December 22nd, 2009
07:00 PM ET

How long can Liverpool keep faith with Rafa?

Two months ago I wrote a blog about Rafa Benitez's precarious position as Liverpool manager. At the time the Spaniard was bemoaning his lack of squad size and I was posing the question that really he only had himself to blame.

Rafa Benitez must do something quickly or Liverpool's season will implode completely.
Rafa Benitez must do something quickly or Liverpool's season will implode completely.

My posting came just before the Premier League match at home to Manchester United, a game I felt they had no chance of winning.

Well, what did I know...They beat the champions 2-0 at Anfield that day, a result that gave renewed hope to the red half of Merseyside and meant they were still very much in the title race.

Since then, Liverpool have crashed out of the Champions League and the English Coca-Cola Cup and, at the time of writing, they lie a lowly eighth in the Premier League - eight points away from Aston Villa, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League placing.

In a season where a new order is beginning to emerge in English football, with Aston Villa, Tottenham and Manchester City all looking to challenge the established elite, Liverpool are being left behind.

Sure, they can still win the FA Cup and the Europa League, in which the patriotic English bookmakers have laughingly made them favorites ahead of teams like Valencia and Juventus, but does even the most ardent 'Red' believe that will happen?

The truth is that Rafa has had his time at Anfield and has to go, as soon as possible, for this great club to rebuild again.

OK..so the fans have not turned against him, but so what. That is only because they reserve their ire for the unpopular American owners who many believe are at the root cause of Liverpool's problems.

Well, I don't buy that at all. Rafa has had fortunes to spend and they are nowhere nearer ending their 19-year wait for title glory.

So, why hasn't he been sacked yet...Is finance the answer?..Can Liverpool not afford to sack Rafa?..If that is true, then they'll have even less cash when they fail to qualify for the Champions League next season - and a place in the Europa League won't be a certainty either judging by their abject recent 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth.

Things have got to change at Anfield, and quickly. Look at the players Rafa doesn't use...Ryan Babel, Andrei Voronin, Andra Dossena, Phillip Degen...why not sell those four and use the money..whatever it is...to sign a striker. Any striker who can score a few goals. He doesn't have to be a world-beater, just a good back-up for the amazing Fernando Torres.

Benni Mccarthy wants to leave Blackburn..The veteran Kevin Phillips isn't playing at Birmingham....How about Luca Toni, who Bayern Munich want to offload...Are you seriously telling me Luca Toni would not improve Liverpool's squad?..Plus he would provide company for fellow-Italian Alberto Aquilani, who is starting to look like the most expensive mistake in Liverpool's history.

Do some wheeler-dealing Rafa...Do something...But don't pass the buck or blame anybody else, because you have put Liverpool in this mess and - as seems increasingly likely - until you are finally relieved of your duties, only you can get them out of it.

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Filed under:  Football
November 26th, 2009
10:55 PM ET

Is Rafael Nadal a spent force?

Rafa Nadal's performances at the ATP World Tour Finals in London have raised serious question marks about the Spaniard's well-being.

Can Rafael Nadal ever return to his former heights again?
Can Rafael Nadal ever return to his former heights again?

Nadal began 2009 in superb style, beating Roger Federer to win the Australian Open title, taking him one tournament away from a clean sweep of slams.

His displays over the last year had taken the Spaniard to number one in the world rankings and all the locker-room mummerings were about Federer's possible demise and Nadal's increasing superiority.

Yet, the last seven months have seen a complete turnaround in the fortunes of the Majorcan.

A stunning defeat at the hands of Robin Soderling saw Nadal's seemingly invincible reign as French Open champion come to a crashing end - leaving the way open for Federer to snatch the one title that had always eluded him and take back the No.1 ranking in the process.

How had Nadal gone from this unbeatable powerhouse, to looking vulnerable, in the blink of an eye?

Well the answer soon became appearent when it was revealed Nadal was suffering from a crippling knee injury that would mean he could not defend his Wimbledon title, an absence that Federer took advantage of to take back his SW19 title in dramatic fashion.

