After Iowa win, Romney wins McCain support

Republican hero John McCain has backed Mitt Romney to be the party’s 2012 standard bearer, after a bruising Iowa battle reshaped the unruly field, forcing one candidate to quit.

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Veteran Senator McCain, who was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee against Democrat Barack Obama, called on supporters to crown Romney this time around and then catapult him into the White House in the November elections.

“Our message to President Barack Obama is: ‘You can run but you can’t hide from your record’,” said the decorated Vietnam War veteran, who accused Obama of “destroying our national security”.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who ran against McCain in 2008, squeaked to victory in Tuesday’s first test in the 2012 White House race, defeating devout Christian conservative Rick Santorum by a mere eight votes out of the 120,000 cast.

The result cemented Romney’s status as the frontrunner for the Republican nomination among the remaining six candidates, but failed to dispel lingering doubts about the depth of his popularity especially among the Republicans traditional conservative base.

McCain, who carries huge political weight, remains popular in New Hampshire, where he beat Romney 37-31 per cent four years ago.

His backing for Romney reflected an effort by the Republican establishment to avoid an intra-party bloodletting that could leave the eventual nominee in a weakened position to take on Obama.

The first casualty of Tuesday’s vote was Iowa-born Representative Michele Bachmann, who announced she was quitting the race after her disappointing sixth place finish in the heartland state.

“Last night the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice and so I have decided to stand aside,” the former darling of the conservative right said.

But Texas Governor Rick Perry, having hinted he might drop out after coming in fifth in Iowa, teased supporters, saying in a tweet on Wednesday: “And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State … Here we come South Carolina!!!”

After an agonising delay that stretched into Wednesday morning, the final Iowa count gave Romney a razor-thin victory of 30,015 votes to Santorum’s 30,007 – or 25 per cent each.

Both candidates were swift to declare that they were moving on to the next battle-ground in northeastern New Hampshire, which will hold the nation’s first primary of the 2012 presidential race on January 10, followed on January 21 by South Carolina.

Romney however dismissed concerns that the Iowa split – in which firebrand libertarian Representative Ron Paul took some 21 per cent to finish third – marked an inconclusive showing.

“This was a seven-person field. You can’t do in a field of seven what you can in a smaller field. And I also ran a national campaign,” Romney insisted on America’s ABC.

He also said he had “broad shoulders” as former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who finished fourth in Iowa, signalled he was gunning for Romney, slamming the multimillionaire businessman and venture capitalist as a “liar”.

“I know the attacks are going to come. They’re going to come more fast and furious now,” Romney said.

New Hampshire polls taken before the Iowa results showed Romney polling strongly in the state, with around 43 per cent support.

Pundits have raised doubts whether Santorum – a devout Catholic whose pro-life stand and fierce opposition to gay marriage resonated with Iowa’s evangelical voters but might find less traction in New Hampshire – has the necessary resources and on-the-ground organisation to take on Romney’s well-oiled, well-funded political machine.

Santorum, who came from behind to give Romney a run for his money in Iowa, insisted however there was still everything to play for.

“Game on!” he told cheering supporters in Iowa late on Tuesday.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman – who did not campaign in Iowa so he could focus on New Hampshire – said Tuesday’s results, in which he finished last, showed Republican voters still haven’t quite made up their minds.

“You’ve got three people sharing a tie. And a whole lot of people are looking for an alternative,” the former ambassador to China told MSNBC television.

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Indonesians dump sandals over child rights

Indonesians have dumped more than 1200 pairs of sandals, thongs and slippers at collection points across the country in support of a teenage boy who was convicted of stealing.

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The 15-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was found guilty of stealing a police officer’s sandals, a district court in Central Sulawesi province said in a ruling late on Wednesday.

The boy could have received five years in prison, but was sent back to his parents for counselling.

“Based on evidence and witness testimonies, we found him guilty legally and convincingly of committing a theft,” judge Rommel Tampubolon told Palu district court.

“But considering his age, we decided to send him back to his parents,” he said.

