Matterson won’t go easy on Scotland

Terry Matterson was once selected to play for Scotland, but he will be doing his best to knock them out of the World Cup on Thursday night.

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The former Castleford coach is in charge of the USA Tomahawks who have already qualified for the quarter-finals after winning both their group matches so far.

Their prize is a last-eight clash with tournament favourites Australia in Wrexham on November 16, but Matterson’s more immediate concern is their final group C fixture with Steve McCormack’s Scotland at Salford.

The Bravehearts, who have lived up their nickname by beating Tonga and holding Italy to a draw so far, need a win at the AJ Bell Stadium to keep alive their hopes of a quarter-final against holders New Zealand.

Matterson insists there will be no room for sentiment, despite having a soft spot for Scotland.

“I got picked to play for Scotland in 1998 when I was with London Broncos,” said the North Queensland assistant coach as he wrapped up the Tomahawks’ training session at Salford on Wednesday.

“But I tore my calf the weekend before. I was gutted. I actually went up there with (manager) George Fairbairn and spent a night in camp and then I left.

“My grandfather fought in the war for Scotland. That’s the reason I got a work visa, through my ancestry heritage.”

The pressure is off the Tomahawks after Cook Islands’ 22-16 defeat by Tonga on Tuesday night ensured they will top the group, but Matterson insists it will not change the mindset of his players.

“Our focus is on the Scotland game, we’re not getting ahead of ourselves,” he said.

“There is no talk about what’s happening after that.”


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Bulgarian FA accused of leniency over Levski fine

A human rights organisation and local media were among those to criticise the governing body for the 3,000 levs (1,306 pounds) fine it gave the club after fans displayed huge banners reading “Death for the refugees” and “Blood will be shed for our land” during Sunday’s 4-1 league win over Pirin Gotse Delchev.

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“I do not think that this fine is a deterrent,” Radoslav Stoyanov, an expert with the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, an independent non-governmental organisation for the protection of human rights, told Reuters on Wednesday.

“Such fines are merely symbolic and do not lead to a change in the situation. The BFU is definitely guilty for its passiveness,” Stoyanov said.

He added that it was a missed opportunity for the sport’s domestic governing body to stamp its authority on the issue and show that the football authorities would not tolerate racism.

Presa, one of the most popular newspapers in the Balkan country, said Levski had “escaped with a paltry fine” while other papers said the punishment was “pitiful” and “a disgrace”.

“The BFU’s disciplinary commission showed absurd criteria in determining the punishment for xenophobia at Bulgarian stadiums,” Presa wrote.

The sports editor of Capital newspaper, Georgi Filipov, told Reuters: “Toleration of such events at the stadiums is unacceptable at a time of growing fears and even acts of xenophobia to Syrian refugees and immigrants of Arab origin in Bulgaria.

“The BFU and some of the leading clubs play a dangerous game with the extremist fans.”

The number of refugees, mainly from Syria, in the European Union’s poorest country has increased drastically, reaching almost 9,000 this year.

Sports website www.topsport.bg asked: “BFU, are you serious?”, adding that the BFU disciplinary commission’s decision was “scandalous”.

HISTORY OF RACISM

Levski, who are 26-times Bulgarian champions and one of the country’s two most popular clubs alongside bitter city rivals CSKA, have a history of racism at their matches.

The BFU fined the club 37,500 levs after their supporters displayed a banner showing a swastika and another one marking what would have been Adolf Hitler’s birthday during their game at Litex Lovech in April.

The governing body also warned Levski racism would not be tolerated and that they faced a much bigger punishment if such behaviour happened again.

The BFU has also previously warned clubs that match officials would be able to abandon league games in the event of racist behaviour by fans.

Levski were fined 30,000 euros ($40,400) by UEFA in September 2012 after fans brandished a racist banner and insulted the visiting team’s players during their Europa League match against Sarajevo.

“I don’t go to Levski matches anymore because of such things,” said Levski fan Yordan Mihaylov.

“Well, the April punishment was a yellow card shown by the BFU but they committed another foul and this sanction is something like an encouragement rather than a red card. It’s a ridiculous decision.”

The BFU, who described the incident as “unacceptable” on its website (www.bfunion.bg), was unavailable for comment when contacted by Reuters.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Sonia Oxley)


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Villas-Boas defends Tottenham medics over Lloris treatment

Lloris, who returned to training on Wednesday, collided with Everton’s Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku in the latter stages of the Premier League stalemate and played on after pitchside medical checks.

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The former Olympique Lyon keeper is expected to play for Tottenham against Sheriff Tiraspol in the Europa League on Thursday.

“I stand absolutely by the decision I took and I stand by the decision that the medical department took following the checks they made on the player, all according to the book,” Villas-Boas told a news conference on Wednesday.

“I stand by the decision that gave us the green light for the player to continue.”

The former Chelsea boss added that club doctor Shabaaz Mughal and physio Geoff Scott had helped to save the life of Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba when he suffered a cardiac arrest at White Hart Lane in March 2012.

“Two people in the medical department that two years ago saved the life of a footballer on the pitch have been completely forgotten, poorly treated, badly respected by lots of opinion makers,” he said.

