Joshua eyes unified heavyweight title

Anthony Joshua plans to use the first defense of his IBF heavyweight title against Dominic Breazeale on Saturday as a stepping stone to becoming the undisputed champion of the world.

The unbeaten 26-year-old takes on the American challenger at The O2 in London and insists defending the belt doesn’t add any extra pressure to the contest.

“I’m looking at winning this fight in good style so I can unify titles some time way down the line,” he said.

“There is still hard work in a weird way because, even if it is not physically draining, it is mentally because my coach expects a lot from me.

“He wants me to step up the levels, he wants me to be sharp, so even though it is not physically draining, there is still a lot of mental preparation to do as well.

“It is what it is, it is just a fight. It’s the same ring, referee and I’ve just got a different opponent in the corner and it was the same situation when I didn’t have the IBF belt so that is what I’m saying about mental preparation – I’ve just got to chill out.”

Joshua, who claimed the belt from Charles Martin back in April, weighed in at 109.8Kg, while Breazeale tipped the scales at 115.2Kg.

The British boxer has knocked out all 16 of his professional opponents, with compatriot Dillian Whyte the only man to take him past three rounds.

Tyson Fury, who withdrew from his heavyweight title rematch against Wladimir Klitschko yesterday, predicted a quick Joshua victory.

“Breazeale is unbeaten, he’s tall and heavy but that’s as far as it goes,” he said.

“He’s no more talented than Mariusz Wach and the rest of them that come over here and he’ll get busted up.

“This one might be a big old boy but if you want a chance of beating Joshua, you have to be able to box and I am not sure he can.

“Joshua is inexperienced but don’t forget he’s an Olympic gold medalist, so he wins this. There’s only one thing I am expecting and that’s another Joshua knockout.”

The Joshua bout is the headline event on what promises to be a big night for British boxing.

George Groves and Martin Murray face each other in an eliminator for the WBA world super middleweight title, while Chris Eubank Jr defends his British middleweight title against Wales’ Tom Doran.

John Wayne Hibbert meets Andrea Scarpa for the vacant WBC Silver super lightweight title and Olympic bronze medallist Anthony Ogogo is also in action.

Euro 2016: Russia v England Team News, Expected Starting Lineups And History

Russia kick-off their UEFA European Championship 2016 campaign today as Leonid Slutsky’s side face Group B favorites England in Marseille.

Slutsky’s preparations for the tournament have been hit by injuries, with midfielder Igor Denisov joining Yuri Zhirkov, Alan Dzagoev, Denis Cheryshev, and Oleg Kuzmin on the sidelines.

Spartak Moscow’s Denis Glushakov is doubtful for the game and faces a late fitness test, while Krasnodar’s Dmitri Torbinski has been unable to train this week and could miss out.

Paval Mamaev is in line to replace the injured Denisov, but the Krasnodar midfielder says Slutsky has “not detailed for certain anything about central midfield.”

Zenit’s Artur Yusupov, who was on holiday in the same Monaco hotel as the Russian team, was called up to replace Denisov but may not be ready to face England.

“I was planning to fly back to Moscow (on Monday),” Yusupov told UEFA.com.

“I didn’t even have my football boots with me and none of my kit. I had to borrow from (Russia midfielder) Roman Neustadter.

“After being on holiday for 14 days, of course it is difficult to get down to work. I don’t really know myself what state I will be in.”

By contrast, England arrive in France as the only team win all of their qualifying fixtures, and have since claimed victories over Turkey, Australia and Portugal in their warm-up matches.

Questions over Roy Hodgson’s team selection have dominated the pre-match build-up, with captain Wayne Rooney’s role in the team coming under increased scrutiny.

Slutsky has claimed Rooney is “not the player that he was”, but the Manchester United striker says he is looking forward to the tournament.

“You can sense the excitement around the team and around the team hotel, and I think you sense that excitement around the country,” he said.

“Certainly the fans are doing that, but the players are doing exactly the same.

“We’re the ones going out on the pitch and we’re the ones who have to go and do it, so hopefully we can and we’ll give everyone good memories.”

