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Northern Ireland denied in Belfast

first_img McAuley and Lafferty were obvious targets but Norwood instead picked out Chris Brunt on the edge of the area. It was a neat routine but required a cleaner volley than the West Brom man could muster on the occasion of his 50th cap. The remainder of the half took on a frenetic quality. Torje slalomed his way through a handful of non-committal tackles but getting lost on the way to goal, Lafferty snatched at a shot from 20 yards and Mihai Pintilii earned an injury and a booking for a crude challenge on Conor McLaughlin. Jamie Ward, currently a free agent following his release from Derby, was doing his best to bring some quality to the right wing but there was little else to please the purist. Northern Ireland almost nipped in front in the 43rd minute, when Brunt’s corner was glanced across goal by Chris Baird. Evans was quickest to react, stooping to head toward the roof of the net only for Tatarusanu to make the save. Northern Ireland made the running after the interval, Dallas firing wide after collecting a half-cleared corner and Lafferty heading over from Brunt’s hanging cross. But there were also lapses in concentration. Ward and McAuley both gave the ball up carelessly in dangerous territory and could easily have cost their side a goal. Chipchiu botched the first chance by going to ground too easily in the box but Torje went much closer in the 64th minute. He raced into space after McAuley’s error and saw his effort squirm agonisingly wide after Evans managed to get a divert the ball with an outstretched leg. Northern Ireland continued knocking on the door to no avail – Brunt sending a well-placed free-kick into the stands and Norwood lashing a hopeful effort off-target from 25 yards. There was a worrying moment when Evans went down with cramp while play continued, creating a vacuum in defence. Romania gladly swarmed into it as Evans three times attempted to jog back only to collapse. That was the end of his day, Craig Cathcart replacing him for the last 11 minutes while Corry Evans took over from Ward. As the decibel level spiked in the closing stages, the hosts responded. First McAuley’s knockdown allowed Lafferty the chance to poach another winner but for the first time in the campaign his final touch was off. Norwood could have struck his 30-yard free-kick any better, dipping it at pace only for Tatarusanu to beat it clear. Lafferty, whose deadly form has brought him five goals in the campaign, this time snatched at his big 83rd-minute chance, Ciprian Tatarusanu making the save before pawing clear Oliver Norwood’s goalbound free-kick moments later. Victory would have seen Michael O’Neill’s side leapfrog their opponents at the top of Group F, but Tatarusanu’s ensured they must make do with the second automatic spot with four games to go. For a side who have not featured at a major tournament in 30 years and entered the draw for France among the fifth seeds, that must still be a source of immense pride. Jonny Evans was also a central figure, going closest to opening the scoring in the first half with a smart header then deflecting Romania’s best chance, by Gabriel Torje, fractionally wide. Michael O’Neill handed two men their first competitive starts, with Michael McGovern deputising for the ill Roy Carroll in goal and Stuart Dallas given the nod ahead of Niall McGinn on the left flank. It was also all change around the ground, with the beloved West Stand reduced to rubble and just two operational stands due to ongoing redevelopment work. Northern Ireland were attacking what used to be the Kop in the first half, with a solitary cameraman taking the place of the country’s most raucous supporters. The 10,000 fans who did have seats ensured a fine atmosphere before kick-off but Claudiu Keseru almost played spoilsport in the second minute when he fizzed a free-kick narrowly wide from 35 yards. Alexandru Chipchiu also came close to giving the visitors an early lead, catching Gareth McAuley out of position only for Steven Davis to track back and conjure a perfectly-timed challenge in the box. The hosts took their time settling but Lafferty hustled a corner that allowed the green shirts to push forward. Kyle Lafferty and Oliver Norwood were denied in a tense finale as Northern Ireland’s crunch Euro 2016 qualifier against Romania ended in stalemate at Windsor Park. Press Associationlast_img read more

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Baseball enters 2016 season seeking redemption

