FIFA U-17 World Cup: What matters is performance not who is officiating, says Esther Stabuli

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For Esther Stabuli, who became the first woman referee in 16 years to officiate in a FIFA male competition, what counts at the end of the day is performance on the pitch. Esther broke a 16-year-old jinx when she officiated in the Japan-New Caledonia FIFA U-17 World Cup match here.

A Swiss school teacher and a rising star in refereeing circles, Esther made a little bit of history alongside New Caledonia, who won their first-ever point at a FIFA event by eking out the 1-1 draw against Japan on October 14.

“There is not a big difference in whether it was a male or female referee, it is just the performance that counts,” Esther was quoted saying in the FIFA website.

“It was a match like any other one. Later on maybe there will be more emotions, or I will realise it was something special, but before I really tried to prepare like it was a normal match and do my best.”

Sixteen years ago, Im Eunju from Korea Republic became the the first woman to officiate in a men’s match at a FIFA tournament when she took charge of the U-17 World Cup match between France and USA at Trinidad and Tobago 2001.

Esther was showered with praise from both Japanese coach Yoshiro Moriyama and New Caledonia’s Dominique Wacalie.

“It was really nice that they liked me as a referee, and that they just looked at me like a normal referee,” Esther said.

It was part of a journey both for the veteran of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 and for FIFA’s Refereeing Department, which has been working to train men’s and women’s referees in the same structure for quite sometime.

This joint preparation project began in 2016 as part of the quest by the FIFA Referee Committee.

The appointment of Esther and the inclusion of six other women’s referees at India, who worked as fourth officials, is a fresh and exciting highlight in that quest.

The referees came from every confederation: Ri Hyang Ok (PRK), Gladys Lengwe (ZAM), Carol Anne Chenard (CAN), Claudia Umpierrez (URU), Anna-Marie Keighley (NZL), Kateryna Monzul (UKR).

Real Madrid hold no fear for Tottenham Hotspur, says Christian Eriksen

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Tottenham Hotspur have plenty of quality and no need to be afraid of Real Madrid in their Champions League clash in Spain on Wednesday, midfielder Christian Eriksen has said.

The Danish international scored the winner as Spurs beat Bournemouth 1-0 in the Premier League on Saturday and Eriksen has set his sights on another good showing against the European champions at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“You need quality and belief. I think we have both so I don’t think we should be scared of anything,” Eriksen told British media. “I haven’t won there yet so I need to change something. Of course it’s a special stadium, a special place.

“Playing against Real will always be special for any footballer with the history they have and the players there so it will be a good test, to see how far we’ve really come.”

Tottenham, level on six points with Real in Group H, will be look to avenge a 4-0 defeat they suffered the last time the two teams met in Madrid in the 2010-11 season.

Two members of the Tottenham team that lost to Real — Gareth Bale and Luka Modric — have since moved to the Spanish giants while Tottenham have a new hero in Harry Kane.

The England striker has struck five times in two Champions League games and six times in the Premier League but Eriksen was keen to stress that Spurs, despite Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola’s assertion, were not a one-man team.

“Of course nobody wants to be called a one-man team,” he said. “I think over the last few seasons it’s been almost the same team every season. We know each other very well.

“There are strong links between all the players and a good feeling going into training and going into the games. We’ve got something special and I hope that’s what people on the outside see, and it’s what the squad feels.”

Ben Davies is a doubt for the match after the Welsh defender missed the Bournemouth match with illness and manager Mauricio Pochettino said the club was working towards getting the rest of the squad ready for a huge challenge in the Spanish capital.

“We need to recover well after two weeks with the players away, and now after the massive effort against Bournemouth,” Pochettino said.
“Until Tuesday we need to work hard, all the staff, to try and help the players recover.”

Manchester City cannot take Napoli lightly, says coach Pep Guardiola

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Pep Guardiola has said Manchester City would be “stupid” to expect an easy outing against Napoli in the Champions League on Tuesday just because they thumped Stoke City 7-2 in the Premier League over the weekend.

Napoli top the Serie A table with eight wins from as many games and sit third in Group F in the Champions League behind leaders City and Shakhtar Donetsk after a 2-1 opening loss to the Ukrainian side and a 3-1 win over Feyenoord.

Guardiola’s side are unbeaten pace-setters in the English top flight with seven wins from eight games. They showed their might against Stoke but the Spanish manager suggested Napoli would not crumble under pressure.

“Of course, if they think that, they will be stupid,” Guardiola told British media. “That isn’t going to happen.

“I am going to show Napoli to my players – how good they are. Napoli can kill you with high pressing. They are able to press our keeper. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to play this kind of game.”

City began their European campaign with a 4-0 win over Dutch side Feyenoord and followed it up with a routine 2-0 result over Shakhtar.

