Jordan Ayew with another goal and point for Aston Villa

A Jordan Ayew penalty helped bottom of the table Aston Villa come from behind to earn a draw against a West Ham team which has not won since 24 October.

In an evenly contested game, Villa twice went close in the first half through Rudy Gestede before Aaron Cresswell scored with a low strike.

The spirited hosts levelled through Ayew after Gestede was clumsily felled by Angelo Ogbonna.

As Villa searched for the winner, Alan Hutton went close with a header.

But the right-back's effort was cleared by James Collins as West Ham held on for their fifth successive draw to remain ninth in the league.

Garde remains winless

Villa have now battled back to earn a point in successive league matches, but Remi Garde's team desperately need to start collecting three points if they are to overcome the odds and maintain their Premier League status.

Garde has yet to oversee a Villa victory since succeeding Tim Sherwood as manager at the beginning of November, although there may be some solace in the desire his side displayed against a well-organised West Ham side despite falling behind just before half-time.

The grim reality, however, is that Villa have not won since the opening day of the season and are now 10 matches without a win at Villa Park and nine points from safety.

Only three of the previous 23 sides who were bottom of the Premier League on Christmas Day have avoided relegation, although the last two sides in that position - Leicester in 2014 and Sunderland in 2013 - did both survive.

Hammers masters of the draw

Although Villa fans might look at their mid-table rivals with envy, Slaven Bilic's side are enduring a slump of their own slump after promising early-season form.

The Londoners' winless run has coincided with the absence of the injured Dimitri Payet - scorer of five goals in an impressive start since his arrival from Marseilles - and the France international's return in the New Year will be welcomed by Bilic's injury-hit side.

West Ham are defensively sound - enjoying three successive clean sheets prior to this match - but currently lack cutting edge in front of goal.

Not many sides would have been as obliging as Villa in giving Cresswell the freedom to roam down the left, before cutting inside and striking low into the far corner from the edge of the box.

The Hammers had their chances, with Cheikhou Kouyate hitting the crossbar before Cresswell opened the scoring, but a draw was a fair result as the visitors' verve died away after the break and the hosts came back into it.


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Manchester City thrashed relegation-threatened Sunderland but...

Manchester City thrashed relegation-threatened Sunderland but home substitute Vincent Kompany limped off soon after his return from injury.

Raheem Sterling opened the scoring by heading in Kevin de Bruyne's cross.

The lead was doubled through Yaya Toure's low 20-yard drive before Wilfried Bony headed in another de Bruyne delivery.

The brilliant Belgian calmly scored before Fabio Borini's consolation, as Bony skied a penalty later on.

Relive Man City's win here

Follow all the Premier League action and reaction

City will be concerned by the second-half departure of skipper Kompany, just minutes after coming on, having missed the previous eight matches with a calf injury.

The defeat leaves Sunderland still five points adrift of Premier League safety, while City remain in third place.

The strongest in the league?

Manchester City may have lost to Arsenal last time out, but manager Manuel Pellegrini was adamant his side - when fully fit - are the strongest side in the Premier League.

Sunderland did little to test that theory as they allowed Pellegrini's men to return to winning ways in totally dominant style.

While just too good to handle as an offensive unit, the hosts were still far from convincing defensively as the Black Cats created several chances of their own.

And when Borini scored at the second attempt from close range, it meant City had failed to keep a clean sheet for an eighth successive match.

Stunning display from De Bruyne

Raheem Sterling goal

Kevin de Bruyne (17) rescued Aleksandar Kolarov's ball from the left to cross for Raheem Sterling's (7) opener

Many questioned Manchester City when they spent a club record £55m on Wolfsburg midfielder De Bruyne in the summer, who was unable to make an impression during an earlier two-year spell at Chelsea.

It increasingly looks like good business as the Belgian created chances almost at will from the right, and linked up effectively with midfielder David Silva - who was brought down for the penalty.

De Bruyne whipped in a delicious cross for Sterling's opener before a similarly accurate delivery allowed Bony to head home City's third.

He rounded off a stunning individual display with a cool finish of his own and, had it not been for some wayward Bony finishing, the win could have been even more emphatic.

What hope for Sunderland's survival chances?

When Sam Allardyce was appointed Sunderland boss in October, the Black Cats were second-bottom of the Premier League and winless in their opening eight games.

Things have improved - slightly - after three wins since, but they remain in 19th and have now lost their past four league matches.

A defeat at City won't be the result that sends them down but the ease with which they were torn apart defensively will be a huge concern for a manager who prides himself on organisation.

What they said

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini on Vincent Kompany's injury: "Yes, it is the calf. Nobody understands. He had a good warm-up, he was working during the week with normality. It is difficult to understand. The most important thing is to understand why this happens.

"Nobody wins the title in December, but it doesn't mean it will be easy to beat Leicester. In the second half of the season we have to play teams around us. It is important to try to continue with this kind of performance."

What next?

Manchester City travel to Premier League leaders Leicester City on Tuesday, while Sunderland who entertain Liverpool on Wednesday.


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Chelsea salvage a point on Guus Hiddink first game in Charge

Diego Costa scored twice as Guus Hiddink's second spell as Chelsea boss started with a draw against Watford.

It could have been more for Hiddink, in charge after Jose Mourinho's sacking, had Oscar not missed a late penalty.

Spaniard Costa hooked in the opener for the Blues before Nemanja Matic's handball allowed Troy Deeney to level from the penalty spot.

Odion Ighalo's deflected shot gave the visitors the lead, only for Costa to fire in and earn Chelsea a point.

More to follow.


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Louis van Gaal to quit?

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal said he could "quit by myself" after Stoke City condemned his side to a fourth straight defeat.

The Dutchman, under pressure after seven games without a win, was asked whether he feared he would be sacked.

"That is something I discuss with [executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward not you," Van Gaal told a media conference after the game.

"It is not always the club that has to fire or sack me."

He added: "Sometimes I do that by myself, but I am the one who wants to speak first with the board of Manchester United and my members of staff and my players, not with you."

United's miserable run has seen them knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage and slip out of the top four in the Premier League.

"I have received [the club's backing] all the time but we have lost so there is a new situation," said Van Gaal.

"I feel the support of my players and my board. The fans will be disappointed but that is logical after four defeats."

Van Gaal saw his side quickly go behind to goals from Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic, with United struggling to create chances as they tried to work their way back into the match in the second half.

"We have lost the game in the first 45 minutes because we didn't dare to play our football. That is what I have analysed," said Van Gaal, whose side's next game is at home to Chelsea on Monday.

"The circumstances now play a bigger role and will in the next game also. We have to cope with that and look for the solution.

"It is very difficult as I'm also part of four losses and I have to cope with that and I have to manage that. More important is that my players shall manage that because they have to perform."

'Right decision on Rooney'

Van Gaal dropped Wayne Rooney to the bench for the game at the Britannia Stadium.

The England striker came on for the second half but United still struggled to create chances as they went four top-flight games without victory.

Club captain Rooney has scored just two league goals so far this season and rarely looked like adding to that tally at Stoke, although he did set up Marouane Fellaini for a chance that was impressively saved by home keeper Jack Butland.

Van Gaal added: "I thought it was the right decision [to leave out Rooney] otherwise I would not have done it.

"We were better in the second half but then we didn't have anything to lose."


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Man united easily beaten at Stoke

Stoke City condemned Manchester United to a fourth straight defeat to increase the pressure on manager Louis van Gaal.
Bojan Krkic broke the deadlock after a poor header back to David de Gea from Memphis Depay allowed Glen Johnson to play it back to the Spanish forward.
Stoke went 2-0 ahead through Marko Arnautovic's 25-yard finish after Bojan's free-kick had hit the wall.
Van Gaal dropped captain Wayne Rooney, who came on as a half-time substitute, and United struggled to create chances.
Stoke, who climbed three places to eighth in the Premier League, were superior throughout and could have won by more.
Arnautovic missed a great chance to add to United's misery when clean through, while Potters keeper Jack Butland denied Marouane Fellaini and Anthony Martial.
How the action unfolded, pictures and the best of social media
Rooney decision backfires badly on Van Gaal

Van Gaal was already under pressure before kick-off after a poor run of form but the manner of United's defeat at the Britannia Stadium - together with the manager's decision to leave out England skipper Rooney - is bound to raise more questions about the Dutchman's future.
United rarely looked like getting back into the game after falling behind and showed little desire and leadership as they found themselves outmuscled and outfought by an impressive Stoke side.
They were already 2-0 behind after an awful first-half display when Rooney, starting on the bench in a league match for the first time since 28 January 2014, was introduced at the start of the second period.
They improved after the break, Butland saving well from Martial, Juan Mata and Fellaini - but Stoke, managed by former United forward Mark Hughes, deserved their victory.
More to follow


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Louis van Gaal not a Man Utd coach - Kanchelskis

Louis van Gaal "doesn't understand English football" and is "not a head coach for Manchester United", says their former winger Andrei Kanchelskis.

But Kanchelskis believes the Dutchman should remain in charge until the end of the season, despite a six-match winless run in all competitions.

Van Gaal walked out of Wednesday's news conference in protest at media reports that his job is under threat.

"I am disappointed with the way United are playing," Kanchelskis said.

"Under Alex Ferguson, we played in a more attacking style of football and played in a 4-4-2. Van Gaal sees things differently. This is not a head coach for Manchester United.

"I just don't think that Van Gaal understands English football. A team needs to have leaders, like Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel, who can give the right things at the necessary moment and can show their leadership qualities.

"The coach does not want this and this is the reason for such disastrous results."

'My way or the highway' with Van Gaal

Van Gaal, who has a contract at Manchester United until 2017, left Wednesday's news conference after four minutes and 58 seconds, answering just three questions.

He started by requesting an apology from the gathered members of the media for questioning his future at Old Trafford.

Raymond Verheijen, who has previously worked as a coach under Van Gaal, believes his compatriot's reaction resulted from his frustration at not being able "to control" the media.

"You have two categories of coaches - teachers and managers," Verheijen told BBC Radio 5 live. "Teachers are 'my way or the highway' they have a rigid approach.

"Louis van Gaal is clearly a teacher. They want to control everything, which is fine internally at Manchester United but the mistake he makes is that he wants to control the outside world. The media is part of the outside world and what he should understand is that is something you cannot control."

Despite the fractious relationship with the media, Verheijen expects Van Gaal to see out his contract at United.

"Louis is not a quitter, he is a fighter," he added. "He will fight until the end and look to stay the full three years, maybe even longer."

Van Gaal and Hiddink 'complete opposites'

Van Gaal has been joined in the Premier League by fellow Dutchman Guus Hiddink, who replaced Jose Mourinho as Chelsea boss earlier this month.

"Guus Hiddink is the total opposite of Louis Van Gaal," added Verheijen, who was Hiddink's assistant with the Netherlands at the 2002 World Cup.

"Van Gaal is the ultimate teacher. He wants to improve the potential of his players every day. Hiddink is more of a people's manager, he goes with the flow.

"Hiddink wants to get the maximum out of his players by creating a very nice environment so that they feel really comfortable and are able to perform every week."


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Jurgen Klopp: No Premier League break hurts England chances

The busy schedule of the Premier League hurts England's chances in major tournaments, says Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

The German praised England's current team as "really talented", but said the lack of a winter break in the country would count against them at Euro 2016.

"You have too many games, that's for sure," Klopp told Football Focus. "You have no break, too many tournaments.

"I think everybody knows that's not the way [to be successful]."

The 48-year-old added: "Everybody thinks [manager] Roy [Hodgson] should lead these boys to the title, they have really good players.

"But they've had no break for one year. All the other teams have. You can be [successful] but it's much harder."

England have not reached the semi-finals at any of their past eight major tournaments, and were knocked out at the group stage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Klopp added that the fixture schedule in domestic football has also contributed to the recent struggles of English clubs in the Champions League, Europe's elite competition.

"There are reasons why the big English clubs in the last few years were not that successful," he said. "You have too many tournaments."

Klopp's Liverpool side face three matches in eight days over Christmas and New Year, starting against surprise Premier League leaders Leicester at Anfield on 26 December.

