Five-goal Liverpool crush below-strength Swansea
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho scored on his first start for Liverpool who leapfrogged Swansea City into seventh place in the Premier League by crushing the below-strength Welsh side 5-0 at Anfield yesterday.
Swansea manager Michael Laudrup rested a host of regular starters with next weekend's Capital One (League) Cup final against fourth-tier Bradford City in mind, a decision which spectacularly backfired.
"I wanted to leave a few out but that's not an excuse, we could have lost 10-0. We are all to blame, starting with me and the players," Laudrup said.
"It was a nightmare, we got slaughtered out there. First half we were still in the game but to give away three goals like that in 10 minutes at the start of the second half was terrible, we have to say sorry to the fans."
Steven Gerrard's penalty on 34 minutes set Liverpool on their way, the midfielder making no mistake having had a spot-kick saved in the home defeat by West Bromwich Albion on Monday.
Coutinho, who joined last month from Inter Milan on a long-term contract, ran at the Swansea defence and beat keeper Michel Vorm soon after the restart to make it 2-0 as Liverpool quickly settled the game in a rampant spell.
Coutinho was also involved in the build-up in Liverpool's third goal four minutes later, linking up with Luis Suarez before Daniel Sturridge crossed for Jose Enrique to prod in.
Suarez hit a fourth on 56 after twisting and turning in the area before Sturridge made it 5-0 with a second penalty.
It was Liverpool's first victory over a team in the top half of the Premier League this season and a first for manager Brendan Rodgers over his former side.
Victory came at a cost for Liverpool after Italian striker Fabio Borini suffered a suspected dislocated shoulder and will miss the rest of the season.
Borini's first season at the club after joining from AS Roma last July has proved difficult. He has scored just once - in a Europa League tie - and was out for over three months between October and January after sustaining a foot fracture.
"It looks like Fabio Borini has a dislocated shoulder which will keep him out for the season," Rodgers said.
"He did a similar one at Chelsea on the other side. It's a big blow for us."
Chelsea stroll in replay, Aguero double lifts City
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The Premier League's big-hitters restored some normality to the FA Cup yesterday, after Arsenal suffered a shock defeat at home on Saturday to Blackburn Rovers 0-1, with holders Chelsea crushing third tier Brentford 4-0 in a fourth round replay while Manchester City dismissed Leeds United 4-0 in a fifth round tie.
Midfielder Frank Lampard scored his 199th goal for Chelsea who put four second-half goals past Brentford at Stamford Bridge to secure a fifth round clash at Championship (second division) Middlesbrough on February 27.
Argentine Sergio Aguero scored twice for 2011 winners Manchester City, who eased into the quarter-finals with a confident display that was the complete opposite from their abject surrender in a 3-1 Premier League defeat at Southampton last weekend.
"I think it was really important to win this game. If you score two goals within the first 20 minutes it is easier, but the FA Cup is a difficult competition as Arsenal and Everton showed yesterday," City manager Roberto Mancini told ESPN.
Three second-tier sides reached the last eight on Saturday, including Blackburn Rovers who stunned 10-times winners Arsenal with a 1-0 victory at the Emirates.
Everton, sixth in the Premier League, were taken to a replay after conceding a stoppage-time goal in a 2-2 draw at third-tier strugglers Oldham Athletic.
England midfielder Lampard, whose Chelsea future remains unresolved with his contract expiring at the end of the season, tucked away a simple volley on 71 minutes to edge closer to Bobby Tambling's all-time club record of 202 goals.
The goal prompted Chelsea fans to chant 'sign him up' as billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, sat with hands deep in his pockets, forced a wry smile high up in the stand.
Interim manager Rafael Benitez said: "The team was doing well and Frank Lampard is scoring goals, which is good for him and good for us."
Chelsea twice had to come from behind to earn a 2-2 away draw in their first encounter and were again sluggish in the first half against their fellow Londoners.
Juan Mata finally broke Brentford's resistance on 54 minutes when he latched on to Demba Ba's flick from a long Petr Cech clearance and drilled in a left-foot shot from 20 metres.
