All posts by Joe London

ATP Finals: Federer edges Wawrinka epic to set up Djokovic final

Roger Federer saved four match points before securing a dramatic 4-6 7-5 7-6(6) win against Stan Wawrinka to book a showdown with Novak Djokovic for the World Tour Finals title.

The world No.2 came from a set down to win a third-set tie-breaker against the man he will line up alongside for Switzerland in next weekend’s Davis Cup final.

At two hours and 48 minutes, it was by far the longest match at the tournament and just the fourth to go to three sets.

“I think I’m very lucky tonight,” said Federer. “Stan played better from the baseline. I kept believing, kept fighting. He did all the right things, it was tough. But I’m thrilled to be in another final here in London.

“I’ve saved a lot of break points, match points in the last few months. I thought, let’s try to do it one more time. I feel very lucky to be doing this interview right now.

“He [Djokovic] looks great, he’s playing fantastic. It was a great match against Kei [Nishikori]. He brings the best out of me. I hope I can do the same.”

Federer, featuring in a record-equalling 12th semi-final at the event, had saved all seven break points he had faced this week, however, Wawrinka managed to break him not once but twice for a 5-2 lead in the first.

The world No.2 pulled one break back, but Wawrinka held serve to close out the set in 35 minutes.

Wawrinka then managed to save three break points to keep the second set on serve at 3-3, though, serving to stay in it, he dumped a simple overhead into the net to gift Federer three set points. Federer duly took his first with Wawrinka planting a backhand into the net.

Federer, bidding for a ninth final at the event, was immediately broken to love in the decider, though, having remonstrated with the umpire at 0-40 after claiming he didn’t hear an overrule so challenged too late.

Wawrinka then denied Federer by saving two break points and going 5-3 up to close in on victory. A dramatic next game saw Federer save three match points before taking his second break point to stay in the match, with the O2 Arena erupting.

The drama didn’t end there. Federer was then forced to save two break points before going 6-5 ahead, with Wawrinka holding to ensure a tie-breaker.

Federer raced into a 2-0 lead before Wawrinka battled back to lead 6-5. However, Federer saved match point again before bringing up his first, taking the tie-breaker 8-6 to secure the win.

Read more at ESPN

Euro 2016 Qualifying: Engalnd 3-1 Slovenia

Wayne Rooney helped England survive a scare against Slovenia on his 100th international appearance as they came from behind to make it four wins from four in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

Rooney was presented with a golden cap by England and Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton before kick-off in honour of his landmark but underdogs Slovenia threatened to spoil the celebrations when Jordan Henderson’s own goal gave them the lead just before the hour.

England’s captain quickly restored order with his 44th goal for his country from the penalty spot, putting him joint-third with Jimmy Greaves in the all-time standings and moving him to within five of Charlton’s record.

With Slovenia’s resistance finally broken, Danny Welbeck struck twice to bring his tally to an impressive five goals in qualifying.

The Wembley surface was the subject of much debate after areas were churned up in the NFL game between Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys last Sunday.

Conditions were not perfect, but this was no excuse for a dire first-half display from England.

The eventful second half was a far cry from a dreadful opening 45 minutes, which was devoid of action and flouted its billing as entertainment in front of a crowd of more than 82,000.

England’s supporters gave 29-year-old Rooney a warm ovation as he was presented with his cap accompanied by his sons Kai and Klay – but it was all downhill in the first half.

Manager Roy Hodgson will be delighted his side raised their game after the break, stung into action by Slovenia’s goal, the first they have conceded so far in the qualifiers.

Rooney laid the foundations before Welbeck once more proved his importance as he followed his two goals against Switzerland and one against San Marino with another double here.

Once again England collected three points without truly impressing, the trend emerging from Group E, which they will surely move through untroubled to France in 2016.

And Hodgson, with another competitive victory secured, can now perhaps experiment in Tuesday’s friendly against Scotland at Celtic Park.

The first half was instantly forgettable, and a smattering of jeers greeted the half-time whistle.

England began the second with more attacking intent – they could hardly have had less – but were stunned when Slovenia took the lead after 57 minutes as Henderson glanced a perfect header high beyond Hart from Milivoje Novakovic’s free-kick.

The hosts needed a quick response and Rooney helped them deliver it, first winning the penalty when he was clearly tripped by Bostjan Cesar then dispatching it powerfully past Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, who got a touch but could not keep the ball out.

