Crouch “perfectly happy” at Portsmouth

Peter Crouch says he is ‘perfectly happy’ at Portsmouth and could stay at Fratton Park ‘for a long, long time’. The England striker returned for a second spell at Pompey last summer after failing to cement a starting spot at Liverpool.

“Portsmouth feels like home,” Crouch told The News. “I’m extremely happy. I feel connected with the club and I’ve felt disappointed with recent results”.

“I didn’t expect a lot of things that have gone on this season, but you just get on with it and I’m perfectly settled here. I love playing for Portsmouth. I love living down here. I’m perfectly happy here”.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Arsenal, Wenger impressed by improving Bendtner

Arsene Wenger insists that he would be more concerned if his forwards were not getting themselves into positions to score. And he said of Bendtner to journalists at his pre-match press conference on Friday, “I feel he is doing well”.

“He is 20 years old, playing at the top level and creating chances. The problem at that level is if you don’t create chances.

“He wants to work, he is becoming very professional. Before he was a little bit easy-going. He realises now what it takes to be a top-class player. He works very well and for me he has a bright future.”

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Milan, Kaka and Ronaldinho should be back shortly

After their shock exit to Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup tournament, Milan were back to training on Friday in a much scrutinised environment.

The good news for coach Carlo Ancelotti is that star players Kaka and Ronaldinho were able to train, doing several differentiated exercises at Milanello in the gymnasium.

The Brazilian internationals could not take part in the recent loss to the German opponents in midweek at the San Siro due to injury. Despite the fact they have resumed training, neither is expected to be in the squad for Sunday’s match against Sampdoria as they work on regaining full fitness.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Lyon turn to domestic matters after European exertions

After an enterprising performance in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie against Barcelona, French champions Lyon return to league action on Sunday buoyed by a six-point lead at the Ligue 1 summit.

Claude Puel’s men struggled for form around the turn of the year, with their advantage in the league being cut to one point at one stage, but Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at home to the Spanish league leaders represented their 11th consecutive game without defeat in all competitions.

Seventh-placed Rennes vist Lyon’s Stade Gerland home on Sunday and the seven-time champions will be forced to make full use of their squad with four games to play in just 10 days.

“There are some players who will definitely need a rest,” Puel said.

“Others need to maintain a rhythm because they have more endurance. It depends on the type of player.”

One man definitely missing from Lyon’s squad on Sunday will be Brazilian striker Fred, whose contract was terminated on Thursday after weeks of speculation that he was on the verge of leaving the club.

Lyon’s improving form has coincided with indifferent results for their main title rivals.

Third-placed Marseille were held to a goalless draw at home to Le Mans last weekend, while Bordeaux have slipped to fifth thanks to three draws and a defeat in their last four matches.

But Marseille coach Eric Gerets, whose side travel to Caen on Sunday, has refused to concede defeat in the title race.

“It will not help to cry over this,” Gerets said after the Le Mans match. “We missed an opportunity, but it is not over.

“We are not dead yet. There was a time we were able to make forays into any defence. It has been a bit more difficult lately but it will come back.”

Fatigue is likely to be a real concern for Marseille after they were taken to extra time on a gluepot of a pitch at Dutch side FC Twente in the UEFA Cup on Thursday before eventually winning their round of 32 tie 7-6 on penalties.

Bordeaux host ninth-placed Lorient on Sunday, while Paris St-Germain, who have risen to second on the back of a five-match unbeaten run, welcome Nancy to the French capital.

Bordeaux, PSG and third-bottom St Etienne also played in the UEFA Cup on Thursday, on what was a bittersweet night for the French sides.

PSG made sure of their place in the next round with a comprehensive 5-1 aggregate victory over Wolfsburg, while St Etienne beat Greek champions Olympiakos 2-1 to seal an impressive 5-2 aggregate victory.

But Bordeaux were dumped out of the competition by a last-minute goal in an agonising 4-3 defeat at Galatasaray, after they had led for the last 15 minutes, on the away goals rule.

