UK retailer Sports Direct International Plc (LON: SPD.L), controlled by Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, reported a 73 percent rise in pretax profits for the first half as the World Cup and strong online sales drove revenue growth.

The owner of Sports World stores and Slazenger, Donnay and Dunlop brands said trading since the end of October has continued to perform in line with management expectations, though it expects general retail environment in the first few months of 2011 to be tough.

Looking ahead and anticipating a tough start to the New Year we are confident of reaching our current year target of underlying EBITDA of 205 million pounds, which is 195 million pounds after scheme costs and will trigger the employee bonus share scheme awards, said chief executive Dave Forsey.

For the half year ended Oct. 24, the company posted a pretax profit of 100 million pounds, up from 58 milion pounds in the year-ago period.

Group revenue rose 8.3 percent to 819.9 million pounds ($1.28 billion) . UK Retail revenue were up 9.9 percent, driven by the impact of the World Cup and strong online sales.

International Retail revenue grew 4.6 percent.

Brands division revenue fell 4.7 percent to 90.6 million pounds due to decline in wholesale revenues, as the group continues to shift the focus of this division to higher-margin licensing.

Gross margin for the Group increased 190 basis points to 42.6 percent.

Shares of the company ended Wednesday's trading at 146.00 pence on the London Stock Exchange, 5.38 percent below its 52-week high of 154.30, set on October 13, 2010.