Antonio Conte thanked the Chelsea fans for their loyal support as Eden Hazard’s double eased the pressure on the Italian with a 3-0 win over rock bottom West Brom on Monday.
Three-goal thrashings at the hands of Bournemouth and Watford saw odds slashed on Conte becoming the latest Chelsea boss to be dismissed just nine months on from winning the Premier League.
However, Conte’s name was sung loudly around Stamford Bridge as the brilliance of Belgian Hazard either side of a second-half strike from Victor Moses moved Chelsea back into the top four.
I think they are reading speculation, rumours on me, and for sure I am grateful to the fans for supporting me this way,” said Conte.
“Maybe in this year-and-a-half they understand my patience and will to defend this colour, this shirt, this badge.”
Chelsea climbed into fourth with the gap between Manchester United in second and fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur now just four points in the race to join runway leaders Manchester City in next season’s Champions League.
“It’s not easy to lose two games but now we are back,” said Hazard. “We are Chelsea, we are the champions, we have to give everything.”
At the other end of the table, a third straight defeat is another huge blow to West Brom’s chances of survival with the Baggies now seven points adrift of safety and just 11 games remaining.
We are going to fight until the end,” said Baggies boss Alan Pardew.
“The games coming up, looking at the calendar, this is our period. But it is not good saying they are good games, you’ve got to win them and that’s something we haven’t managed to do for a long time.”
Crucially for Chelsea ahead of a huge month on three fronts, Conte’s forward options were replenished as Olivier Giroud was handed his full debut, whilst club record signing Alvaro Morata made his return as a second-half substitute after nearly a month out with a back injury.
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West Brom were dealt an injury blow themselves inside three minutes when former Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge limped off to be replaced by Jay Rodriguez.
Pardew insisted he had no problem fielding Rodriguez, who was charged by the FA on Thursday with using racist language towards Brighton’s Gaetan Bong last month, but has vowed to clear his name.
Rodriguez had by far the best chance of a bright start from the visitors when he latched onto Moses’s wayward defensive header, but dragged his shot wide with just Thibaut Courtois to beat.
Giroud passed up a huge opportunity to mark his Stamford Bridge bow in Chelsea blue with a goal when his weak right-footed effort was easily smothered by goalkeeper Ben Foster on 20 minutes.
But the French international made amends by providing the pass for the opener as a neat one-two opened the space for Hazard to fire his 14th goal of the season into the bottom corner.
West Brom only had themselves to blame for not getting back into the game early in the second period.
Salomon Rondon fired too close to Courtois after outmuscling Andreas Christensen despite Chelsea claims for a foul on the Dane.
And, from the resulting corner, Jonny Evans headed inches over the bar.
Moments later, Pardew’s men were 2-0 down as Moses latched onto Cesc Fabregas’s deflected pass to slot low past Foster.
Hazard then capped a welcome win when he cut inside before drilling a left-footed shot inside Foster’s near post.
The serenading of Conte then began, but far tougher tests await following Hull City’s visit in the FA Cup on Friday.
Firstly, Barcelona visit the Bridge in the Champions League last 16 in eight days time before back-to-back Premier League visits to Manchester to face United and City.
Ghana draws African-American tourists with ‘Year of Return
US preacher Roxanne Caleb blinked away the tears as she emerged from a pitch-dark dungeon where African slaves were once held before being shipped across the Atlantic to America.
“I wasn’t prepared for this. I’m heartbroken,” she told AFP as she toured the Cape Coast slave fort on Ghana’s ocean shore.
“My mind still can’t wrap around the fact that a human being can treat another worse than a rat.”
Caleb is among the African-American visitors flocking to Ghana as it marks the “Year of Return” to remember the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship landing in Virginia.
The West African nation is banking on the commemorations to give a major boost to the number of tourist arrivals as it encourages the descendants of slaves to “come home”.
Cape Coast Castle, 150 kilometres (90 miles) from the capital Accra, is a major magnet for those visiting
The white-washed fort lined with cannons was one of dozens of prisons studding the Atlantic coast where slaves were held before their journey to the New World.
