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Update November 2017


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Update November 30, 2017

City win again after another late Sterling goal

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola celebrates after Raheem Sterling scored his side’s second goal during the English Premier League match against Southampton at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, Wednesday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Steve Douglas

Manchester, England (AP) — Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola burst onto the field with his fists clenched and leapt into the air. Benjamin Mendy, currently out with a long-term knee injury, hobbled down the touchline in a desperate bid to get a selfie with teammate and match-winner Raheem Sterling.

Ninety meters away, Southampton's players were on their backs in their own area, distraught at conceding in the sixth minute of injury time.

In a wild finale that sparked an extraordinary explosion of joy from City's players and coaching staff, Sterling curled home a last-gasp goal with virtually the last kick of the game to give the Premier League leaders a 2-1 victory over Southampton on Wednesday.

It needed something special to upstage Wayne Rooney's hat-trick goal from his own half for Everton on an incident-packed night in England's top flight.

Sterling managed it.

"It was an astonishing end to the game," said Guardiola, who was told to calm down by the referee amid his frenzied celebrations. "It means a lot."

City re-established an eight-point lead over second-place Manchester United thanks to a 12th straight league win. Late goals used to be United's forte during the glory days under Alex Ferguson, but now it is City mastering the art of scoring the last-gasp winners.

In particular Sterling, who grabbed an 84th-minute winner against Huddersfield on Sunday and also a winner in the seventh minute of injury time against Bournemouth in August.

"I could not control it," Guardiola said of his behavior after Sterling's goal, which included a bizarre confrontation with Nathan Redmond as the Southampton winger walked off the field.

"We want to win the league but you have to celebrate when you score in the last breath like that."

In the night's other highlight, Rooney demonstrated his enduring class by meeting a goalkeeper clearance with a superbly struck first-time shot from just inside his own half that arrowed into an empty net. It was his, and Everton's, third goal in a 4-0 win over West Ham.

There were also victories for Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Here's a closer look at the action:

___

LAST-GASP STERLING

Raheem Sterling has now scored three late winners — two in the league and one in the Champions League — in City's last three games, a personification of the spirit Guardiola has forged in his side.

The way he took his winning goal against Southampton showed the confident mood Sterling is in, the winger taking his time in a crowded area to curl home a finish into the far corner.

He has 13 goals now this season, making him City's top scorer.

Oriol Romeu looked as if he had earned a point for Southampton in the 75th minute, after Virgil van Dijk had sliced a free kick from Kevin De Bruyne into his own net to gift City the lead in the 47th minute.

___

ROONEY HAT TRICK

Rooney's technique for his long-distance goal was perfect, the former England captain striking the ball firm and true as it arrowed over a raft of West Ham defenders and into the net.

"Not many in world football who could do that," injured Everton midfielder Ross Barkley tweeted.

Rooney had already scored two goals, one from the penalty spot, on what proved to be a painful return to Goodison Park for West Ham manager David Moyes, who spent 11 years in charge of Everton (2002-13). Ashley Williams scored the fourth goal as Everton moved five points clear of the relegation zone.

Sam Allardyce was in the stands and is on the verge of becoming Everton's next manager, five weeks after the firing of Ronald Koeman.

___

FIVE-STAR ARSENAL

Mesut Ozil inspired Arsenal to a third straight Premier League win as Huddersfield were thrashed 5-0 at Emirates Stadium.

Alexander Lacazette opened the scoring after three minutes before Ozil took over the game, setting up goals for Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez and then adding a fourth himself — all in the space of four minutes.

Giroud added his second to complete the rout as Arsenal climbed to fourth place.

___

SALAH'S DOUBLE

Mohamed Salah came off the bench to score twice in Liverpool's 3-0 win over Stoke and make it 12 goals for the season for the Premier League's leading scorer.

Sadio Mane opened the scoring for Liverpool, lofting the ball into the net as Stoke's defenders claimed it had gone out of play earlier.

Liverpool jumped to fifth place.

___

CONTE SENT OFF

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was sent to the stands for the second half as his team beat Swansea 1-0 for a fifth league win in six games.

Conte was dismissed from the touchline by referee Neil Swarbrick moments before the interval after furiously protesting the awarding of a Swansea goal kick.

The Italian at first sat behind the dugout, but then had to move due to the proximity of his new seat to his coaching staff.

Antonio Rudiger scored the winner with a 55th-minute header.

Chelsea stayed 11 points behind City.

___

WIN FOR BURNLEY

Burnley moved above Tottenham and into sixth place thanks to a 2-1 win at Bournemouth, with its goals coming from Chris Wood and Robbie Brady.


Focus more on how long Tiger Woods lasts more than his score

Tiger Woods tries to drive the 7th green during the pro-am for the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Club in Nassau, Bahamas on Wednesday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Doug Ferguson)

Doug Ferguson

Nassau, Bahamas (AP) — One year later, the scene hadn't changed.

Jordan Spieth paused on the 17th green and looked across the water to the adjacent fairway at Albany Golf Club as Tiger Woods hit his shot to the ninth green, just like he did last year at the Hero World Challenge.

Curiosity is just as high over another return from injury for Woods and how he will fare after a long layoff.

What's different about the expectations for this comeback — his fifth since he first had back surgery in the spring of 2014 — is they are more about how long Woods will last than what kind of scores he posts.

"He seems more confident this year the way he's walking and talking," Spieth said Wednesday in a whisper, having lost his voice to illness. "He seemed more excited at the Presidents Cup before he was even swinging, more anxious. And it seemed to really bother him that he was following doctor's orders, like he really wanted to get going. So once he was given the go, I think it was exciting for him.

"So we're all very interested, as we should be, in how it goes for him this week — and obviously, hoping that's the start."

The start of his latest comeback is Thursday against an 18-man field that features eight of the top nine players in the world. It's the first time every shot counts for Woods since a 77 in the Dubai Desert Classic on Feb. 3.

That was his seventh round in his return. He withdrew the next day, citing back spasms, and had a fourth back surgery in April to fuse two disks in his lower back. Woods reports some stiffness and not as much range in motion. But he says he has no pain.

The hype about this return has been fueled by friendly rounds over the last few weeks.

Justin Thomas, the PGA Tour player of the year who will be paired with Woods on Thursday, said fans will be "shocked at how good his game looks." Rickie Fowler made a casual reference to how far Woods was driving it past him. Brad Faxon, who played with Woods and Dustin Johnson last Friday in a round with President Donald Trump, said Woods looked at ease and held nothing back in his swing, especially with the driver.

Woods had to keep score in his pro-am round Wednesday, and that included a 2 on the 350-yard seventh hole when he drove the green with a breeze at his back and holed a 20-foot putt for eagle.

The tournament is unofficial, though it offers world ranking points. Woods is at No. 1,199 in the world, and even if he finishes last, he'll move up more than 200 spots into the top 1,000. That still seems odd for a guy who spent 683 weeks at No. 1 in the world.

What enthuses Woods is playing again.

"It's been a very long time, and I'm really looking forward to getting out there and playing with Justin and having a good time," Woods said.

After that, it will be time to reassess.

"I just really want to be able to complete this week, play all four days and give myself a chance on that back nine on Sunday to win this thing," said Woods, whose last victory was more than four years ago at Firestone in the Bridgestone Invitational.

He lasted only three starts when he came back from his first back surgery in the summer of 2014. He lasted two starts after he returned at the end of 2014, and then after playing all four majors in 2015, he had a pair of back surgeries. And when he returned from those last year in the Bahamas, he lasted only three events.

"My physio was certainly working overtime last year after every day and even in the morning, trying to get me ready to go," Woods said.

Woods said the reason his comeback last year was over so quickly was due primarily to the rough at Torrey Pines and not realizing his disk was in bad shape. He said the deceleration in his swing when he hit out of the rough made the injury worse.

That's why there's so much emphasis on his health. He looks built to last, or at least last a little longer. And this is the ideal spot for Woods to return.

There is no cut. Woods is guaranteed four rounds. Interest is high. Pressure is not.

"I think it's an easy week for Tiger as it is for anybody else versus other weeks — not as many people, the golf course doesn't beat you up," Spieth said. "But you can start to see it's actually, I think, pretty important, these end-of-the-year tournaments to kind of set a precedent for next year."

That especially holds true for Woods.


Froome ready to ride Giro next year

Britain's Chris Froome, left, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, is followed by Italy's Fabio Aru as they climb Croix de Fer pass during the seventeenth stage of the Tour de France cycling race on July 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Daniella Matar

Milan (AP) — Four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome will ride the Giro d'Italia next year in an attempt to win his third Grand Tour in a row.

After successfully defending his Tour de France title earlier this year, Froome went on to win the Spanish Vuelta for the first time. A victory at the Giro would make him the seventh rider in history to win all three Grand Tours — and only the third to hold the three titles at the same time.

The 32-year-old Froome made the unexpected announcement on Wednesday during the presentation of next year's Giro route, with a brief video message.

"I'm looking forward to seeing you at the start line of next year's Giro d'Italia," he said.

The announcement was greeted by surprise and a warm round of applause from the audience, which included past and present cyclists.

"It's a unique situation for me, having won the Tour and Vuelta and now having the opportunity to go to the Giro and attempt to win a third consecutive Grand Tour," Froome said in a statement from Team Sky.

"It's really exciting to be able to take on a new challenge, to do something that perhaps people wouldn't expect and to mix it up. It's a whole new motivation for me to see if I can pull off something special next year."

Froome, who has not competed at the Giro since 2010, will also try to win the Tour for a record-equaling fifth time next year.

No rider has completed a Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998, but Froome has taken confidence from this season's successful Tour-Vuelta effort.

"We know that it would be a significant feat in the modern era to win both the Giro and the Tour in the same season, but the way we managed things this year gives me confidence that I can successfully target both races," the British rider said.

"Another factor is that there is an extra week between next year's Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France. That's one more week for recovery and for training than there would be normally."

Spanish great Alberto Contador, who is one of the six riders to have won all three Grand Tours, believes now is the right time for Froome to attempt the same.

"I think it was very intelligent from him," Contador said. "He's won the Tour, he's won the Vuelta and he has to try to win the Giro. He has very good legs and an equally good or even better team. So I think he's in a good position."

Two-time Giro champion Vincenzo Nibali was the last cyclist to win the three races, completing his record with the 2014 Tour. And the Italian warns that Froome might not find it so much to his liking in Italy.

"Froome has said that he really prefers the heat, like at the Vuelta or the Tour," Nibali said. "He doesn't have a good feeling with the cold and as we all know it can be very cold on the Giro. So we have to see how he finds it."

Even though the Giro takes place in May, cyclist have often had to combat snow and freezing temperatures in the mountains.

Next year's Giro will start in Jerusalem and the following two stages will also be in Israel, marking the first time the race has started outside Europe.

Race organizers have said the route will not go through any land considered occupied by the international community. That means the course will circumvent the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians as parts of a future independent state.

A group of about 15 protesters held Palestinian flags and posters criticizing the Giro outside the building hosting Wednesday's presentation.

Race director Mauro Vegni told The Associated Press: "Everyone has the right to think what they want, they have the right — as long as the protests are peaceful — to express their thoughts."


Alfa Romeo back in F1 with Sauber after more than 30 years

In this July 1, 1951 file photo Juan Manuel Fangio drives a supercharged 1.5 Liter Alfa Romeo during the Grand Prix D'Europe at Rheims, France. (AP Photo)

Turin, Italy (AP) — Alfa Romeo has joined up with the Sauber team for a return to Formula One after an absence of more than 30 years.

Sauber said Wednesday it has reached a "multi-year technical and commercial partnership" with the Italian automaker, which is part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

From 2018, the team will be known as the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team. Next year's car will bear the Alfa Romeo logo and will be equipped with Ferrari power units.

FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne said the deal marks "a significant step in the reshaping of the Alfa Romeo brand."

The Alfa name last appeared in F1 in 1985, although its biggest achievements came during the series' first two years, when Giuseppe "Nino" Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio won the 1950 and 1951 titles in Alfas.

Ferrari junior program and Formula Two champion Charles Leclerc is expected to drive for Sauber next season and there is also speculation that Antonio Giovinazzi, another Ferrari product, could become the team's second driver.


