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Basel game a good chance for Real revival, Ancelotti says

Real were beaten 2-1 by champions Atletico Madrid at the Bernabeu on Saturday, their second successive La Liga reverse, and some of the club’s notoriously demanding fans made their anger clear by roundly whistling captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

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The experienced Ancelotti, one of only six people to win Europe’s elite club competition as both player and coach, noted on Monday that Real also stuttered at the beginning of last season before securing a record-extending 10th European title and winning the King’s Cup.

“I feel like a coach who has to fix things in the team, the same as happened last year,” he told a news conference.

“This match comes at the right time as it is a chance to show a positive reaction and demonstrate the good things in the team,” added the Italian.

“Starting this competition well is very important. I believe we will be competitive and we will try to win it again.”

Ancelotti’s immediate task is to integrate new signings Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez in midfield, where they have replaced the departed Xabi Alonso (Bayern Munich) and Angel Di Maria (Manchester United) respectively.

Real appear to be missing the control Alonso provided in his central holding role, while Di Maria was often the player with the energy and skill to break down stubborn defences.

Ancelotti said he was happy with the squad at his disposal, assembled at a cost of hundreds of millions of euros by Real president Florentino Perez.

“The problem is clear, it’s not that complicated. We need more consistency over the 90 minutes,” he told reporters.

“We have analysed together what is happening and we all agreed that we lack consistency and we are working to improve that.

“I have a very, very good squad, very competitive, and I think the players all think the same way.

“We can challenge in all the competitions, there is no doubt about that among the players and I think they are all very happy to be at Real Madrid.”

Liverpool host Bulgarian champions Ludogorets in Tuesday’s other Group B game.

(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Ed Osmond)

German teen Wehrlein appointed Mercedes F1 reserve

Mercedes announced the appointment a day after the teenager won from pole position for Mercedes in a DTM race at the Lausitzring and only four days after his first test in a grand prix car.

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The DTM championship has now been decided, with Germany’s Marco Wittmann winning for BMW with two races to spare.

Wehrlein’s new F1 role means he will attend this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix and future races as a potential replacement should championship leader Nico Rosberg or Britain’s 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton be unable to race.

Wehrlein has already worked with the team this season, completing more than 30 days in the Formula One simulator and driving more than 12,000 km at the wheel of the virtual F1 W05 Hybrid car.

He drove a Formula One car for the first time at Portugal’s Algarve circuit last Thursday when he tested the 2012 Mercedes and completed 500km.

“He has worked hard behind the scenes this year in our simulator, playing a very important role in our pre-race preparations,” said Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff.

“Aside from Nico and Lewis, he is the driver most familiar with all the procedures of our F1 W05 Hybrid and therefore the right choice for the role of reserve driver.

“Pascal has a bright future ahead of him and we are excited to have him onboard for what will be an intense conclusion to the Formula One season,” added the Austrian.

Rosberg and Hamilton are in a duel of their own for the championship, with the German 22 points clear of the Briton with six races remaining.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ossian Shine)

Scotland name cricket squad for Aust tour

Scotland have named a full-strength squad for their tour of Australia and New Zealand later this month, as they ramp up preparations for next year’s Cricket World Cup.

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National selectors on Monday announced a 16-man squad for the trip, which forms part of the team’s preparations for the 2015 World Cup, with the 26-year-old Preston Mommsen chosen to lead the side ahead of regular skipper Kyle Coetzer.

“Preston Mommsen is going to lead this team for this tour, while we will announce our World Cup captain when the squad is revealed,” head coach Grant Bradburn said.

“We now have a number of potential leaders and players who are desperate and proud to lead their country.

“It is deemed a great honour to captain Scotland. Cricket-wise, however, it’s imperative that a captain can command with his performance.

“Preston Mommsen will captain on the back of the fact that he has thrived in recent times in this capacity and will lead the team on this tour.”

Mommsen played a pivotal part in ensuring Scotland reached the World Cup – scoring 520 runs in eight innings and claiming player of the tournament in the ICC qualifying event earlier this year.

Bradburn added that Coetzer remained a “valued and highly respected senior member of the side”, but said he wanted the 30-year-old to “focus on his own game without the additional responsibility that captaincy brings”.

Scotland face 50-over games against the Tasmanian Tigers and Queensland Academy of Sport XIs before heading to New Zealand to play a Kiwi invitational XI and three domestic first-class sides.

“It’s a great opportunity to get our full-strength squad together on a tour which helps us prepare for a huge World Cup ahead of us,” Bradburn said.

“This tour will allow us to have a good mix of game and training time.

“We have 15 games between now and the World Cup, and this initial tour allows us to work through our combinations and game plans.

“Strategically, we have chosen some quality training opportunities and opposition.

“It’s a chance to really improve on playing spin and quick pace – something we don’t get the opportunity to do as much as we would in our home conditions.”

The squad will depart on September 22 and return on October 24.

Scotland squad: Preston Mommsen (capt), Kyle Coetzer, Josh Davey, Alasdair Evans, Gordon Goudie, Michael Leask, Calum MacLeod, Richie Berrington, Freddie Coleman, Matthew Cross, Hamish Gardiner, Majid Haq, Matt Machan, Safyaan Sharif, Rob Taylor, Iain Wardlaw.

IRB ready to sniff out sevens ‘fraudsters’

The International Rugby Board (IRB) says it is confident it will sniff out any dubious attempts to use Olympic sevens qualification matches to secure a shift in nationalities for the 15-man game – and that their system has the full backing of the IOC.

