Woods, who has long measured success by his hardware from golf’s major championships, sounded philosophical on Wednesday when asked to assess his 2013 season ahead of the opening round at Liberty National.

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“You’re going to have years where you don’t win major championships and years that you do,” said Woods, whose stated pursuit of Jack Nicklaus and his record 18 majors has stalled since winning the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

But failure to end his majors drought did not diminish his achievements this year, Woods said.

“This year’s been a great year so far,” the 37-year-old American told reporters.

“I’ve won at two of my favourite venues (Torrey Pines and Bay Hill), plus winning two World Golf Championships and a Players (Championship) in there. It’s been pretty good,” he added with a smile.

The five tournament victories from 12 starts this year have put him firmly atop the world rankings and brought him to a total of 79, three away from the record 82 won by Sam Snead.

Woods said his PGA Tour wins column was something he was very proud of.

“It’s been an amazing, amazing run to get here,” he said. “The consistency is one of the things I’m most proud of, winning five or more tournaments, 10 years. That’s one of the stats that I look at as one of the ones I’m really proud of. This is one of those years.

“I’m second on the all-time list on both, whether it’s majors or all-time wins. That’s not bad at my age.”

Woods has twice won the FedExCup competition, in the inaugural 2007 series and again two years later, but his 2009 triumph began with a contentious start at The Barclays, which served as the coming-out party for the Liberty National venue.

The American was very critical about the layout, especially the heavily undulating contours of the greens.

Woods remarked to a player in his pro-am group the day before the tournament began that “maybe Tom (co-designer Kite) did this course before his eye operation.”

Kite shed his thick-lensed eyeglasses after having Lasik surgery in 1998, six years after first considering the challenge of turning the former landfill site into a world-class venue.

“The golf course is obviously very different than the last time we played it,” Woods, who still managed to tie for second in the 2009 event, said about the 74 changes made to the layout since then.

“They made some really nice improvements. Some of the landing areas have been changed. Some of the greens have been changed, and a couple bunkers have been repositioned, but they have made some really nice, positive improvements.”

Woods said his goal was to add to his wins total and play his way into the top five on the points list – which ensures that victory at the Tour Championship finale would clinch the FedExCup title and its $10 million bonus.

With all that winning, Woods was asked would the 2013 season be better with six titles, or none of those and one major.

“I think the major,” admitted Woods. who tied for fourth at the Masters, tied for 32nd at the U.S. Open, was tied for sixth at the British Open and finished tied for 40th at the PGA.

(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Simon Evans)

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Nyad came ashore about 53 hours after she set off from Havana, completing the estimated 110-mile (177-km) journey and setting a record for the longest ocean swim without a shark cage or flippers, according to her crew.

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She was met by crowds in Key West who surrounded her, snapping photos, when she staggered ashore as they were enjoying sunny beach weather on the annual Labor Day holiday.

Helpers were waiting to give her medical treatment and immediately placed her on a stretcher and hydrated her with an IV, before she was taken to a hospital. Her face looked sunburned except around the eyes, where she had been covered by goggles, and her lips were swollen.

It was her fifth attempt in 35 years to make the crossing.

About 2 miles (3.2 km) before she reached Key West, Nyad paused briefly to thank her support team, treading water as she addressed the vessels bobbing in the sea around her, according to blog updates on her website (www.diananyad.com).

“This is a lifelong dream of mine and I’m very, very glad to be with you,” she said. “So let’s get going so we can have a whopping party.”

The marathon swimmer had said this was her final attempt, this time using a protective silicone mask to better protect her from potentially deadly box jellyfish that forced her to end one of two attempted crossings last year.

Her doctors aboard a support vessel said earlier on Monday that Nyad’s tongue and lips were swollen, causing her speech to be slurred and raising concern about her breathing, her blog reported. Nyad was also “very cold” and had canceled scheduled feeding stops overnight “in the hopes that swimming would keep her warm.”

Nyad said at the outset that the custom-made mask slowed her and made it more difficult to breathe. Officials initially estimated it could take up to three days to complete the swim, but Nyad benefited from a favorable current, her crew members said.

The treacherous Florida Straits has been conquered only once, by Australian Susie Maroney, who used a protective cage at age 22 during a 1997 swim. The cage glided on ocean currents and enabled Maroney to make the journey in just 25 hours.

Australian endurance swimmer Chloe McCardel abandoned her quest in June to make the crossing after she was severely stung by a jellyfish 11 hours into her attempt.