Update November 29, 2017

Man United score 4 goals again to showcase attacking talent

Manchester United's Ashley Young celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match against Watford at Vicarage Road stadium in Watford, Tuesday, Nov. 28. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)

Steve Douglas

London (AP) - So often lauded for their defensive strength, Manchester United issued another reminder of their attacking talent by scoring four goals in a Premier League game for the sixth time this season.

On the receiving end this time were Watford, who had already been pummeled 6-0 by Manchester City — the team that second-place United are striving to reel in.

Ashley Young scored twice in the first half and Jesse Lingard ensured there would be no late fightback from Watford with a 60-yard solo goal to complete a 4-2 win at Vicarage Road on Tuesday.

United had already scored four goals against West Ham, Swansea, Everton, Crystal Palace and Newcastle, showing that manager Jose Mourinho has no problem unleashing his attacking riches at times.

"We should have scored seven," he said. "We were very dangerous for 90 minutes."

It's in the big games, against United's title rivals, where Mourinho chooses to keep it tight and two of them are coming up: Arsenal away and then City at home. United have nine clean sheets from 14 games so far.

United are currently five points behind City, who play Southampton in their game in hand on Wednesday, and look to be the team best-positioned to challenge Pep Guardiola's team.

Tottenham might already be out of the title race.

A 2-1 loss at Leicester was Spurs' third loss in their last five games, and followed a disappointing home draw against West Bromwich Albion. Spurs are now 13 points adrift of City having played a game more.

Here's a look at Tuesday's games:

___

SECRET WEAPON

Ashley Young is turning out to be a secret attacking weapon for Man United.

The left back's deflected shot looped into the top corner for the winning goal against Brighton on Saturday, and he was scoring again three days later against former club Watford.

Both were great strikes, too, his first being a fierce low shot inside the near post from outside the area in the 19th. Then he curled a free kick into the top corner in the 25th for 2-0.

When Anthony Martial scored in the 32nd, United were cruising but Watford mounted a late fightback to score through Troy Deeney — from the penalty spot — in the 77th and Abdoulaye Doucoure in the 84th.

Lingard made the points safe for United two minutes later by running from inside his own half, skipping past two defenders before finding the corner.

___

SPURS SLIP UP

The Jamie Vardy-Riyad Mahrez double act propelled Leicester to their improbable league title triumph in the 2015-16 season and they scored beautifully taken goals in the first half to sink Tottenham.

Vardy met Marc Albrighton's left-wing cross with a volleyed lob in the 13th minute, before Mahrez made it 2-0 on the stroke of halftime when he ran down the right on a counter-attack, cut inside, and curled a left-foot shot into the far corner.

Harry Kane grabbed his 10th league goal of the season by meeting substitute Erik Lamela's pass with a finish high into the net in the 79th minute, but Tottenham missed the chance to climb to third place.

___

PARDEW'S TASK

Alan Pardew is expected to become West Bromwich Albion's manager on Wednesday and he will inherit a team just two points above the relegation zone after they squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 against Newcastle.

Hal Robson-Kanu and Sam Field put Albion 2-0 up by the 56th minute at The Hawthorns, but Ciaran Clark reduced the deficit in the 59th and Newcastle equalized through Jonny Evans' own goal in the 83rd.

Newcastle ended a run of four straight league losses while West Brom's winless run stretched to 13 games, giving Pardew a glimpse of the size of the teak awaiting him. Pardew, who wasn't at the match, will take on former club Crystal Palace on Saturday should his appointment be confirmed.

In the night's other game, Brighton drew 0-0 with Crystal Palace, who stayed in last place but are now tied for points with Swansea. 


Eli Manning benched by Giants for Geno Smith

In this Nov. 23, 2017, file photo, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) walks off the field after a loss to the Washington Redskins, in an NFL football game in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Tom Canavan

East Rutherford, New Jersey (AP) — The Eli Manning era with the New York Giants may be coming to an end.

And if it is, it is ending ugly.

The Giants announced Tuesday that the two-time Super Bowl MVP was being benched for the first time in more than 13 years so they could evaluate the other quarterbacks on the roster over the final month of a lost-and-injury-filled NFL season.

The decision to sit the 36-year-old Manning was totally unexpected, especially with five games left in the regular season.

It was clear the decision hurt and annoyed Manning, who has been the face of the Giants (2-9) since they made a bold draft day trade with the-then San Diego Chargers in 2004 to swap first-round picks and get the No. 1 overall selection to the Meadowlands.

Manning expressed his unhappiness but once again he played the good soldier, voicing his support for veteran Geno Smith, who will start against Oakland on Sunday.

His emotional pain was all over his face. His eyes welled with tears talking to reporters. His chin quivered when asked about how much this hurt. His face got red the more he talked.

Coach Ben McAdoo gave Manning the option of starting to keep his streak of 210 consecutive starts alive, but he didn't want any part of that.

"You start knowing you are going to come out of the game to keep a streak alive, maybe, that's not what it is about," Manning said.

"It's not a preseason game where you are going to start to the half, the next week a quarter, a series, that's not fair. That's not fair to me, not fair to Geno, not how you play. You play to win. When you are named the starting quarterback you think it's your job to go win the football game.

"If you are going to play a little bit, I didn't think it was the right way to play," said Manning, who became the Giants starting quarterback 10 games into his rookie season in 2004, which was about a month or so before Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz turned 12 years old.

Manning's voice broke when asked how this one hurt, noting it was one of his hardest days as a Giant.

"It's been a hard day to handle this, but (I'll) hang in there and figure it out," he said.

Manning spoke with the media for less than four minutes. He then took his backpack and left the locker room.

McAdoo said he made the decision to start Smith over the weekend, and co-owner John Mara and general manager Jerry Reese were in agreement.

"This is not a statement about anything other than we are 2-9, and we have to do what is best for the organization moving forward, and that means evaluating every position," Reese said in a statement.

"I told Eli this morning that an organization could not ask for anymore in a franchise quarterback. He has been that and more. Nobody knows what the future holds, but right now, this is what we think is best for the franchise."

McAdoo, the second-year head coach, said the organization needed to learn more about Smith and rookie third-round draft pick Davis Webb in the final weeks of the season. Smith took four snaps in a blowout loss to the Rams. Webb has not played.

McAdoo refused to say if this was the end of the Manning era.

"I have a lot of confidence in Eli as a player, as a quarterback," McAdoo said. "But at this point, it's my responsibility for the organization to make sure we take a look at Geno and at some point take a look at Davis and give them the opportunity to show what they can do."

Manning and Smith were told about the decision on Tuesday, and later the team was filled in.

Manning's streak is the second-longest streak by a quarterback in NFL history, behind Brett Favre's 297. He has started every Giants game since Nov. 21, 2004, when he took over for veteran Kurt Warner in the 10th game of his rookie season.

Manning has also started 12 postseason games, and twice led the Giants to Super Bowl victories.

He holds almost all of the franchise's major passing records. This season, he has thrown 14 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He will turn 37 on Jan. 3.


England allrounder Stokes arrives in New Zealand

New Zealand-born England cricket star Ben Stokes is surrounded by media as he arrives in Christchurch, New Zealand, Wednesday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Steve McMorran

Auckland (AP) - New Zealand-born England allrounder Ben Stokes has landed in Christchurch, where he's negotiating to play for Canterbury while under suspension for the Ashes series in Australia.

Speculation about Stokes' return to cricket arose when he was spotted at London's Heathrow Airport with his cricket gear, with photos spreading quickly on social media.

Initial reports suggested the allrounder may be heading to Adelaide to join the England squad ahead of the second test against Australia starting Saturday, but that was quickly quashed by the England Cricket Board.

Stokes arrived Wednesday at Christchurch, on New Zealand's south island, where he is visiting his parents, Barbara and Gerard Stokes.

He made no comment to waiting reporters on his arrival at Christchurch Airport.

After initially dismissing reports that Stokes may turn out for Canterbury as early as this weekend as "wishful thinking", Canterbury cricket on Wednesday confirmed it was in negotiations with Stokes.

"Following the recent speculation surrounding Ben Stokes coming to New Zealand, Canterbury Cricket can now confirm that they have been in initial informal discussions with Ben Stokes' representatives regarding his potential availability," it said in a statement.

Canterbury coach Gary Stead also suggested Stokes might at least train with his team in the near future.

"He's a world-class allrounder," Stead said. "I think we'd be stupid not to consider it.

"We've got a very young team at the moment. If he wanted to have some sessions with us, I think we'd be silly not to."

The Canterbury Cricket board is expected to meet later Wednesday to discuss whether Stokes will play for the province.

"Ultimately, if our board says no, it won't happen" Stead said. "From my point of view I think if you can get someone like that then let's do it.

"We're acutely aware that if this does get across the line there is something else obviously hanging over his head and that could happen at any stage. There's no time period or time frame on that for us.'

New Zealand Cricket spokesman Richard Boock said his organization hadn't received a formal request regarding Stokes but knew of discussions between the player and province.

"NZC has an open mind on the issue and will await further information before making a decision," Boock said.

The England Cricket Board was quick to issue a statement Tuesday confirming Stokes was not heading for Australia to reinforce the squad that lost the first Ashes test by 10 wickets in Brisbane. It has since granted a No Objection Clause which would allow Stokes to play in New Zealand as his suspension applies only to England matches.

"Ben Stokes is making a private trip to New Zealand to spend time with his family," the ECB said in a statement. "His travel arrangements have not been arranged by the ECB.

"He is not on his way to the Ashes, England Lions or any other official training camps with the English setup."

By being in Christchurch, though, Stokes is only a comparatively short flight away from Australia and could quickly join the England team if police in Britain decide not to press charges after investigating his involvement in an incident outside a night club last September.

Stokes was arrested after video footage purportedly showed England's test vice-captain throwing punches in a street fight after a night out celebrating England's win over the West Indies in a limited-overs international.

He was released by police while the investigation continues. He has not played cricket since then, and the ECB has confirmed Stokes will not join the Ashes tour until the police investigation is complete.

If the Canterbury board approves Stokes' selection he could play for the province against Otago in New Zealand's domestic one-day competition on Sunday.

New Zealand coach Mike Hesson said Stokes' presence in the competition would be a positive.

"From a cricket point of view he's a world-class player and would add a lot of talent to the competition," Hesson said. "Certainly, if players perform well against Ben it shows us they're performing well against the best."


Whistleblower diary strengthens case against Russia

In this file photo dated Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, Sergei Chudinov of Russia competes during the men's skeleton competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Eddie Pells

New York (AP) - Diary entries from the key whistleblower in the Russian doping scandal recount several meetings with powerful government officials, and are expected to be used as further evidence when the IOC decides Russia's fate for the upcoming Olympics.

The New York Times obtained entries from the diary kept by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow anti-doping lab, who is now living in the United States under federal protection.

Included in the diary were details of discussions and meetings with Vitaly Mutko, who was the country's sports minister at the time and is now deputy prime minister. Rodchenkov also wrote about meetings with Yuri Nagornykh, the former deputy sports minister, and Irina Rodionova, the former deputy director of the center of sports preparation of national teams of Russia.

A person familiar with the contents of the diary told The Associated Press they were authentic. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no comments were authorized due to the sensitivity of the case.

On Monday, the International Olympic Committee released a full decision for the ban of one of the 19 athletes it has stripped of results from the Sochi Olympics and suspended for upcoming games. In it, the team of IOC investigators validated Rodchenkov as a witness and also said his diary entries appear legitimate.

"These entries may therefore be considered as a significant evidential element," the decision said.

The IOC executive board meets next Tuesday to determine the fate of Russia's Olympic team, with the growing chance it may use the decision to further justify a complete ban.

The details of Rodchenkov's diary will add more evidence to the argument that Russia should be banned as a team. The IOC could choose to let Russian athletes who can prove they've been thoroughly tested to compete as neutral athletes. That, in turn, could compel Russia to have its eligible athletes boycott the Games altogether, rather than compete as neutrals.

In the diary, Rodchenkov makes note of the plan to swap dirty urine samples with clean ones at the Sochi Olympics in order to make sure that doped athletes would not get caught.

"There's no clear understanding of the plan, it's just a nightmare!" Rodchenkov wrote on Jan. 29, less than two weeks before the Sochi Games began and one day after two top Russian biathlon athletes had been caught doping in Austria. "Mutko is freaking out over biathlon, things are out of control and chaotic."

The plan, however, did work, and the IOC report compared it to "a Swiss watch with many small wheels working in common."

