Babineaux says Falcons will 'put on a show' at Wembley

17 April, 2014

The Atlanta Falcons will head to Wembley next season as part of the NFL's International Series and despite the tie against the Detroit Lions being six months away, the players are already pretty pumped to head to the UK capital. 

Speaking to Sky Sports, the Falcons' defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said he was looking forward to returning to London after his first experience there meeting UK-based NFL fans earlier this year. 

He was visiting alongside John Sullivan, who plays as centre for the Minnesota Vikings. His side travelled to the UK last year for a match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers - a battle in which his team came out on top 34-27. 

Babineaux said that he already loves what he has seen in London, from the history and culture to the people that greeted him. 

"I'm already looking forward to coming back over in October to display my talent along with my team-mates. We're going to come out here, have a good time and put on a show for the UK," he told Sky Sports. 

"I've been getting an insight from John Sullivan about what to expect and he says the atmosphere is like playing in the Super Bowl. I've not played in a Super Bowl, so this is the next best thing."

The NFL International games in the UK have been increasing in popularity in recent years, heating up speculation that a new franchise could in fact be created in London. 

In fact, it was a subject touched upon in Sullivan's recent conversation with Sky Sports reporters. The 28-year-old suggested that the NFL could look into the possibility further as the UK games sell out so quickly. 

He also revealed the pleasure of performing in front of such a fantastic crowd at Wembley Stadium.

"It was absolutely positive, the first time for many of us playing outside our home country. To be part of the International Series makes you an ambassador for the sport of American football."

During the upcoming season Wembley will host three big NFL clashes, including Miami Dolphins @ Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys @ Jacksonville Jaguars and the aforementioned Lions @ Falcons game.

The Falcons fell short of a playoff spot last season, finishing third in the NFC South behind the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints. Their final season record of 4-12 was well off the pace from the final qualifying team the Green Bay Packers, who progressed with 8-7-1. 

However, with the pre-season practice sessions soon to commence and a number of exciting young talents set to enter the league, it might be an entirely different season for the Falcons this time around. 

Their last playoff appearance was in the 2012 season and they haven't reached the Super Bowl since the 1998 campaign where they were defeated by the Denver Broncos. 

Bubba Watson takes second Masters title

14 April, 2014

Bubba Watson claimed his second Masters golf victory on Sunday (April 13th), taking the green blazer for the second time in three years.

The Floridian wrestled the title back from 2013 winner Adam Scott after securing a three-shot victory over closest challengers Jordan Spieth and Jonas Blixt and finishing eight under par. 

Spieth was on course to become the tournament's youngest ever winner, as the 20-year-old started the day level with countryman Watson. 

However, despite Spieth getting off to a bright start on the last round, Watson had a sensational back nine performance which saw him clinch the title. 

Spieth's day seemed over on the 12th hole as his shot found Raes Creek, giving Watson an opening to go on to victory. The 20-year-old eventually bogeyed the hole. 

It was not quite as dramatic a victory this time around for Watson, with his 2012 effort seeing him face up to Louis Oosthuizen in a tense playoff. 

On that occasion, Watson secured the second hole of the shootout to seal his first Masters triumph. In 2014, he finished the tournament off during regular play. 

After Spieth's mistake on the 12th, Watson birdied on the 13th to give him a solid lead, and was happy to make pars in the remaining holes. 

It could have been so different if the 35-year-old hadn't kept his cool on the 17th hole. He saved himself with a six foot putt to keep him on course for the championship. His putting performance was in stark contrast to his nervy efforts during Friday's round. 

Watson was completely in the zone for the final round it seemed, made all the more evident after a conversation with his caddie. 

"I told my caddie up the 18th that I couldn't remember the last few holes, I was just hanging on and thinking about making pars," the two-time champion told reporters.

"Somehow I did and walking off 18 was a little bit easier this time. I kind of lucked into the last one, this one is a lot different, it was a lot of dedication to get back here."

Although he will be disappointed he wasn't able to maintain his challenge all the way to the end, Spieth is sure to be pleased with his performance. The youngster only became a professional in December 2012 and looks certain to have a bright future ahead of him. 

Following joint-second Spieth and Blixt was Miguel Angel Jimenez in fourth, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar in joint fifth and Lee Westwood in seventh. 

Champions League round-up: Chelsea claim dramatic victory, United crash out

10 April, 2014

Only one English team remains in this year's Champions League competition, with Chelsea set to enter the draw for the semi-final while Manchester United face a long journey home.

