Ireland vs Italy Six Nations clash in danger as coronavirus outbreak threatens more events

Ireland and Italy may have to wait to face off in the 2020 edition of the Six Nations as the ongoing coronavirus outbreak threatens to see more sporting events called off. Title hopefuls Ireland are due to play host to bottom-of-the-table Italy next month and will be desperate to get back to winning ways following last weekend’s defeat to England.

March 7’s Aviva Stadium showdown is in danger, though, with Irish minister for health Simon Harris admitting the fixture is one event under review.

“This situation is evolving,” Harris said. “There will be some big decisions that have to be made in the coming days including mass gatherings.

“Most particularly, I’m thinking of the Ireland-Italy rugby game that’s due to take place in the not-too distant future.”

Ireland’s Six Nations campaign back in 2001 was disrupted by the Foot and Mouth crisis which swept across Britain and the Emerald Isle.

Ireland had to play their home fixtures the subsequent autumn, with England ultimately running out as champions that year.

Last weekend’s women’s Six Nations match between Italy and Scotland was called off over coronavirus fears on the continent.

Ulster and the Ospreys’ upcoming Pro14 games in Italy scheduled for the coming weekend have already been cancelled.

Serie A games have been postponed too, while the upcoming Chinese Grand Prix will have to be rescheduled for later this year after chiefs pulled the plug on it.

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The 2020 Olympics are due to take place in Tokyo but Team GB’s deputy chef de Mission Paul Ford says there is no cause for concern.

“We’re following the situation, working closely with all the appropriate authorities,” he said. “But everything we’re hearing is that the Games are on track and will happen in the summer.

“We’re five months away so it’s a long period of time. There’s no point getting into a hypothetical discussion around ifs, buts and maybes.

“We are reassured it is being absolutely taken to the highest level inside Japanese government, IOC and World Health authorities to ensure what is right and appropriate for everyone.”

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Intensely private Vanessa Bryant shares emotional stories at Kobe memorial

LOS ANGELES — Beyonce sang. Michael Jordan cried. Shaquille O'Neal joined the basketball luminaries paying tribute to Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna during a memorial service Monday at Staples Center. But the most emotional moment came from an intensely private woman.

Vanessa Bryant shared with a crowd of about 20,000 what she said made her husband special off the basketball court and why they adored and admired Gianna, one of their four daughters and known affectionately as“Gigi.”

“God knew they couldn’t be on this earth together without each other,’’ she said in a halting voice. “He had to take them back."

Bryant and his daughter and seven other people were among those who died in a helicopter crash Jan. 26. Monday was an opportunity to celebrate their lives.

Vanessa Bryant pauses during her emotional 20-minute address at the memorial to celebrate the life of Kobe and Gianna Bryant. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports)

Wearing a black dress, Vanessa Bryant’s presence elicited chants of “Ko-be, Ko-be’’ and shouts of “Gigi, Gigi,’’ and her 20-minute speech prompted ripples of laughter through the crowd and left some people wiping tears from their eyes.

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She lamented that she’d never have a chance to tell Gianna how beautiful she looked on her wedding day, that she and Kobe would never been able to teach Gianna how to drive a car, or that Gianna would never make it to high school with her big sister, Natalia.

But Vanessa Bryant’s spirits lifted during other portions of the speech.

“Kobe was known as fierce competitor on the basketball court,’’ she said. “The greatest of all time. A writer, an Oscar winner and the Black Mamba. But to me he was KoKo,’’ and to the crowd’s delight she began rattling off their pet names for each other.

They started dating when she was 17½, noted Vanessa Bryant, 37, and she called him her “soulmate.’’ He was a romantic, and an expert writer of love letters and cards, she said, and also added that Kobe Bryant doted on the couple’s four daughters — Natalia, 17; Capri, 3; Bianka, 9 months; and Gianna, who Bryant coached in basketball.

“Kobe was the MVP of girl dads,’’ Vanessa Bryant said. “He never left the toilet seat up. He always told the girls how beautiful and smart they are. He taught them how to be brave and how to keep pushing forward when things get tough.’’