Nyad’s fifth attempt to make the crossing comes 35 years after she made her first go at it aged 28 in 1978, when she gave up after covering 76 miles in 42 hours, with the aid that time of a shark cage.

Nyad departed on Saturday morning accompanied by five support boats that also provide her with food and water.

Nyad put on a jellyfish-protection suit on Sunday, the but did not immediately use her protective mask, her website said. Instead, the exposed parts of her face were slathered with a special protective cream dubbed “Sting Stopper,” it said.

At one point on Sunday, Nyad floated on her back kicking and led a crew of 35 people keeping her on course through the strong Gulf Stream current in singing “Happy Birthday” to a crew member.

Nyad made the swim stopping every 40 minutes to eat, taking several bites of scrambled eggs and pasta, the blog said.

Her long-distance accomplishments include swimming around the island of Manhattan in 1975 and a swim from the Bahamas to Florida in 1979.

(Writing by David Adams and Kevin Gray; Additional reporting by Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman)

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With her boyfriend, Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy, watching from the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Wozniacki had to dig deep to beat Chinese qualifier Duan Yingying 6-2 7-5 on an action-packed second day at the U.

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S. National Tennis Center.

Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, also had to work overtime before winning her clash with Japan’s Misaki Doi 6-2 3-6 6-1 while a grieving Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open winner, cruised to a 6-2 6-0 win over Georgia’s Anna Tatishvili.

Also a former world number one, Ivanovic arrived in New York with a heavy heart after learning about the drowning death of a childhood friend back home in her native Serbia.

Vukasin Ziramov, 25, died last week after jumping off a bridge into a river while on an outing with friends in Senta.

“It’s been very sad news,” Ivanovic told reporters. “It was very hard because it was almost like my relative. We grew up, and I knew him since we were kids. It’s very, very sad.”

Ivanovic was able to control her emotions during her brief appearance on court, cracking 16 winners in her 58-minute romp.

“It’s obviously hard, more so emotionally than anything else,” she said. “(But) I’m very confident with the game and the way I was playing before that.”

Wozniacki appeared to be in cruise control in her match against Duan, racing through the opening set in just 35 minutes before the Danish sixth seed lost her way in the blustery conditions.

The match looked to be heading to a deciding third set when Duan jumped out to a 5-2 lead before Wozniacki regained control, reeling off the next five games to avoid a repeat of her first-round exit from Flushing Meadows a year ago.

“I’m happy to be through. I think everyone that you asked today would just say it was a day of survival and a day to get through,” Wozniacki said.

“It’s not about being pretty. It’s about just getting the job done. I did that, so I’m happy about that.”

The left-handed Kvitova also had problems with the swirling wind, making 29 unforced errors before recovering from a second set lapse to ease into the second round.

“The wind was quite difficult for us but it was the same conditions for both of us,” said the Czech. “It wasn’t easy match for first round. It’s always tricky and difficult, so I’m glad that I’m through.”

Wimbledon semi-finalist Jerzy Janowicz was booed for serving underhand during a petulant display in his loss to Argentina’s Maximo Gonzalez, ranked 247th in the world.

Hampered by a painful back injury, Janowicz crashed to a 6-4 6-4 6-2 loss after arguing with the chair umpire and throwing his water bottle on the court.

“It was like being stabbed in the back by a knife,” Janowicz said. “For three days I haven’t been able to practice, I could barely walk. I was in really good shape before this happened and that’s why I’m fricking disappointed.”

(Reporting by Julian Linden; editing by)

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A point from a forgettable match in Kiev kept England on course for next year’s World Cup finals but the negative tactics and lack of flair were seen as further evidence that Hodgson’s side are falling behind the world’s best.

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Former England striker Gary Lineker and now BBC presenter described the performance as “woeful”.

However, Hodgson seemed baffled by the reaction and took Lineker to task.

“I’m surprised anyone who has played for England, captained England and played in games of this nature can be that critical,” Hodgson was quoted in British newspapers.

“This is the second time. My disappointment would be that I saw Gary Lineker play, I remember him captaining the team and playing some great games for England but I’m also pretty sure he played in some games when it wasn’t easy and I don’t think every game he played for England was a total success.

“I try to placate most people but I’m afraid I’ve just seen a group of players missing seven first-team members beat Moldova 4-0 and come to Ukraine and draw 0-0.

“You can criticise us or praise us or do whatever you want to do but don’t think you’re going to put words into my mouth or get me agreeing with these opinions.”

Hodgson said Lineker was out of step with the public.

