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Salah uncertainty overshadows Suarez’ bid for redemption

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By Mark Gleeson

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Uncertainty over whether Mohamed Salah has recovered from his shoulder injury and will play for Egypt in their World Cup opener against Uruguay in Yekaterinburg on Friday is likely to continue until just hours before kick off.

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Egypt’s crucial performer has been battling against time to be fit for the Group A encounter since hurting ligaments in an awkward fall in the early stages of last month’s Champions League final.

The speculation has taken the spotlight away from the return to the World Cup arena of Uruguay’s own talisman, Luis Suarez, whose two previous appearances at the finals have ensured him a legacy of folly.

“I want there to be the possibility of this being my World Cup, after having left in the way I did in 2014,” he said in a recent radio interview.

Now 31, and Uruguay’s leading goal scorer, Suarez was the catalyst for his country’s unlikely march to the semi-finals in 2010. However, he earned notoriety in their controversial quarter-final victory, when he handled the ball on the goal line to deny opponents Ghana a place in the last four instead.

Suarez was hailed a self-sacrificing hero back home for the calculated decision, for which he was sent off and suspended, but derided everywhere else for an act of callous gamesmanship.

In Brazil four years ago, he bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in the closing stage of Uruguay’s last group game and was subsequently slapped with a record nine-match ban from competitive internationals.

But Suarez has continued to be key for his country and is back with a chance to redeem himself in a strong Uruguay side, still with the core of the squad that finished fourth in South Africa eight years ago.

Uruguay finished second in the South American qualifying and are considered favorites to top Group A, despite the presence of hosts Russia.

Egypt return to the World Cup for the first time since 1990, having finally overcome a succession of qualifying failures despite strong performances in the African Nations Cup.

Coach Hector Cuper could choose to play Essam El Hadary, who will set the record for the oldest player to feature at a World Cup if he plays on Friday.

The veteran goalkeeper will be 45 years, four months and 29 days old, easily beating the mark set by 43-year-old Colombian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon at the last finals in Brazil.

(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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Australia’s five-time British Open champion Thomson dies

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson died at his home in Melbourne on Wednesday after a four-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, Golf Australia said. He was 88.

Considered one of Australia’s greatest golfers, Thomson was the first from the country to win the British Open when he took the title in 1954. He won it again in 1955, 1956 and 1958, and was runner-up in 1957.

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Thomson won the fifth of his British Open titles in 1965, a record only since matched by American Tom Watson, who won the last of his five titles in 1983.

Thomson also had 13 other top-10 finishes at the British Open and won 24 other tournaments in Europe. He won events in Asia and South Africa and clinched 11 victories on the U.S. Senior PGA Tour, including nine in 1985 alone.

His only other major victory was the PGA Seniors’ Championship in 1984.

A successful golf course designer upon his retirement, Thomson was the Australian PGA President for 32 years and helped establish the Asian Tour.

He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1988, the same year as Watson.

Thomson, who spent more than 60 years as a respected golf columnist for newspapers and magazines, is survived by his wife Mary, a son and three daughters, 11 grandchildren and four great-grand children.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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Pirates’ Brault sings U.S. national anthem before Brewers game

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When Pirates pitcher Steven Brault took the field at PNC Park in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, it had nothing to do with fastballs or curveballs.

Instead, fulfilling a wish from his grandmother, Brault sang the national anthem before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

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“It’s something specifically my grandma always wanted me to do. She wanted me to sing the national anthem before a major league game that I got to play in, so that’s part of it,” he said, per MLB.com.

The pitcher had sung “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the minors before, but never in the majors. On Tuesday, his teammates came out on the field with him.

Brault, a third-year Pirates pitcher, also said taking the microphone was important for “showing people, showing kids, that it’s OK to do other things. I think that’s really important. It’s something I really live by.”

The lefty reliever is 5-1 with a 4.38 ERA in 19 games, which also includes five starts.

–Field Level Media

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Major League Baseball notebook: Kershaw to make rehab start Saturday

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Clayton Kershaw will make a rehab start on Saturday before returning to the top of the starting rotation with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Tuesday before a doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field that Kershaw, who pitched a three-inning simulated game Monday, was in favor of the stint with Triple-A Oklahoma City.

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Since going on the disabled list with left biceps tendinitis on May 6, Kershaw has pitched just once, a five-inning outing on May 31 in which his back tightened up, sending him right back to the DL. That marked the 30-year-old’s fourth career DL stint caused by a back injury, including one in each of the last three seasons.

Kershaw is 1-4 with a 2.76 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 11 walks in 49 innings pitched this year. His ERA would be his worst mark in a season since 2010, and the velocity on his fastball has been noticeably down this season.

