Ronaldo will always be criticised - Zidane

MADRID Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane dismissed criticism of his side's talisman Cristiano Ronaldo on Friday following a dip in form that has coincided with Real losing two consecutive games after setting a Spanish record unbeaten run of 40 games.

Ronaldo struggled to influence Real's 2-1 home defeat at by Celta Vigo in the King's Cup on Wednesday and the 2-1 reverse to Sevilla last Sunday that cut their lead at the top of La Liga to a point, although he did convert a penalty.

Lyon poised to unveil Memphis

PARIS Olympique Lyonnais are poised to unveil Dutch winger Memphis Depay who has completed his move from Manchester United, the French Ligue 1 club said on Friday.

British newspapers reported that the fee for the 22-year-old Netherlands international was 16 million pounds ($19.7 million) rising to 21.7 million.

Memphis scored seven goals in 53 appearances for United after moving from PSV Eindhoven for 25 million pounds in May, 2015 but he has played only eight minutes since the end of October.

West Ham galvanised by Payet absence, says Collison

By Claire Bloomfield
| LONDON

LONDONThe uncertainty surrounding the future of West Ham forward Dimitri Payet has brought the squad closer together, according to the club's former midfielder Jack Collison.

France international Payet, West Ham's outstanding player last season, has refused to play recently in a bid to get a move back to his native country.

Collison, however, believes the East London team have turned a corner in a disappointing season marred by the club's move to the London Stadium.

British Cycling chief Drake leaves job

LONDON Ian Drake, the man who has presided over a golden era for British Cycling, stepped down as the governing body's chief executive on Friday, three months earlier than planned.

Drake, who has been involved with British Cycling for 20 years, the last eight as chief executive, announced in October that he would be leaving his post.

"British Cycling can confirm that Ian Drake has completed the handover phase following the announcement in October that he would be leaving the organisation," a statement said.

Injured Iniesta ruled out of Barca trip to Eibar

BARCELONA Barcelona will be without influential captain Andres Iniesta due to a calf strain for Sunday's trip to Eibar in La Liga, the Spanish champions said on Friday.

The Spain midfielder was taken off at halftime in Thursday's King's Cup quarter-final first-leg win at Real Sociedad.

Iniesta, 32, is Barcelona's most decorated player alongside Lionel Messi but injuries have limited him to only six league starts this season. Barca have dropped points in five of the 12 games he has not started.

German FA rubberstamps decision to bid for Euro 2024

BERLIN The German football association (DFB) board voted unanimously on Friday in favour of the country's long-planned bid to host Euro 2024.

The DFB, which announced its intention to bid for the continental tournament several years ago, said it would hand in the official bid notification to UEFA by March 3.

"Euro 2024 can become an important beacon for German football," DFB President Reinhard Grindel said in a statement.

Hull City sign Elabdellaoui on loan from Olympiakos

LONDON Norway defender Omar Elabdellaoui is rejoining his former club boss Marco Silva at Premier League strugglers Hull City on loan from Olympiakos Piraeus.

The Greek side, who were managed by Silva until June last year, confirmed the move on their website on Friday.

Hull, 18th in the Premier League and level on points with 17th-placed Crystal Palace, announced earlier that midfielder Jake Livermore was joining rivals West Bromwich Albion on a four and a half year deal.

Media reports put a 10 million-pound ($12.3 million) figure on that deal.

England's Jones issues warning over Lions distraction

By Mitch Phillips
| LONDON

LONDON England coach Eddie Jones has warned his players not to allow the lure of selection for the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand to distract them from their immediate task of defending the Six Nations title.

Even the potential last-day championship Dublin showdown with Ireland is strictly off limits as Jones follows the modern management mantra of looking no further than the next game.

Give Djokovic a break, Murray tells Serb's critics

MELBOURNE Andy Murray has sprung to the defence of his great rival Novak Djokovic after the Serb's surprise exit at the Australian Open.

Djokovic, toppled as world number one by Murray at the end of last year, was sent packing by wildcard Denis Istomin in the second round to end his hopes of a seventh title at Melbourne Park.

It was 12-times grand slam champion Djokovic's earliest loss at a grand slam in nearly a decade and fuelled talk that the 29-year-old is showing signs of a decline.

Vintage Federer hammers Berdych to reach fourth round

By Ian Ransom
| MELBOURNE

MELBOURNE A rampaging Roger Federer delivered a stunning reminder of his class at the Australian Open on Friday with a crushing 6-2 6-4 6-4 win over Tomas Berdych to storm into the fourth round.

Playing only his third tour match since coming back from a knee injury, Federer was expected to be tested by the hard-hitting Czech but he sent the 10th seed packing after a 90-minute masterclass at a floodlit Rod Laver Arena.

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