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Socceroos drawn in tough group
Goal drought at the Dome
Arsenal, Barca bow out
Too many zeroes spoil the till
Melbourne clinches double in style
Review of F1 slots game
Mugabe, Tsvangirai agree talks
New Connex timetable kicks in
Iraq started the final on a very quick tempo and took the Saudi's by surprise. Even though Iraq dominated the first half they could not get a goal that matched their play even though they had some very good chances.
Like as been said before, not many people thought that Iraq would reach this far especially after their less than ideal preparations for the tournament, but Iraq proved everybody wrong with some slick football, very good ball control and discipline.
There was no doubt that Iraq had more hunger to win this final than Saudi Arabia whom I thought never got going until the last few minutes of the match where they put Iraq's goal under some siege. But by then it was too late.
Iraq's dominance of midfield made sure that they cut off all supplies to the Saudi strikers leaving the goalkepper Noor Sabri Abbas with little to do until the latter stages of the match.
There was always the danger that Saudi Arabia could score just one goal against the run of play and defend it and go on to win like they did against Uzbekistan but this time they found the Iraq defence solid tight.
Iraq's defence was well organised as it thwarted the few counter attacks that the Saudi's launched. Its not surprising then to see that Iraq conceded only two goals in the whole tournament and of those two one was a penalty which means they conceded just one against the Socceroos from open play.
Unfortunately Iraq will defend their title without their Brazilian coach Jorvan Vieira but for now its time for celebration.
As a side-note, in the third/fourth place play-off match, Korea Republic once again failed to score and had to rely on the penalty shoot out to beat Japan and hence gain qualification to the next edition of the Asian Cup to be hosted by Qatar.
Credit to both coaches who fielded strong teams for the third place match and the match deserved a goal at least but none came and the result places Japan as fouth best down from first.
I have always followed with some interest cricket matches played at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston because these are the two English grounds that I am most familiar with but it was a long wait on the first day as play only started after midnight Melbourne time.
Tendulkar would have a scored his 38th century had he scored an extra nine runs but Paul Collingwood made sure that didn't happen.
The other batsmen to have scored more that 11,000 runs are Brian Lara with 11,953 and Allan Border with 11,174. I think Thendulkar will be able to pass Border soon because he only needs another 108 runs to do so but I think it will be a while to overtake Lara's haul .
Back to the second Test, I think England will be hoping that the weather will come to their rescue this time just like it did for India in the first Test but they have started their second innings well and could well salvage a draw without the weather's intervention.
At the beginning of the tournament I wouldn't have thought that Iraq would be in the final but they have earned their place through some good all round football and I think their only blip was in the second half of their opening match against Thailand but from there on they have been a joy to watch.
I was happy to see Iraq beat Korea in the semis because in Korea we had team that more or less depended on set pieces to score because from open play they simply could not get their game right. Hence in the quarters they beat Iran in the penalty shoot-out and that wasn't surprising but against Iraq they met a team whose penalty taking was par excellent.
Some nil-all matches are very boring especially if they go for 120 minutes but I found the Iraq/Korea match interesting and Iraq had the better chances although they were few and far between.
In the third place play-off Japanese striker Naohiro Takahara has a chance to increase his goal tally and boost his chances of getting the golden boot and for him that should be an important match. Saudi's Yasser Al Qahtani and Iraq's Younis Mahmoud are the only players who could possibly challenge him because they have both scored three goals so far in the tournament.
For Japan it must be an unfamiliar position playing in the bronze medal match having played and won the last two finals but I still think Japan will win the third place match because they have been better than Korea Republic and lost to Saudi Arabia who scored some brilliant goals and defended well for the latter stages of the match. What could change the tilt is if both teams decide to field their fringe players and in that case it will become any body's game.
Now talking about the final I would think that Saudi Arabia may have an edge over Iraq but I would like to see an Iraq win. Saudi were very fortunate against Uzbekistan but against Japan they deserved their win and after starting slowly and absorbing the Japanese pressure they surprising took the lead and from then on stepped up the gear to make the match one of the most interesting in the tournament so far.
Whatever happens in the final, I think Iraq have done so well and deserve their place in the final.
