French sports daily L’Equipe ran the headline “RED ALERT” on their front page while criticism of the playoff first-leg defeat poured in from players who graced previous eras.

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“They have shown us they do not have the level to be in Brazil because they could not get through an encounter like that,” Franck Leboeuf, who played centre back in France’s 1998 World Cup-winning team, told French media.

Many others joined the former Chelsea player in questioning France’s level of commitment.

“We were beaten in almost every aspect – for pace, winning the ball back and in the tackles,” said former striker Bernard Lacombe, a 1984 European championship winner.

“It’s terrible. The closer we were to the final whistle, the more Ukraine were dominating.”

Alain Giresse, a member of the so-called “magic square” along with Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and Jean Fernandez in the 1980s, questioned the players’ desire.

The former midfielder, who reached the World Cup semi-finals in 1982 and 1986 as well as winning the European championships in 1984, said France’s players had underestimated how demanding a playoff could be.

“France did not meet the requirements of such a match. We really struggled,” he said.

“It’s not about will, it’s about judging the level of intensity needed for a game like this one,” added Giresse, who has coached at club and international level for almost 20 years.

The players took most of the blame, with Samir Nasri the main target after another failure to prove decisive in a playmaker role, but former full back Eric Di Meco also hit out at coach Didier Deschamps.

Deschamps has won just seven of his 17 matches since he took over from Laurent Blanc following their quarter-final exit at Euro 2012.

“We’ve been told that Deschamps had chosen not to field a team to control the play. But when have we managed to upset an opponent with that tactic?,” Di Meco said.

“We just don’t have any ideas about how to play. (Franck) Ribery was marked by three players yesterday. Yet, we never tried anything different. If we were smart on the pitch, we should have figured out how to play differently.”

There was little optimism about France’s chances of reversing the defeat in the second leg, given no team has ever overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit in a European World Cup playoff.

Yet Bixente Lizarazu, a 1998 World Cup winner, is still cautiously hopeful they can qualify.

“It’s possible to win 2-0, play extra-time and qualify on penalties. We have the quality for it,” he said.

“But if Ukraine score a goal, it will all be over.”

(Reporting by Gregory Blachier; Editing by Toby Davis)

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The Czech Republic got within a point of defending the Davis Cup title as Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek beat Serbia’s Ilija Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic in Saturday’s doubles in Belgrade.

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Berdych and Stepanek won the 14th of their 15 Davis Cup doubles rubbers together as they swept the hosts 6-2 6-4 7-6 in two hours and 12 minutes to give the Czechs a 2-1 lead over 2010 champions Serbia.

In Sunday’s reverse singles, world number two Novak Djokovic will first take on Berdych and Stepanek is due to face Dusan Lajovic, world number 117 who has replaced the injured 36th-ranked Janko Tipsarevic.

But Serbia captain Bogdan Obradovic said he may call on Bozoljac for the fifth rubber.

“For sure Novak is going to play, but I’m going to talk to the guys tonight and we’ll make a decision” about the fifth rubber, he said.

The Czechs dominated the doubles, being a more compact team from the start.

The 28-year-old Berdych served and returned well throughout while the 34-year-old Stepanek — the world number nine for doubles — gave yet another spotless display at the net, delivering stunning volleys.

“I dare say this was maybe one of our best performances as a team,” Stepanek said.

Zimomjic added: “They were better in every aspect of the game, a really strong team, they’ve been playing together for many years and this is the reality.”

“They were controlling the game from the beginning to the end.”

The two Czechs, who only play together in the Davis Cup, allowed just a single break point in the whole rubber midway through the third set.

The 37-year-old Zimonjic, world number 14 for doubles, received the Davis Cup Award of Excellence before the match, but he showed only hints of his talent to the frantic home crowd.

Zimonjic lost the very first serve of the rubber and when Bozoljac, who is 28, followed suit in the seventh game, the Czechs won the first set 6-2 in just 30 minutes.

They took 40 minutes to win the second set — Zimonjic kept struggling with his serve, lost his first one again and that was all the Czechs needed to win 6-4.

