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Witness ‘haunted’ by Russian plane crash

Andrei Gorshkov was coming home from school when he saw a plane and then heard a loud bang.

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The crash that followed and killed at least 43 people was so horrific that it will haunt him at night.

“It was so scary,” the 16-year-old said. “It will all be coming back to me in my sleep.”

The Yak-42 carrying a Russian ice hockey team crashed on Wednesday into the small river of Tunoshonka running through Gorshkov’s village of Tunoshna, just outside the central Russian city of Yaroslavl.

He and his friends saw a huge blaze which immediately turned into smoke and rushed to the scene of the tragedy.

Half the plane was in the water, the other half broke into pieces and was scattered around the shore and the wheels were on fire.

“Everything that was in the plane was floating on the water,” Gorshkov told AFP at the sleepy village whose world has been turned upside down by the disaster.

“Two bodies were floating on the water,” he said. “The third one was being carried out of the water on stretchers, he had burns all over.”

The plane was flying members of three-time Russian champions Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to a season-opening match in the Belarussian capital Minsk when it went down a few moments into the flight some 300 kilometres northeast of Moscow.

Natalia Panova, a doctor at Tunoshna’s small hospital, was the first medic at the scene. By the time her ambulance arrived, most were beyond help.

“The plane caught fire and blew up. Someone was without a leg, someone was without a head,” she told AFP. “There was blood everywhere, mangled bodies.

I am still shaking.”

Panova treated one of two survivors, attending to crew member Alexander Sizov’s multiple wounds and fractures and giving him promedol to alleviate severe pain before he was taken to hospital in Yaroslavl.

He was in a state of shock and did not fully realise what had happened, she said, adding: “I don’t know how he remained alive.”

Another survivor, team member Alexander Galimov, who received extensive burns, was taken away by a boat, she said.

Panova said she herself had seen 16 bodies which were pulled out of the water and placed in rows on the ground.

“I’ve lived here for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Panova, a local. “So many people died young. This is a tragedy for the entire country.”

By Wednesday evening, the small village was teeming was emergency officials and police who cordoned off the scene of the tragedy.

Many residents came out of their homes, quietly talking to one another or smoking in silence as night fell over the village.

They were joined by hockey fans who trickled in from Yaroslavl, some carrying flowers and crying.

Back in the city, thousands of fans converged on Lokomotiv’s ice arena bringing heaps of roses, candles and fan scarves.

President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to visit the venue on Thursday. Ahead of key parliamentary and presidential elections he had been set to address a political conference at the ice arena which has now become a sombre vigil site.

Many fans said the horrific coincidence brought home a simple question: why does not Russia protect its best and brightest?

“Why is this happening?” said Dmitry Luchnikov, who was mourning his close friend, 23-year-old former New Jersey Devils player Alexander Vasyunov.

“Why haven’t we got reliable aircraft?”

SOME OF THE VICTIMS OF THE RUSSIAN PLANE CRASH:

-Brad McCrimmon, 52, from Canada. A former Detroit Red Wings assistant who became Lokomotiv’s coach in May. Played in 1,222 NHL games between 1979-97, compiling 81 goals and 322 assists.

-Pavol Demitra, 36, from Slovakia. A three-time NHL All-Star who helped Slovakia win a world championship bronze medal in 2003. Scored 304 goals in 847 NHL games. Three-time Olympian.

-Ruslan Salei, 36, from Belarus. A defenceman who played in 917 NHL games, totaling 45 goals and 149 assists for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Florida Panthers, Colorado Avalanche, and Detroit Red Wings.

-Alexander Karpovtsev, 41, from Russia. Assistant coach who played 12 seasons in the NHL as a defenceman with the New York Rangers, Toronto, Chicago, the New York Islanders, and Florida. Joined three Rangers teammates in 1994 as the first Russian players to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup.

-Karlis Skrastins, 37, from Latvia. A defenceman who played in 832 NHL games, mainly for the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche.

-Josef Vasicek, 30, from Czech Republic. A Czech forward who spent most of his NHL career with the Carolina Hurricanes. He was a member of the club’s Stanley Cup championship team in 2006.