Tough times were something Vanessa and Kobe Bryant endured too. In 2003, Kobe Bryant was accused of rape. The case was dropped after the woman who accused him refused to testify.

In 2011, Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences,’’ before they announced in 2013 they had reconciled.

“Two perfectly imperfect people making a beautiful family and raising our sweet and amazing girls,’’ Vanessa Bryant told the crowd Monday, while also saying Kobe Bryant was “the kind of man who wanted to teach the future generations to be better to keep them from making his own mistakes.’’

Vanessa Bryant was tearful when recounting how her daughter always kissed her good night and good morning. But after late nights with her two youngest daughters, Vanessa Bryant said, she would wake up and realize Gianna was gone.

“And I thought she had left school without saying goodbye,’’ Vanessa Bryant said. “I’d text and say, ‘No kiss?’ And Gianna would reply with, 'Mama, I kissed you. You were asleep and I didn’t want to wake you.’

“She knew how much the morning and evening kisses meant to me.’’

Coached by her father, former star of the Los Angeles Lakers, Gianna had developed into a talented basketball player who dreamed of playing in the WNBA, her mother said. But Vanessa Bryant also stressed that Gianna was more than a basketball player.

On the list of Gianna’s accomplishments: She knew how to read, speak and write in Mandarin; had great grades; was on the eighth-grade student council; was president of the school student spirit club; and excelled not only in basketball but also gymnastics, soccer, softball and dance.

“I couldn’t keep up with her energy,’’ Vanessa Bryant said. "She was so full of life and had so much more to offer this world. I cannot imagine life without her.’’

Before ending her speech, and walking off the stage guided by Jordan, Vanessa Bryant spoke as both Kobe Bryant and Giannna are in heaven, and made a plaintive request of her husband of two decades

“Baby,’’ she said, “you take care of our Gigi."

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Liverpool 3-2 West Ham: Match report

Liverpool 3-2 West Ham: Sadio Mane nets late winner as Reds come from behind to extend lead at the top to 22 points

  • Georginio Wijnaldum opened the scoring when he headed home from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross 
  • Issa Diop levelled the scores three minutes later with a header of his own from Robert Snodgrass’ corner
  • Virgil van Dijk almost restored the lead but his header from Alexander-Arnold’s corner hit the crossbar
  • Pablo Fornals put the visitors in front with a smart finish from Declan Rice’s low cross from the right 
  • Mohamed Salah equalised for the home side when his low strike crept through the legs of Lukasz Fabianski 
  • Sadio Mane was left all alone to convert into an empty net as he met Alexander-Arnold’s hooked cross

This will be a title of many colours just as they always were in the days when Liverpool won them as a matter of routine. Power, collectivism, technical genius. They have always played their part. And, just like last night, so has luck.

It can’t be said that West Ham took a battering ram to Jurgen Klopp’s side. Three shots on target and two goals tell the story. But it took a goalkeeping calamity and a very providential deflection to see the team home after they entered the hour mark a goal behind. Liverpool four wins away from the title today with a tally of 106 points from their last possible 108 in this competition. ‘We shall not be moved’, the Kop sang at the end. Indeed.

The 1-6 odds-on favourites led inside nine minutes – an exocet Trent Alexander-Arnold cross finding the head of Georginio Wijnaldum who had delivered it beyond Lukasz Fabianski before Issa Diop had even calculated the threat, let alone leaped into a challenge. 

Sadio Mane smiles after scoring the winning goal against West Ham to put Liverpool 22 points clear at the top of the table

Trent Alexander-Arnold clips the ball over Lukasz Fabisnki to give Mane the chance to finish into an empty net

Mane (right) finishes from close range to complete Liverpool’s comeback in the Premier League clash at Anfield

The Senegalese forward (right) runs over to celebrate with Alexander-Arnold after combining for Liverpool’s third goal

Mane kisses the ground as the rest of his team-mates make their way back to their own half following his goal 

Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson 6; Alexander-Arnold 8, Gomez 5.5, Van Dijk 6.5, Robertson 7.5; Fabinho 6, Wijnaldum 6.5, Keita 5.5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 57 6); Salah 6.5, Firmino 6, Mane 6

