Pellegrini not feeling pressure despite Man City woes

The Premier League champions are struggling to keep pace with leaders Chelsea and face an uphill battle to stay in the Champions League after last week’s chastening 2-1 home defeat by Barcelona in the last 16 first leg.

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Having lost in the FA Cup to second tier Middlesbrough, the Chilean’s hopes of backing up last season’s title and League Cup with more trophies look slim, leading to inevitable speculation about his job.

Asked a Tuesday’s news conference whether he was concerned, he said: “No. I never haven’t any pressure to win an amount of titles, to win a title every year if I want to continue here.”

“The only pressure is when I don’t see my team playing like I want it to.

“Never when I sign a contract do they tell me I have to win the title every year, or five titles in five years,” he added.

“Only one team wins and that doesn’t mean all the others are failures. There are different ways to analyse a season, the title is important but not the only important thing.”

City go into Wednesday’s home match against bottom club Leicester City five points adrift of Chelsea who also have a game in hand. Third-placed Arsenal are only four points behind Pellegrini’s side.

Sunday’s 2-1 defeat by Liverpool was a hammer blow for City and left them five points worse off than they were after 27 games of last season when they surged through to take the title for the second time in three seasons.

“We are second, we have just two or three points less than last year and we continue in the Champions League,” said Pellegrini.

“I don’t think it’s important to think about what happened in the past, it’s important to think about what will happen in the future, to improve, to be consistent for 90 minutes and not have those bad moments in games.

“The concern is to win the next 11 games. It’s important to trust in what we do because I think it’s the same team that won the League Cup and Premier League last season, that scored a lot of goals.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)

Automakers vow not to give up on electric

Top automakers are vowing not to give up on weak-selling electric vehicles – even as they unveil an array of powerful luxury cars with conventional engines aimed at a growing global automarket.

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BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer says that his company cannot do without battery-powered vehicles such as its i3 urban compact.

“In the future, electric drive vehicles will be in demand,” he said at the Geneva International Motor Show, adding that the Munich-based automaker could not meet its targets to reduce emissions without them.

Only about 75,000 of the 12.5 million vehicles sold last year in Europe were electrics or hybrids.

Still, auto companies have sunk billions into developing alternative propulsion vehicles over the long term, due to government requirements to limit vehicle emissions and with an eye to restrictions on autos in China due to heavy air pollution.

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said hybrids combining internal combustion and batteries were “truly attractive cars that represent the best of both worlds” and serve as a bridge to future no-emissions vehicles.

He cautioned, however, that the long-life batteries needed for electrics to conquer the market are at least five years off.

Daimler introduced a rechargeable plug-in hybrid of its C-class sedan.

The calls to keep developing alternative-drive cars come even as high-end sports cars take pride of place at this year’s Geneva show.

Lamborghini, Ferrari, Audi and McLaren all are unveiling high-speed machines costing hundreds of thousands, while Daimler has the Maybach Pullman stretch limousine, which will go on sale for north of 500,000 euros ($A715,154.12).

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn stressed his company’s commitment to new technologies even as the company’s Lamborghini brand showed off its Aventador LP 750-4 Superveloce, a sleek beast of a sports car with an enormous 750 horsepower and a top speed of over 350km/h).

Volkswagen also unveiled a concept sport coupe that’s hybrid driven and can reach 93km/h.

BlackBerry offers new phones, shifts focus

BlackBerry may be launching four new smartphones over the coming year, but the struggling company is staking its future on becoming a giant in software.

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“We are committed to making software as a business,” Chen said at the Mobile World Congress wireless show in Barcelona on Tuesday.

“We are going to evolve.”

The company that once popularised handsets with full keyboards has had to reassess its goals since sales failed to keep up with other smartphones in recent years.

Though it presented its new BlackBerry Leap on Tuesday – a “low-to-mid” market phone that will go on sale in Europe in April and be followed by three more handsets – its focus was on software.

In particular, it wants to make its more business-friendly applications, such as its messaging service, available to non-BlackBerry phones.

It will roll out over the next year the BlackBerry Experience, a set of three software packages crafted to improve security and communications for business and government customers.

It also presented its Work Life software designed to allow companies to separate billing and communications on employees’ smartphones used for both private and business.