Rooney faces competition for a starting role from Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, although newspaper reports have suggested the latter is likely to start on the bench.

England defenders Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Ryan Bertrand all suffered knocks during training earlier in the week, but are expected to be available for selection.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding England’s line-up, Hodgson believes England have an excellent chance of making progress.

“There is definitely a selection headache in terms of so many good players who could quite easily command a place in the team,” he said.

“I’m pleased with the headaches and that having gone through three matches and some intensive training we still have all our players available.

“We know we have a team who, if they perform to the level we think they can perform to, will make it difficult for our opponents.

“We have a lot of respect for Russia. We think they are a very good team, a very experienced team with lot of players who’ve played together a long time at CSKA and Zenit.”

With England’s starting eleven still unknown, Stutsky plans to announce the Russian line-up as late as possible.

“There is always a debate between youth and experience,” said Slutsky.

“It is impossible to say which is better and we have had this discussion on a number of occasions. We will also have a lot of players who will be experiencing a major tournament for the first time.

“I don’t think it would be correct to say whether this is the most important match of my career. I know there is a lot of responsibility with the whole country watching and I would like us to play good football tomorrow and for them to get the result they want.”

Artem Dzyuba is expected to get the nod in attack after bagging eight goals during Russia’s qualifying campaign.

The Zenit marksman is hoping to have a big impact on this year’s tournament.

“Four years ago, before Euro 2012, which I eventually did not play in, I called myself a lion cub, but now I am a lion,” he said.

The two countries have met just twice in the last decade during the Euro 2008 qualifiers, with England winning 3-0 at Wembley, while Russia triumphed 2-1 in Moscow in a game famous for a misplaced Gary Neville back-pass that led to an own goal and England failing to qualify for the tournament.

Russia, as the Soviet Union, won the first ever European Championships in 1960 beating Yugoslavia 2-1 after extra-time in the final.

They have lost their three subsequent Euro finals in 1964, 1972 and 1988.

England have never progressed beyond the semi-finals at the Euros.

The Three Lions finished third in 1968 and were knocked out in the last four by Germany in 1996.

England have been eliminated on penalties in three of their last four Euros in 1996, 2004 and 2012.

Expected Starting Lineups:

England: Hart; Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose; Dier, Alli; Lallana, Rooney, Sterling; Kane.
Russia: Akinfeev; Smolnikov, V Berezutski, Ignashevich, Schennikov; Golovin, Neustadter; Smolov, Shatov, Kokorin; Dzyuba.

Copa America Blunder: Organizers play Chile’s national anthem for Uruguay’s team

The Copa America Centenary organizers were left red-faced with embarrassment after they played Chile’s national anthem by mistake for Uruguay’s team in the latter’s match against Mexico on Sunday.

Uruguay players had lined up before kickoff but as the unfamiliar music played over the stadium sound system, Uruguayan players looked around awkwardly not knowing what to do next. The Uruguayan press immediately took offense at what it termed as a disrespectful gesture. Video of the incident is below:

For their part, the organizers were quick to recognize their mistake and rectify it, while also issuing an immediate apology:

Mexico comfortably won their game against Uruguay 3-1 in a match that saw both sides get a red card, the earliest own goal in Copa America history (in the fourth minute) and a late double-salvo in the 85th and 90th minutes by Mexico to close out a game they dominated in possession.

Earlier on the weekend, Brazil could only draw their opening game against Ecuador while hosts USA were easily beaten by Colombia in the opening game on Friday night.

Argentina play Chile on Monday.

A Ball-Slapping, Board-Breaking Review of Warriors v Cavaliers

Game 1 of the NBA 2016 Playoff Finals between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers ended predictably – a comfortably win for the Warriors, who were playing at home. The highlights though, are unlikely to feature any of Warriors’ usual suspects.

Going into the finals, Cavaliers and James made a big deal of how the team had all the key players fit and had gelled better as a team this season than the last (when they lost to the Warriors in the finals). However, the same could also be said of the Warriors and the NBA’s record-breaking team continued it’s unstoppable dominance, using it’s bench strength to comfortably pick apart the Cavs in a 104-89 win.