Both sides were expected to bow out of the elite European club football tournament this week, but Jose Mourinho and his men in blue had a rather different idea. 

Facing a 3-1 aggregate deficit, Chelsea needed to score two goals without conceding to book their place in the semi-final.

It was a result that was certainly possible on paper, but the manner of their defeat in Paris put severe doubt upon whether they had enough to rise to the challenge. 

Paris Saint Germain were also missing one crucial player, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic forced to watch from the stands due to injury.

Chelsea fans were concerned after seeing influential Belgian winger Eden Hazard forced off the pitch early in the tie, with Andre Schurrle coming on as his replacement. 

However, the German made a huge impact for the home side, guiding the ball into the opposition net to put Chelsea 1-0 up.

A long Chelsea throw into the box was followed by a cushioned backwards header by David Luiz, with the ball falling into the path of Schurrle who guided it past the helpless Salvatore Sirigu. 

Chelsea couldn't find the crucial second goal, and Mourinho brought on two extra strikers in Demba Ba and Fernando Torres to give the hosts the very rare formation choice of three up-front. 

It proved crucial though, as on the 86th minute a deflected effort found its way through the box to Ba, who was able to steer a scuffed shot into the net to give the home side that vital second goal and send the Stamford Bridge faithful into raptures. 

Mourinho also found the energy to sprint down the line, partly in celebration and partly to bark instructions for the last five minutes. 

Manchester United couldn't find quite the same good fortune in Germany, as they slipped to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich.

They had held the favourites and reigning champions Bayern to a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford the week previously, but an improved performance was needed to send them to the semi-finals.

David Moyes would have been content with the 0-0 scoreline heading into half-time, especially as Bayern dominated possession for long spells. 

It was soon to get better for the away side, as Patrice Evra fired them into a 1-0 lead on the 57th minute. The left-back smashed home a sensational effort from outside of the box, almost lifting the goal out of the ground. 

However, the celebrations wouldn't last for long, as Mario Mandzukic pulled Bayern level just two minutes later. 

From there, Bayern got into a rhythm and Thomas Muller converted a second for the home side under ten minutes later. 

Arjen Robben put the icing on the cake, cutting inside in a familiar fashion and committing United defenders, before sending a deflected strike past David de Gea. It finished 3-1 on the night and 4-2 on aggregate, with Bayern still on course to defend their title.

Race for the NBA playoffs hots up in the West

9 April, 2014

While only one team from the Eastern Conference can now squeeze their way into the NBA playoffs, the situation in the West is an entirely different story. 

With only eight game days remaining, there are still three playoff spots available for teams in the Western Conference.

The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, LA Clippers, Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers will all see post-season action, but who will join them?

Golden State Warriors

Steph Curry and the Warriors look the favourites to take one of those playoff places. With a 48-29 season record and with two games in-hand over closest challengers the Dallas Mavericks, the Oakland side should head to the post-season for the second consecutive year.

Tough challenges against the Trail Blazers and the Minnesota Timberwolves are ahead, but it should be plain sailing. 

Dallas Mavericks  

The 2011 champions have not been the powerful force they were three years ago, but they still have a notable long-range missile in Dirk Nowitzki. 

It would take a complete disaster for the Mavs to fall out of contention, but their final three fixtures don't bode too well.

A match-up against fellow Texans and conference leaders the Spurs is their next challenge, before they host the Phoenix Suns and the Memphis Grizzlies, with both teams vying for a chance to extend their season schedule. 

The Mavs look a bit vulnerable. 

Phoenix Suns

This NBA season's surprise package, the Suns could reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season. 

In that year, they went all the way to the conference finals, where they lost 2-4 to the LA Lakers. 

A shock triumph against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday (April 6th) kept the side on course for the post-season and they now have momentum with a two-game winning run.
 
Victory at the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday is vital, as the Spurs, Mavs and Grizzlies are the following trio of ties. 

Memphis Grizzlies

Having suffered through injuries at the start of this year's campaign - most notably to centre Marc Gasol - the Grizzlies have had to make up significant ground in the Western Conference. 

They currently sit outside of the playoff spots, but with five games remaining, including two against post-season rivals, they have a real chance to upset the balance. 

However, with the Miami Heat visiting on Wednesday, the Grizzlies will have to do something huge to keep them in the hunt. 