The report validated both the testimony of Rodchenkov and the conclusions drawn by Canadian professor Richard McLaren, who said the doping deception was directed by government officials.

Russia has denied its government directed the program and has blamed it on Rodchenkov and other individual actors.

But the diary entries make clear that Rodchenkov was answering to members of the government.

He described a meeting with Nagornykh to discuss whether to falsify the record of race walker Elena Lashmanova, who had been nailed for a doping positive.

"He got an excellent tan in Mexico," Rodchenkov wrote after the meeting. "I spent 1.5 hours there fighting. Nagornykh slowly backed off. We agreed to go see Mutko by 1:00."

In July 2014, Lashmanova was suspended. 


Update November 28, 2017

Tiger Woods getting strong reviews in return to golf

In this Dec. 4, 2016, file photo, Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the third hole during the final round at the Hero World Challenge golf tournament in Nassau, Bahamas. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Doug Ferguson

Nassau, Bahamas (AP) — All eyes are on Tiger Woods and his return to golf, even the players he has to beat.

Especially the players.

Woods was on the back end of the practice range Monday at Albany Golf Club, hitting balls with Patrick Reed, when he looked up at a drone buzzing some 50 feet over him in the cloudy sky. He had no idea that Daniel Berger was at the controls.

Berger was on the front of the range, blocked by a row of bushes in the sand dunes. As the drone's camera zoomed in, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Kevin Kisner and their caddies crowded around Berger to look.

They cared more about his reaction to the drone than his swing.

But they are curious about his game.

And those who have played with Woods in recent weeks believe there is reason for the hype.

"People are going to be shocked at how good his game looks," PGA champion Justin Thomas said.

Thomas will have the best seat in the house Thursday when Woods, who had fusion surgery on his lower back in April, plays for the first time in 10 months at the Hero World Challenge. Thomas, named the PGA Tour player of the year after winning five times and the FedEx Cup, is paired with him in the first round.

Thomas spends a fair bit of time with Woods at their Florida homes, and they played a few weeks ago.

The attention on Woods increased in recent days as more players joined him for casual rounds. Brad Faxon caused a stir when he played with Woods, Johnson and President Donald Trump on Friday.

"Tiger looked great to me," Faxon wrote in a story for Golfweek . "I was impressed with how far he hit the ball. Probably on the 10 holes that they were both hitting driver, Tiger hit it past Dustin half the time and Dustin hit it past Tiger half the time. He looked great. I think more than anything, he looked at ease. He was not concerned about swinging hard and going at it with driver. The ball flight, the sound off the club, all of it was right there."

Johnson is among the elite power players in the game. True story?

Johnson smiled.

"He hit it by me a couple of times," Johnson said. "Did I bomb one and he hit it past me? No. But he did it past me a few times. He was moving it, though."

All this hype in the chill environment of the Bahamas should sound familiar. It was only last year when Woods returned after 15 months away from the game. He had gone through three back surgeries at that point, the first one right before the 2014 Masters, and Woods looked relatively normal, with freedom in his swing. He made 24 birdies, along with enough mistakes that he finished 14 shots out of the lead, in 15th place among an 18-man field.

Woods missed the cut at Torrey Pines two months later, flew to Dubai and managed one round — a 77 in calm conditions — before withdrawing with back spasms.

What appears to be different this time, at least from those who have played with him, is the absence of pain.

Patrick Reed played nine holes of practice with him Monday morning. He saw Woods do whatever he wanted with his swing and saw an assortment of shots — a stinger off the tee, a low draw, a high cut.

"He seemed to have command of not only the golf club, but his body," Reed said.

It was the first time Reed had played with Woods since the opening round of the Hero World Challenge last year. The difference Reed noticed was that Woods looked more free and fluid in going after any shot.

"It looked like there was a little hesitation the last time I played with him," Reed said. "This time, he was fully committed and fully trusted in his body. There was no pain. That's the biggest thing for me. If he stays healthy, then he'll be back playing golf, hopefully like he used to. I want to see it and I want to compete against it."

Johnson said Friday's round with Woods and the president was a big change from when the two played the opening two rounds at Torrey Pines together in January, when both missed the cut.

"His speed was back. He played a lot better than he did in San Diego, for sure," Johnson said. "He's healthy. To me, he looks strong. He's swinging with speed instead of in San Diego. When I played with him there, he wasn't swinging at it. You could tell he was hurt."

The question is whether there is rust from having been gone from competition for so long.

Woods has played only three tournaments since August 2015. Three of the four times that he returned to competition dating to that first back surgery before the 2014 Masters, Woods lasted no more than three starts before taking more time off.


Ashwin takes 300th wicket as India thrash Sri Lanka

India's Ravindra Jadeja, center without cap, celebrates with teammates the dismissal of Sri Lanka's Dimuth Karunaratne during the fourth day of their second test cricket match in Nagpur, India, Monday, Nov. 27. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

Chetan Narula

Nagpur, India (AP) — Indian crushed Sri Lanka by an innings and 239 runs on Monday, equaling India's biggest ever test victory and handing the tourists their biggest ever test defeat.

Spinner Ravichandran Ashwin took eight wickets in the match to take his career test tally to 300. His final wicket saw him overtake Dennis Lillee's title of quickest to reach 300. Ashwin reached the mark in his 54th test, two matches fewer than the legendary Australian paceman.

Ashwin took 4-63 in Sri Lanka's second innings after also bagging four wickets in the first innings.

Sri Lanka's Dinesh Chandimal scored a counter-attacking 14th test half-century as the rest of the team folded. "We were completely outplayed in this match. We won the toss but failed to score enough runs. On this pitch, playing against India, you need minimum 350 runs," he said.

Ravindra Jadeja (2-28), Umesh Yadav (2-30) and Ishant Sharma (2-43) all captured two wickets each as Sri Lanka collapsed to 166 all out in their second innings just after lunch on the fourth day.

Riding on Virat Kohli's fifth test double hundred, India had scored 610-6 declared in their first innings in reply to Sri Lanka's poor effort of 205.

Trailing by 405 runs on the first innings, the visitors resumed on 21-1 and lost seven wickets in the extended morning session.

Dimuth Karunaratne and Lahiru Thirimanne added 13 to the overnight total before Karunaratne departed for 18, caught by Murali Vijay at forward short leg off Jadeja.

Thirimanne followed soon after for 23, caught at backward point off Yadav, then Angelo Mathews went for 10, holing out at mid-off off Jadeja as the wickets began to tumble rapidly.

Niroshan Dickwella was caught in the slips off Sharma for four then Dasun Shanka fell to Ashwin for 17.

Ashwin struck twice more after the umpires agreed to extend the session in the possibility of getting a result. He trapped Dilruwan Perera leg before wicket for a qolden duck then had Rangana Herath caught at slip without scoring.

Chandimal's resistance finally gave way after lunch when he fell to Yadav then Ashwin bowled Lahiru Garnaga for a duck to end the match.

"The pitch was very good to bat on and there wasn't much in it. I just batted the way I wanted to, rotating strike and keeping the scoreboard ticking," said Kohli. "Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara batted well too. Rohit Sharma made a statement with his century. The bowlers are doing very well. We believe we are preparing for the South Africa tour," he added.

The first test in Kolkata was drawn. The third test begins in Delhi on Saturday.


Ricciardo has much to ponder as he considers Red Bull future

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia takes a curve followed by teammate Max Verstappen of the Netherlands during the Emirates Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Nov. 26. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Jerome Pugmire

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Daniel Ricciardo's season ended with him trundling off the track during Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a hydraulic failure causing a third retirement in four races.

It was a frustrating finale to a topsy-turvy year that saw him finish fifth in the Formula One standings, and included a purple patch of five straight podium finishes between May and July.

Away from the track, the 28-year-old Australian has a lot of thinking to do over his future at Red Bull.

His contract expires at the end of 2018. Teammate Max Verstappen recently signed a new deal until the end of 2020, but Ricciardo has yet to commit even though the team wants him to stay.

"The peak years of my career are probably the next deal I'll sign," he said. "I want to make sure I maximize that with my driving ability."

Ricciardo has won five races, all since joining Red Bull in 2014. That year, he won three races and finished a very impressive third overall.

He was considerably better than Sebastian Vettel, his teammate back then, who had clinched his fourth straight world title in 2013.

But now Verstappen is emerging as the team's No. 1, and widely considered F1's next star.

Verstappen turned 20 in September, but has already won three F1 races — two in the last six races of this season. Ricciardo has 27 career podiums while Verstappen — the youngest winner of a race at 18 years old — already has 11.

Verstappen hefty new contract shows how valuable the Dutchman is, even though the team has not officially designated a No. 1 driver.

This puts Ricciardo in a delicate position.

Given his considerable talent and consistency, he does not want to spend the next three years as — potentially — a No. 2 behind Verstappen. It would possibly cause tension within the team and pressure a relationship that is harmonious enough, despite some flashpoints.

"I'm sure there will be a few discussions in the next week or two, especially with the team," Ricciardo said. "It's not about the offer, it's about who is going to have the best car for 2019."

Ricciardo, who won the Azerbaijan GP in June, has given himself a loose timescale.

"Once I get home and over Christmas, I want to switch off from racing," he said. "I would like to know something earlier."

He has the luxury of being an established driver at Red Bull, so a move away comes with risk.

"I don't want to be too clever and hope I have every option possible," said Ricciardo, who expects his next deal to be "a multiple-year."

One possibility could be waiting to see what happens at Ferrari and Mercedes.

Kimi Raikkonen will be 39 at the end of next season and unlikely to get another year with Ferrari. He was fourth in the standings but the Finnish driver was 100 points behind Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas and 112 points behind his own teammate Vettel, second overall.

Bottas has a one-year deal with Mercedes for next season, alongside world champion Lewis Hamilton.

If Bottas fails to impress, there could be an opening in 2019.

On either team, Ricciardo would be up against four-time F1 champions in Hamilton and Vettel, and would not be the leading driver.

When he sat alongside them both at a pre-race news conference last Thursday, Ricciardo joked that the three of them shared eight F1 titles between them. Clearly, he dreams of belonging in such elite company.

But, for now, perhaps challenging Verstappen is his best option.

"It would be a good problem to have, if we're both fighting at the front and having some battles," Ricciardo said. "If it's ultimately deciding a world title we would happily run with that challenge."

But Red Bull's marked increase in speed is a cause for optimism next year — providing Red Bull can iron out reliability issues that saw Ricciardo fail to finish six races and Verstappen seven.

"I believe next year we will close the gap. Is it enough to fight for a title?" Ricciardo said. "I think we can certainly get close."


IOC judges back truthful whistleblower, ban 5 more Russians

In this file photo dated Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, Russia's relay team from left, Yana Romanova, Olga Zaitseva, Ekaterina Shumilova and Olga Vilukhina, celebrate winning the silver for the women's biathlon 4x6k relay at the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Graham Dunbar

Geneva (AP) — In a blow to the credibility of Russia's denials that it operated state-backed Olympic doping, an IOC judging panel has endorsed a key whistleblower and the investigator who exposed the plot.

Orchestrated cheating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games was "a conspiracy which infected and subverted the Olympic Games in the worst possible manner," an International Olympic Committee commission prosecuting a slew of Russian cases said on Monday.

Former Moscow and Sochi laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov was a "truthful witness," the panel said in publishing its first detailed verdict on the same day it sanctioned five more Russian athletes to bring the total to 19.

Rodchenkov is living in the United States under FBI protection as a cooperating witness.

The IOC panel, chaired by Denis Oswald, agreed that investigator Richard McLaren — appointed by the World Anti-Doping Agency to verify Rodchenkov's claims to American media in May 2016 — proved the existence of a doping conspiracy beyond reasonable doubt.

The public vindication of Rodchenkov and McLaren, each repeatedly denounced by state authorities in Russia, will fuel speculation that the IOC executive board meeting next Tuesday should ban Russia's team from the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Medals in biathlon, bobsled, cross-country skiing, speedskating and skeleton have been stripped by the IOC, and Russia was knocked off the top of the medals table last week in a previous round of disqualifications.

The first athlete disqualified four weeks ago was Alexander Legkov, a cross-country skier who won the men's 50-kilometer gold and 4x10-kilometer relay silver.