The boy claimed he was beaten by police. In a country where official corruption is rife and theft of millions in public funds is often punished with just a slap on the wrist, the case has turned into a cause celebre.

“This action of solidarity by the public shows that they disagree with the criminalisation of juveniles, that it goes against a sense of justice,” Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of Indonesia’s Child Protection Commission, told AFP.

“This is only a case because the stolen flip-flops happened to belong to a police officer. That is arrogant and we hope it stops here.”

Police in the city of Palu, including one who said he owned the stolen sandals, caught the boy and badly beat him and two of his friends in the street, demanding the footwear be replaced.

“The policemen slapped and beat us. I fell into a ditch and got bruises on my face and legs,” the boy told AFP.

“I did not mean to steal. The sandals were left on the street outside the policeman’s front yard.”

The theft took place in November 2010 but has turned into a protest movement in recent days because of the court action.

People have also been hurling footwear at the police station in Palu.

“We will send the collected footwear to the national police headquarters to replace the stolen ones,” National Commission for Child Protection spokesman Naswardi said.

Police said they had jailed one of the officers who beat the boys for 21 days and stripped him of an upcoming promotion.

Children can be jailed in Indonesia alongside adults, but child protection laws state that imprisonment should be a “last resort”.

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‘Lost world’ of Antarctic sea life thrives

A seven-pronged starfish, a mysterious pale octopus and a new kind of yeti crab are among a teeming community of previously undiscovered life on the sea floor near Antarctica, British researchers say.

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The species, described this week on the online journal PloS Biology, were first glimpsed in 2010 when researchers lowered a robotic vehicle to explore the East Scotia Ridge deep beneath the Southern Ocean, between Antarctica and the tip of South America.

The dark and remote area is home to hydrothermal vents, which are deep-sea springs that spew liquid at temperatures of up to 382C, and have previously been found to host unusual life forms in other parts of the world.

“Hydrothermal vents are home to animals found nowhere else on the planet that get their energy not from the Sun but from breaking down chemicals, such as hydrogen sulphide,” said lead researcher Alex Rogers of Oxford University.

“The first survey of these particular vents, in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, has revealed a hot, dark, ‘lost world’ in which whole communities of previously unknown marine organisms thrive.”

Hydrothermal vents were first discovered in 1977 off the Galapagos Islands.

The latest discoveries 2400-2600 metres deep include several new types of sea anemones, stalked barnacles and unidentified octopi, and a new kind of starfish that was observed feeding on the fauna around the vents.

A new type of blond, furry-legged yeti crab, a species formally known as Kiwa hirsuta which was first seen at hydrothermal vents in the South Pacific in 2005, was also found to have different DNA than those already known to man.

Fish were uncommon, and only seen on the peripheries of the hot zones.

Researchers were equally intrigued by what they did not find – including many of the giant worms, vent mussels, crabs, clams and shrimp that have been found before at other deep sea vents in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

The differences in species suggest that the geographic conditions of the area may make it a distinct province for certain forms of life, which have been unable to migrate to other parts of the globe’s sea floor.

“These findings are yet more evidence of the precious diversity to be found throughout the world’s oceans,” said Rogers.

“Everywhere we look, whether it is in the sunlit coral reefs of tropical waters or these Antarctic vents shrouded in eternal darkness, we find unique ecosystems that we need to understand and protect.”

Researchers on the project came from the University of Oxford, University of Southampton and the British Antarctic Survey. Their research appears online in the January 3 issue of PLoS Biology.

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Honey Badger ‘meat’ can’t stop Brumbies

The Honey Badger might have starred with a try from just his second touch, but it wasn’t enough for the Western Force to prevent the Brumbies from claiming a 27-15 bonus point win at Canberra Stadium.

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Playing his first Super Rugby game since returning from Japan, Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins wasted no time putting his best foot forward for World Cup selection.

Down 7-0 on Friday after an early try to the Brumbies’ Rory Arnold, Cummins fought his way past three Brumbies defenders in an area no bigger than a Japanese sleeping capsule to score centimetres from the corner post.