Saturday (1800GMT unless stated):

Le Mans v Le Havre

Nantes v Grenoble

Sochaux v Nice

Valenciennes v Lille

Auxerre v Toulouse (2000GMT)

Sunday (1600GMT unless stated):

Bordeaux v Lorient

Caen v Marseille

Monaco v St Etienne

PSG v Nancy

Lyon v Rennes (2000GMT)

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Italian teams looking to forget Euro disappointment

After the Italian teams’ poor showing in European competition in midweek it’s back to the domestic grindstone as Inter Milan look to maintain their nine-point lead in Serie A.

The Champions League did not prove a happy hunting ground for Italy’s three remaining representatives as they failed to score a goal between them.

Roma lost 1-0 to Arsenal and Juventus went down by the same score against Chelsea. Only Inter staved off defeat in a 0-0 draw against Manchester United which could easily have ended in a heavy loss.

Now Inter need to quickly forget Tuesday’s game in which they were largely dominated and readapt to their position as kings of Italy.

They host Roma in the plum tie of the weekend and they will be keen to reassert their domestic authority.

Despite being out of the title race, Roma do at least have qualification for next season’s Champions League to play for and they currently trail fourth-placed Fiorentina by just a single point.

And Inter’s Argentina midfielder Esteban Cambiasso is under no illusions that the champions still face a tough task to hold onto their lead.

“Juve and AC Milan will be there or thereabouts right up until the end but the standings are very telling, we’ve got the title in our hands,” he said.

But having dominated Serie A for the last three years, Cambiasso denied there was a mental block for his team when it comes to the Champions League.

They have been far from their best in that competition, losing to Werder Bremen and Panathinaikos in the group stages before finishing as runners-up to the Greeks this season.

“You have to play in a different way in the Champions League, we have no psychological problem,” he insisted.

“But we need more of the ball and we need to create more scoring opportunities (in Europe).”

Cambiasso himself has seen his role within the team change since Jose Mourinho took over from Roberto Mancini as coach.

Mourinho has used the 28-year-old at the base of his midfield diamond formation and that means the former Real Madrid player has had to learn to adapt.

“I get forward into the opposition area a lot less now,” he added. “In previous years I played a lot further forward and (captain Javier) Zanetti was the one who watched my back.”

Inter have already beaten Roma three times this season. They won the Italian Supercup on penalties, knocked Roma out of the Italian Cup 2-1 at the San Siro in January and thrashed Luciano Spalletti’s team 4-0 in Rome back in October.

However, were Inter to slip up Juventus could be poised to close the gap as they host hapless Napoli, who have not won in eight matches.

Napoli were among the early pacesetters in Serie A but have fallen dramatically by the wayside and are struggling to stay in contention with those chasing European football next term.

Milan, who slumped out of the UEFA Cup to Bremen on Thursday, travel to Sampdoria, who were also knocked out of Europe by Metalist Kharkiv. With Fiorentina also losing at Ajax, only Udinese progressed to the last 16.

Milan’s title aspirations all but died two weeks ago when they were beaten 2-1 by Inter. Their aim now is simply to reamin in the top three to ensure they go straight into the Champions League group stages next season.

Fixtures

Saturday

Juventus v Napoli, Lazio v Bologna

Sunday

Atalanta v Chievo, Cagliari v Torino, Inter Milan v AS Roma, Palermo v Catania, Reggina v Fiorentina, Sampdoria v AC Milan, Siena v Genoa, Udinese v Lecce

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Premier League and Carling Cup predictions – Tottenham to end United’s charge for five trophies?

Saturday 28th February 2009

  • Arsenal v Fulham
  • This is fifth against eighth but there are twelve points between them. Arsenal are fresh from the 1-0 Champions League win over Roma, which whilst they should have scored more (you know who you are Bendtner and Eboue!) was a pretty good result. Fulham are also fresh from a 2-1 win over Swansea in the FA Cup which was a good performance as well.

    The big problem for Fulham here is that their away form is nothing like as good as their home form. They are yet to win a game away from Craven Cottage. Arsenal, meanwhile, are unbeaten in twelve in the league.

    Fulham defend well, but they won’t defend well enough in this one.