Villas-Boas, who managed Lukaku when he was in charge at Stamford Bridge, questioned whether the striker could have done more to avoid hurting Lloris.

“I want to believe that Lukaku’s leg was not left to clash into Hugo’s head,” he said.

“I find it remarkable that nobody has dedicated themselves to find out if the player could have avoided the goalkeeper and I’m disappointed that Lukaku hasn’t contacted Hugo.

“I don’t want to question Lukaku. He’s a young player and is wonderfully gifted but I think he could have jumped over Lloris.”

(Reporting by Mark Young; editing by Toby Davis)


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Aussie McLean eyes Italy’s biggest win

Fate has put Luke McLean on a collision course with old Aussie teammates as he aims to celebrate his 50th Test cap with the “biggest victory in Italian history” this weekend.

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McLean will line up against the Wallabies for the sixth time in his Azzurri career in Turin, seven years after playing with Will Genia and Nick Cummins for the Australian Under-19s.

He’s also expected to be bombarded at fullback or on the wing by one-time Brisbane Souths clubmate Quade Cooper, who’ll be launching attacking bombs for Israel Folau.

But if McLean and his Italian teammates can rise to the occasion at Stadio Olympico on Sunday morning (AEDT), he staunchly believes they can continue the Wallabies’ annus horribilis.

Australia have never lost to Italy in 15 meetings but, after a 3-8 record in 2013, they find themselves vulnerable against a team that upset both France and Ireland in this year’s Six Nations.

As big as those home wins were, McLean says the Azzurri’s first “Tri-Nations” scalp would be more meritorious.

“It would probably be the biggest victory in Italian history,” he said.

“To take the scalp of the fourth-best team in the world, and the Wallabies – who have won the World Cup twice – everyone knows the importance and how difficult it will be to come away with the win.”

Under Frenchman Jaques Brunel, Italy have closed the gap against the top nations and Wallabies veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper believes the powerful Azzurri pack will be licking their lips.

Italy almost stole a win against Australia last year before falling 22-19, and finishing off rivals is now their big focus post-Six Nations.

“We obviously have to prove to ourselves, and the Italian public as well, that we are on the right track,” the lanky back said.

“The best way to do it is win those close games.”

But McLean doesn’t view Australia as a wounded beast ready to be picked off easily by smaller animals.

“You have to put it into perspective, (New Zealand and South Africa) are playing top-notch rugby and Australia has definitely improved since the season has gone on,” he said.

“They are a quality team and we have to be on our game because if you give their backs a bit of room they can run riot and we saw that in Argentina (54-16).”

Townsville-born McLean, who qualifies to play for the Azzurri through an Italian grandmother, hasn’t looked back since leaving Perth in late 2007.

He found it strange to hear the Australian national anthem the first time he played the Wallabies, but now he’s unfazed.

“Once you get out on the field it’s 15 vs 15 and you see them as the opposition and you want blood,” he said.

“After being in Italy for so long now (I’m more Italian), even my girlfriend keeps telling me I’m losing my English.”


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Administration ‘untruthful’ on Obamacare

US senators have unloaded fresh attacks on the Obama administration’s handling of the rollout of the new health care law, with one Republican accusing officials of being “untruthful” about its impact.

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Five weeks into the rocky launch of the website through which millions of Americans are expected to register for health insurance, Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius faced criticism that the Affordable Care Act was putting the entire health care system in jeopardy.

Last week Sebelius apologised to the nation for what she acknowledged was a “miserable” start to the HealthCare.gov and on Wednesday she again took the blame, saying “I am focused on fixing it, and I’m accountable.”

She insisted, however, that the law was already working well for millions by no longer allowing insurers to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions, imposing coverage caps, or charging women more for health care.

But Senator Orrin Hatch and other Finance Committee Republicans pointed to higher insurance costs, and thousands of consumers getting notices that their existing plans were being dropped, despite Obama’s pledge that consumers who liked their policies could keep them.

“Put simply, there is a long track record of broken promises and untruthful answers to both this committee and the American people with respect to how this law would work and the impact it would have,” Hatch told Sebelius at a committee hearing.

“I hope that will stop today. No more caveats, no more excuses, no more spin. Just give us the truth,” he said.

The White House has been under fire for weeks about the botched website debut, with Republicans accusing the administration of obfuscating potential pitfalls in order to press ahead with Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

Republicans demanded that Sebelius explain why she and others insisted the website, HealthCare.gov, go live on October 1 despite insufficient testing and warnings in August by inspectors in her own Health and Human Services Department who said there were critical security and privacy issues that required attention.

But Sebelius said noone suggested that the risks outweighed the importance of moving forward.

Committee chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, joined in the frustration, asking “why keep limping along” instead of temporarily shutting down the troubled website until the kinks are worked out.

“We’ve been advised that that actually doesn’t help,” Sebelius responded, saying “it’s better to do routine upgrades” while the system is running.

Authorities have created a “punch list” of priorities for getting the website up to full speed by the end of November as promised and Sebelius said her teams have identified “a couple of hundred functional fixes” that take priority.

Obama, in a bid to counter the stream of criticism, travels on Wednesday to Texas to highlight the role of volunteers who help consumers enrol through the health care exchanges.


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