Platinum Stars dimmer in Confed Cup – 2017 CAF Confederation Cup

Khaled Gourmi of MC Alger challenged by Ndumiso Ndaba of Mbabane Swallows

Austin Ditlhobolo

Saturday Jul 01, 2017. 00:14

MC Alger brushed aside Platinum Stars 2-0 in a 2017 CAF Confederation Cup, Group B match at the Stade du 5 Juillet in Algiers in Algeria on Friday.

As a result, the Algerian club remain at the top of the Group A table and they also advance to the quarter-finals, while fourth-placed South African side Stars bow out of the competition.

Nicknamed the Dean, Alger got off to the best possible start as they broke the deadlock just 12 minutes into the game as Dikwena’s defence looked shaky.

Stars conceded a penalty after losing possession in the middle of the park. Abderrahmane Hachoud then stepped up and converted the penalty to make it 1-0 to Alger.

The Dean looked solid at the back in the opening exchanges. Stars captain Vuyo Mere’s free-kick was cleared away by the Alger defence.

Hichem Nekkache came close to doubling Alger’s lead when his chip over Stars goalkeeper Mwenya Chibwe narrowly missed the target on the half-hour mark.

The visitors should have restored parity just before the half-time break after the Dean had lost possession in their own half as Stars pressed them.

However, Bonginkosi Ntuli fired straight at Alger goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi, who came out to deny the Stars striker from a one-on-one situation.

As a result, the first-half ended 1-0 in favour of Alger thanks to Hachoud’s well-taken penalty.

Willem Jackson, the Stars caretaker coach, made a change two minutes into the second-half – introducing Katlego Khunou for Sipho Senne.

Dikwena won a few free-kicks outside the Alger box, but they were failing to make use of them with the towering Dean defenders clearing them away.

The Dean were happy to sit back and contain Dikwena in the closing stages of the match with the visitors struggling to penetrate the home side’s defence.

Stars nearly grabbed a late equalizer when Mere’s free-kick was headed onto the crossbar by Hachoud, who came close to scoring an own-goal in the 89th minute.

Nevertheless, Nekkache sealed Alger’s victory in stoppage time when he beat Chibwe with a powerful shot from range and the home side ran out 2-0 winners.

The loss does not bode well for Platinum Stars who will take on Free State Stars in the first semfinal of the Maize Cup on July 15.

Alger (1) 2 (Hachoud 12′, Nekkache 92′)

Stars (0) 0

Alger: Chaouchi, Hachoud, Demmou,

Bouhenna, Boudebouda, Karaoui, Kacem (El Ouazani 66′), Derrardja, Mansouri (Gourmi 93′), Aouedj (Bougueche 66′), Nekkache.

Platinum Stars: Chibwe, Mnguni, Mwedihanga, Mlilo, Mpeta, Baloyi, Mere, Ng’ambi (Shilongo 77′), Senne (Khunou 47′), Mabena, Ntuli.

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Lorenzo Pellegrini returns to Roma from Sassuolo for 10 million euros

Lorenzo Pellegrini helped lead the Italy U21s to the semis of the U21 Euros this summer.

Roma have completed a €10 million deal to bring Lorenzo Pellegrini back to the Stadio Olimpico from Sassuolo.

A Roma academy product, the 21-year-old midfielder has signed a five-year contract to return to the club.

Pellegrini has made just one senior appearance for his country, but has been a regular in Italy’s youth setup, helping the U21s to the semifinals of the European Under-21 Championship before bowing out to Spain this summer.

“It is an incredible feeling to come back,” Pellegrini said. “This was my objective from the moment I went to Sassuolo. It is the culmination of a great two-year journey with them.

“I want to thank Roma, including Monchi and the rest of the directors. They have always been in close contact with me. They made me realise how much they wanted me back.”

Roma also announced that Federico Ricci will join Sassuolo permanently after spending last season at the club, and Seydou Doumbia will move to Sporting CP on loan.

Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

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Bertrand Traore I knew I’d never get a chance to play at Chelsea

Bertrand Traore becomes the latest player to leave Chelsea after confirming his move to French side Lyon.
Craig Burley assesses the potential signings of Tiemoue Bakayoko and Alex Sandro and how they could shape Chelsea in the coming season.
Julien Laurens says working with Antonio Conte would be a big boost for Tiemoue Bakayoko if he joins Chelsea from Monaco.