Hamilton claims second consecutive GP win

7 April, 2014

Lewis Hamilton triumphed in the battle of the Mercedes drivers in Bahrain as the British racer overcame the challenge of teammate Nico Rosberg to claim his second consecutive Formula 1 Grand Prix win. 

There was just one second between the paddock partners in the end and Hamilton found himself under pressure from Rosberg throughout the race.

The 29-year-old started behind Rosberg on the starting grid, but needed just the first corner to become the front-runner. Hamilton took the inside line as Rosberg locked up on turn one; a tactic which proved justified as the Brit edged ahead of his teammate.

Rosberg tried to reclaim his advantage on turn four. Despite forcing Hamilton off the track, the race leader was able to hold his nerve.

It wouldn't be the end of their battle, as the two locked horns again on the 19th lap, with Rosberg taking the inside line for the lead. However, Hamilton wasn't going to give it up easily and the 2008 world champion regained first position moments later.

There was still more drama to come, as Hamilton's ten-second lead was eaten away after the deployment of the safety car following Esteban Gutierrez's crash.

The Mexican's Sauber car was flipped as Pastor Maldonado smashed into the side of it when exiting the pit lane on lap 41. Luckily, despite the vehicle being smashed up, Gutierrez emerged from the wreckage unharmed. 

Maldonado has now been punished three times for the incident by Bahrain race officials. He received a ten-second stop/go penalty during the GP and has been issued with a five-place grid penalty for the next race and three points on his Super Licence. 

This gave Rosberg one last chance to try and take the lead with the race winding down. The two went almost wheel to wheel on lap 52, with the German driver forced completely off the track as Hamilton was stubborn enough to keep his nose in front. After that, the victory was Hamilton's. 

It was a thrilling race and perhaps one of the most exhilarating the sport has seen for a number of years. 
 
Despite hugging Hamilton at the end, it was obvious the loss had irked Rosberg, who insisted he was quicker on the track than his teammate.

Hamilton himself also noted how tight the contest was, saying it was "on a knife-edge", before expressing his "relief" about crossing the line first. 

Elsewhere, Jenson Button's 250th race ended in disappointment after being forced to retire on the penultimate lap following clutch issues. His teammate Kevin Magnussen also succumbed to a similar fate. 

Button set for 250th Grand Prix

4 April, 2014

Jenson Button will take on his 250th Grand Prix this weekend, as Formula 1 heads to Bahrain for the third race of the new season. 

Now a veteran of the sport, Button joined the racing elite some 14 years ago and has since gone on to claim the 2009 World Championship, 15 race wins, 50 podiums and eight pole positions. 

On Sunday, he will be only three races from becoming the fourth most featured Grand Prix driver, surpassing Jarno Trulli (252).

Only Riccardo Patrese (256), Michael Schumacher (306) and Rubens Barrichello (322) remain ahead of him when it comes to Grand Prix starts. 

The Frome-born driver has represented Williams, Benetton, Renault, BAR, Honda, Brawn and McLaren during his career, outlasting a number of the aforementioned teams. 

Button currently stands fourth in the still young drivers' championship leaderboard, finishing the last race in Malaysia in sixth place. 

With an impressive milestone approaching, his former teammate Lewis Hamilton was quick to pile praise on his former paddock partner. 

"I have a huge amount of respect for Jenson, watching him come back every year, to have that motivation, because as you get older it gets harder," he said. 

"It gets harder to train, even for younger people, and every year it gets harder and harder to challenge, and how you spend your energy is different every year. Yet every year he is on it, focused, and especially this year as his dad's not with him, who has been with him all these years."
  
Of course, Hamilton is now with the Mercedes team and is considered one of the favourites for this year's title - a prediction helped by last weekend's victory in Malaysia. 

Since the 2008 world champion left for a new challenge, Button has been paired with Sergio Perez (now of Force India) and new driver Kevin Magnussen. 

The fact that Button remains at the team while one young driver has been and gone is a testament to his ability and professionalism. It shows how he is kept in such high esteem by McLaren.

"One of the things I'm most proud of is the way I've stacked up against my team-mates," Button said. "I've had ten of them in 15 seasons, so I've needed to prove myself to the new guy sat beside me virtually every year."

With the 250 mark in sight, Button will be hoping to further his solid start to the season with another top performance in Bahrain. 

Champions League: Man Utd hold Bayern, Chelsea crumble in Paris

3 April, 2014

Manchester United and Chelsea faced the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final this week, with each team fighting to remain in the elite football competition.