 

Maria Sharapova eyes strong finish to season after Tianjin Open title

Maria Sharapova is looking for a strong finish to a season that began with a doping ban and hit a high in China on Sunday when she won her first title in over two years.

The former world number one, who returned from the 15-month ban in April, defeated Belarusian teenager Aryna Sabalenka 7-5 7-6(8) in the final of the Tianjin Open on Sunday.

Sharapova said she was looking forward to building on the success next week in Moscow at the Kremlin Cup, a tournament she has not appeared at since 2007.

“Obviously coming there with the title already means a lot, but I do really want to finish strong,” said the Russian, who accepted a wild card for the event.

“I don’t remember the last time that I played three events in a row. But I will give it everything I have got and I know I have so many amazing fans there.”

The five-times grand slam champion said the Tianjin title, the 36th of her career, was special.

“It has been a couple of years since I have held the winner’s trophy. It is a great feeling,” she said.

“When you start all the way from the beginning of the tournament and then you end up playing the final in a full stadium with so much enthusiasm and energy and you are the one that wins the last point, just everything falls into place.

“You have to appreciate those moments, never take them for granted.”

Sharapova takes on Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova in the opening round in Moscow.

Roger Federer eyes ATP Finals title, top ranking after Shanghai Masters triumph

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Roger Federer is eyeing a seventh ATP Finals crown and has not ruled out pinching the world number one ranking from Rafa Nadal if he maintains the form that won him his second Shanghai Masters trophy on Sunday.

The 19-times grand slam winner claimed his 94th title and sixth this year with an emphatic defeat of Nadal in the Shanghai final and is hungry for a first ATP Finals win since 2011.

“London is my priority now and I really want to win the World Tour Finals,” the evergreen 36-year-old told Sky Sports. “I am very excited to have had the year that I have had and everything that comes from here is a bonus.

“Finishing the year as world number one is a long shot, and I don’t think it will happen but if I play like this, who knows? Maybe I will get close again.”

Shangai was Federer’s first tournament since the U.S. Open and the confidence he gained from his opening matches helped him through a taxing schedule.

“It’s been a tough week, five straight matches is always a test and a challenge for anybody’s body, especially with the pressure rising,” he said.

“I felt I was playing well all week and that settled my nerves because I was returning well from the (opening) match here against (Diego) Schwartzman.

“The serve only got better and I saved the best for last … In a way, not surprising because I felt good all week — I was ready.”
The Swiss next headlines his home Basel International starting Oct. 21.

MLB power rankings: Indians hold top spot; Diamondbacks remain strong

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The 22-game winning streak may be over.

But the Cleveland Indians captured their second straight AL Central title and claimed No. 1 spot in USA TODAY Sports’ baseball power rankings for the second consecutive week.

With two weeks remaining in the regular season schedule, the Indians hold a two-game lead over the Houston Astros for home field advantage.

Meanwhile. it appears the Los Angeles Dodgers righted the ship, winning two of three against the Washington Nationals in what could be a preview of the NL Championship.

From 1 to 30, how they stack up based on voting from our 10-person panel:

TEAM.  MOVEMENT

1. Cleveland Indians: —

►Streak may be over, but Tribe can still reach 100 wins for the second time since 1954.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers: 

►Now, on to the hard questions, like: Who pitches in October?

3. Houston Astros: +1

►Division in hand, top task now: Avoid Chris Sale in a best-of-5.

4. Washington Nationals: -1

►Bryce Harper would mean so much to the offense.

MORE: 

5. Arizona Diamondbacks: —

►J.D. Martinez can’t stop hitting home runs.

6. Boston Red Sox: —

►The last time David Price was a reliever, Rays went to World Series.

7. Chicago Cubs: +1

►About to get Addison Russell back.

8. New York Yankees: -1

►Aaron Judge: Still good.

9. Colorado Rockies: —

►Who says a leadoff hitter, Charlie Blackmon, can’t drive in 100 runs?

10. Minnesota Twins: +1

►Byron Buxton: Best second half since Patriots trailed 28-3.

11. Milwaukee Brewers: -1

►Going to get one more shot at the Cubs.

12. Los Angeles Angels: +1

►Can patchwork pitching staff limp into playoffs?

13. St. Louis Cardinals: -1

►Only question now is how significant off-season shakeup will be.

14. Seattle Mariners: +3

►Starting pitchers averaging just 5 1/3 innings per outing.

15. Texas Rangers: —

►Joey Gallo is going to hit 40 home runs, just as everyone envisioned.

16. Kansas City Royals: 

►Eric Hosmer taking a career-best .389 OBP, .897 OPS into free agency.

