United, Arsenal set for another “historic” clash

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson believes Sunday’s Premier League showdown against Arsenal will provide another historic chapter in his club’s ferocious feud with the Gunners.

By the time Arsenal and United kick-off at the Emirates Stadium, Chelsea, who have a game in hand on both teams, could have opened up a four-point lead at the top with a win over Burnley on Saturday.

For much of Ferguson’s 24-year reign at Old Trafford it has been Arsenal who have provided the main resistance to his empire-building and the old rivals go head to head with their title hopes at stake once again.

Ferguson fulfiled his ambition to knock Liverpool “off their perch” at the top of English football years ago and Chelsea have only emerged as serious challengers in recent years, but Arsenal, whether managed by Arsene Wenger or George Graham, have always been a thorn in United’s side.

From the moment Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn launched a tirade of abuse at Brian McClair following the United star’s missed penalty in an FA Cup tie in 1988, there has been an extra edge to clashes between these super-powers.

The list of grudge matches is endless and endlessly entertaining: Roy Keane’s tunnel row with Patrick Vieira; Martin Keown’s frenzied celebration of a Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty miss and the Battle of the Buffet that saw Ferguson hit by pizza thrown by Arsenal players after a particularly spicy encounter are just a few of the more notable bust-ups.

Ferguson’s strained relationship with Wenger has often provided these games with an intriguing sub-plot, but they are closer these days and happy to savour such a big occasion.

“These games with Arsenal are historic,” Ferguson said. “Since I came down here, apart from the early years before George Graham won his first title, it was Arsenal and United who were mostly competing for the trophies.

“Without doubt Chelsea have become a prominent team in that respect too and it has been ourselves and Chelsea challenging for the league in the last few years.

“But you can never dismiss Arsenal because their history will always guarantee a challenge. And they are definitely in the fray again.

“Sunday’s game has great relevance because both sides have a genuine chance of winning the league.”

Wenger has always seemed more uncomfortable when the flak has been flying, but he would happily get under Ferguson’s skin again because it would prove Arsenal are serious contenders once more.

His squad certainly looks capable of pushing United and Chelsea all the way after over-coming a lengthy injury list to erase an 11-point gap to the leaders.

Even without injured duo Thomas Vermaelen and Eduardo – both sidelined by knocks during the midweek draw at Aston Villa – Wenger is confident his players will rise to the ocassion.

“I look forward to it because it is a match which always promises good football,” Wenger said.

“Manchester United and Arsenal have had some tough games, and sometimes they were not easy on the physical side, but both teams always tried to play.

“It was very rarely a boring game, you always thought at the start it would be a great football game, and so you love that. It is always one of the games of the season.”

Wenger will hand Sol Campbell his first league start since returning to the club. Nicklas Bendter or Samir Nasri will deputise for Eduardo, while Alex Song and Emmanuel Eboue are back from African Cup of Nations duty.

United will be without suspended defender Rio Ferdinand but that loss is offset by Serbian centre-back Nemanja Vidic’s return from injury and Ferguson can also rely on in-form striker Wayne Rooney, who has 13 goals from his last 13 appearances.

With games against Chelsea and Liverpool to come, this is a defining period for Arsenal, but Wenger is just happy to be in the hunt again.

“We love being in the race. Of course it was our dream to be in this position,” he said.

Sun 31 January, 2010
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Zola desperate for McCarthy to boost relegation battle

West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola hopes South African forward Benni McCarthy will provide a major boost to his struggling side’s bid to avoid relegation.

Zola’s team drew a blank in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Blackburn at Upton Park and remain too close to the Premier League’s bottom three for comfort.

With new co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold willing to back Zola in the transfer market, the Italian has lined up a 2.5 million pounds move for McCarthy, who is out of favour at Blackburn.

Zola expects the deal to be done before Monday’s transfer deadline and is confident the former Porto forward will fire the 15th placed team away from the drop zone.

“It looks like it is done and next week he should be coming to train with us,” Zola said.

“I do not know the terms yet, but they have told me the deal is done. He should be available for the next game.