-Karel Rachunek, 32, from Czech Republic. Played 371 NHL games with the Ottawa Senators, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, and won a world championship title with the Czech Republic in 2010.

-Igor Korolev, 41, from Russia. Assistant coach following a playing career in the NHL and KHL. In 12 NHL seasons with St. Louis, the Winnipeg-Phoenix franchise, Toronto and Chicago, he scored 119 goals in 795 games. His last NHL season was 2003-04.

-Stefan Liv, 30, from Sweden. A veteran goaltender who won Olympic gold with Sweden as a backup in 2006.

-Alexander Vasyunov, 23, from Russia. Had one goal and five points in 18 games last season with the New Jersey Devils, his only NHL experience.

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Gaddafi escape routes ‘cut off’

Libya’s new leaders were urgently seeking Niger’s help in preventing Muammar Gaddafi, his family or his troops from crossing the border, as the hunt for the fugitive strongman intensified.

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New regime forces, meanwhile, were poised to battle loyalist troops still holding out in their remaining strongholds of Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, Sabha in the deep south and the coastal city of Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown.

Gaddafi’s sole remaining media mouthpiece, Mishan al-Juburi, owner of the Syria-based Arrai Oruba television, said the defeated leader was still in Libya, along with his son Saif al-Islam.

“I can tell you that I spoke with Gaddafi very recently,” Juburi told AFP.

“He is in Libya, in very good spirits, feels strong, is not afraid, and would be happy to die fighting against the occupiers,” Juburi, a former Iraqi MP, said by telephone.

“His son Saif al-Islam is in the same state of mind,” added Juburi, whose channel has broadcast a number of audio messages from Gaddafi and his son since they went into hiding after Tripoli was overrun by rebel fighters last month.

Asked how he makes contact with Gaddafi, Juburi said: “When I need to talk to him, I send him a message, or he contacts me when he wants to pass a message.”

Libya’s new rulers are anxious to arrest Gaddafi and put him on trial, thus sealing their hold on the country.

They are fearful he may slip into a neighbouring country, particularly Niger, to which a convoy carrying other senior officials of his ousted regime fled on Monday.

Bidding to cut off Gaddafi’s potential escape routes, the now-ruling National Transitional Council (NTC) said it had dispatched a team to Niamey.

“We have sent a delegation today that is going to Niger to talk … about securing our borders to stop any kind of infiltration of Gaddafi troops to Niger, to stop any attempt by Gaddafi or his family to escape to Niger,” Fathi Baja, head of the NTC’s political affairs committee, said.

“We ask any neighbouring countries to stop Gaddafi people from going to their land,” Fathi told reporters in the eastern city of Benghazi.

When asked about the convoy that entered Niger reportedly carrying money and gold, he replied: “We don’t know how much money this convoy was transporting but, according to what we know, security reports provided by groups in this region, from phone contacts and certain people’s dispatches, we can say that they have seen money and gold in these cars.”

He added: “If that happened, we want that money back.”

The large convoy of civilian and military vehicles entered Niger late on Monday and drove through the city of Agadez.

Niger was adamant Gaddafi was not with the convoy, while Washington said that while some senior officials of the ousted regime were in the convoy, he was not believed to be among them.

Gaddafi’s remaining forces have been a given a Saturday deadline to surrender, in a bid to spare further bloodshed.

At Bani Walid, 170km southeast of Tripoli, negotiators were still seeking to broker the oasis town’s peaceful surrender.

“The negotiations were successful yesterday and we are waiting for the NTC to give us the green light to go in,” said the NTC’s chief negotiator, Abdullah Kenshil.

NTC leaders say they are committed to avoiding bloodshed in Bani Walid, even after a delegation sent there on Tuesday retreated after being fired on.

“The elders have joined the revolution,” Kenshil said, adding that some of them were in Tripoli and others were back in Bani Walid after armed men loyal to Gaddafi initially prevented them from returning.

In the hamlet of Wishtata, some 40 kilometres from the front, Colonel Abdullah Abu Asara said his volunteer fighters were ready for anything.

“We are fully ready to attack, we are just waiting for the command from the National Transitional Council, we are under their command now,” he told AFP.