17. Tampa Bay Rays: +1

►Alex Cobb will be rare Rays pillar who makes it to free agency without getting traded.

18. Baltimore Orioles:  -4

►2-8 road trip doomed wild card hopes.

19. Toronto Blue Jays: +2

►Three straight 30-homer seasons for Josh Donaldson.

20. Miami Marlins: +1

►Giancarlo Stanton on pace for 59 homers; can he make it 60?

21. Pittsburgh Pirates: -1

►17-28 since Aug. 1. Off-season re-tooling ahead?

22. Atlanta Braves: —

►Averaging 30,000 per game at new stadium; drew 25,000 a night at Turner Field.

23. Oakland Athletics: +2

►Now the Moneyball A’s don’t even have AL consecutive wins record.

24. San Diego Padres: -1

►Raise your hand if you thought patchwork rotation would have better ERA (4.75) than Mets (5.13).

25. New York Mets: -1

►Should Noah Syndergaard bother returning this season?

26. Cincinnati Reds: —

►No. 2 overall pick Hunter Greene says pitching is ‘primary focus,’ not shortstop.

27. Detroit Tigers: —

►Matt Boyd’s near no-hitter bright spot in dreary September.

28. Chicago White Sox: —

►Hey, manager Rick Renteria leads the majors in ejections (7).

29. Philadelphia Phillies: +1

►Rhys Hoskins or Carson Wentz?

30. San Francisco Giants: -1

►Will finish season as only team without a 20-home run hitter.

Gallery: MLB photo of the day

MLB series to watch: Twins-Yankees, Brewers-Cubs clashes loom large as races stay hot

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The final two weeks of September figured to be crucial for teams like the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs in their attempts to solidify division leads. The Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers, on the other hand, seemed more likely to be taking a look at their prospects at this time of year.

The standings tell a different story. The Twins are stubbornly holding on to a wild-card spot in the American League, while the Brewers refuse to go away despite losing top starter Jimmy Nelson to a shoulder injury.

Both clubs play fellow contenders this week. Here’s a look at those series and two others that may have the most impact on the playoff races:

Twins at New York Yankees: These teams have barely seen each other all season, meeting only three times before Monday’s opener of a three-game set. All the games will be televised nationally, and Monday’s holds special interest because Yankees starter Jaime Garcia was a Twin for all of one start in July – a winning effort – before they shipped him to New York in a move that appeared to indicate Minnesota was not serious about contending.

Yet here the Twins are, facing a difficult path to the playoffs with only three home games in the final 13, but very much in the middle of the action. Minnesota hopes to get third baseman Miguel Sano back from a stress reaction in his left shin by the end of its 10-game trip, but it won’t be in time to face the Yankees.

New York hasn’t given up on catching the Red Sox in the AL East, but at the very least the club is positioned to host the wild-card game, as it holds a four-game edge over Minnesota. With shortstop Didi Gregorius on fire at the plate and Aaron Judge hitting tape-measure homers again, the Yankees have won seven of their last nine to keep the heat on Boston. CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka will follow Garcia on the rotation.

Cubs at Brewers: After a two-game visit to Tampa Bay, where Cubs manager Joe Maddon spent nine seasons at the helm of the Rays, the Cubs face their two closest NL Central pursuers for eight games, all on the road. The challenging stretch begins Thursday with the first of four games at Milwaukee’s Miller Park before Chicago concludes the trip in St. Louis.

The Cubs were outscored 20-3 while getting swept in a three-game series the last time these teams met 10 days ago, but bounced back to rip off six consecutive wins, extending the streak with Sunday’s 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. Jake Arrieta, who has been out since straining his right hamstring Sept. 4, could return to face the Brewers.

Nelson’s absence and Matt Garza’s ineffectiveness have forced the Brewers into scramble mode. On Friday, Jeremy Jeffress started for the first time in his career after 263 relief appearances as part of Milwaukee’s attempt to fill some rotation spots with “bullpen games.’’

“The season is not a long-term season right now. It’s a two-week season,’’ said manager Craig Counsell, whose club is three games back in the wild card and four in the division. “Guys are going to have to do a little more over the next two weeks, and that’s how we’re going to treat it.’’

Cleveland Indians at Los Angeles Angels: The Indians were so torn up over the end of their 22-game winning streak Friday, they took the next two games against the Kansas City Royals – so they’re on a 24-1 run – and claimed their second AL Central crown in a row.

So there’s little for them to worry about the rest of the way other than making a push for the best record in the league and home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs – they’re neck-and-neck with the Houston Astros – and setting their postseason rotation.

For the Angels, though, the next two weeks represent a chance to send Mike Trout to the playoffs for just the second time in his decorated seven-year career. Trout is trying to mount a case for a repeat MVP award despite missing 39 games with a thumb injury. His 1.090 on-base plus slugging percentage would lead the league if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.

