Welcome to this week’s column. There is so much to get through this week I’m going to crack straight on! Stories come from football, tennis, athletics, netball, squash, gymnastics, taekwondo, cricket, hockey and rugby. You can probably guess my “And finally” again this week….
Football – Off the Pitch
World Cup 2019
The draw has been made for the European section of qualifying for the 2019 World Cup. England have been drawn in the same group as Wales along with Russia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kazakhstan.
The seven group winners will qualify automatically with the four best runners-up going into a two-round play-off to fill the last qualifying spot.
Qualifiers take place between 11 September 2017 and 4 September 2018
The draw in full:
Group 1: England, Russia, Wales, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kazakhstan.
Group 2: Switzerland, Scotland, Poland, Belarus, Albania.
Group 3: Norway, Netherlands, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Northern Ireland.
Group 4: Sweden, Denmark, Ukraine, Hungary, Croatia.
Group 5: Germany, Iceland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Faroe Islands.
Group 6: Italy, Belgium, Romania, Portugal, Moldova.
Group 7: Spain, Austria, Finland, Serbia, Israel.
Lucy Bronze was awarded PFA Women’s Player of the Year this week. The other shortlisted candidates were Jane Ross, Jill Scott, Ellen White, Karen Carney and Caroline Weir.
Jess Carter won the Women’s Young Player of the Year award. Nikita Parris, Georgia Stanway, Keira Walsh, Caroline Weir and Millie Bright were also shortlisted.
Kelly Smith was given a PFA Special Achievement Award.
On the Pitch
European Champions League
Saturday 22 April
Manchester City 1- 3 Lyon
Manchester City face an uphill battle if they are to overcome cup holders Lyon and qualify for the Champions League final.
Lyon went ahead after only two minutes after Carli Lloyd handled in the penalty area. Saki Kumagai stepped up to score the penalty.
Kosovare Asllani equalised for City but the away side were quick to take the lead again, this time through Dzsenifer Marozsan.
French striker Eugenie Le Sommer scored a third in the second half.
The second leg takes place on Saturday 29 April.
The Spring Series is underway – without Notts County Ladies.
Saturday 22 April
Bristol City 1-3 Reading
After a goalless first half the visitors took the lead on 49 minutes when Rachel Furness headed home from a Rachel Rowe corner.
They were two up ten minutes later when Rowe carved out a chance to score herself and the tie was effectively over on 61 minutes when Melissa Fletcher poked home from a mistake in the Bristol defence.
Lauren Hemp pulled one back for the home side, but the points were gone.
Sunday 23 April
Birmingham City 0-0 Sunderland
With most of the possession and scoring opportunities, Birmingham City will be rueing missing their chances in this game, while Sunderland will be more than happy with a point.
Yeovil Town Ladies 1-4 Liverpool Ladies
The day started in a comedic fashion when it was revealed that Liverpool had forgotten to bring their away kit and so had to play in the home side’s away kit. However, this was the end of the comedy for Yeovil Town’s as their first experience of the WSL1 was a tough one.
Liverpool took the lead on 23 minutes as Yeovil were penalised for handling in the box. Alex Greenwood converted the penalty.
The away side doubled their lead in first-half injury time as Gemma Bonner poked home from a corner.
Yeovil were three down after 65 minutes when Katie Zelem scored from a Shanice Van De Sanden corner. Zelem got her second on 75 to take it to 4-0.
Yeovil pulled one back in the 78th minute through a Sarah Wiltshire penalty.
Great Britain’s 4x400m team missed out on a bronze medal by 0.23 seconds in the Bahamas this week. The team of Emily Diamond, Laviai Nielsen, Eilidh Doyle and Christine Ohuruogu finished fourth behind USA in first, Poland and Jamaica.
Germany took the 4 x 100m title ahead of Jamaica and China.
Heptathlete Kelly Sotherton has received her second upgraded bronze in five months after Russian athlete Tatyana Chernova was stripped of the bronze she won at Beijing in 2008 after she tested positive for a steroid.
She had already moved up to fourth from fifth after Ukrainian Lyudmila Blonska was disqualified.
Kenyan Mary Keitany won the women’s elite race, breaking Paula Radcliffe’s women-only record in the process. She ran the marathon in a time of 2 hours 17 minutes 1 second, breaking the record by a massive 41 seconds.
