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Verratti dazzles to make Italy the team to fear in the last 16

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Well, that was tense. Kind of. On a gruelling afternoon in Rome Wales qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2020. Thanks to the vagaries of the format they did so through a shifting fog of almost-drama, a whirl of semi-excitement, as Group A did its best to conjure some genuine final-round tension out of Uefa’s self-own of a 24-team Euros.

Not that anyone in red cared. It is now two out of two for Wales: two European Championships and two knockout-stage runs, a wonderful achievement for this high-craft, brilliantly likable generation of players and for the caretaker manager, Robert Page.

Italy were always out of reach here. But Wales showed wonderful defensive concentration to contain the outstanding team of these group stages and remained within a shanked Gareth Bale volley of levelling the score. They will be daunting opponents at the sharp end of this tournament.

Beyond that three things were clear in Rome. First, this is not a drill. Roberto Mancini’s thrillingly intense Azzurri are the real thing. Italy press and move so well, a collection of synchronised parts all over the pitch. But they also have a kind of rage about them. At times this Italy team looks like it wants to gnaw your arm off. To discomfit your full-backs with a neat, super-slick interchange along an overloaded inside channel. But gnaw your arm off while they’re doing it.

They are also in a rare luminous period. Victory here meant Mancini’s iteration have equalled Italy’s 30-game unbeaten run set almost a century ago. On 35 minutes they went past 1,000 without conceding a goal.

Watching this game you wondered where this might end. Will Italy ever concede a goal again? Does this have to happen? Who says? Then there was Marco Verratti, one of the more understated velvet-touch world-class footballers around, who dominated this game by stealth as he so often does. Mancini made eight changes for this game, a revolution that felt less significant given the sense of unity in this group. Change the parts, change the players – you still have the same mixed and flowing substance that is Mancini’s Italy.

Challenges

The key audition for the challenges to come was the return of Verratti after injury for his 41st cap. He is an odd Italy player, a one-time prodigy, darling of the academies, who has spent almost all of his mature career in Paris. Aged 28 now, and straight back into the groove in Rome, he provides another, deeper gear in this system.

There was something a little Pax Romana about the opening exchanges, as Wales fell back into a deep red double bolt. But Verratti was already picking away at the hinges. He danced and dawdled and twinkled about, a footballer who is totally unafraid in possession, with a way of waving his foot over the top of the ball, like a street magician daring you to follow the coin under the cup.

It was Verratti’s clever free-kick on 38 minutes that made the game’s only goal. First he went down under a nudge in a tempting spot on the right. Verratti took the free-kick, whipping in a smart low cross as Wales prepared for the expected aerial barrage. Matteo Pessina was ready, snaking across the front of the defence and tickling the ball on its way beyond Danny Ward’s flailing hand.

And Verratti was everywhere in this game. By the end he had touched the ball 136 times, completed 94 per cent of his passes, created the goal, had shots, dribbles, tackles, headers, and driven the entire show from his roving, twirling semi-free role at the heart of the midfield.

Daunting test

Mancini may or may not retain his busy artistry for the more daunting tests to come. But this team now has a wonderful note of variation.

Finally, we saw the in-built failure of this format in the round of final fixtures. Why play so many games to get rid of so few teams? It is sad to see those shivers of genuine sporting cut and thrust passed up, the robust competition you could have had if the top two were the only two going through here.

Perhaps all four teams could qualify next time, or groups be divvied into a series of exhibitions: “classic rivalries”, hard-running east Europeans, a Legends Group where Michael Owen and Dean Saunders duke it out in seven-minute quarters.

The point of course is revenue – more product, more pull with the politicians so desperate to see their nations part of the marketing beano.

Money doesn’t ruin everything in sport. But it is, we can be sure, doing its best.

The outcome was correct in any case. Wales progress with confidence and huge credit. The only sad note was Ethan Ampadu’s red card for stepping on Federico Bernardeschi’s toe, correct under the Uefa guidelines, but still annoyingly soft for an everyday kind of collision.

– Guardian

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Coronavirus rules for driving tests spark complaints

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Claims of rude testers, of not being allowed to cough and having to drive with windows open due to Covid-19 were among the complaints received from people who failed driving tests recently.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA), which oversees driving tests nationally, released a sample of the 1,505 complaints received since the start of last year under the Freedom of Information Act.

New figures show the driving test centre in Cork had the highest pass rate with 75 per cent of people passing, while the lowest was Charlestown in Dublin with a 42 per cent pass rate.

One person complained he had told his tester he had asthma and might need to cough because he had recently changed inhalers, causing irritation to his throat.

“I was advised that if I coughed at any stage, the test would be over immediately. This was difficult to control while under exam pressure and added a huge amount of unnecessary stress and pressure,” the individual complained.

Another individual complained their tester said if their face mask slipped “a little bit from my nose” while driving, the test would be ended.

“I’m in shock how he treated me that day,” said the complainant.

Another learner driver who failed said their car was hot and “very uncomfortable” because the tester said the hot air de-misters had to be kept on to prevent the windows fogging up because the back windows had to be kept open due to Covid-19.