Bertrand Traore has said that he decided to leave Chelsea for Lyon because he knew he would never be given a chance to shine at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea confirmed on Monday that they had agreed a deal reportedly worth around £8.8 million with Lyon to sell Traore, who scored 13 goals in 39 appearances in all competitions on loan at Ajax last season and impressed as the Dutch giants made a surprise run to the Europa League final.

Speaking at his unveiling, Traore said that he could not face a repeat of last summer, when new head coach Antonio Conte sanctioned a loan move at the end of preseason after concluding that the 21-year-old striker was not ready to contribute to Chelsea’s first team.

“It was time,” Traore said. “Considering my age and for my development, it was time for me to leave the club. I could have stayed at Chelsea and played a few minutes in every game, fighting every day for a spot, knowing that I’ll never get a spot. I trained at the club, I did everything.

“Two seasons ago, I challenged the starters but we all know what happened last year. I was there during preseason and then I was sent out on loan.

“So this year, I did not want to re-live the same scenario. It was time for me to find a stable club where I could play first-team football, where I could be one of the key players in the team.”

Bertrand Traore
Bertrand Traore was a member of the Chelsea squad under Jose Mourinho in 2015-16.

Traore joined Chelsea in January 2014 and spent the first 18 months of his Blues career on loan at Vitesse, where he contributed 17 goals and five assists in 48 Eredivisie appearances.

Retained as part of Jose Mourinho’s first-team squad at the start of the 2015-16 season, he was given a chance on the pitch by interim successor Guus Hiddink and showed flashes of promise, scoring four goals in his first five appearances under the Dutchman.

Conte’s arrival last July, however, halted Traore’s upward momentum at Stamford Bridge and the £33m signing of Michy Batshuayi from Marseille prompted him to seek out regular first-team football at Ajax.

Chelsea’s agreement with Lyon reportedly includes an option to buy Traore back for an unspecified amount, but he said that he is focused solely on establishing himself at his new club.

“To be one of the key players in the team, you need to fight, and here, I’ll do everything to be amongst them,” he added. “I’ll give everything for the club.”

Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.

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Kobe Bryant I support Barcelona and Milan and of course the U.S. too

Kobe Bryant met the Barcelona team at the StarHub Stadium in Carson in 2015.

When it comes to being a soccer fan, former NBA great Kobe Bryant says he has divided loyalties between Barcelona and AC Milan.

Bryant, a legendary basketball player for the LA Lakers who retired last year, says he still supports AC Milan — a result of having lived in Italy for seven years as a kid while his father, Joe Bryant, played professionally there.

But in recent years, he has also embraced Barcelona due to his friendships with former Blaugrana star Ronaldinho, and current icon Lionel Messi.

Speaking exclusively to ESPN FC via telephone while doing promotional work for the sports drink, BODYARMOR, Bryant said: “I still love AC Milan — though they don’t wear my brand of choice — and FC Barcelona. If you cut my arm open, man, you’d see four colors; blue and [garnet], and then you’d see red and black.”

In honour of Lionel Messi’s 30th birthday, take a look at what he’s accomplished so far and what he has left to chase down.

At international level, there is no such conflict. Bryant says he supports the United States all the way, and is looking forward to the start of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which starts in just over a week.

“It’s always exciting if you’re going to get a U.S. vs. Mexico matchup,” he said. “But I’m looking forward to it.

“The more we can have the best players in the world come here and play, and show their skills here in America, the more the game picks up, the more the understanding of the game picks up.”

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

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Scott Parker returns to Spurs in coaching role

Former Tottenham midfielder Scott Parker has returned to the club as an under-18s coach and club ambassador.

The 36-year-old, who quit his playing career on Wednesday after four years with Fulham, spent two seasons at White Hart Lane between 2011 and 2013, making 63 appearances.

“I’m delighted to be back at Tottenham and look forward to immersing myself in the job,” he told

“Obviously it wasn’t an easy decision to call time on my playing career, though I’m looking forward to this new chapter and am grateful to Spurs for handing me this opportunity at such an exciting time in the club’s history.

“It is a great honour to represent the club both as a coach and ambassador.”

Head of coaching and player development John McDermott knows Parker’s capabilities well as the former England international spent some time at the club doing his coaching badges.

“He’s been planning a career in coaching for a number of years and during his time here he was not only completing his coaching qualifications, but dealing with players in real-life situations,” he said.