Mini pre-season for Sturridge

Klopp confirmed that Daniel Sturridge is currently doing "a little pre-season" as he works towards recovering from a hamstring injury.

The England striker is not expected to be fit until mid-January after straining his muscle against Newcastle on 6 December.

"He will do this for seven, eight, nine days and then we will see," said Klopp.


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Chelsea players must look in the mirror - Guus Hiddink

Guus Hiddink has told his Chelsea squad to "look at themselves in the mirror" and be "ultra-critical".

The Dutchman, a short-term replacement for sacked Jose Mourinho,also said he would have a "brief" chat with players who did not have the necessary desire.

Chelsea sit 15th in the Premier League after 17 games, just three points above the drop-zone.

Hiddink added that finishing fourth was still a "mathematical possibility" but said it would be a very difficult task.

"This league is very strong," he said. "All the teams can kill each other."

The former Netherlands coach, 69, also revealed he was keen to bring former striker Didier Drogba back to the club to work alongside him.

Hiddink first managed the Blues on a temporary basis for the final three months of the 2008-09 campaign, replacing Luiz Felipe Scolari.

He helped them win the FA Cup, took them to the semi-finals of the Champions League and steered them to third in the Premier League, seven points behind champions Manchester United.

On getting the job:

"I shouldn't be here halfway through the season. It means things are not going well. But, anyhow, I am glad to be back. It is a few years ago I was here in a similar situation."

On Chelsea's problems:

"It is not easy after a championship. You relax as a team and get a wake-up call. It is not easy to say that I am here and the problem is solved."

On Mourinho:

"If you look at his record over the years it is amazing. There were many, many titles. Nevertheless things happen in football. People take decisions that they have taken and I come on when I am asked."

On his message to the players:

"I talked to the squad yesterday and we talked about the past a little... why I am here, the reason why we are down. But I also told them things happen in football and I want everyone to look themselves in the mirror, for not just a second but for a long time."

On potential January transfers:

"Let's go into the next few games and we will see. First, I would like to get through the first few games."

On the fans:

"I hope the fans will support the team, as they did briefly during the last game. The team has to take the initiative. What I know of Chelsea is that the fans back up the team, but the team has to show it first."


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Louis van Gaal walks out of news conference

Under-pressure Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal answered only three questions before walking out of a news conference on Wednesday.

The 64-year-old Dutchman was unhappy at being asked about his future following speculation that he could be sacked.

The media briefing, ahead of Saturday's game at Stoke, lasted only five minutes before Van Gaal's departure.

The former Netherlands boss said he had only turned up to speak to journalists because of Premier League rules.

As he left, he told the reporters: "I wish you a merry Christmas and maybe also a happy new year when I see you. Enjoy the wine and a mince pie. Goodbye."

United are without a win in six games, having lost their last three matches to Wolfsburg, Bournemouth and Norwich.

You can read a full transcript of Van Gaal's news conference at the bottom of this page.

Four minutes and 58 seconds

Van Gaal was in an angry mood from the moment he took his seat in the media room at the club's training ground in Carrington.

"Has anybody in this room not a feeling to apologise to me? That's what I'm wondering," he responded after being asked about Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger's earlier claim that speculation about Van Gaal's future had been "disrespectful".

The news conference lasted only four minutes and 58 seconds in total.

Van Gaal, who has also managed Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, is halfway through his three-year Old Trafford contract.

Reluctant appearance

Van Gaal said his family and friends had been adversely affected by the criticism, amid rumours that sacked Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho is poised to replace him.

"What do you think happens with my wife or my kids?" he snapped.

"Or with my grandchildren? Or with the fans of Manchester United? Or my friends? What do you think?

"So you think that I want to talk with the media now. I am here only because of the Premier League rules. I have to talk with you."

Mourinho speculation

Van Gaal is under pressure following United's dip in league form and early exit from the Champions League.

The club are fifth in the table, below fourth-placed Tottenham on goal difference but nine points behind surprise leaders Leicester.

Chelsea's sacking of Mourinho, 52 - who has been tipped as a possible replacement - has only intensified the pressure on Van Gaal.

News conference transcript

Question 1: "Louis, thank you for your time. Arsene Wenger has said today that the speculation over your future is disrespectful. Is that something you agree with?"

Answer: "Erm, has anybody in this room not a feeling to apologise to me? Nobody has that feeling? That's what I'm wondering?"

Question 2: "What have we done wrong?"

Answer: "I think I was already sacked, I have read... I have been sacked. My colleague [replacement] was here already.

"What do you think that happens with my wife or with my kids or with my grandchildren or with the fans of Manchester United or my friends? What do you think? They have called me a lot of times and also Arsene Wenger is saying something about that.

"Do you think that I want to talk with the media now? I'm here only because of the Premier League rules. I have to talk with you. But I can only see when I say something that you use my words in your context.

"I want to say only that I have tried to lift the confidence of my players, I have done everything this week. I hold meetings, evaluation meetings with the players, with my members of staff, I hold a Christmas lunch, I have held a speech and I feel the warmth and support of everybody in Carrington, this Aon training complex.

"But I didn't feel that in the media and, of course, I can imagine that you can write about that subject. We are not in a good position but four weeks ago we were first in the Premier League and in about four weeks we can again be back in that position.

Question 3: "You have been though Louis at big clubs, huge clubs before. This is Manchester United and when results don't go well and when the supporters have turned it is inevitable that speculation will happen. You surely aren't surprised that there is speculation?"

Answer: "No, I don't think that you can do that because you have to stick by the facts and when I get calls from [former manager Sir] Alex Ferguson and [director] David Gill and [executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward because you are creating something that is not good, that is not being the facts and now I have to answer the questions.

"I don't think that I want to do it. I only say now I am focused on Stoke City, I help my players, I wish you a merry Christmas and maybe also a happy new year when I see you. Enjoy the wine and a mince pie. Goodbye."



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IAAF's Nick Davies steps down pending Russia 2013 investigation

IAAF deputy general secretary Nick Davies has stepped aside while an investigation takes place over a plan to delay naming Russian drug cheats.

In an email to Papa Massata Diack, a former IAAF marketing consultant, before the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, Davies wrote about the need to discuss "Russian skeletons in the cupboard" with the anti-doping team.

The Englishman said to the son of Lamine Diack - the former president of athletics' ruling body - that "we need to be smart" about releasing names.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Davies said: "I have decided to step aside until such time as the Ethics Board is able to review the matter properly and decide if I am responsible for any breach of the IAAF Code of Ethics.

"What has become apparent is that I have become the story."

Davies denied any wrongdoing and explained he had shown emails sent to Papa Massata Diack in 2013 and statements to the IAAF Ethics Board.

The email which had been obtained by the BBC contains a "very secret" five-point plan and was sent on 19 July, 22 days before the start of the 2013 World Athletics Championships.

The IAAF announced sanctions against 16 Russian athletes in the four months following the Moscow event, in which Russia topped the medals table.

Last month, they became the first country to be banned from international competition because of doping after an independent report uncovered systemic, state-sponsored cheating.


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Michel Platini: Fifa committee was 'asleep for four years'

Banned Uefa president Michel Platini has accused world football's ethics committee of "sleeping" for four years before barring him from football.

Platini and Fifa president Sepp Blatter were ruled to have abused their positions over a £1.3m ($2m) "disloyal payment" made to Platini in 2011.

Both men are appealing against eight-year bans issued on Monday.

"What was the Fifa ethics committee doing between 2011 when I was paid and 2015?" said Platini. "Was it sleeping?"

In an interview with French media agency AFP, the 60-year-old former France captain added: "Suddenly it wakes up. Ah yes, it wakes up in a Fifa election year when I'm a candidate. It's amazing."

Swiss Blatter, 79 - Fifa boss since 1998 - had already announced he was quitting with a presidential election in February - with Platini, also a vice-president, tipped to succeed him.

Platini has been in charge of Uefa - European football's governing body - since 2007 and was backed in a statement on Monday, with the organisation saying it was "extremely disappointed" with the decision.

He has submitted his candidacy but cannot stand while banned from all footballing activities. Both men are appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Platini said: "I will fight. But then I'll take my responsibilities according to what happens.

"Whatever happens, my reputation has been sullied, I've been kicked in the teeth: I've been put in the same bag as Blatter."


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Arsenal moved to within two points of surprise Premier League leaders Leicester with a 2-1 win over Man City

Arsenal moved to within two points of surprise Premier League leaders Leicester City with victory over Manchester City at Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners - without a title triumph since 2004 - showed the sort of impressive drive, cutting edge and resilience that will lead manager Arsene Wenger to believe Arsenal can finally end that barren spell.

ity dominated early possession but Kevin de Bruyne wasted a good chance and Theo Walcott punished the visitors with a right-foot finish from 20 yards in the 33rd minute.

Eliaquim Mangala's dreadful clearance allowed Mesut Ozil's 15th assist of the season as he set up Olivier Giroud for an angled finish in first-half stoppage time. Yaya Toure's clever shot from outside the area set up a tense finale which saw both Toure and substitute Wilfried Bony waste chances to equalise.

Ruthless Arsenal

Wenger's side have often been accused of having a soft centre when the pressure is on - but here, faced with the team many believe will still emerge as their closes title rivals, they showed a ruthless streak.

City may have dominated possession and territory for the first half hour but it was Arsenal who made it count at the business end. Their tally for the opening 45 minutes read two shots on target and two goals. For a manager who prides himself on efficiency, Wenger will have been delighted.

The Gunners were impressive at the back too, where goalkeeper Petr Cech was the epitome of safe handling and security, proving once more what a significant signing he has been.

Arsenal's defenders were in the mood too, with two crunching tackles from full-back Nacho Monreal drawing a high-five from fellow defender Per Mertesacker.

Walcott grows in stature

For a player often criticised for his lack of end product, Walcott looks to be evolving into the complete striker at the age of 26.

Mesut Ozil touchmap

Mesut Ozil's heat maps against City (left) compared to the defeat against West Ham on the opening day (right) show how he has drifted wider to find space

Walcott's goal, wonderfully accomplished as he turned inside before curling a perfect finish beyond the stretching City keeper Joe Hart, was his 13th in his last 17 league appearances and delivered further evidence of his development into a consistent and reliable goalscorer.

He, and indeed Arsenal, are receiving plenty of help from the Premier League's current creator supreme Ozil, who had a hand in both goals and received a standing ovation when he was replaced late on.

Add in Giroud's current golden sequence of 12 goals in his last 14 matches in all competitions, and Arsenal will believe they possess the potency to carry them all the way.

Manchester City come up short again

Aside from a dominant opening half and a late rally after Toure's goal, this was another poor performance from Manuel Pellegrini's side.

City were too often laboured and the sight of captain Vincent Kompany sitting in the stand watching on forlornly pointed to where many of the problems lie.

Pellegrini may have signed Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi for fees in excess of £60m, but they are still not the same and markedly less assured.

And with Sergio Aguero still not fully fit and substituted, City are currently well short of their best.


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Phil Jones: Man Utd mood worse under David Moyes

Defender Phil Jones believes the mood at Manchester United is not as bad as it was during David Moyes' ill-fated reign as manager at Old Trafford.

Saturday's 2-1 defeat by Norwich was United's third in a row and saw them slip to fifth in the Premier League.

Moyes was sacked in April 2014 after nine months at the club, as they headed for a seventh-place league finish.

"I wouldn't say it's the lowest moment," said Jones, 23. "I think it became pretty glum under David Moyes."

United's league finish in 2014 was their lowest since 1990, and it was the first time they had ended the season outside England's top three since 1991.

But under Louis van Gaal, who replaced Moyes, they are winless in their past six games, a sequence that has included their elimination from the Champions League at the group stage.

Van Gaal's side were booed off the pitch at Old Trafford following the Norwich defeat and the Dutchman has admitted he is "worried" about his job.

But Jones has backed the former Netherlands coach and said the players need to take responsibility for improving form.

"The manager is doing all he can and is doing a terrific job," said the England international.