Subs not used: Adrian, Lovren, Minamino, Lallana, Origi, Matip

Goals: Wijnaldum 9, Salah 68, Mane 81 

Manager: J. Klopp 6 

West Ham (4-4-2): Fabianski 5.5; Ngakia 6, Diop 5.5, Ogbonna 6, Cresswell 6; Snodgrass 6.5, Rice 6, Noble 7, Soucek 5.5 (Fornais 48 6.5); Anderson 6.5 (Haller 63 6), Antonio 6.5 

Subs not used: Randolph, Balbuena, Zabaleta, Lanzini, Bowen

Goals: Diop 12, Fornals 54 

Booked: Diop, Rice, Noble 

Manager: D. Moyes 6.5

Referee: J Moss 7.5

Season at a glance

 

But what ensued was a journey far deeper into the realms of dramatic tension than any had imagined this West Ham team being a part of. The team who had just five touches of the ball in Manchester City’s area last week were level within three minutes, in a fashion which had as much to do with defensive failings as Liverpool’s goal. Joe Gomez did not leap to challenge Diop’s header from a Robert Snodgrass corner on the West Ham right and Allison would have wanted to keep the finish out.

There was more to the visiting challenge than a rare o opposition goal. Mark Noble is old enough to remember the afternoon a few years back when the West Ham team managed by Slaven Bilic earned their first Anfield win in half a century after he pepped them by insisting on Thin Lizzy’s ‘Whisky in the Jar’ playing in the dressing room before the match.

Moyes seemed to have something similar. There was an intensity about the team which prevented Liverpool from commanding midfield. Declan Rice nipped possession from Sadio Mane, Snodgrass ripped it from Andrew Robertson. Mark Noble might have no pace but he displayed the vision. When he sent Michail Antonio away down the right, Gomez could not cope with his pace and it took Alisson to emerge and clear up the threat. Jordan Henderson was missed.

Here were a handful of reasons why David Sullivan’s demands that West Ham fans pay him a financial bond to cover a fuller away ticket allocation, revealed on these pages yesterday, were so risible. 

Georginio Wijnaldum (right) opens the scoring with a header from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross in the ninth minute

Wijnaldum (2nd right) gives the home side an early lead as he guides the ball past West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski

The Dutch midfielder celebrates after breaking the deadlock in Monday’s Premier League showdown at Anfield 

Wijnaldum (left) celebrates with team-mate Virgil van Dijk after netting his fourth goal of the season in the first half

Some perspective, though. Liverpool still manufactured 11 efforts before the break, including Virgil van Dijk’s magisterial run to send an Alexander-Arnold corner crashing against the top of the bar. The metronomic accuracy with which the 21-year-old Englishman and Andrew Robertson deliver from the wide areas still doesn’t fail to astonish, even as Klopp’s side on the threshold of history. Robertson’s 40-yard diagonal, delivered with a hint of bend from his right outside, arrived in the space Mo Salah was running into. It took the best of Fabianski to palm the ensuing shot over the bar

It was when Roberto Firmino sent another opportunity crafted by Alexander-Arnold over the bar when he supremely well positioned to score, five minutes into the second half, that the faintest hint emerged that of a not altogether elementary night. But the goal which sent Moyes’ side ahead was certainly beyond any expectation and deeply unsatisfactory from Klopp’s point of view.

Declan Rice’s cross from the right found substitute Pablo Fornals, left in two yards of space by a defence sitting curiously deep. There was no challenged by van Dijk as the Spaniard struck a clean half volley beyond Allison. Moyes had not celebrated his side’s first goal – conscious perhaps that the odds on it carrying a lasting significance were slim. He punched the air this time.

Klopp tried to bring some bite and pace to a Liverpool midfield which lacked either. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain arrived for Naby Keita – who had not brought much presence – and promptly struck a 30-yard shot a yard wide. 

West Ham centre-back Issa Diop (right) levels the scores three minutes later with a header from Robert Snodgrass’ corner

The defender (right) beat Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson at his near post to equalise for his side in the 12th minute

Diop wheels away in celebration after silencing the Anfield crowd with his third strike of the campaign in the first half

But it was the strike force on whom the course of the night depended and Klopp, watching implacably and stationary, hands stuffed in pockets, could see that something exceptional might be required.