“I will be surprised if I’m walking down the street in the next few weeks and people aren’t actually saying ‘You did well in those two games.’ I’d be surprised. But we’ll see.”

England have been hard to beat since Hodgson took over from Fabio Capello, losing just once in his 20 games.

They have rarely looked like a side capable of challenging for major honours though, and were outplayed by Italy in last year’s Euro 2012 quarter-finals before losing on penalties.

So far in the qualifying campaign for the World Cup, their only wins have been against San Marino and Moldova.

Captain Steven Gerrard also defended England’s performance.

“The manager asked us for a clean sheet before the game,” Gerrard said in the Guardian. “He asked us to be difficult to beat and make sure the group was still in our hands.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by John O’Brien)

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Prop Coenie Oosthuizen put the visitors in front after six minutes and their advantage was extended with late tries from captain Jean de Villiers, Zane Kirchner and Willie Le Roux.

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The win in front of 43,715 spectators at Lang Park was the Springboks’ first victory at the venue in eight attempts.

“I thought our defence was awesome,” Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer told a news conference.

“I truly believe we won the game firstly in our minds and secondly without the ball because the whole message was we needed to make more than 150 tackles.

“If they get momentum they are a very good side. I was very happy the way we attacked at the end.

“We really believed we could win. We wanted to show if you work together nothing is impossible.”

The win puts South Africa on top of the Rugby Championship with three wins ahead of a meeting with New Zealand, who are also unbeaten, and Meyer cautioned his side to stay grounded ahead of next Saturday’s clash at Eden Park.

“A lot of things worked, but we need to keep our feet on the ground and stay humble because next week is a bigger challenge,” he said.

The talk leading into the game surrounded Australia’s exciting back line but it was the Springboks who ran amok, especially in the last quarter.

Conversely, Australia failed to score a try against South Africa for the first time since 2001 as the Springboks bettered their previous record win in Australia, a 12-point victory in 1971.

REPLACEMENT SCORES

Oosthuizen gave South Africa the perfect start in the sixth minute. After Nick Cummins failed to keep Morne Steyn’s long kick in play, South Africa won their lineout and Oosthuizen, on the field as a blood-bin replacement, brushed aside Scott Fardy and Quade Cooper to score.

Cummins looked like he could make amends for his earlier error when a line-break sent him bearing down on the South African try-line, but he slipped over just inside the 22 with one man to beat.

Three penalty kicks from Steyn and two from Christian Leali’ifano followed as the Springboks extended their lead to 16-6 at halftime, although it could have been worse for the Wallabies had Quade Cooper not produced a fine tackle to stop le Roux in the right corner three minutes before the interval.

On the hour mark, wing Bryan Habana’s fine run and chip forward into the 22 led to an easy chance for de Villiers to run in a try.

Four minutes later, a superb pass inside on the right wing from le Roux set free Kirchner to extend the lead six minutes later.

Then loose play from Quade Cooper gifted the Springboks a turnover in midfield and Duane Vermeulen fed le Roux who raced over for a try of his own 10 minutes from time.

Such handling errors were the chief cause of frustration for Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie who is still searching for his first win after three games.

“It doesn’t matter who you play if you drop the ball in key moments and they counter-attack it’s hard work,” McKenzie said.

“You’ve got to create opportunities and you’ve got to grab them. We didn’t quite get there. That was the frustrating thing. We got up there in front of the goalposts four times and turned the ball over.

“There are bits of the game that are improving slowly but you are judged on the scoreboard and that’s not an acceptable outcome. We made it too easy for them in the second half.”

In a match that threatened to boil over on several occasions each side had a man sin-binned, Willem Alberts for a deliberate knock-on in the first half and Michael Hooper after a dangerous tackle on Habana after the interval.

(Editing by John Mehaffey)

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The defending champion dropped a set but still lodged a 7-5 6-1 3-6 6-1 victory over the Argentine slugger, finishing strongly in a typically electrifying atmosphere at a packed Louis Armstrong Stadium.

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Britain’s number three seed has become such a drawcard at Flushing Meadows that the queue for his clash stretched hundreds of metres back to Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Mayer’s aggression paid dividends in the third set before Murray knuckled down in a blistering fourth set to close out the win in two hours and 41 minutes.

“I was a bit frustrated at points in the match because I was doing quite a lot of the running,” Murray said.

“I wasn’t getting much depth on my returns. I served a low percentage today. You don’t feel like you’re dictating the match. It can be frustrating, but I finished the match well.

“I played well when I needed to. That’s a good sign. I want to keep improving as the tournament goes on. You don’t want to play your best right at the beginning.”