first_imgAs the baseball team prepares to open its season this Friday, the loss to eventual national champion Virginia in the NCAA Regional Final still lingers. Yet, that extra-inning loss in Lake Elsinore has only provided more motivation for a talented Trojan roster.“The preparation [for 2016] began in the summer when we lost to Virginia,” junior catcher Jeremy Martinez said. “Everyone is going to remember that feeling.”The Trojans’ 24 returning players got to work over the summer and through the fall, and now, Martinez said the team was chomping at the bit to finally start the season.“A lot of guys came back in shape, a lot stronger, and a lot of pitchers came up with better velocity,” Martinez said. “So I think the preparation is there. Now it’s just time to showcase all that hard work.”Martinez is one member of a strong nucleus of players returning for the Trojans in 2016. Although USC will undoubtedly miss stalwarts such as Bobby Stahel, Garrett Stubbs and Dante Flores, who combined to account for over a third of USC’s hits in 2015, there is a wealth of returning talent both in the batting order and on the mound. Senior infielder AJ Ramirez and senior outfielder Timmy Robinson paced the team in home runs last year, swatting nine and seven, respectively. Pitching-wise, senior Marc Huberman earned six wins in 2015, while senior Kyle Davis tallied six saves (both figures led the team). In fact, two picks from the summer’s MLB First Year Player Draft return to USC this season, including Davis (29th round, Blue Jays). Senior pitcher Brent Wheatley was selected by the Oakland A’s in the 17th round.But regardless of how much talent the Trojans lost, or how much talent is returning, head coach Dan Hubbs simply wants his players to push themselves to improve.“They don’t have to replace those numbers,” Hubbs said. “They just have to continue to get better. All these guys are going to get more and more opportunities. We need them to be able to just do their thing.”Hubbs was also very happy with the less experienced players he called on to step up in place of the graduated and professional Trojans.“We think there’s a lot of talent there,” he said. “Whether they’re guys who were in the program who are now getting a bigger opportunity or the guys that are just coming in the program as freshmen.”USC looks forward to a tough schedule in 2016. The Trojans face long road trips for series at TCU, Oregon, Washington State and Arizona State, while Cal and Oregon State highlight this season’s home series. They will also compete in the annual Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, taking on Oklahoma and Mississippi State at Dedeaux Field before battling archrival and defending Pac-12 champion UCLA at Chavez Ravine.The Trojans play nine of their first 11 games at home, including their first two games in the Classic, in series against North Dakota, Korean Baseball Organization franchise NC Dinos, and Wake Forest.USC was ranked No. 12 in the nation in this year’s D1 Baseball preseason rankings — the first time in a decade that the school has cracked the top 25 to start the year. Ask around the team, however, and there is very little fanfare or self-congratulation regarding the achievement.“We were unranked for the first three years, and then we’re ranked now,” Davis said. “I guess that’s kind of cool, but it really doesn’t mean much till the end of the year.”Hubbs agreed with his veteran pitcher. After all, his program has the most national championships in NCAA history.“The expectation at a place like USC is that you’re competing for a national title each and every year,” Hubbs said.Hubbs, who signed a multi-year deal over the offseason after an impressive first three years at the helm, was excited to see his team take the field in 2016.“As long as we play our game and do what we’re capable of doing, then I don’t think it matters who we play,” Hubbs said.For now, however, the team’s focus is squarely on its season opening series against North Dakota, which starts on Friday at Dedeaux Field. Kyle Davis will toe the rubber for the Trojans on Opening Day, and first pitch will be at 6 p.m.last_img read more

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Masters 2019: Tiger Woods begins chase for fifth green jacket

first_imgTiger Woods, met with a deafening roar of approval at his first-tee introduction Thursday morning at the Masters, opened with a perfect drive to draw an even bigger response as he began the 2019 tournament on an Augusta National course, where he has thrilled fans for more than two decades.Seeking his fifth Masters title, his first since 2005, Woods teed off at 11:04 a.m. ET in a grouping with Haotong Li and Jon Rahm. Masters 2019: Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus get tournament underway “It proved to me that I could win again,” Woods said earlier in the week.That’s quite a difference from 2018, when Woods’ arrival at Augusta National was met with as much curiosity as fanfare in his return to the tournament coming off spinal fusion surgery. He finished tied for 30th last year at 6-under.This year? He clearly thinks his game is in shape to not only still compete with a young generation of golfers who weren’t around when he last one the Masters, but beat them, too, for a 15th major title that he has been waiting more than 10 years to get.”I would not have foreseen that for sure,” Woods said earlier this week. “After I won my 14th, I felt like I still had plenty of more major championships that I could win, unfortunately I just didn’t do it, I put myself there with chances on the back nine with various places, I just haven’t won. On the opening 445-yard par 4, Woods followed his drive with an iron to the middle of a receptive green on a hole that hasn’t been kind to him (he is 16-over par in his career on No. 1, known as “Tea Olive”). Woods two-putted from there for a tidy par and a steady start to the round.Playing in his second consecutive Masters after experiencing a litany of personal and physical problems, Woods arrived at the year’s first major with renewed confidence born out of his victory in the Tour Championship last fall. Related Newscenter_img “Hopefully I put myself there again.”Woods has been particularly good at Augusta National, even amid struggles elsewhere, finishing sixth in 2009, fourth in 2010, 2011 and 2013 and 17th in 2015.Woods, Li and Rahm will play together again Friday, scheduled to tee off at 1:49 p.m. before the 36-hole cut is made at the tournament’s midpoint. Updated Masters 2019 odds: Tiger Woods draws record bet among favorites as tournament tees offlast_img read more

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