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After a spate of border-hopping around the time of the 1999 World Cup, the IRB introduced rules that basically prevented anyone playing for a second country if they had already been capped for another.

However, with rugby sevens due to make its Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the IRB had to amend their rules to come into line with the softer, passport-based stance of the IOC (International Olympic Committee).

The IRB and IOC consider the change to apply only to sevens but, in something of a potential loophole, it appears that a player who earned a switch in nationality via an Olympic sevens qualifying event would subsequently be technically allowed to also represent his adopted nation in the 15-a-side game.

The issue has been brought into sharp relief by the announcement of the French rugby union that they have a list of 10 foreign players who might be brought into their squad, including former England flanker Steffon Armitage, who has been plying his trade with great success in Toulon for the past three years.

Armitage, who won five England caps between 2009 and 2010, and was last season named European player of the year after helping Toulon win the Heineken Cup and French league title, has been overlooked for England selection due to Rugby Football Union rules that say overseas-based players will be selected only in extraordinary circumstances.

BONA-FIDE SEVENS CREDENTIALS

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said last week that Armitage, and others, were in the process of applying for a French passport, which would open the door for a France call-up via the sevens route.

IRB chief executive Brett Gosper accepts that the rules appear to allow any player to switch but said only players with bona-fide sevens credentials would get the go-ahead to switch.

“We had to change our rules to comply with the Olympic Charter but we are reasonably sure that the spirit of the law – which is to qualify people for the Olympics – will be upheld,” Gosper told reporters in London on Monday.

“The IOC are happy for us to have a qualification process for the Olympics, which is not under question. Where it becomes more controversial is the knock-on for 15s.

“Of course there will be discussion around that but we want to be sure that the spirit is being upheld. I think the regulations committee will be wary of activity which looks as if it is to qualify people for 15s.”

France may have shot themselves in the foot by announcing publicly their ambition to bring Armitage into the 15-man fold – especially as his sevens experience is negligible.

Other situations might not be so clear cut, especially with some major rugby countries still not clear on whether they are going to stick with their established sevens teams for the Olympics or draft in a few heavy-hitters from the 15s.

However, it is not an issue that is overly-taxing the IRB a year out from the rugby World Cup and two years from what they consider a hugely important Olympic sevens debut in Rio.

“We are talking about a very small number of potential cases,” an IRB spokesman said.

“Many federations have government and national Olympic Committee support for their sevens programmes because it is now an Olympic sport and I wouldn’t think they would want to jeopardise that.”

(Editing by: Ossian Shine)

Saints alive! Reports of collapse seem premature

Moreover, though, it further blew away a cloud of gloom that had hovered over the south coast stadium since the summer.

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Even in the rhetoric-rich environment of tabloid football coverage, the Saints had received lurid treatment.

Southampton were a rudderless, sinking ship, driven by an inexperienced chairman. New manager Ronald Koeman was a man left standing on a burning deck.

‘Exodus!” numerous headlines shouted, with more than one news outlet mocking what it called a fire sale. “Roll up, roll up, get your international players here,” one website smirked.

The club was unambitious and there was only one way Southampton were headed – and that was further south.

However, nobody, it seems, bothered explaining that new reality to the players. Or perhaps Koeman did.

Just four matches into the season Southampton are flying high in fourth spot. It is, of course, too early to be predicting great things for Koeman’s team, but it is perhaps not too early to dispel the spittle-flecked scaremongering of the summer.

Pundits and commentators had been queuing up to read Southampton their Premier League last rites, but now at least one has publicly thought again.

“After a mass exodus of players at St Mary’s during the close season I tipped Southampton to go down,” BBC pundit and former Manchester United striker Garth Crooks said, evoking the ‘E’ word once more.

“I think I may owe Saints fans an apology.”

LOOKING FORWARD

Nobody at St Mary’s expects an apology, but perhaps fewer experts will now dismiss chairman Ralph Kreuger’s assertion that the Saints are stronger since the transfer window.

“We think we’ve made good business decisions, good sports decisions,” Krueger told local BBC Radio Solent.

“We have a team which is filled with character and, we feel, more depth in the line-up and I think that’s something that was the goal from the get-go. Last season we played from a starting 11 and there was not much behind it. I feel we are (now) in a really strong position.”

Man for man, there is an argument that Southampton replaced the departing characters with men of at least equal calibre.

Coach Mauricio Pochettino, who quit for Tottenham, was replaced by former Ajax and Feyenoord coach Koeman. The hole created by the exit of England full-back Luke Shaw – a 27 million pounds acquisition for Manchester United – was plugged with the loan signing of Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand, a player with a Champions League winners’ medal.

Serbian international midfielder Dusan Tadic, a signing from FC Twente, is looking lively in the space previously inhabited by Adam Lallana, who joined Liverpool for 25 million pounds.

Dejan Lovren’s exit was one of the more acrimonious, but utility defender Toby Alderweireld’s arrival from Atletico Madrid has Saints fans smiling and looking forward rather than back.

Burly Italian forward Graziano Pelle has bagged four goals in his first five appearances for Southampton, while the man he replaced, Rickie Lambert, is yet to get off the mark at Liverpool.

Throw into the mix an England goalkeeper in Fraser Forster, and Senegalese striker Sadio Mane yet to make his start, all signs are that the future is bright on the south coast.

Certainly a 4-0 thumping of a weak Newcastle is insufficient basis for any grand predictions, but the style and swagger of Southampton’s early play may be causing some to pause for thought.

(Editing by Stephen Wood)