News & Current Affairs

July 19, 2009

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Fugitive linked to Jakarta blasts

Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta

Tributes are left for those killed in the hotel attacks

Indonesian officials say there are “strong indications” a key wanted fugitive was behind Friday’s deadly attacks on two hotels in Jakarta.

Noordin Mohamed Top is wanted for plotting the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005 and other Indonesian attacks.

Nine people, including two suicide bombers, died in the attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott.

At least four of Friday’s victims are said to be foreigners but have not all been formally identified.

Police in the Indonesian capital are studying DNA and other evidence to try to identify those behind the attacks.

The anti-terror chief, Ansyaad Mbai, has told the News he believes there are strong indications that Noordin was the mastermind behind the blasts.

Noordin Top (archive image)
Born in Malaysia, fled to Indonesia after 9/11
Wanted for planning bombings on Bali in 2002 and 2005 and other attacks
Said to have split from Jemaah Islamiah over strategy disagreements and set up new group
Main accomplice Azahari Husin killed by police in 2005
Escaped police raid in 2006 and continues to evade capture

Noordin was said to be a key financier for the Jemaah Islamiah militant group but is now thought to have set up his own splinter group.

Jemaah Islamiah has links to al-Qaeda and has a long track record of bomb attacks in Indonesia including the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.

Friday’s bombs contained nails, ball bearings and bolts, identical to ones used by Jemaah Islamiah, police said.

Mr Mbai said he believed the aim of the attacks was to embarrass Indonesia’s government at a time when the country was enjoying a greater degree of stability than it had in the past.

The Indonesian people have been truly shocked by these attacks as they thought they had put events like this behind them.

Investigators on Friday recovered an unexploded bomb and other explosives material from what they said was the “control centre” for the attacks – room 1808 in the Marriott.

The attackers paid to stay at the hotel and smuggled in the explosives before detonating them in two restaurants on Friday.

CCTV footage showed one attacker wearing a cap pulling a bag on wheels into the Marriott restaurant, followed by a flash and smoke.

Security has been tightened across Indonesia in the wake of the attacks, with 500 troops put on standby to support police in the capital.

‘Shoulder to shoulder’

A New Zealander, businessman Tim Mackay, has been confirmed killed.

I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones
Barack Obama

Indonesian police say Australians Nathan Verity and Garth McEvoy also died.

Their countryman, diplomat Craig Senger, was at the same breakfast meeting. He is missing and feared dead.

A health ministry report said a Singaporean and an Indonesian were also confirmed dead.

At least 17 foreigners were among the wounded, including eight Americans.

Other foreign nationals wounded included visitors from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the UK.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the attacks as “cruel and inhuman”.

US President Barack Obama said: “I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred… in Jakarta and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones.”

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is due to arrive in Jakarta on Saturday.

He said he wanted to stand “shoulder to shoulder with Indonesia at this terrible time”.

The Manchester United football team had been booked to stay in the Ritz-Carlton next week ahead of a game in Jakarta.

The team has cancelled the Indonesian leg of their tour.

The attacks come just weeks after the peaceful presidential elections.

The country of 240 million people has been praised in recent years for maintaining a pluralist democracy while finding and punishing radical Islamists responsible for the series of bombings more than five years ago.

Jakarta map


July 5, 2009

Australia probes navy ‘sex game’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 7:52 am

Australia probes navy ‘sex game’

HMAS Success (Image: Australian Defence Department)

HMAS Success carries a crew of 220 male and female sailors

An investigation is under way in Australia over claims that navy sailors competed with each other to bed their female colleagues for cash prizes.

According to Channel Seven news, sailors on board HMAS Success put a cash value on each woman’s head.

Sleeping with a female officer or a lesbian, or having sex in a strange place, won more money, the report said.

The Defence Department confirmed that a number of individuals had been sent back to Australia for interviews.

HMAS Success, which has a crew of 220, is currently on exercises in South East Asia.

According to the Channel Seven report, the contest came to light in May, when the vessel was in Singapore.

It said that the sailors recorded their efforts in a book called The Ledger, challenging each other to sleep with as many female colleagues as possible.

Sex on a pool table or with a lesbian reportedly scored higher points.

The Defence Department did not confirm how many sailors were involved.

But, in a statement to Seven Network, it said that a number of concerns raised by female crew members were “now subject to formal inquiry”.

