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Italy’s Aquilani denies Denmark in added time

Two almost identical far-post headers by Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner – playing in his first international since being suspended for six months following his arrest for drink-driving – looked to have secured victory against an Italy side that faded after Pablo Osvaldo’s brilliant 28th-minute goal.

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But Aquilani silenced the home fans when he diverted Osvaldo’s weak shot from close range.

“It was a lucky goal – I was really good with my knee,” a smiling Aquilani told reporters.

“They were unlucky on a couple of occasions, then I scored a goal that maybe we didn’t deserve.”

The draw means Denmark stay in third place on 13 points, level with second-placed Bulgaria and a point ahead of the Czech Republic and Armenia, who beat Bulgaria 2-1 earlier on Friday.

Bulgaria, who host the Czech Republic in the final round of qualifiers on Tuesday, have a superior goal difference to Denmark, who meet Malta. Italy have already qualified for the World Cup as group winners.

“I am very disappointed. They scored a goal right at the end,” Denmark defender Andreas Bjelland said. “We have two shots that hit the post and (Gianluigi) Buffon makes a few good saves, but it was just not our day.”

It was a superb goal that gave Italy the early lead. Southampton striker Osvaldo controlled Thiaggo Motta’s long, flighted pass with a delicate first touch that took him past Daniel Agger before he curled home a finish.

It was a reward for a disciplined opening by a second-string Italy that featured goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon in his 137th appearance, an Italian record.

Denmark were not deterred, however, and Bendtner levelled in first-half stoppage time when he rose above Federico Balzaretti to meet Michael Krohn-Dehli’s inswinging cross.

The Arsenal striker thought he had won it for Denmark 11 minutes from time when he again beat Balzaretti to a Krohn-Dehli cross, steering in a well-placed header.

(Reporting by Terry Daley, editing by Tom Bartlett and Stephen Wood)

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Dozens dead in new migrant boat tragedy off Lampedusa

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said at least 27 migrants were dead after the heavily loaded boat capsized in rough seas on Friday around 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Lampedusa and 110 kilometres from Malta.

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Italian news agency Ansa said about 50 bodies, including women and around 10 children, had been pulled from the sea.

   

“Operations to recover the bodies are ongoing,” Muscat told journalists.

   

Around 150 survivors have already been picked up by a Maltese ship, the prime minister said.

   

The Italian navy has rescued around 50 survivors, and more rescue boats and helicopters have been sent to the site.

   

The Maltese navy swiftly dispatched rescue ships and helicopters and diverted commercial vessels to the area. Italy sent two naval vessels and helicopters carrying inflatable life rafts.

   

“The operation is in progress. The navigational conditions are difficult, with strong wind,” a Maltese navy spokesman told AFP.

   

An Italian helicopter carrying around 10 surviving children landed on the tiny island of Lampedusa, where hundreds of migrants are already seeking refuge in a seriously overcrowded reception centre.

   

European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem said she was following the rescue operations “with sadness and anxiety” and praised Italy and Malta for their swift response.

   

“These new horrible events are happening while we still have the shocking images of the tragedy in Lampedusa in our minds,” she said, adding that the latest disaster highlighted the need for expanded search and rescue operations “to better detect and assist boats in distress”.

   

The Commission has been urging EU states to pledge planes, ships and funds for EU border guard service Frontex, whose budget has been cut.

   

Italian Prime Minister called the latest tragedy “a new and dramatic confirmation of the state of emergency”.

   

“Italy and Malta cannot be left all alone, this is a European problem,” said his Maltese counterpart, Muscat, who spoke with Letta by phone.

   

The migrants in Friday’s disaster alerted the authorities using a satellite phone when their boat got into difficulty in Maltese waters.

   

The boat capsized after those aboard attempted to catch the attention of a military aircraft flying overhead by gathering at one end of the vessel, the Maltese navy said.

   

On Friday morning, Italian divers found another body from the refugee shipwreck last week off the coast of Lampedusa, raising the death toll in the tragedy to 312.

   

Only 155 survivors were rescued out of an estimated 500 people, most of them Eritreans and Somalis, on the boat which departed from Libya.

   

The disaster has shown up the EU’s asylum policy, which has been criticised for being overly restrictive and forcing refugees to resort to desperate measures to reach Europe.

   

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was heckled by activists and local residents when he visited Lampedusa on Tuesday.

   

The remote island is Italy’s southernmost point and closer to the African continent than to the rest of the country.

   

Italy has appealed to EU states for help in coping with the thousands that are washing up on its shores every month, and wants migration to be put on the agenda of summit talks in Brussels at the end of the month.

   

Immigration charities estimate that between 17,000 and 20,000 migrants have died at sea trying to reach Europe over the past 20 years, often crossing on rickety fishing boats or rubber dinghies.

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Djokovic on course for Nadal again

Rafael Nadal survived a fierce assault from Stanislas Wawrinka to reach the Shanghai Masters semi-finals Friday, staying on course for a potential title match against Novak Djokovic, who recovered from a set down to also claim victory.