Salah could not find the elevation to meet another Robertson cross when unmarked in the six-yard box. Alexander-Arnolds’ curling effort was palmed away two-handed by Fabianski. It took a gift to bring Liverpool level. Robertson’s cool and measured lay-back for Salah after racing into the box should not have posed a problem with the forest of West Ham players obstructing the goal. The most generous interpretation of Fabianski’s error is that they unsighted him as the shot trickled through his legs to put Liverpool level.

The beginnings of the winner came from a deflected Joe Gomez cross which rebounded out to Alexander Arnold. Firmino could not reach his cross but Mane was at the back post to scramble in the goal which sent Anfield into delirium. No-one was complaining when a further Mane goal was right chalked off for offside. Liverpool, imperious, whatever the weather.

Van Dijk (2nd right) watches on as his header from Alexander-Arnold’s corner clips the crossbar and goes over

The Reds defender shows his frustration after almost putting his side back in front minutes before half-time 



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Coronavirus: Inter Milan’s Europa League clash vs Ludogorets to be played without fans

Inter Milan’s Europa League match against Ludogorets will be played behind closed doors over coronavirus fears – while more Serie A fixtures could be set for the same fate.

Bulgarian side Ludogorets had written to UEFA to request information about the coronavirus situation, with the second leg scheduled for Thursday at San Siro Stadium, which will now be played without fans in attendance.

The Italian government, meanwhile, is moving towards having Serie A matches played behind closed doors in affected areas as authorities try to contain the spreading coronavirus that has made northern Italy the focal point of the outbreak in Europe.

📢 | OFFICIAL STATEMENT#InterLudogorets will be played behind closed doors on Thursday 27 February at San Siro

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Serie A president Paolo Dal Pinto sent a letter to the government on Monday asking if games can played without fans in attendance, noting there is little time for make-up dates considering all elite football competitions must be completed by May 24 because of the upcoming European Championships.

Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora also proposed the closed-door plan to Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte.Playing all sports behind closed doors for the next week could be possible, because then fans can more easily stay at home, said Maurizio Casasco, the president of the Italian federation for sports physicians.

But the clubs have to be in agreement, and there’s more than just football in Italy.

The Italian national team are due to hold a training camp at their national training base Coverciano near Florence ahead of friendlies against England at Wembley and Germany at Max-Morlock-Stadion in Nuremberg next month.

Meanwhile, four Serie A games scheduled for the previous round on Sunday were postponed, including Inter Milan’s game against Sampdoria at the San Siro.

Also on Monday, the first board meeting for the Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics was changed to a video conference instead of being held in Milan.

Members of the newly created board of directors for the 2026 Games called in from their respective offices in the Lombardy and Veneto regions, the areas hardest hit by the virus, the Italian Olympic Committee said.

Juventus, based in Turin, are due to to host Inter next Sunday, in a match which sees the return of former coach Antonio Conte. Other games scheduled for northern Italy next weekend include Udinese vs Fiorentina on Saturday and AC Milan vs Genoa on Sunday.

French club Lyon were in contact with UEFA and French authorities over concern about the 2,500-3,000 Juventus fans travelling over the border to a Champions League game in the French city on Wednesday.

Juventus shares fell 11 per cent on the Milan stock exchange in early trading on Monday, forcing a suspension in trading.

Juventus also announced their museum at the Allianz Stadium would remain closed until at least Saturday. Stadium tours were also suspended.

Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malag said on Sunday that playing games behind closed doors was problematic. However, it may be the only solution for now.

With fewer concerns in southern Italy, Napoli’s Champions League match against Barcelona on Tuesday is set to be played as planned.

Serie C cancelled all games in its A and B leagues, which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

Civil protection officials said more than 200 people had tested positive for the virus in Italy and five people had died, including two elderly men in northern Lombardy. It is the highest number of cases outside Asia.

Officials still had not pinpointed the origin of Italy’s outbreak and were struggling to contain the number of cases, which by Monday had spread to a half-dozen of regions and prompted Austria to temporarily halt rail traffic across its border with Italy.