The “veracity of any allegations” had yet to be confirmed, it said.

September 9, 2008

Superb Federer ends Murray dream

Superb Federer ends Murray dream

Andy Murray

Murray will rise to a career-high ranking of four in the world

There was no change of momentum early in the second set, Federer firing a vicious cross-court forehand in game one and repeating the trick to break for 2-0.

A humiliatingly swift defeat looked on the cards for the Briton, who appeared to be struggling with a knee problem, but he got a foothold in the match when Federer’s level finally dropped in game three.

Murray pounced with a big cross-court forehand and a powerful backhand drive that Federer could not control at the net, and the Scot finally had a break of serve.

The match appeared well and truly on when a couple of loose errors saw Federer slip 0-40 down again at 2-2 but he continued with his attacking policy and, thanks in part to one dubious line call, he managed to escape.

And the relentless pressure applied by Federer eventually paid off when he broke to love to take the second set in game 12, making a lunging backhand volley, a successful chip and charge, a thumping smash and a running pass.

It was irresistible stuff from the champion and he swept into a 5-0 lead in the third set before Murray staged a late rally to cut the deficit with his second break of the day.

But it only delayed the inevitable and Federer put the British number one out of his misery on his second championship point, winning an epic rally with a smash that Murray could not return.

“I had a great tournament but I came up against, in my opinion, the best player ever to play game the today,” said Murray.

“I got the better of him the last two times and he definitely set the record straight today. I’ve learnt I’ve got a lot of improving to do if I want to win one of these things.

“I love playing in front of this crowd – it’s been the best time of my life.”

By Piers Newbery

Roger Federer was at his brilliant best as he won a fifth straight US Open title and ended Andy Murray’s hopes of a first Grand Slam crown in New York.

Murray, 21, had been trying to become the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win one of the four major singles titles, but he was outclassed.

Federer stormed to a 6-2 7-5 6-2 victory in one hour 51 minutes at Flushing Meadows.

The Swiss now has 13 Grand Slam titles, one behind record holder Pete Sampras.

Federer joins Sampras and Jimmy Connors as a five-time winner of the US title in the Open era, but neither American won in five successive years.

He is also the first man ever to win five consecutive titles at two Grand Slams – the US Open and Wimbledon.

“It definitely feels great,” said Federer afterwards. “After this year, to take this home is incredible. It means the world to me.

I had a great tournament but I came up against, in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game today
Andy Murray

“I’m not going to stop at 13 – that would be terrible! I congratulate Andy – he’s done great these last two weeks. I’m sure we’re going to see a lot more of him in the future.”

Murray was playing in his first Grand Slam final and came into the match on the back of a first-ever win over world number one Rafael Nadal.

But the confidence the Scot carried from that landmark victory soon took a battering as Federer opened in spectacular fashion.

Having failed to win a major title so far this year, and having lost his number one ranking to Nadal, the second seed had been desperate to arrest his slide.

And after approaching his best in beating Novak Djokovic in the semis, Federer was at the top of his game from the start of the final.

Murray had to stave off a break point in game three but could not repeat the trick two games later, a double fault and two errors handing Federer the advantage.

The champion’s confidence was obvious as he moved 4-2 clear with an outrageous forehand drive volley on the run, before more brutal forehands forced another break in game seven, and he wrapped up the set in 26 minutes.


September 3, 2008

Federer edges through in thriller

Federer edges through in thriller

Roger Federer

Federer last lost at the US Open against David Nalbandian in 2003

Roger Federer came through a desperately tense five-set encounter with Igor Andreev to keep his bid for a fifth straight US Open title alive.

The champion showed the frailty that has dogged him all year as he was taken to a fifth set but raised his game to win 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 3-6 6-3.

Andreev took the first set and had seven break points at the start of the second but Federer managed to hang on.

He will face Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in the quarter-finals.

Muller, a qualifier, stunned Russian fifth seed Nikolay Davydenko 6-4 4-6 6-3 7-6 (12-10) in a dramatic match.

Federer had looked superb in his third-round win over Radek Stepanek, but his recent frailties were in evidence throughout against Andreev on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

He broke me so easily at the beginning and I was struggling to get in a groove from the baseline
Roger Federer

He made 60 unforced errors and faced 15 break points, and his survival was largely due to the fact that Andreev converted just two of them.The Russian broke at the first attempt and should have taken the set from there, but he allowed Federer back in at 5-5 before edging the tie-break.

