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Djokovic and Nadal reach Shanghai semis

After twice exchanging breaks during the first set, the Frenchman bagged the tiebreak 7-4 to go ahead.

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But Djokovic fought back, twice breaking Monfils, who had to receive treatment on a stomach muscle.

Djokovic got the crucial break in the seventh game of the third set and closed out the match to set up a semi-final clash with another Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Nadal was made to work hard in the first set of his quarter-final against Stanislas Wawrinka, triumphing 7-6(10) 6-1 to progress to set up a clash with Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro.

Wawrinka, who is hoping to qualify for the end-of-season ATP World Tour Finals, saved three break points on his way to a 6-5 lead in the opening set before Nadal saved two set points in the 12th game to take it to a tiebreak which he won.

The Spaniard, who last week lost to Djokovic in the China Open final, then raced to a 5-0 lead in the second set before the Swiss held serve to merely prolong the inevitable as Nadal served out the match.

Del Potro kept his errors to a minimum, breezing past Spain’s Nicolas Almagro 6-3 6-3.

Del Potro, seeded sixth, had also defeated Almagro in last week’s Japan Open semi-finals and now needs one more victory to seal his spot for next month’s Tour Finals in London.

The Argentine, who was suffering from fever during the earlier stages of the hard-court tournament, committed just eight unforced errors during his win and faced a single break point, which he went on to save.

“I played very well today, very solid,” Del Potro told reporters. “I played aggressive. I hit my forehand very well.

“I like the way I played today. I just want to keep improving (and) keep going far in this tournament.”

Tsonga also took a positive step towards confirming his spot for London with a comfortable 6-2 6-3 win over German Florian Mayer.

World number three Andy Murray’s withdrawal from the Tour Finals due to injury has meant anyone finishing ninth or better in the race to London will qualify for the prestigious season-ending tournament.

(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly and Sonia Oxley; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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Cardiff owner backs manager Mackay, confirms Moody exit

“I have every faith in Malky and his team to lead us through the challenges of the Premier League,” Tan said in a statement on the club’s website (www.

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cardiffcityfc.co.uk) on Friday.

“I have supported him in the past and will do so in the future for many years to come,” added the Malaysian businessman whose money helped the Welsh side reach the Premier League for the first time when they were promoted last season.

Moody, an important member of Mackay’s staff since joining the Scot at Watford, has been replaced by Alisher Apsalyamov, a 23-year-old from Kazakhstan who has been appointed on an interim basis.

British media have reported that Apsalyamov is a friend of Tan’s son and has no background in the game.

Tan said Apsalyamov would focus on gathering data on individual players.

“Ultimate recruitment decisions of course remain the domain of the manager and majority shareholder,” he said.

Tan had previously upset Cardiff fans by changing the club colours from blue to red as well as altering the team’s crest, but he has brought success on the pitch.

He invested more than 30 million pounds on new players during the close season and Cardiff are 14th in the standings with eight points from seven matches.

“I would say to all Cardiff City fans and everyone connected to the club, let us look forward to the future and remain united in our support of the team,” he added.

On Thursday, the Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust issued a statement backing Mackay and calling for clarification of the situation, saying they feared developments at the club would see the manager leave for another Premier League team.

(Reporting by Josh Reich; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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Bulgaria’s playoff hopes hit by 2-1 defeat in Armenia

Bulgaria are second in the standings with 13 points from nine matches, seven points behind group winners Italy, who have already qualified for next year’s tournament in Brazil.

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Armenia moved into third place with 12 points from nine games, but Denmark, also on 12 points, had a chance to go second in the group when they hosted Italy later on Friday.

Luboslav Penev’s Bulgaria, alongside Iceland in Group E, also have the lowest points total of any second-placed sides in European qualifying, meaning they risk missing the playoffs even if they finish runners-up.

Armenia went ahead just before half-time when Aras Ozbilis gave Bulgarian goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov no chance with a perfectly struck free kick, awarded for a clumsy Nikolay Bodurov challenge.

Bodurov received a straight red card but Bulgaria defied his absence and drew level on 61 minutes when their skipper, Ivelin Popov, found the net with another brilliant free kick, making up for two opportunities that had been missed by Emil Gargorov and Stanislav Manolev.

But just two minutes later, Bulgarian midfielder Svetoslav Dyakov joined Bodurov on the sidelines as he was sent off for a second bookable offence.

Yura Movsisyan ran clear of the visitors’ defence to score four minutes from time to secure Armenia’s first home triumph of the campaign.

Earlier, Bulgaria’s national anthem was booed and whistled by large groups of home fans.

It extended a hostile welcome that had begun when dozen of fans had subjected the Bulgarian team to abuse and hurled objects at them on their arrival at Yerevan airport on Thursday.

In September 2012, Armenia filed a protest with soccer’s ruling body FIFA about “poor officiating” and the treatment they received from the home team during a 1-0 qualifying defeat in Bulgaria.

(Writing by Angel Krasimirov, Editing by Tom Bartlett)

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Bulgaria’s playoff hopes hit by defeat in Armenia

Bulgaria are second in the standings with 13 points from nine matches, seven points behind group winners Italy, who have already qualified for next year’s tournament in Brazil.