    SoccerNews prediction: 2-0

  • Chelsea v Wigan
  • Chelsea have done OK so far under Guus Hiddink. A decent win at Watford in the Cup, an excellent win at Aston Villa in the league and then victory over Juventus in the Champions League. It looks as though they may have turned a corner and that with Anelka and Drogba both firing, they look a threat again.

    Wigan are doing OK, but I find them boring. They have an awful lot of boring games. They’re difficult to break down but give little going forward.

    Chelsea will win, but Wigan will make it hard.

    SoccerNews prediction: 2-1

  • Everton v West Brom
  • Everton have lost just once in fourteen games but they will have been disappointed to only come away from ten-man Newcastle with a point last week.

    West Brom are starting to look doomed and are without a win in six in all competitions.

    Everton are far from prolific, but they should be able to find the net in this one.

    SoccerNews prediction: 2-0

  • Middlesbrough v Liverpool
  • Both teams earned important victories in midweek. Boro beat West Ham 2-0 in their FA Cup replay and Liverpool beat Real Madrid 1-0 at The Bernabeu in the Champions League.

    The FA Cup win can’t mask the fact that Middlesbrough really aren’t very good. They’re more boring to watch than Wigan!

    Liverpool have stuttered of late in the league but they will be pleased to get back on the winning trail here.

    SoccerNews prediction: 0-2

    Sunday 1st March 2009

  • Aston Villa v Stoke
  • Villa reserves were knocked out of the Uefa Cup this week and their first team lost at home to Chelsea last week. This minor blip could become a potential crisis if they don’t pick up three points in this one.

    Stoke are still fighting for their Premier League lives, but have a habit of pushing the self-destruct button in away games.

    Villa should get their Champions League qualification back on track.

    SoccerNews prediction: 2-0

  • Bolton v Newcastle
  • Bolton are an inconsistent team. Two wins in their last three brought an end to an alarming run of six without a win. They seem to be at their must vulnerable when they are 2-0 up! They have thrown away two goal leads against Blackburn and Tottenham recently and then did their best to do the same against West Ham last week.

    Newcastle are unbeaten in three but there is an air of a struggling team and club around them. They are five points clear of the drop zone but defeat in this one will have them looking over their shoulders again.

    SoccerNews prediction: 2-1

  • Hull v Blackburn
  • Blackburn sit in the relegation zone and Hull are six points clear of it but hurtling towards it at an alarming rate.

    After the great start Hull made they have won just three games in their last twenty-one, two of which came in the FA Cup.

    In midweek, Blackburn went out of the FA Cup at Championship Coventry. This followed on from their unfortunate defeat at Old Trafford last week, and does mean that they have won just one in their last eight games in all competitions.

    I can’t really see either side taking this game by the scruff of the neck and a draw seems the most likely outcome.

    SoccerNews prediction: 1-1

  • West Ham v Manchester City
  • West Ham were pretty awful in their defeat at Middlesbrough in mid-week. Gianfranco Zola says that his players are understandably tired. That sounds a bit defeatist to me.

    City went through to the next stage of the Uefa Cup with Bellamy bagging a brace and beginning to look like a decent signing.

    In West Ham’s favour, City are truly dreadful away from home.

    SoccerNews prediction: 2-1

    Carling Cup Final

  • Manchester United v Tottenham
  • Tottenham reserves went out of the Uefa Cup because the Carling Cup is more important to them. Here they will try to win the Carling Cup so that they can qualify for the…Uefa Cup!

    United will stick by the likes of Foster, Rafael, Gibson, Nani and Welbeck whereas Tottenham will put out their very strongest team.

    There won’t be much between them, but I have a feeling that Tottenham might just do it and end United’s dream of winning five trophies.

    SoccerNews prediction: 1-2

    Sat 28 February, 2009
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    Bayern must repeat European passion play in Bundesliga, says Toni

    Luca Toni insists Bayern Munich must use the same passion they showed in their Champions League hammering of Sporting Lisbon in midweek to get their Bundesliga campaign back on track in Bremen this weekend.

    The Italian World Cup-winning striker scored twice in Lisbon as Bayern routed the home side 5-0 in the round of 16, first-leg tie and are virtually guaranteed a Champions League quarter-final berth.