With injuries so commonplace in modern tennis, I reckon it takes a really bad one to stop somebody competing in the most prestigious tournament in the world - especially when they are the defending champion.

And since his return to the ATP Tour, Nadal has looked a pale shadow of his former self. To be beaten in straight sets by both Soderling and Nikolay Davydenko in London is not the form of a man ranked second in the world.

Nadal prides himself on his upper body strength. His power and physique is something to behold and made him the player that took the tennis world by storm.

But while your upper body can be strengthened permanently, the knee cannot. Could it be that years of pumping iron and making his upper body stronger have placed too much strain on Nadal's lower body?

Could his knees be showing the wear and tear of coming into the sport so early and generating the immense power that is needed for those stunning clay-court ground-strokes.

On faster surfaces, Nadal is now just another player. If he does not perform to his previous imperious clay-court best, following the winter break, maybe he never will.

The acid test will be Roland Garros 2010.

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Filed under:  Tennis
October 26th, 2009
09:26 PM ET

Rossi and Loeb prove their superiority

By one of those strange coincidences that happen so often in sport, both Valentino Rossi and Sebastien Loeb wrapped up their respective world titles on the same day, making no mistake with the sort of assured performances which have marked their remarkable careers.

Rossi celebrates completing the ninth world title victory of his career.
Rossi celebrates completing the ninth world title victory of his career.

MotoGP ace Rossi was winning his seventh title in motorcycling's premier class and his second in succession, Loeb made it sixth straight world rallying crowns, an all-time record.

Both had to endure significant challenges during the course of the season, Loeb from Ford Focus ace Mikko Hirvonen, Rossi from his Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo.

And both showed their incredible winning mentality when it mattered the most, with Loeb having to relegate Hirvonen to second place in the season-ending Wales Rally GB to leapfrog the Finn in the final standings.

Rossi wrapped up his title with a race to spare, needing to finish fourth in Sepang to clinch it, he claimed the final podium spot behind Australian Casey Stoner, keepng Lorenzo one place behind him.

It is a feature of great champions that when the question is asked they come up with the answer and both Rossi and Loeb have solved puzzles a plenty to stay at the top.

But are they the greatest of all-time in their respective sports ?

Statistically, Loeb has few peers, with his 54 wins a world rally record, but questions have to be asked about the overall competitiveness of the championship in recent years with this year's title race effectively a two-horse race between the Citroen and Ford teams.

Rallying fans may well point to the merits of the great Finns Tommi Makinen, Juha Kankunen and Marcus Gronholm while Spain's Carlos Sainz had few peers. Throw into the mix the late and much-missed flying Scot Colin McRae and there is room for much-debate.

Who do you think is the greatest rally driver of all time ?

In the same vein, Rossi has been a winning machine with nine world championships from 125 cc to MotoGP, but his fellow-Italian Giacomo Agostini is the all-time record holder with 122 grand prix wins and 15 world championships.

Australian Mick Doohan won five successive world 500cc championships and was totally dominant in the 1990s, while flamboyant British ace Mike Hailwood
won world titles and TT races on the Isle of Man at will during his incredible career.

So who is the ultimate maestro on two wheels ?

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Filed under:  Motorsport
October 21st, 2009
06:24 PM ET

Benitez only has himself to blame

The knives are firmly being sharpened for Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez at the moment with the English Premier League giants in the middle of a nightmare period both on and off the pitch.

Rafael Benitez has looked an increasingly desperate figure on the touchline this season.
Rafael Benitez has looked an increasingly desperate figure on the touchline this season.

Liverpool go into Sunday’s home clash against Manchester United in their worse run since 1987 – and four defeats in a row could easily become five should the Reds lose to their bitter rivals, a scenario not witnessed at Anfield for 56 years.

The glory days of that remarkable Champions League triumph in 2005 seem a distance away for Benitez and the Spaniard’s body language has become more and more agitated and irritable as a crippling injury list, loss of form from experienced players and new-found defensive uncertainty have all combined to give Liverpool a distinctly fragile appearance in recent weeks.

