Brazil, Spain impress in World Cup trials

Neymar scored a hat-trick as Brazil routed South Africa 5-0 while Spain edged fellow heavyweights Italy 1-0, but a host of World Cup rivals faltered on Wednesday.

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Ninety-nine days out from the World Cup, there were unimpressive 1-0 friendly wins for England and Germany over Denmark and Chile respectively.

Argentina and Colombia were held to draws while fellow finalists Australia, Ghana and the United States were all beaten.

At Soweto, Chelsea’s Oscar opened the scoring for Brazil on 10 minutes, Barcelona ace Neymar struck once in the first half and twice in the second, and Manchester City’s Fernandinho marked his first start with a goal as well.

It was the final warm-up for the World Cup favourites before the May announcement of their 23-man squad.

At Wembley, Daniel Sturridge scored an 82nd-minute header to give England a 1-0 win over Denmark in their last friendly before manager Roy Hodgson names his World Cup squad.

Pedro Rodriguez’s goal was enough to give world and European champions Spain a 1-0 win over Italy in their final game before coach Vicente del Bosque names his squad to defend their world title.

Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa was handed his debut on home soil at Madrid’s Vicente Calderon in what was a rematch of the Euro 2012 final.

However, Costa failed to make much of an impression and it was Spain’s top goalscorer in qualification, Pedro, who made the difference when his shot squirmed under Gianluigi Buffon just after the hour mark.

Portugal were also big winners as Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed a brace in a 5-1 win over Cameroon while 1998 champions France also looked good with Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi sealing a 2-0 win over the Netherlands in Paris.

It was a first defeat for 2010 World Cup runners-up Netherlands in 19 matches.

In Bucharest, Argentina could only draw 0-0 against Romania in a friendly which saw Lionel Messi play the whole of the match despite being physically sick seven minutes in.

Germany were booed off in Stuttgart after failing to impress in a fortunate 1-0 win over fellow World Cup finalists Chile.

Jorge Sampaoli’s side had the Germans under pressure for long spells and created 17 shots to the Germans’ seven.

The corner count of Chile’s 14 to Germany’s four told its own tale and the hosts enjoyed only a brief period of pressure in the first-half which led to Mario Goetze’s 16th-minute winner.

In Barcelona, Colombia drew 1-1 with Tunisia as the South Americans’ lack of a cutting edge in the absence of knee injury victim Radamel Falcao was exposed.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s United States team lost 2-0 to Ukraine in a game switched to Cyprus because of the worrying security situation in the troubled European country.

An impressive France proved too strong for the Netherlands in Paris as first-half goals from Karim Benzema and Blaise Matuidi sealed a 2-0 win.

Benzema volleyed home the opener just after the half-hour mark and Matuidi added another three minutes before the interval, and the visitors never really looked like coming back into the game as they slumped to a first defeat in 19 matches.

Other World Cup finalists were also handed pre-tournament reality checks with Ghana going down 1-0 at Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina, who’ll be making their tournament debut, slipping to a 2-0 home loss to Egypt.

Australia gave up a 3-0 lead to lose 4-3 to Ecuador in London.

Copa America champions Uruguay, who were semi-finalists at the 2010 World Cup, were held 1-1 by Austria.

Bin Laden kin al-Qaeda mouthpiece: court

Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law has gone on trial in the US, accused of conspiring to kill Americans after the September 11 attacks and supporting a terrorist organisation.

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Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, who is married to bin Laden’s eldest daughter Fatima, is the highest-ranking al-Qaeda figure to face trial on US soil since suicide attackers struck the city’s twin towers.

Jurors have heard him portrayed both as a murderous mouthpiece for al-Qaeda and as a target of a prosecution designed to play on fears and resentments from the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

In opening statements, Assistant US Attorney Nicholas Lewin told the jury bin Laden had summoned Abu Ghaith on the afternoon of September 11, 2001, and asked him to use his oratory skills as the public face of al-Qaeda to recruit and inspire recruits to attack the US again.

“While our buildings still burned, he agreed … in what is the most important moment in al-Qaeda’s savage history,” Lewin said, showing jurors a photo of Abu Ghaith sitting side by side with bin Laden in Afghanistan on September 12, 2001.

“He invoked his twisted view of Islam and declared, ‘Fight thee against the friends of Satan. Fight with al-Qaeda against America’.”

Defence attorney Stanley Cohen said his client wasn’t involved in September 11 plot.

“This is not Osama bin Laden,” Cohen said, pointing to Abu Ghaith. “This is Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a Muslim, an Arab from Kuwait, a husband, a father, an imam, a talker, an ideologue.”

