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Saturday, July 31, 2010

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Lean on me: New Liverpool recruit Milan Jovanovic (right) challenges Vladimir Tunevski of Macedonian side Rabotnicki on Thursday. AP PHOTO

Liverpool, Juventus avoid banana skins

LONDON (AP) Former European champions Liverpool and Juventus began their attempts to reach the second-tier Europa League with 2-0 victories.

On Thursday, Roy Hodgson guided Liverpool over Rabotnicki in his first competitive game since becoming manager four weeks ago. David Ngog scored twice as Liverpool won despite the absence of star players, including Fernando Torres and Joe Cole.

Brazilian striker Amauri scored both goals for Juventus to give the Italian team a victory over Ireland's Shamrock Rovers in the first leg of its third qualifying round match.

The winners of the two-legged ties advance to playoffs for places in the tournament.

Former European champion Red Star Belgrade faces a struggle after losing 2-1 to visiting Slovan Bratislava.

Playing without 10 World Cup players, Liverpool started a lineup that included Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Alberto Aquilani, Lucas Leiva and Ngog. New signings Milan Jovanovic and David Amoo made their first appearances.

Ngog raced through to reach Lucas' free kick and flicked the ball past goalkeeper Martin Bogatinov in the 17th minute, then made it 2-0 in the 59th with a volley.

Juventus, a two-time European champion, took the lead in the third minute when Amauri exchanged passes with Diego and shot past the goalkeeper. Diego then shot wide before Amauri scored in the 75th with a powerful header.

Hughes checks in

LONDON (AP) Mark Hughes was entrusted with the tough task of following Roy Hodgson as Fulham manager after the west London club hired him on a two-year contract Thursday.

The Premier League side opted for Hughes, who has been out of work since being fired by Manchester City in December, after failing to bring Martin Jol from Ajax last week.

Fulham had been seeking a manager since July 1, when the popular Hodgson was tempted to join Liverpool by the challenge of reviving the five-time European champion.

Hodgson saved Fulham from relegation within months of joining. He then guided the unfashionable side to its best ever top-flight finish of seventh in his first full season and followed that by reaching last season's Europa League final.

"I am joining on the back of two of the most successful seasons in the club's history and that in itself brings with it the challenges of expectation and ambition," Hughes said. "I am confident that with some additions to the squad, hard work and commitment, we can move this club forward in the right direction.

"I'm looking forward to working with the squad as soon as possible and in making sure the on-pitch preparations are complete before the first competitive ball is kicked in August."

Fulham, which lost what was only its second ever major final 2-1 to Atletico Madrid, opens the Premier League season at Bolton on Aug. 14.

Hughes enjoyed success in his first managerial position with his native Wales and then at Blackburn but was fired midway through his second season with Manchester City when the club's wealthy owners began to doubt his ability to guide the team to a top-four finish in the Premier League.

Bilardo hits back

BUENOS AIRES (AP) Carlos Bilardo, who has been accused by Diego Maradona of betrayal and working behind the scenes to have him dismissed as Argentina's coach, says the former playing great was to blame for his own downfall.

Bilardo, who coached the 1986 World Cup-winning team led by Maradona — and the 1990 team that finished second — said Thursday that until now he has kept him mouth shut for the good of Argentina's national team.

Maradona accused Bilardo, who is the Argentine national team director, of "betrayal" and Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona of "lying" in a 10-minute speech Wednesday.

The outburst followed the AFA's decision Tuesday not to renew his contract.

"Until now I have been still and have put up with everything for the good of the team, for the World Cup and the players," Bilardo said Thursday on radio La Red. "I didn't want to cause problems. But enough is enough. I can't let myself be more humiliated. My friends don't understand how I've put up with this."

He said he planned a news conference next week to air his side of events.

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