A nervous Federer then framed a smash to slip 15-40 down early in the second but Andreev failed to capitalize on five break points, and a further two in the next game.

Still the world number two struggled with his form, missing two set points in the second set tie-break before Andreev handed him the set with a wayward forehand.

That gave Federer a temporary boost and when he cracked away a cross-court forehand to break for 3-1 in the third, the game appeared up for Andreev.

But at the same stage in the fourth set Andreev benefited from a hugely fortuitous net cord and confidently served out to take it to a decider.

At last, Federer reminded everyone of why he has won 12 Grand Slams as he stepped up a gear, moving 3-0 clear after winning an epic rally to break.It was hardly downhill all the way after that as the Swiss fought off four break-back points at 4-2, but his fighting spirit saw him through to a meeting with Muller,the world number 130.

“He was playing well,” Federer said of Andreev. “He broke me so easily at the beginning and I was struggling to get in a groove from the baseline.

“The second set was key for me to get back in the match. I served well but it was a tough match.”

Davydenko could not cope with Muller’s serve-volleying and a barrage of 20 aces on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Muller pulled out his best shots when it mattered, serving an ace to save a set point at 4-5 in the fourth set and saving another with a big serve at 6-7 down in the tie-break before getting a net-cord on match point.

“I think it’s not about that last point,” said Davydenko. “It’s about many points. I had so many chances.”

In the same half of the draw, third seed Novak Djokovic edged out Tommy Robredo 4-6 6-2 6-3 5-7 6-3.

The Serbian will play American Andy Roddick in the last eight after the 2003 champion thrashed Fernando Gonzalez 6-2 6-4 6-1.


August 21, 2008

Capello defends England tactics

Capello defends England tactics

Fabio Capello

Capello said he played Gerrard in a supporting role behind the striker

Coach Fabio Capello gave England’s performance in the 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic a mixed review and defended his use of Steven Gerrard.

The Italian was criticized for playing the midfielder on the left wing.

Capello explained he was using Gerrard in a 4-3-2-1 system, with the Liverpool captain and Wayne Rooney supporting Jermain Defoe as a main striker.

“The position he had to play was in the line of the full-backs and midfield,” he said. “He never played on the left.”

Capello sought to get the best out of Liverpool’s influential captain and Chelsea’s Frank Lampard in the same line-up, a conundrum that has dogged his predecessors in the England job.

On this occasion he opted to partner Lampard with Gareth Barry in the middle with David Beckham to the right of the trio.

Capello added: “We played 4-3-2-1. We played Defoe, Gerrard and Rooney and three midfielders behind them. He [Gerrard] went to the left and to the middle.”

Gerrard was replaced by Joe Cole after an hour and the Chelsea midfielder admitted he was played out of position.

“I’m a winger, but the manager wanted me to play off the front man,” said the 26-year-old. “New manager, new ideas. We’ve got to try things.”

Only a last-minute goal from Cole saved England from defeat at Wembley, but Capello drew some positives from the salvaged draw, saying the performance was another step forward for his side ahead of World Cup qualifying campaign which begins in Andorra on 6 September.

He was also concerned by the ease in which England were exposed by a fast counter-attacking Czech side and admitted it is something they will need to work on.

“I think in the first half we played well, we had a lot of chances.

“After the second goal from the Czechs, the direction was not so strong.”

The problem is not with the style we played, but the difficulty we have when the other team play the counter-attack
England manager Fabio Capello

“The problem is not with the style we played, but the difficulty we have when the other team play the counter-attack,” added the 62-year-old.

“It is always dangerous and we have to study this problem.

“At this moment the players are not 100% physically, and important players like Rooney and Gerrard have played just one game.

“I think this result is important. We played against a very strong team and we’ll have more confidence for the next game.”

England’s uncomfortable night was compounded by the announcement that the Football Association’s chief executive Brian Barwick would leave his post by the end of the year.

Barwick was instrumental in the appointment of Capello, but differences with chairman Lord Triesman have led to their relationship becoming unworkable.

When asked about his departure the Italian said: “I am a friend of Brian, but it’s not my job [to comment] – it’s a board decision.”