One complainant said the tester seemed to have prejudged the test when they spotted a small stain on the driver’s seat as the car was supposed to be “spotless”.

‘Anxious’

“The tester was clearly taking it too far. I was complying with all Covid precautions as I had just Hoovered and sanitised the car and it was simply a mark on the seat.”

There were general complaints beyond Covid-19 issues. One person complained about feeling “anxious” because the tester was “sitting there shaking his head”.

Another said their tester repeatedly shook his head and sighed several times, and then made notes on the score sheet, which was “extremely off-putting and really unfair”.

Another driver said the tester was “extremely condescending and patronising” and mocked their answer to a signpost theory question about an “unguarded cliff edge”.

“We don’t drive along cliff edges in this country,” the tester was quoted as saying.

The RSA has been dealing with a backlog of driving tests due to the pandemic.

The centres with the next highest pass rates were Clifden (71 per cent), Killester in Dublin (70 per cent), Birr, Co Offaly (70 per cent) and Cavan (69 per cent).

The test centres with the next lowest pass rates were Dublin’s Churchtown, since closed (44 per cent), Nenagh, Co Tipperary (44 per cent) and Mulhuddart (45 per cent) and Raheny (46 per cent), both in Dublin.


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Former US presidential candidate Bob Dole dies aged 98

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Bob Dole, the long-time Kansas senator who was the Republican nominee for president in 1996, has died from lung cancer. In a statement, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, founded by Dole’s wife, said: “It is with heavy hearts we announced that Senator Robert Joseph Dole died earlier this morning in his sleep. At his death at age 98 he had served the United States of America faithfully for 79 years.”

In late February, Dole announced that he had advanced lung cancer and would begin treatment. Visiting him, President Joe Biden called Dole his “close friend”.

On Sunday the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, like Biden a Democrat, ordered flags at the Capitol to be flown at half-staff.

Born in Russell, Kansas in 1923, Dole served in the US infantry in the second world war, suffering serious wounds in Italy and winning a medal for bravery.

His wounds cost him use of his right arm but he entered state politics and soon became a longtime Republican power-broker, representing Kansas in the US House of Representatives from 1961 to 1969 and in the Senate until 1996. He had spells as chairman of the Republican National Committee and as Senate minority and majority leader.

In 1976 he was the Republican nominee for vice-president to Gerald Ford, in an election the sitting president lost to Jimmy Carter. Two decades later, aged 73, Dole won the nod to take on Bill Clinton.

Against the backdrop of a booming economy, the Democrat won a second term with ease, by 379 – 159 in the electoral college and by nine points in the popular vote, the third-party candidate Ross Perot costing Dole support on the right.

Dole received both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest US civilian honours.

In the Trump years and after, Dole came widely to be seen as a figure from another time in Republican politics.

On Sunday, the political consultant Tara Setmeyer, a member of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, tweeted: “I cast my first ever vote for president for Bob Dole in 1996. A war hero with a sharp sense of humor ? another piece of a once respectable GOP gone.”

However, Dole remained a loyal Republican soldier, telling USA Today this summer that though Donald Trump “lost the election, and I regret that he did, but they did”, and though he himself was “sort of Trumped out”, he still considered himself “a Trumper”.

Dole called Biden “a great, kind, upstanding, decent person”, though he said he leaned too far left.

He also said: “I do believe [America has]lost something. I can’t get my hand on it, but we’re just not quite where we should be, as the greatest democracy in the world. And I don’t know how you correct it, but I keep hoping that there will be a change in my lifetime.”

On Sunday, Jaime Harrison, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, said: “Sending heartfelt condolences and prayers to the family of Senator Bob Dole. We honor his service and dedication to the nation. May he Rest In Peace.”

– Guardian

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Bournemouth is the most popular coastal town for buyers, says Rightmove

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The most popular seaside location for house hunters this year has been Bournemouth, new research has revealed.   

Rightmove identified the top ten most in-demand coastal areas in Britain, based on the highest number of buyer enquiries via its website.

The Dorset resort is the most popular, followed by Southampton, Hampshire and Brighton, East Sussex, with the South coast dominating the list. 

Rightmove has identified the top ten most in-demand coastal areas in Britain

Rightmove has identified the top ten most in-demand coastal areas in Britain

The top ten list also includes Blackpool, Lancashire – a coastal resort known for its amusement arcades and donkey rides – where prices have increased 8 per cent in the past year to £137,301.

It compares to the average house price in the top 10 locations, which rose 6 per cent this year. 

It is just ahead of the national average rise of 5 per cent, from £318,188, to £333,037. These figures are based on an average between January and November 2020 compared to January-November 2021. 

At the same time, Rightmove provided a list of coastal locations that have seen the biggest increases in house prices this year.

Padstow in Cornwall topped that list of coastal hotspots, with prices rising 20 per cent this year, from from £548,382, to £658,588.

