Two-horse race? Maybe not

Wenger believes festive fixtures could throw up another contender into the mix

ONWARDS AND UPWARDS: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (above) doesn't feel his team have regressed as compared to last season when they led the league at the turn of the year.
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Balotelli in top trim

Penang trackwork

Salee Saad.
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Wicked intent out for 4 in a row

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Bench warning for Balotelli

Rodgers admits that 
Italian is not suited for Reds' high-intensity pressing game

"It is something he will have to (get used to). If the team need him from the bench, then it is something he will need to become adjusted to — that is the same for every single player, not just him." — Brendan Rodgers telling Mario Balotelli to get used to life on the bench
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Man United finally dancing to van Gaal's tune

LETHAL COMBO: Falcao (far left) and Wayne Rooney helping Man United to the easy win.

The swagger’s not quite back yet.

But Manchester United are at least dancing on the pitch once more, writes Gary Lim.

At Old Trafford yesterday, Wayne Rooney played the role of principal dancer as the Red Devils beat Newcastle 3-1 to consolidate third place in the Premiership table.

The England striker might have grabbed the headlines with his two goals, and Robin van Persie continued his good run with one, but this was in truth a team effort that reminded one of the togetherness Sir Alex Ferguson worked so hard to forge during his reign.

This is also further evidence that manager Louis van Gaal, who was recently given the nod of approval by Fergie, is on the right track.

Read the full report in our print edition on Dec 27.

Subscribe to The New Paper, now available in print and digital, at http://bit.ly/tnpeshop.

Tags: man united and van Gaal

Life bans for Vietnamese match-fixers

LITTLE TO CHEER: More woes for Vietnamese football fans (above) as nine former V-League players were banned for match-fixing.

Vietnam's football federation has banned nine players for life for fixing an Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup match, part of efforts to win back the dwindling confidence of fans and rebuild a reputation tarnished by bribery scandals.

The nine former Vissai Ninh Binh players received jail terms of up to 30 months in August for rigging an away match against Malaysian Super League team Kelantan this year.

The scandal was one of many in recent years in a country notorious for illicit gambling and with one of the world's worst track records for match-fixing.

It led to Vissai Ninh Binh's withdrawal from the Vietnamese top flight amid fears league games could also have been fixed.

Rare ban

Such measures are rare in Vietnam, which routinely hands down harsh penalties to criminals but have given relatively lenient punishments for throwing games.

The Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) announced the bans on Thursday.

It has been working closely with police to investigate suspicious activities and has previously suggested legalising small-stakes betting to curb the problem.

The VFF said in August that it was "resolutely fighting with negatives in football to regain the confidence of the country's fans".

Dinh Khai, a prominent local pundit, described the bans as a good first step, as it showed the sport's bosses were sending a clear message to players to shun bribes.

"They want to awaken the players to purify Vietnamese football," said Khai.

"Vietnamese football is now very poor within the region...

"The results will always be wrong as long as negativity and match-fixing still exists."

Illegal gambling rife

Gambling is illegal, but rife in Vietnam, with huge sums changing hands and players are easy targets for underground betting syndicates.

Vietnamese police said they tracked tens of millions of dollars in online betting daily during this year's World Cup.

Last month, the AFC extended the VFF's suspension of six players from 
V-League club Dong Nai pending a police probe into alleged match-fixing during a fixture in July and other games.

Author and sports columnist Nguyen Luu said that he supported bans in general but punishments should be proportional to a player's level of involvement.

"There are some who led, others were followers, some were dragged along," he said.

"It's a very good decision as this stain is hurting and sabotaging football...

"But I don't believe all nine players deserved that level of punishment."

- Reuters.

"It's a very good decision as this stain is hurting and sabotaging football... But I don't believe all nine players deserved that level of punishment."

- Author and sports columnist Nguyen Luu on the life ban for Vietnamese match-fixers

RELATED STORIES:
Kelong? Vietnam authorities investigate Malaysia defeat
Ten found guilty of match-fixing in Vietnam​

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Torres set for Atletico reunion

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Terry calls for calm

Chelsea captain wants Blues to stay grounded, says pressure's on City to keep up with leaders

36 John Terry 
(far left, opening 
the scoring) 
is on 36 goals, 
two behind 
David Unsworth as the highest scoring defender in EPL history.
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BLOW 
BY BLOW

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