"It's not even questionable in the dressing room. The lads are absolutely fully focused on performing well for the manager, the fans, ourselves - week in, week out.

"The players in there aren't hiding behind anyone."


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Finally: Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini get eight-year bans

Fifa: Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini get eight-year bans

Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Uefa boss Michel Platini have been suspended for eight years from all football-related activities following an ethics investigation.

They were found guilty of breaches surrounding a £1.3m ($2m) "disloyal payment" made to Platini in 2011.

The Fifa ethics committee found Blatter and Platini had demonstrated an "abusive execution" of their positions.

"I will fight for me and for Fifa," Blatter, 79, said at a news conference.

Platini said the decision was a "masquerade" intended to "dirty" his name.

Both men continue to deny wrongdoing and intend to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas).

Swiss Blatter and 60-year-old Frenchman Platini have also been fined £33,700 ($40,000) and £54,000 ($80,000) respectively.

Despite the ban, both Blatter and Platini will be allowed to attend matches - including Euro 2016 in France - if they buy tickets in a private capacity.

Fifa boss since 1998, Blatter had already announced he was quitting with a presidential election in February.

Platini was tipped as a future leader of football's world governing body and is a three-time European Footballer of the Year.

He is also a former captain of France and has been in charge of Uefa - European football's governing body - since 2007.

Fifa ethics statement - key points

  • The payment made in February 2011 had "no legal basis" in the contract signed by both men when Platini started working for Blatter on 25 August, 1999.
  • Both men's explanation that there was an "oral agreement" over the payment was rejected as "not convincing".
  • Blatter's actions did not show "commitment to an ethical attitude", and both men were found to be in "a conflict of interest".
  • Platini also failed to act with "complete credibility and integrity" and showed "unawareness of the importance of his duties".
  • The committee said there was "not sufficient evidence" to establish the payment was a bribe, but both men demonstrated an "abusive execution" of their positions.

Blatter - 'I will fight'

Unshaven and sporting a plaster over his right cheek, Blatter was in defiant mood at a news conference he had called in advance of the punishments being made public.

"I will fight," he said. "I will fight for me and for Fifa."

He said he was "really sorry" that he is still "a punching ball" and that he has become tainted in the eyes of humanity.

He added that he thought he had convinced the Fifa ethics tribunal that the payment from Fifa to Platini was legitimate.

He plans to appeal, first to Fifa, then Cas. He may also take legal action under Swiss law if needed.

Blatter: Key quotes from hour-long news conference

Platini - 'At peace with my conscience'

"The decision is no surprise to me," he said in a statement. "The procedure initiated against me by Fifa's ethics committee is a pure masquerade.

"It has been rigged to tarnish my name by bodies I know well and who for me are bereft of all credibility or legitimacy."

In the meantime, Uefa has issued a statement, revealing it is "extremely disappointed" with the decision.

It added: "Once again, Uefa supports Michel Platini's right to a due process and the opportunity to clear his name."

Reaction - 'Like a death sentence'

Former Asian Football Confederation general secretary Peter Velappan added: "This is very harsh, especially for Blatter because he dedicated his life to football and Fifa. Eight years is like a death sentence."

Isha Johansen, the president of Sierra Leone's Football Association, said: "I'm not saying Blatter was a saint, but the way everything has been piled on his head to make it look like it was all his fault... I think it's most unfair."

French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet added: "Michel Platini's suspension is shocking and saddens me. It seems unbelievable.

"But it does not surprise me as the ethics commission president had already announced that Michel would be suspended for several years. Michel's guilt was decided in advance."

Reaction - 'A drowning man'

Fifa reform campaigner Damian Collins and former Football Association chairman David Bernstein believe it is the end for Blatter.

"The fish rots from the head down and we know how rotten the head of Fifa was," said British MP Collins.

Bernstein told BBC Radio 5 Live: "He's a drowning man really, there's no coming back from this.

"He'll fight, I'm sure of that. He's not a soft touch. He will fight but he is doomed. He is yesterday's man."

Why are they banned?

Blatter and Platini were found guilty of ethics code breaches over the "disloyal payment".

Both claimed the payment was honouring an agreement made in 1998 for work carried out between 1998 and 2002 when Platini worked as a technical adviser for Blatter.

The payment was not part of Platini's written contract but the pair insisted it was a verbal agreement, which is legal under Swiss law.

German judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, the chairman of Fifa's adjudicatory chamber, held disciplinary hearings for the pair last week.

Charges included conflict of interest, false accounting and non co-operation, with investigators submitting a file of more than 50 pages.

What now for Fifa?

World football's governing body has been in turmoil for several months, following numerous allegations of corruption.

Seven Fifa officials were arrested at a Zurich hotel at the end of May.

And US authorities have charged 39 football officials and sports business executives over more than £134m ($200m) in bribes for football television and marketing deals.

Swiss prosecutors are also investigating Fifa's management as well as the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

There is also pressure from governments and the International Olympic Committee for Fifa to push through major reforms aiming at making governance more transparent and accountable.

Who will be the next Fifa boss?

The presidential election is due to take place on 26 February.

There are currently five candidates to take over:

  • Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa - 50, Bahrain, president of Asian Football Confederation;
  • Tokyo Sexwale - 62, South Africa, politician, businessman and former political prisoner;
  • Prince Ali bin al-Hussein - 39, Jordan, a former Fifa vice-president and 2015 Fifa presidential candidate;
  • Gianni Infantino - 45, Switzerland, Uefa general secretary and a member of Fifa's reform committee;
  • Jerome Champagne - 57, France, a former Fifa assistant general secretary and former French diplomat.

Voting will take place by secret ballot, with all Fifa's 209 member states having a vote each.


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Gareth Bale scores four goals as Real Madrid hit 10 past nine-man Rayo Vallecano

Gareth Bale scored four goals as Real Madrid hit nine-man Rayo Vallecano for double figures in a remarkable game.

Real trailed before Tito's red card - Danilo putting the hosts ahead before headers from Antonio Amaya and Jozabed.

Bale levelled with a header before Raul Baena was sent off in conceding a penalty which Cristiano Ronaldo scored.

As the game opened up, Bale added three more, Ronaldo scored a second and Karim Benzema netted a hat-trick - including number 10.

Real boss Rafael Benitez has been under pressure after losing three of their last five La Liga games.

But it remains to be seen if the farcical circumstances of their win over neighbours Rayo will ease much of that, as they were playing poorly before the sendings off.

It was the first time they hit double figures in a La Liga match since 1960, when they beat Elche 11-2.

Real remain two points off leaders Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, who both have a game in hand.

An incredible win but a freak result

Real Madrid's win will never be forgotten by anyone who watched the game - but remarkably Benitez will still be under pressure.

Whistles were ringing out at the Bernabeu from unhappy home fans at 1-1 - moments before Jozabed put Madrid minnows Rayo into the lead. But the game changed when Tito was deservedly sent off for a dangerous studs-up, two-footed tackle on Toni Kroos.

And after Ronaldo made it 3-2 from the spot against nine men in the 30th minute, double figures always felt as a possibility as Real were able to launch attack after attack with limited options in defence for Rayo.

How the goals went in

Real Madrid lead 1-0: Bale plays in Danilo to fire past Yoel

Rayo Vallecano level 1-1: Amaya heads home from a corner

Rayo Vallecano lead 2-1: Moments later Jozabed scores a second header

Read Madrid level 2-2: Bale heads home against 10 men

Real Madrid lead 3-2: Raul Baena holds onto Sergio Ramos' shirt and gets a second booking. Ronaldo scores the penalty

4-2: Bale is given space to run in on goal and slots home his second

5-2: Unmarked Benzema scores early in the second half

6-2: Ronaldo, with no defenders around him, heads home

7-2: Ronaldo crosses to Bale - in plenty of space - for his hat-trick. Benzema was standing behind him ready to pounce

8-2: Bale tries to find Ronaldo but his attempted pass is deflected back to him and he fires home

9-2: Unmarked Benzema converts Luka Modric's pass

10-2: In the final minute, Benzema gets his hat-trick and makes it 10 from 16 yards

Social media reaction

BBC Radio 5 live
Colin Millar
Jonathan Liew tweet

The view from the Bernabeu

Radio Marca's Juan Castro told BBC World Service: "At 11 v 11, Rayo were 2-1 up. Right now Rafa Benitez is not wanted by the Bernabeu. Even after the match people are not happy.

"The sensation of the game and the style, the relationship with the players is not the best. But if they keep on winning he'll remain coach of Real Madrid.

"It's not the right moment for Jose Mourinho to take over. Who knows in the summer? The fans here are 50-50 for and against Mourinho."


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Ighalo scores twice as Watford beat Reds

Watford profited from Liverpool's calamitous opening at Vicarage Road to continue their remarkable rise with a fourth consecutive Premier League win.

Adam Bogdan dropped a corner with the very first touch of his league debut, allowing Nathan Ake to stab the home side ahead after just three minutes.

Odion Ighalo doubled the lead, firing in off the post from a tight angle.

And the Nigerian sealed a deserved victory with his 12th of the season, nodding in from Valon Behrami's cross.

The Hornets, promoted from the Championship last term, move to within a point of the Champions League places.

Defeat for Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool, who are now without a win in their last three league games, leaves them ninth - four points behind Quique Flores' side in seventh.

Re-live Watford's victory over Liverpool

Were Liverpool really that bad?

With regular goalkeeper Simon Mignolet absent from the squad with a hamstring injury, 28-year-old Bogdan - who had previously only played in the League Cup since his summer arrival - was called in.

Just over two minutes into the match, he bounced Ben Watson's corner at his own feet rather than making what looked like an easy catch. Replays suggested he might have had two hands on the ball when Ake pounced, but nonetheless it was a poor error.

Bogdan said: "I had both hands on the ball but we are talking about a split-second. It's not easy for the referee to see. If I catch the first ball, there is no second one.

"Something went wrong, I have to think about it again. It was a mistake and I will learn from it."

Hungarian Bogdan didn't cover himself in glory when punching a through ball into Lucas' face either though, and his nervousness seemed to spread through the Reds defence.

Martin Skrtel, who came off injured before half-time, was arguably too weak when trying to steer Ighalo away from goal for Watford's second and his fellow centre-back Mamadou Sakho was dangerously ponderous in possession.

Sakho, returning after six weeks out, also fell over under no pressure to allow Ighalo in on goal in the second half, with Bogdan making partial amends via a fine reflex save.

Watford more than Deeney and Ighalo combined

Troy Deeney and Ighalo have created more goalscoring chances for one another than any other pairing this season. They were at it again for Watford's second as a simple Deeney ball over the top put Ighalo through with only Skrtel for company.

The 26-year-old brushed off the Liverpool defender's weak challenge and fired in off the post from a tight angle, before adding his second with a simple header to bring his tally for 2015 to 28 goals - the best return in England's professional leagues.

Watford and Liverpool average positions

Liverpool played most of the game without a recognised striker and rarely looked like breaking through Watford's back line. In Deeney (number nine) and Ighalo (24) Watford had by far the greater attacking threat

If Watford were surprised to have gone ahead so early and so comfortably, the rest of their performance showed no sign of it. The Hornets were composed and committed as they outplayed a disappointing Liverpool side.

There was none of the high-intensity, slick interplay that has characterised the best performances of Klopp's time at Anfield so far, and instead it was Watford who claimed a deserved victory.

Man of the match - Odion Ighalo

Odion Ighalo

Ighalo's strength and commitment to attacking runs made him a constant menace to the Liverpool backline

What the managers said

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: "If you watch the TV, you see Bogdan had the ball under control and both hands were on the ball.

"It should not be allowed but first of all he should not drop the ball. That is the mistake of the referee but the biggest mistake was our reaction.

"It was a deserved win for Watford. Not because of our faults, but more because of the reaction to our faults."

Watford manager Quique Flores: "Of course we want to dream but we want to remain humble. This is our one advantage, because the Premier League is very tough.

"We have a lot of matches and we never underestimate the teams we play. We are completely happy with the performance. It was an amazing victory against an amazing team."