“Benni will be a threat in the last third. He is a player who can score goals and he will be a very good help for us.”

Sullivan and Gold are both life-long Hammers fans and their buy-out of a controlling interest from Icelandic bank CB Holding settled what has been a turbulent period.

Zola added: “They have given us stability and maybe some more players to strengthen the team, and that is a good thing.”

Blackburn had the better chances of a drab game, with Morten Gamst Pedersen’s free-kick hitting the crossbar before substitute Jason Roberts failed to beat Robert Green when clean through with 15 minutes left.

Green also pulled off a brilliant save to deny Martin Olsson, while Mark Noble appeared to handle Gael Givet’s shot before it was cleared off the line by Carlton Cole.

Zola added: “I was expecting us to create a bit more quality, but we were not able to do that.

“The tension caught us a little bit, everybody was nervous and we could not express the quality we needed to break them down.

“But I take it as a good day, because this point means we step up the table.”

Rovers boss Sam Allardyce added: “We are disappointed we have not turned a very, very good second-half performance into a victory.

“We feel a little hard done by, but in the main we should have been a bit more clinical in front of goal and would have won.”

Sun 31 January, 2010
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Benitez plays down Hicks Liverpool talks

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insisted he had no definite plans to meet with co-owner Tom Hicks after his side beat Bolton to stay on course for a Champions League spot.

Hicks made a rare 5,000-mile visit to Anfield to watch Liverpool maintain their chase for a top four finish thanks to goals from Dirk Kuyt and an own goal from Bolton forward Kevin Davies here on Saturday.

The Texan’s presence came one day after Benitez talked openly about interest in his services from Italian club Juventus, a development that has cast yet more doubt about the Spanish manager’s future on Merseyside.

Yet Benitez claimed no meetings with Hicks had been arranged, although the manager added he would be open to such talks.

“Maybe I will see him. I knew he was here but I was just concerned with what was happening on the pitch,” said Benitez. “If he is around, I will see him, no problem.”

Hicks’s attendance could also have been related to the transfer window, which closes on Monday, although Benitez insisted he was unlikely to launch a last-minute foray into the market.

“It is not easy to find better players than the players we have at the moment. We are watching players, we are trying to find someone who can be good for the team,” he said.

Instead, Benitez looks like attempting to steer this current squad to the promised land of Champions League football and is sticking to his “guarantee” of a top four finish.

“I think we are improving, you can see the team is working very hard and, hopefully, we can keep the momentum,” said the Reds boss, whose side are now just a point behind Tottenham, who currently occupy the fourth and final place on offer to English clubs for next season’s Champions League.

“I have to say we can finish in the top four because I am the manager and I have to have confidence.

“If I say ‘no’, the players will say the same. So, I have to say ‘yes, we will finish in the top four’ and I believe it.”

Benitez could also take heart from the form of Steven Gerrard.

The England midfielder was clearly unfit for the disappointing midweek draw at Wolves but looked close to his usual form against Bolton.

“He was better and he is trying very hard, that is the main thing,” Benitez said.

“Especially when we scored the second goal, the team was playing with more confidence and you could see that he is one of the players who could make a difference for us.”

Owen Coyle felt there had been a foul in the build-up to the second Liverpool goal although the new Bolton manager was optimistic that, with talent such as South Korea’s Lee Chung-yong, his team could avoid relegation.

“I don’t want to take anything away from Liverpool but I was disappointed in both goals we gave away,” said Coyle, whose side are a point above the bottom three.

“There was a foul by Lucas, who dragged one of our players back at the far post and wherever that shot was going, it certainly wasn’t going into the net until it was deflected.

“In the first half we had some good opportunities. Chung-yong made a terrific run which shows what a talent he is and why I am looking forward to working with him.

“But I’m delighted with how the players have gone about their work since I’ve been here. We’ve played Arsenal twice, Liverpool away and beat Burnley in the week.

“We have moved up from where we were in the table and there is a lot to look forward to. I’ve got real belief we can stay in the Premier League.”

Sun 31 January, 2010
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Portugal: Martins leads Benfica to victory

(GSM) – Benfica beat Vitoria Guimaraes 3-1 on Saturday to move back into shared first place in the Portuguese top flight.