Meanwhile, captain John Terry conceded that there had been “some plusses, but also some negatives” from their final warm-up game before the World Cup qualification campaign begins.

“Maybe we should have won the game with the players we had out,” the re-appointed skipper said

Of the crowd booing the players off, he said: “The crowd were frustrated as they’d paid a lot of money for their tickets, and we’ve got to put on a better show than that.

“It’s going to be a slow process, but hopefully we can get off to a good start against Andorra and go from there.

“We’ve got players playing in the biggest competition in the world [the Champions League], but sometimes we don’t click on the international stage.

“But I don’t think we should be worried. We have to stand up and be counted, raise our game, match teams with the commitment they show and hopefully our quality can overcome them.”


August 14, 2008

Around the Olympics in 800 minutes

Courtesy BBC


If they ever do get around to trimming tennis from the Olympics, I would like to suggest a thoroughly amateur activity to take its place: competitive spectating.

The game is simple: you watch as much live, in-the-flesh sport as possible within an allotted time.

Like cricket, there are shorter and longer versions of the game, but unlike cricket there is no time for lunch or tea. I believe the one-day format would work best at an Olympics.

It requires speed, planning and a change of shirt. I know this because I have tried it and I think I’ve set a new world record.

Beijing tour map

Between 10am and 11pm on Wednesday, I rode my mate’s mountain bike (cheers Paul) to 19 different Olympic venues and saw world-class sport in 15 of them, world-class press conferences in three more and 20 Chinese volunteers pretend to be modern pentathletes in another.

I covered about 50km, drank 20 bottles of water, went through three maps and met the entire judging panel from the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles.

Perhaps the best way to tell that story, in fact, the whole story, is to start at the beginning. So I will.

Like all elite athletes I think breakfast is the most important meal, so I decided to skip the fare on offer in the media village and have a slap-up feed in a decent hotel downtown – they may now be reconsidering that all-you-can-eat deal.

Adequately fuelled and aboard my mode of transport, I set off from the Financial District and headed southwest for the softball. The thinking here was to start at my southernmost point and move around the city in a clockwise fashion.

Having meandered my way to Fengtai, I found myself at the top of the seventh inning with China pounding Venezuela 7-1.

I can’t remember much about the game mainly because I was worrying about Paul’s bike being destroyed in a controlled explosion.

Because while Katie Melua may be right about there being nine million bikes in Beijing, none of them are welcome at an Olympic venue. Not if you ask for permission first, that is. I would learn that as the day progressed.

From softball I rode north to Wukesong to taste two more slices of Americana, baseball and basketball.

Here my arrival was not particularly well received and my gestures to say, “Can I chain my bike to this please, officer?” were met by stern shakes of the head. Perhaps they didn’t understand my gesture. Strange, I thought that one was universal.

In the end I left it behind some portaloos. I’m not proud.

I got into the baseball in time to see Canada’s Stubby Clapp (honestly, look him up) pop up to right field and was looking at my map when one of his team-mates blasted a three-run homer minutes later. That made it Canada 3-0 China.

Canada's Stubby Clapp

I then went to the basketball and watched Spain’s Anna Montanana drain a jumper for two of her 20 points in the win over the Czech Republic.

From there it was northeast towards the Capital Gymnasium and a dose of clothed women’s volleyball. To be honest, even regular volleyballers don’t wear much and there was a lot of leg on display in this clash between Russia and Kazakhstan.

The Russians were winning but the highlight for me was seeing Kazakh volleyball’s answer to Peter Crouch. I didn’t catch her name but she was wearing number five and you’d know her if you saw her.

Four hours in and I was at the Institute of Technology to see some gymnastics – the hundreds of people heading the opposite direction should have told me I was too late.

I went in anyway, though, and listened to two minutes of a Chinese press conference. As I left I heard a group of volunteers singing little ditties to each other through their megaphones. One of them might have been the girl who actually sang at the Opening Ceremony.

Table tennis was next and the hardest thing here was getting in. You see the staff are only trained to deal with very specific tasks. A journalist coming in through the main entrance (and not arriving by media bus) causes the system to grind to a halt. The fact he was sweating profusely probably didn’t help either.

This would become a recurring theme but competitive spectators have got to deal with these kinds of problems so I was able to overcome all this and catch eight different games of ping-pong at once.