Oscar doubled the lead 14 minutes later from Branislav Ivanovic's cutback, scoring with a deft flick, and Lampard quickly added a third from Mata's cross. John Terry headed in at the far post, this time from Oscar's curling delivery, to make it 4-0 on 81 minutes.
"First half they made it very difficult, they sat very deep. Once we got the first goal, the second and third were sure to come," Terry, returning after missing two matches with an inflamed knee, told ITV.
Terry said a British newspaper report yesterday that he and Benitez were involved in a dressing room bust-up were "complete rubbish".
"There are stories today in the paper but it is complete lazy journalism," the defender said, referring to a Sun newspaper story headlined "War".
With his side 12 points behind Manchester United and their Premier League title hopes fading, Mancini had demanded his side atone for the Southampton loss which he had described as City's worst game in the last two or three years.
City duly obliged, crafting a brilliant opener after five minutes that was started and finished by Yaya Toure.
The Ivorian exchanged passes with David Silva and Carlos Tevez before slotting home and Aguero doubled the lead on 14 minutes from the penalty spot.
Tevez bundled in a third after 52 and Aguero rifled in the fourth 16 minutes from time.
In remaining ties, second tier Huddersfield Town were entertaining top flight Wigan Athletic while Manchester United host Reading at Old Trafford tomorrow morning 3am Phuket time
Merrick earns first PGA Tour win in playoff
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Local favourite John Merrick won his first PGA Tour title by beating fellow American Charlie Beljan in a sudden-death playoff for the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.
Journeyman Merrick sealed victory with a rock-solid par at the second extra hole, the driveable par-four 10th, after laying up off the tee with an iron and hitting his approach to 18 feet.
Beljan missed the green long to the left after using a driver. He left his chip short and then, after a long-range approach putt from just off the fringe, lipped out with a par putt from five feet.
Merrick and Beljan both parred the first extra hole, the uphill 18th, where Beljan had to sink a nerve-jangling six-footer to keep the playoff alive.
"Growing up here in LA, I just wanted to come to this tournament," Merrick, who was born in Long Beach, said greenside after booking a place at this year's Masters. "Now to win it, this is a dream come true."
Merrick, 30, studied at the nearby University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and said earlier this week he had probably played at least 30 rounds at Riviera as a student.
The duo had finished the 72 regulation holes on 11-under-par 273, Merrick closing with a two-under 69 and Beljan sinking an 18-foot birdie putt at the last for a joint best-of-the-day 67.
"To make that putt on 18 and hear the roar, was really special," said Beljan, who won his first PGA Tour title at the Children's Miracle Network Classic in November despite suffering a panic attack midway through the tournament.
"Obviously not the way I wanted to end it, but you know what, you win some, you lose some, and that's how it goes."
Swede Fredrik Jacobson finished one stroke shy of joining the playoff after agonisingly missing a five-foot putt to bogey the par-four 18th.
Jacobson signed off with a 69 to share third place at 10 under with 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel of South Africa (70) and American Bill Haas (73), the overnight leader.
U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson (71) was a further stroke back in a tie for sixth with fellow American Josh Teater, who stormed home with an eagle-birdie finish for a 69.
Patrick first woman to take pole for Daytona 500
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Danica Patrick will start from the Daytona 500 pole position after posting the fastest qualifying speed for the Great American Race yesterday and becoming the first woman to take the pole for a NASCAR Sprint Cup event.
Patrick, who ran a partial Sprint Cup program last year, signalled she was ready to race full-time against the big boys of American stock car racing by clocking 196.434 mph (316.11 kph) around Daytona International Speedway.
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon joined Patrick on the front row for next Sunday's race, joking afterwards that he was at least the fastest man.
Patrick's top speed was the fastest qualifying effort at Daytona since 1990.
"I'm just the driver, this is a team pole," she told reporters after her qualifying effort. "I was a little bit nervous.
"It would definitely be a high point memory. I think Daytona has such a legendary following."