    But Bayern’s progress in Europe is a far cry from their Bundesliga form where they have lost three of their last four games and are down to fourth in the table – four points behind leaders Hamburg.

    “We showed the real Bayern Munich in Lisbon,” said Toni.

    “We?ve shown what we?re capable of. The decisive factor was the whole team playing with passion and resolve, because we want to get out of a difficult situation together.

    “Now we need to start winning again in the Bundesliga.”

    Werder Bremen host Bayern on Sunday, but few Munich fans will need reminding of the outcome the last time the two sides met.

    Bremen shocked the defending champions 5-2 at Munich’s Allianz Arena last September.

    Since then Bremen have dropped down the table to 11th, but with Brazilian midfielder Diego back after a four-match suspension, Werder will test Bayern.

    “We succeeded against Lisbon where we?ve failed in other matches recently,” said Bayern defender Philipp Lahm.

    “That?s how we have to continue, we?ll enjoy the victory, but our focus is on Bremen.”

    Bremen, last year’s league runners-up, will be buoyed by having knocked AC Milan out of the UEFA Cup on Thursday.

    Bayern have injury doubts over defender Massimo Oddo and Lucio who both picked up knocks in Lisbon.

    League leaders Hamburg host VfL Wolfsburg on Sunday and are yet to be beaten at home.

    Both sides have just two days recovery between their UEFA Cup matches against NEC Nijmegen and Paris St Germain respectively.

    Despite being probed for a delayed doping test, Hoffenheim pair Andreas Ibertsberger and Christoph Janker are in the squad to face Borussia Dortmund.

    After drawing 3-3 with Stuttgart last Saturday, Hoffenheim dropped to second in the table and failed to win their last three games after their fairytale rise from the second division to the summit of the Bundesliga.

    Former league leaders Hertha Berlin have a golden chance to get back to the top when they host bottom side Borussia Moenchengladbach at the Olympic Stadium in the German capital with striker Marko Pantelic still out with a knee injury.

    Bruno Labbadia, boss of fifth-placed Bayer Leverkusen, is considering handing a debut to 19-year-old forward Tony Kroos at Hanover on Saturday after the teenager joined from Bayern Munich last month.

    On Friday, Cologne will look to back up their shock 2-1 win at Bayern at Arminia Bielefeld while on Sunday seventh-placed VfB Stuttgart are at second-from-bottom Karlsruhe.

    In Saturday’s other games Eintracht Frankfurt are home to Schalke 04 and Bochum host Energie Cottbus.

    Friday

    Cologne v Arminia Bielefeld

    Saturday

    Eintracht Frankfurt v Schalke 04

    Hanover 96 v Bayer Leverkusen

    VfL Bochum v Energie Cottbus

    Hertha Berlin v Borussia M’gladbach

    Borussia Dortmund v Hoffenheim

    Sunday

    Werder Bremen v Bayern Munich

    Hamburg v VfL Wolfsburg

    Karlsruhe v VfB Stuttgart

    Sat 28 February, 2009
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    Espanyol look to dent Real´s title aspirations

    Having already slain the apparently invincible Barcelona, giant killers Espanyol now turn their attention to Real Madrid who have reduced the gap at the top of the table to seven points with a nine match winning run in the league.

    Last weekend then bottom of the table Espanyol were given little or no chance before facing Barca but an astute tactical performance pressing the home side’s defence and closing down the midfield, combined with the tiredness of their opponents led them to inflicting only Barca’s second defeat of the season.

    Espanyol forward Luis Garcia believes that the visit of Real – who enter the match on a low after being beaten 1-0 by Liverpool at home in their Champions League clash on Wednesday – has come at the perfect time.

    “They are exactly who we want to face at the moment, we know that Real Madrid are on a good run but we have to think of our own situation and we have to take the game to them thinking about what we achieved at the Nou Camp,” he said.

    Barcelona president Joan Laporta has issued a message of support for Pep Guardiola’s team ahead of the visit to mis-firing Atletico Madrid.