Kuwaiti-born Abu Ghaith, 48, has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to kill Americans after the New York attacks and providing material support and resources to a terrorist organisation.

Prosecutors allege Abu Ghaith began his rise through the ranks for al-Qaeda by becoming a motivational speaker at safe houses and training camps for aspiring jihadists in the months before September 11.

Afterwards, bin Laden instructed him to lead recruitment efforts by appearing in widely distributed videos.

“For more than a year after, the defendant used the murderous power of his words to try to strengthen al-Qaeda,” Lewin said.

He quoted Abu Ghaith as saying, weeks after the attack, “These young men who have destroyed the United States and launched the storm of airplanes against it have done a good deed. The storm of airplanes will not abate.”

The government contends the statements are evidence Abu Ghaith had prior knowledge of the failed shoe-bomb airline attack by Richard Reid in December 2001 and another plot to down a flight from Paris to Miami with explosives hidden in shoes.

Cohen told jurors they might feel outrage over some of the “dumb” and “stupid” statements made by his client but he urged jurors to keep open minds.

“At the end of the day, there’s really no evidence,” Cohen said.

The trial is expected to last about a month.

Africans warm up for World Cup

Algeria won, Ivory Coast drew and Ghana lost as African qualifiers prepared for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with warm-up games Wednesday.

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Striker El-Hilal Soudani put Algeria ahead in first-half stoppage-time and Inter Milan midfielder Saphir Taider added a second goal for a 2-0 victory over Slovenia in Blida.

It was an encouraging result for the Desert Foxes, at a ground where they are almost invincible, before facing Belgium, South Korea and Russia in Group H during June’s football showpiece event.

Substitutes Didier Drogba and Max Gradel scored as Ivory Coast came from two goals behind to hold Belgium 2-2 in Brussels.

Marouane Fellaini and Radja Nainggolan struck before Drogba halved the deficit on 74 minutes and Gradel snatched the stoppage-time equaliser.

The comeback will boost an Elephants team recently called “slow and old” by former manager Philippe Troussier.

After first-round exits in 2006 and 2010, Ivory Coast got a kinder Cup draw this time, sharing Group C with Colombia, Greece and Japan.

Ghana had first-choice centre-backs John Boye and Jonathan Mensah back from lengthy injuries only to lose 1-0 away to lower-ranked Montenegro in Podgorica.

The Black Stars, who face a daunting Group G mission against Germany, Portugal and the United States, were undone by a first-minute penalty Dejan Damjanovic converted.

Later, Cameroon confront Cristiano Ronaldo-inspired Portugal in Leiria and Nigeria take on Mexico in American city Atlanta.

Non-World Cup qualifiers Egypt, Guinea, South Africa and Tunisia met teams who will be in Brazil, and there were contrasting results.

Egypt defeated debutants Bosnia Herzegovina 2-0 in Austria, Guinea upset Iran 2-1 in Tehran, Tunisia held Colombia 1-1 in Barcelona, but South Africa suffered a 5-0 thrashing by Brazil in Soweto.

USOC trying to narrow potential 2024 candidates

“It is a very informal process and our goal is to make a decision (on whether to proceed) by the end of the year and there haven’t been any formal deadlines or submissions,” USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun said on a conference call.

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“The dialogue is really around which cities do we think can put together a bid that is going to be a fantastic bid and which cities do we think have the opportunity to win.

“Before we make a final decision we need to get into fairly detailed discussions with hopefully a smaller number of cities so our objective is to be in that position within the next couple of months.”

The USOC sent letters to the mayors of America’s 35 biggest cities last year to gauge interest in bidding for the 2024 Games and has been tight-lipped ever since about the response calling the process “informal.”

Several cities are believed to have thrown their hats into the ring, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and San Diego but as yet no preferred candidate has been identified.

Blackmun’s comments come amid reports that the USOC is preparing to have a short list of two or three cities as early as next month and hopes to have settled on a candidate city by the end of 2014 or early next year.

But if the USOC feels there is no bid capable of landing the 2024 Games the organisation will turn its focus to a 2026 Winter Olympics.

The last Olympics staged in the United States were the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.

The United States has not hosted a Summer Games since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and can expect stiff competition if it does enter the 2024 race with potential bids coming from Rome, Paris, Doha and Durban, South Africa.

The IOC has encouraged the United States to submit a candidate but the USOC will want firmer support before proceeding.