South Korea’s K League postponed indefinitely

Meanwhile, in South Korea, local football authorities indefinitely postponed the start of the 2020 season.

The K League made the announcement after an emergency meeting in Seoul as the country grapples with the outbreak.

The number of reported cases in South Korea reached 763 on Monday, including seven deaths. Mainland China has reported 2,592 deaths among 77,150 cases.

Also in Asia, the Japanese hockey federation cancelled its national women’s team’s games against North America’s top players because of the virus.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that for now next weekends World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle dAosta region were still to go ahead.

Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already cancelled races this season in China that were set to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

Women’s super-G and Alpine combined are scheduled for next Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The Italian federation said it is in constant contact with the authorities over the developing situation.

Italy is also set to host the World Cup ski finals in Cortina d’Ampezzo from March 18-22.

Holding the ski races without fans could also be an option.

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Liverpool player ratings vs West Ham: Salah and Wijnaldum get eights – but two Reds flop

Liverpool took another step closer to their first Premier League title in thirty years with a 3-2 victory over West Ham on Monday night, but the Reds were given a scare before keeping their unbeaten record intact. When Georginio Wijnaldum nodded home in the eighth minute it seemed Jurgen Klopp’s side were in for a comfortable night but they were made to work hard by a determined Hammers outfit.

The visitors surprised Anfield when centre-back Issa Diop stole a march at the near-post from a corner and glanced home past Alisson Becker to equalise in the 12th minute.

David Moyes was then on the cusp of his first league win at Anfield in his 16th attempt after Pablo Fornals found space in the area to steer home in front of a jubilant away end.

But Mohamed Salah was at hand as Liverpool pushed on to pull them level, thanks to a howler from Lukasz Fabianski who let the ball through his legs.

Sadio Mane then sealed Liverpool’s 26th win in 27 league games this season when he prodded in from close range after Trent Alexander-Arnold reacted quickest to a deflected shot.

But how did each Liverpool player fare in the win? Express Sport rates each star out of 10…

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Liverpool player ratings vs West Ham

GK – Alisson Becker – 6

Could have done better with Issa Diop’s header which did fall awkwardly underneath him.

RB – Trent Alexander-Arnold – 7

Pulled off a superb cross for the opener which took everyone bar Wijnaldum by surprise. Mucked in with another neat assist for Mane’s winner. Kept Felipe Anderson relatively quiet on his flank in a well-rounded full-back performance.

CB – Joe Gomez – 5

Did not get close to Pablo Fornals for West Ham’s second goal despite the Spaniard being in his eyeline.

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CB – Virgil van Dijk – 7

Was not particularly at fault for either goal, rattled the bar in the first half with a thumping header. Inspired a swarm of Liverpool attacks late on with his aggression on the ball.

LB – Andrew Robertson – 6

Allowed Issa Diop to steal a march on him for the first goal and was given a testing evening by Robert Snodgrass. Offered a constant outlet in attack and slid the ball to Salah for the equaliser.

CDM – Fabinho – 6

Did not assert his usual dominance in midfield and his role somewhat paled into significance as Liverpool chased an equaliser and winner late on.

CM – Georginio Wijnaldum – 8

Well-placed header to give Liverpool the lead after reacting instinctively to Alexander-Arnold’s unexpected cross. Provided his usual energy in midfield throughout, another solid showing.

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CM – Naby Keita – 5

Was thrust into the starting line-up in place of Jordan Henderson but did not match the endeavour and passing range of the Reds captain. Subbed off for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after 56 mins.

RW – Mohamed Salah – 8

Fortunate to grab the equaliser given Lukasz Fabianski’s howler but exploited the space well. Was a constant nuisance drifting in from the right and his link-up play throughout was superb.

CF – Roberto Firmino – 6

Typically stitched together attacks with his creative flair but did not get in scoring positions often enough. Could not time his jump to nod in from point-blank range late on.

LW – Sadio Mane – 7

Not at his most prolific but caused problems for West Ham’s right-hand side with the help of Robertson. Was in the right place at the right time to pick up the winner.