United's league form has been poor this season, with the side currently seventh in the Premier League table. It marks a significant fall from grace for a club that were crowned champions just ten months ago. 

The European tie with Bayern Munich was expected to be heavily one-sided, with the German team looking almost invincible.

Bayern have now claimed their domestic league title, doing so in the fastest time ever in the Bundesliga and without losing all season. Out of 28 games, they have won 25 and drawn three. 

The comparative season records gave the impression there would only be one winner, but the Red Devils dug deep and were able to avoid a complete humiliation.

Bayern attacked and attacked and attacked, dominating possession and creating a number of chances. United's defence remained resolute though, absorbing the pressure and keeping the deadlock bolted. 

They could have even gone one ahead, had England World Cup hopeful Danny Welbeck's goal not been ruled out for showing a high boot earlier in the move.

The sides went into half-time at 0-0 - a scoreline that certainly would have suited David Moyes' men. 

When they re-emerged for the second half, United's fans were sent into raptures as Nemanja Vidic's fantastic header nestled in the Bayern goal to put the home side 1-0 up. 

The jubilation didn't last long, however, as the German side got right back into the game courtesy of a successful strike from Bastian Schweinsteiger. 

That's how the score stayed for the rest of the game, but there was still plenty of drama. 

Bayern fans called for Antonio Valencia to be shown a red card, following the Ecuadorian's challenge on Jerome Boateng. The travelling faithful believed it was worthy of a second yellow card, but the winger somehow stayed on the pitch.

The same leniency wouldn't be given to Schweinsteiger though, whose late tackle on Wayne Rooney was punished with a second booking, equalling a red card and an early shower. The goalscorer will now miss the next leg in Munich.

Despite conceding a possibly crucial away goal, Moyes can be happy with the result. Another battling performance like that and United could defy the odds and head to the semi-finals. 

For Chelsea it was a dismal night in Paris. The London side were well beaten in the French capital as Paris Saint Germain walked away with a 3-1 victory.

After scoring the only goal in the 1-0 loss to relegation battlers Crystal Palace at the weekend, in his own net, John Terry was once again at fault for PSG's opener. 

The former England captain's headed clearance only made it as far as Ezequiel Lavezzi, who took the ball on his chest to fire into the roof of the net after just four minutes. 

Chelsea pulled one back just over 20 minutes later, as Eden Hazard coolly dispatched from the penalty spot after Oscar was brought down in the area. 

The defensive calamities would strike again for Chelsea in the second half, as David Luiz bundled the ball into his own goal from a PSG free-kick.

To cap off a woeful night for the Chelsea back-line, Javier Pastore made it 3-1 after dancing past the bamboozled Blues defenders before firing a low drive into the corner of Petr Cech's goal deep into added time.

PSG will visit London next week for the second leg, but Chelsea have a mountain to climb if they want to achieve Champions League glory. 

Tiger Woods to miss US Masters

2 April, 2014

Golf's number one player Tiger Woods will miss out on this year's US Masters following surgery on his back.

The 38-year-old has had injury issues with his back for a long time, with the player missing last month's Arnold Palmer Invitational due to back spasms. 

He has since gone under the knife to relieve a pinched nerve in his back, an issue the player said has been "hurting him for several months". 

It is the first time Woods has missed the Masters since 1995 and the four-time champion of the competition expressed his disappointment in a statement. 

"After attempting to get ready for the Masters, and failing to make the necessary progress, I decided, in consultation with my doctors, to have this procedure done," he said.

He went on to apologise to the staff, volunteers and patrons at Augusta National, stating that the competition week is "very special" to him. 

"It also looks like I'll be forced to miss several upcoming tournaments to focus on my rehabilitation and getting healthy," Woods continued. 

"I'd also like to thank the fans for their support and concern. It's very kind and greatly appreciated. This is frustrating, but it's something my doctors advised me to do for my immediate and long-term health."

It's the latest in a series of injury problems the player has had in his golfing career, with the most recent one sustained during the WGC-Cadillac Championship earlier this year.

However, Woods came back remarkably strong after a knee injury in 2012 and there is no doubt over the quality he still possesses. 

He is not quite at retirement age yet, but if the injuries get worse, Woods might have to consider putting away his clubs.

His absence leaves the competition wide open and Adam Scott will be hoping he can retain the title he won in 2013.

The player might want to ensure it isn't quite as nail-biting this time, as the Australian went to sudden death with Argentina's Angel Cabrera before triumphing on the second knock-out hole. 