Blackmun said the USOC was not yet factoring in global politics into any decision on whether to go forward with a bid but the organisation will eventually take a long hard look at the political climate after embarrassing rebukes the last two time the they put forward bids.

The USOC has spent several years patching up strained relationships with the IOC after New York’s bid for the 2012 Games and Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics were rejected.

“We have heard plenty of encouragement from multiple IOC members about a U.S. bid so I think IOC membership is favourably inclined towards us at least considering going forward,” said USOC chairman Larry Probst.

The next Summer Olympics will be held in Rio in 2016 while 2020 Games were awarded to Tokyo.

The decision on the 2024 host will be made in 2017.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)

Sri Lanka party marred by player dispute

Sri Lanka’s team have flown home in triumph to a huge street party after winning the world Twenty20 tournament.

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Celebrations, however, were marred by controversy over the retirements of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara.

Tens of thousands of fans lined the street from the main international airport to downtown Colombo, a distance of 35km, causing traffic chaos across the capital as the heroes passed by in a motorcade.

Sangakkara and Jayawardene, both former skippers, told reporters at the airport on Tuesday there were serious disagreements about their retirement from T20 cricket.

Jayawardene said his remarks to a local newspaper, that the tournament may be his final T20 appearance, had been taken as notice of his intention to retire, and based on that he had been criticised by a cricket board official.

“I am disappointed and hurt that an official went public criticising us without first asking us whether we actually made those remarks,” he told reporters shortly after landing.

“I agree with what he says,” Sangakkara added.

Both said they had been uncertain whether they would play in the World T20 tournament until a few hours before they were due to leave for Bangladesh.

Sources close to the players said they did not finalise their employment contracts with the cricket board until the eve of their departure, following disputes between players and the board over pay and conditions.

There was no immediate comment from the cricket board, but an official had earlier criticised both senior players for allegedly going public about their retirement plans without prior notice to the board.

On the eve of the finals with India, the board announced a million dollar bonus for the team if it could finally shed its reputation for “choking” in major tournaments.

Sri Lanka hosted but lost the last World T20 tournament in 2012, and were defeated in the final of the 2007 and 2011 50-over World Cups.

Sangakkara was in celebratory mood despite grumbles with the board.

“Its going to be a massive day,” he tweeted, along with photos of fans who mobbed the airport and the streets to greet him and the rest of the team.

Fans waved national flags and cheered as the team bus escorted by hundreds of motorcycles and cars passed by.

It was the biggest street party since government forces crushed Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.

Resurrection rates well, MKR beats Block

The penultimate episode of The Block: Fans v Faves had to settle for second, behind arch time-slot rival My Kitchen Rules on Tuesday.

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It’s likely to be a different story on Wednesday when more than two million viewers are expected to watch the climax of the Nine Network’s renovation reality.

The Block, though, has struggled to reel in the Seven Network cooking series and that’s despite an increase in its own ratings this year.

Rarely has The Block finished ahead of MKR and even it’s second last episode was well off the pace.

MKR on Tuesday returned to home visits for the instant restaurant challenge and attracted an audience of 1.672 million.

The Block: Fans v Faves had 1.487 million viewers according to OzTAM’s overnight ratings.

Sitting just behind the two reality shows was Seven’s imported supernatural drama Resurrection which had 1.388 million viewers.

The series has shed 600,000 viewers from its launch two weeks ago but its still rating well and Tuesday’s are proving to be the most competitive of the week.

Every top 10 show attracted a million plus viewers and last Tuesday nine of top 10 shows surged past a million viewers.

Network Ten’s decision to protect The Biggest Loser and move Tuesday’s second last show to Sunday for a double episode finale has been justified.

The network replaced The Biggest Loser: Challenge with Jamie Oliver’s cooking show, Jamie & Jimmy’s Food Fight Club.

The show was directly up against The Block and MKR and did no better than previous episodes of The Biggest Loser.

Jamie & Jimmy’s Food Fight Club was 35th with 293,000 viewers.

Most watched shows on Tuesday

1. My Kitchen Rules (Seven) – 1.672 million

2. The Block: Fans v Faves (Nine) – 1.487 million

3. Resurrection (Seven) – 1.388 million

4. The Big Bang Theory (Nine) – 1.298 million

5. Seven News (Seven) – 1.289 million

6. Nine News (Nine)- 1.281 million

7. Nine News 6.30pm – 1.159 million

8. Seven News/Today Tonight (Seven) – 1.139 million

9. A Current Affair (Nine) – 1.101 million

10. Home And Away (Seven) – 1.026,000

———————————————-

35. Jamie & Jimmy’s Food Fight Club (Ten) – 293,000

*Source OzTAM

Twitterverse blasts MKR’s Chloe and Kelly

The knives are out now it’s finals time on My Kitchen Rules, and its most controversial team Chloe and Kelly are on the hot plate.