–San Francisco Giants closer Hunter Strickland blew a save and took the loss Monday night, and then the Giants lost Strickland for six to eight weeks when he punched a door in anger and broke his hand.

Strickland had surgery on the pinkie finger of his right hand, according to manager Bruce Bochy. The 29-year-old was placed on the 10-day disabled list, with right-hander Pierce Johnson recalled from Triple-A Sacramento in a corresponding roster move.

Bochy, who has dealt with a string of pitching injuries during the season, wasn’t pleased to add Strickland to the list. Mark Melancon, who began the season on the DL with an elbow injury, isn’t ready to return to the closer role, Bochy said. Either Sam Dyson or Tony Watson will take Strickland’s place.

–The Milwaukee Brewers have given up on offseason addition Boone Logan, designating the left-hander for assignment to make room on the roster for rookie right-hander Freddy Peralta, who started the team’s game against Pittsburgh.

The Brewers signed Logan to a one-year contract this offseason that guaranteed $2.5 million. Milwaukee will pay the remainder of the 33-year-old’s salary unless it can find a trade partner for him in the next seven days.

Activated from the disabled list May 10 after suffering a triceps strain near the end of spring training, Logan posted a 5.91 ERA in 16 games. He has a 4.50 career ERA in 635 appearances. Peralta, 22, made his major league debut this season and has a 3.72 ERA in two starts.

–The St. Louis Cardinals activated right-hander reliever Greg Holland prior to their game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Holland (right hip impingement) was placed on the 10-day disabled list on May 26.

Right-hander Matt Bowman was placed on the DL. Bowman is dealing with blisters on his index and middle fingers of his throwing hand.

Holland, 32, was signed to be the club’s closer, but that job belongs to right-hander Bud Norris. Holland, who tied for a National League-best 41 saves with the Colorado Rockies in 2017, was 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA in 18 appearances prior to going on the DL.

–The Washington Nationals placed first baseman Matt Adams on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to Saturday, due to a fractured left index finger, the team announced.

Adams, 29, suffered the injury while trying to bunt on Friday in a contest against the Toronto Blue Jays. He is hitting .275 with 13 home runs and 36 RBIs in 57 games this season.

The Nationals also recalled Jefry Rodriguez from Double-A Harrisburg and optioned fellow right-hander Wander Suero to Triple-A Syracuse in maneuvering that opened up a roster spot for right-hander Kelvin Herrera, who was acquired from the Kansas City Royals on Monday for three minor leaguers.

–A day-night doubleheader at Wrigley Field pushed back a simulated game scheduled for Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish to Wednesday.

The change in schedule was necessitated by Monday’s home game against the Los Angeles Dodgers being postponed due to the combination of rain and a problem with the lights at Wrigley Field.

Darvish is rehabbing from a right triceps injury that has sidelined him for four-plus weeks.

–The New York Mets placed outfielder Jay Bruce on the 10-day disabled list with a sore right hip, retroactive to Monday. Right-hander Tim Peterson was recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas.

Bruce was scratched from the Mets’ original starting lineup against the Colorado Rockies on Monday. He played Sunday after missing three games with a sore back.

Hampered by the injuries, Bruce is hitting .212 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in 62 games this season. The 31-year-old hasn’t homered since May 7. Peterson, 27, has a 2.08 ERA in three appearances for the Mets this season.

–The Baltimore Orioles designated veteran Pedro Alvarez for assignment, the team announced. Alvarez was batting just .180 with eight homers and 18 RBIs in 45 games. The Orioles have seven days to trade or release the 31-year-old.

Baltimore also recalled catcher Caleb Joseph and infielder Steve Wilkerson from Triple-A Norfolk. Joseph batted .182 in 24 games for the Orioles earlier this season.

Wilkerson is on a major league roster for the first time. He was batting .290 with three homers and nine RBIs in 16 games at Norfolk. Wilkerson was suspended for the first 50 games of the season after testing positive for amphetamine.

–Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has overtaken Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts as MLB’s top All-Star vote-getter, according to the second update of American League voting.

Altuve (1,572,101) narrowly eclipsed Betts (1,568,417). Topping the National League is Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (1,433,140), who narrowly leads Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout (1,323,292) for third in MLB. The NL update was released Monday.

By position, only one leader in the AL has changed since last week, with Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos (678,159) overtaking the New York Yankees’ Gary Sanchez (618,899) by about 60,000 votes after trailing him by about 15,000 a week ago. Each of the other seven positions remain the same at the top, including all three outfielders: Betts in first, Trout in second and the Yankees’ Aaron Judge (1,061,370) in third.