In those few minutes the momentum swung in England’s favour, and they were soon ahead when Welbeck’s scuffed finish beat Handanovic after the goalkeeper had turned away Adam Lallana’s deflected cross.

And to emphasise the point, Welbeck underlined his growing stature as a striker – and his importance to Hodgson – with the third, playing a neat interchange with Raheem Sterling before steering in a composed angled finish.

Read more at BBC Sport

Rugby Union: Scotland 16-24 New Zealand

Scotland pushed world champions New Zealand close before going down 24-16 at Murrayfield on Saturday night.

Victor Vito gave the All Blacks an early lead as he powered home with the opening try 12 minutes in before Tommy Seymour’s intercept score gave the delighted hosts an immediate response.

Kickers Dan Carter and Grieg Laidlaw kept the score close with three penalties apiece but a successful effort from the boot of Colin Slade nudged New Zealand in front.

Jeremy Thrush’s late score finally put daylight between the sides as New Zealand claimed their 28th win from 30 Tests against the Dark Blues.

Laidlaw did have the chance to put Scotland ahead with quarter of an hour remaining but tugged his penalty wide.

Yet Scotland can take huge credit from a performance that saw them come within 10 points of the Kiwis for the first time since 1991.

The home side’s head coach Vern Cotter claimed in the build-up to the second autumn Test that the youthful side sent out by All Blacks boss Steven Hansen was packed with “stars of the future”.

But it was the Scotland defence which shined brightest as they soaked up phase after phase of New Zealand pressure for much of the second half.

The performance of Cotter’s men in their five-try win over Argentina last week highlighted Scotland’s growing attacking threat.

But against a side as dangerous from anywhere on the pitch as the Kiwis, they knew they would have their defensive resolve tested to the limit.

Their first serious examination came after just 12 minutes and the result was not good. New Zealand scrum-half TJ Perenara threw Vito a mongrel of a pass but the back-rower did brilliantly to scoop it up and march into a strong stride.

Stuart Hogg and Laidlaw both tried to haul him down but there was no stopping the Hurricanes forward as he powered into the corner for the opening try. Carter, though, pulled his conversion.

But like last week against Argentina, Scotland responded to an early set-back both immediately and impressively.

Seymour – the scorer of an intercept try against the Pumas – repeated the trick as he pounced on Richie McCaw’s loose pass and ran in unopposed for the equalising score before Laidlaw stuck over the extras.

Yet New Zealand’s attacking surges refused to relent. The Scots were working hard to keep them at bay but more than a few times their graft over-stepped the mark, meaning Carter could add three penalties to the scoreboard against the lone shot at the posts managed by Laidlaw.

Even escaping their own 22 was a feat in itself for the Scots as the Kiwis put some huge hits on anyone brave enough to run the ball.

With huge figures like iconic All Blacks skipper McCaw and flanker Sam Cane to penetrate, Scotland simply could not find a way through.

But after a pumped-up start to the second period, they were happy to accept another three points as centre Malakai Fekitoa was caught offside inside his own 22.

At the other end, the All Blacks looked to turn the screw but both at the set-piece and the break-down, Scotland stood up boldly to the challenge.

Carter’s departure as he was replaced by Liam Messam was a welcome sight for Scotland but gaining ground was proving to be an almost Herculean task.

With Carter off, Slade took over New Zealand’s kicking duties and finally added to the All Blacks’ tally 26 minutes into the second half. But Laidlaw again trimmed the world champions’ lead back with his third penalty.

When Wyatt Crockett blocked Laidlaw’s attempt to spread the play from an offside position, Scotland were handed the chance to nudge themselves in front with another penalty. But as the excitement grew, the sold-out Murrayfield was suddenly hushed as the skipper missed with his boot for the first time.

A streaker lightened the mood briefly but Scotland were not laughing as New Zealand pushed forward again.

Again the Scots were having to defend desperately but the pressure finally told as Thursh found a gap in the home rear-guard to squeeze over from close range, while Slade put the Kiwis out of sight with the conversion.

Read more at ESPN

Rugby Union: England 28-31 South Africa

England fell to their fifth consecutive defeat as South Africa profited from another disappointing display.

Trailing by 14 points early in the second half, England responded with back-to-back tries from driving mauls for David Wilson and Ben Morgan.

But a burrowing try from Schalk Burger and 13 points from the boot of fly-half Pat Lambie made it 12 matches in a row since England last beat the Springboks.