The full verdict in his Oct. 30 case was published on Monday to reveal how strongly a judging panel of three IOC members believed the evidence first outlined last year of urine sample swaps and tampered bottles in the Sochi laboratory.

A 46-page document confirmed the panel "is more than comfortably satisfied that the evidence establishes that a scheme of sample-swapping as described in the McLaren Report and the affidavit of Dr. Rodchenkov was indeed in place and implemented in Sochi."

The ruling stopped short of joining the two men in accusing Russian government agencies, including the sports ministry and FSB security service, of complicity.

Still, this was a "sophisticated" system in place and was compared to a Swiss watch by the three-man panel, comprising two from Switzerland and one from Spain.

"(I)t was a very fine mechanism where many people had a role to play," the verdict in Legkov's case stated.

A final IOC judgment on whether the Russian state ultimately corrupted the Winter Games that cost $51 billion to prepare for and stage should come next week.

A separate commission chaired by a former president of Switzerland, Samuel Schmid, will give the IOC board its findings ahead of the Dec. 5 meeting to decide on punishing Russia.

The latest guilty verdicts announced on Monday involved Aleksei Negodailo and Dmitrii Trunenkov, members of the gold medal-winning four-man bobsled; Yana Romanova, the silver medalist in the 4x6-kilometer women's biathlon relay; Olga Vilukhina, the silver medalist in the same relay and 7.5-kilometer biathlon; and Sergei Chudinov, who was fifth in skeleton.

The Russian Bobsleigh Federation said in a statement the decisions were "the height of injustice" that lacked legal basis, and promised to contest them.

The appeals route for Russian athletes is the Court of Arbitration for Sport in the IOC's home city of Lausanne, Switzerland.

Trunenkov was already serving a four-year ban, backdated to April 2016, for a separate doping offense just before he retired.

Another member of the four-man team, Alexander Zubkov, was disqualified on Friday and stripped of his golds in the two-man and four-man. That meant Alexey Voyevoda, who won both golds with Zubkov, was also stripped of the medals. His case was considered by the IOC panel last Thursday.

A third member of the women's biathlon relay, Olga Zaitseva, had her hearing last week.

All disqualified athletes are also banned from the Olympics for life.

If the 2014 medals are reallocated, the four-man bobsled gold could go to Latvia. The United States could improve to silver, and a fourth-placed Russian team could receive the bronze.

In women's biathlon, Vilukhina's silver could pass to Vita Semerenko of Ukraine, and Karin Oberhofer of Italy could be promoted to bronze. The women's relay could see Norway could move up to silver and the Czech Republic get bronze.

Legkov was among athletes on the "Duchess List" — named for a fast-acting cocktail of steroids dissolved in alcohol and used as a mouthwash — who were protected by the doping system. Their clean urine was stored to be swapped in for tainted samples during the games.

Rodchenkov alleged swaps were done through a mouse hole in a lab room with FSB officers who worked out how to break into tamper-proof bottles. Scratches and marks on the glass were crucial evidence in Legkov's case.

"Whatever his motivation may be and whichever wrongdoing he may have committed in the past," the IOC panel said, "Dr. Rodchenkov was telling the truth when he provided explanations of the cover-up scheme that he managed."


Update November 27, 2017

Australia win Ashes series opener by 10 wickets

Australia's Cameron Bancroft ducks under a bouncer during an Ashes cricket test between England and Australia in Brisbane, Australia, Monday, Nov. 27. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

John Pye

Brisbane, Australia (AP) — David Warner and Cameron Bancroft shared a record 173-run partnership as Australia wrapped up a 10-wicket win over England in the first cricket test on Monday, taking first honors in the five-match Ashes series.

Warner was unbeaten on 87 and Cameron Bancroft hit the winnings runs, finishing not out 82, as the Australians surpassed the victory target of 170 with 2 sessions to spare on day five after resuming at 114-0.

The unbroken stand between Warner and Bancroft, who is playing his first test, was the biggest opening partnership in a successful fourth-innings run chase in test cricket, according to Cricinfo. Australians Archie Jackson and Bill Ponsford put on 172 against the West Indies at Adelaide in 1930.

Steve Smith's unbeaten 141 from 326 deliveries in the first innings earned him the player of the match award. The Australian skipper helped his team recover from 76-4 to reach 328 in reply to England's 302.

Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood took three wickets apiece on Sunday when Australia bowled England out for 195, setting up a simple run chase with four sessions remaining.

The second test — the first day-night test contested in an Ashes series — starts Saturday in Adelaide.

The series-opening match was tightly contested for the first three days, after England won the toss, elected to bat and posted 196-4 on a rain-affected opening day when the pitch was slow and soft.

The Australian pace trio, tipped to play a major role in reproducing the kind of intimidating fast bowling that exposed some vulnerability from England on the last tour here, initially struggled to get their rhythm on a wicket devoid of the kind of pace and bounce the Gabba is famous for.

The Australians rallied in the first inning after a top-order collapse on the second day and Smith's innings ensured the hosts had a 26-run lead after the first innings.

With the pitch starting to behave more in line with tradition on days three and four, Australia seized control on Sunday with England losing their last four wicket for 10 runs and giving the home team plenty of time to chase the 170 runs needed for victory.


Late Sterling goal as Man City set EPL record; Arsenal 4th

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling, right, celebrates with teammate Kyle Walker after scoring during the English Premier League match between Huddersfield Town and Manchester City at John Smith's stadium, in Huddersfield, Sunday, Nov. 26. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Sam Johnston

London (AP) — Only a third of the way into its Premier League campaign, Manchester City are already making history.

Pep Guardiola's City defeated Huddersfield 2-1 Sunday to equal a club record 11th straight league win. City also moved to 37 points from 13 games — the highest ever points total at this stage of a Premier League season.

After Huddersfield took a shock lead, Raheem Sterling won a penalty — which Sergio Aguero converted to draw the teams level — before completing the comeback himself six minutes from time to restore an eight-point lead for City at the top of the table.

Elsewhere, Alexis Sanchez's last-minute penalty gave Arsenal a 1-0 win at Burnley and Southampton crushed Everton 4-1.

After handing Manchester United their first league defeat of the season in October, Huddersfield had another famous victory in sight when Christopher Schindler's header deflected in via City's Nicolas Otamendi in added time at the end of the first half.

However, City leveled just two minutes after the break when Aguero calmly converted his spot kick after Sterling was brought down by Scott Malone.

There was some fortune attached to the winning goal. Substitute Gabriel Jesus had his shot saved, but it popped up into Sterling's midriff and looped into the top corner.

___

STERLING ON THE UP

It wasn't Sterling's first late winner of the season for City. The England winger scored deep into stoppage time at Bournemouth in August to secure a 2-1 victory.

Sterling has previously faced criticism for failing to add end product to his prodigious dribbling skills and pace, but he has been prolific in front of goal so far this campaign. His goal at Huddersfield was his 12th in 18 appearances in all competitions.

"He (Sterling) is still young, he's able to improve," Guardiola said. "We are going to be there to help him to become a better player. We are so satisfied with his performance."

___

LATE AGAIN

When Arsenal went into added time still level with Burnley, history suggested victory was still within their grasp.

On the Gunners’ last trip to Turf Moor, in October 2016, Laurent Koscielny scored the only goal in the 93rd minute. In the corresponding fixture at the Emirates Stadium in January, Sanchez stepped up eight minutes into added time to give Arsenal a 2-1 win after Andre Gray had leveled with a penalty of his own five minutes earlier.

There was only one spot kick on this occasion, as Sanchez found the bottom corner two minutes into stoppage time after James Tarkowski was adjudged to have pushed Aaron Ramsey.

"There's a lot of me inside, that's raging a lot," Burnley manager Sean Dyche said. "Football's a harsh game and sometimes it hurts you."

It was only the second away victory in the Premier League for Arsenal this season and came against a Burnley side on a three-match winning streak, in which they had not conceded. The win moves the Gunners back above Tottenham and into the top four, but they remain 12 points adrift of City.

___

EVERTON CRISIS

Having started the season considered the side most likely to challenge the Premier League's "Big Six," Everton are swiftly falling into a fight at the other end of the table.

Southampton became the latest side to take advantage of Everton's disarray. Gylfi Sigurdsson's long-range strike canceled out Dusan Tadic's opener, but Charlie Austin scored two second-half headers before Steven Davis rounded off the scoring.

Former Everton player David Unsworth has been in temporary charge since Ronald Koeman was fired on Oct. 23, but has managed just one win during his seven-game tenure. The club are still searching for a permanent replacement, with Unsworth's failure to improve results likely having ruled him out.

"I wouldn't go that far so early," said Unsworth, when asked if Everton were embroiled in the relegation fight. "I think we are in a tough moment, I think we have a massive week ahead of us. If you ask me that question next week I can give you a more honest view.

Everton are now 16th, just two points clear of the relegation zone. Southampton moved up to 10th.


Bottas has Hamilton in a spin at season-ending Abu Dhabi GP

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas of Finland celebrates after winning the Emirates Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Nov. 26. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Jerome Pugmire

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Performing celebratory spins around the track was about as emotional as it got for Valtteri Bottas, after he beat his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to win the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday.

Hamilton joined the straight-faced Finnish driver in performing spins — known in Formula One as donuts — having already sealed his fourth world title before the season's finale. The race offered little excitement, but there wasn't much to fight over as the serious stuff had already been pretty much decided.

Sebastian Vettel joined them on the podium, finishing third — and second overall — in an anti-climax to a season that had promised so much for Ferrari as it hoped to win its first drivers' title since 2007.

As the three drivers soaked each other with celebratory bottles on the podium, Hamilton used his to douse Vettel as the German driver tried to turn and protect himself. It seemed a triumphant and fitting image, victor over vanquished.

Vettel was already thinking of drowning his sorrows, perhaps understandably considering how his title challenge collapsed spectacularly following the summer break.

"Probably find something to drink tonight and sober up tomorrow," Vettel said. "Congratulations to Lewis on his season. He was the better man. I hate to say it but he deserved it."

Starting from pole position for the second straight race Bottas secured the third win of his career — all since joining from Williams.

His 22nd career podium was his 13th with Mercedes.

"It is a really important win for me after having a pretty difficult start to the second half of the year," said Bottas, who had a mid-season slump that damaged his confidence. "We Finns don't show much emotion but it doesn't mean we don't have any. I am so happy."

Bottas placed third overall, 12 points behind Vettel and 58 behind Hamilton.

"Hopefully better next year," Bottas said.

He has only been given a one-year extension to his Mercedes contract, having joined this year as an emergency replacement for 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg.

Having sealed the title, Hamilton had no need to chase Bottas too hard. The 32-year-old British driver finished 4 seconds behind and did not get close enough to attack on a track he called among the worst for overtaking in F1.

"Never going to overtake unless he makes a massive mistake," Hamilton said.

The race started at 5 p.m. local time with the sun setting on the desert setting of the Yas Marina circuit and finished under floodlights.

Vettel, who won the last race in Brazil, finished about 20 seconds behind Bottas.

"After three or four laps, I just couldn't go any faster," Vettel said.

Vettel's Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen — the 2007 F1 champion — was fourth and also moved up to fourth in the standings.

Hamilton clinched the title — his third with Mercedes — in Mexico two races ago when he ended Vettel's fading hopes.

The German driver's challenge evaporated in the Asian heat between September and October.

Perfectly poised to regain the championship lead, he crashed out of the Singapore GP from pole position.

"It's a bit different if you finish the race rather than if you don't finish the first lap," Vettel said with evident sarcasm.

Then, plagued by reliability issues unbefitting a team of Ferrari's stature, he started last and finished fourth at the Malaysian GP. Bad luck struck again when he qualified third before retiring from the Japanese GP.

"Mercedes has been more consistent," Vettel said generously. "It's a straight fight and they just did better."

Continuing the sportsmanlike mood, Hamilton added: "Looking forward to another battle next year."

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen finished the race in fifth while teammate Daniel Ricciardo retired, dropping to fifth in the standings.

The other wins for Bottas this season came in Russia and in Austria — also from pole. Hamilton won nine races this year — having won 10 during the past two seasons and a career-best 11 in 2014. The lower total is due to Ferrari's marked improvement this year.

"I don't think it's a shame to come second in the way that we did," Vettel said. "But it's not what we want."

Bottas made a clean start while Hamilton held off Vettel, who locked his left front tire angling into the first corner.