The Canadian smartphone maker once commanded 50 per cent of the US market, but has seen its share evaporate as consumers flock to devices made by Apple and those run on Google’s Android operating system, like the popular Samsung models.

Chen’s major move to transform BlackBerry came in November, when it separated its most successful applications from its devices and made them available for the operating systems of would-be competitors.

It has since struck new deals to provide software to Samsung.

Chen said BlackBerry will try and strike a balance.

“We are going to compete with Samsung and we are going to collaborate with Samsung,” Chen said.

“We have a very small hardware percentage around the world today, so our strategy is to expand our server-available market by making it cross-platform. We can now have a business that spans 99 per cent of the market.”

Hardware sales still represent 73 per cent of BlackBerry’s revenues, and Chen said his vision is that devices and software become “two pillars” of his business.

Bereaved to view MH17 wreckage at base

GILZE-RIJEN AIRBASE, Netherlands, March 3 AFP – The first of around 500 relatives of those killed in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine have visited the wreckage at a Dutch airbase.

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The wreckage was brought to the Gilze-Rijen base in the northern Netherlands late last year as part of a probe into what exactly shot down the Boeing 777 in July, killing all 298 people on board.

Around two-thirds of those killed were Dutch, while citizens from a total of 11 countries died in the disaster, including 38 Australian citizens and residents.

Pieces of the plane’s fuselage have been laid out in hangars at the base where they can be viewed by the bereaved until Saturday and by journalists on Tuesday.

“There are about 500 people coming, not only from the Netherlands but also from other countries,” said Sara Vernooij of the Dutch Safety Board, which is leading the probe into the crash.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of supplying pro-Kremlin insurgents with the missile that downed the jet.

But Moscow and the separatists deny responsibility and have instead pointed the finger at Kiev.

The Dutch are leading international efforts towards a criminal prosecution, if the culprits can be identified.

International investigators from Ukraine, Malaysia, Australia, the United States, Britain and Russia have already carried out a preliminary investigation of the wreckage, the OVV said.

The three-dimensional reconstruction of part of the aircraft will begin later this month, focusing on the cockpit and business class section, the OVV said.

A preliminary report in September, which apportioned no blame, said the plane “broke up in the air probably as the result of structural damage caused by a large number of high-energy objects that penetrated the aircraft from outside”.

Luis Enrique unfazed by Suarez petulance

Suarez, who scored one goal and was involved in the other two in a 3-1 victory over the Andalusian side, was clearly not happy as he walked off the pitch to be replaced by Pedro Rodriguez in the closing stages.

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But ahead of the King’s Cup semi-final second leg against Villarreal, Luis Enrique said it was not a worry for Suarez to be substituted late in a game.

“I’m not looking at what took place off the field,” he told a news conference.

“When I played I didn’t want to be involved in every minute. In the kickabouts and in matches where the substitutes were playing, I wasn’t bothered about playing then.”

The Catalan side have beaten Villarreal twice in the league this season and hold a 3-1 lead from the first leg at the Nou Camp.

If they can finish off the job they will face either local rivals Espanyol or Athletic Bilbao, who drew 1-1 in the first leg.

“Barca always go out to win the games and the objective in the return leg of the cup is to beat Villarreal,” Luis Enrique said.

“If we win the game then there is no possibility of a surprise.”

Barca’s devastating forward line of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez have scored 32 goals since the start of the year.

“We are in top condition considering the stage of the season and the minutes already played,” Luis Enrique said. “To score will be more than important for us.”

Villarreal held Real Madrid to a 1-1 draw in La Liga last weekend and have impressed this season with the quality of their football and a solid backline.

The fact Villarreal coach Marcelino rested several players against Real also suggests they have not written off the tie.

“Until the game starts we don’t know what Villarreal are going to do and this is the doubt,” Luis Enrique said.

“The Villarreal side that we have seen in other league games is different to the one that has faced us,” he added.

“In the other matches they have created chances with the ball, they have been dangerous and used the wings.”

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

Chase try assist has rugby league buzzing

Former St George Illawarra playmaker Rangi Chase has the rugby league world in raptures over his sensational try assist from the weekend.