Subs

CM – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 6

Fired off a mean drive soon after coming on following a burst forward but did not get into the game much otherwise.

CB – Joel Matip – N/A

Replaced Sadio Mane after 90 mins.

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Deontay Wilder confirms Tyson Fury trilogy bout for summer after Gypsy King knockout loss

Deontay Wilder is set to exercise his rematch clause for a summer fight with Tyson Fury, following his knockout defeat to the Gypsy King in Las Vegas at the weekend. Wilder lost his WBC world title to Fury after being stopped in the seventh round.

Fury battered and bruised Wilder en route to a dominant victory inside seven rounds.

Wilder looked a shell of himself and was on bandy legs from the second round onwards.

Fury attacked Wilder from the off and barely gave him any space to breath as he picked up his second world title.

It was contracted that the loser of the bout would have the ability to exercise a rematch clause within 40 days. 

And that’s exactly what Wilder has done.

“He didn’t hurt me at all, but the simple fact is, Kevin, that my uniform was way too heavy for me,” Wilder told Yahoo Sports.

“I didn’t have no legs from the beginning of the fight. In the third round, my legs were just shot all the way through.

“But I’m a warrior and people know that I’m a warrior. It could easily be told that I didn’t have legs or anything.

“A lot of people were telling me, ‘It looked like something was wrong with you.’ Something was, but when you’re in the ring, you have to bluff a lot of things.”

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After the fight, Wilder spoke of his loss and said that the “best man won”.

“I’m a warrior and that’s what I do,” said Wilder.

“No excuses. We come back stronger.

“Things like this happen and the best man won tonight.

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”I prepared to head out on my guard. I had a great deal of problems taking place, entering into this battle.

Fury also picked up the Ring Magazine title with his win over Wilder, who will now likely fight the Brit again in the summer.

Fury’s promoter recently talked up the possibility of Anthony Joshua fighting his client instead

“Joshua doesn’t take the risk, Deontay Wilder doesn’t take the rematch, and let’s get it on,” he said. 

But it looks clear that Wilder will now take the rematch. The fight is expected to take place in June. 

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Liverpool player ratings as Reds left without superstar impact despite win

Liverpool kept their title charge on track – with a little help from Lukasz Fabianski.

Jurgen Klopp's men came from behind to sink West Ham 3-2 in a thrilling clash at Anfield to pile on the pain for David Moyes.

The win saw the Reds equal Manchester City's record of 18 straight top flight wins as well as match their own record of 21 successive home triumphs set back in 1972.

But the champions-in-waiting had blundering Fabianski to thank after the Polish international allowed Georgino Wijnaldum's opener to go through his right hand, before letting Mo Salah's tame shot squeeze underneath him to level the scores on 69 minutes.

Issa Diop and substitute Pablo Fornals scored in between as the Hammers threatened a shock win, but Sadio Mane tapped in from close range on 80 minutes to leave the runaway leaders just four games from their first title in 30 years.

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Liverpool player ratings

Alisson

It was freezing cold, but the Brazilian keeper should have done better to keep out Issa Diop's first half equaliser. 6. 

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Piled forward like he loves to do, but caught out a couple of times at the back by Robert Snodgrass. 6.

Joe Gomez

Looked edgy at times and not his usual commanding self. 6.

Virgil Van Dijk

Difficult to find fault with him once again, despite his side conceding two goals. 7.

Andy Robertson

Marauded forward with his usual relish and never gave the Hammers defence a moment's peace. 7.

Fabinho

Put in a usual shift in the engine room, but will have better nights than this. 6.

Naby Keita

Tried to plug the hole left by Jordan Henderson, but struggled to fill his captain's boots. 6.

Georginio Wijnaldum – MOTM

Opened the scoring with his first goal since December and made up for Henderson being out. 9.

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Mo Salah

Tormented the visitors from start to finish with his guile and class. Almost back to his best. 8.

Roberto Firmino

Hard to believe he hasn't scored a league goal at Anfield for 11 months. 7.

Sadio Mane

Flitted in and out of the game before plundering the winner 10 minutes from time. 7.