Joint-leaders Sporting Braga had already beaten Sporting Lisbon in Friday’s top clash, leaving all the pressure on Benfica to take three points from their home game with Guimaraes.

Benfica started well as Argentinian midfielder Pablo Aimar put the Lisbon outfit ahead on 17 minutes, but Nuno Assis levelled the score two minutes after the half hour.

But midfielder Carlos Martins saved the day for the home side, putting Benfica back in the lead in the 51st minute and adding a security goal ten minutes later, 3-1.

Third-placed Porto remained at six points from the top two with a 0-4 victory at Nacional. Silvestre Varela and Radamel Falcao each scored twice.

Sun 31 January, 2010
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Belgium: Brugge stay in Anderlecht’s track

(GSM) – Club Brugge remained at five points from Belgian Eerste Klasse leaders Anderlecht thanks to a 2-1 win over Westerlo on Saturday.

Anderlecht had already beaten Germinal Beerschot 0-5 a day earlier, and Brugge needed a win at home in order to keep some realistic championship hope.

Ivan Perisic put ‘Club’ in the lead after 14 minutes at Jan Breydel stadium, but had his goal cancelled out by Ukranian Okeksandr Sacha in the 53rd.

The hosts had the final say however, as Nigerian substitute Joseph Akpala netted the winner with just three minutes to go.

Next Wednesday, the Belgian championship features a top clash between Anderlecht and Brugge in the city of Brussels.

Sun 31 January, 2010
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Park´s brace maintains Monaco´s unbeaten run

A double by Korean international Park Chu-young inspired Monaco to a 3-2 victory over Nice on Saturday to extend their unbeaten run to seven league matches.

Park’s brace, and one by Brazilian star Nene, ended a 14-year winless run against their opponents who are deep in relegation trouble having not won in their past nine games, a run which included a Cup exit at the hands of lower league Plabennec.

Leaders Bordeaux, meanwhile, were held to a 0-0 draw by second from bottom Boulogne – a late goal by Bordeaux’s Moroccan international striker Marouane Chamakh was ruled out for an infringement.

Bordeaux saw their eight-point lead reduced to six when surprise packages Montpellier beat Marseille 2-0 later on Saturday, second-half goals by Karim Ait-Fana and an own-goal by Benoit Cheyrou enough to take the points.

Park – who on Friday signed a contract extension tying him to Monaco until 2013 – struck in the 19th minute with a header from a corner by Nene.

The goal came largely against the run of play as Nice controlled affairs in the first-half without ever being able to convert their chances with highly-rated French international striker Loic Remy shooting wide on two occasions.

Nice almost grabbed an equaliser shortly before half-time as Argentinian defender Renato Civelli produced an acrobatic bicycle kick which grazed the bar.

Nice deservedly did pull level in the 54th minute as Tunisian striker Chaouki Ben Saada tapped home the goalbound effort of Ivorian international midfielder Emerson Fae.

However, Monaco scored twice in quick succession as Park scored his second in the 59th minute heading home Nene’s cross shot and then the Brazilian got the goal his all-round performance deserved.

He had the option of passing to an unmarked Park in the penalty area but isntead he went for goal on his own and easily shot home.

Nene’s star display continued as he unleashed a dazzling 25-metre effort only for Nice’s Colombian international ‘keeper David Ospina to pull off an equally impressive save.

His stop was given even extra significance a few minutes later when Nice reduced the deficit with 10 minutes remaining as Didier Digard fired home a stunning free kick.

Lille kept up their challenge for a Champions League place as they beat northern rivals Lens 1-0, Belgian international defender Eden Hazard scoring in the 22nd minute.

The clubs in the relegation placings hardly did themselves any favours, bottom-placed Grenoble’s joy at dumping Montpellier out of the French Cup last weekend became a distant memory as they were thrashed 4-0 by Rennes leaving them with a paltry return of just seven points from 22 league matches.

Sylvain Marveaux got a brace for Rennes while Grenoble’s misery was complete when Hugo Cianci was given a straight red card in the 65th minute.