In the other quarter-finals Iraq easily dispatched the last remaining host Vietnam whilst Saudi Arabia managed to ride their luck to beat narrowly beat Uzbekistan and reach the semis and help erase memories of the 2004 tournament where they finished bottom of their group.
But the match that I followed closely was the one between the Socceroos and Japan. The Socceroos started the match better than I thought and I was a bit surprised to see Mark Bresciano start ahead of Tim Cahill but he justified his starting spot with a good display in midfield and denying the Japanese midfielders much room to maneuver.
It was evident that both sets of players were finding it a bit difficult to cope up with the conditions and as a result the game at one time became very pedestrian. I thought Mark Viduka had a good game and the Japanese defenders had problems taking the ball from him and that brings in Aloisi. Apart from the goal, I didn't think that John Aloisi did enough to justify starting the match ahead of say Harry Kewell or even Archie Thompson. At times it looked like the Socceroos were just playing with a lone striker.
On the balance of things I think Japan deserved their victory because they had the better chances and could easily have wrapped up the match in extra time had it not been for Mark Schwarzer's acrobatic and point blank saves.
I think a few things to learn from this tournament is that preparation must be thorough and every opponent must be respected and every match must be taken seriously. It was good to see the A-League players coping well at this level especially David Carney and I hope that whoever takes over from Graham Arnold will recognise the talent in the A-League and select players from their form and ability and not by the league they play in.
In the other matches, Vietnam should be proud of their achievement at this tournament and I think they gave a good account of themselves in their defeat against Iraq. I think the early goal that they conceded unsettled them but after that their effort was great.
The Korea/Iran match was one of those tight matches that neither team deserved to go out. But Korea took their penalties well and the Iran substitute goalkeeper Vahid Talebloo who came on just before the penalties were about to be taken could only save just one penalty.
The Saudi's continued their good run at the tournament with a 2-1 win over Uzbekistan but Uzbekistan must be wondering how they lost this exciting tie after hitting the woodwork five times. They had the better chances and played some good football but they need to bury their chances.
In the semi-finals Iraq will play Korea whilst Saudi Arabia will face Japan and as I consider my tips on TipsChallenge it doesn't look easy at all.
It was double trouble for Lewis Hamilton who for the first time in his short F1 career failed to finish on the podium and also failed to score points. Hamilton's problems for the weekend started in qualifying when he could only start tenth on the grid after a high-speed crash.
With team-mate Fernando Alonso winning the race, Hamilton's lead at the top has now been reduced to just two points and I think Alonso must be excited at the prospect of the taking the lead himself in the next few races.
Felipe Massa had a good race until the second showers where he appeared like he could not go any faster and Alonso took advantage to take the lead. It wasn't a good day for his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen who retired halfway through the race due to engine problems after enjoyed success in the last two races.
In fourth place was Williams Alexander Wurz who tried everything he could to overtake Webber and secure a second podium finish for the season he but could not overtake him and therefore secured another points finish for Williams.
Webber's team-mate David Coulthard finished behind Wurz in what was a very good race for the Red Bull team. Coulthard was ahead the two BMW Sauber cars of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica who could only finish sixth and seventh respectively.
BMW Sauber have had a wonderful season so far and it is surprising to see that the team has only managed to secure one podium finish this season and that was in Canada. This is another race where I expected them to have at least one finish in the top three races given Raikkonen and Hamilton's problems.
Renault's Heikki Kovalainen took the last points place to save face for the Renault team whose other driver Giancarlo Fisichella could only finish tenth.
Its seven races to go now and the drivers championship is still up for grabs and lets wait and see if there
is going to be even more drama at the Hungaroring than last year.
China started the tournament with an impressive win over hosts Malaysia and scored five goals in that match. At that stage you would have thought that China would survive the group stage even though it was after just one game. In the next match against Iran, China continued from where they left against Malaysia but unfortunately only as far as half-time.
At half-time China led by two goals to nil through goals from Shao Jiayi and Mao Jianqing and that at stage I think their supporters would have thought it was going to be goals galore again but Iran came back in the second half and levelled the tie with their own two goals from Fereydoon Zandi and Javad Nekounam. Four points to China at that stage and it looked good but that's where it ended.
Against Uzbekistan China held their own until when there were less than twenty minutes to go because thats when Uzbekistan pounced. For Uzbekistan only a win would do and they left it late to score three goals.
