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Eleven South African cabinet members have quit in the wake of President Thabo Mbeki's resignation, prompting fears of instability and the ruling ANC leader to downplay any panic.

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The cabinet members stepped down shortly after parliament voted 299 to 10 to approve Mbeki's exit from office, ending the nine-year administration of the man who succeeded anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.

The African National Congress (ANC) has picked its deputy chief, Kgalema Motlanthe, to replace Mbeki until April elections.

Lawmakers will vote on Motlanthe's nomination on Thursday.

“The (cabinet) resignations do not pose a crisis and there is no need to panic,” said ANC chief Jacob Zuma during a speech in Secunda, in the northeast province of Mpumalanga.

“The situation will be managed carefully to avoid any disruption of services,” added Zuma, considered likely to be voted president in next year's elections.

Finance Minister steps down

The country's widely-respected Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, seen by investors as vital to the country's stable economy and impressive growth, was among the 11 ministers of the 31-member cabinet who handed their resignations.

Manuel's spokesman made it clear that he was ready to serve the new administration, but his announcement led to market jitters with the rand slipping from 7.98 to 8.16 to the US dollar.

The president's office said the ministers' resignations would also take effect on Thursday.

The ministers resigning include Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who spearheaded a turnaround of the country's AIDS policies, and Local Government Minister Sydney Mufamadi, a key negotiator in the Zimbabwe crisis.

Resignation scare

Opposition parties expressed concern about the resignations, with Inkatha Freedom Party Chief Whip Koos van der Merwe telling parliament it was an “unmitigated disaster” and a “watershed moment in history.”

The main opposition Democratic Alliance's Sandra Botha said events showed “the division (in the ANC) is not a crack, it is a canyon.”

Mbeki is believed to have asked cabinet members to stay put in the interests of stability, and analysts have said the country would not face a crisis if the transition was well managed and government ministers did not bail out en masse.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the exodus was not a crisis, as only six of them had indicated they would not serve in a new government.

“The rest of the ministers have confirmed that they (are stepping) down to allow the new president to make his own appointments,” Mantashe told reporters.

Political scores

The resignations came after Mbeki bowed to pressure from the ANC to stand down in what the opposition described as a settling of political scores.

Zuma said the decision to recall Mbeki had been “one of the most painful and difficult decisions” taken in the party's history.

The outgoing president had been increasingly at loggerheads with his party, which split into two camps behind him and Zuma, after deciding to run for a third term as party president at a crunch ANC conference in December last year.

Mbeki, 66, who succeeded Mandela in June 1999, becomes the country's first democratically-elected president to be forced out of office before the end of his term.

Mbeki attempted to salvage his reputation in the Constitutional Court on Monday, as he challenged a court ruling which he says cost him his job as president.

In a September 12 ruling, Judge Chris Nicholson dismissed a corruption case against Zuma, hinting that Mbeki had interfered in the decision to prosecute his foe.

“It is unfair and unjust for me to be judged and condemned on the basis of the findings in the Zuma matter,” said Mbeki in his application.

“The interests of justice, in my respectful submission would demand that the matter be rectified.

“These adverse findings have led to my being recalled by my political party, the ANC — a request I have acceded to as a committed and loyal member of the ANC for the past 52 years,” Mbeki said.Read More →

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On the New York Mercantile Exchange, light sweet crude for December tumbled $US3.

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08 lower to close at $US59.33.

Earlier the New York futures contract hit a low of $US58.32, a level last seen on March 21, 2007.

In London, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in December dropped $US3.37 to settle at $US55.71 on the InterContinental Exchange. In intraday trade it had plunged to $US54.92 per barrel – a level last seen on January 30, 2007.

Prices more than halved

Prices have shed about 60 per cent since scaling historic highs above $US147 in July on mounting evidence of slowing global economic growth and energy demand.

The market extended earlier losses in line with Wall Street's dive into negative territory, with investor fearing a collapse of General Motors and digesting more grim corporate news amid the credit crisis.

European stock markets closed sharply lower as corporate problems highlighted concerns about the spreading damage from the global credit crunch to the underlying world economy.

