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Iran plane crash: Tributes to three British nationals killed

Mohammed Reza Kadkhoda Zadeh, Sam Zokaei and Saeed Tahmasebi

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Mohammed Reza Kadkhoda Zadeh, Sam Zokaei and Saeed Tahmasebi were all on board

Tributes have been paid to three British nationals who died when a Ukrainian plane crashed in Iran.

Mohammed Reza Kadkhoda Zadeh, who owned a dry cleaners, BP engineer Sam Zokaei and PhD student and engineer Saeed Tahmasebi were all on board the flight.

They were among the 176 people from seven countries who died in the crash.

Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 crashed just after taking off from Imam Khomeini airport at 06:12 local time (02:42 GMT).

The airline said the plane underwent scheduled maintenance on Monday.

A Downing Street spokesman said the UK was “working closely with the Ukrainian authorities and the Iranian authorities” over the crash, and there was “no indication” the plane was brought down by a missile.

Iran said it will not hand over black box flight recorders recovered from the plane. Under global aviation rules, Iran has the right to lead the investigation, but manufacturers are typically involved and experts say few countries are capable of analysing black boxes.

As well as the three Britons, the victims in the crash included 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians – including all of the crew, 10 Swedes, four Afghans and three Germans, Ukraine foreign affairs minister Vadym Prystaiko said.

Rescue teams were sent to the crash site but the head of Iran’s Red Crescent told state media that it was “impossible” for anyone to have survived the crash.

Tributes were paid locally to Mr Kadkhoda Zadeh, 40, who ran a neighbourhood dry cleaners in Hassocks, West Sussex, and had a nine-year-old daughter.

Steve Edgington from the pet shop next door said he had known Mr Kadkhoda Zadeh for 14 years, and described him as a lovely, hardworking man who was good at his job and loved by staff.

Savvas Savvidis, 36, who rented a room in Mr Kadkhoda Zadeh’s home in Brighton, said he was a “super-nice person”.

“It’s so sad. Before he left we had a conversation, he told me that he spent all his life working, working really hard, and now finally he wants to start to enjoy life a bit more.”

Mr Savvidis described Mr Kadkhoda Zadeh as a humble man who loved his daughter very much.

The dry cleaners closed on Wednesday, with neighbouring businesses telling the BBC that staff were too upset to stay open.

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A sign on the window of Mr Kadkhoda Zadeh’s dry cleaners in Hassocks

Meanwhile, in a statement, BP said “with the deepest regret” that its employee Mr Zokaei, 42, from Twickenham, was among the passengers.

Mr Zokaei had been on holiday. He had worked for BP for 14 years and was based at the company’s site in Sunbury-on-Thames in Surrey.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by this tragic loss of our friend and colleague and all of our thoughts are with his family and friends,” BP said.

A friend of Mr Zokaei, who did not wish to be named, told the BBC they were “still in shock”.

“He was a highly accomplished person. Very clever and very friendly. Always smiling and full of positive energy. He will be sorely missed.

“He was always trying new adventures. He cycled and toured Europe on bikes a few times. He also loved travelling to interesting far out places.”

Also killed was Mr Tahmasebi, 35, who worked as an engineer for Laing O’Rourke in Dartford.

Last year, Mr Tahmasebi married his Iranian partner, Niloufar Ebrahim, who was also listed as a passenger on the plane.

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Mr Tahmasebi, pictured here last Valentine’s Day, recently married his partner

“Everyone here is shocked and saddened by this very tragic news,” said Laing O’Rourke.

“Saeed was a popular and well respected engineer and will be missed by many of his colleagues. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this most difficult time and we will do all we can to support them through it.”

‘Humble and generous’

Mr Tahmasebi – whose full name was Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi – was also a part-time PhD student at Imperial College London’s Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation.

A spokeswoman for the university said: “We are deeply saddened at this tragic news. Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi was a brilliant engineer with a bright future.

“His contributions to systems engineering earned respect from everyone who dealt with him and will benefit society for years to come.

“He was a warm, humble and generous colleague and close friend to many in our community. Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with Saeed’s family, friends and colleagues, as well as all those affected by this tragedy.”

At Prime Minister’s Questions earlier, Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn both said their thoughts were with the families of those killed.

A UK Foreign Office spokesman has said: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of life in the plane crash in Iran overnight.”