Vettel was the first of the trio to pit for new tires. Bottas did one lap later, leaving Hamilton briefly in front.

At much the same time, Ricciardo retired, leaving his stranded Red Bull on a patch of grass as he hitched a lift on the back of a scooter.

It was the third time in four races — and sixth this year — that the Australian driver has failed to finish. He is weighing up his Red Bull future.

Felipe Massa, the 2008 F1 runner-up to Hamilton, finished 10th in his last race.


Kovalev knocks out Shabranskyy in 2nd round of title fight

Russia's Sergey Kovalev knocks down Ukraine's Vyacheslav Shabranskyy during the first round of their light heavyweight title boxing match early Sunday, Nov. 26, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Barry Wilner

New York (AP) — Sergey Kovalev "krushed" it.

The light heavyweight nicknamed "Krusher" made short work of Slava Shabranskyy to recapture the WBO title Saturday night. He used a devastating series of right hands to stop the challenger at 2:36 of the second round.

"Here tonight was great boxing for me, and I love boxing and I want to make great fights," Kovalev said. "I am ready for any champion because this is very good for boxing."

Kovalev lost his last two outings to Andre Ward, and he brought a dynamic fury into the Madison Square Garden ring. He dropped Shabranskyy twice in the first round, once more in the second, and somehow Shabranskyy didn't go down from another series of powerhouse punches seconds before the fight was stopped.

The 34-year-old Kovalev easily disposed of his opponent from Ukraine. The Russian improved to 31-2-1 with 27 knockouts. Few of them were more impressive.

"It is my goal to be the best in the division," said Kovalev, who took back the WBO crown that Ward relinquished when he retired. "I'm happy that the belts have different owners, and it makes everything interesting and we can make better fights. We have a bunch of belt holes and we can now find out who is the best."

Shabranskyy fell to 19-2. He landed a few solid punches, but he couldn't handle Kovalev's massive rights.

Shabranskyy actually started well, connecting on some lefts, even backing up Kovalev with one. But then the hammer was lowered in the form of Kovalev's right lead that floored Shabranskyy.

He got up, but was soon down from a combination including a huge right.

Things were much the same in the second round before the bout was wisely stopped.

On the HBO undercard, Sullivan Barrera, who defected from Cuba nearly a decade ago, outpointed Felix Valera in a light heavyweight fight marred by a series of low blows.

Valera clowned around in many rounds, even sticking out his tongue at one point. He needed more lefts like the one that stunned and floored Barrera in the opening moments of the fight. He also needed to avoid throwing low blows: Valera, of the Dominican Republic, was docked points three times. The second time, in the sixth infuriated Barrera, who had his best round.

But Barrera, who also scored a first-round knockdown, was penalized for a low shot in the ninth.

The decision was unanimous for Barrera, whose only loss in 22 fights was to Ward. He's won four straight since, including knocking out Shabaranskyy, and is in line for a title fight, although Kovalev seems to have his sights set elsewhere.

In a matchup of two former super featherweight champions, Yuriorkis Gamboa of Cuba, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist, took a majority decision from Jason Sosa that was derisively booed by the crowd. Gamboa (28-2) won 96-92 and 95-93 on two scorecards, with one judge having it 94-94.

Gamboa twice slipped to the canvas during the 10-round bout, and when Sosa was credited with a knockdown in the seventh round, it was from a punch that appeared to miss with the Cuban off-balance. Gamboa was penalized a point in the final round for holding, and Sosa fell to 20-3-4 with his second straight defeat. He was beaten by WBO champion Vasyl Lomachenko in April.

"I didn't have enough time to train," Gamboa claimed. "I only had three weeks. I needed two or three more weeks to lose the weight correctly.

"Of course, the decision was good. I think I won every round, except for the knockdown and the point deduction."

Russia's Bakhram Murtazaliev knocked out Carlos Galvan of Colombia in the fifth round of their super welterweight event. Murtazaliev is now 11-0 with nine knockouts. He dominated the first four rounds before dropping Galvan twice to finish matters. Galvan fell to 16-6-1.


Cameron Davis wins Australian Open by one stroke

Australia's Cameron Davis holds his trophy after winning the Australian Open Golf tournament in Sydney, Sunday, Nov. 26. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Dennis Passa

Sydney (AP) — Cameron Davis came from six shots behind going into the final round to win the Australian Open by one stroke on Sunday, shooting a 7-under 64 that included a birdie on the 18th and an eagle after holing a 100-meter approach shot.

The 22-year-old Australian finished with an 11-under total of 273 at The Australian Golf Club, where gusty and unpredictable afternoon winds made scoring tough for all four rounds.

"I didn't know where I was, to be honest, after the third round," Davis said of his six-stroke deficit. "I'm just glad I did enough today to get the job done."

Sweden's Jonas Blixt, who missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th that would have forced a playoff, shot 68 to finish tied for second with Matt Jones (68) while third-round leader Jason Day was fifth after a 73, three strokes behind.

"It was quite a simple putt, maybe a little longer than I would have wanted," Blixt said of the missed birdie chance. "I thought it was a lot quicker than it was."

Davis teed off nearly an hour ahead of the final group which included Day, so finished his round and then went to the practice range in case there was a playoff.

Davis, whose eagle came on the 12th hole when he hit his approach about 10 meters past the flag, then watched it spin back and into the cup, also qualified for next July's British Open at Carnoustie.

The Australian Open was the first of 15 events in 10 countries that will make up The Open qualifying series for 2018.  Also qualifying were Blixt and Jones, among the top three players not already eligible.

Day double-bogeyed the ninth hole after the most unfortunate of circumstances — his shot out of a fairway bunker hit the lip of the bunker, caromed left across the fairway and into a water hazard. He got those shots back with an eagle on the 14th.

Day was making his first tournament appearance in Australia since 2013.

"I just didn't play my best and obviously it's not great to shoot 2-over par on the final round when you've got the lead," Day said. "Cameron came back and played a wonderful round of golf today to win ... so he's obviously got a lot to look forward to next year, getting into the Open Championship and all that stuff as well."

Jordan Spieth, attempting to win his third Australian Open in four years, finished with 4-under 67, including an eagle on the last. He was eighth, five strokes behind Davis.

"It was a great finish," Spieth said. "I felt like I hit a lot of really beautiful shots that weren't necessarily rewarded today based on just trying to judge the crosswinds. That's all it was today. I really felt like I shot 62 today and it was 67, I had so many looks."

Spieth was non-committal about making another trip Down Under for next year's Australian Open.

"I'd love to explore it," Spieth said. "It's just a matter of, like I've said every year, I try and figure out what's going on the next week, let alone a year from now."

Spieth will play next week at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas where tournament host Tiger Woods will make his return to competitive golf.


Update November 25-26, 2017

Australia end Day 2 at 165-4 in reply to England's 302

Australia's Steve Smith plays a shot as England's wicket keeper Jonny Barstow, left, looks on during the Ashes cricket test between England and Australia in Brisbane, Australia, Friday, Nov. 24. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

John Pye

Brisbane, Australia (AP) — It was only the second day of the Ashes and already Steve Smith needed to rescue Australia from the kind of trouble that local critics predicted England would be confronting throughout the five-test series.

Smith scored a composed 64 in an unbroken 89-run, fifth-wicket stand with Shaun Marsh (44 not out) to lift Australia from 76-4 at the start of Friday's evening session to 165-4 by stumps in reply to England's 302.

Amid the banter and pre-series hype, former Australian test players and the local media questioned the quality of the England squad. Vice-captain David Warner and veteran spinner Nathan Lyon generated headlines for some hostile commentary, too.

So far, England have been the more settled of the teams, sticking to batting plans to keep the big Australian pacemen bowling plenty of overs — Ashes rookies James Vince (83), Mark Stoneman (53) and Dawid Malan (56) all posting half centuries in the first innings — and executing well-devised strategies in the field to pick off Australia's top order.

"We're in a good place as a team," England fast bowler Jake Ball said. "We've done a lot of research and a lot of work on our plans to each batter (and) we executed them well."

The rain-affected first day yielded four wickets but the second, in sunny sub-tropical conditions, produced 10 wickets after England resumed at 196-4.

"I thought the way (Marsh) and Smith battled there especially in the hour after tea was probably one of the hardest hours they've probably faced in a long time," said Lyon, who added that the innings underlined his belief that Smith was the No. 1 batter in the world. "I'm not amazed, he goes out there and sticks to a plan and it works for him, so hats off to our captain."

The Australian bowlers were under pressure early on an unusually slow Gabba wicket when England added 50 without loss to the overnight total, but Mitchell Starc's dismissal of Malan ended his 83-run fifth-wicket stand with Moeen Ali (38) and triggered a collapse as three wickets fell for four runs. Lyon picked up two wickets in seven balls, and the last six English wickets fell for 56 runs.

The tourists were out by lunch following a late flurry from Stuart Broad (20), with Starc and Pat Cummins picking up three wickets each and Lyon returning 2-78 from 36 overs.

But any confidence the Australians gained in the first session eroded after the interval when opener Cameron Bancroft (5) was caught behind off Broad in the fourth over in his first Ashes innings.

Ali struck in his second over to trap Usman Khawaja (11) lbw and Ball made a key breakthrough with his first Ashes wicket, getting combative opener Warner (26) out paddling a catch to mid-wicket as Australia slipped to 59-3 in the 20th over.

"We sort of see Warner and Smith as the two main Australian players, so for me to get one of the big players out is very satisfying," Ball said. "I think a few of the lads in the team were happy to see the back of him."

Australia's position deteriorated to 76-4 when Peter Handscomb (14) was given out lbw on review to Jimmy Anderson, who struck the Australian No. 5 on the back pad directly in front of middle and leg stumps.

It took Smith and Marsh's stand — the first significant partnership of the innings — to dig the home team out of serious danger at a ground where Australia haven't lost a test match since 1988, and where England haven't recorded a victory in 31 years.

"The game is still in the balance," Lyon said. "England bowled very well to take four early wickets but I think we've fought back hard and there's a massive partnership out there now and hopefully we can build on that.

"There are two unbelievable batters at the crease with Tim Paine and the bowlers to come — there's a lot of cricket left in this game."


Tsonga levels for France in Davis Cup final against Belgium

France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga celebrates after defeating Belgium's Steve Darcis while French captain Yannick Noah, right, applauds during the Davis Cup final at the Pierre Mauroy stadium in Lille, northern France, Friday, Nov. 24. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

Samuel Petrequin

Lille, France (AP) — David Goffin and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are each on top of their games.

Both were up to the task in Friday's opening singles matches of the Davis Cup final, delivering lopsided wins to leave France and Belgium tied at 1-1.

Tsonga swept past 76th-ranked Steve Darcis 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 to put the hosts level after Goffin had given Lucas Pouille a master class of offensive tennis in Lille, just across the Belgian border.

Goffin won 7-5, 6-3, 6-1.

Tsonga and Goffin are set to play against each other on Sunday in what is shaping up as a potentially decisive contest following Saturday's doubles.

"Let's wait and see which one will be able to impose his tactics," France captain Yannick Noah said.

Tsonga missed several chances to move ahead early in the first set but finally broke for a 5-3 lead with a deep forehand attack on his fourth break point. The Frenchman then claimed five consecutive games and served out the second set at love with a drop shot that hit the net cord and dribbled over for a winner.

Tsonga continued to play consistent and occasionally brilliant tennis in the third, including a series of reflex volleys.

"My goal was to bring my team back," Tsonga said. "No matter how. Now I'm looking forward to Sunday to fight to the finish."

Earlier, Goffin was in control throughout as he ended a three-match losing streak against Pouille by hitting 21 winners and 12 aces without facing a break point on the indoor hard court at Pierre Mauroy stadium.

Goffin's confidence is high following a runner-up finish at the ATP Finals last week when he defeated Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

"I have rarely seen him play at this level," said Pouille. "Even when I hit first serves at 220 kph (137 mph) he returned the ball 30 centimeters from the line. He is playing the best tennis of his life."

After losing its three previous finals in 2002, 2010 and 2014, nine-time champion France is under huge pressure to deliver a first title at home since 1991.

Belgium, in the final for the second time in three years, is seeking its first Davis Cup title.

"I pushed the salad bowl a bit closer to the border," said Goffin, referring to the Davis Cup trophy. "Just a bit, because it is heavy."