The stats you need to know

  • Watford have won four consecutive top-flight games for the first time since April 1987; their joint-longest winning run (also achieved in November 1982, January 1984 and December 1984)
  • With 28 points, they have equalled their tally from their last season in the Premier League (2006-07). It is their joint-highest tally in a Premier League campaign
  • Liverpool conceded as many goals against Watford in this match as they had in their previous four Premier League meetings combined
  • Watford's 3-0 win was the biggest margin of victory they have enjoyed against Liverpool

What next?

Watford play Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City in their next three fixtures over Christmas and New Year, while Liverpool host leaders Leicester on Boxing Day before away games against Sunderland and West Ham.


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Manchester United: Louis Van Gaal 'worried' about future

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has said he is "worried" about his job after a shock 2-1 loss to Norwich.

The result handed United a third defeat in a row in all competitions and are now winless in six games.

Cameron Jerome and Alex Tettey netted for the visitors, while Anthony Martial replied for the hosts.

Asked if he feared for his position, van Gaal said: "Yes of course I am worried about that because I know that belief in a manager is very important."

The Dutchman, 64, could not give a definite answer when asked if he will be given time to turn the situation around at Old Trafford.

"Yes I think so but I never know, in this world, you never know. It is not up to me, but we shall see," he added.

'I am - or shall I say was - a successful manager'

Van Gaal is out of contract at the end of the 2016-17 season and there has been speculation that Jose Mourinho will become the next United manager  after being sacked by Chelsea on Thursday.

The Portuguese says he wants an immediate return to management and has been linked with the Old Trafford job, as has Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola who is to clarify his own future on Sunday.

"That's the football world. I know that, my board knows that, my players know that," van Gaal said when asked if the pressure was building on him.

"I don't think a change of management shall bring direct success - but that is what I believe. Maybe that is not so interesting.

"I am always evaluating myself because I think that is an aspect of the philosophy I have. But the philosophy is also making an evolution - I am not the same coach I was 25 years ago.

"So, you are always evaluating and of course that philosophy is very important for me. Because of that I am - or maybe I have to say now, was - a very successful manager."

'It was not good enough'

Defeat meant Manchester United have now gone six games in all competitions without victory for the first time since 1998.

United had 70% possession against Norwich, but could only muster two shots on target as they were booed off by their own supporters.

The Red Devils face a testing festive period, starting on Boxing Day against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium, before they host Chelsea at Old Trafford two days later. They then face managerless Swansea on 2 January.

Van Gaal added: "The main thing is that you have to be professional and do the things that you have to do and work very hard to come out of this bad period.

"It was not good enough. You have to win against Norwich. We know that. Now we prepare for the Stoke game with professionalism and spirit, that is the only message I can give [to you]."


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Guardiola to leave Bayern Munich at end of the season

Pep Guardiola to leave Bayern Munich at end of the season

Pep Guardiola is to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season and will be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti.

Guardiola, 44, has been linked with Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal.

The former Barcelona coach has won two league titles and the German Cup since joining Bayern in summer 2013.

Former Chelsea manager Ancelotti, 56, has been on a break from the game since being sacked by Real Madrid in May 2015.

"We are thankful to Guardiola for all he gave our club and hope to celebrate more success in the current season," Bayern chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told German newspaper Bild.

"With Ancelotti we have another very successful coach coming to Bayern. We are looking forward to working together."

More to follow.


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Jordan Ayew's superb second-half goal earned Aston Villa a point at Newcastle.

ordan Ayew's superb second-half goal earned Premier League bottom club Aston Villa a point at Newcastle.

Ayew drove into the top corner from inside the area to cancel out Fabricio Coloccini's close-range opener.

Both sides had chances to win in the closing stages, with Newcastle striker Georginio Wijnaldum and Villa's Rudy Gestede having shots saved.

Villa, without a Premier League win since the opening game of the season, remain 10 points from safety.

Relive Newcastle's game with Aston Villa

Results and reaction from Saturday's Premier League football

Newcastle revival?

Until recently, Newcastle boss Steve McCLaren had looked in danger of losing his job after failing oversee a win any of his first eight Premier League games.

However, back-to-back victories against Liverpool and Tottenham lifted Newcastle out of the relegation zone and three points on Saturday would have moved them five points clear of danger.

Key to Newcastle's upturn in form has been a switch to a more counterattacking style of football, but a sodden pitch, coupled with Aston Villa's defensive approach, meant was ineffective against Aston Villa.

They struggled to break Villa down for long periods, with their opener coming from a defensive lapse in concentration from a corner, as Coloccini was left unmarked.

However, when Villa pushed forward after equalising, it played to Newcastle's strengths and they twice went close to snatching victory on the break, with Wijnaldum's and Ayoze Perez's finishing letting them down.

Newcastle remain one place above the relegation zone, but the draw means they are three points clear of Swansea in 18th.

No Premier League team with as few points as Aston Villa at this stage of the season have stayed up, and they would certainly need an impressive upturn in form to rescue their situation.

Villa have kept just two clean sheets in their 17 league games this season and the ease with which Newcastle scored, with Siem De Jong's corner cutting through the defence, will be of concern for manager Remi Garde.

However, their second half performance will give the Frenchman some hope.

In Ayew, they have a striker who is finding his form in the Premier League. He had gone seven games without scoring at the start of the season but, having been employed in a more central role recently, he has scored four goals in his last eight games.


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Leicester City top at Xmas

Leicester City ensured they will be top of the Premier League at Christmas by beating Everton at Goodison Park.

Riyad Mahrez scored the first of two penalties after Ramiro Funes Mori held back Shinji Okazaki.

Romelu Lukaku levelled, but Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard tripped Jamie Vardy to allow Mahrez to again convert from the spot.

Okazaki fired in a third for the Foxes, who held on despite Kevin Mirallas' late strike.

Relive Leicester's win over Everton

Listen to Leicester fan sobbing on BBC Radio 5 live

Leicester, predicted to be relegation candidates by many commentators before the start of the season, are now the only team in Premier League history to be bottom on Christmas Day one year and top the following Christmas.

Claudio Ranieri's side will go into their game at Liverpool on 26 December as leaders, regardless of the result of Monday's match between second-placed Arsenal and third-placed Manchester City.

No sign of Foxes bubble bursting

Discussion around Leicester's remarkable season has centred on how long they can continue to upset the odds and remain in the title picture.

Once again they provided an energetic, controlled performance that will leave the doubters waiting at least one more week for any signs of a collapse.

Vardy touches

Jamie Vardy's touches in the opposition area were few and far between, but he made the most of his small number of opportunities

There was a worry for Leicester late on as Vardy clutched his hamstring while being replaced, and Ranieri will know that the fitness of his England striker is key to his side's burgeoning title hopes.

Vardy, who has 15 league goals this season, has been a sensation, alongside team-mate Marhez, who took his tally to 13 with two well-taken penalties.

The pair were involved in all the Leicester goals, Mahrez releasing Vardy to win the penalty for Leicester's second, and former Fleetwood forward Vardy providing the low cross which Okazaki shot left-footed into the bottom-left corner.



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Chelsea win after the departure of "The Speical one"

Chelsea may have started the post-Jose Mourinho era with a comfortable victory against Sunderland - but the shadow of the former manager hung heavily over Stamford Bridge.

The Blues' fans delivered almost unanimous backing for Mourinho, with banners all around Stamford Bridge declaring support, while Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas were jeered before and during the game by supporters who clearly believe they have been central to the sacked manager's downfall.

Branislav Ivanovic's towering fifth-minute header put Chelsea on the way and victory was effectively confirmed against the struggling Black Cats when Pedro pounced on a loose ball before half-time.

Guus Hiddink, confirmed as Chelsea boss until the end of the season hours before the game, watched from the stands alongside former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba and club owner Roman Abramovich as Oscar added a third from the spot after Costel Pantilimon fouled Willian.

Fabio Borini pulled one back for Sunderland when he bundled in from close range, but this day was so much about Mourinho.

Mourinho wins backing from The Bridge

It was clear before kick-off that Chelsea's fans were pointing the finger of blame firmly in the direction of under-performing players for Mourinho's dismissal on Thursday.

Banners were unfurled emblazoned with the words "You Let Jose Down. You Let Us Down" and "The Three Rats - Hazard, Cesc and Costa".

Chelsea's players were also on the receiving end of x-rated chants collectively when each goal Chelsea scored was instantly greeted with chants for Mourinho.

The Portuguese may have gone - but he has not been forgotten.

Chelsea revived

Chelsea were on the floor before this game as they stood only one point off the relegation places in 16th position. And while a very poor Sunderland helped them to their feet, there certainly seemed to be a great freedom to the champions' play.

Oscar, cheered by Chelsea's fans, was his usual self but there was a zip about their early play that suggested a pressure valve had been released by the managerial change.

Chelsea's fans directed a colourful chant in the players' direction asking where they, and the performance they had produced against Sunderland, had been this season.


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Norwich earn win at Man U

Manchester United were booed off the pitch as Norwich earned a shock victory at Old Trafford, increasing the pressure on manager Louis van Gaal.

Despite all of United's possession, it was Norwich who look the lead in the first half through Cameron Jerome.

It got worse for the home side in the second half as Jerome broke clear to feed Alex Tettey, who poked in.

Anthony Martial pulled a goal back, but United's winless run is now six games while Norwich are out of the drop zone.

Juan Mata saw a free-kick from the edge of the area pushed away by Declan Rudd as the hosts went in search of the equaliser in the second half.

Centre-back Chris Smalling could have earned a point late on, but headed narrowly wide as United dropped to fifth in the Premier League table.

Van Gaal out, Mourinho in?

Many fans left the stadium early, but some stayed in their seats at the end of the match with a look of disbelief on their faces. The atmosphere was almost mutinous, with a loud show of resentment at both half-time and at the final whistle.

Average positions

Manchester United (left graphic) pushed men forward and left only Chris Smalling (12) and Phil Jones (4) in their own half. On the other hand, Norwich sat deep, with centre-backs Sebastien Bassong (6) and Ryan Bennett (24) almost playing from the edge of their own area

On a day when former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho said he is looking to get back to management straight away, the weight of expectation was significantly ramped up on Dutchman van Gaal, whose job is now under increased scrutiny.

The manager decided to maintain his passive style for the match - staying in his seat as assistant Ryan Giggs barked out instructions from the touchline - but could not inspire his side to even a point.

This season's theme of a lack of goals but plenty of possession continued in this game for United, despite Frenchman Martial's first goal in nine Premier League games. It was only one of two shots on target they had. The Red Devils ended the game with a landslide 70% possession.

Christmas just got a whole lot tougher

Out of the top-four spots, United suffered their first home defeat of the season and their third defeat in a row. The last time they went six without victory in all competitions was in 1998 - the season they went on to win the treble. That won't happen this time, having been knocked out of the Champions League.

They now face a testing festive period which sees three games in the space of eight days, starting on Boxing Day at Stoke.

Will van Gaal be given the opportunity to turn the club's form around after back-to-back losses to promoted sides?


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What we learned: Rams dash Bucs' playoff hopes

Tavon Austin scored a pair of touchdowns to lead the St. Louis Rams (6-8) to a 31-23 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8) on Thursday night. Here's what you need to know:

1. Austin became the first player since Hall of Famer Gale Sayers in 1965 with five receiving touchdowns, four rushing touchdowns and a return touchdown in the same season. This has been a rare case of the offseason hype paying off, as Austin is enjoying a true breakout campaign as a consistent playmaker. He specializes in using his extraordinary speed and quickness to slip through the smallest creases in a defense.

2. The much-hyped Offensive Rookie of the Year battle between Jameis Winston and Todd Gurley was a bit of letdown. Against a penetrating Rams defensive front, Winston was off the mark prior to an impressive four-play, 98-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. Although he set a rookie franchise record with 363 yards while playing from behind, his interception with five minutes remaining dashed the Bucs' faint comeback hopes.

Gurley powered in for one touchdown, but was stonewalled on three straight goal-line carries after Winston's scoring drive. Unlike like last week's effort, the holes simply weren't there for Gurley to exploit. On a positive note, he joined Hall of Famers Jerome Bettis and Eric Dickerson as the only Rams rookies to reach 1,000 rushing yards.

