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Minnows Djibouti keep World Cup dream alive

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French coach Julien Mette kept a bold promise to Djibouti football officials by guiding the tiny Horn of Africa state into the second round of 2022 World Cup qualifying Tuesday.

The country, which had won only one of 13 previous qualifiers, forced a shock 0-0 away draw with eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) to win a first round tie 2-1 on aggregate.

Djibouti built the one-goal first leg advantage last week, but a team ranked 195th in the world were not expected to retain it, given a woeful World Cup away record.

The outcome marked a dramatic turnaround from four years ago when eSwatini trounced Djibouti 8-1 over two legs in 2018 World Cup qualifying.

Known as the ‘Shoremen of the Red Sea’, their previous away losses included conceding nine goals in the Democratic Republic of Congo and eight in Malawi.

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Mette was hired by Djibouti recently after coaching two Congo Brazzaville clubs and told by the national football federation president to “stop the regular five and six goals defeats and restore dignity to Djiboutian football.

“The officials did not speak to me about qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations, the African Nations Championship or the World Cup,” Mette told the Fifa website.

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“All he wanted was to stop losing 5-0 and 6-0 and I said I would definitely bring him that dignity.

“Before signing, I looked around and liked what I saw — the level of some of the players, the potential and the facilities.

“Djiboutian footballers like showing their skills, but they need to be more tactical, more disciplined and, most important of all, have personal ambitions.”

Eliminating eSwatini takes Djibouti into the second round, a six-round 40-nation group phase which kicks off in March.

Meanwhile, Gerald Phiri scored nine minutes from time to give Malawi a 1-0 victory over Botswana in Blantyre with the only goal of the two legs.

Goals from Clesio Bauque and Geny Catamo earned Mozambique a 2-0 win over Mauritius in Maputo and a three-goal aggregate success.

It was a satisfactory start for Mozambique-born coach Luis Goncalves, who was appointed last month after his predecessor lasted just two matches, one of which was a victory.

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Federer enters Australian Open second round

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Roger Federer swatted aside Steve Johnson to race into the Australian Open second round Monday as he kickstarted his bid for a 21st Grand Slam title in immaculate style.

The ageless Swiss great, 38, said ahead of the tournament that he had low expectations at the year’s opening Grand Slam after missing the warm-up ATP Cup to spend more time with his family.

It left him short of match practice, but it didn’t show on Rod Laver Arena against the American in his 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 demolition.

“I felt really good. I trained really hard, like I always do, and happy I did not have any (injury) setbacks (in the off-season),” said Federer.

“I am happy, I played well in practice and happy it showed on the court as well.”

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The crowd favourite knew he needed to get out of the blocks fast against the world number 75 and that’s what he did, racing to a 4-1 lead in the opening set before a 10-minute interruption for the roof to be shut due to rain.

Federer returned and wrapped up the set in just 27 minutes.

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Johnson, known for his big forehand and slice backhand, again gave away service breaks early in the next two sets and there was no way back against a man who delivered some jaw-dropping returns and forehands.

He will next play either French qualifier Quentin Halys or Serbian Filip Krajinovic.

Seeded three, Federer is gunning for not only a 21st Slam title but his seventh in Australia, having most recently tasted success at Melbourne Park in 2018.

Despite his age, the Swiss star remains a competitive force and won four singles titles last year.

But he failed to add another Grand Slam with his closest call coming in the Wimbledon final, where he lost a five-set epic to Novak Djokovic.

In contrast to his 2019 Major drought, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal won two apiece, with the Spaniard moving within one Slam title of Federer’s record 20.

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Osaka launches Australian Open title defence in style

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Naomi Osaka began her Australian Open title defence in emphatic fashion, breaking the net with a blockbuster serve as she dismantled unseeded Czech Marie Bouzkova on Monday.

The 22-year-old Japanese, the world’s second highest-paid female athlete after Serena Williams, powered through 6-2, 6-4 in 80 minutes.

The two-time Grand Slam champion, one of the prime threats to Williams’s bid to win a record-equalling 24th major, will play China’s Zheng Saisai in round two.

Third seed Osaka saw her victory march held up for a few minutes early in the second set after a fizzing serve clocked at 183 kilometres per hour (114 miles per hour) damaged a net tether at the 15,000-capacity Rod Laver Arena.

“Broke the net today,” Osaka tweeted afterwards to her more than 500,000 followers, along with a video of three maintenance personnel rushing onto court to repair the broken fixture.

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Osaka, who endured a turbulent 2019 after winning in Melbourne 12 months ago, was relieved to overcome the 59th-ranked Bouzkova safely.

“It was really tough for me trying to control my nerves,” she said. “It’s tough to play someone you’ve never played before in the first round of a Grand Slam. I hope I’m still standing here at the end of this week.”

Osaka has spoken openly about her struggles with negative headlines and the weight of expectation, but was in relaxed mood throughout.

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It was partly because her Haitian father Leonard Francois, who was her coach for back-to-back titles in the autumn in Japan and China, was in her player’s box for the first time at a Grand Slam.

“Before when he used to sit in my box I would just look at him and complain a lot,” the former number one Osaka told a press conference, calling her father “superstitious”.

“But I have matured over the past three or four years he hasn’t sat in my box.

“He was my coach during Tokyo and Beijing and was sitting in my box the entire time.

“He has a good winning streak by sitting in my box.”

The first Grand Slam of the year went ahead as scheduled on Monday after air pollution eased in Melbourne — although that gave way to rain.

Last week’s build-up to the Australian Open was plagued by choking haze from widespread bushfires, forcing organisers to temporarily delay qualifying matches.

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Serena off to flying start in Australian Open

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Serena Williams blitzed the first set in 19 minutes as she launched her quest for a 24th Grand Slam title with a quickfire demolition of Anastasia Potapova at the Australian Open on Monday.

The 38-year-old American, wearing a lilac dress and matching trainers, and sporting heavily decorated fingernails, powered past the Russian teenager 6-0, 6-3 in 58 minutes.

The eighth seed plays Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia or Han Na-lae of South Korea in round two in an expectant Melbourne, where she can equal the all-time record of Grand Slam titles.

Williams comes into Melbourne in ominous form after breaking her three-year title drought with victory in Auckland — her first since becoming a mother to daughter Olympia.

Olympia was there to see her mother win the title last week, but Williams said after easing to victory over the 18-year-old Potapova: “It was really special for me (Olympia) and her — I hope for her.”

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But the American legend, speaking to an adoring crowd at the 15,000-capacity Rod Laver Arena, admitted that Olympia “just cares about Play-Doh”.

“I try to tell her I’m someone, you know,” she joked.

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“(But) I am just known about town as Olympia’s mum — I love that.”

Williams threatened to blow away Potapova — who was temperamental at times — in embarrassingly rapid fashion.

But the 90th-ranked Russian, overawed in the first set, fought back and broke Williams’ serve in the second, helped by some sloppiness from the American.

Williams double-faulted to go down a surprise 2-1, but there was never a hint of an upset as the American broke back before pulling away to an easy win.

There is huge pressure on Williams as she eyes the 24 Grand Slams won by Australia’s Margaret Court.

Since winning the title in Melbourne in 2017 she has lost four Slam finals, each time failing to even win a set.

Williams, the highest-earning female in sport, was pregnant with Olympia when she lifted the Melbourne crown three years ago.

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