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The friends from Western Australia are gearing up to face off against arch rivals, Victorian twins Helena and Vikki, in the second of the instant restaurant rounds on Wednesday night.

And MKR viewers weren’t shy about which team they wanted to see come out on top, taking to Twitter to serve up some serious criticism of the WA pair.

“ooooohhhh i can’t wait for mkr episode can’t wait to see chloe and kelly fail YES,” tweeted Ammmmy.

Known for looking down their noses at fellow contestants, Chloe and Kelly claim to be the best in the competition thanks to their well-travelled palates that have experienced cuisines in 42 countries.

“Someone tell Chloe and Kelly that being in the top 5 just means you’re in the top 5, not that you’re an expert chef. #mkr,” tweeted Gabriel Henderson.

While Ashhh wrote: “Chloe and Kelly should not be in the competition, children get taught not to bully others yet 2 grown girls are allowed ON TV. Ugh #MKR.”

The cattiness between the two all-female teams is nothing new, with Helena saying Chloe and Kelly were “full of crap” earlier in the series.

The Perth girls played up the rivalry on Channel Seven’s Sunrise program on Wednesday.

“We don’t have a whole load in common with them sometimes, you know where in different places in our lives,” Chloe said.

“We like intelligent women who stand on their two feet based on their brains.”

Kelly added: “They didn’t know how the moreton bay bugs get inside ravioli. How does anything get inside ravioli?”

But the Twittersphere wasn’t impressed.

“This faux `rivalry’ nonsense by Chloe and Kelly on @sunriseon7 is lame. Do they think we’re stupid? I bet they’re all BFFLS. #MKR,” wrote Shelley James.

There are only five teams left on MKR, after Cathy and Anna were sent home in Monday night’s instant elimination round.

Jorge Sampaoli taking Chile to World Cup

Jorge Sampaoli has steered Chile to the World Cup and achieved the seemingly impossible: making former coach Marcelo Bielsa’s name recede in the collective public memory.

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Bielsa became one of Chile’s most beloved figures after helping the squad reach the second round of the 2010 World Cup. Polls ranked him as the best coach in the country’s football history, and some said he should run for president. But he quit in 2011 following a dispute with Chilean football federation officials.

Claudio Borghi stepped in to replace him, but he was fired in 2012 when the team was struggling in South American qualifying. In his last news conference, Borghi conceded that filling Bielsa’s shoes had proved difficult, especially with so many adoring fans mourning his absence.

Like Bielsa and Borghi, Sampaoli is Argentine. With coaching methods similar to Bielsa’s, he was appointed Chile coach in December 2012. From the start, Sampaoli knew he had a huge job in front of him, and he made reference to it with his first public comments after his contract – through 2015 – was revealed.

“We are obligated to get Chile to the 2014 World Cup,” Sampaoli said.

He delivered by instilling national pride in a team that had problems with player discipline, turning Chile into a powerful rival with an enviable record.

Chile finished third in South American qualifying, drew with Spain and beat England in friendlies, and lost only two of its 15 games last year. But its luck ended in the draw in December when it was grouped with world champion Spain, 2010 finalist Netherlands and Australia.

Sampaoli has coached clubs in Argentina and Peru but his most successful managerial stint was with Universidad de Chile. He won the league and the Copa Sudamericana, the No. 2 club tournament in South America.

Brandis warns of Syria terror threat

Attorney-General George Brandis has raised fresh concerns about the terrorist threat posed by the Syrian civil war, saying several Australians have taken up senior leadership roles in the conflict.

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In a speech in Washington, Senator Brandis said the Syrian war highlighted the ongoing threat of terrorism more than any other recent conflict.

Terrorist activity and training were taking place “behind the fog” of the conflict, he warned in his address to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

While Australians involving themselves in foreign wars was not new, he said the difference with the Syrian conflict was the scale of the problem.

Per capita, Australia is one of the largest sources of foreign fighters from countries outside the region, with between 120 and 150 Australians believed to be taking part.

“We also know that Australians are taking up senior leadership roles in the conflict,” he said.

“This shows that as a nation we need to address this issue early, in order to prevent individuals from travelling to participate in that and other foreign conflicts.”