NTC forces on Wednesday were trying to advance along the road from Um Khunfis to the Red Valley, the pro-Gaddafi forces’ front line, some 60 kilometres east of Sirte, an AFP journalist said, reporting artillery fire.

Loyalist forces putting up strong resistance fired several shells at NTC vehicles at an electricity power station, but there was no immediate word on casualties.

On Tuesday, NTC forces advanced at least eight kilometres towards Sirte in heavy fighting, commanders said.

NATO, in its latest operational update on Wednesday, said its warplanes had bombed six tanks, six armoured fighting vehicles, four armed vehicles, a munitions store and an artillery piece in Sirte the previous day.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Libya on September 15 for talks with NTC chief Mustafa Abdul Jalil in Benghazi, the Turkish premier’s office said on Wednesday.

In July, Ankara recognised the NTC as Libya’s legitimate government.

Portugal’s Foreign Minister Paulo Portas, visiting Benghazi on Wednesday, urged his country’s businessmen to return to Libya, calling it “a land of opportunities.”

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Trans Tasman tension high in basketball

BOOMERS PHYSICAL

In a fiery Oceania championship game one which erupted into two second half fights and led to New Zealand veteran Mark Dickel being ejected, the Boomers accounted for the Tall Blacks 91-78 in Melbourne on Wednesday night.

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The win gives the Boomers a priceless lead in the best-of-three series which will decide a place at the London Games.

A physical men’s match which simmered from tip-off erupted into a melee with the game evenly poised midway through the third quarter.

Feisty Kiwi guard Dickel was at the centre of it as players from both sides got involved in some push-and-shove.

Another stoush between Australian forward Mark Worthington and New Zealand’s Casey Frank erupted soon afterwards, before more fireworks in the final quarter which led to Dickel being marched.

Dickel launched at Boomers rookie Matthew Dellavedova before Australian skipper Matt Nielsen then stepped in, pinning Dickel to the court before all players got involved and a flurry of technical fouls resulted.

But when the heat rose, the Boomers cooked – channelling anger into energy for a six-minute late third-quarter rampage which ultimately decided the match.

Worthington thrived on the drama, tipping in 13 points for the match and providing much of the late third-quarter offensive spark, and guard Patty Mills a team-high 20 points.

Nielsen was excellent in the second quarter as the match swung in the balance, while Joe Ingles and Brad Newley also did their bit in a grafting all-round effort.

Tall Blacks star Kirk Penney was exceptional for his side, with a game-high 30 points – 16 in the first half as they trailed by just two points.

OPALS TOO GOOD

And it rounded off a good night for Australia after another 13-point win to the women’s team, the Opals, over New Zealand to also move a step closer to Olympic qualification.

Both the Boomers and Opals now need just one more win in the series – either in Brisbane on Friday night or Sydney on Sunday – to book their spot at next year’s Olympics.

But unlike the Opals – who clearly have room to improve on their 77-64 win over the Tall Ferns earlier in the night – the Boomers were shown they will have to scrap every minute if they want to book their ticket for London.

Australians unaccounted for in Vanuatu

More than 100 Australians and Canadians are still unaccounted for in Vanuatu six days after Cyclone Pam hit.

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The category five storm flattened the Pacific island state last Friday, killing at least 11 people and leaving thousands homeless.

The Australian High Commission has made contact with hundreds of citizens since the cyclone, but many are still missing.

Some have managed to make brief contact over staticky satellite phones, and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) has chartered a helicopter to track them down and verify the calls.

The helicopter is also being used to track down Canadian citizens because, under an agreement, the Australian government provides consular services to them in Vanuatu.

DFAT is currently focused on locating any Australian citizens on the southern islands of Tanna and Aneityum, as well as Ambae and Pentecost islands in the north.

The RAAF has also ended free flights to Australia for shell-shocked expats and holiday-makers.

Air Vanuatu has also been swamped with requests for refunds by Australian tourists.

The company has told DFAT that many seem to be taking advantage of the disaster by trying to refund the cost of their return flights after they were flown out for free by the air force.

DFAT said an Australian volunteer and two British nationals were being flown into Port Vila from Pentecost island on Thursday.

The Australian had been based on the island when the cyclone hit.