Murray’s first serve was poor. He landed a mere 57 per cent of his first deliveries but his renowned fitness and defensive capabilities kept Mayer at bay in an arena that descended into organised chaos at times.

Spectators were late to their seats and called out between points on a court that has been home to numerous close struggles for Murray in recent years.

“It’s a court I haven’t played my best tennis on, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’ve had some tough matches there in the past, and today was the same.

“But I’m happy to play on any court. It doesn’t really make a huge, huge difference. We got a great crowd out there.

“It was a really good atmosphere from pretty much the first point through to the last. Whether or not I play well on that court, it’s always a really good atmosphere.”

Frenetic crowd activity is a hallmark of the U.S. Open and Murray said he would never complain about the noise of the fans because he revelled in the different atmospheres at the four major championships.

“At this tournament, on all of the big courts, it’s very different to Wimbledon, for example,” he said.

“It’s something you need to enjoy about the tournament. It’s quite loud. There’s always noise during the points. There’s a constant kind of murmur you hear whereas at Wimbledon, it’s pretty much silence.

“It’s a different atmosphere, and one that I enjoyed when I came here the first time as a kid, playing the juniors.

“You just have to get used to it each time you come back. All of the slams have very, very different atmospheres.”

Impatient while waiting until late in the evening to play his first round match on Wednesday, Murray said scheduling problems were now the least of his concerns.

His next match will be against another Mayer, Germany’s unconventional Florian. They have met twice, on European clay, and Murray has prevailed on both occasions.

“It was quite a wait to play the first match,” Murray said. “By the time I got on (court) Wednesday night, I literally wanted to play. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. Maybe in that way, it helped me a little bit.

“But I’m in the tournament now. I play every other day. I’ll stick to the same routines pretty much until the end of the tournament.”

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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The Dutch sealed their place after a Robin van Persie double gave them a 2-0 win in Andorra while Italy came from behind to beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in Turin with Mario Balotelli scoring the goal that sealed their berth from the penalty spot.

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There was also plenty for Germany, Switzerland, Russia, France, England and Bosnia to be happy about but there was gloom for Romania, Israel and Ireland plus the Czechs as their hopes either disappeared totally or became no longer feasible.

There is also some renewed belief in Iceland, who have never reached a major finals, after they beat Albania 2-1 in Reykjavik to move into second place behind Switzerland in Group E.

Bosnia, who have also yet to play in a finals, stayed top of Group G on goal difference after they won a rip-roaring game 2-1 in Slovakia and second-placed Greece beat Latvia 1-0 in Piraeus.

But the biggest cheers could be heard in Dutch and Italian towns and cities as they booked their places with two matches to spare.

The Dutch, World Cup runners up in 2010, had to wait until the 49th minute to take the lead against Andorra who have lost all eight games, scoring none and conceding 24.

Van Persie’s second after a goalkeeping error means the Netherlands will take part in their 10th World Cup next year.

Qualification represents something of a redemption for Dutch coach Louis van Gaal who failed to steer the country to the 2002 World Cup in his previous stint as coach.

“We have done the job. We could not have qualified quicker for the World Cup than the way we did. We are the first from Europe,” Van Gaal told reporters.

On the match itself, he added: “We did very well. We gave our all in the first half and we made the breakthrough after the interval. That’s just how we wanted it.”

COMEBACK WIN

Italy, one of only 13 teams who took part in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, made sure they would be among the 32 nations at the finals next year with their comeback win in Turin.

Libor Kozak threatened to ruin Italy’s celebrations when he put the Czechs ahead after 19 minutes but second half goals from Giorgio Chiellini after 51 minutes and Balotelli from the spot three minutes later gave the Italians the points.

Germany’s 3-0 win in the Faroe Islands thanks to goals from Per Mertesacker, a Mesut Ozil penalty and Thomas Mueller, means they will qualify if they beat Ireland at home in the first of their two remaining matches next month.

However, they cannot book their tickets just yet because Sweden’s 1-0 win in Kazakhstan means they could still pip the Germans to top spot in Group C. Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored after 27 seconds for their fastest goal in 101 years.

Switzerland’s 2-0 win over Norway in Oslo put them five points clear of Iceland at the top of Group E but their celebrations also had to be put on hold because they can be caught if they slip up in their final two matches.

Russia also look on course for Brazil after a 3-1 win over Israel put them top of Group F, a point clear of Portugal and means they still have their fate in their hands with visits to the bottom two teams, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan, to come.