Trout is getting some help from August acquisition Justin Upton, who homered twice Saturday.

Angels at Astros: Like the Indians, Houston took care of business at home over the weekend, clinching its first division title as a member of the AL West, which it joined in 2013. The Astros’ first-round opponent in October could be the Angels, adding intrigue to their weekend matchup. Houston has already won the season series 10-6.

The Angels, who trail the Twins by two games for the second wild card, have gotten a recent boost from their rotation, with Tyler Skaggs, Parker Bridwell and Garrett Richards delivering strong performances in their last outings. Richards and Skaggs are scheduled to start at Minute Maid Park.

GALLERY: Postseason celebration time

NFL still confident in Los Angeles market despite attendance for Rams, Chargers games

The optics of the NFL’s first Sunday with two home games in Los Angeles in more than 20 years were undeniably bad.

The Chargers failed to sell out their first home game in the StubHub Center, a 27,000-seat stadium most notably used for Major League Soccer, while the Rams announced an official attendance of 56,612 for their home game against Washington at the Coliseum.

An NFL spokesman on Monday said the league and officials from both teams “remain confident” about the Los Angeles market moving forward.

“To a person, both at the club level and here at the league office, we remain confident that the city of Los Angeles can support in a very strong way two franchises, and we’re committed to making that happen as we work toward the opening of the new stadium,” spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters on a conference call.

The Rams and Chargers will share a new stadium at Hollywood Park starting in 2020. That stadium is expected to have a capacity of about 70,000 for NFL games, but can be expanded for other events, including the 2028 Olympic Games.

The Chargers’ struggles to sell tickets are especially notable, given the small size of the StubHub Center, the gamble the team took on hoping fans from San Diego and Orange County would follow the team after the relocation and the strong presence of visiting fans during the home opener against the Miami Dolphins, a team not known for a massive West Coast fan base.

The Chargers host their first AFC West game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

“They knew going in this wasn’t a one game or a one-year solution, where they could just turn the light on and expect the type of support they are very confident they’re going to get as they move to the opening of the new stadium,” Lockhart said.

Angelique Kerber ousts local favorite Naomi Osaka at Pan-Pacific Open

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Seventh-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany got a measure of revenge for a U.S. Open loss by beating Naomi Osaka 6-3, 6-4 on Monday to advance to the second round of the Pan-Pacific Open.

Last month, Kerber was knocked out of the U.S. Open by the Japanese teenager in straight sets.

“It’s always tough to play against her,” Kerber said. “I was trying to come out here and really focus on every single point and make it better than last time. … She’s a great player and a tough opponent. For sure she will have great success in the future.”

Osaka lost to Caroline Wozniacki in the final of last year’s tournament

Kerber will play either Madison Brengle or Daria Kasatkina in the next round.

Also, wild card Kurumi Nara of Japan overcame a slow start to oust Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, while China’s Wang Qiang beat Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-0, 6-0.

Meanwhile, organizers announced that Agnieszka Radwanska, a two-time tournament champion, has pulled out due to a virus. The 11th-ranked Pole was seeded sixth.

Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde blames Ousmane Dembele inexperience for injury

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Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde believes Ousmane Dembele’s inexperience was partly to blame for the hamstring injury which will keep him out for around four months. The 20-year-old France winger backheeled the ball while running at speed in the 25th minute of Barca’s 2-1 win at Getafe in La Liga on Saturday and immediately pulled up injured.

Dembele, who joined the club from Borussia Dortmund for 105 million euros ($125.22 million) in the close season, was diagnosed on Sunday with a hamstring rupture which Barcelona said will sideline him until around Christmas.

“What’s clear is that this is a player who has never had a muscular problem, he doesn’t have the experience to recognise the little pains,” Valverde told a news conference on Monday.

“A player at that speed that makes this backheel move getting hurt, it’s not normal but it’s one of the possibilities. A veteran player might not have done that.”

Dembele is in Finland to have his hamstring operated on and Valverde hopes the youngster can cope with being sidelined.

“It’s the hardest thing for a player, he’s injured and can’t help. He has to be very patient, it’s what he has to do,” said the Barcelona coach.

“It’s just one more problem he will encounter in his career. You never want it to happen but we’ve all had muscle problems, knee injuries. You have to look at it from a long-term perspective.”

League leaders Barca face Eibar on Tuesday at the Camp Nou and Valverde said any one of Gerard Deulofeu, Aleix Vidal, Denis Suarez or Andre Gomes might be chosen to replace Dembele.

While the winger’s absence might not be felt for this game, Dembele is also set to miss the rest of Barcelona’s Champions League group fixtures and crucial domestic league clashes with Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.