Mbappe debut in France's World Cup qualifiers win, Ronaldo's brace push Portugal

The 18-year-old sensation Kylian Mbappe made his international debut for France in a 3-1 road victory over Luxembourg, while Cristiano Ronaldo had a brace to earn Portugal a 3-0 home win against Hungary in Saturday's 2018 World Cup European qualifiers.

Mbappe came from the bench for Dimitri Payet in the 78th minute, one minute after Olivier Giroud scored his second goal of the match with a header from Benjamin Mendy's cross. The Arsenal striker opened the deadlock with a low shot for Les Bleus before the half-hour mark.

The hosts tied the game on 34 minutes thanks to Aurelien Joachim's penalty, before Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann pushed France up again in the same style.

France led Group A with four wins and one draw from five games, owning a three-point margin over Sweden, who crushed over Belarus 4-0.

The Netherlands were shocked by Bulgaria 2-0, and were subject to the fourth position. Bulgaria moved up to third on nine points.

In Group B, skipper Ronaldo found the net in the 36th and 65th minute. The Portuguese superstar have tallied 70 goals so far in international competitions. Andre Silva opened the host's scoring account in the 32nd minute.

Portugal were three points adrift leaders Switzerland, who tasted five wins from five matches after edging past Latvia 1-0.

With a goalless draw against Faroe Islands, Andorra snapped their 58-game losing streak in competitive matches, also clinching their first point in the qualifiers.

Group H leaders Belgium took on striker Lukaku's goal in the 89th minute to finish a 1-1 draw with nine-men Greece, who still trailed by two points on second place.

In other two matches, Bosnia-Herzegovina thrashed minnows Gibraltar 5-0, and Cyprus drew 0-0 with Estonia.

Nine group winners in European qualifies will go directly to Russia in 2018, while the last four spots will be decided on the playoffs among eight best second-place finishers.

FOOTBALL—CAN 2019 (PRÉLIMINAIRES): Le réalisme comorien

Les Comores ont réussi à vaincre le Club M, hier, au stade Said Mohamed Cheik de Mitsamiouli sur le score de 2-0, prenant ainsi une option sur la qualification pour la poule B des éliminatoires de la CAN 2019. La bande à Joe Tshupula a résisté, avant de craquer en deuxième mi-temps.
Les bourreaux du Club M ont pour noms Youssouf Ben Djaloud et Alhadhur Chaker, qui ont réussi à prendre à défaut Kevin Jean-Louis aux 69e et 74e respectivement. C'est dire le réalisme des Cœlacanthes, qui ont su profiter des moments d'égarement de la défense mauricienne pour s'imposer au terme des 90 minutes. Cette défaite complique grandement la tâche de la sélection mauricienne, qui doit impérativement s'imposer par 3-0 pour accéder aux éliminatoires de la CAN 2019.
Les choses avaient très mal commencé, puisque la défense perdait un de ses éléments clés, Emmanuel Vincent, expulsé après un peu plus de 20 minutes de jeu. Mais le Club M opposait malgré tout une farouche résistance aux assauts répétés des Cœlacanthes, se regroupant en défense. D'un autre point de vue, le secteur offensif ne tournait pas à plein régime, le gardien comorien n'ayant touché le ballon que deux fois, selon les différents compte-rendus disponibles en ligne.
Cette défaite place Maurice dans une situation délicate. Pour le Club M, qui avait marqué ce rendez-vous d'une pierre blanche, l'objectif n'a pas été rempli. Il faudra, mardi, au match retour qui se jouera au stade Anjalay, remonter un déficit de deux buts pour espérer se qualifier. Le Club M rentre à Maurice demain soir.
Pour la petite histoire, c'est la première fois que les Comores viennent à bout de la sélection mauricienne. En huit confrontations, le Club M s'est imposé à sept reprises et forcé le nul à une reprise.

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Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton still hold the edge as F1 embraces new era

The world’s fastest cars just got faster” is the slogan emblazoned across the publicity promoting Formula One’s reboot in Melbourne this weekend and the tone is upbeat as anticipation builds towards lights out on Sunday. New regulations have been imposed dictating a formula that, almost everyone hopes, will spell an end to the domination Mercedes have enjoyed over the past three years.