Alas, the Aussie larrikin’s return to Super Rugby finished in a very similar vein to how it ended in 2014, with the Brumbies claiming a bonus point win – their 10th consecutive at home.

Possession was fairly even, but the Brumbies were just too clinical and made better use of their width to chew up metres down the Force’s flanks.

Wing weapons Joe Tomane, who scored the Brumbies’ second try, and Henry Speight, who set up man-of-the-match Ben Alexander’s try, both enjoyed open air from early breaks.

Once again the Brumbies turned down more than a half-dozen shots at goal to use their maul as an attacking weapon and once again, it paid dividends.

Arnold opened the scoring in the seventh minute after one lineout drive was brought down just metres short, while halfback Nic White crossed over in similar fashion for the fourth try bonus point in the 48th.

The Force meanwhile impressed with their ball retention close to the ruck and finished strongly.

On four occasions they strung close to 20 phases together, the first of which led to Cummins’ try, and the third resulting in lock Steve Mafi pick and driving over in the 56th minute.

Brumbies reserve fullback Jesse Mogg was a late withdrawal, and with starting fullback Robbie Coleman limping off the field late, it may pose problems ahead of next week’s clash against the Reds in Brisbane.

The result sees the Brumbies extend their lead at the top of the Australian conference, while the fourth-placed Force will need to bounce back against the Rebels next week to stay in the hunt.

Western Force coach Michael Foley praised the speed at which Cummins was able to return to Super Rugby.

“You couldn’t fault him, he stepped off the plane … to going a million miles an hour,” Foley said.

“We’re rapt to have him back.”

Foley said he was proud of his side for showing composure when it looked like the Brumbies were going to run away with the match.

“The momentum obviously always comes back your way, you’ve just got to take the opportunities when it does,” he said.

“We just didn’t quite take those chances, but we were ready for it, there were some really clean line breaks in the second half. But yes we need to be better.”

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said his side failed to put the Force to the sword because they lost momentum at the set piece during the second half.

“In the second half we probably got a little bit excited,” he said.

“We called some plays that probably weren’t on, and we got a little unlucky as well.”

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Charles, Harry in Gallipoli for Anzac Day

Buckingham Palace has confirmed that Prince Charles and Prince Harry will represent the royal family at the centenary Anzac dawn service in Gallipoli.

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But Prince William, whose wife Kate is expecting the couple’s second child in mid to late-April, will remain in London.

“The Prince of Wales accompanied by Prince Harry will attend services in Turkey to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign and Anzac Day on the 24th and 25th of April,” the palace said in a short statement on Friday.

British media last week reported that Prince Harry will spend several weeks based in Australia in the next few months before travelling to Turkey with his father.

Harry will reportedly be seconded to work with the Australian defence forces during his time Down Under before quitting the British military altogether later this year.

Buckingham Palace on Friday said the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince William will attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the cenotaph in London on Anzac Day.

They’ll also be present at a service of commemoration and thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey.

The Duke of Edinburgh will separately attend a wreath-laying service at St Paul’s Cathedral.

AAP reported almost a year ago that the Prince of Wales was almost certain to attend the 100th anniversary service on the Turkish peninsula.

Gallipoli services director Tim Evans said in April 2014 the royal family would like to send “a very senior member of the royal family … so you can draw your own conclusions”.

“Prince Charles would be a very welcome nominee,” he said, noting that the future king attended the 90th anniversary in 2005.

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Cherry-Evans signs with the Titans

Daly Cherry-Evans’ contract saga is finally over after the representative playmaker pledged his future to Gold Coast on a four-year NRL deal beginning in 2016.

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Cherry-Evans informed his Manly teammates of the move in the changerooms after their 42-12 hammering at the hands of Parramatta on Friday night.

“Daly just announced it to the boys after the game. It is disappointing but at least he has his future settled and we can get on to playing some good football,” Manly coach Geoff Toovey said at the post-match press conference.