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Matt Dawson: England deserved to beat Ireland by 25-30 points

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In the end, a 12-point winning margin flattered defeated Ireland rather than the victors England.

By the final whistle, it felt like England were 25-30 points better than Ireland.

Considering it was their first match back at Twickenham since reaching the Rugby World Cup final the afternoon started with a different dynamic, and not the one you might have expected three months ago.

Instead of a jubilant homecoming, England seemed fuelled by a motivation to show their critics how good they are as a team and how passionate they are to represent England after defeats by South Africa and France and a grinding victory against Scotland.

They had the physicality, they had the anger but also, tactically, they were very astute.

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Ireland typically defend with 13 men up in the front line and only a couple covering backfield. That means there are going to be opportunities to kick to exploit space.

England ran France ragged using similar tactics 12 months ago at Twickenham and England’s coaching staff clearly picked up on a comparable vulnerability in Ireland’s game.

Even second row George Kruis attempted a grubber kick at one point in the first half.

As the phase started for England’s first try, Ireland had 14 men on their feet with CJ Stander on the floor having made a tackle.

All those standing, except full-back Jordan Larmour, were up flat.

Ben Youngs disguised his kick well, but it was clearly pre-planned with Owen Farrell, George Ford and Kyle Sinckler sprinting into a spirited chase.

By the time Sexton and Larmour were fielding the bouncing ball on their own line, they were under heavy pressure from an arrowhead of England players.

Had Sexton gathered it safely, he would have struggled to get away a convincing clearing kick or run out of defence.

As it was he juggled, dropped and George Ford pounced.

England managed to implement their gameplan brilliantly. It was a tactic they went to again, albeit with a penalty advantage in their back pocket, for the second try when Elliot Daly reached Ford’s chip ahead of Jacob Stockdale.

In past meetings, Ireland’s mastery of the aerial game has been key. Back in 2015, Robbie Henshaw soared over Alex Goode to claim a Conor Murray box kick and score the only try in a 19-9 victory.

But Ireland’s forwards never gave them a platform to really test an England back three that included centre Jonathan Joseph on the wing.

England’s ball carriers – the likes of Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry and Jamie George – won the battle of the gain line, making metres on every carry.

Ireland offered very little, relying on slow-moving one-out runners and it is very difficult to kick effectively behind a forward pack that are going nowhere and a scrum-half who seems to have lost the confidence to snipe around the fringes.

Add in England’s dominance at the breakdown and Ireland were a mile away from competing for the victory.

Itoje keeps the young guns firing straight

The introduction of the straight-talking, hard-running Ellis Genge off the bench brought a big cheer from the Twickenham crowd in the wake of his match-winning try against Scotland in the last round.

He, along with hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie and fellow prop Will Stuart, brought an injection of energy and intensity in the front row.

In the scrum, where previously there was parity, England started to get the upper hand.

But I think there is still work to be done to make sure Genge in particularly has the cool head needed for life in an international front row.

There was a lot of whooping, hollering and trash talk around the fringes of the match. Kyle Sinckler was giving it plenty as the half-time whistle blew as well.

Maro Itoje would previously have been in the middle of all of that, but he has matured into the guy who is putting his arm around players leading them away from confrontation and getting them to concentrate on making another huge impact, rather than screaming and shouting about the last one.

Cooney deserves his shot at nine

Neither of Ireland’s half-backs had a good day.

Johnny Sexton looked rattled from the off. He made a mistake to allow England to score their first try and was woeful off the tee.

He spoke afterwards about the speed of England’s defensive line off line-outs and at one point lost his right boot for a passage of play and which rather summed up his afternoon.

His leg was heavily strapped up so I don’t know if he was carrying an injury, but he will bounce back.

At scrum-half though, I think John Cooney is getting close to supplanting Conor Murray as the first-choice starter.

His performances, both off the bench for Ireland and for Ulster, merit it. He is game-changing, scintillating rugby.

Murray has been a lynchpin of Ireland’s recent success but players want the best team out there so they have the best opportunity to win.

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Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Mike Henson

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Kobe Bryant: Wife Vanessa leads emotional memorial to basketball star and daughter Gianna

Vanessa Bryant has given a moving tribute to her late husband, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, and daughter Gianna at a memorial service in Los Angeles.

