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NST Online: Sports

Good workout for the boys

Posted: 26 Mar 2011 11:03 AM PDT

By Ajitpal Singh

Malaysia’s Ahmad Fakhri (right) and Etoile’s Piere Nlate vie for the ball in their practice match at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore yesterday. The match ended 1-1. — Picture by Hairul Anuar Abd Rahim

Malaysia's Ahmad Fakhri (right) and Etoile's Piere Nlate vie for the ball in their practice match at the Jalan Besar Stadium in Singapore yesterday. The match ended 1-1. — Picture by Hairul Anuar Abd Rahim

THE national team had a good workout in their 1-1 draw with S-League French side Etoile FC in a practice match at the Jalan Besar Stadium yesterday.

National coach K. Rajagobal opted to mix-and-match his players and liked what he saw.

He played Khairul Fahmi Che Mat in goal and opted for Aidil Zafuan Abd Radzak, Muslim Ahmad, Asraruddin Putra Omar and Mahalli Jasuli in defence.

Captain Safiq Rahim led the midfield together with Amar Rohidan, S. Kunanlan and Amirulhadi Zainal to support Ahmad Fakri Saraani and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha upfront.

Rajagobal, however replaced almost the entire team in the second half with fringe players, which subsequently affected the tempo and pace of the team's flow.

Norshahrul said it was a good match, which his team should have won.

"We had opportunities, which we couldn't put away. But I think we played very well," Norshahrul told Astro Awani yesterday.

"It was a difficult second half as several changes were made. We lost possession but it's okay."

Malaysia made a promising start when Ahmad Fakri headed past Etoile's goalkeeper Antonin Trilles in the seventh minute.

It was a well-worked goal coming from a resulting pass from captain Safiq, off a corner kick, to Asraruddin, who in turn, crossed the ball into the penalty box, which found Ahmad Fakri.

They relied on the quick legs of flankers Kunanlan and Amirulhadi to do the damage with their darting runs, but when the crosses came in, strikers Norshahrul and Ahmad Fakri failed to win the aerial battle against their taller opponents.

The Malaysian defence were erratic throughout the match with their blunders, which almost proved costly on several occasions.

Etoile's Maxime Belouet was the most creative player in the match as the midfielder's accurate passing and flair created problems for the visitors.

His pass from the middle of the field found Kevin Lefranc in the box but the striker's shot hit the side netting in the 20th minute.

And 19 minutes later, Belouet's inswinging corner kick almost caught an out-of-position Malaysian keeper Khairul Fahmi but he managed to flick the ball away to safety.

Scottish-born Jonathan Toto was also unlucky before the half time as both his attempts could only rattle the crossbar.

Since it was a practice match, Rajagobal decided on testing his substitutes including goalkeeper Sharbinee Allawee, Azidan Sarudin, Mohd Fadli Shas, Azmi Muslim, Shahrizal Saad and Rizal Fahmi Rosit.

But Etoile's persistence paid off when midfielder Hicham Bouchemlal equalised with a long range effort in the 62nd minute. It served as a wake-up call for the visitors, who were obviously asleep in much of the match.

In one of Malaysia's rare attacks, Shahrizal set-up Ashaari Samsudin with a beautiful pass but the Terengganu player's shot was parried away by keeper Trilles for a corner kick in the 72nd minute.

The visitors had a few more opportunities but Etoile defended well to force a draw.

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No end to Murray's slump

Posted: 26 Mar 2011 08:25 AM PDT

MIAMI: Andy Murray's post-Australian Open slump shows no sign of ending. The three-time Grand Slam runner-up lost on Friday in his opening match at the Sony Ericsson Open to American qualifier Alex Bogomolov Jr., 6-1, 7-5.

"I was trying to get myself back into the match, trying to find ways," Murray said. "But I just didn't have that spark."

The Scotsman hasn't won a set in three matches since he was routed in the Australian Open final by Novak Djokovic.

Following Murray's departure, Djokovic improved to 19-0 in 2011 by drubbing Denis Istomin 6-0, 6-1. Djokovic's record is the best to begin a year since Ivan Lendl started 25-0 in 1986.

A year ago Murray lost opening-round matches in back-to-back tournaments, including at Key Biscayne as defending champion. This swoon is worse, with consecutive defeats against players ranked outside the top 100.

Bogomolov is ranked 118th, and his only other win over a top 10 player came in 2002, his senior year in high school, when he beat No 3 Tommy Haas in Los Angeles.

While his victory gave US tennis fans something to brag about, the last American in the women's draw was eliminated in the second round when Varvara Lepchenko lost to Petra Kvitova 6-1, 6-2.

Defending champion Kim Clijsters needed only 50 minutes to win her opening match, beating qualifier Anastasiya Yakimova 6-1, 6-1. The No. 2-seeded Kim was playing for the first time since retiring two weeks ago in the fourth round at Indian Wells with a right shoulder injury.

"It's not fully healed, but it's healing," she said. "After Indian Wells I was pretty worried. Now I feel that I'm almost able to do everything that I want."

Reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone advanced by beating Angelique Kerber 6-4, 6-4. No 3-seeded Vera Zvonareva rallied to defeat former No 1 Dinara Safina 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

In other men's play, No 4 Robin Soderling earned his 20th victory this year -- most on the men's tour -- by beating Ivan Dodig 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Americans Mardy Fish, John Isner and James Blake also reached the third round. Fish, seeded 14th, won his opening match against Julien Benneteau, 6-4, 6-3. The unseeded Blake edged No. 27 Thomaz Bellucci 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), while Isner, seeded 30th, defeated Russia's Igor Andreev 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7-2).

Juan Martin del Potro took another step in his comeback from right wrist surgery by edging No 29 Philipp Kohschreiber 6-7 (7-3), 6-4, 7-5. -- AP

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