–The Boston Red Sox called up left-handed reliever Robby Scott and optioned righty reliever Justin Haley to Triple-A Pawtucket, the team announced.

Scott, 28, posted a 3.24 ERA between 2016 and 2017 with the Red Sox, his first two years in the majors, but he has yet to appear for them this season. He held lefties to a batting average of .141 during that span.

Haley, who turned 27 on Saturday, has pitched once for Boston this year, allowing no runs on two hits and a walk in two innings last Wednesday. He had a 6.00 ERA over 18 innings with the Minnesota Twins in 2017, his first year in the majors.

–Field Level Media

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Murray unsure about Wimbledon after comeback defeat

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By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) – Andy Murray was back at one of his favorite stomping grounds on Tuesday and while the resumption of his career ended in defeat by Nick Kyrgios, the Scot remained upbeat about his return from injury, if guarded about his Wimbledon participation.

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The 31-year-old three-times Grand Slam champion had not played a competitive match since losing to Sam Querrey in last year’s Wimbledon quarter-finals and opted to have right hip surgery five months ago.

His ranking has slipped to 156 but there were times during a compelling two hour 39 minute clash with Kyrgios in the first round of the Queen’s Club championships when it looked as though he had never been away.

Ultimately, however, he could not last the pace and Kyrgios buckled down after a torrid first set to win 2-6 7-6(4) 7-5.

He was clearly fatigued at the end and there was even the suggestion of a limp but Murray said that was only to be expected after such a long layoff.

“I’m a bit stiff just now. Just normal stuff that you would get after maybe playing on a grasscourt for the first time in a while,” Murray told reporters.

“The longest I have practiced in the last year has been an hour and a half. I was on the court for significantly longer than that in a more intense environment. So, you know, I’m feeling decent, considering that.”

Questions quickly turned to Wimbledon which starts in less than two weeks. Murray would not say how he will prepare, or whether he would even take part.

Going straight into best-of-five set tennis with such little playing time would be difficult and Murray hinted he play at next week’s Eastbourne event. Then again, he also raised the prospect of opting to miss Wimbledon altogether, depending on how his body reacts in the next few days.

“I won’t rule anything out just now. I won’t rule out playing Eastbourne and not playing Wimbledon,” Murray, given a standing ovation when he arrived on court, said.

“I wouldn’t rule out not playing a tournament next week and trying to get matches like in an exhibition tournament, as well, to get ready for Wimbledon.

“I’m not sure yet. I’m really happy that I got on the match court today and played. It was a close decision. I have not been practicing loads at all.”

He continued: “I really haven’t played a whole lot of tennis, so I’m happy I got out there and competed and performed respectably.

“It’s something I need to speak to my team about. If I wake up and I really don’t feel good tomorrow, then that’s obviously not a great sign for best-of-five-set tennis.”

FIRST SET STRUGGLES

Kyrgios, who has also had hip and elbow injuries, had lost all five previous meetings with Murray and a sixth loss beckoned as he dropped serve three times, each time with a wild double-fault, in a shambolic first set.

Once he stopped the tippy-tappy tennis and showboating started crunching 140mph serves and thunderous groundstrokes, he began to give Murray a real examination.

Murray saved two match points at 4-5 in the decider but at 5-6 he double-faulted to hand Kyrgios the win.

The Australian, a close friend of Murray’s, said it had been a difficult engagement.

“It was a very awkward match for me because I was thinking the guy hadn’t played a match in a year, and I was getting smoked in the first set,” he said. “I was, like, this is not going to be a good look if I lose this match.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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Murray loses on return, Dimitrov sets up Djokovic clash

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By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) – Andy Murray’s long-awaited return to competitive tennis ended in defeat by Nick Kyrgios at Queen’s Club on Tuesday but there were plenty of positives in his 2-6 7-6(4) 7-5 loss.

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The 31-year-old Scot only gave himself the green light to play the grasscourt event on Saturday, saying he had zero expectations going into his first tournament since losing in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon last year.

Murray, who had right hip surgery in January, lacked match sharpness but his timing and, more importantly, his movement generally looked assured as he fought tenaciously to try to stem a stirring Kyrgios comeback.

Having saved match points at 4-5 in the decider, Murray looked as though he might squeeze home but Kyrgios, distracted and error-strewn in the early stages, hung on for a first win at the sixth attempt against the former world number one.

A compelling two hour, 39 minute tussle full of dynamic shot-making from both men ended with a Murray double-fault.

“It was nice to finally get a win over him but I can’t really count it,” Kyrgios, who has also had injury problems to contend with this year, said on court.

Earlier, second seed Grigor Dimitrov survived a tough first-round workout against Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur to set up a second-round clash with former world number one Novak Djokovic.