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Three weeks into the season, there is only one talking point, Chase’s brilliant handling that created a try in Salford’s first win of the season.

Just 3,606 people were there to see it live but close to half a million have since watched the 2011 Man of Steel’s spectacular efforts against Hull on Saturday.

Chase was never able to make his mark in the NRL, playing 31 games across two seasons for the Dragons after making debuting for the Wests Tigers in 2006 – his only appearance for the club.

But Castleford fans were regularly thrilled by his crazy footwork and bewildering handling skills during his first five seasons in the Super League – and Chase reached new heights in a dazzling move on the weekend.

He came up with a trademark juggle before producing the piece de resistance, an outrageous one-handed Benji Marshall-style flick pass around his back to get Josh Griffin over for a sensational try.

Dual international Wendell Sailor drooled over it and urged his 75,000 Twitter followers to take a look while Salford’s own video has been watched by more than 55,000 people from Colombia to Japan.

“It’s just practice,” Chase said.

“It’s what I’ve done since a kid growing up, I’m always practising stuff like that. It comes natural, I suppose.

“People say no one knows what’s happening, well it’s the defence that doesn’t know what’s happening. I know what’s happening.

“It’s the sort of skill I practise over and over all the time in training and in my spare time so when the opportunity presents itself, I’m not afraid to do it.

“Josh was aware it was coming. He’s played with me before and I do it at training. He said to me after the game he knew it was coming.

“It’s good to put people over for tries, it’s what I try and do, it’s my job. I’d probably rather set them up than score.”

Chase will duel with exiled NRL star Todd Carney this Saturday, when Salford go to Catalans Dragons.

German football in spotlight after commission findings

For decades the country sought to investigate East Germany’s systematic doping before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 but there were indications doping was also present in West German sports.

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Those suggestions have now, in part, been substantiated, said the evaluation commission on Freiburg University’s doping past with evidence pointing to cycling and football.

The 60-page report itself has not been published yet but Monday’s two-page statement released by one of the commission members, and confirmed by the commission, was enough to cause a furore.

Bundesliga club VfB Stuttgart, who won the league in 1984, and Freiburg, in the second division at the time of the claims, said they had yet to see the report which goes back decades, making cross-referencing information difficult.

Germany’s cycling federation (BDR) was reserved in its reaction on Tuesday.

“For the last 10 years, the German cycling federation has positioned itself clearly in the fight against doping and through prevention and information contribute to a new generation that sees manipulation for what it is. Cheating,” BDR general secretary Martin Wolf said.

Germany’s sacred cow — the Bundesliga football league — has never seen such allegations with only a handful of positive doping tests in the past several decades.

All of these were quickly dismissed as the fault of individuals rather than a network of organised doping, keeping the league’s drugs-free image intact.

But it must now face the most serious allegations yet with Stuttgart and Freiburg players having allegedly used banned substances.

The German Football Association (DFB) said that although it had not been informed of the case, it wanted full transparency.

“There are grave allegations here that of course need to be completely and fully cleared up,” DFB Vice President Rainer Koch said on the DFB website.

“One has to admit that the anti-doping fight in those years was not being conducted seriously and at the DFB it was not dealt with as meticulously as one would have wished.

“Today German football is very consistent and strict in its fight against doping. Especially in the last 20 years a lot has changed and a lot has been done,” he said.

The Football League (DFL), contacted by Reuters, did not want to comment on the findings at this time.

At the heart of the issue is former Freiburg University’s sports trauma unit chief Armin Kluemper, who allegedly provided athletes with anabolic steroids.

Evaluation commission member Fritz Soergel said, especially for football, it was time to confront these allegations.

“The DFB has been confronted with this since yesterday,” Soergel told German ZDF television. “After these revelations… and because football is the people’s sport, the most popular sport, no stone should be left unturned.”

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

NBA strugglers Denver sack coach Shaw

Brian Shaw was fired as coach of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets on Tuesday after going 56-85 in a season and a half in the job.

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Melvin Hunt, in his fifth season as an assistant coach for the Nuggets, was named the club’s interim coach for the remainder of the season.