Suddenly every aspect of the club is being scrutinized, from the continued boardroom travails involving unpopular American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to Benitez’s transfer policy which has seen him sign over 70 players since taking charge of the club five years ago.

Benitez has moaned about his squad size in recent weeks but, from where I am looking, the Liverpool squad appears as big, if not bigger, than most of their rivals’ squads.

Size is not the issue, quality is, and it is my firm belief that Benitez only has himself to blame for the current mess his club are in.

The accusation that Liverpool rely too heavily on superstars Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard is true, but it is nonsense to say they are the only class players at Benitez’s disposal.

The likes of Yossi Benayoun, Javier Mascherano, Albert Reira, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, Glen Johnson and Pepe Reina are all top quality, but the truth is the second tier of players are simply not good enough.

Who scores the goals when Torres is absent?...David Ngog?..Andrei Voronin?...How the Liverpool faithful must yearn for Robbie Keane, Peter Crouch or Emile Heskey, all experienced Premier League strikers jettisoned by Benitez.

Who provides the creativity in midfield following the sale of Xabi Alonso?...Lucas? or will the still injured Alberto Aquilani provide the spark so sadly lacking when he eventually makes his debut?

And who plays in the full-back positions?..Glen Johnson?, Fabio Aurelio?, Philip Degen? Andrea Dossena? Martin Kelly? Emiliano Insua? Jamie Carragher?...How many full-backs does a club need?

I do not expect Liverpool to beat United on Sunday, although a draw might be enough to instil some much-needed confidence…

Either way, they have already lost four league games, double last year’s total, and their title hopes will be extinguished should defeat number five occur at the weekend…

Is Benitez’s job safe?...For the moment he won’t be going, especially as the ink on a lucrative recent five-year contract is barely dry..

But if Liverpool fail to finish in the top four, don’t expect the dour Spaniard to be at the helm next season, and, you know what, he’ll only have himself to blame.

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May 30th, 2009
04:26 PM ET

The magic of the FA Cup lives on

WEMBLEY, England - The expectant walk up Wembley Way. A sea of blue. Goosebumps on the neck as "Abide with Me" rings round the stadium. 

The magic of the FA Cup lives on and in prospect a David v Goliath clash which reflects the new realities of football.

Everton, fifth in the Premier League, take on Chelsea, just two places above them, but worlds apart in terms of resources and expectation.

Everton so short of players mid-season that they play for a while without a recognized striker with the invaluable Tim Cahill filling in admirably.

Chelsea, who could afford to leave Didier Drogba sulking on the sidelines until the arrival of Guus Hiddink re-energized the team.

Both he and Nicolas Anelka set to form a formidable partnership up front as Chelsea bid to shrug off the disappointments of losing out so narrowly to Barcelona in the Champions League, no disgrace there on reflection.

Everton chasing a first trophy under David Moyes and so deservedly in the final having beaten Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester United on the way to the Wembley showpiece.

It's not quite second-flight Sunderland upsetting all-conquering but unloved Leeds in 1973, or Wimbledon's Crazy Gang coming out on top against Liverpool, but an Everton victory would be still be against the odds.

The club's chiefs could not be more different. Everton's Bill Kenwright a theatrical impressario with a shrewd eye for a hit, in this case Moyes. Chelsea's Roman Abramovich a Russian billionaire with a ruthless streak who has dispatched Mourinho, Grant and Scolari and temporarily settled on Hiddink.

FA Cup victory for Abramovich would represent a morsel of consolation, for Kenwright it would be a full scale banquet.

But the FA Cup is no respecter of reputations and when the underdogs scored after just 25 seconds through Louis Saha's emphatic volley it was clear that Chelsea would have to work for their victory. 

The noise from the Everton fans reached a crescendo, but before long they were silenced as Florent Malouda crossed for Drogba to head home.

Poor Tony Hibbert was suffering from twisted blood syndrome on the left as he tried to cope with Malouda and was unceremoniously hauled off at half time to be replaced by little-known Dane Lars Jacobsen.

But the Chelsea second half substitution spelt out the gulf in quality in the two squads as German captain Michael Ballack replaced Ghana powerhouse Michael Essien.

