for the people, the nation.”

Communications were still down across most of the islands, although the airport in Port Vila re-opened to commercial flights on Monday.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the cyclone, which was the maximum category five when it hit, had affected countries across the South Pacific, including the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Tuvalu.

Mr Lonsdale later said his island nation needed the world’s help to rebuild “everything”.

“The humanitarian need is immediate, we need it right now,” he said.

“In the long term we need the financial support, assistance, to start rebuilding our infrastructure – everything, we have to build.”

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Conservatives rallied to Abbott rescue

Tony Abbott’s leadership was saved in part by a last-minute email campaign by a conservative group which denigrated Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop.

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The prime minister survived a Liberal leadership spill motion last month by 61 votes to 39.

The size of the vote sent shockwaves across the government, which since then has ditched a number of controversial policies such as the Medicare co-payment in a bid to satisfy disgruntled coalition backbenchers.

ABC’s Four Corners program revealed on Monday a key conservative group, the National Civic Council, was so worried for the prime minister that it launched an email campaign.

The campaign asked people to email their federal Liberal MPs to ask them to support Mr Abbott in the spill.

One of those who received the email, barrister Robert Colquhoun, told the program he was astonished by it.

“I was being told that I should write to all the politicians, all the Liberal Party, telling them that if Tony Abbott was disposed (of) I would not vote for the Liberal Party at the next election,” he said.

The NCC email said Mr Abbott had “held the line” on marriage and repealed the carbon tax.

“Whatever his failings, the alternatives are Malcolm Turnbull, who failed as leader, and Julie Bishop, who was forced to resign as shadow treasurer,” the email issued by NCC vice-president Pat Byrne said.

Four Corners aired fresh criticism of the PM’s chief of staff Peta Credlin and the conflict of interest of having her husband Brian Loughnane as the Liberal Party’s federal director.

A leaked text message from party treasurer Philip Higginson to a senior Liberal member described Ms Credlin as “the Horsewoman of the Apocalypse”.

Mr Higginson said in another message he hoped Ms Credlin’s removal could be negotiated because “she has `effed’ the parliamentary wing thru (sic) her non-understanding of team harmony … and she has `effed’ the organisational wing …”

Liberal senator Ian Macdonald told Four Corners that having a husband and wife as the principal advisers for the party and government “doesn’t make for a good interaction between the parliamentary wing and the organisational wing”.

“I’ve always thought that was unfortunate and I would hope that something might be done about that,” he said.

Ms Bishop told reporters the latest internal party leaks are damaging and should stop.

“It’s always unfortunate if there are leaks to the media that are damaging in any political party,” she said.

“Anything of that nature is obviously most unfortunate and shouldn’t be said.”

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Bees should be abuzz about ‘Moneyball’ Midtjylland

His game plan, akin to that used by the Oakland Athletics baseball team immortalised in the best-selling book and hit movie ‘Moneyball’, has proved a huge success in Denmark and Benham sees no reason why it cannot work in England.

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Warburton led Brentford, who are known as The Bees, to promotion last season and now they are in with a fighting chance of making the top flight for the first time since 1947.

His reward was to be told last month that even if he led the club to an improbable but enormously lucrative promotion to the Premier League he would not be allowed to stick around come the end of the campaign.

Benham made it clear he wanted a more ‘Moneyball’ approach run through a director of football whereas Warburton did not.

Brentford issued a statement saying the club would introduce a new recruitment structure “using a mixture of traditional scouting and other tools including mathematical modelling”.

The decision was greeted with incredulity by fans and pundits but in Denmark it came as less of a shock because Benham’s other club are enjoying unprecedented success.

CONFIDENT CHAIRMAN

“If Midtjylland are the most improved team at the end of the season I would be very happy,” chairman Rasmus Ankersen told Reuters in an interview, “and if we are the most improved team I’m confident we will also finish top of the league.”

