Fifa World Cup 2014 quarter-finals begin to take shape

30 June, 2014

The Fifa World Cup in Brazil is continuing at a pace with the line-up for the first two quarter-finals already decided. The first will see the Netherlands take on surprise package Costa Rica, with the second involving the host Brazil and many people's dark horse to lift the trophy, Colombia.

The 2010 runners-up the Netherlands secured their spot in the quarter-final with a hard-fought victory over central American side Mexico. The orange men left it late, as they trailed 1-0 with just three minutes remaining, thanks to a fantastic goal from former Tottenham Hotspur man Giovanni Dos Santos.

However, Mexico owed their position to the performance of Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who continued his superb performances to deny the Dutch on a number of occasions. His resilience was broken in the 88th minute by a Wesley Sneijder thunderbolt from the edge of the area.

The drama continued in stoppage time as Arjen Robben tumbled over in the box and Klaas Jan Huntelaar put away the penalty to send the Dutch through to a quarter final date with Costa Rica.

The World Cup underdogs continued their surprising run with a victory over Greece on penalties, despite playing over an hour with just ten men. Former Fulham man Bryan Ruiz gave them the lead early in the second half, but they were up against it when Oscar Duarte saw red for two bookable offences.

They held on until stoppage time, but Greek centre back Sokratis Papastathopoulos scrambled the ball home to send the tie into extra time. Both sides had chances in the extra period, but were unable to convert and the lottery of penalties decided the game.

Costa Rica showed no nerves in the shootout, scoring all five of their spot kicks, while Greece missed their fourth, to slump to a 5-3 loss.

The other mouth-watering quarter-final will be an all South American clash between host Brazil and Colombia. Both sides possess an array of attacking talent, with the likes of Neymar Jr and James Rodriguez both hoping to set the world stage alight in the encounter.

Brazil struggled to secure their spot in the quarter-final and were forced all the way to penalties by Chile. Thankfully for the hosts, Julio Cesar was on form in goal and saved two penalties to send Chile home.

Colombia's path to the quarter-final was made easier by Uruguay's Luis Suarez's ban for biting and they made their dominance count with a high-quality display that saw them run out 2-0 winners. The victory set up the tie with the hosts and Colombia will be hoping to spoil the party and end Brazil's involvement in their own tournament.

What's next for Miami Heat's LeBron James?

30 June, 2014

LeBron James has carved himself out a fantastic career in the NBA since he was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003. He is now regarded as the best player in the league, but he does not have the trophies in the cabinet to back it up.

His time in Cleveland was full of disappointment as the franchise consistently fell short on the big occasion. Things changed when he moved to Miami to join up with the Heat and he picked up NBA Finals wins in both 2012 and 2013, with James being named MVP on each occasion. However, his 2014 season ended in disappointment once more as the Heat fell to a 4-1 defeat in the Finals to the San Antonio Spurs.

Perhaps this was the final straw for James as he has decided to opt out of his contract in Miami, which means he will be available for a move to any of the NBA's top franchises. There is a potential for a free for all to secure the services of James for next season and a host of teams are already circling and putting together their best offers to present to James when negotiations can officially begin on July 1st.

Many believe the move to declare himself a free agent is simply a way of forcing the Heat to increase his salary and the financial benefits that come with being the best player in the NBA. He was also delighted with the acquisitions the Heat made during the NBA Draft last week and may be persuaded to stay and build another championship-winning team.

However, there is the possibility that James is prepared to leave Miami and a host of teams in the NBA will be willing to lay it all on the line to grab the talent.

His former team the Cavaliers are in the running to tempt their star man back to Ohio, where James was happy and close to his childhood home. There are also reports suggesting he could make a move to Los Angeles, with both the Lakers and the Clippers looking to secure his services. Franchises in both New York and Chicago are also expected to be in the running for James.

However, those that do go all out to sign James will need to make adjustments elsewhere due to the wage cap imposed on all NBA teams. Although it looks set to be increased for the forthcoming season, the addition of the NBA's best player, who demands wages to match his status, could result in franchises trading other players to free up some of their wage bill.

Future stars lineup for 2014 NBA Draft

26 June, 2014

The NBA Draft is one of the most hotly-anticipated events in the basketball calendar, behind only the NBA Finals series. It sees youngsters from colleges all over the US and around the world line up to see if and when they will be picked by a franchise to be their next big star.

This year's draft takes place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, with the 2014 pool of players seeming to be one of the strongest the NBA has seen since the famous 2003 draft, which included the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James. All four have gone on to become All-Stars and legends of the modern game.