Pointing to the recent arrest of two Sydney men for their involvement in the recruitment of Australians to fight in Syria, Senator Brandis said Australian authorities continued to monitor the financing and facilitation of terrorist activity stemming from Australia.

“I cannot stress enough that international engagement, intelligence collection and information sharing will continue to be vital to this effort,” he said.

The attorney-general also hit out at Edward Snowdon as a “traitor”, dismissing descriptions of the US intelligence leaker as a whistleblower or “folk hero”.

He called for continued intelligence co-operation between the UK, Canada, New Zealand, US and Australia in the “post-Snowdon environment”.

“That collaboration must continue unaffected by the Snowden fallout and I am confident that it will,” he said.

Scolari savouring chance to win at home

Forget about the pressure and responsibility of having to win the World Cup at home.

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To Luiz Felipe Scolari, coaching Brazil in Brazil is the perfect job.

Scolari knows that anything but the World Cup title will be considered a failure, but he could never pass up on the chance of lifting football’s most coveted trophy in front of the home crowd at the Maracana.

How much did he want it? The president of the Brazilian football confederation said it took about 10 seconds for Scolari to accept his offer.

“Some say that I’m a populist, but we are playing at home, we have the fans on our side and a team which is competitive and has a lot of quality,” the outspoken Scolari said.

“We have everything that allows us to be the best team. That’s why I fully trust that we can make it to the final and be the champion.”

Already a World Cup-winning coach, Scolari said he was not nearly as confident before the 2002 tournament, when Brazil won its fifth title.

“Now I’m playing in Brazil, in front of my people, I have the 12th player (fans) on my side,” said Scolari, voted among the top 10 coaches of 2013.

“If I can’t say that we are good, that we have a lot of quality and that we have good players, then there’s nothing I should be doing here.”

It was thanks to the 2002 World Cup title that Scolari became internationally recognised. But his career hit highs and lows after that. He thrived with Portugal at the 2004 European Championship and the 2006 World Cup, then failed at the club level with Chelsea and Brazilian club Palmeiras.

When it became clear that former Brazil coach Mano Menezes was not doing enough to gain the support of the country’s tough fans, federation president Jose Maria Marin didn’t think twice before bringing back the popular Scolari in late 2012.

“We needed to shake up the national team, the World Cup is a completely different tournament,” Marin told TV Bandeirantes.

This will likely be Scolari’s last World Cup. Although the 65-year-old coach hasn’t made any official announcement, he has said in the past that his goal was to coach in Brazil and then retire.

He knows the only way he can leave on a high note is by winning at home.

“I wouldn’t accept to coach Brazil if I didn’t think I could win the World Cup,” Scolari said. “I took the job because I’m 100 per cent sure that I will win the World Cup with Brazil.”

Easy to use OwnFone pitched at parents

Tech junkies will loathe OwnFone.

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Parents and seniors will likely love it.

There’s no texting, no camera, no social media, no games and no apps. That means no sexting, no cyberbullying, no timewasting, and no bill shock.

The OwnFone, which launches in Australia on Wednesday, is about as simple as a mobile can get.

It’s a 40g plastic body, about the size of eight stacked credit cards, with a handful of buttons including volume, “answer” and “end call”.

The remaining buttons have but one function: to call whomever’s number has been pre-programmed into each – be it mum, dad, a friend, a sibling, or triple-0. It can accommodate up to 12 numbers.

And that’s it.

For kids, it’s an easy way to keep in contact with friends and family.

If, for instance, they need to be picked up from swimming practice, they need only press the “mum” or “dad” button. To make things even simpler, the phone can be ordered to feature a photo on each button.

If they happen to lose or smash it, as kids sometimes will, a replacement costs $77, and there is no risk of losing personal data. Nor is there much in it for thieves – unless of course they fancy a chat with a victim’s friends and family.

The simple interface will probably also appeal to seniors overwhelmed by the complexity of smartphones.

It also means the battery lasts longer than a smartphone’s. It will last for up to three days on regular use. Most smartphones will last a third of that.

OwnFone claims that if you place a fully charged handset into a special “shutdown” mode, leave it a drawer for a year and then turn it on, it will still make and receive calls. In this way, it would likely be a good phone to have on hand as an emergency backup.

Simplicity does, however, have its downsides. There’s no voicemail function or caller ID, and if you want to change a number on the phone, you must return it to OwnFone in an envelope for reconfiguration.

The absence of texting might also irk some people who prefer it as a regular means of staying in contact with the kids.