A string of prominent African-Americans have headed to the site this year to mark the anniversary since the first slave landing in 1619.
Among them was a delegation of Congressional Black Caucus led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that toured last month.
– ‘Can’t forget history’ –
For those visiting it is an emotional rite of passage.
“This has been understanding my history and my roots where I came from,” Caleb said.
“I am very thankful I came here as part of the Year of Return.”
Sampson Nii Addy, a corrections officer with the Montgomery police department in Alabama, said he and his family had found the tour an “education”.
“I think every black person needs to come around to learn history; how people were treated,” the 52-year-old told AFP.
“We can’t forget history but we can always learn something from it.”
Ghana, one of the continent’s most stable democracies, has long pitched itself as a destination for African-Americans to explore their heritage and even settle permanently.
In 2009 President Barack Obama visited with his family and paid homage at the Cape Coast Castle.
The “Year of Return” has added fresh impetus and the country is hoping it will increase visitor numbers from 350,000 in 2018 to 500,000 this year, including 45,000 African-Americans.
Kojo Keelson has spent nine years guiding tour groups around the Cape Coast Castle and says 2019 has seen a surge in interest as Ghana looks to rake in tourism revenue of $925 million (830 million euros).
“It’s like a pilgrimage. This year we’ve a lot more African-Americans coming through than the previous year,” he told AFP.
“I’m urging all of them to come home and experience and reconnect to the motherland.”
– ‘Love to come again’ –
Akwasi Awua Ababio, the official coordinating “Year of Return” events, pointed to high hotel occupancy rates as he said “enthusiasm is very high and we’ve got huge numbers coming from the US and Caribbean”.
He insisted that beyond the major economic boost, Ghana was also looking to use the new connections it is forging to convince the descendants of slaves to resettle for good and help the country develop.
“Human resource is always an asset and we need to see how we can welcome them home to utilise their expertise and networks,” the director for diaspora affairs at the presidency said.
The African American Association of Ghana brings together those who have moved to West Africa and offers help to integrate them into their new surroundings.
President Gail Nikoi praised the “Year of Return” initiative by Ghanaian leader Nana Akufo-Addo and said the country was “setting the stage for future engagements and involvement of African-Americans and other Africans from the diaspora in the development of this country.”
But she said the authorities could still be doing more to help attract arrivals and convince them to stay.
“Dialogue and engagement is the first step,” she said.
While most of those visiting Cape Coast were not thinking about settling back permanently — they said the trip had opened their eyes to both their own history and what Ghana has to offer.
“It has broadened my horizons about how we came to be here and what our ancestors went through,” said William Shaw, 57, from Montgomery.
“I would love to come again. There is a lot more to see here in Ghana… at least once in a year I’d advise African-Americans to come back to their native land and learn about their history.”
Iran displays domestically built mobile missile defense system
Iran displayed what it described as a domestically built long-range, surface-to-air missile air defense system on Thursday, at a time of rising tension with the United States.
Iran shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone in the Gulf with a surface-to-air missile in June. It says the drone was over its territory, but the United States says it was in international airspace.
State television showed President Hassan Rouhani attending an unveiling ceremony for the mobile Bavar-373 system, which Iranian media have described as a competitor to the Russian S-300 missile system.
“With this long-range air defense system, we can detect … targets or planes at more than 300 km (190 miles), lock it at about 250 km, and destroy it at 200 km,” Defence Minister Amir Hatami told state television.
The system’s unveiling came on Iran’s National Defence Industry Day. Iran has developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes that have barred it from importing many weapons.
Western military analysts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, though concerns about its long-range ballistic missile program contributed to Washington last year leaving the pact that Iran sealed with world powers in 2015 to rein in its nuclear ambitions in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned at a U.N. Security Council meeting that, under the Iran nuclear deal, a United Nations arms embargo on Iran was due to expire in October 2020.
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