“The short-term focus continues to be on weak demand,” Barclays Capital analysts wrote in a research note to clients on Tuesday.

China slowdown

Crude oil prices closed almost two dollars higher on Monday, with sentiment boosted by hopes that China's huge economic stimulus package would lift demand for energy.

But traders banked profits on Tuesday as poor data from the US – the world's biggest energy consumer — reignited fears about recession.

“It eventually had to dawn on market participants that any Chinese economic stimulus would take time to work through an economy whose maladies are more immediate. Focus on these problems has been restored with the obvious result: prices are lower,” said John Kilduff, analyst at MF Global.

The oil market was also undermined by the strengthening US dollar which tends to dampen demand because dollar-priced crude becomes more expensive for buyers holding weaker currencies.

OPEC president Chakib Khelil indicated over the weekend the cartel may cut production again if oil prices remain below its preferred range of $US70 to $US90.

The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which pumps more than 40 per cent of the world's crude, announced in October that its daily output would be cut by 1.5 million barrels per day to 27.3 million barrels per day from November.

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The Sky application allows users to view and navigate through 100 million stars in far away galaxies, all depicted in high-resolution images.

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The application labels which stars make up the constellations, shows users what they might be able to see from their own backyards with the naked eye or small telescopes and includes images from the Hubble space telescope.

It also displays the phases of the moon, the positions of the planets for now and up to two months in the future, offers virtual tours through different galaxies and details the different stages of a star's life cycle.

"Sky is a very cool new feature for anyone who has ever looked up at the sky and wanted to know more," said Sally Ride, a former astronaut. "I think this is a great tool for satisfying that curiosity."

Carol Christian of the Space Telescope Science Institute, who helped develop the application, said she hoped the new program would encourage more people to learn about space.

"Never before has a roadmap of the entire sky been made so readily available," she said.

"Anyone interested in exploring the wonders of our universe can quickly see where the stunning objects photographed by Hubble actually dwell in the heavens," she added

"Sky in Google Earth will foster and initiate new understanding of the universe by bringing it to everyone's home computer."

The interface and navigation of the new feature are similar to those on the current Google Earth function, which allows users to drag, zoom and search their way around the planet.

To access the new feature, users need to download the latest version of Earth, available on the website from today.

The application was created by Google engineers stitching together images from sources such as the Space Telescope Science Institute and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Google launched its Earth application in 2005, allowing people to zoom in on satellite images of almost any point around the world.

The program has since been downloaded more than 200 million times.

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The International Rugby Board has introduced a new engagement procedure that is aimed at lessening the initial impact, reducing the number of collapses and resets, and allowing for technically better packs to benefit.

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The Wallabies have long had issues with the scrum, particularly against sides that concentrate on the technical side of the dark art, and were twice shunted off the ball in their 27-16 Rugby Championship loss to the All Blacks on Saturday.

McKenzie, who was capped 51 times for the Wallabies and was considered one of the best tighthead props in the world at the time, is unsure if the referees know what it is they are looking for.

“It’s a bit of a lottery there,” the dejected-looking Wallabies coach told reporters after the match at Wellington Regional Stadium.

“I used to play in the front row (and) … I used to be able to work out what was a penalty but now I have no idea.

“I guess we’ll work it out eventually, but I’m lost.”

McKenzie said the All Blacks had performed well in the scrum, particularly in the second half, but he felt some calls by referee Jaco Peyper had not been consistent.

He pointed to one scrum when Sekope Kepu was penalised for angling in rather than staying square to his opponent, when the three previous scrums had been conducted in the same way.

“There were penalties there going either way,” McKenzie said. “I think Kepu got penalised for going in on the angle whereas there had been three (earlier) resets (for the same thing).

“So I don’t understand and I can’t work it out. It’s a completely different beast now.”

(Editing by Stephen Wood)

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The son of Ireland’s only Tour de France winner, Stephen Roche, ended up third behind eighth stage winner Leopold Koenig of the Czech Republic and Spain’s Dani Moreno on the 14-km Alto de Penas Blancas summit finish.

