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Luis Figo voted Portugal’s best

Lisbon: Portugal’s first division coaches have voted Real Madrid star midfielder Luis Figo as the best national footballer playing for a foreign team for a sixth consecutive year.

The 30-year-old, who was plagued by an ankle injury throughout much of 2002, was the top pick of 15 of Portugal’s 18 top flight coaches, according to sports daily record which carried out the annual survey.

Portuguese international midfielder Rui Costa, who joined AC Milan from Fiorentina for $35 million in July, was the second most voted player while striker Pedro Pauleta, who plays for France’s Bordeaux, came in third.

Rui Costa, whose debut season with Milan has been hampered by injuries, has occupied the second-place ranking in the yearly survey for the past four years. It is the second straight year that Pauleta, who was voted the best player in the French first division in the 2001/2002 season by fellow players and coaches, has come in third place.

Robert denies allegations

Paris: Newcastle’s French winger Laurent Robert, facing an internal club investigation over allegations that he assaulted a journalist, denied the claims on his website on Friday.

Robert, known in the past for episodes of bad temper when he played for Paris St Germain, was accused of assaulting local newspaper journalist Alan Oliver after the Magpies’ 4-3 defeat at Bolton Wanderers on December 26.

“In my first season with Newcastle, I was for this journalist a very important member of the team. This year, I don’t know why I became a target for him,” Robert said.

“After our defeat in Bolton he went too far in his remarks. He said I didn’t know what it meant to wear Newcastle’s black and white colours. accept criticism on my performances, but when I’m told things like that, I lose my temper. I went to him and told him. But unlike what was said, there was no assault,” he said.

Masuoka wins special stage

Valencia: Japan’s Hiroshi Masuoka surprised overall leader Stephane Peterhansel to win the 8km special stage of the Dakar Rally on Friday.

The Mitsubishi driver clocked six minutes and 42 seconds while Peterhansel trailed just five seconds behind. Belgium's Stephane Henrard finished third, 13 seconds off the pace.

Peterhansel, a six-time winner in the motorcycle section, still holds the overall lead with Masuoka lying 29 seconds adrift in second. There will be no racing on Saturday as competitors will be travelling to Tunisia for the next stage. Sunday’s stage will see the competitors move from Tunis to Tozeur, a total of 463km, of which 25km is timed.

Houllier advice

Liverpool: Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier has urged his men to show some fighting spirit as they bid to end the club’s worst league run since 1953-54. Looking back on the failure to win any of their last 10 games, Houllier was quoted as saying on the Liverpool website on Friday: “Some of the players didn’t show the same championship-winning attitude that I am expecting from them.

n Cricket: Australia vs England Final Ashes Test, Day IV 2nd session live from 8am on STAR Sports n South Africa vs Pakistan 2nd Test, Day III live from 1.55 pm on STAR Sports n Tennis: Tata Open live live from 5 pm on ESPN n Soccer: Football Asia from 2.30 pm on STAR Sportsn A participant trains with the Austrian Alps in the background during the traditional Four-Hills ski jumping event in Innsbruck on Friday. (AFP)

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