Australian navy ship HMAS Tobruk is on its way to Vanuatu with 335 personnel onboard, as well as a Navy MRH90 Taipan helicopter and extra aid supplies.

Preparations are also underway to deploy two Army S-70 Blackhawk helicopters, Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said in a statement.

Warriors shoot down Hawks in NBA

A season-high 25 points from Harrison Barnes and a rebounding masterclass from Australian big man Andrew Bogut helped Golden State win the battle of the NBA’s two best teams on Wednesday.

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The Warriors routed the high-flying Atlanta Hawks 114-95 to prove their championship bona fides, the home side shaking off the injury absence of Klay Thompson and a so-so shooting night for Stephen Curry.

With their 10th straight home win, the Western Conference-leading Warriors maintained the best record in the NBA at 54-13 — narrowly ahead of Eastern Conference leaders Atlanta who fell to 53-15.

Despite connecting on just four of 11 shots from the floor, Curry still finished with 16 points and handed out 12 assists for Golden State.

In addition to his season-high 21 points, Andre Iguodal also handed out six assists.

Draymond Green added 18 points — draining five of his seven attempts from three-point range — and pulled down seven rebounds, while Bogut grabbed 14 rebounds.

Green paid credit to Bogut’s work.

“I think the defensive end is what got it done for us,” he said. “We were able to lock those guys down for the most part of the game.

“Once we got good on the defensive end, we were able to get out and run and we started knocking shots down and got it going.”

The victory came a day after Warriors head coach Steve Kerr announced Thompson would miss seven to 10 days with an ankle injury suffered on Monday against the Lakers.

DeMarre Carroll scored 16 points with 12 rebounds for the Hawks, but Atlanta centre Al Horford was held to eight points on 4-of-18 shooting.

Elsewhere, the Cleveland Cavaliers comfortably downed the Brooklyn Nets 117-92.

JR Smith and Timofey Mozgov netted 17 points apiece, LeBron James added 16 and the Cavs (44-26) routed the visiting Nets (27-39) for their 14th consecutive home-court victory.

The Chicago Bulls made light work of the Indiana Pacers with a 113-86 win.

Montenegrin rookie Nikola Mirotic scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half, Spaniard Pau Gasol had 19 with 12 rebounds and the Bulls (41-28) handed the visiting Pacers (30-37) their third straight loss following a seven-game success.

Other winners were: Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks, LA Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards.

Who is Dio Wang?

He’s the last man standing in the Palmer United Party – at least as far as the Senate goes – after the resignations of his colleagues Jacqui Lambie and more recently Glenn Lazarus.

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Dio Wang is a self-confessed shy politician who was often overshadowed during the election campaign by his larger-than-life boss Clive Palmer.

But when Dio Wang finally rose to speak during his maiden speech in the Senate he used the opportunity to bring up the past.

Not Australia’s past, but the past of the Chinese city of his birth, Nanjing, where, it’s claimed, up to 300,000 people were raped, tortured and killed by Japanese imperial soldiers in the late 1930s.

Dio Wang told the Senate the six weeks of the alleged massacre felt like the longest in China’s history.

“Robert Wilson, an American physician who was working at Nanjing Hospital at the time, wrote the following on Saturday 18 December 1937 in a family letter:

“‘Today marks the sixth day of the modern Dante’s Inferno, written in huge letters with blood and rape. Murder by the wholesale and rape by the thousands of cases. There seems to be no stop to the ferocity, lust and atavism of the brutes.’

“My colleagues, maybe Australia received a better bunch of imperial Japanese invaders that some could even suggest they were ‘honourable’. But I believe the right word should not be ‘honourable’, it has to be ‘horrible’.”

In his office in east Perth, Senator Wang is standing by his call for an apology from Japan.

“I guess the first step in my mind would be to acknowledge they did something wrong in the Second World War. Embrace it. Embrace your mistakes. Just like Germany did and then put it aside and look forward to what you can do to make the international relationships better.”

Senator Wang says that Australia should also take a look at its international relations.

