PSG dreams given substance after big win at Leverkusen

The French champions displayed their European ambitions with an impressive 4-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday that all but secured their place in the Champions League quarter-finals.

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It also suggested they could be serious contenders for the title this season.

“We had to send a clear message, and I think we have done that,” defender Maxwell told reporters in Leverkusen.

“All the credit goes to us because we controlled the game. Tonight, we showed in the Champions League how strong our team is in the Champions League.”

PSG, who easily reached the knockout stages and are well placed in Ligue 1 – five points ahead of second-placed Monaco – were eager to be tested by tough opposition in Germany.

But they proved too strong for Bayer in all areas, even without their injured Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice – including another special strike from distance – to bring his European tally to 10 this term, and Yohan Cabaye celebrated his first PSG goal since arriving from Newcastle United in January.

They were, though, aided by a Leverkusen team that had Emir Spahic sent off, and had previously shown a soft centre in a 5-0 loss to Manchester United in the group stage.

“We had played very well in our league until now, but the Champions League is something else, it’s very difficult,” said Brazilian Maxwell, who won Europe’s elite club competition with Barcelona in 2011.

‘PARIS IS BACK’

There had been doubts recently about PSG’s capacity to raise their level, after they were eliminated at home by Montpellier in the French Cup last-32 round and laboured to beat some low-key sides.

But the questions were gone on Wednesday morning. “The great Paris is back,” declared the sports newspaper L’Equipe.

“Paris showed inspiration and character,” it added.

Midfielder Blaise Matuidi, who scored the third-minute opener and set up Ibrahimovic for the Swede’s second goal, said he had had the same feeling on the pitch.

“We felt that we were strong,” the France international said. “We have a high-level midfield. With what we’ve achieved in the Champions League for two seasons, we are not going to hide ourselves. We are a great team.”

Ibrahimovic has never won the Champions League with any of his former prestigious clubs, including AC Milan, Juventus and Barcelona, and despite his typically confident performance, he was circumspect after the game.

“I’ve played for fantastic teams, but you can say a team is great when you win trophies,” said the 32-year-old, who put PSG 3-0 up just before half-time with a fierce 20-metre left-foot shot that arrowed into the far corner of the net.

Ibrahimovic’s double on Tuesday took him ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo as the competition’s leading scorer this season.

PSG coach Laurent Blanc, who praised his players’ state of mind, believes his squad has the quality to live up to the expectations created by Tuesday night’s result.

“Nothing will stop you from thinking we are one of the favourites,” he said. “I don’t dream of anything at the moment. But we know what we have done so far and we know what we need to do to go further in this competition.

“PSG is ambitious. We expect a very exciting end of the season.”

The second leg of the last-16 tie is in Paris on March 12.

(Reporting by Gregory Blachier; Editing by Stephen Wood)

Singapore teacher jailed for ‘love bites’

A Singapore court has jailed a 42-year-old female teacher for six months for committing indecent acts on a 13-year-old boy studying in the same school, including giving him “love bites”.

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The woman, a teacher for 11 years and a mother-of-four, had earlier pleaded guilty to two charges of sexual exploitation of a child or young person under Singapore’s Children and Young Persons Act.

According to court documents, the woman, who cannot be named as it could lead to the identification of the victim, kissed the boy on his lips and given him love bites on his shoulder and neck on two separate occasions in 2012.

She became acquainted with the boy, a football team-mate of her son, and started to chat with him on Facebook, subsequently committing the incriminating acts when they went on outings to public parks.

The boy’s mother filed a police report after discovering a love bite on his neck.

“This case involved the sexual grooming and exploitation of a young victim 13 years-of-age, by a school teacher,” district judge Ng Peng Hong said in a written judgment.

“In my view, implanting of love bites and kissing with her tongue into the victim’s mouth in a public park by the teacher were indecent, sexual and not appropriate,” he said.

The judge said he was imposing a stiff sentence due to the “significant age gap” between the woman and the boy.

“The accused as a teacher and educator should not have defiled and corrupted the young victim,” he said.

The judge said he did not place much weight on the defence argument that the woman was suffering from depression.

The woman could have been jailed for up to five years, fined Sg$10,000 ($A8,800) or both, for each of the two charges she faced.

War Memorial reveals WWI centenary program

The name of every one of 62,000 Australians killed during World War I will be projected onto the Australian War Memorial and repeated throughout the four-year centenary period.

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And many visitors to Gallipoli and the Western Front will be given small wooden crosses on which school children have written messages, to place on the graves of Australian soldiers.

These are among the many events the Australian War Memorial is planning for the WW1 centenary, outlined by memorial director Brendan Nelson at the program launch on Wednesday night.

For the memorial, the redeveloped WWI gallery will be reopened in November. For those outside Canberra, there will be a series of travelling exhibitions of photographs and large objects such as the memorial’s WWI Mark IV tank.

Dr Nelson said this would remain consistent with the vision of historian Charles Bean, who saw the memorial as holding the spirit of those who fought and died in WW1.