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The Saxo-Tinkoff rider now leads overall by 17 seconds from American Chris Horner. Moreno is third while Italian Nibali, 16th in the 158.6-km leg from Jerez de la Frontera, occupies fourth position.

“I benefited from a bit of an opening when things stalled in the main pack behind Koenig,” said Roche, Ireland’s first leader since Sean Kelly won the race in 1988.

“I was only eight seconds behind Nibali before the stage and I’ve never led a Grand Tour before so I wanted to go all out and give it absolutely everything,” he told reporters.

“Right now I’m the happiest man on earth, it’s been an incredible week for me,” added Roche who won his first Grand Tour stage on the Vuelta’s first summit finish last Sunday and also leads the King of the Mountains competition.

With two summit finishes looming on Sunday and Monday, the 29-year-old was cautious about his prospects of remaining in top spot.

“It would be pretty optimistic to say I can hold this lead all the way to Madrid,” said Roche whose best Grand Tour finish is seventh in the 2010 Vuelta.

“Monday is one of the hardest stages of the entire race and if I can get through these three days in the lead that would be great.”

Stage winner Koenig’s small-scale NetApp Endura team are one of four non-World Tour squads to benefit from an invite to the Vuelta.

“This climb suited me down to the ground, its steeper segments were all in the early part. Once I got through that with the favourites I thought my chances were pretty good,” said the Czech.

“I saw Anton was suffering and managed to catch him just before the line. I’ll try for the overall lead now but anything I get from here on is a bonus for me and the team.”

The Vuelta’s second straight mountain-top finish on Sunday is a long climb with lung-burstingly steep segments of up to 25 percent in the sierras of northern Andalusia.

The race ends in Madrid on September 15.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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The 33-year-old American lost a heartbreaker to China’s Zheng Jie 6-3 2-6 7-6(5) in the second round of the U.

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S. Open on Wednesday before rejecting any possibility of retirement.

“Oh wow, I definitely want to come back for the atmosphere,” she said. “I’ll get there. I just have to keep working on it. I’ve had a tough set of circumstances to work through, especially this year, last year and the year before.

“I’ve been dealt some cards that aren’t easy, but I have to play with them. I’m a fighter.”

Williams suffers Sjogren’s Syndrome, which causes fatigue and joint pain, and has been hampered this year by back pain.

Champion in New York in 2000 and 2001, Williams had a parochial crowd on her side as the match went down to the wire.

A rushed volley at five-all in the deciding tiebreaker proved costly.

“I should have made the shot,” she said. “I rushed so badly and didn’t make it. I had a lot of opportunities, I was always stepping up and putting myself in a good position … but I just dug myself into so many holes.

“I fought as hard as I could to get out of them, but sometimes it just wasn’t enough.”

Williams will contest the doubles with her sister Serena.

She planned to sit back and watch the next era of American women’s tennis.

“I’m happy to see them doing so well,” she said. “They all seem really talented.

“I’m looking forward to them continuing to develop their games and hopefully be able to win big matches, big tournaments, and continue to influence the next generation, as well.”

Former world number one Williams, who upset 12th-seeded Belgian Kirsten Flipkens in the first round, is now ranked 60 in the world, but Zheng was thrilled to fell the former champion in front of her home crowd.

“It’s unbelievable I can beat her,” she said in a courtside interview. Zheng next faces 18th-seeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in the third round.

(The story clarifies the day in second paragraph)

(Editing by Ian Ransom)

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Santiago Phelan’s side were hammered 73-13 by South Africa in the first match of this year’s Championship but went down just 22-17 in Mendoza two weeks ago.

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“Any time you play Argentina, if you hold the ball for a long time and put ball into space and get your decisions right it’s hard for teams to defend for long periods, so that’s certainly what we’re after,” McCaw told reporters in Hamilton on Friday.

“If you allow it to be a stop-start affair and go set piece to set piece it becomes an arm wrestle.

“Traditionally that’s probably the way Argentina have enjoyed getting stuck in, so we’ve got to make sure we don’t allow that to happen.”