“If I were the foreign minister I would probably tell you we shouldn’t appear to be favouring Japan over China. But I’m only a Senator so that’s my personal view and that I’m not in any way trying to have an impact on how the country is going in that regard. I would think clearly China and Korea suffered a lot during the Second World War as the Japanese army invaded them and if you look at history and use your correct judgement you would notice that we should probably be aligned with China and Korea a bit more.”

Japan’s acting ambassador to Australia Akira Imamura says it’s not deniable that large numbers of non-combatants were killed and other acts of violence took place after the Japanese army entered Nanjing.

“Japanese government has expressed its deep remorse and heartfelt apology to the people of Asian nations and other countries with regard to the suffering and damage caused by Japan through the aggression and colonial rules in these years. And having learned lessons from past mistakes, we made a very strong commitment not to repeat them and contribute to peace and development in Asia and the rest of the world.”

Senator Wang believes his life would have been quite different if he’d remained in China, but he says he’s very happy to have made his life here.

“Yes, definitely Australia helped to shape me. If I were in China now, I’d probably be an engineer in a large company, or a small one, but I would probably not be interested in politics at all. So to that sense, Australia gave me a great opportunity to be part of the country and make some great decisions, hopefully, for the country.”

Dio Wang was born in Nanjing, 34 years ago.

An only child, he says he was “spoilt” by his hardworking parents who started working when they were 16 years old.

He studied engineering at university in China, but then decided to make an investment in his education, which would later be for his life.

Dio Wang chose Australia as the best place to further his education and studied urban planning at Melbourne University.

It seems all the pieces in the now 34-year-old’s life started falling into place.

He met his Chinese-born wife Josephine in the same course and after a few years in Melbourne they moved to Perth as Western Australia’s mining boom kicked off.

He eventually headed Australasian Resources, which was majority owned by self-claimed billionaire Clive Palmer.

“I think we complement each other to a degree. I’m shy. He’s not shy. So I guess that’s a natural working partnership.

Dio Wang’s interests in politics lie in improving Western Australia’s agricultural production – particularly exports to the Chinese market, and ensuring Australia maintains its investment in research and innovation.

He decided to join the political fray after what he says was a betrayal of trust by the previous Labor government over the introduction of the mining and carbon taxes.

“It got me thinking, why are politicians doing things like this? Why can’t things be improved? So I’ve been interested in politics ever since then. And when Clive decided he’d had enough of politicians and he ran the party I put my hand up and said I want to be part of it and that’s how I got involved.”

Dio Wang says he does disagree at times with the party leader, but he will always tow the party line.

He says he will listen to all sides of an argument, but there’s no point being in the party unless you vote the way the party, or Clive Palmer, wants.

Something that’s been left to him with the resignations of his former party colleagues Glenn Lazarus and Jacqui Lambie – leaving the Palmer United Party a party of two.

Green baffled over NRL ‘drama queen’ tag

Baffled rather than bitter, North Queensland coach Paul Green says he does not know why Wayne Bennett has dismissed those claiming Johnathan Thurston has been illegally targeted as “drama queens”.

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And he was left scratching his head over the Broncos’ master mentor’s claim that the winless Cowboys had embraced the controversy over Newcastle’s manhandling of prized No.7 Thurston to try to divert attention away from their poor NRL season start.

Ahead of Friday night’s Suncorp Stadium clash, Bennett said it was ridiculous Cowboys No.7 Thurston had claimed it was now “open slather” on playmakers after the NRL failed to punish Newcastle enforcer Beau Scott.

Australian captain Cameron Smith called for the NRL to introduce new laws to protect playmakers after accusing Scott of trying to injure key players with late hits.

Green was livid over Newcastle’s manhandling of three-time Dally M Medallist Thurston in last round’s tight loss to Newcastle.

But Green tried to cut a calm figure ahead of their derby even when Bennett’s claims were repeated to him.

“I haven’t said anything about it publicly or otherwise since the press conference,” Green said of Newcastle’s treatment of Thurston when told the “drama queen” line.

“I was disappointed with how the whole game was managed but, apart from that, I haven’t said anything publicly so I am not sure who he is referring to there.

“And Wayne has always been a strong advocate for protecting players so I am not sure where he is coming from with respect to those comments.”

Asked why the Cowboys had blown up about Thurston’s treatment, Bennett said on Thursday: “They have lost two games in a row and at home – it’s a good way to deflect attention from yourself.”