So far it has already delivered lower lap times. Whether it delivers better racing is yet to be seen. The mind games have started early but are, hopefully, only an early sign of the competitive character that will define the new season.

On Thursday Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel thrust the mantle of being the team to beat on to each other’s shoulders. “Mercedes obviously have been in very strong form the last three years,” said the German. “I think it’s very clear who is the favourite.” Sitting next to him, Hamilton was having none of it. “I see Ferrari being the quickest at the moment,” he countered. “I think they will definitely be the favourites.”

To which, of course, must be added the third player in this triptych at the front end of the grid: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, never usually one to avoid getting involved in a good scrap when it’s offered up. “Personally, I don’t think we can fight for the win at the moment,” he said last week, adding: “Ferrari made quite a step forward from last year,” and “Mercedes will always be right there – I think they probably sandbagged a bit.” No one, it seems, wanted to declare their hand the strongest.

In truth Hamilton, his new team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes probably do hold the whip. They were rock solid on reliability in testing and their power unit – all-conquering to deliver three drivers’ and three constructors’ championships in the past three years – is a proven quantity.

Indeed Verstappen was probably spot-on to suggest they had been sandbagging to an extent in Barcelona. There Ferrari were quickest, but drawing conclusions from testing is a dangerous game and Red Bull have been careful not to exaggerate any importance from it – the false dawn of last year’s pre-season runs left some lasting scars. But the car is patently a decent, reliable ride with a decent set of horses under the bonnet, strong on all types of tyres, stable with good turn-in and excellent balance.

The early signs, however, before the real test of qualifying, had a remarkably familiar air. Hamilton was on top, fastest in free practice, one ahead of his team-mate and six-tenths clear of the two Red Bulls and just over a second ahead of the two Ferraris, albeit with times set on softer rubber. The second session was similar: Hamilton was quickest again this time, half a second up on Vettel.

That Mercedes are in front is not wholly surprising, but it is race pace that is key and both Ferrari and Red Bull will still be looking to mount a significant challenge where it matters.


That challenge is also quicker, as the slogan boasts. The times from practice were five and a half seconds faster than last year. There then, the new regulations have been successful. The new fatter tyres, which look great on track, are supplied by Pirelli to a mandate of not degrading so fast, the success of which will only become clear as the season progresses. They will provide more grip however which, along with the focus on greater downforce through the aerodynamics, makes the cars faster through corners. This has reduced braking distances and made the cars tougher to drive. They are more spectacular to watch too and noisier, which the drivers like. That translates into excitement and enthusiasm for the sport, which the fans want to see – the best in the world tested by their steeds rather than managing them.

Sunday will reveal the potential downside of all this – that dirty air in the wakes created by the aerodynamics and wider cars will make close racing and overtaking more difficult. It is of critical importance to F1’s reset and no amount of lower lap times will make up for it.

Ross Brawn, appointed motorsport director by the sport’s new owner Liberty Media as part of its reshuffle having unceremoniously removed Bernie Ecclestone from his position, has already suggested Liberty will have to act to counter such potential problems.

Hamilton then, reinvigorated after the disappointment of defeat by his former team-mate Nico Rosberg last year and attempting to become the first British driver to win four world titles, is in a strong position to do just that. Bottas must prove himself, freed from the shackles of the midfield, and will need to start strongly to make his case for a long-term place with the team.

Should Red Bull’s challenge be serious in what will turn into a season-long development battle, the prospect of Daniel Ricciardo joining the fight with Hamilton and Verstappen is mouthwatering, while if Kimi Raikkonen can join that mix in the twilight of his career it would be a joy.

Vettel’s challenge is to bring his team with him and not repeat the frustration that he allowed to overshadow a lacklustre 2016. Hamilton has said he would relish a fight with the German and will have meant it. He is enough of a racer at heart to know that three more years of dominance would not be the restart F1 needs.