The former Midtjylland player, whose top-flight career was effectively ended by a serious knee injury 15 minutes into his senior debut, explained how his side could outperform rivals like free-spending FC Copenhagen.

“We do quite a few things differently but the two main things are the statistical analysis and the way we approach talent development,” said Ankersen.

The new numbers-based regime was implemented when Benham bought a majority shareholding in Midtjylland in July 2014.

The Danish club and, to a lesser degree, Brentford, are run along similar lines and although Ankersen acknowledges the human element is important in terms of running the club, the stats are key.

“The data is not perfect but I think it’s less imperfect than the human judgement. It’s got to be a combination all the time,” he added.

“You’ve got to know where human judgement has a role to play and you’ve got to know what part of the process the data has a role to play in.”

With a limited budget, analysis is particularly important when it comes to recruitment.

“We use the data to find undervalued players in undervalued markets and we also do a lot in terms of development. More than 50 percent of our starting XI players are from the academy,” said Ankersen.

“The data will not tell us who to pick but it will tell us where to look. You’ve got to know what data can do for you and what data cannot do for you.”

MORE RANDOMNESS

Ankersen added that statistical analysis is used in almost every aspect of the team’s preparations, from recruitment and training to what they do on the pitch and why.

“There is more randomness in football compared to many other sports like basketball or handball,” he said.

“The fewer goals there is in a sport, the more impact random events like the referee making a mistake or the ball hitting the post and going out instead of in, the more impact those events will have.

“That means that, statistically, the best team wins less often than in handball or basketball. Football coaches tend to say the league table never lies whereas we would say the league table almost always lies.”

The Midtjylland formula has proved a winning one though.

“We have identified metrics that we know statistically work over time,” said the 31-year-old Ankersen.

“I can’t say in detail what we look at but it comes down to the number of dangerous situations we create and the number of dangerous situations we prevent the opponent from creating.”

Ankersen said the project has so far only scraped the tip of the iceberg and that ultimately the club would like to combine the free-flowing football beloved by the Danes with a pragmatic statistical approach.

“We have an idea about how we would like to play but we don’t only look at that from a romantic point of view,” he explained. “We look for where the inefficiencies are.”

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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Coe against any boycott of football World Cup

Coe, who is standing against Ukrainian pole vault great Sergey Bubka for the presidency of world athletics body IAAF, won his medals at the boycotted Moscow and Los Angeles Olympics of 1980 and 1984.

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“I will always oppose boycotts of sport,” the London 2012 Olympic chief told Reuters at an event to promote the 10km Great Newham London Run to be held in the Olympic Park in July.

“I don’t think they actually achieve what they set out to do. The only people they really damage are competitors and athletes,” added Coe, who was on the England committee that bid against Russia for the finals.

“I think it is far better to have sport as a soft power, helping change all sorts of things.

“You either believe in its power to change and to be a catalyst for social and political change or you don’t. I happen to believe that sport has done far more to bring communities together than to isolate and separate them.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko posted on Twitter that “while there are Russian forces in Ukraine, I believe that holding the World Cup in that country (Russia) is not possible.”

He also told German newspaper Bild that his country’s allies should consider a boycott if Moscow failed to pull its troops out of Ukrainian territory.

The IAAF election is in August and Coe has been busy campaigning, visiting four continents in the past two weeks.

He said the most pressing issue was to engage more young people in athletics.

“If the challenge for sport in the 20th century was taking it to communities, the big challenge in the 21st century is taking it to young people,” said the Briton.

“And you really do need to recognise that while your sport is athletics…the business is entertainment.

“The biggest challenge we have is to renew our fan base, our audience and make sure that our competitions are relevant to young people.”

Newham London Run organisers aim to become Britain’s biggest mass participation running event with a target of 60,000 people taking part annually within five years.

The Great North Run is currently the biggest annual running event in Britain with 57,000 participants. The London Marathon attracts roughly 40,000.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer)

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