Kyle Lafferty scored a brilliant brace in Northern Ireland’s 2-1 win over Finland in their Euro 2016 qualifier at the end of March. Michael O’Neill’s men are riding high with four wins from five in Group F. The Republic of Ireland kept their qualification hopes alive with a 1-1 draw against Group D leaders Poland, Shane Long scoring a dramatic late equaliser. Wales, meanwhile, have reached their highest ever position by climbing 15 places to 22nd. Chris Coleman’s side were the biggest movers – 153 points – in the April rankings after beating Israel 3-0 in their qualifier in Haifa and have surpassed the 27th spot achieved by Terry Yorath’s side back in 1993. England have climbed three places to 14th, while Scotland are up 10 spots to 29th. Germany still lead the way from Argentina but Belgium have moved into the top three for the first time above Colombia with Brazil fifth and Holland sixth. Northern Ireland have climbed one place to 42nd in the latest FIFA world rankings, with the Republic of Ireland moving up four to 62nd. Press Association
One of the defining characteristics of the No. 4 Wisconsin men’s basketball team this season has been its ability to rebound from adversity, whether that be bouncing back after a loss or persevering through the struggles of a star player. There was more evidence of that again Saturday as the Badgers rebounded quite nicely by, well … rebounding. The last time that UW and Michigan State met, Feb. 20 at the Breslin Center, Wisconsin was boxed out of the gym, being pounded on the glass 41-24 by the Spartans. This time around, the Badgers hit the boards hard, holding Michigan State to only three offensive rebounds (a season-best) and were only slightly out-rebounded 27-23. “Just better position,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said about the improvement. “Both teams were going hard. Sometimes, it’s the way the ball bounces; sometimes it’s how active your players are. Yeah, there’s no question in the first game [rebounding] led to a [loss].”Making the improvement even more impressive is that Wisconsin improved without the services of the team’s leading rebounder, Brian Butch. The junior, whose season could be over after a broken and dislocated right elbow, could only sit on the bench and cheer for his team Saturday, yet the Badgers still managed to step up their rebounding. “Today, I thought that we handled it pretty well on the glass and made that pretty close to even,” Ryan said. “And you’ve got to do that when you’re playing a team that big. Especially when you’re without one of yours.”Better Neitzel for BadgersWisconsin also improved in their defensive coverage on Spartan guard Drew Neitzel, who in East Lansing toasted the Badgers for 28 points on 10-17 shooting. While scorer still managed 22 points Saturday, he was only 8-17 from the field, including 4-10 from 3-point range.”He just didn’t have the burst to come off [screens], and they did a good job stepping up on him,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “Did we make them pay? I thought we had our moments, but in general, they probably won that battle.”Junior guard Michael Flowers once again drew the assignment of manning up against Neitzel and believed that the team as a whole did a better job of defending against the Spartan point guard.”Both games, it could have been better,” Flowers said. “This game, we did a lot better job of hedging the screens and getting back and finding our men. Help and recover was a huge part of containing Neitzel. It was a defensive effort by the whole team.”It’s a good thing, too, as the Badgers will likely have to defend Neitzel once again — Friday in the Big Ten tournament. “I really don’t want to have to guard him again,” Ryan said. “Let me put it to you this way: I don’t know if Mike does.”Flowers, however, relishes the challenge of guarding one of the top scorers in the league and hopes to improve should the Badgers end up facing the Spartans again.”I’ve studied him a lot, and hopefully I’ll do a better job guarding him if we play him again,” Flowers said. “Guarding guys like Drew Neitzel will help me become a better defensive player. If I become a better defensive player, then I’ll help the team.”NFL state of mindDuring his post-game press conference, head coach Bo Ryan was asked about how his team was defending slip-screens, which led to several Michigan State baskets early on. At one point, he explained that the Spartan players were so wide open that even “Terrell Owens could’ve caught those passes.”Why the rip on the Dallas Cowboys’ receiver?”He left the Eagles,” the Chester, Penn., native said. The football references didn’t end there, as later when discussing Kammron Taylor’s willingness to keep shooting, Ryan referenced none other than “Broadway” Joe.”Joe Namath would still look in the mirror, even as he was getting older and he wasn’t as good lookin’, and what did he say? He’d say he couldn’t wait until tomorrow,” Ryan said, before throwing out the punchline. “‘Because I get better lookin’ every day.'”Even Ryan couldn’t help but chuckle at his reference. “I know Joe Namath might’ve been a stretch there,” Ryan said.