They said it was “urgently seeking confirmation” about how many British nationals were on board and would be supporting any families affected.

Melinda Simmons, British ambassador to Ukraine, said her thoughts are with those affected.

Ukraine’s state aviation service has forbidden its national airlines from using Iranian airspace from Thursday, with the restrictions in place until an investigation into the cause of the crash has concluded.

Ukraine’s embassy in Tehran and Iranian state television both initially said technical issues caused the crash.

But the embassy later removed this statement and said any comment regarding the cause of the accident prior to a commission’s inquiry was not official.

Ukraine said its entire civilian aviation fleet would be checked for airworthiness and criminal proceedings would be opened into the disaster.

The country’s president warned against “speculation or unchecked theories regarding the catastrophe” until official reports were ready.

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Flowers were laid outside the Canadian embassy in Kiev in remembrance of the 63 Canadians on board the flight

Ukrainian International Airlines said the flight disappeared from radar just a “few minutes” after take-off.

The Ukrainian national carrier said according to preliminary data there were 167 passengers and nine crew members on board but its staff were “clarifying the exact number”.

“The airline expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the air crash and will do everything possible to support the relatives of the victims,” a statement said.

The airline, which is investigating the crash, said the aircraft – a Boeing 737-800 – was built in 2016 and had its last scheduled maintenance on Monday.

There was no sign of any problems with the plane before take-off and the airline’s president said it had an “excellent, reliable crew”.

A statement from Boeing said its “heartfelt thoughts” were with all those affected following the “tragic event”.

There are several thousand Boeing 737-800s in operation around the world which have completed tens of millions of flights. They have been involved in 10 incidents, including this crash, where at least one passenger was killed, aviation safety analyst Todd Curtis told the BBC.

This is the first time a Ukraine International Airlines plane has been involved in a fatal crash.

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Arsenal 2-0 Man Utd: Gunners secure first win under Mikel Arteta

Nicolas Pepe scored his fifth goal of the season and also hit the post before he was substituted

Mikel Arteta earned his first win as Arsenal boss as the Gunners produced a powerful first-half performance to beat a lacklustre Manchester United.

The visitors, who were without the injured Paul Pogba, actually began brightly, but the game took a different turn on eight minutes when Nicolas Pepe steered in his fifth goal of the season after Sead Kolasinac’s cross was deflected to him.

That led to a first half in which the hosts were in control and Pepe hit the post before they doubled their lead when his corner was smashed in from close range by Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Ole Gunnar Solskajer’s side came into the game with one loss in their previous nine games, and although they improved after the break, they rarely tested Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno.

It was characteristic of a stop-start season in which they are yet to win three Premier League games in a row.

The defeat leaves them fifth in the table, five points behind Chelsea, who drew with Brighton earlier in the day.

Victory for Arsenal ended a run of seven home games without a win in all competitions and lifted them to 10th place, four points behind United.

But they remain closer to the relegation zone than the top four.

Mikel Arteta thanked fans after the game for contributing to a buoyant atmosphere inside the Emirates

Pepe peps up Arsenal

There had been little evidence of a lift in Arsenal’s three performances since Arteta was appointed, and questions were already being asked as to whether he was the right man to take over from former boss Unai Emery, given his lack of experience as a manager.

Arteta was just an onlooker in the stands for the lifeless draw at Everton, but that was followed by a 1-1 draw with Bournemouth on Boxing Day and a crushing late defeat by Chelsea at home last Sunday.

This was a different game altogether, though. With Granit Xhaka, who has been linked with a move to Hertha Berlin, restored to the midfield, the Swiss and Lucas Torreira were quicker to the tackle than their opponents.

Pepe was also at the heart of their attacking endeavour as they were roared on by their fans.

After scoring early on, he sent United left-back Luke Shaw halfway down the Holloway Road with a sharp turn before setting up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who sliced a volley over.

The Ivorian then fed Alexandre Lacazette, who somehow hit his shot out for a throw-in from about six yards out, before Torreira went close from another Pepe pass.

The hosts had to withstand greater pressure from Solskjaer’s side in the second period but in contrast to the Chelsea defeat, when they conceded twice in the last seven minutes, Arteta’s side managed the game well.

Their only concerns were injuries to Kolasinac and Lacazette, who were both taken off in the second half.