Alyson Dixon was top British finisher in 12th, thus securing her World Championships place. Jo Pavey was forced to pull out at around the 17 mile mark.
Manuela Schar of Switzerland won the wheelchair race, with Amanda McGrory of the USA in second and fellow American Susannah Scaroni in third. Britain’s Jade Jones finished fifth.
It’s all change on the Subcontinent as both India and Pakistan have named new coaches just two months before the World Cup.
Sabih Azhar is the new Pakistan coach, taking over from Kabir Khan. Pakistan also announced their squad for the upcoming tournament:
Sana Mir (Capt), Sidra Nawaz (wk), Ayesha Zafar, Nahida Khan, Marina Iqbal, Bismah Maroof, Javeria Khan, Nain Abidi, Kainat Imtiaz, Asmavia Iqbal, Diana Baig, Waheeda Akhtar, Nashra Sandhu, Ghulam Fatima, Sadia Yousuf.
In a surprise move, Purnima Rau has been sacked by the BCCI and replaced by Tushar Arothe. Arothe was women’s fielding coach and then head coach between 2008 and 2012.
Rau has voiced concern that she only found out about the sacking via the media.
“I was preparing the team for the World Cup when I heard of this from elsewhere. I wasn’t given any explanation or reason by the board. In fact they didn’t even have the courtesy to inform me. In terms of results, we were successful. To be axed this way is disappointing and insulting.”
Arothe’s first test will be in May in a series in South Africa in a limited overs tournament that also features Ireland and Zimbabwe.
England v Ireland Series
England are currently playing Ireland in a three-match series in Abu Dhabi as their World Cup warm-up continues.
England XI 397/4 (50 overs)
Ireland 103 all out (44 overs)
England won by 276 runs
Jenny Gunn hit 94 not out and Georgia Elwiss 81 as England comfortably won the first match of the series.
The England bowling was equally impressive with Anya Shrubsole taking 3-11 and Alex Hartley 3-24.
Surbiton did the double last weekend as both their men’s and women’s teams won their respective Hockey League Finals.
For the women it was their fourth title in a row as they beat Holcombe 3-1. Giselle Ansley scored Surbiton’s first and Rebecca Middleton the second before Eleanor Watton pulled one back for Holcombe.
Naomi Evans scored the third to ensure the title went to Surbiton.
Last weekend saw round 11 of the Netball Superleague. Loughborough Lightning are still unbeaten and top the table by five points from Wasps as they won a thrilling game against the Thunder by just one point on Saturday.
Saturday 22 April
Team Bath 58-48 Celtic Dragons
Manchester Thunder 57-58 Loughborough Lightning
Team Northumbria 58-55 Hertfordshire Mavericks
Sunday 23 April
Wasps Netball 65-41 Sirens
Monday 24 April
Severn Stars 66-62 Surrey Storm
The next Sky televised game is on Saturday 29 when Mavericks take on the Storm (6pm), but all eyes will probably be on what happens an hour later when the top two, Lightning and Wasps, take on each other in Loughborough’s showcase game at the Leicester Community Arena.
Lots of tennis news this week – mostly off the court, unfortunately. Mr Nastase makes his appearance in my “And finally” comment, but there are other stories to cover.
In amongst all the controversy and ill-feeling, there was actually some Fed Cup tennis going on last weekend.
Great Britain lost their World Cup Group II play-off against Romania, which means they are back in the Europe/Africa Zone.
Heather Watson lost the first rubber to Simona Halep 6-4 6-1. Jo Konta levelled the tie when she beat Sorana Cirstea 6-2 6-3.
On day two, though, Halep beat Konta 6-1 6-3 and Britain’s fate was sealed when Irina-Camelia Begu defeated Watson 6-4 7-5
In other Fed Cup news, it will be a USA v Belarus final.
USA beat the Czech Republic 3-2 and Belarus defeated Switzerland by the same margin.
She’s back. More pictures, film, social media comment and interviews have been devoted to Sharapova’s return this week than any other subject.
And she’s playing well. After being given a wild card for the Stuttgart tournament she is now into the quarter finals. She beat Roberta Vinci in the first round and powered past Ekaterina Makarova 7-5 6-1.