The most popular seaside location for house hunters is Bournemouth (pictured), according to Rightmove

The most popular seaside location for house hunters is Bournemouth (pictured), according to Rightmove

AVERAGE ASKING PRICES IN COASTAL HOTSPOTS 2021
Rank Location Average asking price 2021 Average asking price 2020 Average asking price increase 2021 vs 2020
1 Padstow, Cornwall £658,588 £548,382 20%
2 Whitby, North Yorkshire £254,218 £217,620 17%
3 St. Ives, Cornwall £473,161 £411,484 15%
4 Porthcawl, South Glamorgan, Bridgend (County of) £307,051 £270,505 14%
5 Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire £173,612 £153,140 13%
6 Newquay, Cornwall £317,846 £281,204 13%
7 Filey, North Yorkshire £214,617 £189,914 13%
8 Pwllheli, Gwynedd £222,607 £197,213 13%
9 Brixham, Devon £299,127 £266,604 12%
10 Preston, Paignton, Devon £303,684 £272,029 12%
Source: Rightmove       

It was followed by Whitby, in North Yorkshire, which came second, with prices rising 17 per cent from £217,620, to £254,218. 

Cornwall’s St. Ives is in third place, with average values rising 15 per cent from £411,484 to £473,161.

A house with a good sea view and location will cost you, as it will probably be worth at least 40 per cent more than the equivalent inland, if not more.

Robin Gould – Prime Purchase 

Robin Gould, director of buying agency Prime Purchase, says: ‘Many people love the idea of living beside the sea, even more so since the pandemic struck and we have all been spending more time outside. 

‘However, a house with a good sea view and location will cost you, as it will probably be worth at least 40 per cent more than the equivalent inland, if not more. 

‘A frontline house is arguably worth 30 per cent more than one immediately behind it.

‘I recently bought a “frontline” house near Polzeath in north Cornwall for a client, which was right on the cliff top with stunning coastal and sea views.  

‘Although the house itself was very “vanilla”, most people would have forgiven it anything to have that ever-changing, interesting view.’

Also among the most popular coastal locations for homebuyers is Brighton (pictured)

Also among the most popular coastal locations for homebuyers is Brighton (pictured)

QUICKEST COASTAL MARKETS TO FIND A BUYER
Rank Location Average asking price 2021 Average time to find a buyer 2021 (days) Change in time to find a buyer 2021 vs 2020 (days)
1 Saltcoats, Ayrshire £111,419 19 -35
2 Troon, Ayrshire £178,666 22 -8
3 Westward Ho, Bideford, Devon £297,138 24 -46
4 Ayr, Ayrshire £161,301 25 -15
5 Kessingland, Lowestoft, Suffolk £219,538 25 -22
6 Littlehampton, West Sussex £364,180 26 -28
7 Goring-By-Sea, Worthing, West Sussex £396,078 26 -23
8 Marske-By-The-Sea, Redcar, Cleveland £181,882 28 -15
9 Canvey Island, Essex £308,261 28 -23
10 Weymouth, Dorset £283,585 29 -25
Source: Rightmove       

The red hot property market this year has translated into the time it takes to find a buyer hitting a record low number of days.

The average time find a buyer across the whole of 2021 is 44 days, 15 days quicker than the average in 2020.

Saltcoats in Ayrshire is this year’s quickest coastal location to find a buyer, at 19 days on average.

Troon in Ayrshire came second at 22 days, and Westward Ho, in Bideford, Devon was third at 24 days.

Calshot beach was included as Southampton, which features in the top ten most in-demand coastal areas in Britain

Calshot beach was included as Southampton, which features in the top ten most in-demand coastal areas in Britain

THE INCREASE IN COASTAL SEARCHES IN 2021
Rank Location Average asking price Increase in searches 2021 vs 2020
1 Morecambe, Lancashire £164,424 32%
2 Blackpool, Lancashire £137,301 21%
3 Great Yarmouth, Norfolk £194,066 15%
4 Swansea, Wales £180,603 15%
5 Saltburn-By-The-Sea, Cleveland £227,611 15%
6 Southampton, Hampshire £249,053 14%
7 Llandudno, Conwy (County of) £235,316 13%
8 Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, South West Wales £319,587 12%
9 Southport, Merseyside £215,838 12%
10 Scarborough, North Yorkshire £191,879 12%
Source: Rightmove     

Meanwhile, Morecambe, Lancashire saw the biggest jump in coastal buyer searches compared to last year, up 32 per cent, followed by Blackpool, up 21 per cent, and Great Yarmouth, up 15 per cent.

Tim Bannister, of Rightmove, said: ‘After a year where coastal locations really captured the imagination of British buyers, it’s interesting to reflect on how the overall picture looks at the end of the year.

‘In terms of average asking price growth, homeowners in Cornwall and Devon are the real winners this year, with properties in some areas outpacing the national average, though this does mean that it is increasingly difficult for some locals to get onto the ladder.

‘The speed of this year’s market really is astounding, seen in the time to find a buyer in some areas, particularly in Scotland.

‘Overall, this has been the year that either through changed lifestyle priorities, or the ability to work remotely, living in coastal areas has become possible for more buyers, which is reflected in the data we’re seeing in this study.’

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