3. Aaron Donald bolstered his case for Defensive Player of the Year, throwing six-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins around and dominating the line of scrimmage. His combination of strength, leverage and off-the-snap explosiveness is unparalleled among defensive tackles.

3. Case Keenum played the best game of any Rams quarterback this season, generating a career-high 158.0 passer rating on 17 efficient attempts against an injury-riddled Bucs defense. He made beautiful throws on a 60-yard touchdown to Kenny Britt and a 25-yard gain to Jared Cook down the sideline. Through two games, Rob Boras appears to be a play-calling and scheming upgrade on recently deposed offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti.

4. No running back has been harder to tackle than the hard-charging Doug Martin, who bypassed Adrian Peterson for the NFL lead with 1,305 rushing yards. He and change-of-pace option Charles Sims have been the league's most effective complementary backfield tandem this season. Martin should be one of the two choices at running back for the All-Pro team.

5. Mike Evans is fighting himself at the catch point when he's wide open. He dropped one pass to tie Amari Cooper for the NFL lead and bobbled another. At this point, it seems to be more of a mental issue than a physical one.

6. At 6-8, the Buccaneers will be eliminated from playoff contention if the Seahawks and Vikings win this weekend. As promising as the future is with Winston and Evans leading the show, Tampa Bay has played just one team with a winning record.



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LeBron plows into first row; wife of golfer Jason Day suffers concussion-like symptoms

CLEVELAND (AP) — The wife of PGA champion Jason Day is suffering from concussion symptoms after NBA star LeBron James crashed into her during a Cavaliers game.

Day's agent, Bud Martin, issued a statement Friday morning saying Ellie Day "is resting comfortably and appreciates all of those who have reached out and are concerned about her." He added she has "no hard feelings" toward James and quotes her as saying, "He was just doing his job. Go Cavs."

Ellie Day was carried from Quicken Loans Arena on a backboard, placed on a stretcher with her head immobilized and taken to MetroHealth Medical Center on Thursday night. She was released early Friday morning.

James was scrambling for a loose ball in the fourth quarter of a 104-100 win over Oklahoma City when the 6-foot-8, 250-pound All-Star launched himself into the air, plowing into Day as she sat next to her husband.

"First of all, I am OK!!" Ellie Day tweeted Friday. "I am incredibly sore and exhausted. Being tackled by that large man would compare to a minor car accident. My head and neck hit pretty hard so it was really scary. My whole body feels like it was hit by a truck.

"Second, it was so fast. I didn't remember until 2 a.m. seeing the ball come toward me. It was a blur. To the crazies that think Jason should have protected me - if he had had time to react, so would have I. Also, I would not have liked both dudes landing on me. LeBron is huge and had such momentum he could not have stopped!!

In the statement, she thanked her doctors, emergency medical staff and the entire Cleveland Cavaliers organization for their help.

James said he spoke with Ellie Day while she was being helped by medical personnel during a stoppage in play.

"I squeezed her hand and she said she was OK," he said. "She was just a little weary."

Before he was given more information on her, James, who scored 33 points and flirted with a triple-double, was noticeably shaken when he left the floor following the Cavs' win.

"For me, obviously, her health is very important and hopefully she is doing well," James said. "The guys told me she's doing great now. For me, just going for a loose ball, tried to keep the possession going, I just hate that that was the end result."

James said if she had been pregnant, he would have jumped over the first row of seats.

A little while later, James tweeted: "Ellie Day I hope you're doing okay! My apologies! Hope u guys come back to another game soon. Love LJ!"

On Nov. 11, Ellie Day gave birth to the couple's second child, a girl named Lucy.

Jason Day, who lives in a Columbus suburb, accompanied his wife as she was carried from the floor. The couple has attended Cleveland games in the past, and she was pregnant with their second child when they went to an exhibition game earlier this year in Columbus. That night, Cavs guard J.R. Smith bought cotton candy for the Days' son, Dash, while he sat on the bench.

Jason Day is the No. 2-ranked golfer in the world. He won the PGA Championship this year for his first major win on the PGA Tour.

Shortly before his wife was injured, Jason Day took part in a promotion during a timeout. As fans cheered, the Australian chipped foam basketballs into the crowd.

Cavs coach David Blatt said he was unaware of the severity of the collision. He has long been nervous about the safety of fans sitting so close to the action.

"Honestly, the only thing I saw was LeBron diving for the ball to save the ball," Blatt said. "I kind of got blocked and just saw a sea of bodies. We all hope that she's OK. It's always concerned me, the sideline seats. Always concerned me, because things like that, when you're talking about players of this speed and physicality and effort level, it's not a simple thing.

"The powers that be are the ones that really need to decide how to deal with that. He made an honest attempt at the basketball, that's all, obviously. We all hope she's OK."

Watch the video below:


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NBA suspends Rockets' Lawson for two games

NEW YORK — Houston Rockets' guard Ty Lawson has been suspended for two games without pay for driving while ability impaired, in violation of the law of the State of Colorado, the NBA announced today.

Lawson's suspension will begin with tomorrow night's game between the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers.


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TRIBUTE: A Legend Goes Home

It is with consternation and great sadness that the Ghana Football Association learnt of the passing of the legendary Ghanaian coach and footballer Nana Charles Kumi Gyamfi.

The loss of Nana is of great sadness for all football fans, considering how his personal and professional career touched the lives of many people not only in Ghana but across the continent and beyond.

C.K. Gyamfi was the first African footballer to play in Germany, when he joined Fortuna Dusseldorf in 1960. He also played for both Accra Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko.

As a coach, he successfully coached the Black Stars to three African Cup of Nations titles (1963, 1965 & 1982) which makes him one of the most successful African coaches.

The GFA is immensely hurt by the loss of such a talented footballer, coach and an administrator who shaped the lives and careers of many Ghanaian footballers and coaches.

He was responsible for bringing finesse to Ghana football with his unique coaching methods; one of the most important landmarks in the history of the game in the country. We always held him in great esteem and admired his extraordinary character. 

He worked tenaciously for Ghana football and even in his old age, he did not shy away from offering his wisdom for the development of the game in the country. 

What we will remember most of all, will be his great sense of commitment, his courage and his desire to safeguard Ghana football and its values for future generations as well as his golden words of wisdom.

The GFA wishes to extend its deepest sympathy to the family of Nana Gyamfi and most importantly to his wife, children and friends. Our thoughts will always be with you.


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Ghana sports: Grant is third highest paid coach in Africa

Black Stars coach Avram Grant is the third highest paid coach in Africa according to a research revealed by Gazzettaghana.
The Israeli trainer who earns a staggering $50, 000 a month comes behind Algeria coach Christian Gourcuff and Ivorian trainer Michel Dussuyer who earns $70,000 and $58,000 respectively.

Moroccan National team coach Ezzaki Badou and South Africa’s Ephraim ‘Shakes’ Mashaba also with a net salary of $40,000 and $36,650 respectively completes the top five earning coaches in Africa.

The list also had the likes of Egypt National Team Coach Hector Cuper ($30,000), Alain Giresse of Mali ($27, 863), Nigeria’s Sunday Oliseh ($26,500), Jorge Costa of Gabon ($25,000) and Tunisian National team coach Henry Kasperczak ($24,000).

Grant who was appointed as Black Stars coach in November 2014 has been tasked by the Ghana Football Association to win the 2017 Cup of Nations and qualify the team to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The former Chelsea boss led the Black Stars to win silver at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea after losing on penalties to Cote d’ Ivoire in the finals.

The former West Ham manager who was recently linked with a move to Swansea City guided the Black Stars to progress to the Group stages of the World Cup qualifiers after eliminating Comoros 2-0 on aggregate.


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Alhaji Grusah to sue GFA over Glo deal

The bankroller of King Faisal Alhaji Karim Grusah has threatened to sue the Ghana FA over what he termed the “premature termination” of the sponsorship deal with Globacom.

The Nigerian-owned telecommunication network had its sponsorship contract terminated as the headline sponsors of the Ghana Premier League over its inability to fulfil the financial obligations.

“I use the Globacom money as a collateral in bank in running King Faisal and till now the money has not been paid, how do you expect me to get money to pay back to the bank,” Grusah told Kumasi-based Nhyira FM.

“It’s the responsibility of the GFA to retrieve the unpaid monies to the Premier League clubs, I’m planning to take a legal action in the coming days against the football Association to retrieve our monies.”

Glo owes the GFA in excess of $6.5 million in a five-year deal signed in 2008.

He further stressed the FA should be very truthful and transparent in their financial and legal dealings.


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Pep Guardiola decides Bayern Munich future despite Chelsea link

Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola says he has made a decision over his future, while Thomas Muller is one of four players to sign new deals.

Guardiola's contract expires in June and he has been linked with Chelsea and Manchester City.

The Spaniard has told Bayern what he will do and is set to make it public following Saturday's game at Hannover.

Meanwhile, Muller, Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez and Xabi Alonso have all extended their Bayern deals.

Forward Muller, 26, defender Boateng, 27, and midfielder Martinez, 27, have committed to the Bundesliga champions until 2021, with 34-year-old midfielder Alonso's deal taking him to 2017.

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said the club had received offers for 26-year-old Muller, who was reportedly a target for Manchester United in the summer.

"I come from the area, I've been here 15 years and of course I'm delighted," Muller told Bayern's television channel.

"I am proud and happy that I have extended my contract."

Guarded Guardiola

Guardiola has led Bayern to two titles since taking over in 2013 and Spanish newspaper Marca reported on Wednesday that he has already told Bayern he will leave the club.

He could be a target for Chelsea, who sacked Jose Mourinho on Thursday and are set to appoint Guus Hiddink as interim manager until the end of the season.

"Kalle (Rummenigge) knows absolutely everything," said Guardiola.

"The club, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and I have said time and time again that we will say something after our final game in Hannover, and that's how things are going to stay.

"I'm just focusing on Hannover. I've been watching their games."


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Guus Hiddink in Chelsea talks about manager's job

Former Netherlands boss Guus Hiddink is set to become Chelsea's interim manager following the sacking of Jose Mourinho.

The 69-year-old Dutchman was at a London hotel on Friday, holding discussions with Blues officials.

But he is not expected to be in charge for Saturday's visit of Sunderland, with Eddie Newton and Steve Holland overseeing the side.

Hiddink, who has already had one spell as Chelsea boss, winning the FA Cup in 2009, is yet to sign a contract.

The Blues are currently 16th in the Premier League table, just one point above the relegation zone after losing nine of their first 16 games.

Mourinho was sacked as manager on Thursday, just seven months after guiding Chelsea to the Premier League title.

Hiddink won six Dutch league titles and the European Cup across two spells as PSV Eindhoven manager.

He has also coached South Korea, Australia and Russia before leading Chelsea to FA Cup success in 2009.

He took over at Stamford Bridge in February 2009, replacing Luiz Felipe Scolari, and shared the role with his job as Russia manager.

Since then, he has endured unsuccessful spells as manager of Turkey, Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala and the Netherlands.

He stood down as Netherlands boss in June, with their Euro 2016 qualifying hopes already in disarray.

The Dutch eventually failed to reach the finals, finishing fourth in their group, behind Czech Republic, Iceland and Turkey.

Meanwhile, Chelsea captain John Terry has described Mourinho's exit after 30 months in charge as a "sad, sad day".

Terry led Chelsea to all three Premier League titles under Mourinho, in addition to an FA Cup and three League Cups.

"Going to miss you boss," Terry wrote on Instagram.

"The very best I have ever worked with, unbelievable memories together. Thank you doesn't seem enough."

Terry's comments contrast sharply with those of Blues technical director Michael Emenalo,

In the wake of Mourinho's sacking, Emenalo talked about a "palpable discord between manager and players".

Cesar Azpilicueta also called Mourinho's departure a "sad" day.

The 26-year-old defender added: "I would publicly like to thank Jose Mourinho for his contribution to this club and for everything he has taught me over the years.

"He will always be remembered. Thank you mister."