Saha might have put the Toffees ahead for the second time but his header was over and soon afterwards Frank Lampard drove the winner past Tim Howard.

Malouda, who I thought should have been man of the match ahead of Ashley Cole, could have finished the game off with two more close efforts, the second possibly crossing the line off the underside of the crossbar (further proof if any needed for TV cameras to decide these close calls).

It was impossible not to feel sympathy for Everton and their fanatical fans, but Hiddink has worked his magic again, inspiring an underperforming big-name squad to step up to the plate.

It was no surprise that the biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for the Dutchman as he lifted the trophy.

What price Abramovich making him an offer he can't refuse to stay on at Stamford Bridge next season ?

While for teams like Everton, the FA Cup offers the best hope of silverware, aka Portsmouth in 2008, and that's why it's such a favorite with supporters and the players too, who for all their mega salaries and inflated egos just want to get their hands on a piece of history.

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Filed under:  Football
January 29th, 2009
09:32 AM ET

Ravenous Real Madrid still hungry to buy

Stay up to date with all the comings and goings in the transfer window with CNN.com's daily wrap of the latest rumors and gossip from Europe's sports pages.

Liverpool's Xabi Alonso is said to be Real Madrid's main target.
Liverpool's Xabi Alonso is said to be Real Madrid's main target.

The transfer window may be fast drawing to a close but Spanish giants Real Madrid are still on the hunt for some big January purchases.

Real, along with Manchester United are believed to be interested in Wigan's Antonio Valencia, but the English Premier League club has put a £18 million price on the midfielder, reports The Sun. After losing Emile Heskey, it seems they don't want to lose any more of their class players.

The Daily Mirror says Real Madrid are focusing most of their attention of Liverpool's Xabi Alonso, while there is also believed to be an interest in bringing Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, the Gunners' captain Cesc Fabregas and AC Milan star Kaka to the Bernabeu.

Back to the English Premier League, where The Sun reports that the Shay Given move to Manchester City will be completed today for an estimated £8.5m.

After making a big impact for Blackburn in Premier League action on Wednesday night, there's more talk today that Roque Santa Cruz will be the subject of a £20m Tottenham bid before the window closes.

One thing that has gone quiet is suggestions that Liverpool and Chelsea are about to be sold - though nothing has been ruled out. If you want to read about how Middle Eastern investment is changing English football go to Football Fanzone.

Elsewhere, the Daily Mail reports that Chelsea are to sign AC Milan goalkeeper Marco Storari after Carlo Cuducini left for Tottenham, and the Daily Express says that in-form West Ham are interested in Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli.

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Filed under:  Football
January 28th, 2009
11:46 AM ET

Beckham 'dreams' of Milan move

Stay up to date with all the comings and goings in the transfer window with CNN.com's daily wrap of the latest rumors and gossip from Europe's sports pages.

LONDON, England (CNN) – All the dancing, rumors, subterfuge, lies and (very) occasional actual transfers come to an end in but a few days time. But there's still time for a last minute flurry of activity with most of the juiciest action taking place at Manchester City and AC Milan.

First to Milan where attempts to sign David Beckham on a permanent deal are gathering pace. After announcing their interest in signing the midfielder earlier in the week, Sky Sports is reporting that AC Milan's vice chairman Adriano Galliani is deep in fractious negotiations with an unhappy LA Galaxy, warning that if no deal is struck this weekend then it never will.

"If Galaxy change ideas with Beckham then we will evaluate the situation and we will keep him," he said. "The player wants to stay with us, but he knows he has to return."

Even the Englishman has decided to get off the fence telling Il Corriere Della Sera that it would be "a dream" to move to the city full time. Still, Milan's football shirt manufacturers should be putting those bumper Beckham replica shirt orders on ice for a few days, just in case.

What do you think about the Beckham transfer saga?  Tell us on Football Fanzone.

La Gazzetta Dello Sport has had its hands full reporting on all the other (non-Beckham) transfer activity going on in Serie A. Cash rich UEFA Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg have put in a €10million bid for Juve's talented forward Vincenzo Iaquinta.