But Green responded: “We are not shying away from our performance by a long stretch.

“We are as disappointed as anyone.”

Bennett was critical of the NRL for not doing more to police late hits that Thurston copped last round, leaving him with a black eye.

But Bennett said elite players like Thurston should expect to be targeted.

“What happened this week is that all the drama queens got out of the cage again,” he said.

“The game has not done enough about them (late hits) in my opinion, but the bottom line is they have been there for the last two years and they haven’t just been on Johnathan Thurston, I can tell you.

“Every half in the competition is in the same boat. And elite players always get more attention than anybody else.

“But I told them (NRL) 18 months ago that this would be an issue.”

However, Bennett was adamant Thurston’s open slather claim was ridiculous.

He also backed Scott’s hard-nosed tactics.

And Bennett scoffed at speculation the Cowboys’ pack would take matters into their own hands if Thurston copped similar rough treatment on Friday night.

Non-selection spells Endo the line for Japan stalwart

The 35-year-old midfielder, who skippered Gamba Osaka to a domestic treble last year, has won 152 caps for his country but was the glaring omission from the 31-man squad named on Thursday by Halilhodzic, who took charge earlier this month.

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The former Asian Player of the Year has been a central figure in the Japanese midfielder for over a decade, going to three World Cups and setting up numerous goals with his threaded through balls and pinpoint free-kicks.

He was also initially sidelined by Halilhodzic’s predecessor, Javier Aguirre, but the Mexican brought back the wily campaigner for the Asian Cup only to see the holders go out surprisingly to United Arab Emirates in the quarter-finals.

But the new head coach opted to look elsewhere, casting the net far and wide by also selecting 12 backup players for the matches against Tunisia in Oita on March 27 and Uzbekistan four days later in Tokyo.

Injured fullbacks Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo were also called up as the former Algeria and Ivory Coast boss attempts to view as many players as possible before the World Cup qualifying campaign starts in June.

Endo’s uncapped Gamba team mates Takashi Usami and Hiroki Fujihara were included by Halilhodzic alongside regulars Makoto Hasebe, Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Standard Liege), Masaaki Higashiguchi, (Gamba Osaka), Shusaku Nishikawa (Urawa Red Diamonds), Shuichi Gonda (Tokyo), *Akihiro Hayashi (Sagan Tosu)

Defenders: Hiroki Mizumoto (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Tomoaki Makino (Urawa Red Diamonds), Masato Morishige (Tokyo), Kosuke Ota (Tokyo), Atsuto Uchida (Schalke 04), Maya Yoshida (Southampton) Hiroki Fujiharu (Gamba Osaka), Hiroki Sakai (Hannover 96), Gotoku Sakai (VfB Stuttgart), Gen Shoji (Kashima Antlers), *Kazuhiko Chiba (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), *Tsukasa Shiotani (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), *Daisuke Suzuki (Kashiwa Reysol), *Shintaro Kurumaya (Kawasaki Frontale)

Midfielders: Yasuyuki Konno (Gamba Osaka), Makoto Hasebe (Eintracht Frankfurt), Toshihiro Aoyama (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Hannover 96), Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka), Gaku Shibasaki (Kashima Antlers), *Yojiro Takahagi (Western Sydney Wanderers) *TakujiYonemoto (Tokyo), *Shogo Taniguchi (Kawasaki Frontale) *Kotaro Omori (Gamba Osaka)

Forwards: Shinji Okazaki (Mainz 05), Keisuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinzo Koroki (Urawa Red Diamonds), Yu Kobayashi (Kawasaki Frontale), Takashi Inui (Eintracht Frankfurt), Kensuke Nagai (Nagoya Grampus), Yuya Osako (Cologne), Takashi Usami (Gamba Osaka), Yoshinori Muto (Tokyo), *Yohei Toyoda (Sagan Tosu), *Kengo Kawamata (Nagoya Grampus), *Yoichiro Kakitani (FC Basel)

*Denotes backup

(Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O’Brien)

Dortmund bow out of Europe to move into season-rescue mode

Struggling in the Bundesliga after their implosion in the first half of the campaign, Dortmund, in tenth place, cannot even consider a top four finish while a Europa League spot for next season is also merely an outside possibility.