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Jose Mourinho: Chelsea sack boss after Premier League slump

  Chelsea have sacked manager Jose Mourinho seven months after he led them to the Premier League title.

The 52-year-old Portuguese had been in his second spell at the club, taking charge in June 2013.

Chelsea finished eight points clear last season and won the League Cup, but have lost nine of their 16 league games so far and are 16th in the table, one point above the relegation places.

Mourinho's final match was Monday's 2-1 defeat at leaders Leicester City.

Pep Guardiola, Guus Hiddink, Brendan Rodgers and Juande Ramos have all been touted as possible successors.

He leaves with Chelsea just a point off the relegation zone and 20 points behind Leicester.

Champions League qualification via one of the top four spots in the Premier League looks highly unlikely.

However, the Blues are through to the last 16 of European football's biggest club competition, where they will face French champions Paris St-Germain in February and March.

Mourinho only signed a new four-year contract on 7 August and is Chelsea's most successful manager.

He won three Premier League titles, two of those in his first spell between 2004 and 2007.

The Portuguese has also won the FA Cup, in 2007, and the League Cup three times - in 2005, 2007 and 2015.

Troubles on and off the pitch

Jose Mourinho watches on as doctor Eva Carneiro runs onto the pitch at the Swansea game in August

It has not only gone wrong in the Premier League for Mourinho, he has also had his issues off the pitch.

A 2-2 draw with Swansea on 8 August was overshadowed by a fallout with his medical team, in particular club doctor Eva Carneiro.

Carneiro had her role downgraded after Mourinho said his medical staff were "naive" for running onto the pitch to treat attacking midfielder Eden Hazard.

She eventually left on 22 September and is now taking legal action against Mourinho and the Blues.

Mourinho also received a suspended stadium ban and £50,000 fine for claiming referees were "afraid" to award his team penalties in a 3-1 home loss to Southampton in October.

He subsequently had to serve a one-match stadium ban and pay a £40,000 fine for his behaviour during a 2-1 defeat by West Ham, when he spoke to referee Jon Moss at half-time.

 What now for Mourinho?

It is unlikely he will be out of management for long, given his record of success at Chelsea and other top European clubs.

He guided Porto and Inter Milan to Champions League glory in 2004 and 2010 respectively, then led Real Madrid to the Spanish La Liga title in 2012.

At 52, he is still some way from retirement age, but he has expressed a wish to coach the English and Portuguese national sides at some stage in his career.

In fact, he claimed he turned down the chance to become England boss when Steve McClaren was sacked in 2007.

Mourinho has a proven track record of bringing success over the short-term but doubts will remain over his ability to build a dynasty.

Will that make his candidature less appealing to the kind of club he is used to managing, such as German giants Bayern Munich, rising French stars Paris St-Germain or Premier League duo Manchester United or Manchester City?

What now for Chelsea?

 The Blues may be struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League table, but they are still in the Champions League and both domestic cups, while achieving European qualification is not impossible.

The key for any new manager is improving the morale of a talented squad that has underachieved this season.

Players such as Hazard, Diego Costa, Willian, and Oscar were key to Chelsea winning the league title but performances have fallen well below the heights they reached last year.

After the 2-1 defeat by Leicester Mourinho said he felt his "work was betrayed" by his players, and midfielder Cesc Fabregas has said it is time for everyone to step up.

"If you are a big player and paid like a big player, you must play like a big player and behave like a big player," said the Spain international.


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Samuel Eto given first managerial chance

Former Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o has been appointed interim player-manager at Turkish side Antalyaspor.

The 34-year-old striker, who joined the club on a three-year contract in June, has been given three matches to impress at the helm.

He takes over from Yusuf Simsek, whose contract was terminated by mutual consent on 7 December.

Antalyaspor will make a decision about whether to give Eto'o the role permanently after the winter break.

Eto'o will be guided and assisted by Mehmet Ugurlu, who is the club's technical director, as the Cameroonian takes his first steps into management.

The move is an unexpected one the former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea player, who has been involved in a number of controversial and damaging disputes with his country's football federation as well as with team-mates.

One of his former international team-mates, Patrick M'boma, admitted he was "surprised Eto'o has gone into management so soon".

But he revealed Eto'o, who he played alongside in two Africa Cup of Nations-winning sides, has long-held ambitions in that area.

"I know it was in his plans to be a manager - he told me many years ago," M'boma told BBC Sport.

"But from what I know he has no experience. I hope he will be a good manager but I do not know.

"He has the personality and the knowledge, but I am not sure he will have the patience. If he can improve on the areas where he is weak he could be a success."


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Barcelona's Messi, Neymar & Suarez fail to make Uefa XI

Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Neymar have been left out of Uefa's Champions League group stage XI,  despite the pair contending for the Ballon d'Or award.

Luis Suarez, Barca's top scorer with five goals in Group E, also missed out.

The forward trio scored 10 goals between them as Barcelona became the first to qualify with 14 points.

Dynamic trio

Messi, Neymar and Suarez have scored 46 goals between them in all competitions this season

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, Zenit St Petersburg's Hulk and Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller make up Uefa's attacking unit in the 4-3-3 formation.

Ronaldo, last year's Ballon d'Or winner, scored 11 goals during Madrid's group campaign.

Messi only played three matches in the opening stage, scoring three goals, after missing seven weeks of the season with a knee injury.

There is Premier League representation in the XI, with Chelsea's Willian and Manchester City's Raheem Sterling in midfield.

Brazilian Willian scored five goals, while England international Sterling grabbed three, with two coming in the final group game against Borussia Monchengladbach.

Champions League XI
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Michel Platini to boycott Fifa ethics hearing on corruption claims

Suspended Fifa vice-president Michel Platini will boycott an ethics committee hearing into allegations of corruption on Friday.

Lawyers for the Frenchman, who is also president of Uefa, believe the "verdict is already announced".

He is accused of receiving a £1.35m "disloyal payment" from Fifa president Sepp Blatter - who is also banned and facing ethics charges over the claim.

Both deny wrongdoing and were due to have personal hearings on Friday.

Blatter, 79, has compared the investigation against him to "the Inquisition", while 60-year-old Platini's attempt to lift his 90-day provisional ban from football denied by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on 11 December.

A verdict could come as early as 21 December, although both men could then submit further appeals.

Platini still hopes to be a candidate to replace the outgoing Blatter in the world football governing body's presidential election on 26 February - but can only stand if he is cleared.

However, he has expressed his "deepest outrage" at what he considers an attempt to prevent his candidacy.

In a statement issued on behalf of Fifa's ethics judges on Wednesday, Platini was told his case will be dealt with "independently and in an unbiased manner".

Platini's lawyer, Thibaud d'Ales, has previously said he believes Fifa's ethics investigators have recommended an "excessive" lifetime ban.

The Football Association said it would find it "difficult" to support Platini's bid to become Fifa president, even if he is cleared by the ethics committee.


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Chelsea: Cesc Fabregas says players must justify 'big wages'

Chelsea's players need to justify their "big wages" and start playing like "big players", says Blues' Cesc Fabregas.

The floundering Premier League champions are only one point above the relegation zone after Monday's ninth defeat of the season, at Leicester.

After the game boss Jose Mourinho said his "work was betrayed" by his players.

"If you are a big player, and paid like a big player, you must play like a big player and behave like a big player," said Spain midfielder Fabregas.

"I am not saying you can't have a bad season and bad games but the attitude must be spot on.

"We must always be at the top of our games, and the behaviour has to be better than what we are seeing right now from every single Chelsea player."
Chelsea are 16th with only 15 points following the defeat by table-topping Leicester.

Relegation is a possibility - Nevin

In Premier League history, when teams have had 15 points from 16 games, they have finished, on average, in 17th position - one place above the drop zone.

Mourinho says he does not believe the Stamford Bridge club are in a relegation battle.

"You have to be realistic about relegation," said Nevin. "Absolutely do not ignore it. When you lack confidence, that can spread through the team and it all can go against you.However, former Blues winger Pat Nevin told BBC Radio 5 live that the Portuguese should not "ignore the concept" of going down and that injuries could make it "even more difficult" to avoid being dragged into a "battle" to avoid the drop.

"I don't think they'll go down, but don't bury your head in the sand. It's a possibility so don't ignore it.

"I didn't think they'd be down there after 16 games. What about 20 games? What about 23 or 24? Then you start thinking about it."

Fabregas, speaking at a Facebook question and answer session, added: "Right now is not the time to think of where we might finish, we've been saying it almost all season."


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Bill Kennedy: NBA referee reveals he is gay after Rondo insults

Veteran NBA referee Bill Kennedy has revealed he is gay after being the subject of homophobic insults from Sacramento guard Rajon Rondo.

Kennedy was confronted by Rondo after ejecting him on two technical fouls during the game between the Kings and Boston Celtcs in Mexico on 3 December.

"I am proud to be an NBA referee and I am proud to be a gay man," said Kennedy, an official for 18 seasons.

"My actions were out of frustration and emotion, period," tweeted Rondo.

"They absolutely do not reflect my feelings toward the LGBT community. I did not mean to offend or disrespect anyone."

The Sacramento player was banned for one game for his actions.Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo responded on Monday to the reports of his confrontation with Kennedy

NBA commissioner Adam Silver stated: "I wholeheartedly support Bill's decision to live his life proudly and openly.

"Throughout his 18-year career with the league, Bill has excelled as a referee because of his passion, dedication and courage. Those qualities will continue to serve him well both as a game official and as a positive influence for others."

Kennedy, 49, has officiated 1,056 NBA games and 68 play-off contests, including five NBA Finals matches. He also worked at the 2010 World Championships and 2012 London Olympics.

He added: "I am following in the footsteps of others who have self-identified in the hopes that will send a message to young men and women in sports that you must allow no-one to make you feel ashamed of who you are."

Kennedy is the second NBA referee to announce being gay after Violet Palmer made the same declaration in 2014 upon marrying her long-time partner.


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Andre Ayew, two others contend for CAF Player Of The Year 2015

Ghana midfielder Andre Ayew has been named as one of the top three contenders for the 2015 African Player of the Year Award ceremony which will be held on Thursday, January 7, 2016 in Abuja, Nigeria.

The Swansea City winger will face competition from four-time African Footballer of the Year Yaya Toure (Manchester City) and Gabonese forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the topmost award.

This was unveiled at a press conference attended by CAF Excutive member Anjorin Moucharafou and Glo representatives on Monday, 14 December 2015 in Abuja, Nigeria.

Ghana youth international Yaw Yeboah and the Black Queen's player Portia Boakye have all been named as nominees in the Youth Player of the Year and the Women footballer of the year categories respectively for the 2015 Glo-CAF Awards.

The Black Stars who were runners up at the 2015 AFCON and All African Games winners Black Queens have all been nominated for the Team of the Year in their various categories.

The categories include; Women Player of the Year, Youth Player of the Year, Most Promising Talent, Coach of the Year, Referee of the Year, African Legend, National Team of the Year, Women National Team of the Year, Club of the Year, Platinum Award.

Below are the nominees for the various categories in alphabetical order;

African Footballer of the Year
• Yaya Toure
• Andre Dede Ayew
• Pierre Emerick Aubameyang

Women Player of the Year
• Gabrielle Onguéné, Cameroon
• Gaelle Enganamouit, Cameroon
• Ngozi Ebere, Nigeria
• N'rehy Tia Ines, Cote d’Ivoire
• Portia Boakye, Ghana

Youth Player of the Year
• Adama Traore, Mali
• Kelechi Nwakali, Nigeria
• Samuel Diarra, Mali
• Victor Osimhen, Nigeria
• Yaw Yeboah, Ghana

Most Promising Talent
• Azubuike Okechukwu, Nigeria
• Etebo Oghenekaro, Nigeria
• Djigui Diarra, Mali
• Mahmoud Abdelmonem ‘kahraba’, Egypt
• Zinedine Ferhat, Algeria

Coach of the Year
• Baye Ba, Mali, U17
• Emmanuel Amunike, Nigeria U17
• Fawzi Benzarti, Etoile Sportive de Sahel
• Hervé Renard, Cote d’ivore
• Patrice Carteron, TP Mazembe

Referee of the Year
• Alioum Neant, Cameroon
• Bakary Papa GASSAMA, Gambia
• Eric Arnaud OTOGO CASTANE, Gabon
• Ghead Zaglol GRISHA, Egypt
• Janny SIKAZWE, Zambia

African Legend
• Charles Kumi Gyamfi, Ghana
• Samuel Mbappé Léppé, Cameroon

National Team of the Year
• Cote d’Ivoire
• Ghana
• Mali U17
• Nigeria U17
• Nigeria U-23

Women National Team of the Year
• Ghana
• Cameroon
• South Africa
• Zimbabwe

Club of the Year
• USM Algers , Algeria
• TP Mazembe, DR Congo
• Orlando Pirates, South Africa
• Etoile Sportive du Sahel, Tunisia
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Sepp Blatter: Fifa ethics committee like 'the Inquisition'

Suspended Fifa president Sepp Blatter has compared the investigation into ethics charges against him to "the Inquisition".

