Carlsberg reports profits rise with Asian

Danish brewer Carlsberg has forecast rising annual profits, as Asian growth helped it post a fourth-quarter profit despite weak Russian sales.

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Volumes in its Asian markets “continued to grow while our Western European markets declined by an estimated two per cent”, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

Despite the volume decline, profitability in Europe improved thanks to the roll-out of premium brands with higher profit margins.

“The Russian market declined by an estimated eight per cent due to outlet restrictions and slower economic growth,” the group said.

Beer sales in Russia have been hit by a slower economy and government efforts to battle the country’s drink problem, which have included a ban on sales in kiosks and on late night sales.

Net profit in the three months ending December 31 rose to 1.13 billion kroner ($A231.67 million) from 192 million kroner in the same period a year ago.

Stripping out special items, operating profit climbed eight per cent to 2.322 billion kroner.

The maker of Tuborg and Kronenbourg 1664 said that in 2014, it expects operating profit to grow organically – meaning that revenue from acquisitions is excluded – by “high single-digit percentages”.

Along with its three bigger rivals – AB InBev, SABMiller and Heineken – Carlsberg has been expanding in the fast-growing Asian market.

A new production facility in Burma will go onstream in the second half of the year, and in December the group announced the acquisition of eight breweries in China.

Shares in Carlsberg were 6.3 per cent higher in mid-day trading on the Copenhagen stock exchange, where the benchmark index was 0.4 per cent higher.

Leverkusen’s season unravels in familiar fashion

The Works Eleven were also knocked out of the German Cup one week ago by second tier Kaiserslautern and a 2-1 home loss to Schalke 04 on Saturday left them in danger of surrendering second place in the Bundesliga.

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Yet, only a few weeks ago, there were genuine hopes that the club could finally lay their “Neverkusen” tag to rest.

Leverkusen had taken 37 points from their opening 17 Bundesliga games, their second-best performance in the first half of a season, and a win over Borussia Dortmund even had them believing they could overhaul runaway Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich.

Team captain Simon Rolfes declared that “the championship is possible” and the club’s website claimed that “the second half of the season promises to be full of exciting highlights.”

But even at that point, there were reasons to be apprehensive.

Coach Sami Hyppia’s nerves were left in tatters after a 5-3 home win over Hamburg which critics described as “kindergarten football” and a 5-0 home defeat by Manchester United in the Champions League was another ominous warning.

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Sure enough, Bayer were again torn apart by top level opposition on Tuesday, suggesting they had performed above themselves in the first half of the season rather than underperformed since January.

Defender Emir Spahic had a nightmare match, giving away the penalty that led to PSG’s second goal and then getting sent off for a foul on Lucas.

Rolfes lost possession at the start of the move which led to PSG’s first goal after only three minutes and was substituted at halftime as was South Korean forward Son Heung-min while the usually prolific Stefan Kiessling cut a lonely figure in attack.

It was a similar story two years ago when they were hammered 10-2 on aggregate by Barcelona at the same stage of the competition.

In fact, Leverkusen fans know the routine almost off by heart.

Their team have never won the Bundesliga, but finished runners-up four times between 1997 and 2002 when they famously lost a five-point lead in the championship’s closing stages and were beaten in the Champions League and German Cup finals.

In 2009/10, they enjoyed the longest unbeaten start to a Bundesliga campaign when they went through their first 24 matches without losing, but again failed to win the title, and there was another second-place finish in 2011. Their only major titles are the UEFA Cup in 1988 and the German Cup in 1993.

“You can’t say that it all went wrong. You also have to look at what kind of team we faced. Paris are a top-class opponent and they were excellent,” Hyppia said.

“It’s a difficult phase,” he added. “We must be mentally strong like a boxer who has suffered a knockout punch and gets up again.”

Sporting director Rudi Voeller, who earlier this season had lambasted critics for talking down his club, suggested Paris St Germain might have been bridge too far for Leverkusen’s somewhat limited squad.

“That sort of defeat really hurts,” he said. “We are all downcast.

“But we know that in the last 16, we are pushing our limits against various teams. It’s a question of quality.”

(Writing by Brian Homewood in Milan; Editing by Rex Gowar)

Geale schools Wood

Daniel Geale has set his sights on WBA middleweight boxing world champion Gennady Golovkin after schooling Garth Wood on Wednesday.

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Wood’s corner retired their man at the end of the sixth round, by which time their game-but-outclassed fighter had been down three times.

Geale took away Wood’s WBA Pan African middleweight title and won the vacant IBF Pan Pacific belt in their fight at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion.

Geale was leading 59-52 on two of the judges’ cards and 60-51 on the other at the time the fight was halted.

“I wanted to come out and be dominant, and show him what it was going to be like,” Geale told AAP.

“I wasn’t really surprised that I was able to hurt him, but I was a little bit surprised with the consistency I was able to hurt him with.”