DROUGHT OVER

France also had a good night as their five-match run without a goal ended in a 4-2 win over Belarus although they had to come from behind twice before winning with goals by Samir Nasri, Paul Pogba and a double from Franck Ribery, including a penalty.

England escaped from Ukraine with a 0-0 draw that leaves them top of Group H with their fate in their hands and home games against Montenegro and Poland to come at Wembley.

San Marino scored their first goal of the campaign but have conceded 43 after losing 5-1 at home to the Poles who kept their remote playoff chances alive behind England (16), Ukraine and Montenegro (both 15). Poland have 11 points.

Six teams have now joined Brazil in the draw for the finals with Italy and the Netherlands through along with four Asian qualifiers – Japan, Australia, Iran and South Korea.

Jordan took another step towards their first World Cup finals when they beat Uzbekistan 9-8 on penalties in Tashkent after their Asian playoff ended 2-2 on aggregate following Tuesday’s second leg which finished 1-1 after extra time.

Jordan will face the eventual fifth-placed South American team in the intercontinental playoff in November with the winners of that two-legged tie going to Brazil.

(Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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The agreement also includes a significant increase in funding for both the men’s and women’s sevens programmes as the country chases Olympic gold at the Rio Games in 2016.

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Rugby will make Olympic return at Rio with the abbreviated version of the game. Both the New Zealand men’s and women’s teams won their respective world titles in Moscow in late June.

The payment pool for the men’s All Blacks Sevens team has increased from NZ$1.6m to NZ$3.5m, allowing the side to offer players full-time contracts to specialise in the game.

Most of the All Blacks sevens players supplement their income with provincial contracts. The new agreement allows for the women’s sevens team to be granted retainers and tournament fees when selected.

The new agreement with the New Zealand Rugby Players Association also reduced the salary cap for provincial teams as part of the effort to drive down costs in the semi-professional third tier competition.

The provinces have struggled to make ends meet in recent years with the Otago union having to be bailed out by the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) last year.

Other teams have also needed funding help from the national body with NZRU chief Steve Tew stating several times that unions needed to get their books in order if the game was to survive.

The maximum retainer has been lowered to NZ$55,000 from NZ$60,000. The salary cap will go down from NZ$1.35 million this year to NZ$1.025 million in 2015.

Last week, an independent review of the 14 provincial unions indicated a turnaround in their financial performance with a small overall surplus of NZ$500,000 across all of the teams as they cut their costs.

Costs had dropped from NZ$85 million in 2007 to NZ$66 million last year, the Deloitte ‘State of The Unions’ report showed. ($1 = 1.2540 New Zealand dollars)

(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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With Andy Carroll’s move to West Ham for $23 million (14 million pounds) the biggest deal involving an Englishman in the latest transfer window, and a trend for the top clubs to sell off rather than buy local talent, confidence in the country’s players seems low.

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Premier League clubs had spent 630 million pounds ($980.53 million) by Monday’s transfer deadline, smashing the previous record of 500 million pounds set in 2008 according to business services group Deloitte.

The standout deals were mainly for Spaniards, South Americans and Germans with Mesut Ozil, Fernandinho, Willian and Roberto Soldado joining Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur respectively.

England’s Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney could have been a big-name move with Chelsea chasing him for much of the close season before cooling off last week and Everton defender Leighton Baines was a United target but neither deal came off.

There was a loan deal for England midfielder Gareth Barry from Manchester City to Everton, defender Steven Caulker – who has one cap – moved to Cardiff City from Tottenham for 10 million but other activity was even lower key.

Midfielder Stewart Downing joined West Ham from Liverpool, Tom Huddlestone swapped Spurs for Hull City and midfielder Jonjo Shelvey went to Swansea from Liverpool, all for single-figure millions apiece.

The trio of newly promoted clubs, Crystal Palace, Hull City and Cardiff City, were the most active in acquiring English players, mopping up what they could from the bigger clubs for small fees or free.

England manager Roy Hodgson had last week urged clubs to do their transfer business before his squad assembled to prepare for this month’s World Cup qualifiers rather than having players make mad dashes across the country to sign late deals.

“We will co-operate with the clubs, of course, but we will be asking them to co-operate with us as well because if it is at all possible to get your business done before 12 p.m. on September 1, we would be very grateful,” he said.

STIFF COMPETITION

He got his wish but ahead of next year’s World Cup it does not say much for the quality of his squad that so many of the top players were not even linked with moves to Premier League clubs or further afield.