I still don't understand why FoxSports decided to show the Iran/Malaysia match live where only Iran could qualify and not the China/Uzbekistan match where both teams still had a chance to qualify for the next round.
Uzbekistan will now meet Saudi Arabia on Sunday. The Saudi's have been very impressive so far with their fast free flowing football and are still to lose a match. Uzbekistan have so far scored a total nine goals and conceding only two and they should give the Saudis a good test.
Also on Sunday Iran will face Korea in Malaysia after winning their group without losing a match. I have watched all Korea's three matches so far and I think they are not at their best yet and they will have to be to go past Iran.
The Saturday quarter-finals will see the Socceroos square up to Japan. That match should be a cracker with Japan actually playing very well and the Socceroos picking up slowly. Graham Arnold will have to decide whether Lucas Neill takes back his spot at the back in defence but I think it would be better to start without him.
Vietnam is the only the host team that managed to advance to the knockout stages. Before the tournament started, I thought no host team would reach the quarter-finals but looking back now Thailand and Indonesia came so close to reaching the quarter-finals there could easily have been three hosts in the quarters. The only disappointing host was Malaysia who shipped in 13 goals and scored just one and no wonder why they have now parted ways with their coach Norizan Bakar.
Back to the match, Iraq should pose a lot of problems for the Vietnamese defence which was given a tough time by the Japanese in the last group match. I would think that Iraq will win this match but given the way things have gone so far in this tournament, it can easily go either way.
Let's see if the 2007 Asian Cup quarter-finals will emulate the just ended Copa America quarters where a
total of 22 goals were scored with the losing teams only scoring two goals out of that number.
This will apply to all events taking place during the Spring Carnival later this year. This development has been caused by the need by the Victoria Racing Club (VRC)'s to control the number of people who are going to attend each event.
In the past anybody who turned up on the day would buy a ticket and enter but that has meant that the numbers have been unpredictable but by pre-purchasing tickets the numbers are going to be controlled.
Its interesting whilst other events would try everything to get as many people as possible, the VRC finds in the unusual position of trying to keep the number to a set limit determined by the number of tickets sold.
In a way the Melbourne Spring Carnival has become a victim of its own success but I think that anything that can be done to improve the safety of the patrons is good.
I think this is a good move by the Malawi government because knowing the exact number of HIV positive people is better than just using estimates as is happening now. I hope there will not be much resistance to such tests but we will to wait and see what happens.
In neighbouring Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete and his wife last weekend took an AIDS test to help encourage people in his country to undertake the tests.
It would be good if these tests could be conducted across the SADC countries because reports indicates that
there are many people who are HIV positive in that region and accurate figures will help the governments
know the exact extent of the problem.
I think the four nil scoreline is a bit harsh on the Thais who dominated almost 35 minutes of the second half but despite their dominance and possession they could not get that crucial goal.
It is during that spell that the Socceroos defence stood firm although there were a few anxious moments here and there but as long the as the Thais did not score it was alright.
It was good to see the team changed around especially giving a start to Michael Beauchamp and Mark Milligan whom I thought had a brilliant game.
It was important for the Socceroos to start well in this match and they did exactly that fighting for every ball and supporting the player with the ball some things that were glaringly missing in the first two matches. That made sure that Thailand only came into the game in the second half and by then the Socceroos had adjusted to their type of play and the conditions.
The last ten minutes of the match were more or less a Tim Cahill show. Although he himself didn't score, he had a hand in all three goals to help come up with a flattering scoreline that maybe the Thais will feel didn't fairly reflect the play on the field. But winning football matches is determined by goals and possession and dominance while good are all good for statistics and analysis but not much after that if they don't produce goals.
Now this maiden Asian Cup win means that the Socceroos will meet Japan in Vietnam with group winners Iraq staying in Thailand to meet Vietnam. This is why it was all-important to win the group and stay with familiar conditions but as things turned out just qualifying in itself was more important than anything else.
There is no doubt that the Japan match will be a very tough one with Japan playing particularly well at this tournament. But this will be a new match and its interesting to see whether Lucas Neill will be recalled to the starting lineup after serving his suspension.
Sri Lanka dominated this three match Test series winning all the matches by an innings but the third Test was made extra special with Murali notching his 700th Test wicket and he is now just eight wickets behind Shane Warne who retired in January tis year with a total 708 wickets.