Too much of a good thing? Yes, probably. I tried to concentrate on Ma Lin’s tussle with Panagiotis Gionis of Greece and not the cute Spaniard playing on the other side of the room.

China's Ma Lin in action against Panagiotis Gionis of Greece

It was judo next. Not much to say here except I filled my pockets with Oreo cookies in the media lounge and saw a Colombian beat an Italian in the women’s 70kg category.

Six hours in and it was time to wrestle. To be honest, it was all starting to blur a bit now and the only real difference I can remember between the judo and the wrestling is the costume. And it’s a big difference.

I also got lost in the bowels of the venue (I’d come in the “wrong” entrance again) and ended up in a room with 20 muscular blokes in blue blazers. They were the judges.

I eventually saw Steeve (usual spelling) Guenot beat Konstantin Schneider, apparently, and he would later win gold. Good lad.

I then pedalled hard past the Olympic Village and pushed on to my northernmost point, the Olympic Green Sports Cluster – archery, hockey and tennis.

This is where my ride started to become a cyclo-cross event. Bikes really aren’t allowed this close to the heart of the “Green Olympics” so I was forced to park and proceed by foot.

The next 30 minutes saw me show my face (very briefly) at the tennis (Nadal was winning), narrowly miss Alan Wills’ last-dart victory in the archery (I saw a Korea-Qatar match-up instead) and try to gain entrance to the Great Britain changing room at the hockey (it was locked).

That was 11 venues and 10 sports in just over seven hours. I was knackered. But then I remembered Emma Pooley’s words after her silver-medal performance: “there’s no secret, you just have to make it hurt”.

So I headed south to the Water Cube for swimming, wandered around the corridors under the pool for about 15 minutes and eventually sat down to watch Malta’s Madeleine Scerri win a three-woman, 100m freestyle heat. Now that’s what the Olympics are really about, Michael.

From there it was a short trip to the National Indoor Stadium and an even shorter stay. It was locked. But the fencing venue was just across the road for me to bring up my dozen.

Fencing, by the way, is a great sport to watch. I wish I could have stayed for longer than three minutes. That was long enough, however, to see Yuki Ota of Japan win his semi-final and go absolutely bongo.

Japan's Yuki Ota on his way to a semi-final victory over Italy

I probably should have stopped now. It was dark and I was tired, hungry and smelly. But I wanted more and I really, really wanted to see some handball.

So it was south again to the Olympic Sports Center cluster for five minutes of Norway’s demolition of Kazakhstan (I think I was bad luck for the Kazakhs all day) in the women’s event.

I will definitely return if only to hear more from the American announcer who ticked off a Norwegian player for “roughhousing”.

The next 30 minutes saw me just miss the last water polo game of the day and follow my ears to the modern pentathlon stadium, where Olympic volunteers were pretending to be show-jumping ponies and the stadium announcer was practising his medal ceremony script (he thinks Cuba is going to win).

What happened next was an Olympic event of its own – the 20-minute time-trial to the Workers’ Stadium for the last 10 minutes of the Argentina v Serbia football match.

And my lung-busting, salt-staining effort was rewarded when I flopped into a commentary position to see Diego Buonanotte curl a free-kick home from 25 yards out. Good night, indeed, Diego.

This was my 18th venue, 14th sport and 12th hour. It was time for the coup de grace. Step forward, you beauty, David Price.

Now is not the time to relay all that happened in the Workers’ Gymnasium at around 2200 local time but suffice it to say Team GB’s boxing captain hit the world number one from Russia harder than he had ever been hit before and he didn’t like it.

Cue huge celebrations from Price and his loyal band of Scouse supporters. It was also great to see his team-mates James DeGale and Joe Murray jumping in the aisles too.

So that’s the challenge. Can any of you top 15 different sports in a day?

Until I hear otherwise I’m going to assume it’s a world record. I reckon it will be safe for four years at least.


August 8, 2008

Bush dedicates new massive US embassy in Beijing

Bush dedicates new massive US embassy in Beijing

BEIJING – President Bush took another swipe at China’s human rights record Friday, the latest tit-for-tat salvo with Beijing before he put politics on hold and switched to fan mode for the Olympics’ gala opening ceremonies.

The past week has seen blunt language from both sides — with China clearly unhappy that its record of repression was being repeatedly aired even as it was seeking to revel in its long-anticipated debut on the world’s biggest sporting stage. But U.S. officials dismissed any suggestion of a widening rift.