Blatter, 79, made the claim in a letter sent to all 209 national football associations reiterating his innocence.

The Swiss was banned for 90 days in October, along with Uefa president Michel Platini. Both deny wrongdoing.

Blatter and Platini, 60, will have personal hearings with Fifa's ethics committee this week.

World football's governing body is investigating allegations that a £1.35m payment was made in 2011 for work Platini did as Blatter's adviser.

The term Spanish Inquisition is colloquially used to describe being asked questions which those facing them do not feel they need to answer.

In the letter Blatter says:

  • He has acted in his role with "complete loyalty and in good faith"
  • The payment to Platini was based on a "verbal contract"
  • His view is based on his "firm faith in justice"
  • He hopes 2016 will be a better year for Fifa

Blatter also criticised the ethics committee's process, accusing them of "seeking the maximum penalty and strengthening the public attitude" which leads to "prejudice".

He added: "This process brings to my mind the practices of the Inquisition."

Blatter and Platini's hearings will take place before the Fifa ethics adjudicator Hans-Joachim Eckert at an undisclosed location.

Both men will have separate hearings which, taken together, could stretch over three days and both are entitled to bring legal teams with them.

A verdict could come as early as 21 December.

Platini's bid to have his 90-day provisional ban from football lifted was denied by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on 11 December.

The Frenchman still hopes to be a candidate to replace outgoing president Blatter in the Fifa presidential elected on 26 February but can only stand if he is cleared.


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Nigeria need to improve despite win - Siasia

Nigeria coach Samson Siasia has urged his players not to rest on their laurels after their Under-23 Africa Cup of Nations success.

The Nigerians beat Algeria 2-1 on Saturday to win the trophy having already sealed a place at the Olympics.

Despite the success Siasia does not feel his side were at their best.

"We are happy we've won a very difficult tournament but there's a lot of work to be done between now and August," he told BBC Sport.

"I wasn't even sure we could make it to the final but through hard work and intense discussions after every game ensured the boys corrected their mistakes - we came out victorious.

"There can be no substitute for hard work, concentration, serious focus and that's what we're going to do.

"If you don't get it right, you're in trouble at a major tournament like the Olympics. We still have a lot of tidying up to do over all.

"I have to thank the players for what they have done but they should not let it get to their heads because we need to correct our mistakes and improve our game before the Olympics."

Even though Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, after crashing out in the group stages of the maiden African Under-23 Championship in Morocco in 2011, they boast a proud record at The Games.

They made Olympic football history in 1996 by becoming the first African team to win the gold medal and were also runners-up at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when Siasia also coached the side.

Meanwhile, Nigeria and runners-up Algeria alongside South Africa will represent Africa at Rio 2016 Olympics, all of the qualifiers will be allowed to include three players over 23 in their final squad for the Gamesa.

It is the first time that both the South Africa men's and women's football teams have qualified for an Olympics.


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Leicester top after beating Chelsea

Jamie Vardy scored his 15th goal of the season as Leicester beat Chelsea to move back to the Premier League summit.

After Chelsea lost Eden Hazard to injury, former non-league striker Vardy volleyed in Riyad Mahrez's cross before Mahrez found the top corner for his 11th league goal of the season.

With John Terry then withdrawn, Chelsea went on the attack as Loic Remy nodded in from Pedro's cross.

But they slumped to a ninth defeat and remain a point above the bottom three.

'We are not safe yet'

Leicester 2-1 Chelsea

Leicester goalscorer Riyad Mahrez speaking to Sky Sports: "I don't know if no-one can stop me but I need to do my best for the team, but the most important thing is the performance of the team, we did a great game and deserved the win. I have a lot of confidence, when you keep scoring and making assists it's normal to have confidence."

Asked if Leicester were safe, he added: "We are not definitely safe, we need 40 or 42 points for that." Can they keep up the pace?



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Champions League draw: Arsenal face Barcelona, Chelsea drawn against Paris St-Germain for the third consecutive season

Arsenal will face holders Barcelona in the Champions League last 16.

Chelsea have been drawn against Paris St-Germain for the third consecutive season, while Manchester City face Dynamo Kiev.

Roma versus Real Madrid and Juventus, last year's beaten finalists, against Bayern Munich are two of the standout matches in the draw.

First legs are scheduled to take place on 16-17 and 23-24 February. Return legs are on 8-9 and 15-16 March.

The winners of each group, including Chelsea and Manchester City, are at home in the second legs, while Arsenal will host their first leg.

Barcelona v Arsenal is a repeat of the 2006 final, which the Spanish champions won 2-1 thanks to two late goals in Paris.

PSG, who are 17 points clear at the top of the French league, knocked Chelsea out on away goals at this stage last season, while the Blues beat them on the same rule in the quarter-finals the previous year.

Dynamo Kiev beat Manchester City in the 2010-11 Europa League last 16, with striker Mario Balotelli sent off for the English side.

The first leg in Kiev will be played in a stadium without any supporters present, as Dynamo Kiev were punished following racist attacks on fans during a group game against Chelsea.

The draw for the quarter-finals will be held on 18 March with the semi-final line-up drawn on 15 April.

Draw in full

Gent v Wolfsburg

Roma v Real Madrid

Paris St-Germain v Chelsea

Arsenal v Barcelona

Juventus v Bayern Munich

PSV Eindhoven v Atletico Madrid

Benfica v Zenit St Petersburg

Dynamo Kiev v Manchester City


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Euro 2016 draw: England to face Wales in France

Wales and England will meet at Euro 2016 after being drawn together in Group B for next summer's finals in France.

Russia and Slovakia are the other teams in their group.

European Championship debutants Northern Ireland are in Group C with world champions Germany, Poland and Ukraine.

The Republic of Ireland are up against the world's top-ranked side Belgium, Italy and Sweden in Group E.

The first game of the tournament will be at the Stade de France between France and Romania on Friday, 10 June at 20:00 BST.

Wales' match against England is the second game for both countries in their group, in Lens on Thursday, 16 June.

Northern Ireland kick off their group against Poland on Sunday, 12 June and end it against Germany nine days later.

The Republic face Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden in their 13 June opener and conclude their group games against Italy on 22 June.

This year's tournament is the largest European Championship ever, with 24 teams.

The top two from each group will go through to the last 16, while the best four third-placed teams also progress - meaning only eight teams are eliminated in the group stages.

This is Wales' first tournament appearance in 58 years, and boss Chris Coleman had said he wanted to avoid England because it would be "viewed as a battle of Britain" and a "distraction".

But his fears were realised early on in the draw, with the top seeds drawn first - followed by the bottom seeds.

And employers may have to brace themselves for a lot of leave requests on Thursday, 16 June because England's meeting with Wales is a 14:00 BST kick-off.

The winners of Group B will face a third-placed team in the last 16, while the runners-up will face the team who finish second in a group comprising Portugal, Iceland, Austria and Hungary.

Managers and pundits react

England manager Roy Hodgson told BBC Sport: "I feel good about it. There was always a very good chance we would meet one of the home nations. Wales are very organised, they have a strong spirit and a good spine."

Wales boss Chris Coleman: "Well, we've got them, it will be a great game. We would have wanted to avoid it, but we look forward to it. We deserve to be here and I think the tournament will be a fantastic one."

Former England striker Alan Shearer: "For the first time in a long time England will go to a tournament without any real stars. It might be early for them but we do have Cahill, Barkley and Stones, and a very good goalkeeper in Hart.

"Overall, England have to be very pleased with the group they have been drawn in. Yes, it will be tough but if we don't get out of that group there will be something very wrong."

Former Wales striker John Hartson: "I wanted that. It's a great game for supporters, for television, and the players will look forward to it. I think players from both countries will be pleased with that."

Ex-Wales captain Kevin Ratcliffe: "I'd rather be playing England than France, Germany or Spain. There are other countries that actually scare me more than they do."


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Bournemouth Stun Manchester United

Manchester United lost ground at the top of the table as their former striker Joshua King scored the winner in Bournemouth's 2-1 triumph - the Cherries' second shock win in a week.

After David de Gea was beaten direct from a corner by Junior Stanislas, United equalised via Marouane Fellaini.

The visitors faded after the break and could not fight back after King fired in from Matt Richie's set-piece.

United will slip to fifth if Tottenham beat Newcastle on Sunday.

The scoreline and final few minutes could have been more comfortable for the hosts, but substitute Glenn Murray squandered two excellent chances to put Bournemouth further out of reach.

Bournemouth are up to 14th in the Premier League on the back of successive victories, having beaten defending champions Chelsea last weekend.

A striking lack of quality

United boss Louis van Gaal bemoaned his options in attack last week, claiming that Barcelona's Luis Suarez or Manchester City's Sergio Aguero would convert the chances his strikers were missing.

It is difficult to imagine either player squandering the two fine openings that Anthony Martial - now without a goal in nine Premier League games - created for himself.

But United were lacking in plenty of other areas.

Daley Blind, the experienced head in a fresh-faced defence, was caught horribly out of position to allow Murray in on goal, the midfield created little and the team as a whole were out-fought by a spirited Cherries' side.

When Fellaini trudged off to be replaced by Nick Powell in the 74th minute, their best hope of a point went with him.

Junior the senior partner in Bournemouth attack

Bournemouth's victory at Stamford Bridge seven days ago was akin to a smash-and-grab raid based on 37% of possession, a sturdy defence and a well-executed set-piece.

But against United they were a constant danger on the counter with the pacey, intelligent runs of Stanislas off the wing posing a particular threat.

After his swirling delivery had caught out De Gea, Stanislas ran clean through, only for the United goalkeeper to make partial amends as he smothered at his feet.

King, who made two substitute appearances for United during his three and a half years at the club, had looked less assured in the Cherries attack, but guided in an awkward half-volley as a rehearsed corner routine came off for the hosts.

Seven years on

As the home fans constantly reminded their United counterparts, Bournemouth "come from League Two".

They came dangerously close to slipping even further down the divisions in the 2008-09 season as they successfully fought administration and relegation to the Conference.

At the same time United were lifting a third successive Premier League title under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson.

United chief executive Ed Woodward, who watched on stony-faced in the Vitality Stadium stands, will not enjoy the contrast in fortunes now.

Manager reaction

Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe: "We try not to focus on the injuries we've had.

"We still believe we're strong enough. Hopefully the last few games is the proof.

"We've looked at the last few games as turning points - we're looking at this run as hopefully something of a start for us."

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal: "The attitude of the players I liked. But that is not the only important thing - you have to perform in a certain way.

"It is always very disappointing when you are at the top of the table when you lose to a club at the bottom of the table."



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Roger Federer to partner Martina Hingis at 2016 Olympics

Roger Federer will partner former Wimbledon champion Martina Hingis for Switzerland in the mixed doubles at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Federer, 34, and Hingis last played mixed doubles together at the Hopman Cup in Australia in 2001.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion said he is "really excited".

"I looked up to her when I was younger, I thought she was the most unbelievable talent," added Federer, who is a year younger than Hingis.

"She's almost my age and she was winning Grand Slams while I was still at the national tennis centre and I couldn't believe how good she was."