Before the opening match, French substitute Julien Benneteau sobbed in the stands as his teammates stepped onto the court. Benneteau was consoled by doubles teammate Nicolas Mahut, who was cut by Noah on Thursday.

Noah said he noticed that Benneteau was crying.

"And I tried to forget it very quickly," he said without elaborating.

Mahut and Benneteau, who have won two ATP titles together, were expected to play the doubles on Saturday but Noah surprisingly chose to pair Richard Gasquet and Pierre-Hugues Herbert for the first time against Ruben Bemelmans and Joris De Loore.

Captains have up until one hour before the match to change their lineups and Goffin suggested he could also play in doubles.

Asked about his intentions, Noah said he has yet to decide whether he will stick with Herbert and Gasquet, or send out another team.

Against Pouille, Goffin played with strapping on his left knee but still moved well.

Pouille never recovered from the first-set loss and Goffin impressed in front of the buoyant Belgian fans with his array of shots. He dictated points with deep groundstrokes. Returning extremely well, he also came to the net with neat approach shots.


Day and Spieth go in opposite directions at Australian Open

Australia's Jason Day hits a shot from a fairway bunker on the 3rd hole during the second round of the Australian Open Golf tournament in Sydney, Friday, Nov. 24. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Dennis Passa

Sydney (AP) — Jason Day and Jordan Spieth went in opposite directions Friday at the Australian Open.

Day had four consecutive birdies on the back nine, including a 30-footer, for a 3-under 68 that left him a stroke out of the second-round lead. Australian Lucas Herbert, who shot 66, is in front with a 9-under total of 133 on The Australian course.

First-round leader Cameron Davis, who shot 72 Friday, is another stroke behind in third.

Defending champion Spieth earlier failed to take advantage of ideal morning scoring conditions and had a 71 to fall further behind the leaders — eight strokes behind Herbert and tied for 19th place with 10 others.

Spieth, who hasn't played since the Presidents Cup in late September, has won the Australian Open two out of the last three years and finished second the other time.

Day, who had seven birdies and four bogeys, is aiming to win his first Australian Open title in his first competitive appearance on home soil since 2013.

"It was quite tough out there today with the winds," Day said. "But I played very well and gave myself a lot of opportunities for birdies."

The 21-year-old Herbert led the Australian Open into the final round last year — when he finished seven shots off the pace in a tie for 20th   — and is coming off a second-place finish in last week's New South Wales Open.

"I think I warmed up this morning and it felt really good, and I was like, 'I hope this sticks around'," Herbert said.

At least Spieth's morning start Saturday means he will avoid the windy conditions that the leading groups will have to contend with in the afternoon.

And that left him optimistic of a comeback. In 2014, he shot a then course-record 63 at The Australian to win his first Australian title by six shots.

"I feel like you can make up more ground and come from behind here over I think any tournament I've played this entire year," Spieth said. "The golf course will start to bake out and you get really calm conditions in the morning that leave the windier conditions for the afternoon, so I'll have a pretty gettable golf course. If I can post something like 5, 6-under, then I'm very much in this tournament."

Day agreed that Spieth is far from out of it.

"It's Jordan Spieth," Day said. "If he gets something going on the weekend he can hole a lot of putts and make a lot of birdies and make a charge, and usually he does make a charge on the weekend.

"Sometimes there's not a lot of pressure on your shoulders. You just go out there and kind of free-will it and that's how you make a ton of birdies and move up the leaderboard pretty quick."

Spieth said the seven-week layoff was the longest he's had since his college days and that he felt rusty and nervous at times during his first round which featured five bogeys in windy conditions.

The wind began to pick up late in Spieth's round Friday, as did his frustration level at times. On the par-4 sixth — his 15th of the day — his drive traveled well over 300 meters, so far that it reached a spectator crossing area that officials obviously felt was far enough from the tee.

Spieth took a drop from it, but his approach to the green failed to spin back, leaving him a putt of at least 20 feet. He missed his birdie attempt.

"It's just been the short game rust that's kind of hurt me a bit the last couple of days that prevents me from being 5 or so under," Spieth said.

At least he birdied the ninth — his last hole Friday. Finishing on even-par would have left him just one stroke away from the projected cut, which could have changed based on afternoon scoring.

"That was only my second one-putt of the day," Spieth said. "The other was for par."


West Ham draw 1-1 with Leicester for Moyes' 1st point

West Ham United's Winston Reid, left and Leicester City's Jamie Vardy vie for the ball, during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham United and Leicester City, at the London Stadium, in London, Friday Nov. 24. (Adam Davy/PA via AP)

London (AP) — Cheikhou Kouyate equalized before the break to earn West Ham a 1-1 draw against visiting Leicester on Friday for David Moyes' first point in his second game in charge of the struggling Premier League club.

Moyes' side got off to a terrible start with Angelo Ogbonna failing to clear Jamie Vardy's cross, allowing Marc Albrighton to slide in for Leicester's opener in the eighth minute.

Leicester continued to dominate to home fans' frustration and might have had a penalty when Albrighton went down under Arthur Masuaku's challenge.

But West Ham gradually improved and Ogbonna forced a save from Kasper Schmeichel.

Kouyate equalized with a header after a Manuel Lanzini corner before the interval.

The home side went closer to grabbing a winner toward the end.

West Ham stay 18th in the 20-team league ahead of the rest of the 13th round, while Leicester moved up to 11th.


Kovalev looks to re-establish himself as light heavyweight

In this June 17, 2017, file photo, Sergey Kovalev, right, hits Andre Ward during a light heavyweight championship boxing match in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

Barry Wilner

New York (AP) — They call Sergey Kovalev "Krusher." His opponent Saturday night, Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, also is a big-time puncher.

So not many people expect the 12-round WBO light heavyweight title fight to go the distance at Madison Square Garden.

Those observers can't be sure, though, what they will get from Kovalev. He lost his last two fights to the now-retired Andre Ward, one by unanimous decision, the other being stopped in the eighth round. They were the first defeats of the 34-year-old Russian's career. Ward was the "krusher" then.

"All life is like a lesson for me," Kovalev said. "After my last three fights, some felt that I should get more physically into my work life with my boxing again. But right now, I feel all bad things are gone from my mind. Right now I concentrate, and I focus for the future of my boxing career. I'm ready to be again a world champion and collect my belts, if somebody will be ready to unify the title."

One step at a time, which means handling Ukraine's Shabranskyy (19-1) whose resume doesn't approach Kovalev's. Had Ward not stepped away, this HBO bout wouldn't have been for any world belts.

Kovalev calls Ward's departure "extra motivation" for Saturday night.

"My next fight without the belt was going to be discouraging, because I must come back," Kovalev said. "I'm really excited and ready to get my belts back. It would be really interesting and really exciting, and I would fight anybody. I'm really happy that this fight will be for the title and for the WBO, because this was the first title that I had already.

"But now this is like a new chapter in my boxing career. I am recharged. I am much stronger than last three fights and you will see (that)."

Shabranskyy, 30, won his last two outings after his lone defeat, to Sullivan Barrera in December. Barrera is on the undercard against Felix Valera.

"Everything will be in the ring, so we will see our situation in the ring," Shabranskyy said of facing Kovalev. "Both guys are coming into this ring bringing everything that they have on the line and, just because I have two consecutive wins after an unfortunate loss doesn't mean anything."

Kovalev held the WBO belt for eight defenses before losing to Ward. He also has owned the WBA and IBF crowns.

But those defeats to Ward have created an aura of weakness that Kovalev must erase. Plus, if he is to have any opportunity to unite the championships, he needs to earn one of them first.

He believes training in the United States and ignoring "stuff" outside of the ring will serve him well in his quests.

"The most important thing in my boxing career that I should do during all my time here in America till I finish my boxing career," he said, "is when I'm doing boxing, I should do boxing. Not another business or a lot of flights to come back and forth to Russia to spend free time. Because when I'm in Russia, I don't have the time like for ... doing the boxing. Just a lot of meetings, a lot of businesses, a lot of wrong things. I mean, not sport at all.

"But right now, I'm here in America, and started a new chapter in my boxing career."


Update November 24, 2017

Chargers beat fading Cowboys 28-6 on Thanksgiving

Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) sprints to the end zone in front of Dallas Cowboys' Orlando Scandrick (32) and Byron Jones (31) for a touchdown in the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 23, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Schuyler Dixon

Arlington, Texas (AP) — Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers are on the move. Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys are fading fast.

Rivers threw for 434 yards and three touchdowns in his first Thanksgiving game in his 14th season and the Chargers beat the fading Cowboys 28-6 on Thursday.

Desmond King returned an interception 90 yards for the punctuating touchdown as the Chargers (5-6) moved within 1 games of AFC West-leading Kansas City after starting 0-4 while the Chiefs won their first five.

The defending NFC East champion Cowboys (5-6) lost their third straight by at least 20 points, all without star running back Ezekiel Elliott, in a damaging defeat for their fading playoff hopes.

Dallas, playing its 50th Thanksgiving game, finally ended a touchdown drought at a team-record 10 quarters on Rod Smith's 2-yard run early in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys have been outscored 72-6 in the second half of the three losses.

Keenan Allen had a career-high 172 yards on 11 catches with a touchdown, giving him 23 grabs for 331 yards and three scores in the past two games.

Prescott has looked lost without Elliott, his backfield mate for a pair of remarkable rookie seasons that led the Cowboys to the best record in the NFC last season. Prescott had two interceptions, giving him five in two games after throwing just four a year ago.

Last year's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has nine picks for the season. Elliott is halfway through a six-game suspension for alleged domestic violence.

LA overcame the loss of kicker Nick Novak to a back injury, the second straight game that Dallas' opposing kicker was injured and in the same game that Dallas' Dan Bailey returned after missing four games with a groin injury.

Just like last week in the Cowboys' blowout loss to division-leading Philadelphia, neither of the kickers mattered much with the Dallas offense sputtering and the defense not getting key stops.

Novak returned to make a 22-yard field goal after the injury, but left for good after missing an extra point. Punter Drew Kaser was 1 of 3 on extra points. The Chargers went for a fourth-and-13 in field goal range in a scoreless game early in the second quarter with Novak's status in doubt, coming up a yard short.

Four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith returned for Dallas after missing two games with back and groin injuries, but the Cowboys lost 2014 All-Pro right guard Zack Martin to a concussion in the first half.

Rivers, who was 27 of 33 for a 149.1 passer rating without a sack, had seven completions of at least 22 yards.

That included Allen's weaving 42-yard catch-and-run for a score when he ran past safety Jeff Heath on the sideline, cut between two more safeties in Xavier Woods and Byron Jones before past cutting inside cornerback Anthony Brown for a 22-6 lead.

Austin Ekeler had a 38-yard catch to set up San Diego's first touchdown in the third quarter, and Tyrell Williams added a 31-yard grab before making a 27-yard scoring catch.


Keenum-led Vikings beat Lions 30-23, adding to division lead

Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones (11), guarded by Minnesota Vikings cornerbacks Terence Newman (23) and Xavier Rhodes (29), catches a 43-yard pass for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 23, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

Larry Lage

Detroit (AP) — Case Keenum stood in the pocket to take a hit, dipped his right shoulder to slip out of a sack and shuffled his feet in the pocket to give his receivers more time to get open.

Looking like a savvy winner, instead of a journeyman, he picked apart Detroit's defense with his arm and made plays with his legs to help the Minnesota Vikings beat the Lions 30-23 Thursday.

Keenum threw for two touchdowns and ran for a score in the first half to give the Vikings a double-digit lead and they went on to win a seventh straight game.

They took a huge step toward winning the NFC North by taking a three-game lead over the second-place Lions.

Keenum, undrafted out of Houston in 2012, is suddenly 7-2 this season after going 9-15 with the Houston Texas and the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams.

"I want to be great and I have confidence in myself that I can be great," he said.

The Vikings signed him to be a backup and he has made the most of his opportunities with Sam Bradford injured and Teddy Bridgewater recovering from a knee injury.

Keenum was 21 of 30 for 282 yards with both TD passes going to Kyle Rudolph, giving the Vikings a 20-3 lead late in the second quarter.

"Case is amazing because he does so many small things to pick up first downs and keep drives alive," Rudolph said.

"Every time he finds a way to convert another third down, it means we've got three more plays to attack the defense. With the number of big-play guys we've got now, we can do a lot of damage with those three plays."