Le Mans slumped to a 3-1 home defeat by Toulouse giving St Etienne some breathing space as the fourth from bottom club – who are four points clear of the bottom three – play on Sunday away at Auxerre.

Sat 30 January, 2010
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Terry puts ´affair´ to one side with Chelsea winner

John Terry ensured he would make headlines on both the front and back pages after his late winner sealed a 2-1 win at Burnley that extended Chelsea’s Premier League lead to four points.

Terry headed home Frank Lampard’s 82nd minute corner on Saturday to increase the pressure on title rivals Manchester United and Arsenal, who face one another on Sunday, courtesy of a sixth consecutive victory.

Nicolas Anelka’s first-half effort looked to have paved the way to a comfortable win, but Steven Fletcher’s equaliser soon after the break gave the relegation-threatened hosts hope of springing a surprise at Turf Moor.

But Terry’s second goal of the season is unlikely to end the scrutiny of his personal life as the married father of two faced calls to be stripped of the England captaincy after allegations of an affair with the ex-girlfriend of his former Chelsea team-mate Wayne Bridge.

Assistant Chelsea manager Ray Wilkins was adamant the Blues had no hesitation in picking Terry, booked for a first-half foul on Robbie Blake, after Saturday’s reports of his alleged infidelity.

“He’s got his football head on and there was never any doubt about him playing in this game for us,” former England midfielder Wilkins said.

On the pitch, Chelsea appeared untroubled by the media circus which met their arrival in East Lancashire, and went about the business of extending their current unbeaten run to 11 games.

Relegation threatened Burnley can count Premier League champions United among their scalps at Turf Moor this season, while fellow title hopefuls Arsenal escaped with a draw.

But the bookmakers’ odds of 9-1 on them springing a shock victory looked about right from the early stages of a memorable encounter, which leaves new manager Brian Laws still searching for his first win and facing a fight to earn a second season in the top flight after promotion last May.

Chelsea, who spurned early chances to break the deadlock through Lampard and Anelka, took the lead through their in-form French striker’s sixth goal in as many games.

It was a length-of-the-field goal to remember launched by a long throw from goalkeeper Petr Cech that found Joe Cole surging down Chelsea’s right.

With Burnley struggling to get back and short on numbers, the England midfielder’s measured cross found Florent Malouda in the area, who cut the ball back for the unmarked Anelka to complete the flowing move with a simple finish from six yards.

The visitors failed to capitalise on their first-half dominance and were left to rue a Burnley equaliser five minutes after the re-start.

Blake’s hopeful ball into the area should have been dealt with by Alex, but when the defender failed to clear the danger, Fletcher muscled his way through to fire his 10th goal of the season under Cech.

A draw wouldn’t have been flattering on Burnley for their second-half transformation, but Terry had other ideas, showing his off-the-field issues haven’t affected his performance on it with a winner that could prove invaluable in Chelsea’s attempts to wrestle the title away from United.

Sat 30 January, 2010
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Benzema double keeps Real in Barcelona slipstream

A delightful back-heel from Jose Maria Gutierrez set up Karim Benzema for the first of a brace as Real Madrid, without suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, beat Deportivo La Coruna 3-1 on Saturday.

The win kept Real five points behind Barcelona who had earlier defeated Sporting Gijon 1-0 to stay top of La Liga in a game which also saw the champions reach the 50-goal mark for the league season.

Esteban Granero headed Real ahead after 13 minutes with the game played out in the home side’s half at the Riazor where the Madrid giants had not won for almost 20 years.

With Felipe Luis injured, Manuel Pablo moved to the left-hand side and the defence never looked comfortable especially against the pace of Benzema.

Raul Gonzalez had the chance to add to the lead with a close-range volley before a moment of real quality from Guti.

Through on goal instead of shooting on his weaker right foot, he back-heeled the ball into the path of Benzema to slot home.

Deportivo had their chances in the second half as Real took their foot off the gas and in a late rally Ivan Riki scored a penalty. The last word though was from Benzema who wrapped up the scoring in injury time.