Jesse Lingard was substituted after 58 minutes and has not scored in the Premier League for over a year

Pogba-less United show further cause for concern

Manchester United improved after the break, but it would have been hard not to do so after a poor first half.

Marcus Rashford had tested Bernd Leno in the first minute, but once they went behind to Pepe’s opener, they struggled to match Arsenal’s superior energy in midfield.

Jesse Lingard, who returned to the starting line-up, was hardly involved while Nemanja Matic could not get to grips with Mesut Ozil, Torreira or Xhaka, who were often one step ahead.

It was another game where Solskjaer’s team missed the influence of Pogba, who has not started a game in three months, and the mystery over his omission continued as the United boss said he had picked up an ankle injury which could keep him out for a few weeks.

Prior to the game, it had been hinted that Pogba would be fit to play.

United did lift their game once Lingard was substituted, with his replacement Andreas Pereira almost making an instant impact as he hit the side netting.

There were also chances for Fred and substitute Mason Greenwood, but without the injured Scott McTominay, and the ongoing problems with Pogba, United looked short on creativity in midfield and need to find solutions quickly should they want to maintain a top-four challenge.

Man of the Match – Nicolas Pepe

Nicolas Pepe scored, hit the post and set up several good chances, which made his 62nd substitution surprising

Arsenal finally beat top half team – the best stats

  • This was Arsenal’s first Premier League win this season against a team currently in the top half of the Premier League (P10 W1 D4 L5).
  • Nicolas Pepe has scored all his five goals for Arsenal in all competitions in London – four at the Emirates and one at London Stadium.
  • Arsenal have scored eight goals via corners in the Premier League this season, two more than any other team.
  • Manchester United have now lost four of their past five away Premier League visits to Arsenal (W1).

What next?

Arsenal host Leeds on Monday, 6 January in the FA Cup third round (kick-off 19:56 GMT), while Manchester United travel to Wolves on Saturday, 4 January (kick-off 17:31) in a repeat of their quarter-final defeat last season.



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London’s City Hall provides Christmas meals for homeless

Sadiq Khan hands out food

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Sadiq Khan helped serve 100 Christmas Dinners to guests at City Hall

Christmas dinners have been served to Londoners who are reliant on the city’s homelessness services.

Hairdressers and opticians were also made available at City Hall before guests were given a three-course meal.

Last year, 8,855 people were seen rough sleeping in London, an 18% increase since last year, and more than double the number in 2010.

“Events like this help bring a sense of community back in to London,” Claire, a former rough sleeper, told the BBC.

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Claire said she had been “looking forward” to the Christmas Dinner

Claire, who spent 30 years either living on the streets or in prison, said: “It’s the type of event that does matter. It forms partnerships and builds bonds.

“If it wasn’t for the support of St Mungo’s, I’d either be dead or doing what I was before.”

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Guests were treated to rendition of carols by the London International Gospel Choir

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Around 100 people who use London’s homeless services were invited to City Hall

Guests were chosen from the thousands of Londoners that currently receive assistance from services funded by City Hall and delivered by charities St Mungo’s and Thames Reach.

But Claire said services were still “hit and miss”.

“Where I live I’m still waiting for support with my mental health,” she added.

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Sadiq Khan said “it is shameful that in one of the richest cities in the world we still have the levels rough sleeping that we do”

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Guests were given a three-course Christmas Dinner

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “St Mungo’s and Thames Reach are struggling with finances.

“Since I became mayor we’ve more than doubled the amount of money we’ve spent on rough sleeping and the size of our outreach team.

“But we’re just scratching the surface. We’ve not got the money or the resources to do much more – as it is I’m criticised for going outside my remit and my power.

“It is both heartbreaking and shameful that in one of the richest cities in the world we still have the levels rough sleeping that we do.”

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Free opticians services were put on by charity Humanity First

Last year 15,470 people were accepted as being homeless by London councils.

There were 55,000 families living in temporary accommodation, such as bed and breakfasts and hostels.

Hundreds more people are estimated to be sleeping on London’s night buses.

Petra Salva, Director of Rough Sleeper Services at St Mungo’s, said: “It’s wonderful that the Mayor has opened the doors of City Hall for this festive event.

“Christmas can be a time of mixed emotions for clients in our services and our staff work hard to support those who stay with us over the holiday period.”