Despite their stirring fightback, England only seldom exerted any control, errors from half-back pairing Danny Care and Owen Farrell costing them at pivotal moments.

With just 10 matches to go until the World Cup, England’s development as a team appears to have stalled, with the first serious questions being asked of the Stuart Lancaster regime.

Lambie opened the scoring with a straightforward penalty after Farrell’s ill-judged decision to run from deep put his side in trouble, and a more serious error then gifted the visitors a more significant score.

Care, winning his 50th cap, threw a slow, telegraphed pass after a stodgy series of attempted drives and centre Jan Serfontein intercepted to race away and under the posts from 60 metres.

Lambie’s conversion made it 10-0, and England were struggling – slow in thought, obvious in execution, Twickenham muted.

Read more at BBC Sport

ATP Finals: Djokovic survives Nishikori scare to reach final

Novak Djokovic earned himself a shot at a third consecutive World Tour Finals title after battling past Kei Nishikori in three sets in Saturday’s first semi-final at the O2 Arena.

After a litany of one-sided matches in the round robin stage, Djokovic looked set to continue the theme by easing through the first set but Nishikori stunned the world No.1 by taking the second to force a decider.

It was just the third time at these Tour Finals that the O2 Arena had seen a third set, and Djokovic regained his composure to eventually ease through it for a 6-1 3-6 6-0 win in one hour and 27 minutes.

“Honestly, today I found it a little bit difficult mentally to stay concentrated throughout the whole match,” Djokovic said in his press conference. “After emotional three matches I had, especially yesterday when I achieved the goal to finish as No.1 of the world, knowing that, I felt a little bit flat emotionally. I needed a little bit more time to kind of give myself a boost.

“I was fortunate because in the beginning of the third set, he had break points. If he broke me, the match could have gone either way. I managed to find that little bit of strength and get a win today.

“Tomorrow is the last match of the season. It’s one of the biggest tournaments in the world, aside of the grand slams. This is already the biggest possible motivation. I will try to give everything I have.”

Read more at ESPN

Euro 2016 Qualifying: Romania 2-0 Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s three-game winning run in their Euro 2016 qualifiers ended as Romania won in Bucharest to go top of Group F.

Full-back Paul Papp scored both goals, firing into the top corner in the 73rd minute and stealing in to convert a back-post header.

Chris Brunt went close early on but Alexandru Chipciu hit the bar and Bogdan Stancu missed from close range.

Northern Ireland slipped to second in the group, one point behind Romania.

Romania began the first European Championship qualifying meeting between the sides hoping to avoid a repeat of their only previous competitive home match with Northern Ireland, a World Cup qualifier in October, 1985, which they lost 1-0.

Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland went into the game full of confidence but without several injured players, including skipper Steven Davis.

Anghel Iordanescu was beginning his third spell as Romania coach following the departure of Victor Piturca, who left to take up a lucrative deal with Saudi Arabian side Ittihad last month.

The hosts, also without several first-choice regulars, began brightly and a bicycle kick by out-of-favour Tottenham defender Vlad Chiriches was gathered by Roy Carroll.

Read more at BBC Sport

Euro 2016 Qualifying: Scotland 1-0 Republic of Ireland

A superb Shaun Maloney goal earned Scotland a precious and hard-fought victory over the Republic of Ireland in their Euro 2016 Group D qualifier.

From a short corner, Maloney squeezed the ball into the feet of Scott Brown, whose back-heel allowed the winger to curl an exquisite shot home.

There was a late scare for the Scots as Grant Hanley’s header hit his own bar.

They now draw level with the Irish and Germany on seven points after four games, with Poland three points clear.

Former Celtic manager Martin O’Neill had spoken of his belief that his Irish side could win on his return to Celtic Park. Instead, it was his successor at the club, Gordon Strachan, who enjoyed the happier homecoming.

Another of the pre-match talking points was the expected booing of the Scots-born Ireland winger Aiden McGeady and his reception was suitably hostile – he was treated by the home fans as the pantomime villain.

From the outset, the pace of the game was frenetic. The tackling was tenacious and, at times, downright careless, leading to early bookings for Hanley, McGeady and his Ireland team-mate, Jeff Hendrick.

The passion on show almost made up for the dearth of football, with precious few chances created in the opening half-hour.

Jon Walters and Darron Gibson did force David Marshall into saves, but there was little to worry either goalkeeper.