Friday's (June 26th) draft will see Cleveland Cavaliers make the first pick for the second consecutive year, after being the first name out of the hat in the draft lottery.

The Milwaukee Bucks will make the second pick, followed by the Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz. NBA Finals winners San Antonio Spurs will make the 30th and final first round pick, while runners-up the Miami Heat will make the 26th pick.

This season's talented draft list included Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, T. J. Warren, Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh, Gary Harris and Tyler Ennis, with all expected to be in high demand when Friday rolls around.

Australian player Dante Exum and Croatian Dario Šarić have also declared their availability and could be signed by an NBA franchise.

The level of talent on offer in this year's draft has made it difficult for the Cavaliers when it comes to making the first pick. The franchise's decision could have a knock-on effect throughout the first round, and reports emerging from the US suggest the club are struggling to settle on who they should plump for.

According to the latest rumours, the Cavs management is torn between Parker and Wiggins for their overall top pick, with meetings going on long into the night with Cleveland discussing the pros and cons of each of the young stars.

To make matters worse, the teams following the Cavs in the draft list have been putting pressure on the franchise to trade their top pick. The Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers have each offered their high lottery picks and NBA veterans to move into pole position. It is thought a strong line-up of tried and tested veterans could be enough to encourage LeBron James to return to Cleveland, where he was originally drafted in 2003.

Attention turns to Silverstone for the next round of the F1 season

25 June, 2014

The Formula One season continued to excite and thrill audiences in equal measure during the Austrian Grand Prix last weekend, with Mercedes' Nico Rosberg coming out on top in the race, the first at the circuit for more than a decade.

The German's win saw him extend his lead over teammate Lewis Hamilton at the top of the drivers' standings, while Valterri Bottas secured his first ever podium position, ahead of teammate Felipe Massa and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

A dreadful start to the season for current world champion Sebastian Vettel continued at his team's home race, as he suffered a loss of drive on the first lap. Eventually he managed to get the car going again, but found himself a lap down. Damage to his nose and a fault with his DRS system eventually forced the team to retire the car and Vettel watched the remaining laps from his garage.

The German's non-finish leaves him 105 points off the championship lead and requiring a miracle to hold onto his title this season. However, he will be hoping his luck will turn round on July 6th when he takes to the Silverstone track for the ninth round of this season.

Last season's Silverstone race was seen as a turning point for Vettel, as a number of tyre blowouts during the race saw Pirelli revert back to its more durable 2012 tyre compounds for the remaining races, a move that favoured the Red Bull's. After the British Grand Prix in 2013 Vettel went on to win ten of the remaining 11 races, to lift the trophy once again.

It won't just be Vettel who is looking for a turnaround in his fortunes. Former world champion Hamilton will be looking to wrestle some momentum away from his teammate in his home race. He has good memories of the redeveloped circuit as he picked up a win there for McLaren in 2008.

Since losing to Rosberg in Monaco, Hamilton has been second best to his teammate, being beaten in qualifying and the race in both Canada and Austria, with Rosberg winning each event.

Speaking about his recent form and chances at his home race, he said: "I have had a couple of dodgy races so I want to get it back to where it should be. I just need to pull my socks up and make sure that I captialise on my own pace and use that at weekends otherwise Nico will have it."

Hamilton described his win in 2008 at Silverstone as "unbelievable" and is hoping to repeat the feeling on the first weekend in July.

Fellow Brit Jenson Button will also be hoping to put in a good show at his home race. The former world champion has never stood on top of the podium at Silverstone and will be desperate to join other modern day British winners - David Coulthard, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Johnny Herbert - in the history books.

World Cup hotting up in Group E-H

24 June, 2014

The final games in Groups E, F, G and H get underway later this week, with a host of teams looking to secure their progress into the knockout stage of the World Cup and avoid an embarrassing early exit, as has already befallen a number of teams this time around.

In the second half of the draw, which has been the more competitive section of the draw, only one team is playing for nothing in the final group game - Bosnia-Herzegovina - who have fallen to defeats to both Argentina and Nigeria.

Group E has been dominated by France so far, with Les Bleus netting eight times in just two games. Didier Deschamps' side could still miss out on the knockout stages if they fall to a heavy defeat at the hands of Ecuador and Switzerland bag a hatful of goals against Honduras in their final game.

However, that is an unlikely series of events, and with all the other teams in the group still with a chance of qualifying the final games are expected to be competitive.