Asked about the fight with Golovkin he craves, Geale said “that would be great, that would be exactly what I want”.

“My team will go back and see if we can work out a date.”

For all the pre-fight talk about Wood’s perceived penchant for rough tactics, it was Geale who was the only man penalised by referee Charlie Lucas.

He was deducted a point after the second of two low blows about a minute apart in the second round.

While Wood was cautioned for punching after the break and punching to the back of the head, he was unable to disturb Geale, who in the fourth round shoved his opponent to the floor. Geale controlled the fight with his speed, skill and accurate punching.

Geale (30-2, 16 KOs) dropped Wood (12-4-1, eight KOs) in the first and again late in the fifth, after the underdog was having one of his better spells.

He finished the round all over Wood, but the bell saved him.

It was a similar situation again in the sixth, as Wood was again dropped late in the round and finished it by sliding across the ring into the ropes.

His corner called the fight off a few seconds later.

Wood had no complaints about the result and congratulated Geale.

Despite the bad blood and angry words exchanged by the fighters in the lead-up to the bout they shook hands after the contest.

Earlier, rugby league star Paul Gallen made an exhilarating professional boxing debut, climbing off the canvas to stop Herman Ene-Purcell in two frantic rounds.

The NSW and Cronulla Sharks captain was dropped by a left in the first round, but showed great heart, and determination to storm over the top of his opponent in the second.

New Zealand’s Robert Berridge (23-1-1, 19 KOs) retained the Pan Asian Boxing Association light heavyweight with a tenth round stoppage of Australian Kerry Foley (14-2-1, 12 KOs).

Argentina defenders get last chance for World Cup places

The team captained by Lionel Messi has one of the best strike forces in the world, boasting as well Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, who were both named for the March 5 match in Bucharest after recovering from injuries.

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But there are question marks over the defence, which has been described as unreliable by Argentine media.

Otamendi, who plays in Brazil for South American club champions Atletico Mineiro, has 2010 World Cup experience under his belt, whereas Catania full back Peruzzi and Getafe central defender Lopez have two caps apiece in friendlies.

The first-choice back four in the last two years has usually been Pablo Zabaleta, Federico Fernandez, Ezequiel Garay and Marcos Rojo, but Sabella is looking for options to give better balance to a side with attacking riches.

By the time Argentina face Slovenia and Trinidad and Tobago in further warm-ups in early June, Sabella will have announced his 23-man World Cup squad. Argentina open their World Cup campaign against Bosnia on June 15 and also face Iran and Nigeria in Group F.

Sabella is expected to add four home-based players to the squad nearer the friendly: Boca Juniors’ goalkeeper Agustin Orion and midfielder Fernando Gago and Newell’s Old Boys’ Maxi Rodriguez and Ever Banega.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Monaco), Mariano Andujar (Catania)

Defenders: Ezequiel Garay (Benfica), Hugo Campagnaro (Inter Milan), Federico Fernandez (Napoli), Jose Basanta (Monterrey), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Lisandro Lopez (Getafe), Gino Peruzzi (Catania), Nicolas Otamendi (Atletico Mineiro)

Midfielders: Ricardo Alvarez (Inter Milan), Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Jose Sosa (Atletico Madrid), Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid), Augusto Fernandez (Celta Vigo), Lucas Biglia (Lazio)

Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris St Germain), Rodrigo Palacio (Inter Milan), Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)

(Reporting by Luis Ampuero; Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Stephen Wood)

UK court rejects Snowden-linked case

British High Court judges have dismissed a claim by the partner of ex-Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, that his detention at London’s Heathrow airport under anti-terror laws last year was unlawful.

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Greenwald was at the time working with the Guardian newspaper on exposing widespread US and British spying, based on highly-classified data leaked by former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

His partner David Miranda, a Brazilian citizen, was transporting some of the encrypted data from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro when he was stopped while in transit at Heathrow on August 18, 2013.

His laptop, phone, memory cards and DVDs were seized by British border police who, following a request from the MI5 intelligence agency, questioned him for the maximum nine hours allowed under anti-terrorism legislation.

Miranda challenged his detention in the High Court, claiming it was unlawful and breached his human rights.

Three judges on Wednesday rejected his appeal for a judicial review, a decision welcomed by British Home Secretary Theresa May.

May said: “If the police believe any individual is in possession of highly-sensitive stolen information that would aid terrorism, then they should act. We are pleased that the court agrees.”

But Miranda said the ruling emphasised the restrictions on freedom of the press in Britain, and vowed to appeal.

“I’m of course not happy that a court has formally said that I was a legitimate terrorism suspect,” he said in a statement to The Intercept, Greenwald’s new online magazine.

“I’m convinced they’ve hurt their own country far more than me with this ruling, as it emphasises what the world already knows: the UK has contempt for basic press freedoms.”

The anti-terror clause used to detain Miranda is currently under review, following widespread political and media criticism of his treatment.