Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cycling: Heroic Fighter Finish Difficult Cycle Race

A Wounded fighter has completed one of the world’s difficult cycling races ahead of schedule.

Sgt Simon Harmer, who lives near Winchester and trained with the army at Fort Blockhouse in Gosport, was part of Team Battle Back, which completed the 3,051 mile Race Across America in 7 days 7 hours and 59 minutes.

The 36-year old lost both of his legs in an IED explosion and every member of the team had either been wounded on operations or injured in training.

The team, which raised money for Help for Heroes, cycled between 350 and 500 miles a day over a distance which is almost a third longer than the Tour de France.

Sgt Harmer completed the race on a hand bike. He said: ‘It was a tough eight days but it’s a huge achievement to have got this far. Kansas was definitely the toughest part, with the heat and barren landscape.

‘It feels awesome to have completed the race and I’d like to say thank you to everyone for their support.’

Team leader Jonpaul Nevin, from Help for Heroes, said: ‘This is one of the toughest things the guys have done since suffering a life-changing injury.’

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Football: Italy looks to Broaden German Finals Pain

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli will be looking for his side to extend their proud record of never losing to Germany in a major finals when they meet in Thursday's Euro 2012 semi-final in Warsaw.

Germany - who are seeking their first trophy since lifting the Euro '96 title - will be by contrast hoping to end that run in what is their eighth meeting at either a World Cup or a European championship.

"There is no such thing as an invincible side," said Italy coach.

"Germany has that intelligence of knowing what they need to do.

"They are also actually strong and have players who have tasted global success at club level, so they are a side with the ingredients to go all the way.

"But we will study them closely and work on the few weak points they have."

Italy needed a penalty shoot-out to beat England 4-2 in Sunday's quarter-final in Kiev with the Azzurri failing to hit the net in normal play despite 68 per cent ball possession and 35 shots compared to England's nine.

Cesare Prandelli has said the Italians will have to be daring in order to hit Germany, who are on a 15-match winning run in spirited matches.

"We have to take risks and not defend in our penalty area," he said.

"I'd prefer it if they (Germany) scored on the counter-attack than have us defend constantly for 20 minutes."

Germany's forwards shone in Friday's 4-2 quarter-final win over Greece and Prandelli is mindful of the risk of pushing too far forward against a German side with the pace to punish on the counter-attack.

Manchester City's Mario Balotelli is one player the Germans have admitted they will pay close attention to after he spearhead an Italian attack which had periods of impressive form beside the Three Lions.

With only a three-day turn-around between the quarter and semi, Prandelli has injury concern over midfielder Daniele De Rossi and right-back Ignazio Abate, while Italy's other right-back Christian Maggio is suspended.

Aside from a 1-1 draw in a friendly in February 2011, the last time the teams met in competition was the 2006 World Cup semi-final when the Italians won 2-0 after extra time as they went on to win the title.

Germany coach Joachim Loew has developed a habit for pulling surprises at this tournament highlighted by changing three of Germany's six-man attack against Greece in axing striker Mario Gomez, plus forwards Lukas Podolski and Thomas Mueller.

It means competition is fierce for places in the starting line-up and Borussia Dortmund-bound Marco Reus looked sharp against the Greeks on his tournament debut before scoring Germany's fourth goal.

Loew has only concerns over pivotal midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger who is still feeling the effects of tearing ankle ligaments in February.

The 27-year-old may have been doing himself a disservice in saying he put in a below-par performance in the win over Greece, but statistics show he made an impressive 109 passes with a completion rate of 92 per cent.

Having won the so-called "Group of Death" by beating Holland, Portugal and Denmark en route to the knock-out phase, the Germans have made no secret of their desire to lift the Henri Delaunay Cup.

"We knew before the tournament that we have a strong team," said Real Madrid star Mesut Ozil.

"We believe in ourselves and the goal is to return to Germany with the title. We are confident we can beat anybody.

"Italy are unexpectedly strong, they proved that in their (group stage) draw against world champions Spain.

"If we play as we know we can, I am convinced we will beat Italy."


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