There is also no way to check usage on the phone, though alerts are sent via email or texted to an alternative mobile number when 50, 85 and 100 per cent of monthly calls have been used.

Handsets are $69 or $79 depending on if you want words or pictures, and plans, which run on the Vodafone network, start at $20 per month for 45 minutes of calls, though cheaper options are available if you’re willing to lock in for six or 12 months.

Simple feature phones with rudimentary screens and texting capabilities, such as the Nokia 106, go for as little as about $40, and will also give you the option of any number of telco providers.

But if you’d like to limit your kids’ ability to get into cybertrouble, the OwnFone is your best bet.

* The OwnFone is available from Wednesday from ownfone广西桑拿,广西桑拿网, or 1300 69 63 63.

Mexico coach Herrera aiming high at WC14

Most would find that ridiculous.

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“When you arrive at the top, you have to keep looking up with the idea of changing everything and winning a World Cup,” Herrera said. “It’s very difficult, but if you don’t go (to a World Cup) with that dream, then why are you going?”

Herrera’s enthusiasm has gripped his home country, where he is already a media darling.

Brash, outgoing and not afraid to ruffle feathers, Herrera’s career took off after he guided Mexican club America to a 2013 league title. His wild on-the-field celebrations were all over social network sites.

It was that title that propelled Herrera into the national team as Mexico’s fourth coach in the World Cup qualifying cycle. He took charge in November after a series of lacklustre displays led to a cull of three coaches between September 6 and October 17, as Mexico’s participation in Brazil hung on the edge.

Herrera’s first significant move was to exclude Mexico’s Europe-based players – including Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez and Villarreal forward Giovani Dos Santos – from a two-match playoff against New Zealand.

He justified his decision by saying the travel involved would be too much, and there were enough good players in Mexico.

In their place, 11 players from his former club were called up in Herrera’s first squad.

Tactically, Herrera introduced an attacking 5-3-2 system with the wing backs high up the field. It worked with “El Tri” overcoming New Zealand 5-1 in the first leg and 4-2 in the second.

Herrera is confident Mexico can get out of Group A and, while many believe achieving positive results against Croatia and Cameroon will be key to that, he thinks his team can provide a shock against Brazil.

“We spoke with (Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari) and he said, for them, Mexico is like having a stone in its shoe,” Herrera said in February. “We’re hoping to be like a rock, not a stone.”

Such grandiose statements are common-place from the former Mexico international, who hadn’t achieved much of note before the title win with America – one of Mexico’s biggest clubs. In 2008, Herrera’s Veracruz team was relegated from Mexico’s first division.

Doctors’ robot reduces spine surgery risk

Surgeons have been using GPS-based devices for some time, but a Sydney operating theatre has been fitted with the medical equivalent of park-assist.

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It’s a leap forward, says neurosurgeon Dr Jonathon Ball, who is using the new robotic system to make his already exacting spine operations more precise.

Apart from reducing risk and improving accuracy, the Israeli-designed Renaissance guidance system improves recovery time and reduces pain.

Dr Ball and orthopaedic surgeon Dr Brian Hsu use it to position a drill guide before they insert screws and rods that stabilise deformed, degenerated or injured spines.

The system takes away the need to drill holes freehand, says Dr Ball, who is head of neurosurgery at Royal North Shore Hospital and also runs a private practice.

He and Dr Hsu bought the equipment, which is installed at North Shore Private and is the first system of its type in Australia.

They have each used it for about seven operations since it was installed in January.

Like most hi-tech medical equipment it’s expensive, costing around $1 million for the full system.

Before each operation the doctors use a CT scan to program the device.

It moves along the spine to position the drill guide in a pre-planned sequence, ensuring each hole is in exactly the right place and at exactly the right angle.

It does away with the need for multiple X-rays used by surgeons in traditional spinal surgery.

Some operations need 20 to 30 holes, says Dr Ball. It’s physically and mentally taxing work.

“We still do the surgery. We are still working the drill. But the robot guides us so the operation goes according to plan.”

He says there is a 10 per cent error rate when drilling freehand, as he still does at the public hospital.

“I have never had a disaster, but I have done operations where I have had to go back and put a screw in a better position,” he says.

“GPS-type devices have been common in surgery for some time. But this helps you drive the car as well,” says Dr Hsu.

“It is not necessary for all spinal surgery, but it will be particularly beneficial for people who have difficult anatomy or unusual deformities.

“Like most boys we are excited about our new toy,” he says.

“There is a lot of fear about back surgery in general. Nothing is 100 per cent safe. But this is a huge improvement.”