    “We still have a seven point lead which is considerable but it is not enough to give us the league title. It does mean though we can deal with our present problems with calmness,” he said after the team could only manage a draw with Lyon in their Champions League clash.

    Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez has appointed Argentine Federico Fazio as the man to mark Athletic Bilbao’s in-form striker Fernando Llorente, who made his debut for the Spain national team against England recently.

    Sevilla consolidated their position in the top-four with a key win over Atletico Madrid last weekend.

    Valencia midfielder Ruben Baraja blames too much pressure on the team for their recent run of one win in four matches.

    “We have left the Champions League places for the first time and people say we are going downhill, they don’t realise there is still a long way to go in the league. The problem is that at the start of the season the expectation was too high,” he said ahead of their match with Valladolid.

    Villarreal appear to have bounced back from a dip in form – though they will be disappointed by the 1-1 Champions League home draw with Greek side Panathinaikos earlier this week – and will now look to inflict further suffering on Real Betis who were on the receiving end of 6-1 thrashing by Real Madrid.

    “Now we are more relaxed and we are in a good mood to face what is ahead of us,” said Villarreal midfielder Santi Cazorla.

    Malaga are beginning to believe that a place in Europe next season can be more than just a dream as they go into the Andalusian derby against Recreativo Huelva on the back of a convincing victory over Valladolid.

    Deportivo la Coruna are also in the hunt for a top-six finish but they will find plenty of resistance from bottom side Numancia who are battling for their lives and the club has appealed for a big crowd on Sunday to back the team.

    Mallorca will look to escape the relegation zone with victory over fellow strugglers Sporting Gijon and continue their good run which has seen them put together back-to-back wins.

    Osasuna, level with Mallorca on 24 points but with a superior goal difference, travel to Racing Santander.

    Almeria and Getafe have suffered from a lack of consistency in recent weeks and they face each other with one eye looking over the shoulders as they sit with the relegation battle looming below them.

    Fixtures

    Saturday

    Athletic Bilbao v Sevilla, Espanyol v Real Madrid

    Sunday

    Malaga v Recreativo Huelva, Almeria v Getafe, Numancia v Deportivo la Coruna, Sporting Gijon v Mallorca, Racing Santander v Osasuna, Atletico Madrid v Barcelona, Valencia v Valladolid, Betis v Villarreal

    Sat 28 February, 2009
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    Arsenal seek formula to translate Euro form to Premier League

    Arsene Wenger is desperate to see his Arsenal side start translating their European form into a sustained Premier League challenge.

    Not so long ago, the north Londoners would routinely swat aside all-comers in the domestic league while labouring horribly once they confronted the cream of European opposition.

    Now, however, that scenario has been turned on its head, with Arsenal finding sweet relief from their Premier League travails in the Champions League.

    Wenger’s preference for continental opposition cannot simply be measured in results, although they are undoubtedly impressive.

    His team has not lost at home in 23 European games, no goals have been conceded in five Champions League ties at the Emirates this season and, after Tuesday’s 1-0 win over AS Roma, a place in the quarter-finals is beckoning.

    The Frenchman will take heart from those statistics, but his real appreciation for European occasions comes in the freedom they allow his young side.

    While the continental elite will generally back themselves to expose Arsenal’s soft centre at the Emirates, Premier League sides invariably think better of it, swamping midfield in an effort to squeeze the space and relying on one, muscle-bound target man to serve as an attacking outlet.

    This ultra-pragmatic approach has earned some of the top flight’s lesser lights invaluable points at Arsenal this season, with Sunderland the latest to profit last weekend, when a goalless draw cost the Gunners the opportunity to move closer to fourth-placed Aston Villa, who were beaten by Chelsea.

    Wenger is notoriously sniffy about the lack of ambition displayed by some of his side’s opponents, to the point where they were dominating his thoughts even in the wake of the victory over Roma.

    “The difference between the game against Roma and the one against Sunderland was that both teams tried to play and go forward,” Wenger said. “I believe that the games are locked in the Premier League because the teams refuse to play.

    “When teams don?t come out, the game doesn?t go up and down. We had no space on Saturday and as long as you don?t score the first goal, that is what you get.