Argentina have already guaranteed their spot in the next round with narrow victories over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran thanks to Lionel Messi's brilliance. They will take on second-placed Nigeria in the final game, with the Super Eagles knowing that a draw against the group leaders will take them into the knockout stages for the first time since 1998.

The second game in the group will see Iran, who have impressed so far in the tournament, take on already eliminated Bosnia-Herzegovina. Iran are yet to score in the tournament, but should they take victory in the game and Nigeria fall to Argentina, they could advance to the next round for the first time in their history if goal difference goes their way.

Group G, which has been one of the most competitive in the tournament, is finely poised going into the final group games. Germany and the USA sit in the top two spots at the moment, on four points, while Ghana and Portugal both have a solitary point.

Germany and the USA are set to face off in the game that will decide the winner of the group, with both going into the game knowing a win would guarantee an easier route to the latter stages of the tournament, but that a draw would see them both progress into the round of 16.

In the other game, Ghana and Portugal will be battling it out for their first win of the tournament. Both teams know that they are relying on a victor emerging from the other game if they are to have any chance of advancing.

Ghana have once again impressed on football's biggest stage and are the favourites of many neutral fans, while Portugal have struggled with injuries, suspension and poor displays from Cristiano Ronaldo. However, both have a chance to progress and their clash is expected to be one of the most exciting in the final round of group matches.

There are a number of issues still to be resolved in Group H. Belgium have secured their spot in the next round with two wins out of two, but will be looking to secure top spot in the final round of games. They take on South Korea in the final group game, with the 2002 fourth-placed team looking to rescue their disappointing World Cup campaign.

A comfortable win for South Korea and a draw in the other game between Algeria and Russia would be enough to see them through to the next round. Both Algeria and Russia will be keen to finish Group H on a high. A Russian win would see them move above Algeria in the table, while a win for the Desert Warriors could see them top the group if Belgium fail to pick up points.

Make or break time for Groups A-D at 2014 World Cup

23 June, 2014

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil has got off to a flying start, with the majority of the games so far in the group stage offering attacking football and plenty of goals. Some teams have already fallen by the wayside, with England, Spain, Australia and Cameroon all resigned to a flight home after their final group game later this week.

However, there is still a lot to play for in the majority of the groups, so let's take a look at the teams hoping to make it through to the knockout stages and those looking for a miracle to continue their World Cup experience this time around.

In Group A, three teams are still in the mix to advance to the next stage, with hosts Brazil, Mexico and Croatia all in the running ahead of tonight's games. Brazil are in pole position as they face already-eliminated Cameroon in their final game, knowing a point would be good enough to go through.

Croatia will take on Mexico in the other Group A clash, knowing that only a win will see them make it into the next round alongside Brazil. The side are in good form after a 4-0 win over Cameroon and will be hoping to inflict Mexico's first defeat of the tournament to book their spot in the round of 16.

Group B was widely expected to be the closest in the tournament, but qualification for the second round has already been put to bed by both Chile and the Netherlands. The pair will meet in the final game to decide who goes through as group winners, while Spain and Australia will battle it out for third spot.

Colombia have already guaranteed their place in the knockout stages in Group C with two wins from two. The remaining three teams - Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan - will battle it out for the remaining qualification place.

The Ivory Coast look favourites to advance, sitting two points ahead of Japan and Greece, and they know that a draw in their final game against the European side will send them through to the knockout stage for the first time in their third attempt.

Japan will be hoping Colombia rest their star men for the next stage, as they need a win to have a chance of qualification, and that may not be enough if results or goal difference go against them.

Group D is finely balanced, with Uruguay and Italy set to face each other in a decider for the second qualification spot alongside Costa Rica - the surprise package at this year's tournament. They have similar records in the tournament, as both fell to shock defeats against Costa Rica and beat England 2-1.

England will be looking to take something away from Brazil in the shape of three points when they face the World Cup's surprise package. Roy Hodgson may blood some of the younger members of his squad in the final game, or those that have not tasted competitive action in Brazil, such as Luke Shaw, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Frank Lampard, but the squad knows it will be boarding a plane home after the game, no matter what the result.

England preparing for final Test in New Zealand

19 June, 2014

The England rugby team are busy preparing for the third and final Test match against New Zealand. The All Blacks have an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series, but England have pushed the world champions close in recent weeks and will want to board the plane after the game with a win under their belt.

Coach Stuart Lancaster's side were narrowly beaten in the First Test after a late New Zealand try, but the second game saw a fired up All Blacks side blow England away in the second half, with a display of powerful running rugby.