It's sure to be a thrilling contest in Georgia and the title could be absolutely anyone's for the taking. 

Alongside Woods, Phil Mickelson might also be absent from the competition as well as other possible favourite Jason Day.

With Rory McIlroy returning to some form this year, many are touting the Northern Irishman to claim his first ever US Masters title. 

Hamilton cruises to Malaysian Grand Prix win

31 March, 2014

Lewis Hamilton claimed his first win of the new Formula 1 season on Sunday (March 30th) after a demonstration of driving excellence in Malaysia. 

It also marked the first finish of the campaign for the Mercedes driver, after he was forced to retire early in Australia due to an engine problem. 

However, this time around he passed the chequered flag in some style, finishing 17.3 seconds ahead of his closest challenger - teammate Nico Rosberg. 

Hamilton started the day with his second consecutive pole-position place and it didn't look like he was ever going to let the advantage slip away. On the very first lap, the 29-year-old had already opened up a two-second lead over his stablemate. 

It seems the Englishman has adjusted to the challenges posed by the new car in no time at all and is reaping the rewards for his concentration and dedication to mastering the machine. 

The track had to endure torrential downpours during the qualifying sessions and although the skies cleared for the race, the heat still made it tough for the drivers taking on the Sepang course. 

Upon taking victory, Hamilton expressed his delight but also made a heartfelt dedication to the families who are suffering as a result of the missing passenger aircraft MH370. 

The former world champion said: "After such a difficult weekend and a long winter, I just feel so grateful. I'd really like to dedicate it to the families, after such a tragedy three weeks ago.

"The team were spot on with all the pit stops and calling and timing, the info was spot on. What a great car, what a great job from everyone."

Rosberg took a comfortable second place finish, over seven seconds ahead of reigning champion Sebastian Vettel.

The Red Bull driver had a much happier race this time around after also being forced to retire in Australia. 

His teammate Daniel Ricciardo was yet again the victim of bad luck, having to deal with a pit-stop mistake, a puncture, a drive-through penalty, and a post-race punishment leading to a ten-place grid penalty for the upcoming race in Bahrain.

The one-two finish for Mercedes shows why many are tipping them over Red Bull for the constructors' championship this year.
 
Elsewhere, there was drama in the Williams paddock as Felipe Massa ignored team instructions to let teammate Valterri Bottas past him. Instead, the Brazilian held his ground and kept his seventh place finish. 

Malaysian Grand Prix: Preview

28 March, 2014

Formula 1's finest are in Malaysia this weekend, ready to take on the second grand prix of the season.

The drivers and constructors are in the country at an unusual time, following the recent media attention surrounding the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

It has already been confirmed that Formula 1 will pay tribute to the passengers with messages on their cars and helmets, while a minute's silence will commence before the race.

Once the lights go out though, the drivers must focus on the track and try to take advantage of the open playing field created as a result of the recent rule changes.

In the season opener in Australia two weeks ago, there was plenty of drama both on and off the track. 

Nico Rosberg claimed victory for Mercedes, ahead of debutant Kevin Magnussen in the McLaren who took third.

Daniel Ricciardo thought he'd claimed his first ever podium place in second, an achievement made ever sweeter by the fact he did so on home soil. However, just five hours after the race the 24-year-old was disqualified following a fuel irregularity. 

According to the ruling body, Ricciardo had breached Article 5.1.4 of the Formula 1 Technical Regulations, which states that, 'Fuel mass flow must not exceed 100kg/h'. The driver and his Red Bull team have now appealed the decision. 

Elsewhere, pre-race favourite Lewis Hamilton and reigning champion Sebastian Vettel were force to retire early. The former suffered an engine malfunction while the latter succumbed to power issues. 

Off the track, many onlookers, fans and Formula 1 notables lamented the lack of noise produced by the cars. The new changes in the rules have led to much quieter engines, making the sound of racing less ferocious than it has been in the past.

Bernie Ecclestone, president of Formula 1, told The Age he was "horrified" by the lack of noise, calling for a solution to be found in the coming races. 

With controversies over the rules and engine noises aside, Malaysia should be one hell of a race.

Vettel will be looking to reassert his formidable status, while Hamilton intends to prove why he is considered this year's favourite. 

With eight retiring drivers and one disqualification in Australia, this weekend's race will hopefully see the drivers and teams in finer form, providing much greater track competition and a more exciting contest.

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