“We’ve had these back-and-forths with China for years,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

As Bush opened a massive U.S. Embassy in Beijing on Friday, he prodded China to lessen repression and “let people say what they think.” The communist nation, which tolerates only government-approved religions, has rounded up dissidents ahead of the Olympics and imposed Internet restrictions on journalists that some say amount to censorship, all contrary to Beijing’s commitments when it won hosting rights for the games.

“We strongly believe societies which allow the free expression of ideas tend to be the most prosperous and the most peaceful,” Bush said at the vast American diplomatic complex, built at a cost of $434 million.

His comments came on the heels of a speech Thursday in Bangkok in which he urged greater Bangkok for the Chinese people. Beijing responded by defending its human rights record and saying Bush shouldn’t be meddling in its internal affairs.

But Bush also took care during the embassy ribbon-cutting to praise China’s contributions to society and embrace its relationship with the United States as strong, enduring and candid.

“Candor is most effective where nations have built a relationship of respect and trust,” Bush said. “I’ve worked hard to build that respect and trust. I appreciate the Chinese leadership that have worked hard to build that respect and trust.”

The new U.S. embassy is its second-largest in the world, only after the heavily fortified compound in Baghdad, and Bush said this is symbolic of China’s importance to the United States.

“It reflects the solid foundation underpinning our relations,” Bush said. “It is a commitment to strengthen that foundation for years to come.”

The ceremony took place with a heavy haze engulfing the Chinese capital despite concerted government efforts to slash pollution before the games. It was full of emotional resonance, with those attending including Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, and Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of state during the Nixon presidency when the U.S. began a relationship with China.

It was the senior Bush, as chief of the U.S. liaison office during a critical period when the United States was renewing ties with China, who first brought his son to China in 1975. The current president fondly recalls biking around Beijing when that was the predominant form of transport.

Much has changed since. While there still are lots of bicycles, cars dominant the streets today. Skyscrapers have sprouted like mushrooms. And the proliferation of construction cranes shows the building boom is far from over — evidence of the country’s economic growth — though most of the work has ground to a halt to help the anti-pollution battle.

The American embassy, on 10 acres in a new diplomatic zone, is wrapped in freestanding transparent and opaque glass.

The dedication followed China’s unveiling of its own imposing new embassy in Washington last week. That 250,000-square-foot glass-and-limestone compound is the largest foreign embassy in the U.S. capital.

The number eight is considered auspicious in China — Friday is 8/8/08 on the calendar — so the embassy ceremony began at 8:08 a.m. local time. The opening ceremonies begin exactly 12 hours later at 8:08 p.m.

Bush, the first American president event to attend an Olympics on foreign soil, was to meet with U.S. athletes right before the ceremonies.

“I’m looking forward to cheering our athletes on,” Bush said. “I’m not making any predictions about medal counts, but I can tell you the U.S. athletes are ready to come and compete, in the spirit of friendship.”

Also Friday, Bush attended a lunch for world leaders hosted by Chinese President Hu Jintao in the Great Hall of the People.

His known schedule over the next three days is thin, with large gaps left open for Bush to cherry-pick sporting events to watch with the numerous family members who have accompanied him to Beijing.

On Saturday, he meets with Olympic sponsors and watch women’s basketball. On Sunday, he will attend a government-approved Protestant church and then speak to reporters about religious freedom, mirroring his practice during a 2005 trip to China. He then plans to take in some men’s and women’s Olympic swimming.

Business takes over briefly Sunday afternoon, with talks with Hu as well as China’s vice president and premier. But then it’s back to sports: the much-anticipated U.S.-China basketball game Sunday night and a practice baseball game between the U.S. and China on Monday. He returns to Washington Monday night.


August 5, 2008

Drogba will miss start of season

Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has revealed striker Didier Drogba is set to miss the start of the season.

Drogba, 30, has spent the summer recuperating from a knee injury and will not be fit for the Premier League opener against Portsmouth on 17 August.

“Didier will not play in our first game and will probably miss the second against Wigan,” said Scolari.

“If there are no more problems he should be ready for the game after that, Tottenham on 31 August.”

However, Scolari concedes that the nature of Drogba’s injury makes it difficult to predict exactly when the Ivory Coast star will return to full fitness.