The title will be decided by the big three who will maintain their advantage over the chasing pack, where a tight fight can be expected in the midfield between Williams, Force India and improving Renault and Haas teams. This would leave McLaren once again all but out for the count – another woeful test for their new Honda engine has left them flailing at the back for the third year in succession.

Fernando Alonso walked away from a huge accident here in Melbourne last year and there is a real danger he will do the same to McLaren should the painful, slow-motion crash that has befallen the once mighty team continue throughout the season.

Tour de France sets wheels in motion for Chinese revolution

Selling the world's most famous cycle race to a country where an estimated 450 million people own a bike hardly sounds like a revolutionary concept.

Yet for vast swathes of China's population, the appeal of the Tour de France remains as far-removed from their everyday lives as car ownership was only a few decades ago.

Things might be about to change though with Tour organizers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) targeting the Chinese market in the ongoing globalization of the fabled three-week event.

Philippe Fournier de Lauriere, ASO's Asia and Oceania Development Manager, is the man tasked with promoting professional cycle racing in a nation whose only ever Tour de France entrant, Ji Cheng, finished last in 2014.

This week ASO announced the first Tour de France China Criterium will take place in October with 60 of the world's top riders racing around a 3km closed road circuit in Shanghai.

Hardly comparable to the real Tour, but a tasty appetizer aimed at hooking millions of new Chinese cycling fans - with all the commercial spin-offs that could entail.

"Our studies show that Chinese people have heard of the Tour de France, it's not that strange, but don't really have any knowledge about what it actually is," De Lauriere told Reuters by telephone from Shanghai.

"They don't know how long it lasts, who are the big stars, how it works, so we want to bring this spirit to China.

"It's a huge market but also one that is difficult to penetrate. Bringing Tour de France style events to China is crucial because we want to share the passion."

China's ever-expanding middle class means cars have replaced the bicycle for many - but an increase in wealth and leisure time means the idea of cycling for sport is catching on.

"Sport generally is booming. Not just for media consumption but also as a practice," de Laurier said. "The goal is to accelerate the growth of cycling in China."

Crowds of 200,000 have watched ASO-organized Criterium events in Saitama, Japan since 2013 and it is hoped similar numbers will watch in Shanghai.

No major cycling races are currently staged in China and there are no professional road teams, although the country has already provided some world champions in track disciplines.

Huge amounts of money are being pumped into soccer as Chinese clubs sign big-name players and while a similar level of interest in professional cycling is still years away, De Lauriere believes the wheels are in motion.

He also thinks the next time a Chinese rider competes in the Tour, they will not be just making up the numbers.

"It's not always easy to apply the recipe we have in the west but it's very exciting opportunity," he said.

"China is still at the beginning of the journey in terms of structure and talent detection, but the long-term ambition is to have a Chinese rider crossing the line on the Champs Elysees in the yellow jersey."

Brazil on brink, Messi revives Argentina

Brazil thrashed Uruguay to move to the brink of the World Cup finals on Thursday as Lionel Messi got Argentina’s faltering qualification campaign back on track with the only goal to sink Chile.

A superb hat-trick from China-based midfielder Paulinho powered Brazil to a 4-1 drubbing of the Uruguayans here to leave the five-time world champions all-but-certain of a place at next year’s finals in Russia.

The Brazilians now lead the 10-team round-robin competition by seven points after their latest win.

The top four teams in the standings qualify automatically and with only five rounds remaining, it would take a freakish set of results to deny Brazil.

Uruguay had taken the lead after only nine minutes when Brazil goalkeeper Alisson brought down Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani for a penalty.

Cavani got to his feet and drilled the spot-kick beyond the Brazilian goalkeeper to put Uruguay 1-0 up.

But Paulinho produced a thunderbolt 10 minutes later, uncorking a screamer into the top corner from 25 yards to level at 1-1.

The midfielder then stabbed home Philippe Coutinho’s shot in the 51st minute to make it 2-1.

Barcelona superstar Neymar added a third with a sublime chip in the 75th minute to effectively settle the contest.

Paulinho completed his hat-trick in injury time, turning in a low cross with his chest to cap a fine display.

Uruguay, who were missing the suspended Luis Suarez, remain in second place in the standings.