Which may add more grist to yesterday's frankly ludicrous transfer mill that West Ham United's in form striker Carlton Cole could be a target for The Old Lady. Their manager Claudio Ranieri used to coach Cole at Chelsea. It can't possibly be true, can it?

Over at Middle Eastlands this week's ongoing transfer saga revolves around Newcastle United's want away goalkeeper Shay Given who, The Times reports, is angry that a deal between the two clubs cannot be made. Oddly, Manchester City seem to be getting shy about throwing around their cash.

Initially the club offered just £3 (€3.24) million before making a final £5 (€5.39) million take-it-or-leave-it bid, far less than the £10 (€10.78) million originally mooted in the press. Which is quite frankly a derisory sum given that (a) Given is arguably currently the form goalkeeper in Europe and (b) Sunderland's Craig Gordon cost £9 (€9.71) million. £9MILLION! Still CNN can only thank Manchester City for their continued ability to stir controversy. Without them we'd have nothing to write about.

Elsewhere one of Europe's great enigmas might be moving to the Premiership after being linked with over a dozen clubs during every single transfer window over the past half decade. The Argentine striker Javier Saviola was (rightly) lauded as a potential world beater but poor form, perceived indifference and an inability to hold down a regular starting place at both Barcelona and Real Madrid has seen his stock fall faster than a suicidal Wall Street trader.

In fact, it has fallen so far that he is apparently considering a move to Portsmouth, according to The Express. But if you happen to be reading Marca, they insist that the current Real Madrid forward may well be used as a makeweight in the deal to take Wigan Athletic's Antonio Valencia to the Bernabeu. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place...

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Filed under:  Football
January 26th, 2009
11:21 AM ET

Keane on the way out?

Stay up to date with all the comings and goings in the transfer window with CNN.com’s daily wrap of the latest rumors and gossip from Europe’s sports pages.

Is Robbie Keane ready to leave Liverpool?
Is Robbie Keane ready to leave Liverpool?

The future of Liverpool's £20 million man Robbie Keane is uncertain today after he was not at Anfield for his side's 1-1 FA Cup draw with Everton.

Various media are speculating that the Republic of Ireland international is hoping to leave Liverpool after he was replaced on the bench for Sunday's game by Frenchman David Ngog.

The Daily Mirror says Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given is all but signed for Manchester City in a £10m move, with officials reportedly meeting Monday to tie up the deal.

On Sunday, the News of the World reported that Arsenal are keen to sign Manchester City defender Micah Richards. Richards, an England international, could make the transfer for about £7m.

Another Manchester City star, Robinho, is apparently back in his club's town and scheduled to have talks with manager Mark Hughes after his controversial departure from the team's training camp in Tenerife, according to The Sun.

The Sun also reports that Portsmouth boss Tony Adams is set to announce a £4m offer to buy Joey Barton from Newcastle.

Sunderland's Pascal Chimbonda is believed to have settled his £3m return to Tottenham.

And in Italy there's no shortage of talk about David Beckham's possible desire to stay at AC Milan after he scored in the team's 4-1 Serie A win over Bologna at the weekend.

If you want to debate what David Beckham should do, whether players should be able to change countries, or tell us how much it costs to support your football team: tell us at Football Fanzone!

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Filed under:  Football
January 23rd, 2009
01:21 PM ET

Beckham in Italy for long haul?

Stay up to date with all the comings and goings in the transfer window with CNN.com’s daily wrap of the latest rumors and gossip from Europe’s sports pages.

Having fun? Is David Beckham considering staying with AC Milan?
Having fun? Is David Beckham considering staying with AC Milan?

LONDON, England – In Italy there is renewed talk today that David Beckham may be considering leaving his L.A. Galaxy contract to stay at AC Milan.

Beckham is currently at the San Siro on a two-month loan deal, but Italy's Gazzetta Dello Sport reports that Beckham may want to stay as he has been making an effort to study Italian and is loving his time with the Rossoneri.