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Mikel Arteta: Man City yet to agree compensation with Arsenal

Arteta made 150 appearances for Arsenal between 2011 and 2016

Manchester City are yet to agree compensation with Arsenal that would allow the Gunners to name Mikel Arteta as their new manager.

Arsenal are finalising the paperwork for City’s assistant manager, 37, to replace Unai Emery.

Arteta was at Oxford on Wednesday night for City’s Carabao Cup quarter-final but it is expected Arsenal will be able to appoint him later this week.

However, City are growing increasingly agitated by Arsenal’s conduct.

It is understood there has still not been formal contact between the clubs, with a seven-figure release clause yet to be agreed.

Arteta has kept Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola fully informed of the situation.

A Manchester City source said: “It’s surprising to hear that plans are being made by Arsenal to unveil our coach as their head coach on Friday on the basis that no contact has been made by the club to discuss this matter.”

Speaking after City’s 3-1 win over Oxford United, Guardiola said: “This season he’s [Arteta] been with us, we prepare the game as best as possible, before and during.

“I don’t have any comment, there is no news. Yesterday I had 48 questions about Mikel, when there’s news I will answer it but there’s no news.

“I answer the questions, I don’t answer any more.”

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Bayern Munich 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur: Ryan Sessegnon scores on full debut as Spurs lose

This was only Sessegnon’s fourth appearance for Spurs

Ryan Sessegnon marked his first Tottenham start with a goal but could not prevent Spurs from losing to Bayern Munich in their final Champions League group game.

Both sides had already qualified for the last 16, with Bayern progressing as Group B winners and Tottenham going through as runners-up, and consequently they made numerous changes for Wednesday’s encounter at the Allianz Arena.

Bayern beat Spurs 7-2 in their first meeting in this season’s competition at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and took an early lead through Kingsley Coman.

Spurs hit back soon after when Sessegnon showed great composure to bring a pass under control inside the area and rifle a powerful finish beyond Manuel Neuer.

Thomas Muller, on as a first-half substitute after Coman picked up an injury, then struck just before the break when he tapped in after Alphonso Davies had hit the post.

Philippe Coutinho went close to scoring a spectacular third for the hosts but his fierce drive from distance bounced off the underside of the crossbar before being cleared.

The former Liverpool forward got on the scoresheet in the second half when he curled into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.

More to follow.



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Manchester United 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur: Marcus Rashford scores twice as Jose Mourinho loses first Spurs game

Marcus Rashford has scored three of his five penalties for Manchester United in the Premier League.

Marcus Rashford scored twice as Manchester United condemned former manager Jose Mourinho to defeat on his return to Old Trafford and ended Tottenham’s three-match winning steak under the Portuguese.

Rashford beat Tottenham keeper Paulo Gazzaniga at his near post after six minutes after the ball had broken to the England forward off Davinson Sanchez.

Then, after a long wait for a VAR check, Rashford kept his nerve to convert a penalty four minutes after the break, once it had been ruled the striker had been fouled by Moussa Sissoko.

Dele Alli had equalised with a brilliant goal at the end of the first half but United were good value for their victory after creating a number of excellent chances they failed to take.

Rashford was unable to become the first United player to score a league hat-trick since Robin van Persie’s memorable effort against Aston Villa in 2013 but he now has 12 goals in 13 games for club and country, and his nine Premier League goals leave him one short of his season best.

Mourinho’s return well-received

As expected, Mourinho was well received by the United fans, who never fell out with their former manager and have no particular axe to grind with him.

That respect will never match the affection Old Trafford has for Solskjaer though.

And the Norwegian used memories from his playing days to get the crowd up for the game by emerging last from the tunnel, triggering a song in his honour and the start of what proved to be a lively atmosphere.

Evidence of change at United came with a team that contained only five players Mourinho picked for the corresponding fixture last season.

That August night ended in a 3-0 defeat for United and an angry Mourinho demand for the media to show him some “respect” for his three Premier League titles.

The first of those triumphs is over 15 years ago now. Mourinho’s task is to show his best days are not behind him.

He didn’t make a particularly brilliant job of that in his last weeks in Manchester and, as happened so often then, tonight he spent long periods in his technical area with his hands in his pockets watching his team get outplayed.

His substitutes failed to inspire and with eight goals conceded in four games, Mourinho evidently has some work to do defensively.

At the end, he moved to shake Solskjaer’s hand before striding purposefully away to try and lift his players.