The Brazilian added: “When you have a knee injury, you just never know.

“I have been getting a progress report from the doctor every day.

“He’s getting better and is working with a fitness coach back at the training ground.

“I hope he will be ready to start training next week but he will not play until he is in good condition.”

In the absence of Drogba, Chelsea will be relying heavily on Nicolas Anelka, who scored four goals in a 5-0 mauling of AC Milan on Sunday.

Salomon Kalou is away at the Olympics and Scolari has hinted Andriy Shevchenko is not a contender to start the first game of the season.


The best transfer of the summer

The best transfer of the summer


Nothing excites a football fan over the summer months quite as much as a few new faces.

I have always enjoyed turning up for a pre-season fixture to take a look at the summer signings. The fact that you can never really conclude anything about a player in a pedestrian and more or less completely meaningless game against some local amateur outfit takes a back seat while you try to wrestle with the big questions.

Are they any good? Has the gaffer finally found the missing piece of the jigsaw? Does this guy ever kick the ball with his left foot? How on earth did the manager find someone from the second tier of the Belgian league?

Come to think of it, summer signings probably don’t do any harm to season ticket sales and a constant flow of transfer speculation keeps the local paper ticking over during the fallow summer weeks.

But with the Football League starting on Saturday, just what has been the best bit of business during the summer?
I’m not talking necessarily about the most expensive or high-profile – it could be a wise old head on a free transfer or a real gem unearthed from non-league. What I’m looking for is the most inspired signing of the summer, the player who could make the difference between success and failure.

I’m not going to pretend for a moment that I’m familiar with every decent transfer – that is where you lot come in – but here are a few contenders for your consideration.

Derby County, not surprisingly, have been very busy and I think the striking partnership of Rob Hulse (£1.75m from Sheffield United) and Nathan Ellington (season-long loan from Watford) could be the best in the Championship.

Ellington was terrible last season but the word is that he is desperate to prove his knockers wrong while Rams boss Paul Jewell certainly knows how to get the best out of him. Hulse is a talented footballer but has different attributes to the pacy and athletic Ellington and they should complement each other. Defender Alan Stubbs also looks a good acquisition.

Freddy Eastwood’s move from Southend to Wolves really didn’t work out but he should be a decent acquisition for Coventry, while Arturo Lupoli, once of Arsenal, is an intriguing loan signing for Norwich from Italian side Fiorentina.

Nicky Maynard is an intelligent footballer, with good awareness in and around the box. If Bristol City were a touch predictable towards the end of last season then he should add a new dimension to their game, though at £2.25m from Crewe he did not come cheap.

A couple of veterans worth keeping an eye on are striker Andy Cole and midfielder Lee Carsley. Cole has moved to his home-town club of Nottingham Forest and the 36-year-old wants his final season as a player to end in promotion. A big ask. Carsley has joined Birmingham on a free transfer from Everton. He was a regular last season and I think he could prove to be a brilliant signing. The fact he has been made captain in the absence of Damien Johnson hints at the impact he has already had.

Several teams have looked to shore up their defences. They might not grab headlines but Mark Hudson (Palace to Charlton) and Kaspars Gorkss (Blackpool to QPR) could prove to be important and much-needed captures.

Leeds are desperate to win promotion to the Championship and reports suggest that midfielder Andy Robinson is set to play an important role. Argentine Luciano Becchio remains an unknown quantity but the striker has spent time with Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Mallorca (though last season he played in Spain’s third tier with Merida).

Derby County and Crystal Palace fans no doubt remember Marco Reich, the German forward who is back in English football with Walsall having joined from Kickers Offenbach. He was quality last time he was here and in League One he should have plenty to offer.

David Livermore was very consistent at Millwall but after joining Leeds in July 2006 the midfielder was sold by the Yorkshire club to Hull less than two weeks later. The Tigers loaned him to Oldham last season but after signing for Brighton permanently in July, I expect him to have real presence for the Seagulls.

A colleague of mine is adamant that the signing of the summer in League One is Kieran Lee, who has joined Oldham from Man Utd. I’ve never seen him play – have you? As a full-back/midfielder he certainly provides options for Latics boss John Sheridan.

Liverpool central defender Jack Hobbs is hoping to gain valuable first-team experience on a season-long loan at Leicester from Liverpool. The Foxes have also brought in defender Michael Morrison from Cambridge United. Manager Nigel Pearson is a former centre-half and both could blossom under his tutelage.