“We are all very disappointed obviously but it gives some clarity around the matter and we can move forward.

“He wanted the players to know before it got out there, he didn’t really want it to be out there, that is the type of bloke he really is.

“He doesn’t want that fuss about it, he made sure he told his teammates first and he wanted them to understand his decision.

“It’s a good thing for him that it is over, he obviously had a fair weight on his shoulders.

The recruitment coup comes after a shocking start to 2015 for the embattled Titans with several players charged with drug offences.

Cherry-Evans, who is set to earn around $1 million a season, will be called upon to rebuild the reigning wooden spooners from the ground up.

The Queensland and Australian playmaker declined to speak to reporters at Parramatta Stadium.

The Sea Eagles will now turn their attention to capturing the signature of five-eighth Kieran Foran, who is also off contract at season’s end.

Foran has been strongly linked to both Canterbury and Parramatta.

Manly’s talismanic fullback Brett Stewart said the loss of Cherry-Evans was a significant blow.

“Obviously it is a big loss for the team and a big loss for the club,” Stewart said.

“But finally we can put it to bed and all the speculation can end … we still have one (key player) to go.

“We were hopeful of keeping both, it would be shattering to lose both, but it is a business these days and they have to look after themselves and their families.

“But hopefully we can keep Fozza.”

Toovey was hopeful the move to the Titans won’t affect Cherry-Evans’ form in his final year with Manly, with whom he won the 2011 premiership.

“He is very focused on his football and I think he will bust his gut to really endear himself to his fellow playing group and make sure finishes with a trophy in his bag.”

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Breakers beat Cairns in first NBL final

Stellar efforts from imports Cedric Jackson and Ekene Ibekwe have put New Zealand Breakers halfway to clinching a fourth NBL title in five seasons following Friday night’s 86-71 away win over minor premiers Cairns.

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The Breakers took control with 13 unanswered points in the first quarter and responded after Cairns made a stirring third-quarter comeback.

Cairns slashed a 16-point halftime deficit to one by the final break, but New Zealand regained control in the final quarter.

They shot 75 per cent from the field in the first quarter and were at 63 per cent at halftime.

While the Breakers’ shooting cooled off in the second half, they still finished at 52 per cent, while misfiring Cairns only converted 37 per cent and were 0 from 9 from three-point range in the first half.

A win in Game two of the Grand Final Series in Auckland on Sunday will clinch the best-of-three series for the Breakers.

Cairns, beaten in their only previous Grand Final appearance, were unable to reproduce the dominant defence and reliable offence that earned them the minor premiership.

They couldn’t contain point guard Jackson, who tallied 22 points, eight rebounds, a block and a steal.

Ibekwe dominated down low, scoring 19 points on eight of ten field attempts and tallied eight rebounds and two blocks.

They got good support from Tom Abercrombie with 13 and guard Rhys Carter, who provided spark off the bench with 12 points on five-of-seven shooting.

Point guard Scottie Wilbekin led the Taipans scorers with 16 while captain Cameron Gliddon notched 13, Matt Burston 11 and Alex Loughton 10.

Earlier on Friday, Cairns picked up two awards, with Aaron Fearne getting coach of the year and veteran forward Cameron Tragardh sixth man of the year.

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Radradra, Sandow lead rout of Manly

Semi Radradra proved there will be life at Parramatta after Jarryd Hayne as the blockbusting winger scored a hat-trick to spearhead the Eels’ 42-12 rout of Manly.

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Radradra scored in the eighth, 34th and 53rd minutes to propel a tough and spirited Eels outfit to their an emphatic win in their season opener on Friday, Parramatta’s first match since Hayne announced he will play for the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL.

With Hayne watching on, a trim looking Chris Sandow steered Parramatta around the park brilliantly, scoring two tries.

Up front Manly were dominated by a dynamic Eels pack and fell apart across the park in the second half – the ongoing re-signing saga surrounding Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran appearing to have sapped the Sea Eagles’ famous resolve.