Dele’s delightful goal

For months, there had been a debate about what had happened to Dele Alli,

Once one of the golden boys of the English game, he had been reduced in influence and effectiveness and lost his place in Gareth Southgate’s national squad.

Who knew the answer was replacing the manager he loved?

One of the first things Mourinho did after replacing Maurizio Pochettino was to ask Alli whether it was him or his brother who had been playing for Tottenham in recent times.

This is definitely him.

His third goal in three Premier League games – he only scored three in his last 17 under Pochettino – was extraordinary.

Fred thought he had the situation under control as the ball looped up on the edge of the six-yard box.

But Alli leaned into the Brazilian, then rolled round him after a beautiful piece of control before turning a shot past De Gea into the far corner.

It was as breathtaking as the Cristiano Ronaldo-esque 35-yard shot Rashford rattled the bar with – and Mourinho loved it.

More to follow.



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Joseph McCann trial: Alleged rapist ‘threatened to chop up girls’

Joseph McCann

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Joseph McCann is accused of 37 offences against 11 women and children aged 11 to 71

An alleged serial rapist threatened to “chop up” two 14-year-old girls who he snatched off a street in Greater Manchester, a court has heard.

Joseph McCann is accused of stealing a Fiat car belonging to a 71-year-old woman and then forcing the girls into the vehicle on 5 May.

The Old Bailey was shown CCTV of him buying petrol and a pack of condoms at a garage while they waited in the car.

Mr McCann, 34, of Harrow, London, denies 37 offences against 11 victims.

The jury heard a petrol attendant who served the defendant in the Shell garage thought he appeared to be “angry, nervous and in a rush”.

After leaving the garage, Mr McCann was spotted by a police patrol who were already on the look-out for the vehicle.

Police chase

PC Michael Jennings saw two girls in the back and one of them appeared “terrified” while the other raised a hand to attract attention, the Old Bailey heard.

Dashcam footage of the subsequent police chase was played in court which showed the Fiat going the wrong way around a roundabout and colliding with a bronze Mercedes.

Despite being damaged it carried on at speeds of up to 60mph (97km/h) in a 40mph (97km/h) zone, the court was told.

Jurors heard Mr McCann then abandoned the car, leaving the two girls by the road, and was later seen on CCTV running past a man who was cleaning a driveway.

He was then seen riding a bicycle having swapped his T-shirt and later he got a taxi from a restaurant in Stoke, which was stopped by police.

At 20:40 BST, Mr McCann was seen running through a field, having fled from the taxi when he was challenged by an officer.

He was finally arrested after climbing a tree, the court has heard.

Mr McCann, who was not in court, is charged with the following offences against women and children aged 11 to 71, between 20 April and 5 May this year:

  • Ten counts of false imprisonment
  • Seven counts of rape
  • One count of rape of a child
  • Two counts of causing or inciting a person to engage in sexual activity without consent
  • Seven counts of kidnap
  • One count of attempted kidnap
  • Three counts of causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity
  • Three counts of assault by penetration
  • One count of sexual assault
  • Two counts of committing a sexual offence with intent

The trial continues.

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Anthony Joshua v Andy Ruiz: British fighter fears another shock loss will tarnish his legacy

Anthony Joshua’s shock loss to Andy Ruiz in June was his first defeat in 23 fights as a professional

Anthony Joshua says he will not be happy with his legacy in boxing if he fails to become a world champion again.

The 30-year-old Briton lost three of the four heavyweight belts to Andy Ruiz Jr in June and the pair will fight again on 7 December in Saudi Arabia.

Joshua told the BBC that he knows the “issues” that led to the shock loss and explained how he has crucially funded better sparring for the rematch.

“I don’t think I would be content if I don’t win the titles,” said Joshua.

“For me as a man it means more than anything.”

Asked if his legacy hinges on this bout, Joshua said: “When it’s all said and done and I hang up my gloves, that’s when we can have the debate about legacy.”

But asked if he would be content with a legacy as a one-time world heavyweight champion he simply replied “no”.

“I’ll beat Andy next time,” he added. “You’ll be asking me a whole heap of different questions on December 8th.”

Paying for reflex improvement

Joshua flies to Saudi Arabia on Saturday and some of his team arrive before the weekend to ensure facilities are in place for his training to continue.