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“It’s a shame that our last Champions League game for at least the next 18 months had to end this way,” captain Mats Hummels said after their 3-0 loss equalled their worst home defeat in the Champions League.

“We had great four years in this competition and now it may be some time before we come back.”

Gone are the days when 70,000 fans celebrated big wins against teams like Manchester City, Arsenal, Zenit St Petersburg and Malaga and repeatedly against Real Madrid.

Dortmund, European champions in 1997, will now have to put all their focus on the league, as the country’s second richest team looks to salvage something out of an otherwise disappointing season.

A four-game winning run lifted them off the bottom spot in the Bundesliga but their two goalless draws since have highlighted their struggle for goals.

In order to get anything out of their domestic campaign, Dortmund, who are also in the German Cup last eight, will need to start scoring quickly, having failed to do so in their last three games in all competitions, after Wednesday.

“We took the wrong decisions throughout the game,” coach Juergen Klopp said. “We fully deserved to be eliminated. If you don’t shoot you don’t score and if you shoot on goal just twice in 78 minutes then that is just not good enough.”

What was once their most feared weapon has now become a liability with Dortmund forwards shooting blanks if they even find a way into the last third of the pitch.

“We don’t have patience and we seem to be lacking the greed to score,” said defender Neven Subotic.

“We did not carve out a single chance in the final third of the pitch. We did not have one 100-percent scoring chance in the entire game.”

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

IOC downplays concern on 2018 Winter Games

An International Olympic Committee (IOC) inspection team has downplayed worries about the pace of preparation for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea and insists there will be no venue changes.

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Gunilla Lindberg, heading the IOC’s Pyeongchang Games coordination commission, said on Thursday organisers had made significant progress in venue construction and arranging test events from next year. She added organisers must show more urgency in advancing operational planning and refining budgets.

To compensate for South Korea’s lack of experience in hosting large winter sports competitions, Lindberg said international experts would visit Pyeongchang in coming months to help with test events and other administrative tasks.

Organisers have faced pressure from local groups to spread the games outside Pyeongchang to reduce costs, despite the IOC insisting the current venue plan is final.

They are also having difficulty attracting sponsors, with only five companies having joined up.

Lindberg and Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s executive director for the Olympic Games, were part of the delegation that concluded a three-day inspection trip in Gangneung, a city near Pyeongchang, that will host some Olympic competitions in 2018, including ice hockey, speedskating and figure skating.

“The first test events are less than a year away and POCOG (Pyeongchang’s organising committee) and its partners will need to focus simultaneously on multiple projects over the next year in order to deliver them successfully,” Lindberg said.

South Korean government officials had discussed relocating the snowboarding and freestyle skiing venues in Pyeongchang to a resort in nearby Jeongseon to reduce costs but the plans were dropped earlier this month due to concerns about disrupting the test events for snow sports.

Lindberg stressed there would no longer be any discussions about spreading the Olympic events outside of the currently-defined venues.

“All the venues are confirmed both for the test events and the Olympic Games,” she said.

South Korea held the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988, co-hosted the soccer World Cup with Japan in 2002 and staged the Asian Games three times, including last year’s event in Incheon.

However, the public sentiment surrounding big sporting events is no longer unanimously positive because of growing worries over costs, including the burden of maintaining venues having little use after the games.

The South Korean government projects the Pyeongchang Olympics to cost more than 11 trillion won ($A12.5 billion).

Folau says little brother is stronger

Code hopper Israel Folau rates younger brother John as stronger than him, as his sibling prepares to make his NRL debut.

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But Parramatta fans, hoping John’s elevation to their senior side could tempt his Wallaby star sibling back to rugby league and their club specifically, are likely to be disappointed, with Israel ruling it out in the short term.

John, 21, wasn’t originally listed in the Parramatta team to play the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday, but it’s understood he will line up for the Eels.

A Queensland under-20 representative, who has also played for the Tonga senior national team, John can play in the forwards or the backs.

While he’s Israel’s little brother in age, he’s the same height at 193 centimetres and is listed at 112 kilos, nine more than his older sibling.