Barcelona stayed top after Pedro Rodriguez scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Sporting Gijon.

Mate Bilic went close with a header for the home side before Pedro put the visitors ahead with a clinical finish from a defence-breaking through ball by Andres Iniesta on the 30-minute mark.

It was the quality in attack which was the real difference between the sides and especially in the second half where Barca had a number of chances to extend their lead.

However, both Lionel Messi and Pedro were guilty of glaring misses.

A Luis Garcia strike saw Espanyol overcome Athletic Bilbao 1-0 in a scrappy match to give them breathing space at the bottom of La Liga earlier Saturday.

The home side dominated from the start a match in which injury-hit Athletic were never able to get into their stride.

They lost playmaker Fran Yeste after 18 minutes while Ustaritz Aldekoaotalora battled through the first half with a head injury before eventually being substituted after the break.

The Athletic keeper Gorka Iraizoz made a couple of important interventions in the first half but he was powerless to block Garcia’s close-range winner on 58 minutes after good work from Javi Marquez down the left wing.

The result moves Espanyol six points clear of the relegation zone but for Athletic, who are chasing a place in Europe, they have now lost back-to-back games.

Despite only managing a draw away to lowly Tenerife, Valencia are well placed to qualify for the Champions League but on Sunday they face a crucial game against fellow aspirants Sevilla who have dropped off the pace since Christmas after losing three of their last four matches.

Mallorca continue to be the real surprise this season as they fight among the top four in the championship.

They showed their resilience to draw with Espanyol last weekend after going a goal down and now will be looking for victory against bottom side Xerez, who are really struggling to pick up any points at the moment.

In fact the only point they have won in recent weeks was against Zaragoza who are in similar straits and are now suffering internal strife with captain Roberto Ayala having rescinded his contract.

They face a relegation battle against third-from bottom Tenerife.

Getafe, who take on Racing Santander, are in the hunt for a place in Europe while also coming into the frame are Villarreal who had a poor start to the season, and they play Osasuna.

Atletico Madrid face Malaga with the pressure on coach Quique Sanchez as the side has failed to show any real signs of improvement since he took over and are firmly rooted in mid-table.

There will be plenty of anxiety also in the clash between Valladolid and Almeria as they both lie on the fringes of the drop zone.

Sat 30 January, 2010
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Genoa slow Napoli´s European charge

Napoli’s drive for a Champions League place slowed on Saturday when they were held at home to a goalless draw by Genoa.

A win would have put Napoli level with second-placed AC Milan, but instead they stay fourth with 38 points from 22 games, 11 behind leaders Inter Milan, who visit Parma on Sunday.

The match got off to a high tempo start and Genoa defender Dario Dainelli almost conceded an own goal in the fifth minute when he diverted a low cross on to the post.

Napoli keeper Morgan De Sanctis dived well to push away a powerful left-footed Domenico Criscito free-kick at the other end in the 17th.

As the first half wore on there was plenty of tough tackling but few clear chances, although Napoli defender Paolo Cannavaro smacked a shot against the crossbar from outside the box shortly before the break.

The home team did almost all the attacking in the second period but to no avail.

Forward German Denis should have done better when he had only keeper Marco Amelia to beat, Marek Hamsik came close with a curling effort and Fabio Quagliarella nearly snatched it for Napoli with a looping header two minutes from full-time.

Palermo’s Champions League hopes also suffered a setback when they lost 4-2 at Bari, ending the match with 10 men.

Second-half goals by Vladimir Koman and in-form Brazilian forward Barreto sealed victory for the hosts after Palermo had hauled themselves level from 2-0 down.

The match’s turning point came in the 56th minute, when Palermo midfielder Fabio Liverani received a second yellow card for a nasty groin-high foul.

“We sat back a bit after going 2-0 up, but the second half was great,” said Bari coach Giampiero Ventura whose team ended a four-match winless run.

“We had lots of chances. It was beautiful, I liked it. I’m proud of what these lads are doing. Many of them are youngsters and they are disputing a championship that’s going beyond expectations.”