Huddersfield boss Stan Ternent, a wily old operator, has gone for experience with the likes of Chris Lucketti (Sheffield United) and Keigan Parker (Blackpool). Watch out for an improved showing from the Terriers.

In League Two, Lincoln boss Peter Jackson has also gone for experience, bringing in the likes of Frank Sinclair and Stefan Oakes.

Most deals at this level have been either free transfers or season-long loans but one move that caught the eye was Shrewsbury shelling out a club record £170,000 for Forest striker Grant Holt. He didn’t really deliver at Forest but has been prolific through pre-season and will be determined to deliver at his new club.

New boys Exeter have plumped for experience in striker Marcus Stewart. The 35-year-old has made more than 500 league appearances and should bring plenty of knowledge, though his scoring record at previous club Yeovil was far from spectacular.

But one of the best deals in League Two has surely got to be Notts County signing defender Michael Johnson on a permanent contract. He made a huge difference after arriving at Meadow Lane on loan last season and remains an impressive and consistent performer.

But how many potentially sensational signings have I missed and how many of the ones listed above do you think will make a big impression over the coming months?


August 4, 2008

Superb Murray wins Masters title

Andy Murray won his first title at the elite Masters Series level with a stunning victory over world number three Novak Djokovic in Cincinnati.

Courtesy BBC

Murray repeated his defeat of the Serb at last week’s Toronto Masters, beating his fellow 21-year-old 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5) in two hours and 23 minutes.

He needed six match points to seal victory after failing to serve out the match at the first attempt.

The win will see Murray ranked at a career high six in the world on Monday.

“It’s huge because to win these tournaments is tough nowadays,” said Murray afterwards.

“I’ve played five days in these conditions and had eight or nine matches in the last couple of weeks. But I’ve put in the physical work and it’s paid off.”

Djokovic enjoyed a fantastic win over world number one in waiting Rafael Nadal in the semis and went into the final with a 4-1 record against Murray.

I got very nervous and he was hitting the ball really big but I hung in well
Andy Murray

But that solitary win for the Scot came only nine days ago and was evidence of the significant leap he has made in recent months.

It was the Briton who started the better and he cranked up the pressure in game five, forcing a break point, before earning another chance two games later.

The Serb held him off but as the set progressed it seemed a matter of when, rather than if, Murray would force the break, all the while holding his own serve with ease.

Despite not being taken past 30 on serve the Scot still required a tie-break but he remained ice cool, breaking immediately and consolidating with a huge ace.

A couple of wild Djokovic forehand errors saw Murray reach the changeover at 5-1 and he wrapped up a commanding set when the Serb sent a backhand long.

Murray finally let his level slip at 1-1 in the second set and, after two crunching forehand winners saw off the immediate danger, he went long with a backhand on the third break point to hand Djokovic the lead.

It did not last long.

The Australian Open champion double-faulted on the first point of the following game and immediately handed back the break, looking suitably disgusted with himself.

BBC Sport’s Piers Newbery

Murray stepped up a gear in game eight, moving to break point with a forehand winner and taking it when Djokovic netted a smash after some breathtaking scrambling from the Scot.

But with the title in his sights, Murray played his first edgy game of the day, throwing in two double-faults and missing four match points before Djokovic broke back.

It could have been a shattering blow for the Briton but he held on as the confidence flowed through Djokovic and managed to force a second tie-break.

Murray led 4-2 at the changeover after Djokovic double-faulted but was pegged back to 4-4, at which point the Scot won an epic rally with a fizzing backhand winner.

He finally earned a fifth match point with following another Djokovic double-fault but failed to make a return.

The sixth chance to seal victory came on his own serve and, finally, Murray secured a landmark win with a thumping volley.

“I got very nervous and he was hitting the ball really big but I hung in well,” said Murray.

“It was tough for both of us and there were a lot of long rallies. Your legs really burn out there and they were some of the hardest conditions of the year.

“But I stayed calm throughout and didn’t waste any energy – especially when I went behind in a couple of matches.

“In the past maybe I’d have let that get to me but now I’m playing top players on a regular basis and I’m better equipped.”

The Scot now heads to Beijing to represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games before moving on to the US Open.


Blog at