“I think he’s a lot bigger frame than I am; I think he’s probably a lot stronger than I am,” Israel Folau said on Thursday.

“He’s got a good offload on him and probably different attributes to me.

“I’m proud of him and, hopefully, he goes well.”

Dual international Israel, 25, hasn’t tried to cram too much advice into his brother’s head.

“He’s played the game long enough,” Israel said.

“He trains with the guys within the squad that’s got great experience in the game.

“So just go out there and play in his role as best as he can for the team, and then to try and obviously enjoy the experience – that’s the main thing.”

Asked if he could end up playing at Parramatta alongside his kid brother, Israel said “not at this stage, no.”

His NSW Waratahs and Australian Rugby Union contract expires at the end of this year, but Israel isn’t fretting about where he might end up.

“I’m not too worried … I’m letting my management team sort that out while I focus on my rugby,” he said.

Pellegrini maintains he is under no threat despite defeat

City lost 1-0 at Barcelona who won their round of 16 tie 3-1 on aggregate to knock the Premier League champions out of the competition at the same stage for the second successive season.

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Barcelona would have won by a far bigger margin on Wednesday if City keeper Joe Hart had not been in superb form, preventing his side from conceding even more goals with at least four outstanding saves.

But despite what was in essence a comprehensive beating, Pellegrini maintained his stance that circumstances conspired against City and that he does not feel under any immediate threat.

After saying talks about his future would take place at the end of the season, whether City retain their Premier League title or not, he said: “Lionel Messi was imperious — at the moment we have to accept Barcelona are better.

“It is not a failure, it is a disappointment. We have been unlucky to play Barcelona for two years in a row. We have had a restriction on the number of players we can use in the Champions League.

“It is very difficult to beat Barcelona, but the statistics I don’t care about. We cannot analyse what we will do next season because it is too soon after this result. We can do that later.

“It is not easy to play Barcelona. This is the draw, they are very strong. At least we have improved.”

City captain Vincent Kompany agreed that City need to improve even more as he told Sky Sports after the game.

“The reality is that they were the better team and there is no shame in admitting that. There is a big big difference between Barcelona, and I would mention Bayern Munich, and the rest,” Kompany said.

“You can win the Premier League, you can beat Arsenal and Chelsea and so on, and you can lose to them as well, but between all those teams and the ones I have mentioned, there is a huge gap and we have to work to close that gap.”

The average age of the City team that started against Barcelona was over 29 and one way of closing the gap would be for City to buy some younger players, but whether they are signed by Pellegrini or someone else is the unanswered question at the moment.

(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)

Two killed in Swedish pub shooting

Two men were killed and more than 10 were wounded after gunmen burst into a pub firing automatic weapons in a suspected gang-related attack in the Swedish city of Gothenburg.

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Customers in the bar were watching football on television when at least two gunmen, reportedly wearing skeleton masks, launched their shooting spree.

“We are assuming that this is gang-related and not a terrorist attack,” police spokesman Bjoer Blixter said.

“We’ve had similar problems with shootings for several years but never of this magnitude.”

A manhunt has been launched for the gunmen who fled by car after the shooting in a heavily immigrant area of Sweden’s second city.

Blixter said two people died and between 10 and 15 were wounded, but the death toll could rise.

Gothenburg police said they have launched a murder investigation and are questioning a large number of people but no arrests have been made.

Sweden and neighbouring Denmark have a longstanding problem with criminal gangs, including Hells Angels, Bandidos and several immigrant groups which battle for control of the local drug trade.

The shooting fitted a pattern of regular tit-for-tat retributions between rival gangs in areas with high immigrant populations in Gothenburg, which lies on Sweden’s southwestern coast and has a population of 550,000.

One witness told the Aftonbladet tabloid that two people entered the pub in Gothenburg’s heavily immigrant suburb of Biskopsgaarden armed with weapons that looked like Kalashnikovs and started shooting.

Another witness said the shootings were over quickly.

“I didn’t have time to think what was happening. Then I saw that my friend was bleeding. I tried to stop the flow of blood as well as I could with my hands,” a man who gave his name as “Rocky” told public broadcaster SVT.