The Test series was marked by poor Bangladesh first innings. In the first Test, Bangladesh scored 89 runs in their first innings and then scored a paltry 62 in the first innings of the second Test and they scored their highest first innings score in the last Test when they scored 131 runs. Its not surprising why they lost all three Tests by an innings.
Sri Lanka's next Test is against Australia in November here in Australia and there is a good chance that Murali could pass Warne's record then. He has taken five wickets in an innings sixty times and 20 times he has taken more than ten wickets in a match.
Murali has now taken a total 1155 wickets international cricket combining the Test and one-day international wickets and with the rate with which he is taking wickets I will not be surprised to see him reach 800 soon.
After watching the poor performance against Oman earlier in the week, it wasn't very surprising to see the Socceroos lose to Iraq but it was the manner of the loss that was quite surprising.
The team literally gave up especially after Iraq scored the second goal and maybe it was because the team thought they would not be challenged at this tournament and let alone be trailing for the second time in a match.
I thought that Mark Viduka's goal came at a very good time, minutes into the second half and that gave the Socceroos plenty of time to score a second goal and possibly win the match but that never happened despite having the bulk of possession early in the second half.
It looks like the Socceroos never really prepared for this tournament. They finished with three recognised strikers but lack of inventive play meant that you just couldn't see the difference. A lot of balls into the box were wasted apart from the one that lead to Viduka's goal.
The other problem is defence. Iraq easily created chances for themselves and could easily have scored half a dozen goals because the immobile Socceroos defence allowed them to do so.
Then came the frustration. The frustration in the players could easily be seen by the number of yellow cards dished out to the Socceroos. The Socceroos got themselves five yellow cards including two given to Lucas Neill which means he will miss Monday's encounter against Thailand. Whether he will be missed after his performances so far is open to debate.
Despite the loss, the Socceroos can still qualify for the quarters if they manage to beat Thailand. Thailand are going to be very hard to beat being the host team and very much accustomed to the conditions and not only that they have been playing very well so far especially in their win against Oman.
This is because of the introduction of the so-called 'inflation police' who have been going into shops and ordering prices to be reduced mostly by half and the prices are reduced on the spot.
The interesting bit is that the moment the prices are reduced, swarms of shoppers invade the shops and buy almost everything in the shop leaving the shop empty.
I have been reading that that some that people are buying goods like shoes that they do not need at all just because the prices have plummeted and you can't blame them in a country where prices are known to go up on a day to day basis.
Fighting inflation with this inflation force is one of the short-term economic or political strategies that you see from time to time as the Zimbabwe government tries to find ways of mending the economy that more or less doesn't exist anymore.
Its also interesting to see how far this will go because already some shops have now no reason to stock goods that they will sell at give-away prices and therefore in the end the consumer has nothing to buy.
As said before what's needed are long-term solutions to the problems that besiege the southern African nation and not these short term solutions that will just give rise to yet other problems.
Lets wait and see what the inflation figure will be at the end of this month.
Not so long ago Nadal was considered a clay-court specialist but after his showing on Monday morning, Nadal is becoming a more complete player with each passing year.
Nadal forced Federer to play the fifth set at Wimbledon for the first time in six years. That shows how much Nadal has narrowed the gap between him and Federer. On the other hand Federer failed to push Nadal to the fifth set at the French Open and so maybe the tide is in Nadal's favour.
However, the fact that Federer rarely plays the fifth deciding set at grand slams when he wins also shows that Federer is very good and is a class act but he should be aware that now there is a challenger looming.
With this win Federer equaled Bjorn Borg's record of five consecutive Wimbledon titles and there is a good chance he can create a record next year by winning the sixth consecutive crown at the All England Club and only one player can stop him and that is Nadal. That should be interesting.
Turning to women's final, it was good to see a better and competitive women's grand slam final this time and Marion Bartoli played quite well in the first set before fizzling out in the second as she lost to Venus Williams. I think Bartoli did quite well for a player who had never been to the semi-finals of a grand slam.
At the start of the championship I never thought Williams would go that far but she managed to improve her form on her way to the final after a shaky start.
The last grand slam event of the year will be the US Open and that should be very interesting for both men and women's tennis.