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Armenia moved into third place with 12 points from nine games, but Denmark, also on 12 points, had a chance to go second in the group when they hosted Italy later on Friday.

Luboslav Penev’s Bulgaria, alongside Iceland in Group E, also have the lowest points total of any second-placed sides in European qualifying, meaning they risk missing the playoffs even if they finish runners-up.

Bulgaria thought they had taken the lead after half an hour when striker Emil Gargorov put the ball in the net, but it was ruled out for a marginal offside.

Armenia went ahead just before half-time when Aras Ozbilis gave Bulgarian goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov no chance with a perfectly struck free kick, awarded for a clumsy Nikolay Bodurov challenge.

Bodurov received a straight red card but Bulgaria defied his absence and drew level on 61 minutes when their skipper, Ivelin Popov, found the net with another brilliant free kick, making up for two opportunities that had been missed by Gargorov and Stanislav Manolev.

But just two minutes later, Bulgarian midfielder Svetoslav Dyakov joined Bodurov on the sidelines as he was sent off for a second bookable offence.

Yura Movsisyan ran clear of the visitors’ defence to score four minutes from time to secure Armenia’s first home triumph of the campaign.

Penev was furious with the referee, Felix Brych. “We controlled the game, the guys were perfect from the first to the last minute,” the former striker told Bulgarian state TV channel BNT1. “We (tried to do) the impossible to win or at least get a point.

“Obviously, we became ‘uncomfortable’ … and it’s clear we’re not allowed to win. We’ll ask FIFA if we must start with two or three people less.

“We outplayed them with 10 men and with nine men too. But apparently they will not allow us to win no matter how many goals we score.”

Earlier, Bulgaria’s national anthem was booed and whistled by large groups of home fans.

It extended a hostile welcome that had begun when dozen of fans had subjected the Bulgarian team to abuse and hurled objects at them on their arrival at Yerevan airport on Thursday.

In September 2012, Armenia filed a protest with soccer’s ruling body FIFA about “poor officiating” and the treatment they received from the home team during a 1-0 qualifying defeat in Bulgaria.

(Writing by Angel Krasimirov, Editing by Tom Bartlett and Stephen Wood)

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Lively Lukaku books Belgium’s World Cup ticket

The result means Group A leaders Belgium are uncatchable with 25 points from nine matches ahead of their last qualifying game at home to Wales on Tuesday.

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It ends a wretched 12-year period during which they have also failed to reach the finals of the European Championship.

Lukaku, on loan at Everton from Chelsea and replacing the injured Christian Benteke for Belgium, had several thousand visiting fans dancing on the half-empty terraces at the Maksimir stadium after scoring in the 15th and 38th minutes.

Second-half substitute Niko Kranjcar grabbed a late consolation goal for the Croatians.

“I’m just really happy for the team,” the towering Lukaku told Belgian television. “We always believed we could qualify and now it’s happened.

“We just want to finish now on the right note against Wales.”

Team mate Eden Hazard said Lukaku had given coach Marc Wilmots a selection headache for future matches, with Benteke possibly fit to start on Tuesday.

Wilmots said he now wanted to secure a Belgian record haul of qualifying points by beating Wales.

“If Tuesday’s party is going to be good, then we have to take it seriously and win,” he added.

LIKELY PLAYOFFS

Croatia have 17 points and are assured of a runners-up finish and a likely berth in next month’s playoffs but were jeered by their fans after a lacklustre performance.

The home team needed a win to have any chance of overhauling Belgium at the top but coach Igor Stimac deployed a conservative 4-5-1 formation with wingers Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic operating behind lone striker Mario Mandzukic.

Wilmots’s team took the lead when Perisic gave the ball away to Steven Defour who fed Lukaku and he raced clear of centre backs Vedran Corluka and Dejan Lovren before rounding keeper Stipe Pletikosa.

Pletikosa then kept out a close-range header from Marouane Fellaini but could not prevent Lukaku muscling through to score a dazzling second goal.

Having superbly dinked the ball over Lovren inside his own half, the 20-year-old galloped past midfielder Mateo Kovacic, rounded the advancing Pletikosa and walked the ball into an empty net as bewildered home fans started leaving the ground in droves.

Belgium almost scored a third goal in the 77th minute when Pletikosa denied Fellaini from three metres after a darting run and cross by Hazard.

Kranjcar pulled one back for Croatia by volleying a fierce shot into the roof of the net from 14 metres after keeper Thibaut Courtois parried a close-range effort by Nikola Kalinic and Daniel Van Buyten could only partially clear the rebound.

Stimac said his side deserved at least a draw.

“We controlled the game at the start, dominated, but then made an incomprehensible gift to the opponents and they scored. It was a shock, it upset us,” he said.

Kranjcar said Croatia should be proud not to have fallen apart in the second half.

“That should be our inspiration for the next game and I believe we’ll earn a place in the playoffs,” he added.

(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic, additional reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic in Zagreb, Philip Blenkinsop and Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels; editing by Tony Jimenez)