She faces Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit in the last eight. Kontaveit put out fifth seed Garbine Muguruza in the previous round.
But not everyone is happy about her return. Eugenie Bouchard has labelled Sharapova a “cheater” and said she should not be allowed back on the WTA tour. The crowds have been respectful but cool. It’s up to Sharapova to prove herself on the court if she is to win back the more general tennis watcher.
In other Stuttgart news, Johanna Konta was knocked out in the second round by Anastasija Sevastova 6-3 7-5.
The last eight looks like this:
K Mladenovic v C Suárez Navarro
A Kontaveit v M Sharapova
A Sevastova v S Halep (4)
L Siegemund v K Pliskova (2)
England’s women’s squash team are through to the semi-finals of the European Team Championships after finishing top of their qualifying group.
They beat Denmark 3-0, the Netherlands 3-0 and Wales 3-0 and will now face the Netherlands again in the semi on Friday 28 April.
Jade Jones has won gold at the World Taekwondo Federation President’s Cup in Athens. It was her first competition since December 2016.
She won five contests to take the -57kg title.
After reaching every final in the European Championships last week, Ellie Downie made good and took the all-round gold at the weekend.
She was in silver position going into the final rotation, but ended up beating Hungary’s Zsofia Kovacs by 0.333 points. Downie scored 55.765 and Kovacs 55.432. Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos of France finished in bronze on 55.065.
To cap a stunning weekend Downie also won a silver in the vault and floor and bronze in the uneven bars in the individual competition.
Ellie’s older sister Becky fell and injured her hands and was unable to participate in the beam final. Her place was taken by Claudia Fragapane, but she fell in the final and finished eighth. Fragapane also finished seventh on the floor.
Aylesford Bulls Ladies were the perhaps surprise winners of the last Premiership final before the new Super League starts next season.
Aylesford Bulls 17-8 Bristol
Although they finished third in the table in the regular season, Bulls brought their best rugby to finals day to beat top of the league Bristol.
Aylesford took the lead in the third minute with a try from Hanna Field under the posts. Jess Wooden converted to make it 7-0.
Bristol were then awarded a penalty, which Amber Reed kicked, but Aylesford hit straight back with their second try, this time from Michela Sillari in the corner. The conversion was missed and the half-time sc ore was 12-3.
In the second half Bristol got their game together. On 54 minutes Chantelle Miell went over in the corner. The conversion was missed, but the deficit was cut to just four points.
But it was not to be for Bristol as Sillari scored her second to take the match away from them and take the game 17-8.
In the 3rd/4th play-off Lichfield took the honours as they beat Saracens 41-14.
Lichfield went ahead in the 16th minute when Emily Braund went over. Emily Scarratt then added a penalty.
Saracens came back with a try from Lotte Clapp.
But Lichfield hit back themselves with a second try from Braund just on half-time to take the score the 15-7 at the break.
In the second-half Lichfield consolidated their lead with tries from Sarah Bonar and Carys Williams. Tash Jones and Amy Cockayne scored two more for Lichfield taking the game, with Saracens having the last word with a try from Bryony Cleall.
And finally, let’s talk Ilie Nastase. Great player and entertainer in his time, yes. But last week he showed that his off-court behaviour is not all it should be. Firstly he made a racist comment about Serena Williams’ baby (not going to repeat it here), and then he seemingly had a complete meltdown at the Fed Cup tie between Great Britain and Romania. In my relatively sheltered, liberal world I watched and listened to the unfolding events with shock and, I’m afraid, disbelief. Do people really speculate about the colour of someone’s baby? Naive I am, possibly, and if so I apologise, but I’m still struggling to understand why anyone would even say what he did.
As regards his Fed Cup behaviour, I feel pretty much as I did about the David Moyes situation. Not acceptable in any sense, ever. I listened to BBC Tennis correspondent Russell Fuller as her tried to make sense of what was going on and you could hear the shock in his voice. He couldn’t believe what he’d heard and when he interviewed the head of the Romanian Tennis Federation who said basically it was “Ilie being Ilie” you could tell Fuller was biting his tongue to prevent himself giving an inappropriate response.
It is not acceptable that anyone reduces an opposing player to tears. It is not appropriate that anyone is called “F****** bitches” on a tennis court. It is up to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to see that it doesn’t happen again. Will they? I hope so.