McCaw said the Pumas had enjoyed some success against the Springboks in the second game by breaking up the play.

“That’s probably where they got a bit of reward in Argentina against South Africa,” he added. “They managed to disrupt the breakdown ball and also to slow the game down in that regard, not let the Springboks get flow on.”

The All Blacks will be looking to flyhalf Daniel Carter to ensure their attacks flow after the world’s leading points scorer returned to the side from a calf injury.

The experience of Carter, who is playing his 96th test, and centre Conrad Smith (72nd) should ease the debut of inside centre Francis Saili, who is the 17th player to be given a test debut by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen since he took over from Graham Henry following the World Cup win in 2011.

“You’ve got a couple of old heads just keeping him calm and he’s getting them excited,” Hansen said earlier this week of Saili’s debut after they chose to give Ma’a Nonu’s injured ankle more time to heal before they face the Springboks next week.

“He’s not the finished product, and nor is anyone having their first test, so he’s no different from anyone else,” he added.

“We think he’s going to be a very, very special player and it’s the beginning of something we could see a lot of.

“You can tell he’s pretty excited and we’ve just got to keep him calm till Saturday, then let him rip.”

Saili is a renowned line breaker at Super Rugby level with soft hands and good distribution skills, though is prone to try too much at times.

He has been given a simple brief — run fast, straight and hard at the Pumas centres Marcelo Bosch and Santiago Fernandez.

“I’ve just got to take it as it comes and embrace it pretty much, not over-complicate things,” Saili said after he was named in the team on Thursday.

“I know it’s the biggest game of my life so I just have to embrace it.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Napier, New Zealand; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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The world and European champions, who top the group by one point from France after five of eight matches, will be missing midfielders Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso for the game in Helsinki before they play a friendly against Chile in Geneva on September 10.

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Del Bosque told Tuesday’s edition of As sports daily there was no need to make a drama out of the absences, saying Spain had plenty of other players capable of rising to the occasion.

“We have a number of important midfielders missing,” the former Real Madrid coach said before the squad met up at the Spanish soccer federation (RFEF) headquarters outside Madrid on Tuesday.

“But those that are here will do a good job because they are in excellent shape.

“We are relaxed about the trip to Finland due to the players we ultimately have selected.”

Del Bosque mounted another strong defence of his captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who has yet to win back his place in the Real Madrid starting line-up after injuring his hand and then falling out with coach Jose Mourinho last season.

Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes has been in fine early-season form, prompting speculation that he might start Friday’s match.

“I am not saying, nor will I say, that Iker Casillas has to play for Madrid,” Del Bosque told As.

“What I am doing, and what I will do, is defend him because he, Casillas, is the captain of the national team and a lad who is part of Spanish football, and a key part,” he added.

“He is going through a bad patch and he needs the support of those who appreciate him and hold him in high regard.

“It’s not a comfortable situation for anyone but above all it’s uncomfortable for him.”

Spain can take a big step towards securing their place in the tournament in Brazil next year with a win in Helsinki.

However, they will not take their opponents lightly after surrendering the lead to draw 1-1 with them in Gijon in March. Finland are third in the group, four points behind the French.

“France are lying in wait and Finland still have a chance and will be looking to beat Spain and fight for a playoff spot,” Del Bosque said.

“We have to be very careful about this match. What’s more, I recall that all Finland’s qualifiers have been close, meaning they are tough opponents who improve at their own stadium.

“We drew in Gijon in March and the last time we visited Helsinki in 2007 we could not do better than a 0-0 draw.

“I don’t expect an easy game but we are confident that we will get the result we want and then wait for the matches against Georgia and Belarus in October.”

(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Clare Fallon)

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The Italian company is proceeding on the basis that it will remain the sole supplier next season but has yet to sign a contract with the sport’s governing, International Automobile Federation (FIA).

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Hembery told reporters at the Belgian Grand Prix that 10 of the 11 teams had signed contracts with Pirelli as had the commercial rights holder, who also has a deal for trackside advertising.

However, French rivals Michelin have been reported in the media as saying they were interested in returning to Formula One next year.