The third set was the tightest as the Czechs cooled off a bit while the Serbian pair showed the blend of skills that took them past the Bryan brothers in the Davis Cup quarter-finals in April.

Both pairs held on to their serves until a tiebreak in which the Czechs regained their dominance to win 7-6.

“Today they dealt with pressure much better than we did. They won almost every important point in the match,” said Bozoljac.

On Friday, Djokovic, the world number two and recently-crowned ATP World Tour Finals champion, beat Stepanek 7-5 6-1 6-4.

Seventh-ranked Berdych then put the Czechs level with a three-set win over Lajovic by 6-3 6-4 6-3.

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Bolt, who is on a three-man shortlist for the male Athlete of the Year award which will be announced by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in the principality later on Saturday, has never failed a drug test.

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High-ranking World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) officials went to Jamaica last month to look at the country’s anti-doping efforts after weeks of criticism following positive tests from several high-profile athletes.

WADA president John Fahey had suggested the Caribbean nation could face severe penalties if the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) was declared non-compliant. Only WADA code-compliant sports can participate in the Olympic Games.

Jamaica’s minister with responsibility for sports, Natalie Neita-Headley, told a news conference at JADCO headquarters last month that WADA had given no indication it was non-compliant.

However, Bolt said the fallout from the controversy was affecting him.

“It is really costing me money now. I am not too happy with that,” he said. “Track and field is my job.”

NEXT OLYMPICS

Bolt’s manager Ricky Simms said rumours suggesting Bolt might not be at the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 had upset the sprinter and put off a potential sponsor.

“I think what he was disturbed about was… the misinformation that was out there,” Simms told Reuters.

“It’s a potential new sponsorship. They asked the question ‘Are you going to be in the Olympics?’ They don’t want to sponsor him and then he is not in the Olympics.”

Simms gave no details of the sponsor but, asked if there would be more discussions about signing up Bolt, he said: “Absolutely.”

Three Jamaicans – former world 100 metres record holder Asafa Powell, twice 200 metres Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown and London Games 4×100 relay silver medallist Sherone Simpson – failed drug tests and were left out of the team for the August world championships.

The credibility of Jamaica’s anti-doping work was called into question by Renee Anne Shirley, a former senior official with the country’s anti-doping commission.

She told Sports Illustrated in August the authority had carried out just one out-of-competition test between February 2012 and the start of the London Olympics in July.

(Writing by Clare Fallon in London; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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The result put the Czechs firmly in the driving seat with Berdych now facing world number two Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s opening singles before Stepanek takes on Dusan Lajovic, a late replacement for the injured Janko Tipsarevic, or Bozoljac.

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An exhausted Djokovic, who arrived in his hometown after winning four tournaments and 22 matches on the trot before recording a straight-sets victory over Stepanek on Friday, was rested for the doubles.

“Djokovic was totally honest this morning and said that while he was prepared to spend every last ounce of energy in the singles, asking him to play in the doubles too would have been too much,” Serbia captain Bogdan Obradovic told a news conference.

“These two guys beat some really good teams, including the Bryan brothers (in the quarter-final win over the U.S.), so putting them together was a logical choice given the circumstances and we have no regrets at all.

“We’ve been here many times before and if Djokovic beats Berdych to level the score we are confident we can clinch it in the fifth rubber although we are in a very tough situation,” added Obradovic.

Berdych and Stepanek improved their Davis Cup doubles record as a pair to 14-1 with an effervescent performance in the packed Kombank Arena, with several hundred colourful Czech fans often gaining the upper hand over 15,000 home supporters in terms of noise.

The away contingent let off their loud horns and danced to the tunes of a Serbian brass-band brought in to put some wind in the home team’s sails.

Volleying past their opponents almost at will and carving them open with passing shots time and again, the Czech duo broke both Zimonjic’s and Bozoljac’s serve in the opening set as the Serbians also committed too many unforced errors.

With the flat-looking Zimonjic dropping his serve again in the opening game of the second set, the visitors comfortably held on to their advantage as Stepanek ran both Serbs ragged with devastating forays to the net.