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World number one Nadal was pushed to the limit by Wawrinka in a highly competitive first set, but the relentless Spaniard came out on top in a gripping tie-break lasting more than 20 minutes.

It was one-way traffic in the second set as he prevailed 7-6 (12-10) 6-1.

Top seed Djokovic kept his side of the bargain under floodlights at the Qizhong Tennis Center, withstanding a feisty challenge from Frenchman Gael Monfils to win his quarter-final 6-7 (4-7) 6-2 6-4.

Elsewhere in last-eight action, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin del Potro breezed through their matches in straight sets as they hunt berths at next month’s elite World Tour Finals

Nadal, who has won 10 titles – including the French Open and US Open – this year, fended off three set points for Wawrinka, against whom he now boasts an 11-0 record, before taking his fourth opportunity to win the opener.

A dispirited Wawrinka ran out of steam in the second set against never-say-die Nadal, who regained the number one ranking this week and is chasing a record sixth Masters title in a single season.

Earlier, Monfils and Djokovic swapped two service breaks each before the match settled into a more regular groove, going to a tie-break won by the Frenchman when the top seed went long with a backhand.

But Monfils, cutting an imposing figure in his bright orange top with a shock of dark hair, let his intensity slip at the start of the set and Djokovic immediately seized the initiative with a break.

A time violation against Monfils rattled the Frenchman, who became embroiled in an argument with the umpire and was soon flat on his back receiving treatment on his abdominal muscles as the set slipped away from him.

Monfils, who conquered Roger Federer in the previous round, re-discovered his mojo at the start of the decider, rattling Djokovic.

But it was the Serb who made the crucial break, letting out a roar of triumph before going on to seal the match after an absorbing two hours and 22 minutes.

“Inexplicably I started serving quite badly, but not many unforced errors,” said Djokovic. “It happens. I mean, I was preparing for this match as well as I prepare for every other. It’s just sometimes that you start off slowly and you’re not feeling the ball as much.”

“Today was a very physical match and very intense,” he added. “Both of us, we played many rallies. I knew coming into the match that he’s going to run for every ball and he’s going to make me play an extra shot.”

Earlier, Argentine sixth seed Del Potro, fresh from winning the Japan Open, eased into the semi-finals, firing 27 winners and making just eight unforced errors in a routine 6-3 6-3 win against Nicolas Almagro, the Spanish 15th seed.

Del Potro, 25, just one win away from qualifying for the World Tour Finals, is wary of his semi-final match-up against Nadal, describing him as “unbeatable”.

“You have to have a perfect day with Rafa. We’ll see how it’s going,” he said.

Seventh seed Tsonga, 28, who admitted he was not quite 100 percent fit after problems with his knee, which forced him to miss the US Open, was equally impressive, beating 50th-ranked Florian Mayer of Germany 6-2 6-3 in just 64 minutes.

The top eight players of the season qualify for the World Tour Finals in London, with five places still up for grabs. Nadal, Djokovic and David Ferrer have already qualified.

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Del Piero stars in Sydney FC win

Del Piero, who notched 14 goals in his maiden A-League campaign last season, scored one and made one for Joel Chianese at Allianz Stadium, but Caravella played a part in both.

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After 36 minutes, Del Piero worked his way into the penalty area, but appeared to have lost possession to Connor Chapman only to be gifted it back when midfielder Caravella ran into Chapman.

The veteran striker picked his way through what little defence was left and expertly slid the ball across goalkeeper Mark Birighitti into the far corner of the net.

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Caravella, who signed a one-year contract extension earlier this week and is the nephew of Sydney coach Frank Farina, was also culpable for the second goal on the hour.

He was dispossessed by Del Piero, who fed the ball to Chianese who lashed a powerful shot into the net.

Sydney created far more chances against a Newcastle side lacking penetration up front, with strikers Emile Heskey, Michael Bridges and Joey Gibbs all on the injury list.

The Jets had a couple of decent chances after Chianese’s goal, but rarely exposed Sydney’s new-look rearguard, which included three newcomers to the club.

Adam Taggart flashed a strong header just over the bar and Craig Goodwin’s free-kick was saved by Sydney goalkeeper Vedran Janjetovic.

Del Piero helped enliven the game after a dull first quarter.

Chianese had a shot blocked by Birighitti in a one-on-one situation created by a Del Piero pass.

Former Newcastle player Matt Thompson almost marked his Sydney debut with a goal when his 20 metre shot crashed off the crossbar and then bounced off Birighitti’s back.

Becoming progressively more involved, Del Piero sent a wicked 20 metre drive just over the bar a few seconds before halftime.

The Jets showed some nice touches early on through Nathan Burns, James Virgili and Craig Goodwin, but didn’t create any good first half chances.

Don’t miss the A-League Highlights show on Monday from 8.40pm on SBS 2 for all the action from Week 1