Former Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Bryant, 41, and Gianna, 13, were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash last month.

Thousands of fans, celebrities and basketball stars attended Monday’s ceremony at the Staples Center.

“Kobe was the MVP of girl dads,” said Vanessa.

“He was the most amazing husband – Kobe loved me more than I could ever express or put into words.”

Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, and Vanessa have three other daughters, Natalia, Bianca and Capri.

“He isn’t going to be able to walk our girls down the aisle or spin me around on the dance floor,” said Vanessa, who was speaking publicly for the first time since the crash.

“But I want my daughters to know and remember the amazing person, husband and father he was, the kind of man that wanted to teach the future generations to be better and keep from making his own mistakes.”

Vanessa started by remembering her daughter, nicknamed ‘Gigi’, as an “amazingly sweet and thoughtful soul,” who loved baking and dancing, as well as being a talented basketball player.

“Gigi would have most likely become the best player in the WNBA,” she said.

“I’ll never get to see my baby girl walk down the aisle, have a father-daughter dance with her daddy, dance on the dance floor with me or have babies of her own.

“Gianna would have been an amazing mommy.”

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Vanessa called her late husband, who she had been with since she was 17, her “soulmate” and recalled his love of romantic movies and how he was a “doting, hands on” father.

“Babe, you take care of our Gigi,” she said, addressing Bryant.

“We’re still the best team – may you both rest in peace and have fun in heaven until we meet again one day.”

Beyonce opened the event, called a “celebration of life”, by singing XO, during which she said “I’m here because I love Kobe and this was one of his favourite songs”, before also performing Halo.

Basketball legends Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were in the crowd, alongside current stars including Stephen Curry, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West were also in attendance.

Chicago Bulls legend Jordan, who won six NBA titles, helped Vanessa from the stage before also giving a tearful speech that referred to how often the two players were compared.

“When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died,” said Jordan.

“Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons between he and I but I just wanted to talk about Kobe.

“Rest in peace, little brother.”

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O’Neal and Bryant, who was nicknamed ‘Black Mamba’, won three consecutive NBA titles together during an eight-year spell as Lakers team-mates from 1996 to 2004.

“Kobe and I pushed one another to play some of the greatest basketball of all time,” said O’Neal.

“Kobe and I always maintained a deep respect and love for one another.

“Mamba, you were taken away from us way too soon, just know that we got your back, little brother.”

WNBA great Diana Taurasi, American college star Sabrina Ionescu and Bryant’s former agent and current Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka also shared their memories of Kobe and Gigi.

Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera also performed songs before the crowd watched Dear Basketball, a five-minute film based on a love letter to the sport Bryant had written in 2015 and for which he won the best short animated film Oscar in 2018.

The memorial service closed with Nat King Cole’s song Unforgettable as the crowd started chanting “Kobe, Kobe.”





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Six Nations 2020: England prop Mako Vunipola set to miss Wales match

England are set to still be without prop Mako Vunipola for their next Six Nations match against Wales on 7 March but back Anthony Watson could return.

Vunipola missed Sunday’s win over Ireland after travelling to Tonga for family reasons and is unlikely to be back for the Wales tie at Twickenham.

Watson, who plays wing or full-back, has not appeared in the championship so far because of a calf injury.

“Mako probably won’t be back for Wales,” said head coach Eddie Jones.

“Anthony’s got to do a running session and if he gets through that we’ll get him into camp.”

Vunipola, 29, was not selected for England’s opening weekend defeat by France, but started in the round two win over Scotland at Murrayfield.

Joe Marler replaced him at loosehead for the win over Ireland at Twickenham, with Ellis Genge coming off the bench.

Watson’s return would boost England’s options in the back three, after George Furbank, who started the first two games at full-back, missed the Ireland game through injury, with Elliot Daly moving to full-back and centre Jonathan Joseph playing on the wing.

England are still in contention to win this year’s Six Nations title as they sit second after three rounds, four points behind leaders France.

After facing Wales, Jones’ side complete their campaign against Italy in Rome on Saturday 14 March.

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