“This is not a celebration,” he said. “It will be a commemoration. We commemorate the sacrifices.

“From a population of 4.5 million people, one million men could volunteer. Four hundred and thirty thousand did, 330,000 were sent overseas. Sixty-two thousand were dead. Another 60,000 died within a decade of returning from the 155,000 wounded or imprisoned.”

Dr Nelson said their sacrifice would be commemorated.

“What we will celebrate is a legacy that has been born of these cataclysmic events that shaped and defined largely the way we see ourselves as Australians and relate to one another in the world today almost a century later.”

Veterans’ Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson said the centenary should leave a lasting legacy of understanding.

“During this time, we will honour the extraordinary deeds of ordinary men and women, men and women who did not go to battle to seek glory but who by their deeds and actions achieved greatness,” he said.

Wales halfback Phillips dropped for France clash

Phillips, capped 82 times by Wales and with five test appearances for the British and Irish Lions, has suffered behind a struggling forward pack and makes way for Rhys Webb.

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“I thought Rhys played excellently for the Ospreys at the weekend and he comes in and gives us a different dimension and it’s a great opportunity for him,” coach Warren Gatland said on Wednesday.

Williams was injured tackling Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll in Dublin while Davies, who suffered a chest injury in the November test against South Africa, has failed to recover sufficiently despite returning for club side Scarlets, meaning North shifts infield and Liam Williams starts on the wing.

Luke Charteris returns at lock after missing the last match with a hamstring injury.

“Luke has been working really hard over the past couple of weeks and it’s a big boost for us that he is back,” New Zealander Gatland added.

“George moves into the midfield and he brings great footwork to the role and we were impressed when he went there against Australia in the autumn. His partnership with Jamie will be important as we look to stop the directness of France and Mathieu Bastareaud.”

Wales have looked off the pace in this season’s championship, with the Ireland defeat preceded by a sluggish performance in a 23-15 win over Italy.

Gatland acknowledged a win was required to keep them in the hunt for the crown, as well as boosting their confidence ahead of the final two matches against England and Scotland.

“Friday is a massive game for us,” he said.

“As a squad we have a huge amount of experience in this tournament and we will be calling on that this weekend. We see the game as a huge opportunity for us to put things right.”

France have made a perfect start to their campaign, narrowly beating England in their first match before easing to a comfortable 30-10 win over Italy in their last outing.

They have made one change to their starting lineup for Friday’s clash, with flanker Wenceslas Lauret called up to earn his sixth cap as a replacement for Bernard Le Roux, who is recovering from a blow to the head.

Team: 15-Leigh Halfpenny, 14-Alex Cuthbert, 13-George North, 12-Jamie Roberts, 11-Liam Williams, 10-Rhys Priestland, 9-Rhys Webb; 8-Taulupe Faletau, 7-Sam Warburton, 6-Dan Lydiate, 5-Alun Wyn Jones, 4-Luke Charteris, 3-Adam Jones, 2-Richard Hibbard, 1-Gethin Jenkins

Replacements: 16-Ken Owens, 17-Paul James, 18-Rhodri Jones, 19-Jake Ball, 20-Justin Tipuric, 21-Mike Phillips, 22-Dan Biggar, 23-James Hook

(Reporting By Josh Reich in London; Editing by Rex Gowar)

Nervy Ligety holds off French to win giant slalom

The 29-year-old was in a class of his own on the first run down a crisp Rosa Khutor piste and built a 0.

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93-second lead, but a nervy second leg meant his margin of victory over Steve Missillier was shaved down to less than half a second.

Alexis Pinturault trailed Ligety by 0.64 seconds to win bronze.

Ligety’s victory gave the U.S. its first Alpine skiing gold of these Games while France celebrated its first medals of any colour on the slopes of Rosa Khutor.

Ligety, twice a giant slalom world champion and four times the overall World Cup winner in the longer of the two technical events, threatened to turn the race into a one-man show in the Caucasus mountains when he obliterated the field early on.

However, when it was his time to burst out of the start gate second time around the tension was palpable as one mistake on a rutted and bumpy course would have turned almost certain victory into crushing disappointment.

Halfway down, through the trickiest part of the 59-gate maze, Ligety appeared to lose speed with a large sideways slide but he recovered his rhythm to cross the line still in front.

Missillier was only 10th quickest after the first run but laid down a perfect slalom in his second, winning the leg by 0.48 seconds, to ramp up the pressure on the men to follow.

Pinturault was also fast as he moved into second spot, and when Italy’s Davide Simoncelli and Czech Ondrej Bank failed to deliver an unlikely French gold appeared possible.

Ligety’s second run was only the 14th quickest but it proved just enough.

“We’re there, it’s beautiful. We knew that after the first leg we had to go full gear, that’s what I did and it worked,” Missillier told French TV.

“Vice Olympic champion – it’s huge, it has not sunk in yet. Sharing it with Alexis is fantastic.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Robert Woodward)

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.

TORN APART

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.