New Eel Anthony Watmough charged into his former teammates early as the home side opened up a 10-0 lead after 16 minutes before 18,718 fans at Parramatta Stadium.

Radradra’s opener out wide was followed by Will Hopoate’s effort on the other side of the field, after a legitimate Cheyse Blair try for Manly was called back for a supposed forward pass.

The visitors surged ahead through tries to Brett Stewart (20th minute) and Blair in the 33rd minute, after losing Clinton Gutherson to a suspected serious knee injury in the 14th minute.

But Radradra’s second put the Eels ahead 16-12 at the break, after Junior Paulo was put on report for a dangerous throw on Manly hooker Matt Ballin.

After halftime it was all Parramatta.

An ugly knee lift from Manly interchange forward James Hasson on Watmough in the 41st minute sparked the home side and temporarily sent the ex-Sea Eagle off the field for tests.

Reece Robinson kicked a penalty goal after Hasson was put on report, before Sandow crossed for his first four-pointer in the 44th minute.

Radradra scored his third nine minutes later before recruit Brad Takairangi joined in on the fun in the 56th minute after a chip and chase from Sandow.

The Parramatta halfback scored his second out wide in the 65th minute to put the result beyond doubt, as Foran exited the match with hamstring trouble.

Hopoate enjoyed a relatively trouble-free night at fullback in his first game filling Hayne’s No.1 jersey.

Eels coach Brad Arthur wasn’t 100 per cent happy with his team.

“I was pleased with our defence and our intent with our defence, we were nice and resilient on the tryline but I was very disappointed with our lack of respect for the football and ball control,” he said.

“It wasn’t good enough and it is something we have to fix right away.

“Our attention to detail and our simple fundamentals weren’t good enough.

“We can’t continue to play like that.”

Manly coach Geoff Toovey put it down as one of those nights.

“It was a hard way to start the year,” he said.

“We had a really good off season it was one of the best I have been involved with.

“I thought at halftime we were probably the better side, we controlled the ball better than they did.

“But we came up with some basic mistakes and a couple of decisions that went against us let them back into the match.

Toovey confirmed young gun Gutherson has suffered an ACL injury and will miss the rest of the season.

Foran is a 50/50 proposition for Manly’s round two clash with Melbourne on Saturday week, as is Jamie Lyon, who suffered a recurrence of a knee injury.

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New-look Valencia threaten La Liga elite

Valencia are a new-look side thanks to the investment of Singapore billionaire Lim and, through solid displays rather than dashing football, they are on course to complete their aim of qualifying for the Champions League.

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Atletico drew 0-0 with Sevilla last weekend to leave Valencia, who won 2-0 at Real Sociedad, just one point behind on 53 ahead of their showdown at the Calderon.

Under pragmatic coach Nuno Espirito Santo, they have concentrated on building from the back with Nicolas Otamendi and Shkodran Mustafi providing a formidable centre-half pairing.

Youth product Jose Luis Gaya has established himself as one of the top left backs in La Liga and their defence is the second meanest in the top flight behind Barcelona, having conceded just 21 goals.

In attack Alvaro Negredo was their marquee signing from Manchester City and he is now starting to deliver after a slow start hampered by injury.

“Our concept of playing is clear for everyone to see. We are the team which runs most and wins back most balls in the opposition half,” Nuno told Marca.

“(My dream) is to see Valencia competing with the best clubs in the world. To be in the elite.”

Before Lim’s arrival, Valencia were a debt-ridden club who sold their best players, but are now building for the future.

“They (the players) have been able to overcome the problematic situation that the club was in before and I find myself with a team that is completely willing and with a lot of drive,” Nuno said.

“All I do is challenge the players to push themselves to their limit.”

Lim, who was linked with other clubs including Atletico Madrid prior to buying Valencia, has always sought to keep himself out of the limelight.

“He is someone who knows a lot about football,” Nuno said.

“He watches a lot of football including all Valencia’s matches even though they are at crazy times for him in his country. He enjoys them and has his opinions.”