“To come here and win by any score is a great result,” Brazil coach Tite said afterwards. “Playing in this stadium and beating Uruguay is difficult for anyone.”

Uruguay skipper Diego Godin said the final scoreline was not an accurate reflection of the game.

“We trained well, we looked strong,” the Atletico Madrid defender said. “It’s a bitter result. We had chances. This doesn’t reflect the game.”

“But this is a wake-up call.”

In Buenos Aires, Argentina had entered their clash with Chile desperately needing to take all three points to revive their campaign.

And captain Messi duly delivered when it mattered as Argentina avenged last year’s Copa America Centenario final defeat to the Chileans with a 1-0 win.

Messi stroked home his penalty on 16 minutes after veteran Chile defender Jose Fuenzalida brought down Angel Di Maria with a clumsy challenge.

Last year, Messi was left distraught after missing his penalty in the shootout at the Copa America Centenario in New York.

But the diminutive maestro made no mistake on Thursday, drilling his spot-kick beyond former Barcelona teammate Claudio Bravo to secure vital three points for the two-time world champions.

Argentina finished the game on the back foot as Chile swarmed forward in search of an equaliser — a successful rearguard action that delighted coach Edgardo Bauza.

“It was great that we won against a good team, but for me the best thing was the way we fought,” Bauza said.

The win leaves Argentina in third place overall in the 10-team qualifying competition with 22 points from 13 games.

But the defeat means two-time reigning South American champions Chile are still struggling to qualify for Russia.

The Chileans remain outside the automatic qualification places.

Colombia, the 2014 World Cup quarter-finalists, boosted their chances of qualification with a 1-0 win over Bolivia in Barranquilla.

Real Madrid star James Rodriguez bundled in the rebound from his own late penalty to claim the points.

Rodriguez rammed home his finish at the second attempt after Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe had saved the playmaker’s spotkick on 83 minutes.

Until Rodriguez’s late winner, it looked as if Bolivia had done enough to earn a point, defending in depth and frustrating the hosts at every turn.

But Bolivia’s luck ran out when Cristian Coimbra brought down winger Juan Cuadrado with a clumsy challenge to give Rodriguez his chance for glory.

Buffon plays 1,000th professional match

Italy veteran Gianluigi Buffon achieved the milestone of featuring in his 1,000th professional game, as he helped his national team to a 2-0 win over Albania in their pursuit of a spot at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

The clean sheet was a fitting tribute to one of the game's all-time great goalkeepers, who also overtook Spain's Iker Casillas's European international cap record by moving onto 168 appearances for Gli Azzurri.

Having made his debut back in 1995 for Parma, for whom 220 of his total were accrued, the 38-year-old went on to make his opening bow for Italy in a crucial France 1998 qualifying play-off against Russia, helping them to a draw on the way to reaching the finals, while still aged 19. He was the youngest ever post-war goalkeeper for the side until current understudy Gianluigi Donnarumma usurped him in September 2016.

The other 612 appearances have all come with Juventus and, in a week of milestones for Buffon, he became the club's longest-serving player in terms of minutes on the pitch in Italy's Serie A. He surpassed the tally of 39,680 minutes defending i Bianconeri's goal to overtake the legendary Giampiero Boniperti.

Having lifted the World Cup with Italy at Germany 2006, attended five and featured in four, Buffon will match the likes of Lothar Matthaus and Antonio Carbajal by featuring at the most editions of the global finals, should he make it to Russia 2018. Their win over Albania leaves them tied on 13 points apiece with Spain at the top of Group G.

 

Iran beat Qatar 1-0 on Thursday in a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier.

The Iranian outfit notched up the win in a Group A fixture at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium in the Qatari capital city of Doha.

Both teams went through ups and downs in their attempts to open the scoring, but were not able to produce a goal in the first half.

Iran eventually took the lead in the 52nd minute, when Karim Ansarifard' s through ball found Mehdi Taremi in space. The 24-year-old made no mistake and netted the winner.

Iran will take on China at Tehran' s Azadi Stadium at 4:30 p.m. local time (1230 GMT) on March 28.