“Ask Michelin,” Hembery said when asked about the reports. “We have contracts in place, and we would hope people would respect them.

“We have lots of contracts signed.”

Hembery said an agreement with the FIA, led by Frenchman Jean Todt, would have to wait until the governing body’s world council meeting in Croatia next month.

Formula One’s tyre specifications for 2014, which teams need to know to design their cars, have to be lodged within a matter of weeks and Hembery said Pirelli were on course to meet the deadline.

The company hoped to do some wet testing at the Le Castellet circuit in the south of France next month and in Brazil after the final race of the season.

With a new V6 power unit and energy recovery systems being introduced next season in the biggest shake-up in the sport for decades, Hembery said they also wanted a test in Abu Dhabi or Bahrain in December.

Regular pre-season testing with teams will then start in January, with details still to be finalised but one test set for Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Bahrain.

“Quite frankly a tender in September when you are running in January would be farcical,” he said. “You should have done that in September last year.

“Everybody would look ridiculous in that scenario.”

Pirelli have suffered negative coverage and taken considerable flak this season after producing tyres designed to wear quickly to shake up the race strategy and encourage overtaking.

A spate of blowouts at Silverstone in June triggered safety fears and threw the sport into crisis, forcing Pirelli to make the tyres more durable and revert to last year’s structure with 2013 compounds.

Hembery said next year’s tyres would be more conservative.

“It will be the year of the powertrain, a year where you talk of other things and strategy will be about how to manage the energy recovery and when to use it, the fuel management,” he said.

“It’s the year for us not to give them a tyre challenge.”

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Rex Gowar)

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The London club have made two unsuccessful bids for the England striker and have not ruled out making a third with their pursuit of him coming after former United manager Alex Ferguson said in May that Rooney wanted to quit Old Trafford.

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Rooney played the whole of Monday’s 0-0 draw at home to the club chasing his signature with his manager David Moyes saying his performance on the pitch demonstrated his position on the matter without him actually needing to say it.

“I think the person that started the story has to finish the story,” Mourinho told a news conference.

“A club like us, a manager like me and the people that work in the club with me, we are not silly to try to get a player from a big club, a club that does not sell what they don’t want to sell, we are not silly to try something if somebody didn’t start.”

Asked if he meant did he want Rooney, who has not commented on the matter publicly, to come out and say he wanted to stay or go, he replied: “Yes.”

He added he would like that to happen in the next “24, 48 hours” as if Chelsea could not get Rooney they would sign someone else.

Rooney, who was cheered by his own fans and Chelsea’s, who were singing “Wayne Rooney, we’ll sign you next week”, had the best goal-scoring chances in a poor game, including an attempt at an acrobatic volley in stoppage time.

“I think his performance tonight said enough, he closed two or three people down in the corner and I think the crowd realised the work he did,” said Moyes, who has faced a barrage of Rooney questions since taking over the job last month.

“He was desperate to score, you could see that by the way he nearly scored with an overhead kick in injury time. So I think his actions tonight showed what he thought.”

DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES

Chelsea’s bid to sign Rooney had added spice to this early season meeting between the two big guns and Mourinho had stoked the fire by suggesting before the game that Moyes should shoulder the blame for the forward wanting to leave after suggesting he was a second-choice striker.

Despite calling for an end to the uncertainty over the future of Rooney, Mourinho did not quite finish courting him as he tried a flattery approach.

“I think the most important thing is he played very well, he was a real professional, he played for his club, played for the club that pays him, tried to win, tried to score, he was fantastic,” Mourinho said.

“After that if he wants to leave he has to say. Or he has decided now that he doesn’t want to leave anymore, it’s his problem but I praise him because he was fantastic.

“He played a fantastic match under these difficult circumstances so I praise him.”

As if to prove he was anything but second-choice, Moyes named Rooney in his starting line-up for the biggest test of his short United career so far and he was delighted with the result.

“I was very pleased with his performance and I was very pleased with the reaction from the crowd,” said the Scot, who has repeated the ‘he is not for sale’ mantra whenever he has faced questions about Rooney.