The Nuggets have lost six games in a row and fallen to 20-39, third-worst in the Western Conference and 12 1/2 games behind Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot in the West with 23 games remaining in the season.

“You won’t find a better guy than Brian and he is one of the brightest basketball minds I’ve ever been around,” said Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly.

“Unfortunately things didn’t go as we hoped, but we know with his basketball acumen that he has a very bright future.”

Shaw was hired to replace George Karl when he was fired in 2013 after guiding the Nuggets to nine consecutive playoff trips.

Never missing the playoffs from 2004 to 2013, the Nuggets lost in the first round nine times and reached the 2009 conference finals, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Nuggets went 36-46 last season, missing the playoffs in Shaw’s first campaign, and were struggling this year.

“Expectations have been raised and we want more,” Connelly said.

“This season our management staff has remained patient and supportive as decisions of this nature are never taken lightly.

“Patience is encouraged, as long as the organisation continues to show progress toward a greater goal.

“However, competing for championships is our goal, and therefore we decided to make this decision now and look forward to conducting an extensive head coaching search upon the season’s conclusion.”

UK officials may be accountable for abuse

Some 370 girls may have suffered sexual exploitation in one English county in the last 16 years.

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The damning indictment of failings by police and social workers in Oxfordshire echoed an investigation last year in northwest England, which produced a larger catalogue of abuse and failures by authorities to act on information that might have prevented abuse.

Though the serious case review published on Tuesday found no wilful professional misconduct by organisations, it cited a “worrying lack of curiosity and follow through.”

The release of the report came as Prime Minister David Cameron warned of sexual abuse on an “industrial scale” in Britain and accused people and organisations of “walking on by” when faced with abuse.

Cameron deemed sexual exploitation a “national threat,” on a par with organised crime, and said he was considering measures to make public officials accountable if they fail protect children from sexual exploitation.

The proposed measures were outlined at a meeting called by Cameron that brought police, healthcare experts and ministers together with victims.

An estimated 1400 children were sexually exploited in Rotherham, a northern England town. A report last year that cited “collective failures” by authorities between 1997 and 2013 shocked the country and led to calls for action.

Alan Bedford, author of the Oxfordshire report, said the review panel was “conscious that these numbers may seem low given the higher figures in Rotherham, but the work was carefully done and was debated and agreed by panel members.”

Nine men were charged in Oxfordshire and seven were convicted, with five drawing life sentences. Further investigations and trials continue.

“What happened to the child victims of the sexual exploitation in Oxfordshire was indescribably awful,” the review said.

“The child victims and their families feel very let down. Their accounts of how they perceived professional work are disturbing and chastening.”

Though the defendants were predominantly of Pakistani origin and the victims were white, the report said no evidence was seen of “any agency not acting when they should have done because of racial sensitivities.”

African leaders urge Ebola ‘Marshall Plan’

Leaders of the west African countries worst hit by Ebola have urged the world to back a Marshall Plan to help them stamp out the disease and rebuild their shattered economies.

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Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma and Guinean President Alpha Conde pressed the need for recovery at an international conference in Brussels as the number of new cases slows.

More than 9700 people have died of the disease since the west African epidemic emerged in southern Guinea in December 2013, with nearly 24,000 people infected, according to the World Health Organization.

“The impact of Ebola on our economies has been profound. The most important long-term response to Ebola therefore rests in plans and strategies for economic recovery,” Sirleaf told the EU-backed conference.

“There is no doubt this will require significant resources, even a Marshall Plan,” she said, referring to the US-led aid plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II.

Conde also underlined the need for a Marshall Plan, telling a press conference that it was as if the region is “coming out of a war” with its economy and public services decimated.

The International Monetary Fund in Washington this week approved funding and debt relief worth about $US187 million ($A239.10 million) for Sierra Leone for coming years, with $US85 million of that to be disbursed immediately.

The charity Oxfam has previously made similar calls for a Marshall Plan-type effort to help stricken west Africa.

The countries at the centre of the Ebola epidemic are forecast to lose 12 per cent of their combined gross domestic product this year, according to World Bank estimates.

In addition, their health sectors have been partially wiped out by the epidemic or forced to divert resources to fighting Ebola at the expense of other diseases like measles, malaria and AIDS.