AUDACIOUS VOLLEYS

The Czechs faced their only break point of the match in the fifth game of the third set but Stepanek held serve after a pair of audacious volleys and the champions then stormed back from a 3-1 deficit in the tiebreak to seal victory in two hours 12 minutes.

“We complement each other on the court and that’s why we work well in the doubles,” said Stepanek.

“This is one of the best Davis Cup doubles matches I’ve ever played but a lot of the credit goes to Berdych and our fantastic fans who sacrifice so much to follow us around the world and are an unofficial team member.

“We are in a good position to retain the title but we have to stay humble and focused because we face two difficult singles tomorrow.”

Should Djokovic redress the balance on Sunday, Obradovic faces another painful selection dilemma as he prepares to choose between Bozoljac and Lajovic who was brushed aside by Berdych on Friday.

“We have to sit down and see what the best course of action is,” said Serbia’s captain.

“I will talk to the entire squad and make a decision but obviously our first priority is to keep the tie alive and we certainly can’t take for granted that Djokovic will beat a player of Berdych’s quality.”

The Serbs fought back from 2-1 down in the 2010 semis against the Czechs, in the final against France when they won their maiden Davis Cup title and in this year’s semis against Canada, each time in the imposing Kombank Arena.

(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic editing by Tony Jimenez)

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With Twickenham rocking as England led 22-20 and scenting a second successive upset win following last year’s 38-21 thrashing, the world champions regrouped and managed to send winger Julian Savea over for his second try.

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Flyhalf Dan Carter lasted only 26 minutes in his 100th test but by that time his side were seemingly in control after Savea and Kieran Read scored.

England, with their forwards in total command, roared back with a Joe Launchbury try and superb goalkicking by Owen Farrell and though they were edged out in the end the performance will give their young, developing side huge encouragement.

“We are deeply disappointed having put ourselves in position at 22-20 but I’m proud of the effort,” England coach Stuart Lancaster told reporters.

“We didn’t get off to the best of starts but we kept our composure, we kept building our score. But you know against New Zealand one error can present them an opportunity that they might take and that’s what happened.”

New Zealand captain Richie McCaw was relieved to have come through to make it 13 wins out of 13 with Ireland in Dublin next week to come.

“We knew it was going to be a battle and that’s what it was,” he said. “England played well and for a while they were winning the contact but we concentrated on keeping the ball and doing the basics and regain some control in the last quarter.”

Carter led the teams on to the pitch in recognition of his 100th cap – joining three other centurions in the All Black side lining up at Twickenham – but aggravated an Achilles problem in an early tackle and replaced by Aaron Cruden.

Only seven of England’s starting team from last year’s stunning victory survived while 13 of the All Blacks were on duty, including Read, the number eight who has made such an impact this season.

EASY SCORE

He was to the fore again from the start as he delivered a trademark offload after 90 seconds, despite the attention of three tacklers, leaving Savea an easy score.

A rare charge by prop Owen Franks blasted another hole in England’s defence and Read took advantage to stretch the lead to 17-3 after 17 minutes.

England looked to be reeling but got back to basics and controlled the rest of the half, dominating the breakdown and finding a way to smother and frustrate the All Blacks in a way that none of their southern hemisphere rivals ever seem able to do.

England’s forwards hammered at the line with a series of rolling mauls and after the TV match official ruled out a score by man of the match contender Billy Vunipola, he then found in favour of the hosts to allow one for Launchbury moments later.

Cruden marked his entry with a penalty after 27 minutes but it was a rare highlight for the visitors as England poured on the pressure.

With Read sin-binned as the All Blacks conceded repeated penalties, Farrell duly punished them to drag England into a 22-20 lead going into the last quarter.

While the home fans went wild, McCaw drew his players around him for a huddle as he tried to find a way to turn the tide.

It seemed to work and great work by Ma’a Nonu sent Savea over for his second try to complete a remarkable recovery a week after he spent the night in a Paris hospital with a lung infection.

Cruden converted then added another penalty to keep his side on course for a remarkable 2013 clean sweep.

The teams will meet again four times next year, three when England tour in June and back at Twickenham in November.

(Editing by Justin Palmer)

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