Iran is pitted against South Korea, Uzbekistan, China, Qatar and Syria in Group A of the third round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification tournament.

The winner and runner-up of each group (four teams in total) will qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, while the third-placed teams of each group (two teams in total) will head to the play-off round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

The winner of the Asian play-off round will then face twice the fourth-placed squad in the fifth round of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football qualifying games.

Liverpool under investigation for alleged tapping up of Stoke City schoolboy star

Liverpool are under investigation for allegedly tapping up and offering a forbidden inducement to a Stoke City schoolboy star.

The Anfield side are also accused of reneging on an agreement to pay the youngster’s school fees, leaving his parents – who pulled out of a deal with the club as a result – in thousands of pounds of debt.

To compound the family’s woes, the unnamed boy cannot now play for another team until Stoke receive a compensation fee of almost £50,000.An investigation into the claims was launched earlier this year by the Premier League, which had already been looking into allegations related to a grievance Liverpool had about one of their own schoolboys joining Manchester City.

Both of the controversial transfers date back to last summer, when Liverpool allegedly tapped up a 12-year-old considered to be one of Stoke’s best youngsters.Stoke had been paying the boy’s school fees as part of a contract signed by his parents, who wanted Liverpool to do the same.

Liverpool are alleged to have agreed to do so until the player turned 16, breaching a rule introduced around that time forbidding the practice unless a club offers to pay for all the schoolchildren on their books to be educated privately.

It is claimed that, on learning of this, Liverpool refused to honour their commitment, leaving the player’s parents liable for thousands of pounds in fees.

Stoke would have continued to pay those fees had the boy not moved to Anfield – even if his former club had released him.

The youngster’s footballing future was also left in limbo because of a controversial rule that prevents him playing for another team until Stoke are paid £49,000 in compensation.

A source with knowledge of the Premier League investigation said: “This is a shocking example of how children in Premier League football are being used and abused.

“This kid has done nothing wrong at all but he’s been left out in the cold and his parents are having to foot the bill for private education that they can’t afford.“The whole thing is a total disgrace. Everyone at the top of the Premier League and both football clubs are fully aware of what has gone on, and it is something that must be stamped out of the game.

“Everyone knows how children’s lives and education are being ruined with the promise of football riches and it needs to stop.”

The Daily Telegraph revealed last year that children as young as 10 were being frozen out of the English’s game’s academy system because of compensation fees parents were unwittingly signing up to.

The Premier League this evening declined to comment on its investigation into Liverpool, one of a handful it is understood to be conducting into alleged breaches of its rules on the transfer of academy players.

It was forced to introduce a new five-step process for ratifying such moves following mounting concerns about the poaching of youngsters within the division.One of those steps involves parents and clubs signing a declaration that no inducements have been offered for a schoolboy to switch allegiance, with the Premier League able to demand the phone records of all involved if it has any suspicions to the contrary.

It was unclear on Wednesday evening what sanction Liverpool would face if found guilty of breaching what are recently revamped regulations.

They and Stoke declined to comment last night on the investigation, the tapping-up allegation or the row over the school and compensation fees.

Lukas Podolski gets perfect send-off with winning goal for Germany against England

Lukas Podolski struck a brilliant winning goal to sign off his Germany career with a 1-0 win over England in a friendly on Wednesday.

Podolski led the side out as captain for the first time in his last international, and he hammered the ball to the top right corner from 25 metres to win it with just over 20 minutes remaining.

The 31-year-old Podolski had been honoured before his 130th game for Germany and had his name chanted by fans during the match. He was also celebrated with another round of applause when he went off in the closing stages.

Only 1990 World Cup-winning captain Lothar Matthaeus and all-time top-scorer Miroslav Klose have played more games for Germany.

England might have won the game, but lacked a clinical edge in front of goal. Gareth Southgate's side had looked more likely to score before Podolski struck and the players should take plenty of encouragement from the performance.

It was England's first defeat in its sixth game since Euro 2016, and marked Southgate's first game since becoming manager on a permanent basis.