At least in the case of Rooney, his club were repeatedly made to say he was not for sale in the face of interest but many others never even got enquiries.

England, who are second behind Montenegro – whose striker Stevan Jovetic was a $43.5-million purchase for Manchester City in July – in their World Cup qualifying group, host Moldova on Friday and travel to Ukraine next Tuesday in qualifiers.

A look at the England squad for those matches highlights one of the main problems Hodgson has with several of his players struggling to get a regular game for their clubs, particularly those at the bigger outfits.

A case in point is Rooney, who was frequently on the United bench last season, and Hodgson thinks some should perhaps follow the example of striker Daniel Sturridge who swapped a lack of regular action at Chelsea to move to Liverpool in January and kickstart his career.

“A lot of our players are in that position at the moment,” British media quoted him as saying on Tuesday.

“They’re too good for the clubs to say: ‘We’ll sell you or we’ll loan you out’. But they face such stiff competition in these top teams that they don’t get that many games.

“It takes a club to say: ‘Look, I’m convinced that this guy is a 90-minute starter every week and I will play the price required to get him’, as Liverpool did (for Sturridge), and then give him the chance.

“But I think with the U21 game the other week and the matches I see, there are a few players out there who could surprise you if they moved from good reserve positions at top clubs to other good clubs in the Premier League.”

Unfortunately for Hodgson, and perhaps England, the transfer window has shut and the next opportunity for a move will be in January, a few months before the World Cup starts in Brazil.

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

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With eight races remaining, the Spaniard is 46 points behind Red Bull’s triple world champion and overall leader Sebastian Vettel with some of the German’s most dominant tracks coming up in Asia and the Middle East.

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Monza is a special place for Vettel, having taking his first Formula One win there with tiny Toro Rosso in 2008, but Red Bull have triumphed there only once – in 2011 – and team principal Christian Horner spoke in Belgium of it as a potential ‘Achilles Heel’ for his car.

“We don’t expect, maybe, to be that strong (at Monza) but let’s see,” Vettel said after winning at Spa last month for his fifth victory of the year.

There is more optimism – and burden of expectation – at Ferrari, the most successful constructor by far at their home circuit with 18 wins over the years compared to McLaren’s 10.

Alonso won in 2010, and was third in 2011 and 2012. He also won with McLaren in 2007 and was second in 2005 with Renault.

Sunday’s race, at a circuit haunted by the ghosts of history with the decaying 1950s banking quietly crumbling beyond the modern track, will sound a last post for Formula One’s V8 engine in Europe and locals would argue that a win for the sport’s oldest and most successful team would be a fitting farewell.

“It’s an important weekend for us, for the team,” agreed Alonso, who will have to be at his very best to line up on the front row for the first time in 22 races and more than a year of trying.

“Last year we were very close to repeat the victory that we got also in 2010, so we arrive fully motivated again and in Monza we would like to give some smiles and some satisfaction to the tifosi and we will try our best,” said the double champion.

MASSA MOTIVATION

Massa, whose future is under more scrutiny now that Red Bull have decided their 2014 line-up, has made only one appearance on the podium this season – a third in Spain – and has not won a race since 2008.

There will be no shortage of motivation for Massa, even without the pressure of fighting to keep his job, in a race without Italian drivers.

“I am Brazilian but my family came from Italy so this is something of a home race as I have an Italian passport and our family has something of an Italian lifestyle,” he told the Ferrari website (www.ferrari.com) this week.

“This all adds up to a very special race for me.”

Toro Rosso’s Australian Daniel Ricciardo, who will be Vettel’s team mate at Red Bull next season as replacement for departing compatriot Mark Webber, also has an Italian passport but cannot count on too much support even if he currently races for an Italian-based team.

The Monza fans are famed for their passion as well as their complete devotion to all-things Ferrari, their enthusiasm more like a football crowd venting its ire at anyone on the podium not dressed in red.

Lewis Hamilton was booed by them last year when he won for McLaren, with Ferrari-powered cars second, third and fourth, and cannot expect much to have changed should he return triumphant with Mercedes.

The 2008 world champion is chasing his fifth pole in succession to give himself the best shot of a repeat win to close the gap on Vettel and Alonso after being left trailing by both rivals at Spa and finishing third.

The driver starting on pole has won eight of the last 10 races at Monza and only three current drivers – by coincidence the top three in the championship – have won there before. None of them has so far won twice in Italy for the same team.

“We will use a refined version of the low-drag package introduced at Spa. We hope to see an improvement in race pace after the lessons we learned over the race weekend in Belgium,” said Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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