The 27-year-old Bulgarian was edged out in a second-set tiebreak but eventually prevailed 6-3 6-7(4) 6-3, sealing victory with an ace.

Djokovic, playing at the prestigious London event for the first time since 2010 after being handed a late wildcard, outclassed Australian John Millman 6-2 6-1.

The Serb has fallen to 22 in the ATP rankings after 12 months disrupted by an elbow injury, but the three-times Wimbledon champion looked sharp against qualifier Millman.

He was briefly held up when an alarm went off in the grounds but was far too good for Millman, finishing with a flourish.

“It’s one of the most beautiful courts to play on and it’s good to be back on the grass,” Djokovic said on court.

“I’ve struggled a bit in the last year and a half and that has taken a bit of confidence out of me but I’m trying to get that back and today was perfect.”

TRICKY OPENER

Dimitrov, champion in 2014, made a reasonably assured start and said he was relieved to avoid having his Wimbledon preparations cut short in what was a tricky opener.

“I was a bit rusty obviously and need to brush up on a few things and come back and get a bit better,” Dimitrov said.

“I just want to play as many matches as possible on grass. It’s a tough field here and you have to be on the edge every single round.”

Third seed Kevin Anderson fell at the first hurdle, losing to Argentine Leonardo Mayer in three sets while eight seed Tomas Berdych also went out to Julien Benneteau.

Milos Raonic reached the second round after Indian opponent Yuki Bhambri retired injured in a match where the Canadian also suffered an injury in the final game. Raonic then pulled out of the tournament after being told the extent of the muscle strain.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Alison Williams and Christian Radnedge)

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Russia on brink of knockout stage after win over Egypt

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By Simon Evans

ST PETERSBURG (Reuters) – World Cup hosts Russia virtually booked their place in the second round with a 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday that moved them to top of Group A with six points from two games.

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A three goal blitz in the space of 15 minutes early in the second half put the Russians firmly in command before Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, who had a subdued game on his return from injury, struck from a penalty, awarded after a video review.

Should Uruguay (3 points) beat Saudi Arabia (0 points) on Wednesday, it will ensure the South Americans and the Russians go through to the round of 16 with a game to spare. A draw would also send the hosts through.

It is an unexpectedly positive situation for a Russian side that came into this tournament amidst scepticism and pessimism at home. After the two confident victories, with eight goals, the public appear to have taken the team to their hearts.

Far from being over-awed by the pressure on them to perform, there is a real look of confidence and at times swagger about Stanislav Cherchesov’s side, who beat Saudi Arabia 5-0 in the opening game.

Egypt, whose final group game is against the Saudis, have only the slimmest of chances of staying in the tournament although they will at least be hopeful of picking up a first win in what is their third World Cup.

Hector Cuper’s side looked confident given the return of their talisman Salah, but the forward was short of full sharpness and made little impact in what was a tight first half.

But just two minutes after the interval, Russia got their breakthrough and they never looked back.

Aleksandr Golovin’s cross was punched out by Egyptian keeper Mohamed El-Shenawy, only as far as Roman Zobnin whose low drive was heading wide until Ahmed Fathi’s outstretched leg turned the ball into his own net.

Remarkably, it was the fifth own goal of the tournament so far. The record amount for a World Cup is six in 1998.

If there was some good fortune to the opener, the Russians’ second was pure quality.

Alexander Samedov pushed the ball out wide to Mario Fernandes, the Brazilian born right back who had powered forward from deep to deliver a perfect pull-back into the path of Denis Cheryshev who slotted home his third goal of the tournament.

Two minutes later it was 3-0 via a route one play, as target man Artem Dzyuba chested down a long ball, bustled past Ali Gabr and drove home.

MANIC CELEBRATIONS

Dzyuba, a throw-back physical center forward who troubled Egypt’s defense all night, celebrated in manic fashion.

“The most important thing is we won. The whole country is happy I think, Russia is partying. We are unbelievably happy. Thank you to everyone for the support.

“Every player battled today in every area of the pitch. We didn’t give Egypt a centimeter of the pitch. We held back Salah and deserved to win,” he said.

Salah, who had not played since going off injured in Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid last month, managed some consolation when he converted from the spot.

The penalty came after a video assistant referee (VAR) ruling that he had been brought down by Zobnin inside the area after the referee had initially awarded a free kick.

“We had a good first half then we had 10-15 really bad minutes and that’s why we lost,” said Cuper, who immediately faced questions over his future.

“Whether I should stay or not does not depend on me and we still have another match. In a World Cup you have to wait till the very last minute although our chances are minute,” he added.

(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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