Many fans dusted off their Podolski jerseys for the game, while there was a good trade in Podolski scarves outside the stadium. Cologne fans from his hometown club also wore their colours in tribute to their hero.

There was a giant banner in front of the Westfalenstadion's south stand declaring, "130 games, 48 goals, a legend. Thanks Lukas.''

"Thank you Dortmund, thank you Cologne and thank you Germany,'' Podolski said for the reception.

It seemed like a changing of the guard from Germany with Joshua Kimmich (22), Julian Weigl (21), Leroy Sane (21), Julian Brandt (20) and Timo Werner (21) all starting, the latter for his debut.

But it was the visitors that looked sharp and Burnley defender Michael Keane might have done better on his England debut when he fired over early on.

Keane blocked a Podolski shot as the home side gradually improved, but there were groans from fans at the frequent waylaid passes and unforced errors.

A mislaid pass from Kimmich set Adam Lallana racing clear. Germany `keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was relieved to see the Liverpool midfielder's effort crash back off the far post.

Dele Alli should have put England ahead before the break but he shot straight at Ter Stegen when he only had the goalkeeper to beat. More loose play from the home side in midfield had created the opportunity.

Podolski, who had a shot blocked and had blazed over in the first half, again went close in the second before he finally claimed his 49th and last international goal for a perfect ending.

England can learn from Germany - Southgate

Manager Gareth Southgate says England can learn from Germany's consistent success under counterpart Joachim Loew ahead of Wednesday's friendly against the world champions.

The clash in Dortmund is a chance for Southgate to start to impose his vision for England after four unbeaten games as caretaker coach led to his full-time appointment in November.

Germany and England's records at major tournaments is chalk and cheese.

England's best performance in recent years was a run to the quarters at the 2006 World Cup.

Since Loew took charge of Germany that year they have reached at least the semi-finals of every major tournament - a success rate Southgate aspires for England to achieve.

"We have to change the way we think and the way we work because we have not had the consistent success of our opponents," Southgate said in Tuesday's press conference in Essen.

"They are a great model for us to look at.

"We don't want to copy anyone, but you have to respect that they have reached the semi-finals and finals of major tournaments and won things.

"That is the mentality we need to have.

"We are ranked 14th in the world, so we can keep turning around and saying 'if only we'd done better in one game'.

"We have to take a long look at ourselves and think what is needed to improve."

Southgate knows all about German efficiency.

It was his saved penalty at Euro '96 which sent eventual winners Germany into the final at England's expense after they lost the semi-final shoot-out at Wembley.

Germany are chasing a first win over their old rivals on home soil since 1987 and need no reminding of the 5-1 mauling their team took in Munich in 2001, when Michael Owen hit a hat-trick.

Chelsea's centre-back Gary Cahill will captain the Three Lions in Dortmund.

The 31-year-old was also skipper when England came from two goals down to beat Germany 3-2 in Berlin last March and he expects another clash of the European titans.

"It's a huge honour to captain your country, I've done it three or four times now, one of those was when we won here in Germany which was a special night," said Cahill.

"It's important to try that we get some momentum, it's always nice to get results to show things are working well.

"It will be fantastic to test ourselves against these players, but likewise, they (Germany) are looking to test themselves against (England's) top European players.

"It's going to be a special occasion."

Both sides are lacking big names, but the focus for both Loew and Southgate is Sunday's World Cup qualifiers when Germany play Azerbaijan away and England host Lithuania.

Both countries are top of their respective groups on the path to Russia 2018

Southgate is particularly light on forwards, missing the injured Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge, while dropping skipper Wayne Rooney.

Manchester United's Phil Jones is not in Germany after injuring himself in training before the team flew out.

While Southgate says Raheem Sterling may be left out after a busy few weeks with Manchester City.

Loew is missing midfielders Mesut Ozil and Julian Draxler, while striker Mario Gomez and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer are also sidelined.

Despite Loew's injury woes, Southgate still expects to face a strong home side with Lukas Podolski named captain on his farewell 130th appearance.

"They will look at our squad list and see the names we are missing too," said Southgate.

"We have to have the belief in our own players, we respect the opponent, but our job is to find a way to beat them."

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