I think the record run of podium finishes could have finished here had Ferrari's Felipe Massa not started from the pits. Massa had a very good race and at one time was the fastest driver on the track but traffic made sure he could only finish fifth behind BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica.
I think Hamilton should be grateful that Massa started the race from the pits and not from fourth place on the grid otherwise he would have finished at least behind him because Massa had a faster car.
Hamilton's lead has now been reduced to 12 but its still a healthy lead and as long as he manages to finish races at least in the top four places the lead could eventually bring him a world championship. But its still early days and one or two break-downs can wreck the whole plan.
Fernando Alonso had a good race and got a deserved second place. He must be relieved after some time finishing behind Hamilton, now he has managed to finish in front of his team-mate.
Its interesting to see that the this time the top eight positions were filled by the top four teams with Renault coming fourth best taking positions 7 and 8.
The other BMW Sauber driver finished Nicky Heidfield finished sixth and thus making sure that both drivers contributed to the constructors points for the team.
Mark Webber must be frustrated at being the first driver to retire in this race after suffering hydraulics problems. After successfully finishing the last three races which included him scoring his first points for the season, retirements came back to haunt him again and I hope its just a blip.
By the time the Socceroos scored, Oman should have been at least three goals up had they taken some easy chances that fell their way especially in the second half. Mark Schwarzer showed once again that he is a dependable goalkeeper but the leaky defence should be a worry should the team progress to the later stages of the tournament.
Australia's left huge gaps at the back and the defence looked largely unco-ordinated and every Oman attack looked like it would lead to a goal but Schwarzer was the real star because without his acrobatic saves it could easily have been a humiliating score.
The Oman team managed to impose their game earlier on with short passes starting from the back and then building up from there and trying to go through the middle and on the other hand side you just couldn't tell what the Socceroos were trying to do or what the game plan was.
When Oman scored I thought we would see an immediate response from the Socceroos but none came despite a bit of pressure at the start of the second half and that pressure only managed to yield a succession of free-kicks and corner-kicks which were wasted.
Then came on Tim Cahill and he scored the goal the Socceroos barely deserved but which will mean so much especially with Thailand and Iraq drawing the previous day.
This match showed that FIFA world ranking counts for nothing and its what you do on the day that really counts.
Looking at the other matches, I think the most interesting match so far was the match between Vietnam and UAE. UAE were fancied to win against the hosts but the Vietnamese team roared on by the vocal local support played some very good football that left the UAE stunned.
I thought UAE did everything right but ran out of ideas when they came close to the Vietnamese goal. Bruno
Metsu, the UAE coach, will have a lot of work to do before the next match against Japan if he is to get his
team to the quarters.
Before the tournament started, I had predicted that Henin would finally win the only grand slam that has eluded her so far in her illustrious career but Marion Bartoli put paid to those predictions with a shocking win.
Henin had looked unstoppable so far only dropping a set against Serena Williams but Bartoli played the game of her life as she won the last two sets of their match and the last set looked so easy.
Bartoli will now meet Venus Wiliams who triumphed over French Open finalist Iva Ivanovic and I am hoping that whoever wins, we will for once get an interesting grand slam women's final this year.
All looked normal and plain sailing when Roddick took the first two sets against Richard Gasquet but it was the the tie-break of the third that turned the match around. With Gasquet seemingly on his way out, he managed to get the third set and even then I thought Roddick would come back and get the fourth and win the match but that never happened and Gasquet will now meet defending champion Roger Federer.
I still don't know how Marcos Baghdatis lost to Novak Djokovic but I think that Baghdatis just lacked the killer punch. Watching Baghdatis play is always interesting especially with his vocal supporters behind him, but he should have won at least the second set when he had six set points and failed to convert all of them only for Djokovic to convert the only chance he got.
We now have a repeat of the French Open semi-final with Djokovic meeting Rafael Nadal and I assume Djokovic would be wishing that this time he will go past the world number two player to reach the final.
Need I say this, but it looks like once again another Federer/Nadal is on the way but after yesterday's shocking results
its better to wait and see what happens on the court first.
When the draw was for the tournament was made in December last year I wrote of a review of the Australia's group and I thought that the Socceroos would top their group ahead of Iraq and I still think that will be the case.