“But I’ve got to say I didn’t think it was unexpected … He’s been great in training, the way he’s trained and anyone who looks at him will notice he’s slightly leaner looking. He worked hard, he tackled, he chased when we needed it.”

The transfer window shuts on September 2 which means that whether Rooney adheres to Mourinho’s two-day deadline or not, the football world will get a definitive answer by then.

(Editing by John Mehaffey/Greg Stutchbury)

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AC Milan bounced back from last week’s defeat at Hellas Verona with a 3-1 win at home to Cagliari in an entertaining evening featuring 32 goals in eight games.

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It was one-way traffic in Sicily as Walter Mazzari’s Inter showed that they have put last season’s troubles behind them.

Smartly worked goals from Rodrigo Palacio, Yuto Nagatomo and Ricky Alvarez helped them beat a fired-up Catania team who have yet to get a point after two defeats.

Alberto Aquilani give Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina the lead at Genoa after 10 minutes before Giuseppe Rossi scored his second in as many games four minutes later and Gomez tapped in his goal four minutes before the break.

Alberto Gilardino gave the home side some hope nine minutes after the break with a stunning volley, but Rossi tapped in his second almost immediately afterwards.

Francesco Lodi reduced the deficit again on the hour with a penalty following a foul on Gilardino, but an injury time penalty from Mario Gomez ruined Genoa’s celebrations for their 140th anniversary, in which cricket was played on the Stadio Luigi Ferraris pitch before the match.

The club’s official name is Genoa Cricket and Football Club, and it has a cricket team which was re-established in 2007 and plays in Italy’s top division.

Goals from Robinho, Philippe Mexes and Mario Balotelli were enough for AC Milan against a plucky Cagliari team.

Brazilian Robinho and Mexes put Massimiliano Allegri’s side two goals up after half an hour, only for Marco Sau to pull one back for the away side three minutes later.

However, Balotelli’s first league goal of the season in the 62nd minute put the result beyond doubt.

Earlier on Sunday Roma moved into second place on goal difference after splendid goals from Miralem Pjanic and Adem Ljajic gave them a comfortable 3-0 win over newly promoted Hellas Verona.

Rudi Garcia’s side moved to six points after Bosnia international Pjanic’s delightful chip from more than 20 metres out in the 59th minute and a powerful long range drive from Ljajic on his Roma debut six minutes later.

The home side were playing with the Curva Sud section of the Olympic Stadium shut after racist chanting directed at Balotelli from hardcore fans at the end of last season.

(Reporting by Terry Daley; Editing by John Mehaffey)

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Honved had been sanctioned because of “racist behaviour and racist chanting” by their fans during the Europa League qualifying match away to Serbia’s Vojvodina on July 18, UEFA said on Friday.

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The Hungarian side were ordered to play their next home European game in an empty stadium for the offence which also prompted UEFA to implement an additional one-match ban from 2008 which had been suspended for a five-year probationary period.

Honved, also fined 50,000 euros (41,992.06 pounds), were knocked out by Vojvodina and will serve the ban next time they qualify for European competition.

Lech Poznan were ordered to close the stand used by their Ultras at their next home European game because of “racist behaviour and display of a racist banner” at the Europa League qualifier at home to Zalgiris in August. They were also fined 5,000 euros.

An identical sanction was given to compatriots Piast Gliwice following similar incidents at the Europa League qualifier at home to Qarabag in July.

The supporters’ group FARE said in a report that Qarabag’s Congolese player Ulrich Kapolongo was targeted by monkey noises during the game.

Both Polish teams have been knocked out and will serve their sanctions next time they qualify for Europe.

Partial stadium closures are the minimum sanction for racist behaviour in European competition under rules approved by UEFA’s executive committee in May.

A second offence by supporters would lead to a full stadium closure and a 50,000-euro fine. Racist behaviour by players or officials leads to a minimum 10-match ban.

Legia Warsaw and Dinamo Zagreb have already suffered partial closures this season

(Reporting By Brian Homewood; Editing by Clare Fallon)

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Both sides are chasing their first win but only the Wallabies could feel particularly aggrieved at their precarious situation, having strode confidently into the tournament under new coach Ewen McKenzie.