The side, which was bolstered by the arrival of Northampton Saints and Saracens players, who had stayed in England for the final of the Premiership, was unable to cope with their opponents who held on to take their home winning streak in Test matches to a world record 32 in a row.

Chris Robshaw's team rallied late on and managed to bring the gap down to just one point with a try in the final play of the game, but the gap between the two sides had been clear in the early stages of the second half.

England will be anxious to pick up a win in the final game in Hamilton and Lancaster once again looks set to roll the dice with his selection. He will once again go with Freddie Burns and Kyle Eastmond, who both impressed in the First Test, a run out from the start this time around. He has also recalled Chris Ashton for the final game, after his try-scoring cameo in game two of the series, while Manu Tuilagi will return to the centres from the wing.

Lancaster has freshened things up in the pack also - an area where England looked jaded in the second half of last weekend's game - with the inclusion of Dylan Hartley at hooker, Courtney Lawes at second row and Billy Vunipola at number 8.

It is these individuals tasked with ending New Zealand's impressive run of home Test victories and preventing the All Blacks picking up a 17th successive Test win. A win in the final Test will not see England win the series, but it could fill the squad with confidence that they can take on rugby's powerhouse ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

Nico Rosberg looking to increase championship lead in Austria

18 June, 2014

The Formula One (F1) circus is on its way to Austria for the eighth round of the 2014 season, with Mercedes' Nico Rosberg hoping to extend his lead at the top of the drivers' championship.

The German took advantage of a Lewis Hamilton retirement in Canada to increase his championship lead to 22 points. His lead would have been greater had it not been for falling into second place in Canada to Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo just before the last lap, which was the Australian's first win as an F1 driver.

Hamilton will be hoping to overcome the problems he faced in Canada and wrestle the momentum away from his teammate in the title race. The former world champion said his weekend in Montreal was a strange one, as he had pace from the beginning of the weekend, but things never quite came together.

“It’s frustrating when these things are out of your hands. The two DNFs so far this season have not been ideal but that’s racing and there’s a long, long way to go.” He will be hoping to recapture the form that saw him take four wins in a row earlier in the season. However, in recent weeks, Hamilton has been a frustrated figure, as Rosberg has seemed to gain the upper hand both on the track and away from it.

It is the first Austrian grand prix since 2003, which means a lot of the leading contenders for this year's title will be on new ground this weekend. Of the current drivers on the grid only McLaren's Jenson Button, Williams' Felipe Massa and the Ferrari pair of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have driven at the circuit in the past. The Finn is the only driver among them to have tasted victory champagne in Austria.

The newly named Red Bull Ring is nestled in the Styrian mountains and features a relatively short lap, which the drivers will need to master quickly in Friday practice. The race will also be a major challenge for the teams, as the data, setups and statistics from 2003 will not be relevant due to the major changes that have taken place in the sport since then.

Preparation for the race has been going on throughout the season, with a host of drivers putting in the work on the simulators in a bid to understand the track before arriving later this week.

Fifa World Cup Group H guide

17 June, 2014

BELGIUM

Best performance - Fourth place (1986)

Strengths - Young and hungry team. The Belgian team have been together for a number of years, with a host of young players coming through to the national side at the same time. This has coincided with the prominence of Belgian players in some of the world's top leagues, meaning they have experience at the top level. Physically strong team.

Weaknesses - Midfield creativity. Despite being physically strong around the pitch and boasting skill in wide areas, Belgium can struggle to break down compact defensive teams, which they may face in the group stages. Susceptible to counter attacks. With their high pressing game and attacking full-backs, Marc Wilmots' team can leave themselves open at the back.

Key Player

Eden Hazard (Chelsea) - The winger was in sparkling form at times last season for Chelsea, but his dedication to the cause was called into question by boss Jose Mourinho. Surely his dedication to his country will not be called into question, as he'll need to be on top form if Belgium are to have the tournament many expect them to.

 

ALGERIA

Best performance - Group stage (1982, 1986, 2010)

Strengths - Positive feeling among the squad. Algeria made a good fist of their last performance in the World Cup in 2010, but since then they have added some attacking quality to their side and the squad is full of confidence heading to Brazil, where they will be the only Arab nation. Improved organisation in the nation means they have been able to hold onto players who may have made a move to play for France, due to the links between the nations.

Weaknesses - Can be toothless up front. The last World Cup saw Algeria bow out without hitting the back of the net. Although defensively strong, they can lack ambition going forward, resulting in a failure to create chances at times.