There hasn't been much to tell from the friendlies that has taken place since that time and also sometimes its not good to read too much into friendlies but they can give you a rough guideline on what to expect.
Looking briefly at the other groups, Group B should be one of the most interesting groups. I think Japan should be able to top that group but beyond that its very hard to tell who will join them in the quarter-finals.
Qatar have slowly built up a good domestic league with some veteran players from the European leagues coming to join their teams and that has certainly helped some of the local players. UAE is also a good team with lots of experience and its hard to tell who will progress between the two teams.
Unfortunately the host Vietnam is not that strong and I don't expect them to progress. I could say that for all the hosts and I will be very surprised if any of the hosts can make it to the next round. This may not be very good for the locals but I think it will be helped by having four hosts instead of one.
In Group C, previous hosts and finalists China should fight it out for top position with Iran. I would think that Iran, my favourites to reach the final would beat China who looked less than convincing recently against the Socceroos and also this week against Melbourne Victory despite the 1 nil win.
Finally in group D, on paper Korea Republic should have an edge over the other three countries and Saudi Arabia would to me come a close second. I also think that Bahrain are capable of causing a surprise or two but they will have to play a lot better than they did in qualifying for the tournament if they are thinking of staying beyond the first round.
As the matches are played, I have to remember to enter my tips in
TipsChallenge and see if I can top the league at the end of the tournament.
After many weeks of downward spiral, the water storage levels started rising last week and it was a relief to see them go past 30%. I hope the rains will continue for the forceable future to make sure the storage levels goes at least to 50% but maybe thats a big ask.
I wonder how many people in Victoria have wished the rain washing out matches at Wimbledon had come here to Victoria. I suppose that would put us out of stage 3a to maybe stage 2 within days.
I also hope that the current rains mean that the drought is coming to an end or is actaully finished.
Take for example Rafael Nadal's third round match against Robin Soderling. The match started on Saturday and is scheduled to hopefully finish on Wednesday and that's four days since the match started.
Roger Federer was fortunate in that he got a bye in the fourth round when Tommy Haas pulled out because of injury.
I think all grand slam tournaments must have a roof on at least one of the courts to avoid what is happening at Wimbledon at the moment. Similar problems were witness at the start of the French Open but then it was alright for the rest of the tournament. The whole tournament becomes a joke with some players finishing third round matches whilst others are starting quarter final matches.
Meanwhile Wayne Arthurs run was stopped by Jonas Bjorkman in straight sets. Having enjoyed two very good rounds earlier, the third one proved to be too much for him and therefore an easy win for Bjorkman.
At least Lleyton Hewitt is still there after he won his match again Guillermo Canas.
Felipe Massa started on pole but could not take advantage of that as his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen overtook him to take the full ten points. Kimi showed his intentions clear from the start when he managed to overtake Hamilton at the first corner to take second place behind Massa and from there it was a question of a Ferrari one two barring any breakdowns.
For the eighth consecutive race, Hamilton finished on the podium and I think his record of consecutive podiums for a rookie which he is establishing will take some time to break if it is ever broken. Although he finished third, he still increased his points lead over team-mate Fernando Alonso who finished seventh to 14. I think Alonso would quickly like to forget this race after he started tenth on the grid after mechanical issues in qualifying and in the point had to settle for just two points.
The full complement of the BMW Sauber drivers was back and once again they showed their consistency taking fourth and fifth places. Robert Kubica was back after missing the US grand prix after the crash in Canada and he finished fourth ahead of team-mate Nick Heidfeld. I am waiting for the day when BMW Sauber can challenge the two top teams and make a three way fight at the top.
Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault failed to overhaul the BMWs and sixth place was respectable for Fisichella because he could have finished seventh had Alonso had a better race.
With the British grand prix being the next race in back to back races, Jenson Button collected his first points for the season and maybe hopes he will have even better luck in his home grand prix next weekend at Silverstone.
Elsewhere, there were no points this time for Mark Webber who finished twelfth after gaining two places from his 14th place start on the grid.
I am looking forward to the British grand prix when Hamilton races in his home grand prix. For the first time since Damon Hill retired, there is a very good chance that the British grand prix can be won by a local and that should make quite an atmosphere.
For now its bye-bye Magny-Cours.