Detroit (6-5) made mistakes in every phase of the game and Minnesota took advantage. Keenum's 1-yard pass to Rudolph was made a little easier because the Lions had just 10 defenders on the field.

And, Keenum's 9-yard run came after Matthew Stafford was charged with a fumble while trying to hand off to Ameer Abdullah.

Instead of winning to pull within a game of Minnesota and having a potential tiebreaker, the Lions' loss hurts their chances of making a second straight postseason appearance.

"Don't count us out just yet," Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. "We've got a lot of football yet to play."


Cummins gets 2 wickets; England 196-4 at stumps on day 1

England's James Vince plays a shot during the Ashes cricket test between England and Australia in Brisbane, Australia Thursday, Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

John Pye

Brisbane, Australia (AP) — Unheralded batsmen James Vince and Mark Stoneman guided England to a steady 196-4 on Thursday's opening day of the Ashes series, with Australia seamer Pat Cummins grabbing two key English wickets.

Vince, with 83, and Stoneman, with 53, combined defiantly in their first experience of Ashes cricket to blunt the much-hyped pace attack, each posting their highest test score in a 125-run second-wicket stand after opener Alastair Cook fell cheaply.

Cummins (2-59) bowled Stoneman in the last over of a middle session delayed for more than an hour by rain, claiming his first test wicket on Australian soil. He came back in the evening session — after Nathan Lyon brilliantly ran out Vince — to trap England skipper Joe Root (15) lbw, getting a not out decision overturned, and ensuring the day was evenly poised.

At stumps, Dawan Malan was unbeaten on 28 and Moeen Ali on 13 when bad light stopped play in the 81st over, three balls after Australia took the new ball and one after Mitchell Starc had a review of an lbw decision rejected.

Cummins said the wicket of Root was "pretty much the dream wicket — one of the most satisfying I've ever got."

"To set him up with a couple of overs of outswing, then try to bowl one big inswinger — probably only comes off one-in-100 times, but when it does it's pretty special," Cummins said. "Fortunately, it was their captain, so I couldn't be happier with that."

The day started according to Australia's pre-series script, with Starc striking in the third over to have former England captain Cook caught at first slip for 2 with the total on 2.

That exposed a left-right second-wicket pair — some Australian critics openly wondered if Vince and Stoneman were ready for the Ashes environment — with a combined 10 previous test caps to a potentially hostile initiation.

But they weathered the new ball with reasonable comfort, preventing Australia from capitalizing on the early breakthrough.

Vince rarely played a loose stroke in four hours and 170 balls. He did get a reprieve on 68, though, when recalled wicketkeeper Tim Paine put down a routine chance off Lyon's bowling late in the middle session.

Stoneman improved by one on his previous highest test score before Cummins beat him with a ball that jagged back off the seam.

The bluster from the Australians leading up to the Gabba test centered on their 5-0 sweep here the last time England toured in 2013-14.

Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Cummins toiled on a slightly soft pitch before and after a rain-delay, which reduced the pace or extra bounce that the Brisbane venue is famous for.

The Australia quicks were under the spotlight from the first ball after losing the toss at the Gabba, where the Australians haven't lost a test since 1988.

The early points went to the batsmen. In the 11th over, Hazlewood fielded off his own bowling and hurled the ball back toward the stumps. Vince responded by stroking two deliveries for boundaries. Hazlewood, usually the most consistent of the quicks with his persistent line and length, struggled with his rhythm and had 0-51 from 18 overs.

Lyon (0-40) caused the most difficulties for the batsmen after joining the attack in the 18th over and getting his first ball to turn sharply, but didn't get a wicket. He had unsuccessful appeals before the regulation caught-behind chance was put down.

His athletic run out, though — picking up a half-volley on the run from cover and throwing down the stumps at the non-striker's end to catch Vince well out of his ground — was a significant momentum turner. Cummins said it was the play of the day, and even Vince praised Lyon's fielding effort.

"It's disappointing obviously — you always want more," runs, said Vince, who predicted England could reach 400 if they got away to a fast start on Friday. "It would have been nice to be there at the end but stuff like that happens in cricket."

England hold the Ashes after winning the 2015 series 3-2 at home.


Spieth struggles, Day OK after Australian Open's 1st round

Jordan Spieth of the U.S. watches his tee shot on the 6th during the opening round of the Australian Open Golf tournament in Sydney, Thursday, Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Dennis Passa

Sydney (AP) — Defending champion Jordan Spieth struggled in gusty afternoon winds Thursday at the Australian Open, while Jason Day took advantage of more calm morning conditions.

The result was that the tournament's marquee players were overshadowed by first-round leader Cameron Davis, who shot an 8-under 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

That left Day, making his first competitive appearance in his home country since 2013, three strokes behind after a 66. Spieth was seven strokes behind after shooting 70.

Spieth, who bogeyed his first two holes and appeared to be out of sorts for most of his round, is trying to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years.

Taylor MacDonald was two strokes behind fellow Australian Davis and alone in second place, while two other Australians, Nick Cullen and Alex Edge, were level with Day at 5-under, tied for third.

All but two of the leading 18 players had morning tee times.

Spieth said he was rusty after a lengthy break.

"It was a bit inconsistent," Spieth said. "But I had five bogeys, and to still shoot under par is really good. There was a bit of good there after a rough start."

An indication of the state of Spieth's play came on the par-5 14th hole when his approach went wide and under a large advertising sign.  Spieth and a course worker moved the sign, then Spieth hit his short wedge into a bunker. After blasting out to about seven feet, he missed the putt and made bogey.

Matt Jones, the 2015 champion playing in Spieth's group, picked up some of the American's bad luck. He bogeyed three holes in a row and then got chased by a duck coming up the 16th fairway before finishing with a 71.

Spieth missed an eight-foot birdie putt on the 16th, hit into the fairway bunker on the 17th and put his approach through the green, but scrambled to make par. He finished on a good note, though, making a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th.

"I was a little anxious to get started, my short game was a bit rusty," Spieth said. "But I started to pick it up and it was pretty good from there."

Spieth should be able to take advantage of expected calmer conditions in his morning round on Friday.

"There were tremendous scoring conditions this morning which we're hoping to see in the morning tomorrow, so I've got to go out and take advantage and move up the board," he said. "Those guys will get what we had this afternoon and it'll certainly be more difficult, so being seven back isn't really seven back, given the difference in the waves."

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey six on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

"That was brutal," Day said of the 440-meter hole. He recovered quickly, however, to birdie his last hole.

The Ohio-based Day appeared to enjoy being back in Australia, posing for selfies with fans and signing autographs after his round.

"It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens," Day said. "I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10. I think it's definitely out there to shoot a deep one, but that's kind of the thing, you almost need to come out and capitalize when there's no wind."

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

"Everything went to plan," Davis said. "I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine."


Hamilton and Vettel already focused on 2018 F1 title battle

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany, left, looks to Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain during a news conference at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, Nov. 23. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Jerome Pugmire

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are already looking forward to fighting each other for a fifth Formula One title next year.

With Hamilton wrapping up this year's title two races ago, the pressure is off this week at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Both are projecting to 2018, where the four-time champions get back to the serious business of trying to catch Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio on five titles.

"Certainly we will never match him in how successful he was in such a short space of time," Vettel said on Thursday at a news conference. "Back then racing was different. The cars were not that reliable and he still managed to be successful. (He was) the best we've ever had in terms of putting it all together and skill."

Only Michael Schumacher with seven titles has won more than Fangio, who drove in F1 from 1950-58.

"It was the most dangerous period of time in motorsport. I feel honored to be so close to such a great sporting icon," Hamilton said of Fangio. "He should be celebrated more for his success. He's not mentioned a huge amount. He's kind of the godfather of the sport for the drivers."

Some may come to revere Hamilton like that in time.

He has won 62 races — second only to Schumacher's 91 — and holds the record for pole positions with 72. The 32-year-old British driver has won three of the past four titles — losing to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016 — and was at the peak of his powers this season.

After trailing Vettel at the halfway point, he pulled away after the summer break and leads the German driver by 43 points.

Hamilton is arguably the fiercest competitor around and is already thinking about how Vettel plans to turn the tables.

"Whatever weakness Sebastian had, he'll work on those over the winter. No one's perfect, even I have things to work on," Hamilton said, without a trace of irony. "He's going to raise the bar next year and I'll have to as well, otherwise things won't be the same.

"Ferrari had a very, very good season. Half the season they were in the lead and that wasn't down to luck," Hamilton added. "Red Bull is also going to be (competing for the title) next year."

Considering how poor Ferrari was in 2016, this year can still be viewed as a success with Vettel winning five races compared to none last year.

Vettel joked that winning the title in 2018 will be "a walk in the park" if Ferrari improves by the same amount, then took a more serious view of the situation.

"That final step is always the hardest. But the team is ready and fired up," said Vettel, who won four titles with Red Bull from 2010-13. "We made the biggest step of all. We lost out as the season progressed. In the end we weren't good enough to take it to the last race, but there's so much potential still."

He accepted that he ultimately fell short because "Lewis made less mistakes" than he did.

Poised to regain the championship lead, he crashed out of the Singapore GP from pole position back in September — turning the tide in Hamilton's favor. Reliability issues plagued Ferrari at the next two races. He started last and finished fourth at the Malaysian GP and then qualified third before retiring from the Japanese GP.

In June, the rivals were embroiled in their most heated clash at the Azerbaijan GP in Baku.

Vettel drove alongside Hamilton's Mercedes as they waited behind the safety car for the restart, and was adjudged to have deliberately nudged the side of him. Tempers frayed and barbs were exchanged. Vettel initially denied it was deliberate but subsequently apologized for dangerous driving.

That incident genuinely threatened to spoil their healthy rivalry, but they joke about it now.

Asked on Thursday what their highlight of the season was, both drivers — sitting next to each other — laughed easily when Baku was suggested.

Referring to the upcoming end-of-season F1 awards, Vettel put himself forward for three.

"I should get (overtaking) move of the year, personality of the year, and fair play ... maybe not."


Update November 23, 2017

Barcelona, Chelsea advance to Champions League last 16

Chelsea's Willian, right, scores his side’s fourth goal of the game during their Champions League, group C match against Qarabag FK at the Baku Olympic stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan, Wednesday, Nov. 22. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Karel Janicek

London (AP) - Chelsea advanced to the knockout stage of the Champions League with a game to spare after beating 10-man Qarabag 4-0 on Wednesday, securing manager Antonio Conte's 50th victory in all competitions with the Blues.

Barcelona needed only a point to reach the Round of 16 and the Spanish superpower got exactly that against Juventus. A 0-0 draw at last year's runner-up was enough to ensure top spot in Group D.

Already through, Paris Saint-Germain conceded the first goal of their European campaign in the first minute - before then unleashing unstoppable firepower to thrash Celtic 7-1 in Paris.

A goalless draw at Basel would have been enough for Manchester United to top Group A, but the Premier League club slipped to their first group stage loss, going down 1-0 to a goal conceded just a minute from time.

Here is a look at what happened in Wednesday's games.

___

GROUP A

Manchester United were deservedly beaten 1-0 by a spirited Basel, leaving all the qualification places open with one game remaining. Basel defender Michael Lang struck in the 89th minute to earn a win for the Swiss champions.

Still, United lead the standings with 12 points, three clear of both Basel and CSKA Moscow, who earlier won 2-0 at home to last-place Benfica.

In the final round on Dec. 5, Basel play at last-place Benfica, and United host CSKA.

Georgy Shchennikov gave CSKA an early lead, despite an apparent offside. Then an own goal from Jardel ensured that Benfica — who are eliminated — suffered their fifth defeat in five Champions League games.

___

GROUP B

Neymar scored twice and set up another goal as Paris Saint-Germain produced their biggest Champions League win and extend a perfect record in the group stage this season.

PSG lead Group B with 15 points, three more than Bayern Munich, who won 2-1 at Anderlecht. Both PSG and Bayern are guaranteed a spot in the knockout phase and will battle for group supremacy on Dec. 5.

Celtic forward Moussa Dembele surprised the hosts with his first minute goal, but PSG responded with four goals in the first half - two from Neymar, one from Edinson Cavani and the other from Kylian Mbappe.

