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Benzema learns to stave off pressure

 When you wear No9 for Real Madrid CF, pressure is just something you have to live with. When the spotlight has become white hot Karim Benzema has looked to his family to escape the glare. On the occasions when his game has faltered, he could always rely on his mother to insist that he was still worthy of the famous white shirt.

These days, he looks to the younger members of the Benzema clan to bolster his confidence. "Pressure has been part of my life since I was at Lyon, though it is more intense here because this is the best club in the world," he said. "I don't take the pressure into the game with me, otherwise I would freeze and wouldn't be able to play at all. I get rid of it by chatting with my little brother."

When he plays without tension, the results are there for all to see. In the three years since Benzema left Olympique Lyonnais for Madrid he has evolved into a more complete, more serene, attacker. His support network within the club, which includes coach José Mourinho, Zinédine Zidane and club president Florentino Pérez, has

Mourinho has helped Benzema overcome his stage fright with a mixture of man-management and tactics. Benzema says the Portuguese has made him consider his psychology during a match. "The coach made me work a lot on the mental part of my game," said the 24-year-old. "I'm now stronger in this respect. I've had many ups and downs since I arrived in Madrid, but I'm still here. Mourinho is a great coach and he's supporting me."

Benzema is in optimistic mood as he prepares for the next UEFA Champions League match, at Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday. Is the experience any different to other games? "It's about the environment. There is more pressure." So does he have a special routine or does someone help him prepare mentally? "No, I have no one for that," he concludes. "I am just here with my little brother, my agent and we have a laugh."


Syrian badminton team excel in Iraq

 Damascus, (ST) – The men and women's national badminton team have presented impressive performances in the Iraq International Badminton Championship which was concluded on Sunday in the city of Erbil .

Ten teams took part in the said event.

Ammar Awad and Sanaa Mahmoud finished first in the mixed doubles final after beating their Jordanian counterparts.

In the men singles discipline, Awad came third only to take a bronze medal whiles his teammate Sanaa captured another bronze medal  in the women singles contest.

It is worth noting that Sanaa won the gold medal in the women singles contest in the Syria International Championship which was staged in Damascus in 2011.



Venus Williams beats Andrea Petkovic

Venus Williams came from a set down to see off Andrea Petkovic and set up a Luxembourg Open final against Monica Niculescu.

Romanian Niculescu barely broke sweat to earn a 6-1 6-3 victory over Slovak Daniela Hantuchova in her semi-final.

But it was Williams who had to put in the hardest shift on Saturday as the American battled past German Petkovic 5-7 6-4 6-4 to make her first final in nearly two and a half years.

Petkovic, ranked 182 in the world, was pushing the seven-time Grand Slam winner all the way and even at 4-4 in the decider looked more than capable of upsetting the player ranked 141 places higher.

But Williams stood firm to break Petkovic's serve and ease to victory in a marathon two hours, 38 minutes.

Niculescu, ranked 70th, reached her second straight Luxembourg Open final with an easy win over Hantuchova.


Edin Dzeko's 'heavy goals' delight Manchester City assistant boss

 David Platt hailed the 'heavy goals' of Manchester City super-sub Edin Dzeko after his brace earned a win at West Brom.

City looked in danger of falling seven points adrift of leaders Chelsea after James Milner was sent off in the first half and then Shane Long broke the deadlock for West Brom.

But Dzeko equalised within 60 seconds of entering the action with 10 minutes left and then in injury time snatched the winner with his sixth goal of the season.

City first-team coach Platt said: "If you look at Edin's career for Manchester City, the goals he has scored, he has got a lot of heavy goals, goals that are very important.

"I remember goals at Blackburn the season before last which more or less gave us Champions League qualification.

"You look back at last season as well and he got some vital goals. To win the league, (Sergio) Aguero's goal will always be the one but remember Edin equalised.

"He has been a threat all season and his form has been very good all season."

Milner was sent off for a professional foul after bringing down Long midway through the first half.

But Platt felt City deserved their victory after controlling the game for long periods despite their numerical disadvantage.

Platt, deputising at the press conference for sore throat victim Roberto Mancini, said: "Watching it live it didn't seem a goalscoring opportunity to me for the sending-off. Equally you can see why it is given.

"But we can't sit there for 70 minutes grumbling about a decision.

"For the rest of the first half we were affected by it to a certain extent and no-one was controlling the game.

"We said at half-time if we keep our control and discipline, stay together, we know we can impose our play on them and in that second period we controlled the match.

"If you look at the stats of efforts on goal and possession, you wouldn't have thought we'd had a man less than them."


Lionel Messi scored a brilliant hat-trick

 Lionel Messi scored a brilliant hat-trick as Barcelona survived Javier Mascherano's red card to claim a thrilling 5-4 win at Deportivo de La Coruña that puts them three points clear at the top of La Liga.

Messi, who is expecting the imminent birth of his first child, has scored 71 goals for club and country in 2012 – only four short of the record set by Pelé in 1959.

"Messi is off to the hospital now for a happy occasion as his son is on the way," the Barça sporting director, Andoni Zubizarreta, said.

Barça raced into a three-goal lead after just 18 minutes in a pulsating game at the Estadio Riazor. Deportivo pulled two goals back before Messi scored his second of the night to make it 4-2 at the break.

In a frenetic start to the second half, Pizzi curled in a stunning 47th-minute free-kick and Mascherano was harshly shown a second yellow card two minutes later.

The Barça coach, Tito Vilanova, reacted by replacing the excellent Cesc Fábregas, who provided three goal assists, with Xavi before Messi appeared to have killed the game when he made it 5-3 with a trademark run and clinical finish in the 77th minute, his 15th La Liga hat-trick.

A bizarre own goal from the Barça full-back Jordi Alba, when he lobbed his goalkeeper Victor Valdes from inside his own penalty area, gave Deportivo fresh hope but they were unable to make some late pressure count.

"We could have killed off the game in the first half but Deportivo are strong when they are playing at home and their fans get behind them," said Barça's playmaker Andrés Iniesta. "We are going away with the feeling of having got through a tough match and we will learn from that."