Defender Leonardo Bonucci fired in the opener in the fifth minute before Honduran Edgar Alvarez coolly slotted the ball past Palermo keeper Salvatore Sirigu for the second.

The visitors roused themselves and Fabrizio Miccoli rattled the crossbar with a free-kick before Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani nipped in to put away a Federico Balzaretti cross and pull one back in the 27th minute.

Javier Pastore curled the ball inside the far post to level in 54th minute.

But Bari soon regained the lead with the advantage of an extra man.

Barreto converted a penalty in the 62nd minute for his 11th goal of the season, while Hungarian Koman sidefooted home in the closing stages.

Alberto Zaccheroni will go straight into the firing line when the newly appointed Juventus coach takes charge of his first game at home to Lazio on Sunday.

Zaccheroni was drafted in by the Juventus board on Friday after the sacking of Ciro Ferrara.

The 56-year-old, who guided AC Milan to the scudetto in 1999, inherits a squad desperately low on morale after five defeats in their last six league matches.

Sixth in the table, 16 points off Serie A leaders Inter Milan and out of both the Champions League and the Italian Cup, the best the Old Lady can realistically hope to rescue from a forgettable season is qualification for next season’s Champions League.

Second-placed AC Milan are looking for a response against Livorno on Sunday after their title ambitions suffered a sizeable blow with last weekend’s 2-0 derby defeat to Inter.

Inter, who are nine points clear after having played one game more than their city rivals, will be without Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder and Brazil defender Lucio at Parma on Sunday after their red cards in the derby.

Sat 30 January, 2010
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Terry´s England captaincy questioned after ´affair´

John Terry’s future as England captain was called into question on Saturday when British newspapers responded to reports about his infidelity by demanding he be stripped of the role.

But despite the controversy surrounding his alleged extra-marital affair with the ex-girlfriend of a former Chelsea team-mate, the Premier League leaders insisted they had no qualms about selecting him to play against Burnley on Saturday.

“John has got his football head on,” Chelsea assistant manager Ray Wilkins told ESPN shortly before kick-off at Turf Moor.

“He is a fantastic professional as far as the footballing side of his life is concerned,” former England midfielder Wilkins added.

“He has done so wonderfully well for us and he will play today with no problem whatsoever.”

Earlier, Terry briefly signed autographs as Chelsea left their team hotel but refused to comment about the allegations.

Terry, 29, who was voted Britain’s Dad of the Year last year in a sponsored survey, has two children with his wife Toni.

The central defender was named on Friday as the sportsman behind a gagging injunction involving his private life.

A judge at London’s High Court subsequently lifted the order and Saturday’s papers alleged Terry had an affair with the ex-girlfriend of former Chelsea team-mate Wayne Bridge, Vanessa Perroncel.

Bridge, in a statement issued through his lawyer, said Saturday: “I have read the press reporting in the last two days. The reports deal with matters which are of a deeply personal and private nature.

“My primary concern is the welfare of my son. Therefore, I intend to make no comment whatsoever either now or in the future about these reports and ask that my privacy is respected,” added Bridge, who now plays for Manchester City.

The Daily Telegraph’s chief football writer Henry Winter, a prominent member of the England press pack, led the calls for Terry to hand in the captain’s armband.

“I like Terry, the one natural leader in the England dressing room, a player so passionately committed to the cause of St George that he willingly endures jabs just to get his stiff back through games, but this really is an embarrassment too far. It’s time for him to stand down,” Winter wrote.

Bridge played with Terry for six years during his time at Chelsea before leaving to join Manchester City in January 2009.

The left-back is widely expected to be called into Fabio Capello’s squad for this year’s World Cup in South Africa as cover for Terry’s Chelsea team-mate Ashley Cole.

Terry was named England captain by former England coach Steve McClaren in August 2006 and Capello confirmed he would continue in the role shortly after the Italian took charge in August 2008.

Vice-captain Rio Ferdinand and his Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney have been touted as the favourites to replace Terry as skipper if Capello, a renowned disciplinarian, decides to strip him of the captaincy.

England begin their World Cup campaign against the United States in Rustenburg on June 12.

Sat 30 January, 2010
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