The former IBF, WBA and WBO champion says in the aftermath of his seventh-round stoppage loss at Madison Square Garden – the first of his career – he quickly returned to training to work on “trial and error” aspects of his craft and things he “wanted to try” without impinging on his defined 12-week training camp.

He also focused on being conditioned to begin sparring instantly in his camp rather than wait until six or seven weeks out from the Diriyah fight and says refining his boxing skills has now become a major focus in his training mix.

Anthony Joshua won the IBF World Heavyweight Championship in only his 16th fight as a professional

Former cruiserweight world-title challenger Andrew Tabiti is in Sheffield sparring with Joshua, as is Bryant Jennings, who lost his own world heavyweight title shot to Wladimir Klitschko in 2015.

“I feel like sparring has added a different element of preparation for this fight,” Joshua added. “Last time let’s say I didn’t invest in the sparring I need.

“Fighters don’t want to invest what they earn. You earn £100, you pay £43 to the taxman, you pay a percentage to your management and before you know it you have 30%.

“So this time around we have really invested in the right sparring partners, championship sparring partners. That’s the kind of thing that gets your muscle memory firing.”

Joshua has also brought in two additional pad men for his training, allowing trainer Robert McCracken the chance to observe rather than be the man taking punches on the pads.

His hope is with more focus on reflexes, he can evade the type of heavy shot that floored him for the first time in New York, seconds after he had put Ruiz down in round three.

Many pundits said Joshua rushed to find a finish after knocking the Mexican-American down and calls for him to maximise his chances by boxing rather than pursuing a knockout this time around are widespread.

But asked what he would do if he gets Ruiz in trouble in the rematch he replied: “Nail him again. The rhythm, your fluidity – boxing is milliseconds. That split second timing to evade that punch, the next time I am in there, that’s why I am prepared, the co-ordination, the muscle memory, I should be fine-tuned.”

‘Ruiz should not beat AJ twice’

The stunning nature of Joshua’s first defeat prompted conspiracy theories that even included accusations he had suffered a fit before his ring walk.

Each has been dismissed as fiction but asked if he knew exactly what was lacking for what was his US debut, Joshua replied: “Yes, but I am not going to say what it was. It was me, nothing like partying or anything like that.

“It wasn’t burnout. The issues I faced in the last camp, it’s just down to lack of experience. Even though it was at a high level we were still finding experience.”

In comparing his performance to that of when he beat Wladimir Klitschko despite being knocked down in 2017, Joshua said he felt “drained” against Ruiz.

“Andy Ruiz is good but I don’t think he should beat me twice,” added Joshua.

“I used to hear guys say you have to take a loss and I would think ‘why?’

“Now I can understand it and know what it takes. I have more understanding now and my ears are open to new information so that is making me smarter as a fighter. Anyone can be hungrier, I am smarter.

“The blessing is I have a second chance and here we are.”

Joshua knocked Ruiz down in the third round of their first fight, before the Mexican-American fought back and won via a seventh-round stoppage

Ruiz took his chance to fight in New York at six weeks’ notice and Joshua expects his rival to “grow” given his champion status.

Eddie Hearn, who promotes Joshua, added: “What you are seeing now is the result of a rebuilding process.

“AJ has dedicated himself more than anything he has ever done to getting victory in Saudi Arabia. The truth is, if AJ is the best heavyweight in the world, he should be beating Andy Ruiz.

“But now you have all the demons coming to play, the whole world watching and this is high-level, high-pressure stuff.”

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Saracens salary cap breach: Premiership champions bring in communications firm

Mark McCall led Saracens to a Premiership and European Champions Cup double in 2018-19

Saracens have brought in a major communications company to help manage the public fallout of the salary cap scandal, with the Premiership champions still yet to formally appeal against their points deduction and fine.

Sarries are set to be docked 35 points and fined £5.36m after an inquiry into business dealings between owner Nigel Wray and some of the club’s players.

Journalists were banned from asking director of rugby Mark McCall questions about the salary cap breach during Wednesday’s regular media briefing.

The news conference was called to preview their match against Racing 92 on Saturday, when they will begin the defence of their European Champions Cup crown.

FTI Consulting, a global business advisory firm, were present at the briefing and will oversee how Sarries manage the situation publicly.

McCall confirmed the club have until Monday, 18 November to officially lodge their appeal.

In a statement issued