Key Player

Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia) - The Spanish-based midfielder has been widely tipped as one to watch at this year's tournament in Brazil after a successful season at Valencia. He recently turned his back on France to declare his intent to play for Algeria and is regarded as a huge prospect by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

 

RUSSIA

Best performance - Group stages (1994, 2002)

Strengths - Strong defensively. Russia are a typical Fabio Capello side - miserly at the back. The majority of the defensive unit hail from the same club side and are well drilled. Tight knit squad, with the majority based at Russian clubs.

Weaknesses - Uncomfortable under pressure. The side is filled with gifted ball players, but when they come under pressure, as they will in the World Cup, they can gift possession to the opposition. However, they overcame Portugal in their qualifying group and will be looking to continue their form in Brazil.

Key Player

Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow) - The attacking midfielder had a storming Euro 2012, ending it as the joint top scorer, even though Russia failed to make it to the later stages of the tournament. Capello will be hoping for a similar performance this time around, as his goals could take the side into the knockout stages.

 

SOUTH KOREA

Best performance - Fourth place (2002)

Strengths - Experience of World Cups. This is the team's eighth consecutive trip to football's biggest tournament and the squad is packed full of experience. A number of the squad have been making an impact in European football and now have the ability to be genuine contenders to make it into the knockout stages.

Weaknesses - Lack of striking options. The forwards in the squad are not prolific, meaning much of the scoring threat will need to come from midfield, through the likes of Ki Sung-Yeung, Kim Bo-Kyung, Lee Chung-Yong and Son Heung-Kim.

Key Player

Son Heung Min (Bayer Leverkusen) - The attacking midfielder has been a stand-out performer in the Bundesliga this season with Bayer Leverkusen. He also put in some good performances in the Champions League. With this level of experience he will be a player the side look to for a big impact in this year's tournament.

Joy for Federer and Dimitrov in Wimbledon warm-ups

16 June, 2014

Roger Federer and Gregor Dimitrov have laid down the markers for Wimbledon by successfully winning the two most high-profile grass warm-up events ahead of the third Grand Slam of the year.

For seven-time SW19 champion Federer, it was business as usual on the courts of Halle, as he extended his record number of victories in the event to seven.

The Swiss maestro has now played in nine of the past 12 finals at the German grass court event and, when he wins, it is generally a sign that he has the form to go on and lift the gold trophy at Wimbledon - a back-to-back feat he has achieved on four occasions.

The 2014 final initially appeared to be a walk in the park against world number 68 Alejandro Falla, with Federer serving for the set at 5-3, only for the Columbian to break back and force a tie-break.

Falla famously took Federer to five sets in the first round of Wimbledon four years ago, and even served for the match, but any danger of another upset was soon sniffed out by the world number four, who won five straight points in the tie-break to take the first set.

It was a similar story in the second set, with Federer once again relinquishing a break of serve, only to comfortably come through the tie-break and secure a record-extending 14th career grass court title, and 79th overall.

After a topsy-turvy 2013 curtailed by injury, the 17-time Grand Slam champion has seen major improvements in his game this season, helped in no small part by a new, larger racquet, and hopes are high that he can move clear of Pete Sampras and stand alone as an eight-time Wimbledon champion this summer.

"In the past, when I have played well at Halle I have usually played well at Wimbledon. They have been two of my most successful tournaments, so I hope that this title will bring me luck again. Last year it didn’t work out, but it did many times before. So I hope it will be back to the good old days."

As Federer was lifting the Halle crown, the man who has long been dubbed 'Baby Fed' - Gregor Dimitrov - showed exactly why as he won the Queen's title in an epic match with Feliciano Lopez.

The two men had come through a draw that included reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and world number three Stanislas Wawrinka, and hopes were high they could deliver a memorable final - something they duly obliged in doing.

In a truly see-saw encounter, the Spaniard took the first set by winning a close tie-break, only to see the second set go the opposite way, with the Bulgarian taking it 7-6.

With the Queen's title - and plenty of grass court momentum - at stake, both men strove to forge ahead in the decider, taking turns to break each other, but it once again went to a tie-break, which resulted in Dimitrov narrowly emerging victorious to win his first ever grass court title.

Since teaming up with coach Roger Rasheed in October last year, the 23 year old has won titles indoors in Stockholm, on an outdoor hard court in Acapulco and on clay in Bucharest, as well as the Queen's title, and will now be among the outsiders to emerge triumphant at SW19, where Andy Murray will return to defend his title in a week's time.

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