Scotland’s play under Strachan has come to be typified by slick attacking play and it was one such passage that almost brought about the opening goal.

Steven Naismith foraged away before picking out Maloney on the right. The winger’s cross was whipped in for the charging Charlie Mulgrew, but his header flew wide.

Read more at BBC Sport

ATP Finals: Novak Djokovic beats Tomas Berdych

Novak Djokovic crushed Tomas Berdych 6-2 6-2 to reach the last four of the World Tour Finals and clinch the year-end No.1 ranking.

Djokovic secured an immediate double break and wrapped up the first set in just 31 minutes, securing his place in the semi-finals at the O2 Arena.

The second set began the same way as Djokovic raced into a 4-0 lead before completing the rout in one hour and nine minutes, racking up his 30th straight win indoors, a streak which extends across three seasons.

“It’s a great deal of happiness knowing that what I’ve been through the entire season in order to get to where I am and finish the year as No.1,” said Djokovic. “I owe gratitude to my team, to all the people who were next to me.

“It’s one of the ultimate challenges. Being No.1 of the world is the pinnacle of the sport.”

It is the third time in four years that Djokovic has finished the year at No.1, as he chases a third consecutive World Tour Finals title.

In 2014, he claimed his seventh grand slam at Wimbledon, and has won other six titles, including four Masters crowns in Indian Wells, Miami, Rome and Paris.

“One of the highest and most difficult challenges is to be No.1 nowadays, especially because the tennis has become very competitive in the last five, 10 years, very physical,” added Djokovic. “To have a shot at No. 1 of the world, you need to be consistently healthy and successful throughout the year.

“Because [Rafael] Nadal and [Roger] Federer are so good for so many years, they always make you win at least one or two grand slams if you eventually want to be No.1, and of course with consistency, because they’ve been so consistent with their results. I know how difficult it is. It’s why I’m proud of this achievement.”

Djokovic now faces Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals on Saturday and is anticipating a battle.

Read more at ESPN

F1: Caterham to race in Abu Dhabi finale after fundraising success

Caterham’s administrator says the team will race at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix following the success of a public crowd-funding project.

The team went into administration last month and had been seeking to raise £2.35m in order to return to action.

“We set ourselves a major challenge, but it’s been worth it. In only a week the fans have made the impossible possible,” Finbarr O’Connell said.

Caterham sat out the last two grands prix in the United States andBrazil.

Although the team is currently just under £500,000 short of its target, sponsors have come on board to make up the shortfall.

The crowd-funding initiative offered rewards to investors ranging from Caterham-branded earplugs and caps through to used race suits and carbon engine covers.

O’Connell, representing administrator Smith & Williamson, added: “We knew that the best way to keep this team alive and attract possible buyers was to show that it’s still a racing team and be in Abu Dhabi for the finale.

“There aren’t enough words to say how grateful we are to all the fans who have made this possible.

“We now head to Abu Dhabi ready to show what a hard-working and positive group of people this is and to hopefully secure a future for the team.”

Read more at BBC Sport

Africa Cup of Nations 2015: Equatorial Guinea to host tournament

Equatorial Guinea have been named as the hosts for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, the Confederation of African Football has confirmed.

Caf selected a replacement for Morocco after rejecting their request to delay the 17 January to 8 February finals.

Morocco were concerned over the spread of the outbreak of the Ebola virus.

Caf subsequently expelled Morocco from the relocated tournament, which will now be held in the country which co-hosted with Gabon in 2012.

Equatorial Guinea will now take on sole responsibility for holding the 16-team event.

Caf said the decision was made after a meeting in Malabo on Friday between Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang and Caf president Issa Hayatou.

African football’s governing body also announced that Equatorial Guinea will play in the tournament – despite the team being disqualified in July for fielding an ineligible player in a preliminary qualifier against Mauritania on 17 May.

Hayatou said in a statement:  “The head of state of Equatorial Guinea agreed to host the competition.

“As a result, the Caf executive committee confirms that the tournament will go ahead and Equatorial Guinea will compete as the host nation.

“Caf wishes to express its sincere thanks to the Equatorial Guinean people, its government and particularly president Obiang.”

Matches will be held at four venues in Bata, Ebebiyin, Mongomo and the capital Malabo. In 2012, only Malabo and Bata were used.

The draw for the finals will be in Malabo on 3 December.

Read more at BBC Sport