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March 27, 2007 3:00 am

McClaren comes out fighting

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England's beleaguered manager Steve McClaren went on the offensive on Monday after the disappointing 0-0 draw against Israel in Tel Aviv at the weekend. As his team prepared for another European Championship qualifier on Wednesday, this time against the less taxing opposition of Andorra in Barcelona, McClaren said a video viewing of Saturday's game had changed his mind about his side's performance.

The manager, who also used the opportunity to deny a rift with either forward Wayne Rooney or with assistant manager Terry Venables, said he believed his side had performed better than he thought at the time.

''I know everyone is disappointed and frustrated that we didn't win the game but I look at the bigger picture," he said. ''We were the ones who dominated, we were the ones who had the attitude to win and we were the only ones who looked like scoring.''

McClaren conceded that England's lack of goals remains a problem, although he is refused to pin the blame on individuals even though Rooney has not scored in a competitive game since the European Championships of 2004.

One possible solution would be to pull Steven Gerrard in from the right of England's midfield to the centre, where he can do most damage. That would allow Aaron Lennon to switch across to his favoured right flank, although the below-par Frank Lampard would either find himself on the left or out of the team altogether.

If England do not beat Andorra on Wednesday or Estonia - who are also without a point in Group E - on June 6, they and McClaren will be in serious danger of not qualifying for the 2008 tournament in Austria and Switzerland.

''There are seven games to go and it always boils down to the last games, said the manager. ''We have to make sure we beat Andorra and Estonia, then look to next season because we still have Russia twice and Croatia at home.

''Apart from that, Russia have to go to Croatia and Israel, so I am sure there will be a lot of twists and turns in this group yet."

Meanwhile, Reading manager Steve Coppell has signed a two-year contract extension that will tie him to the club until the end of the 2008-09 season. Coppell, 51, had previously preferred to sign only one-year rolling contracts.

''I have always maintained that contracts are not really a big issue for me, but I have to admit that for the club to have such faith in me is very pleasing,'' Coppell said. ''And now I want to repay that faith by continuing to do my job to the best of my ability.''

The former Manchester United player has been in charge at Reading since 2003, and has won them promotion to the Premiership for the first time where they are now in eighth place.

*CRICKET Kevin Pietersen has become only the third England batsman to top the International Cricket Council's one-day batting rankings. Pietersen has moved up from third place after an impressive start to the World Cup in the Caribbean, which has seen him score 121 runs in three group games at an average of 60.5. This has proved enough to depose former number one, Australia's Mike Hussey, who falls to third behind team-mate and captain Ricky Ponting.

The last time an England batsman topped the rankings was in 2005 when Marcus Trescothick claimed the honour, albeit for just one match, and the only other player to do so was Allan Lamb in 1989.

The World Cup's Super Eight stage begins on Tuesday with hosts West Indies playing the holders Australia in Antigua. England play their first match, against Ireland, on Friday in Guyana. The remaining sides are Bangladesh, South Africa, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

Meanwhile, the England and Wales Cricket Board has reached a settlement with the Pakistan Cricket Board regarding the ECB's claim for compensation after the forfeiture of the Oval Test match between the teams last summer. Pakistan will waive their right to a fee for a Twenty20 match as part of their tour of England in 2012 to settle the claim. The ECB estimated it lost £800,000 after being forced to offer refunds to spectators.

*RUGBY LEAGUE Australian Tony Smith was confirmed as Great Britain's new coach. Smith, 40, has signed a 2½-year contract but will also remain as coach at Leeds Rhinos until the end of the season.

He coached Leeds to their first Grand Final success in 2004 in his first season at the club and to the 2005 Challenge Cup final, where the team was beaten by Hull.

The Rugby Football League announced in January that it would not renew the part-time contract of Great Britain coach Brian Noble, who had said he would be unable to go full-time because his contract as coach of Wigan runs until the end of 2008.

Smith is the second Australian to coach Great Britain since David Waite, who was replaced by Noble in 2004. Smith's first big challenge will come in the autumn when Britain take on New Zealand in a three-match Test series on home soil before taking charge of England for the 2008 World Cup in Australia.

*SWIMMING Britain's Liam Tancock set a national record at the World Championships in Melbourne on Monday. The University of Loughborough swimmer recorded 53.71sec in the 100m backstroke semi-finals to obliterate the previous benchmark of 54.42secs.

His time was just a 10th of a second outside the championship record and came amid the pressure of a field packed with class. Tancock said: ''We're in a very fast pool and in my semi-final tonight I faced and beat the three fastest backstrokers of all time.

''It's brilliant to beat them but the medals are there to be won tomorrow and not tonight.''

Kirsty Balfour and Kate Haywood can also look forward to a final at the Rod Laver Arena today after progressing in the women's 100m breaststroke. Despite 100m not being her main event, Balfour emulated Tancock in setting a new British record of 1min 07.67sec to qualify behind world record-holder Leisel Jones of Australia.

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