Hingis, 35, has won five Grand Slam singles titles in her career, including Wimbledon in 1997 at the age of 16.

She came out of retirement for a second time in 2013 and has since enjoyed great doubles success, winning five titles in 2015, including the mixed doubles and the women's doubles at the US Open.

Federer won Olympic gold in the men's doubles in Beijing in 2008 and silver in the men's singles in London four years later.

"I`ve always said the Olympics is very important to me," added the world number two.

"Every Olympic Games has been a super-amazing experience, an eye-opener, a great learning curve for me, seeing other athletes, getting inspired and motivated, carrying the flag is such a proud moment in my career and my life as a person, to have done that twice for Switzerland was incredible in Athens and in Beijing."


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Jose Mourinho: Chelsea manager wants 'dream' fourth place

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho wants to achieve a "dream" by finishing in the top four at the end of the season.

The Premier League champions have struggled so far, lying in 14th place, 14 points off fourth position.

"Maybe we have a chance to dream with a great finish and finish fourth. While it is mathematically possibly, we have to try," said Mourinho.

The Blues travel to face surprise leaders Leicester in the league on Monday (kick-off 20:00 GMT).

'I was convinced of fourth'

In a season full of shock results for Mourinho's men, last weekend's 1-0 defeat by Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge was arguably the most surprising.

The Cherries became the first promoted side to beat Chelsea at home since Charlton in April 2001. It left the London side just two points above the relegation zone.

"Before we lost the last three points against Bournemouth, I was convinced of fourth, of a great December for us," said Mourinho. "I have to be honest and say the last defeat was something that I was far away from believing was possible.

"The reality is that some clubs are doing so well, and some are not capable of doing what people are used to. It is not possible for clubs to win three, four, five, 10 matches in a row now."

'I've started so I'll finish'

Chelsea's poor start to the season has led to questions about Mourinho's future at Stamford Bridge but the Portuguese is adamant he will remain in his job and praised the club's fans.

"I imagine myself finishing my contract with Chelsea," he added. "I have three and half years on my contract.

"After that I imagine myself coaching, not every club, there are some clubs I will never manage.

"I think that the bad results are not normal, but the chance for every manager to do his work and finish what he started is. What is not normal is what is happening now.

"When people are so nice to me and they sing my name and 'Stand up for the Special One', I feel a bit embarrassed, because I don't know how to react."



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Dede Ayew loses out – Yaya Toure wins BBC African Footballer of the Year award 2015

Yaya Toure has been voted the BBC African Footballer of the Year 2015.

The 32-year-old Ivory Coast midfielder becomes only the third player, after Nigerians Nwankwo Kanu and Jay-Jay Okocha, to receive the honour twice.

Football fans voted for Manchester City’s Toure, who first won in 2013, ahead of Yacine Brahimi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Andre Ayew and Sadio Mane.

“I am very proud. To receive this dedication from the fans is unbelievable,” Toure told BBC Sport.

“Also I want to pay tribute to the other nominees. African football is growing up, becoming much better and we have fantastic young players coming through now.

“We are all champions. We all want to win. For me to be the winner I am delighted and very happy. And as an African player, I want to lead all my younger brothers to be successful in the future.

“When I was a kid I was always dreaming of being an important player. I have sacrificed a lot and when I receive trophies like this I am always happy and always delighted.

“I will continue to try to win a trophy every year, I will fight to win a personal trophy.”

Two of the beaten nominees have won the award before, Algeria's Brahimi in 2014 and Ghanaian Ayew in 2011. Gabon's Aubameyang was on the shortlist for the third year running, while Senegalese Mane made it for the first time.

Toure has been nominated for the award seven times and his second win ensures his year ends with a trophy, just as it began when he led Ivory Coast to glory at the Africa Cup of Nations.

He captained the team in Equatorial Guinea and opened the scoring in the semi-final to put his side on course for a 3-1 victory over Democratic Republic of Congo.

Toure was a key influence as his country end a 23-year wait for their second Nations Cup title, overcoming Ghana in a penalty shootout in the final.

It was Toure's first trophy with the national team in his sixth Nations Cup tournament, and having lost in two finals - in 2006 and 2012.

There was less success for Toure with Manchester City, who failed to defend their English Premier League 2014 title and finished second to Chelsea.

But Toure remains a powerful presence in the heart of the midfield and contributed seven goals for City in the calendar year.

Vera Kwakofi, Current Affairs Editor, BBC Africa, said: "Yaya Toure's leadership for country and club offers an example for many young footballers aspiring to emulate his career.

"We are pleased that as the BBC we are here to celebrate and share in this moment with his fans around the world."

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Manchester United were eliminated from the Champions League in dramatic fashion by a late loss at Wolfsburg.

The Red Devils made an ideal start when Anthony Martial caressed Juan Mata's pinpoint pass into the bottom corner.

Wolfsburg replied within three minutes through Naldo's sharp volley and led when Vieirinha finished a flowing move.

United thought they were through after Josuha Guilavogui's own goal, only to be condemned to the Europa League by Naldo's late header.

Madchester's night of Euro madness

Louis van Gaal's side knew they would qualify for the last 16 by beating Wolfsburg, or if they matched PSV Eindhoven's result against CSKA Moscow.

Twice inside the final 15 minutes, United thought they were progressing at the expense of the Dutch side, who needed to better the Red Devils' result.

CSKA led 1-0 in Eindhoven as United trailed, before both PSV and United were briefly level in their respective games.

But late goals for Wolfsburg and PSV, who won 2-1, knocked out Van Gaal's team.
United's late misery was a stark contrast to Manchester City, who saw fortune swing back in their favour as their neighbours unravelled.

Five goals were netted inside six minutes across the two games, with City coming back to win 4-2 against Borussia Monchengladbach and pip Juventus to win Group D.

That means the Blues will avoid the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the last 16, while the Red Devils face the prospect of Europa League football in the New Year.

Excitement, but an exit

Van Gaal has been criticised by some Red Devils supporters for his pragmatic, defence-minded approach - United were booed off after Saturday's 0-0 draw with West Ham at Old Trafford, the fifth time in nine matches they had failed to score.
However, United freed the shackles and produced an entertaining display in Germany, yet it was one that ultimately led to their exit from Europe's premier club competition.

Martial settled any early United nerves by racing on to Mata's perfectly weighted through ball, taking a touch before coolly sliding past Wolfsburg keeper Diego Benaglio.

Van Gaal's side continued to create chances, only to see Benaglio brilliantly stop Marouane Fellaini's first-half header and Memphis Depay's far-post volley after the break.

Fellaini's height caused problems at the corner which led to Wolfsburg midfielder Guilavogui flicking into his own net, but United were undone by their own defensive deficiencies.

Defensive horror show costs United

While United found a solution to their recent goalscoring woes, a suspect defensive display resulted in their downfall.

Wolfsburg threatened United with blistering counter-attacks and slick, one-touch passing around the penalty area.

But, more importantly, the Premier League side twice switched off at Wolfsburg set-pieces shortly after scoring themselves.

Injury-hit United had a makeshift defence, with young Uruguayan right-back Guillermo Varela making his first start for the club, and teenager Cameron Borthwick-Jackson playing for almost 50 minutes after replacing injured left-back Matteo Darmian.

It was a lack of organisation - and possibly experience - that allowed Brazilian defender Naldo to score the late winner.

Was disallowed United goal a turning point?

Van Gaal said afterwards that United were unfairly denied an equaliser shortly before half-time, a decision which he felt could have changed the complexion of the match and their Champions League future.

The visitors thought they had equalised when Jesse Lingard curled a 20-yard shot past Benaglio.

But their celebrations were cut short when the assistant referee raised his flag, after a long delay, for offside against Mata.

However, replays proved the official was correct with his decision. Despite not touching the ball, Mata's movement in front of Benaglio clearly impacted the Wolfsburg keeper.

Security alert holds up spectators

Spectators in the Volkswagen Arena were prevented from leaving the ground after a suspect package was found in a car park outside the stadium.

After approximately 15 minutes, fans were allowed to leave after police were satisfied it was not a bomb.

It did mean United's VIP flight back to Manchester, which included Van Gaal and his players, former boss Sir Alex Ferguson and former chief executive David Gill, was slightly delayed.


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Bastian Schweinsteiger banned for three games by FA

Manchester United midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger will be banned for three matches after accepting a Football Association charge of violent conduct.

He was charged after catching West Ham's Winston Reid with his left arm as they waited for a free-kick in Saturday's 0-0 draw at Old Trafford.

The incident was not seen by the match officials but was caught on video.

Schweinsteiger, 31, will miss games against Bournemouth, Norwich and Stoke, and return in time to play Chelsea.

Referee Mark Clattenburg spoke to both players after the incident, but did not mention it in his post-match report.

A panel of three former elite referees each reviewed the video footage independently of one another and unanimously decided it was a sending-off offence.

"He knows what he's done - he's elbowed me in the face," Reid said following the match.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic said it was "a clear red card - a straight red without any doubts".

He added: "It was a moment of madness. He deserved to be sent off, but the referee told me he didn't see it. Fair enough, I believe it. It was an elbow."

Germany captain Schweinsteiger, who was part of their 2014 World Cup-winning side, joined United from Bayern Munich during the summer and has made 24 appearances for the club, scoring one goal.


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Avram Grant wants Swansea City job

Ghana are on the verge of losing Avram Grant as coach of the Black Stars as he is the favourite to take over as the manager of struggling English Premier League side Swansea City, Ghana's leading football news outfit can exclusively reveal.

The board of the Swans are plotting to bring the Israeli coach back to the English Premier League just ten months after leading Ghana to the final of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea.

Sources close to the Welsh club have revealed that the Swans are seriously considering the former Chelsea coach for the vacant post.

Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins is stepping up the recruitment process after firing the entire backroom staff of the Swans this afternoon following yesterday's dismissal of head coach Garry Monk.

Swans have confirmed that assistant manager Pep Clotet and coaches James Beattie and Kristian O’Leary have left the club following the departure of manager Garry Monk.

A club statement confirmed the expected exits, adding: “The club would like to thank Pep, James and Kristian for their service … A statement regarding the management structure for Saturday’s fixture at Manchester City will be confirmed in due course.”

Jenkins is understood to have a preferred target in mind, who could be another manager to be recruited from overseas and Ghana's coach is understood to be the right man for the club.

If he signs the deal with the Welsh club he will reunite with Swansea City's Andre Ayew who is the deputy captain of the Ghana national team.

Grant has one year left on his contract with the Ghana Football Association as the coach of the Black Stars.

Monk had only signed a three-year contract in July, after leading Swansea to a club-record eighth-place finish in the Premier League the previous season.



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Tiger Woods says he has 'nothing to look forward to'

Former world number one Tiger Woods says he has "nothing to look forward to" in his recovery from back surgery.

The 39-year-old 14-time major winner has not swung a golf club since operations in September and October.

Asked about his return, he said: "I've no answer. Neither does my surgeon or physio. There's no timetable.

"There's nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards. Where's the light at the end of the tunnel? I don't know."

Woods had two operations to alleviate pain from a pinched nerve.

Revealing that he has spent most of his time playing video games, the American said he had not done any rehabilitation work on his back and that physical activities were limited.

"I walk and I walk. I'm just walking, and that's it," said Woods, whose last major victory was at the US Open in 2008.

"It's different from the other surgeries I've had in the past. For nerves there are really no timetables."

Woods, who turns 40 on 30 December, missed the cut at three of the four majors this year and played in only 11 events. He remains on 79 PGA Tour victories.

He played only seven tournaments in 2014, having missed three months of the season after surgery on a pinched nerve in his back in March 2014.

"For my 20 years out here I achieved a lot," he said. "I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy. If that's all it entails then I've had a pretty good run. But I'm hoping that's not it.

"I'm hoping I can get out here and compete against these guys. I really do miss it."

He has been named as one of United States captain Davis Love III's assistants for the 2016 Ryder Cup, but said he still hopes to make the team.

Woods has played in seven Ryder Cups, the most recent in 2012 under Love's captaincy.



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