The paper suggests that Beckham may be willing to make the financial sacrifice of leaving the Galaxy to further his hopes of playing for England in the 2010 World Cup.

What do you think David Beckham should do? Tell us on Football Fanzone.

There's more talk about Chelsea striker Didier Drogba leaving for Manchester City today - and now we're getting down to figures.

According to The Sun, Manchester City have offered Drogba a £180,000 per week salary - which would double his current earnings at Chelsea.

While Drogba looks set to leave Stamford Bridge after an unhappy season so far, there's talk that owner Roman Abramovich could also be on his way out. The Daily Star reported that a group of German investors have compiled a £750m bid for the London club - which could tempt Abramovich given the current economic climate and the reported losses he has suffered.

Back on the pitch, the other major deal that is apparently closer to being realized is Arsenal's move for Andrei Arshavin. The Daily Mail says the deal should be completed within 48 hours after Arsenal put forward an improved £15m bid for the Zenit St Petersburg star.

In The Sun, Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill is claiming he has secured the services of Wigan striker Emile Heskey. It's believed Aston Villa will pay £3m for Heskey.

In Portugal, Sporting Lisbon's midfielder Miguel Veloso is attracting the interest of Manchester City, who according to The Sun are offering £19m. Veloso has previously been a Manchester United target.

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Filed under:  Football
January 22nd, 2009
10:21 AM ET

Drogba in, Robinho out?

Stay up to date with all the comings and goings in the transfer window with CNN.com’s daily wrap of the latest rumors and gossip from Europe’s sports pages.

LONDON, England – The ripples from Kaka's rejection of Manchester City's advances continue to travel far and wide, with the world's media chewing over the detritus of the deal.

Didier Drogba: Set to become a City gent?
Didier Drogba: Set to become a City gent?

The Guardian asks whether the Abu Dhabi United Group's failure to sign Kaka sounds the death knell for future big name signings, whilst others conclude that the Gulf royal family has been taught a humiliating lesson in political maneuvering. Corriere dello Sera, for instance, has reported that Kaka lambasted City's delegation for not having a clue what was going on and failing to table a bid in their six hour meeting with his representatives.

So you would be forgiven for thinking City would lower their sights and ambitions. Not so. Thursday's papers brim with fresh targets to sooth City's hearts after their very public jilting with The Times reporting that Barcelona's Thierry Henry is again on the club's radar. After a difficult start to his time at the Catalan club Henry has begun to shine and has been instrumental in Barcelona's dominance in La Liga this season. But £10 ($13.89) million might just be enough to capture the Frenchman.

They may need the firepower. City's absent Brazilian international, Robinho, is being lined up by his former national team boss Luis Felipe Scolari at Chelsea. City would be foolish to sell their prolific striker, you may think, but according to The Sun Didier Drogba could well be heading in the other direction. Which, on the face of it, would keep both sets of fans happy.

One of Europe's hottest properties appears to have made his mind up as to where he will play for the rest of the season. German under-19 striker Savio Nsereko has been in rich form for Serie B team Brescia. So much so that Arsenal, Barcelona and West Ham have all been reported to be close to a deal to clinch his signature. But according to La Gazzetta dello Sport he will actually sign for Napoli instead.

Over in Spain, next summer's presidential election at Real Madrid sees the usual round of crazy promises being made by the various candidates. And they don't get any more outlandish than the claims of former president Florentino Perez. After already claiming to have a promise that Ronaldo will join him at the Bernabeu, El Mundo has reported that he has also apparently reached a secret deal with Silvio Berlusconi to take Kaka to Madrid whilst also securing the services of Arsenal's Arsene Wenger.

Which all seems rather far fetched. But with Wenger becoming increasingly frustrated with Arsenal's miserly transfer policy – the club's bid for Andrei Ashavin has hit the rocks after failing to meet Zenit St Petersburg's valuation, according to the Daily Mail – and Perez having a reputation for securing previously unthinkable transfers as he did by signing Luis Figo from arch rivals Barcelona, maybe it's worth taking notice.

If you want to read more football news and features, and have YOUR say, go to CNN's Football Fanzone.

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