    “In a game like the one against Roma, both teams take the initiative when they win the ball back. That isn?t the case at the moment in the Premier League.”

    Wenger has suggested that Arsenal need to find a way of “punishing” sides who refuse to attack them on home soil, and they should have another opportunity to fine-tune that art when Fulham make the short journey to the Emirates on Saturday.

    The Cottagers side boast the second-worst away record in the Premier League, having failed to win on the road in the league all season, and manager Roy Hodgson is unlikely to tell his players to commit to all-out attack.

    Nonetheless, Fulham will not be anything less than doughty.

    Hodgson’s team has already held Liverpool to a goalless draw at Anfield and, while they capitulated miserably at Manchester United in their most recent trip to one of the established ‘Big Four’, that was an unusually limp performance.

    “Going to United and not performing well left a bad taste and we knew we needed to get back to the basics,” Clint Dempsey, the striker, said. “We need to be a team that can do it away from home and we?ll continue to work hard to correct that.

    “It?ll definitely be a tough game but we?ll give them a good match and the last time we played them at home we won. We have to go there being positive and try and get forward and score goals. We?re trying to do everything we can to stay in the top 10 and push on from there.”

    Sat 28 February, 2009
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    Hiddink aiming to keep Chelsea honeymoon going

    Guus Hiddink’s insistence that his Chelsea side have no margin for error if they are to salvage something from a chaotic season will once again provide a challenging benchmark as Wigan Athletic visit Stamford Bridge this weekend.

    Two wins in his first two games in charge has given the temporary manager the start he demanded after agreeing to combine his duties with the Russian national team until the end of the current campaign.

    Hiddink, though, is renowned as an unforgiving taskmaster and, having praised his new players’ efforts in securing a vital 1-0 Premier League victory at Aston Villa last weekend, his mood was far less upbeat in the wake of the midweek Champions League victory over Juventus.

    The rejuvenated Didier Drogba ensured Chelsea travel to Turin for the second leg with a single-goal advantage, but his manager was quick to condemn the side’s failure to establish a more commanding lead and criticised the fitness levels of the squad he inherited from Luiz Felipe Scolari.

    Hiddink has, nonetheless, injected a timely boost of optimism into the west London club at a time when it appeared they were in danger of falling out of the top four of the Premier League and looking wholly incapable of progressing in Europe.

    Crucially, he also appears to have rekindled Drogba’s desire and willingness to contribute after a torrid few months for the Ivorian.

    A title challenge still looks beyond Chelsea although victory over a much-improved Wigan would take advantage of Manchester United’s involvement in Sunday’s League Cup final and reduce the gap between Hiddink’s side and the leaders to seven points.

    But if Chelsea are to mount a meaningful challenge for silverware this season, the last two games suggest a fit, hungry and in-form Drogba is central to their hopes.

    Consigned to the bench by Scolari in the wake of his sorry performance in the 3-0 defeat at Manchester United, the striker has formed an effective partnership with Nicolas Anelka and credits his new manager with the change.

    “At the moment I feel good when I’m on the pitch and I make the most of those priceless moments,” Drogba said.

    “I’m not at my best because I think I need more games but I’m giving what I can at the moment.

    “The truth is that the coach relies on me, which is a massive psychological boost for a striker.

    “Physically, I’m not ready yet, but I need to play to get back in good form. You can see from the last two games that Hiddink is working a lot on the shape of the team, the organisation, you have to respect that because we know we will have chances to score goals.”

    Wigan’s recent run of form has kindled hopes of qualification for a place in next season’s UEFA Cup and two weeks ago they would have travelled south confident of claiming at least a point.

    But the plans of manager Steve Bruce have been thrown into turmoil following the loss of five key players to injuries and suspension.

    Jason Koumas and Daniel De Ridder have thigh injuries, Ben Watson is suspended while Mido and Antonio Valencia have hamstring problems Bruce is unwilling to risk ahead of next week’s home clash with West Ham United, a game the manager views as much more winnable.

    “It’s the first time I can remember we’ve had four or five missing and it’s not ideal,” admitted Bruce.

    Sat 28 February, 2009
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