Lim hopes to build a team capable of winning the Champions League and Nuno says the future is bright.

“We have the youngest squad in the league who haven’t yet realised their potential and this gives me a lot of optimism.”

(Editing by Toby Davis)

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No drums, beer or banners – Copa America could be dull

This year’s tournament, to be hosted by Chile, is the region’s biggest national football championship and fans are looking forward to seeing players like Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar battling it out on the pitch.

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Games featuring South American teams are renowned for their colour and noise, creating an atmosphere that can make European matches seem dour by comparison.

But some elements of that atmosphere can undermine security and controls are being tightened, Jose Roa, the head of the Chilean government’s ‘Safe Stadium Plan’, told Reuters.

“Our aim is to create a framework so the football community can enjoy a safe party, and exclude from the stadiums those who have set themselves apart from the football community,” he said.

Drums, whose throbbing beat is so often the backdrop to Latin American matches, could block exits and will not be allowed in to Copa games.

Nor will fireworks, flares or banners. The latter can impede views or be used to smuggle in weapons or other banned items, Roa said.

The security crackdown has upset fans, who say it is disproportionate. One local Facebook group with 17,000 likes said: “Drums and banners do not generate violence…we are fans, not criminals!”

Last month, the ‘barra brava’ of Chilean team Colo Colo raised a banner at a match, warning: “Without a fiesta, there is no Cup”.

‘Barra bravas’, tied to clubs and most active in neighbouring Argentina, are fanatical and sometimes violent supporters’ groups, often with links to organised crime.

Roa said Chile was working closely with other competing nations and would use ID checks to prevent known trouble-makers from entering stadiums. They were learning lessons from last year’s World Cup in Brazil, he said, without elaborating.

The security head also ruled out the sale of alcohol, which is not allowed at football matches in Chile. At the 2014 World Cup, however, the sport’s world governing body FIFA insisted that a similar existing ban in Brazil was overturned.

“That (no alcohol) is the law in Chile…and that law is current and will also be applied to the Copa America,” said Roa.

Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Budweiser is a long-standing sponsor of FIFA, and sponsored both the World Cup and the last 2011 Copa America in Argentina.

However, it is not listed as a sponsor for this year’s tournament, which will take place during the southern hemisphere winter when the average temperature in capital Santiago is around 8 degrees centigrade.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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Dhoni, bowlers shine as India book quarter-final place

Fast bowler Mohammed Shami (3-35) returned from injury to torment West Indies with three wickets as the Caribbean side were bundled out for 182 after opting to bat first.

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West Indies captain Jason Holder (57) hit his second half-century and highest score in one-day internationals to give his team some sort of a total to defend against India, who won their fourth match in a row at the tournament.

India also struggled on a pitch offering plenty of bounce for the tall West Indies fast bowlers and kept losing wickets during the chase before holding their nerve to get over the line with 65 balls to spare.

Dhoni showed why he is known as ‘Captain Cool’ and top- scored for his side, who were reduced to 107-5 at one stage.

The right-hander added 27 for the sixth wicket with Ravindra Jadeja (13) and an unbroken 51 for the seventh with Ravichandran Ashwin (16 not out) to take India home.

Virat Kohli also contributed with a confident 33 off 36 balls and added a crucial 43 for the third wicket with Ajinkya Rahane (14).

Jerome Taylor (2-33) dismissed openers Shikhar Dhawan (nine) and Rohit Sharma (seven) cheaply to boost West Indies’ chances of defending the low score.

The Caribbean bowlers were also guilty of bowling 19 wides and three no-balls.

Shami, who missed India’s win against the United Arab Emirates with a knee injury on Saturday, put West Indies on the backfoot early by dismissing hard-hitting openers Dwayne Smith (six) and Chris Gayle (21) with the new ball.

Shami and fast bowling partner Umesh Yadav (2-42) started well, bowling fast and short on the WACA pitch, considered the quickest in the world, as India dominated the explosive West Indies batting lineup.

