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Messi blows title race open with treble at Real

By Iain Rogers MADRID (Reuters) - Lionel Messi blew the La Liga title race wide open when the unstoppable Argentina forward netted a hat-trick in a 4-3 comeback win for the champions at 10-man Real Madrid in an action-paced 'Clasico' on Sunday. Chasing a fifth title in six years, defeat for Barca at Real's Bernabeu stadium would have all-but killed off their challenge and they came out swinging and took a seventh-minute lead when playmaker Andres Iniesta burst clear on the left and lashed the ball into the roof of the net.

Football: Referee not up to Clasico standard, rages Ronaldo

Two-time World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo slammed referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco after Real Madrid were beaten for the first time in 32 games 4-3 by Barcelona on Sunday. Mallenco awarded three penalties on the night with Ronaldo scoring the first one for Madrid to put them 3-2 up 10 minutes after half-time. However, Sergio Ramos was then sent-off for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity for a foul on Neymar inside the area before Xabi Alonso was adjudged to have tripped Andres Iniesta seven minutes from time.

Football: Scolari has courage of convictions

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari insisted Sunday he is not under pressure as he bids to take the tournament hosts to a sixth World Cup success. "I will choose my group based on my convictions," Scolari, who led the Selecao to their most recent World Cup triumph in 2002, said. The 65-year-old, who is to name his squad on May 7, has just two more friendlies -- against Panama and Serbia -- to find a winning blend.

Football: Scholes backs United for Champions League final

Manchester United great Paul Scholes Saturday backed the struggling English giants to beat Bayern Munich and go all the way to the Champions League final -- even without injured top-scorer Robin van Persie. Scholes admitted a rematch of the classic 1999 final, which he missed through suspension as United snatched it 2-1 at the death, would not have been the first choice of beleaguered manager David Moyes.

Football: Four jets to follow Ronaldo at World Cup

Four executive jets carrying Cristiano Ronaldo's family and entourage will follow the Portuguese star around at the World Cup, the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) said Friday. "Cristiano Ronaldo (and the squad) will arrive and be accompanied by a plane carrying 200 members of the Portuguese press, as well as four executive jets carrying his family," Colonel Ary Bertolino, FAB navigation center head, told reporters. The Portugal squad will arrive at Campinas, their base in Sao Paulo state, on June 7.

Football: Barca still believe in Clasico chances, says Iniesta

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta has insisted they can turn around their poor away form and put themselves right back in the La Liga title race by beating leaders Real Madrid on Sunday. The Catalans currently lie in third, four points adrift of Real, having won just one of their last five away games in La Liga. However, Iniesta believes the Spanish champions showed in their two recent games against Manchester City in the Champions League that they are still capable of beating anyone on their day.

Football: Arsene Wenger, Arsenal's professorial pioneer

Arsene Wenger will take charge of his 1,000th match as Arsenal manager on Saturday, and the rest of English football is still playing catch-up. London newspaper the Evening Standard screamed "ARSENE WHO?" when the urbane Frenchman was hired by Arsenal in September 1996, but 17-and-a-half years on, he has helped to revolutionise the English game. When Wenger first arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight, Arsenal's old guard baulked at the methods he introduced, which included individualised dietary programmes and intensive stretching routines.

Romario, Ronaldo deepen Cup rift

Brazilian legends Ronaldo and Romario on Thursday deepened their World Cup rift by indulging in a second slanging match in four days. Having Monday accused his fellow world champion of being to blame for the absence to date of promised free tickets for handicapped fans, Romario this time opened up with both barrels on the cost of renovating the Maracana. "In relation especially to the World Cup, we are on opposite sides" of the debate, said Romario, now a lawmaker whereas Ronaldo is on the event's Local Organization Committee (LOC).

Football: Brazil's first Cup-winning skipper dies

Hilderaldo Luiz Bellini, the captain of Brazil's first World Cup-winning team, died Thursday aged 83 after a long illness, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) said. The central defender, who had been battling Alzheimer's disease for a decade, died in a Sao Paulo hospital three years after he suffered a stroke which left him unable to speak. The CBF declared three days of mourning in honor of Bellini, who will be buried on Friday in his home city of Itapira, in Sao Paulo state.

Qatar to reschedule 15 percent of planned projects: sources

By Praveen Menon DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar is likely to reschedule about 15 percent of its planned building projects for coming years and go over budget, amid a push to complete preparations for the 2022 World Cup soccer tournament, sources familiar with government policy said.
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