The remainder of the 500 field will be set in a pair of qualifying races scheduled for Thursday.
The qualifying triumph marked another in a growing list of firsts for Patrick, who became the only woman to win an IndyCar race in 2008 before jumping to NASCAR, the United States' most popular motor sports series.
Janet Guthrie had the previous best qualifying performance by a woman when she qualified ninth for Cup races at Talladega and Bristol speedways in 1977.
After posting the fastest times in Saturday's practice, all eyes were on Patrick as her number 10 Chevrolet took to the sun-kissed super speedway.
The eighth driver of 45 attempting qualify for next Sunday's race, Patrick held her nerve and could not hide her delight at holding onto top spot.
While winning the Daytona pole is a career highlight for Patrick, starting from first on the grid will not be a new experience.
She started from the pole position for three races during her IndyCar career and last season started first in a Nationwide Series race, NASCAR's second tier series.
"Any experience is good experience," said Patrick.
Already one of America's best known athletes, Patrick is sure to be in the spotlight for during the buildup to next Sunday's main event.
The popular driver, who is as well known for her GoDaddy sponsorship, racy commercials and photo shoots, has made tabloid headlines for her romance with fellow NASCAR rookie Ricky Stenhouse.
"He's never been another number out there, he has been someone who has helped me and someone who has given me a lot of advice," said Patrick, who could well battle Stenhouse for rookie of the year honors. "(He is) somebody I have a lot of respect for, someone I have always given a lot of room and been very fair and he does the same for me."
Azarenka topples Serena to win in Doha
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Outgoing world number one Victoria Azarenka showed that being second best was not an option for her as she outclassed Serena Williams 7-6 2-6 6-3 to win the Qatar Open yesterday.
Williams will replace Azarenka on top of the WTA rankings when the new list is released on Monday but the American's hopes of capping off a memorable week with a 48th singles title were dashed by an opponent who extended her 2013 record to 14-0.
Williams's game sparkled as brightly as the diamond ring on her playing right hand during the second set but it was Australian Open champion Azarenka who was running rings around her in the third.
The Belarussian leapt to a 3-0 lead and never relinquished that advantage, polishing off Williams with an un-returnable serve in just under 2-1/2 hours.
In case anyone in the crowd had forgotten that she had entered the tournament as top dog in the world rankings, Azarenka celebrated winning her second successive Qatar title by holding both arms aloft and wagging her index fingers towards the night sky of Doha.
"It's amazing to have achieved what I have achieved," the Belarussian said in a courtside interview.
"I just wanted to fight and give myself every opportunity to get back. I told myself ‘you have to keep it together, you have to do something otherwise Serena's on a roll and she's going to bring her A-game'.
"I had to really step up my game and I'm glad that I could turn it around, stay tough and focussed."
Williams had entered the match on a high after reclaiming the top ranking for the sixth time and beating rival Maria Sharapova in the semi-finals.
Two days after becoming the oldest woman to claim the world number one accolade, it seemed the efforts of the week finally caught up with her 31-year-old limbs.
The player who has a reputation of blowing away opponents was in danger of suffering the same fate herself in the third set.
She hung in to save one match point on her serve at 5-2 down, thanks to a serve that was incorrectly called in, but Azarenka was not about to let her off the hook.
The American saved another match point on Azarenka's serve with a thumping backhand service return but it was the Belarussian who was soon thumping her chest and blowing kisses to the crowd.
Williams did not appear too disappointed with the result.
"It's been great," Williams said. "It was a good match overall. Victoria played really well and did a great job."
Nadal caps comeback with Brazil win
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Rafa Nadal's comeback from a seven-month injury layoff gathered pace as he brushed aside Argentine David Nalbandian 6-2 6-3 to win the Brazil Open, his first title since the 2012 French Open.
The Spanish world number five, playing only his second tournament following his return from injury, broke twice in the first set and recovered from 3-0 down in the second to win in 78 minutes.
The 11-times grand slam champion, who said he still suffers pain in his troublesome knees, has chosen to return to action on the clay courts he favours as he tries to work his way back to match fitness.