Gayle, who hit the World Cup’s highest individual score of 215 against Zimbabwe last week, offered two difficult chances before he pulled Shami straight to Mohit Sharma at deep square leg. He was also guilty of running out Marlon Samuels (2).

With their talisman gone, West Indies were reduced to 35-4 and then 85-7 on the first ball of the 25th over before some resolute batting from the tail saw them through to the 45th over.

Right-arm paceman Shami came back with an older ball to take out former captain Darren Sammy (26) to end a promising 39-run stand for the eighth wicket before Holder added 51 for the ninth with Taylor (11).

Holder hit four boundaries and three sixes before becoming the last man to fall for West Indies off the bowling of Jadeja.

It was one of two wickets for the left-arm spinner to complete another strong bowling display by the two-time champions.

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Ed Osmond)

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Memories of great Cup goal resurface amid Giggs speculation

It all came before a match guaranteed to remind every United fan what a revered position Giggs holds at the club, with Monday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal prompting inevitable memories of when the Welshman scored what might just be the competition’s greatest goal.

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The idea that the United icon could be pining for pastures new was aroused by assistant coach Giggs remaining granite-faced as his overjoyed boss Louis van Gaal turned to him to celebrate United’s late winner at Newcastle after another unconvincing performance.

With Giggs’s old United team mate Paul Scholes also suggesting on television that he could not see Giggs having the patience to remain as Van Gaal’s assistant for long, the inevitable result was conjecture in the British press that the 41-year-old is disenchanted with his Old Trafford lot.

“There’s no doubt, he had that little taste of it for the last three weeks of last year and he definitely wants to be a manager, you can see that,” Scholes said, reflecting on the brief spell Giggs enjoyed as interim boss at the end of last season.

Effectively suggesting Giggs may leave the club before the end of his three-year contract in 2017, he added: “Over the next two or three years, will he have the patience to be a number two for that long? I’m not sure he will.”

To Van Gaal, the media were just mischief-making.

“I’m very irritated because of this question because everyone can see we have a very good relationship,” he boomed in a news conference on Thursday.

Yet there are not many at Old Trafford who believe the old cavalier Giggs can be very enamoured with the caution that has underpinned the Van Gaal reign, despite United somehow grinding their way into the Premier League’s top four.

With an Arsenal Cup tie looming again, there will be inevitable nostalgic sighs about Giggs’s amazing, slaloming solo winner in the 1999 semi-final replay at Villa Park, which still stands as a symbol of United’s old elan and adventure.

Van Gaal? Most United followers could bear to see the back of his mundane fare. Giggs, though, is a different matter. Love will not tear them apart from him.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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Champions League titles show I am no soft touch, says Ancelotti

Despite Real holding a two-point lead at the top of La Liga, Ancelotti has been criticised for their lull in form since the Christmas break and he has also been accused of being too soft on the players.

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“I have felt supported by the club since the first day I arrived,” Ancelotti, who took charge of the club in 2013 having previously led AC Milan to two Champions League titles, told reporters.

“I have a lot of experience. I have been coaching for many years and with this ‘weak’ arm of mine I have managed to win three Champions Leagues.”

Fans have become used to Real sweeping aside the opposition as they did during their Spanish record 22-match winning streak at the end of 2014.

As a result there was discontent among the Bernabeu faithfuls when they drew 1-1 with Villarreal last weekend.

In particular they took exception to the substitution of the creative Isco for Asier Illarramendi and there was a chorus of whistles.

“I have had a normal week and we are preparing well for tomorrow’s game,” said Ancelotti.

“I am used to criticism, this was not the first time and it won’t be the last either but it won’t change my attitude. I have full confidence in the team and I will repeat that I would make the same substitution again.”

Ancelotti admitted though that the team needs regain its potency in attack.

“We have been finding it more difficult to score goals as we have lost efficiency. We are not playing the ball through quickly enough from the back and we are finding it difficult to make openings when teams defend solidly,” he said.

“The game against Athletic (Bilbao this weekend) will have a high intensity as they pile on pressure very well and we need to start well.”

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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