The one-way traffic continued after the break with Cavani scoring again to take his career total with PSG to 151, while Marco Verratti and Dani Alves also found the net.

___

GROUP C

Following a humbling 3-0 loss in Rome, Willian led Chelsea's efforts to get their European campaign back on track, scoring a goal in each half and winning a penalty.

Eden Hazard made it 1-0 from the penalty spot in the 21st minute, calmly sending the goalkeeper the wrong way. Home team captain Rashad F. Sadygov had received a straight red card for tugging back Willian just inside the area as the Chelsea forward ran onto Eden Hazard's pass.

Hazard then fed Willian with a back-heel pass to make it 2-0 in the 37th.

Qarabag, the first club from Azerbaijan to reach the group stage of the Champions League, had no better luck in the second half. Cesc Fabregas scored from the penalty spot in the 73rd minute and Willian added his second goal, a drive from 20 meters, five minutes from time.

Antoine Griezmann found the net with a stunning overhead kick as Atletico Madrid defeated Roma 2-0 to keep alive their hopes of advancing.

Substitute Kevin Gameiro scored the second to seal Atletico's first Champions League victory this season.

Atletico have six points, two less than Roma, with one match to play.

___

GROUP D

Juventus will have to wait until the final round to try and qualify for the knockout stages. The Italian side remained second in the group but are only a point above Sporting Lisbon, who beat Olympiakos 3-1.

The Italian side — who reached the final in two of the last three seasons — next visit Olympiakos, while Sporting travel to Barcelona.

Barcelona, who rested Lionel Messi until the 56th minute, went closest to breaking the deadlock when Ivan Rakitic hit the post with a free kick.

In Portugal, Bas Dost scored a goal in each half for Sporting Lisbon. Bruno Cesar added the third while Vadis Odjidja scored the consolation goal for Olympiakos.


Sochi gold medalist among 4 Russians banned for doping

Elena Nikitina of Russia is shown in this Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 file photo. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

James Ellingworth

Moscow (AP) — Two more Russian athletes were stripped of their Olympic medals from the 2014 Sochi Games on Wednesday, leaving the United States as the country with the most medals.

Four Russians, all skeleton racers, were banned by the International Olympic Committee for doping, including men's gold medalist Alexander Tretyakov and women's bronze medalist Elena Nikitina.

Russia, which finished the games at the top of the medals table with 13 gold and 33 overall, has now been stripped of six medals based on evidence of a state-sponsored doping program in Sochi, including samples being swapped in the laboratory. Two of the six medals were gold.

The Russians still lead the medals table with 11 gold, tied with Norway, but have fallen behind the United States in overall medals. The Americans, who won nine gold medals, have 28 overall, one more than Russia's current total of 27. Norway has 26 overall medals.

If the IOC decides to upgrade athletes who finished behind the banned Russians, the table would change again.

Two other Russian women who didn't win medals, Maria Orlova and Olga Potylitsina, were also banned Wednesday.

Russian officials said all four banned athletes will file appeals.

"We are absolutely sure of the innocence of our athletes and will stand up for their rights," the Russian Bobsled Federation, which governs skeleton, said in a statement.

The previous six bans were in cross-country skiing. The cases against the Russians rest on evidence gathered by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren, including testimony from the former director of Russia's anti-doping laboratories in Moscow and Sochi.

Without positive doping tests, the IOC disciplinary panel used evidence of cover-ups and tampering of sample bottles first gathered last year by McLaren's team.

The IOC will decide on Dec. 5 if Russia can compete at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

The ban for Tretyakov puts Latvia in line for its first Winter Olympic gold medal. If the IOC formally reallocates the medals, Martins Dukurs would be upgraded to gold. It would also mean silver for Matthew Antoine of the United States and bronze for Dukurs' brother, Tomass.

In the women's event, Nikitina's bronze would go to American slider Katie Uhlaender, who originally missed the podium by 0.04 seconds.

The IOC sanctions disqualify the four Russian skeleton racers from the Sochi Olympics and also ban them from all future Olympics.

Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov said more sanctions are possible.

"I think we can expect the same decisions for the bobsledders and the female hockey players," Zhukov said. "The rulings are all the same."

Russia won two gold medals in men's bobsled at the 2014 Olympics, but there has been no official confirmation that the IOC is investigating. The Russian women's hockey team didn't win a medal.

The Russian government has repeatedly denied any involvement in doping or any cover-ups and says its athletes are being unfairly targeted. President Vladimir Putin has said the Olympic doping cases are part of an American bid to discredit his government ahead of presidential elections in March.


Jordan Spieth sets the bar high at the Australian Open

Jordan Spieth of the U.S. speaks ahead of the Australian Open Golf tournament in Sydney, Wednesday, Nov. 22. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Dennis Passa

Sydney (AP) - Jordan Spieth has another tough act to follow at the Australian Open.

Spieth won the tournament in 2014 in his first appearance Down Under when it was played at The Australian Golf Club in Sydney. He won it again in 2016 in a playoff at Royal Sydney, a year after finishing tied for second with Adam Scott and a shot behind winner Matt Jones at The Australian.

Beginning Thursday at The Australian, Spieth will attempt to make it three Australian Open titles in four appearances. Jason Day, playing back home in Australia for the first time in four years, is his major opponent.

Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open in 2015 and Day won the PGA Championship. Both players were also within one shot of a three-man playoff in the British Open that year.

They are playing together in Australia for the first time.

"The 2015 season was a lot of fun," Spieth recalled Wednesday. "The last three majors of the year, we both had a chance to win on championship Sunday. That's rare to have a few times in a row, especially two people to have the chance."

Spieth will look to win his third Stonehaven Cup without caddie Michael Greller, who has been on the bag in all 14 of the Texan's professional wins, including three majors.

Greller has decided to stay in the U.S. with his wife Ellie after the Oct. 13 birth of their son, Barrett. Spieth's long-time coach, Australian Cameron McCormick, will be his caddie for the tournament.

Scott will be missing his national championship for the first time in a decade.

"There were some communications and discussions had and unfortunately we couldn't reach an agreement with Adam," tournament director Trevor Herden said.

Australian fans will get to see Scott at at next week's Australian PGA Championship at Royal Pines on the Gold Coast in Queensland. Masters champion Sergio Garcia and Marc Leishman are also playing at the PGA.

After Day and Spieth, the Australian Open field becomes very thin. It has only two other distant major winners — 2006 U.S. Open winner Geoff Ogilvy and 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir, along with a host of veteran and younger Australians.

"It's a disappointing situation when Adam Scott's not playing the Australian Open," Ogilvy said. "You can find blame or whatever ... but we've got a pretty good field.  Most golf tournaments would fall over themselves to get Jordan and Jason in their field, so that's pretty good."

Day, a former No. 1 who has slipped to 12th after going winless in 18 months, will play with Ogilvy and Rod Pampling in a morning start Thursday.

Day has packed on some weight — he is about nine kilograms (20 pounds) heavier than he was at the start of this year.

"Unfortunately I think I was doing the wrong things in the gym," Day said. "I got a little too big in the upper body and it restricted my (swing) turn."

Spieth will join Jones, who has played as a member at The Australian since he was 15, and fellow Australian Cameron Smith in an early afternoon group. Smith was among the three-man playoff last year at Royal Sydney when Spieth won his second title.

"To get into the playoff and be so close, not a good feeling," Smith said Wednesday. "I had a bit of a heavy heart for a few weeks. "


Goffin looking to cap terrific end of season with Davis Cup

Belgium's David Goffin returns the ball during a training session at the Pierre Mauroy stadium in Lille, northern France, Wednesday, Nov.22. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)

Samuel Petrequin

Paris (AP) — David Goffin will soon find out if his self-confidence can help him get over fatigue.

Following victories over Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer last week at the ATP Finals, Goffin's morale is rock solid as he prepares to lead Belgium against France in the Davis Cup final.

The French, with a team featuring Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Lucas Pouille and doubles specialists including Nicolas Mahut, Julien Benneteau and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, are favored to win a 10th title, their first since 2001 after losing finals in 2002, 2010 and 2014.

The Belgians can't boast the same depth in their squad, with Steve Darcis, Ruben Bemelmans and Arthur De Greef expected to play a role this weekend alongside Goffin in the northern French city of Lille, where the hosts have opted for an indoor hard court.

Despite an ailing knee and 11 singles matches played over the past month, the seventh-ranked Goffin is carrying the hopes of Belgium to finally lift the Davis Cup trophy.

"Because I'm a top 10 player people expect me to win my two singles matches," said Goffin, who has an impressive 19-3 Davis Cup record in singles matches. "My knee needs some rest following my runner-up spot at the Masters last Sunday, but for now it holds. I won't have any problem playing at 110 percent over the whole weekend."

The 26-year-old Goffin has recovered from an ankle injury he sustained at the French Open to finish the year on a high note. Before losing to Grigor Dimitrov for the ATP Finals title in London, Goffin claimed back-to-back titles at Shenzhen and Tokyo. Next could be a Davis Cup triumph in the heated atmosphere of the 27,500-capacity Pierre Mauroy Stadium, where thousands of Belgium's fans will gather after making the short trip across the border.

"It would be really nice to finish the year like that," Goffin said. "It's such a nice event, really important for us, for the country, for Belgium. It would be incredible to go back home with the trophy. We are not the favorites. We have almost nothing to lose here."

The pressure will indeed be on French shoulders. Led by captain Yannick Noah, the hosts are looking for their first title on home soil since 1991, and recent statistics don't play in their favor: In the last four finals, the visiting team won the title, including three years ago when Switzerland defeated France at the same venue.

Noah, the last Frenchman to win a Grand Slam title back in 1983 at Roland Garros, has never won the Davis Cup as a player but captained his country to victory twice, in 1991 and 1996 in Sweden.

"We're looking to write our piece of history," Noah said. "As the French team, we've won before. But it was a long time ago. Now we're preparing to do our own with this team. This is what we're looking for."

Another issue for the French team is Goffin's tendency to be at his best when he plays with his country. The seventh-ranked Goffin has won 15 of the last 16 singles matches he played for Belgium.

"We are convinced that we can win, otherwise we would not step onto the court," Goffin said.

The 15th-ranked Tsonga and No. 18 Pouille are expected to lead the French team in singles play, with Benneteau and Richard Gasquet listed as substitutes. Herbert and Mahut, who played in doubles at the ATP Finals, have been selected as a team. But Herbert has been struggling with a back injury recently and Noah could be tempted to pair Mahut and Benneteau in Saturday's doubles.

"The final decision will be made at the last minute," Noah said. "It will be difficult because all six players are in form. I've had easier choices to make."
 


DAILY UPDATE

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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

City win again after another late Sterling goal

Focus more on how long Tiger Woods lasts more than his score

Froome ready to ride Giro next year

Alfa Romeo back in F1 with Sauber after more than 30 years


Man United score 4 goals again to showcase attacking talent

Eli Manning benched by Giants for Geno Smith

England allrounder Stokes arrives in New Zealand

Whistleblower diary strengthens case against Russia


Tiger Woods getting strong reviews in return to golf

Ashwin takes 300th wicket as India thrash Sri Lanka

Ricciardo has much to ponder as he considers Red Bull future

IOC judges back truthful whistleblower, ban 5 more Russians


Australia win Ashes series opener by 10 wickets

Late Sterling goal as Man City set EPL record; Arsenal 4th

Bottas has Hamilton in a spin at season-ending Abu Dhabi GP

Kovalev knocks out Shabranskyy in 2nd round of title fight

Cameron Davis wins Australian Open by one stroke


Australia end Day 2 at 165-4 in reply to England's 302

Tsonga levels for France in Davis Cup final against Belgium

Day and Spieth go in opposite directions at Australian Open

West Ham draw 1-1 with Leicester for Moyes' 1st point

Kovalev looks to re-establish himself as light heavyweight


Chargers beat fading Cowboys 28-6 on Thanksgiving

Keenum-led Vikings beat Lions 30-23, adding to division lead

Cummins gets 2 wickets; England 196-4 at stumps on day 1

Spieth struggles, Day OK after Australian Open's 1st round

Hamilton and Vettel already focused on 2018 F1 title battle


Barcelona, Chelsea advance to Champions League last 16

Sochi gold medalist among 4 Russians banned for doping

Jordan Spieth sets the bar high at the Australian Open

Goffin looking to cap terrific end of season with Davis Cup

 



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