Curry and Thompson combined for just 20 points in the win, as Shaun Livingston came off the bench and scored 20 points in a virtuoso performance, ably supported by Andre Iguodala (12) and Leandro Barbosa (11) while of the regular starters, Draymond Green led the pack with 16.

For the Cavs, the best efforts of LeBron James (a near triple-double of 23 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists) and Kyrie Irving (26 points, four assists) were wasted when the rest of the team, and critically their bench, couldn’t get going.

Here are the highlights from the game:

Despite the deflated nature of the Cavaliers’ performance, there was the now-usual ‘manhandling’ incident with Matthew Delladova the culprit, this time fouling Andre Iguodala by slapping him in the crotch.

The play was reviewed and called as a common foul. Iguodala hit a three the very next play, so there’s little to suggest Delladova’s overhand tactics were successful.

The Warriors cruising to a win was clearly not enough for coach Steve Kerr, who smashed his whiteboard in anger on the sidelines during the game.

Cleveland put down the loss to a poor fourth quarter but if Game 1 is any indication, it doesn’t matter if they keep up a tight game throughout – as long they are competing with the Warriors in a shootout, they will lose.

The Cavs need to make their size advantage count, and stop the Warriors from running their shooting game. And if the best response is a crotch-shot, this could be over by next Friday.

Game 2 is on Sunday night, and James and co need to think of something new fast.

Is institutional racism to blame for the lack of US soccer stars?

The head of US Soccer’s diversity task force says the some of the country’s most gifted players are prevented from showcasing their talents because of their cultural background.

Doug Andreassen believes athletes in mostly African American and Latino neighborhoods get left behind, while parents from wealthier areas are able to fund their child’s progression in the game.

Andreassen points out that last year’s Women’s World Cup winners were almost all white, and that several of the non-white players in the US Copa America squad grew up overseas.

“People don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “The system is not working for the underserved community. It’s working for the white kids.

“We used to say to ourselves: ‘How good would we be if we could just get the kids in the cities?'”

The US pay-to-play system is said to be the main contributory factor to the disparity, with talented youngsters from poorer backgrounds heavily reliant on scholarships or sponsorships to break into the game.

Julio Borge, director of coaching at the largely Latino Heritage Soccer Club in Pleasant Hill, California said: “You are buying skill – but there are some pieces of the game that just can’t be bought.

“In my area, we are missing a ton of these kids. A lot of coaches don’t have time to see everybody.

“It’s expensive to try out for the big programs, so many don’t even go after the opportunity.”

Borge believes US Soccer should implement a strategy to ensure the best players, whatever their background, have a route to the top.

“We need someone to speak up – (Jurgen) Klinsmann or whatever – and say: ‘Here are the players we are looking for, and here’s how the system should be built.’

The diversity problem is seemingly more prevalent in the women’s game than the men’s.

While more than a third of the men’s roster in this month’s Copa America will be non-white, the women’s team playing at the Rio Olympics will be mostly white.

With five players from the women’s team threatening to boycott Rio 2016 after filing a wage-discrimination complaint, it appears the issues of diversity and equality are a long way from being resolved.

Soccer has greatly improved in the US in recent years, but Borge insists more needs to be done by both US Soccer and the MLS to create a structure where players can progress in the game, whatever their background might be.

“We have coaches who need to recruit talent from all over the nation and invest in the Olympic Development Program and let them be creative and let the let them play freely,” he said.

“It takes huge dedication and it takes money, but we have the money at US Soccer.”

Andreassen also believes more should be done to ensure soccer becomes as accessible and diverse as sports such as Basketball or American Football.

“There are the kids in the diverse communities playing on the street corner, and we have to find them,” said Andreassen.

“Someone knows they are there, either the church or the school.

“Maybe it’s a pastor or a principal or someone at the YMCA or Boy’s and Girl’s Club. We have to identify those community leaders.

“I think I’ve pushed the ball one revolution. But my goal is to get it down to the goalline.”