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After three rounds, the Wallabies sit bottom of the table behind the underdog Pumas and their coach’s pledge to win by playing “the Australian way” have been made to look foolish by two losses to New Zealand and a record hiding by South Africa on home soil.

With alarm bells ringing Down Under and rugby writers moaning of fans turning away from the game, McKenzie has not gone back to the drawing board so much as to rip it off the wall and hurl it out of the window.

Out-of-sorts scrumhalf Will Genia, the Wallabies’ “only world XV player” in the words of local pundit Greg Growden, has been dropped to the bench and Ben Mowen, a backrower with only six tests under his belt, has been awarded the captaincy.

The stunning gambit has been branded Australian rugby’s ‘line in the sand’ moment, a move to shock an underperforming side out of its torpor and head off a potentially cataclysmic defeat against highly physical opponents desperate to post their first win in the tournament.

McKenzie, who raised eyebrows by suggesting he would need to “dumb down” the game plan after the painful 38-12 loss to the Springboks in Brisbane, shrugged it all off as tinkering.

“There are little areas of the game where we can tweak things. We’ve made some minor adjustments,” he said this week.

“If you change big things, you actually don’t know what makes the biggest influence.

“So with small changes – which is what we’ve been doing for the last few weeks – we’ll get there.”

HENRY HELP

Beset by a shocking run of injuries, Australia under former coach Robbie Deans hung tight to defeat Argentina twice last year and finished a creditable second behind the champion All Blacks.

No matter the gap in class between the sides, a repeat of last week’s effort against South Africa would almost certainly see the Wallabies crumble to defeat against the Pumas, who will look to exploit the hosts’ brittle pack in the scrum.

After being humiliated 73-13 by the Springboks in Soweto, Argentina regained their pride with a narrow loss in the return match at Mendoza and surprised the All Blacks last week in Hamilton with an early try before being reeled in.

Head coach Santiago Phelan has shaken up his backline, recalling scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli and centres Felipe Contepomi and Gonzalo Tiesi among four changes in the hope of bringing more firepower to Subiaco Oval.

But the forwards, who were combative against New Zealand’s formidable pack, are untouched barring a promotion to the starting side for hooker Agustin Creevy.

Led by captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Argentina have also had some insights in how to beat the Wallabies from former World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry, whose New Zealand teams dominated Australia for the better part of a decade.

“He added a lot of confidence and knowledge in the way to attack,” Contepomi said of Henry, who has worked with Argentina as a coaching consultant.

“He knows the Wallabies much better than we do, and it’s great to have his inside knowledge… He can add to our rugby culture.”

Australia team: 15-Israel Folau, 14-James O’Connor, 13-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12-Christian Leali’ifano, 11-Nick Cummins, 10-Quade Cooper, 9-Nic White, 8-Ben Mowen (captain), 7-Michael Hooper, 6-Scott Fardy, 5-Kane Douglas, 4-Rob Simmons, 3-Ben Alexander, 2-Stephen Moore, 1-James Slipper

Replacements: 16-Saia Fainga’a, 17-Scott Sio, 18-Sekope Kepu, 19-Sitaleki Timani, 20-Ben McCalman, 21-Will Genia, 22-Matt Toomua, 23-Tevita Kuridrani

Argentina: 15-Juan Martin Hernandez, 14-Horacio Agulla, 13-Gonzalo Tiesi, 12-Felipe Contepomi, 11-Juan Imhoff, 10-Nicolas Sanchez, 9-Tomas Cubelli; 8-Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7-Pablo Matera, 6-Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), 5-Julio Farias Cabello, 4-Manuel Carizza, 3-Juan Figallo, 2-Agustin Creevy, 1-Marcos Ayerza

Replacements: 16-Eusebio Guinazu, 17-Nahuel Lobo, 18-Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19-Mariano Galarza, 20-Benjamin Macome, 21-Martín Landajo, 22-Santiago Fernandez, 23-Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino

Referee: George Clancy

(Editing by …)

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