“Scott’s role within the academy will be to manage the under-18s players and to instil the standards required to be an elite international and Premier League player.

“I know how passionately Scott feels about the personal qualities Mauricio (Pochettino, first-team manager) needs from players to be a success in our first team and I know he will develop these qualities in our players on and off the training pitch.”

Source: PA

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Fabio Borini completes move from Sunderland to AC Milan

Fabio Borini is the second striker Milan have signed this summer.

Sunderland striker Fabio Borini has joined AC Milan, the Serie A club have announced.

The Italian giants have signed the 26-year-old on loan initially ahead of a permanent move.

A statement from the club read: “AC Milan announce the signing of Fabio Borini from Sunderland AFC. The contract implies the player will join the club on loan with obligation to buy.”

Borini joined Sunderland from Liverpool in 2015, having earlier spent a successful loan spell with the Black Cats.

However, he failed to live up to expectations in his two seasons since his permanent move and scored just once last season as Sunderland were relegated from the Premier League.

He scored the goal which put Sunderland ahead in the 2014 League Cup final against Manchester City, but the Wearsiders went on to lose the game 3-1.

Borini is the second striker Milan have signed this summer following Portugal international Andre Silva.

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Everton complete signing of Nigeria’s Henry Onyekuru

Everton have confirmed the signing of Nigeria international Henry Onyekuru from Belgian side Eupen – a deal which takes their summer spending past £50million.

The 20-year-old, who finished the season as joint top-scorer in the Belgian Super League with 22 goals in 38 matches, has signed a five-year contract after a fee understood to be in the region of £7million was agreed earlier this week.

However, he will immediately go out on loan to Anderlecht for next season where he will play in the Champions League.

He is the third new arrival at Goodison Park this summer, following Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford (signed for £25m with £5m of add-ons) and Ajax midfielder Davy Klaassen (£23.6m).

“Everton has completed the signing of exciting Nigerian forward Henry Onyekuru,” said a statement from the club.

“The pacy 20-year-old has joined the Blues from Belgian side Eupen for an undisclosed fee, becoming the club’s third confirmed signing of the 2017 summer transfer window.”

Onyekuru had caught the attention of Arsenal and West Ham after scoring 30 goals in 60 matches for Eupen but Everton moved quickly to secure the young striker’s services.

Everton are also expected to complete a deal for Malaga forward Sandro Ramirez by early next week.

The Toffees activated the former Barcelona player’s £5.7m release clause a couple of weeks ago but there has been a delay in completing the transfer because of his involvement at the European Under-21 Championship, where he has reached Friday’s final with Spain.

Everton’s spending is likely to break through the £80m barrier next week with a £25m deal in the pipeline for Burnley defender Michael Keane.

Talks have progressed this week between the two sides and agent Jamie Moralee, while not naming the club, confirmed a deal was close.

“Obviously there’s a lot of speculation, a lot of interest, in Michael and rightly so,” Moralee told talkSPORT.

“We are hoping that we can get a deal concluded to a new destination maybe by the weekend. And the key to it all, for Michael, is he wants to continue to learn and develop.

“Finding a home where they have got aspirations and ambitions to move on as a football club, where he plays, is key in his development.

“We feel that we have found the right fit and hopefully things can progress over the weekend and he can be unveiled very shortly.

“There’s no point him now getting that move and then sitting on the bench and sitting in the stands.

“He needs to continue and I think if he continues in the same vein in the next two years, as he has done, he will be England and Europe’s number one centre-half. “

Everton are also interested in Swansea midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Source: PA

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Gerard Deulofeu heading back to Barcelona from Everton

Barcelona have activated the buy-back clause in Everton forward Gerard Deulofeu’s contract.

The Spain Under-21 captain was not part of Everton boss Ronald Koeman’s plans last season and spent the campaign on loan at AC Milan.

It is understood Barcelona had until July 1 to activate the clause, which will reportedly cost them £10.5million, and now they have done that Deulofeu, 23, will sign a two-year contract.

The Catalan giants sold their La Masia graduate to the Toffees for £4.3m in 2015.

“FC Barcelona have activated the buy-back clause for Gerard Deulofeu,” said a Barcelona statement.

“In the following days the terms will be agreed with both Everton and the player. Deulofeu’s contract will run until June 30 2019.”

Deulofeu left the Nou Camp for a season-long spell at Goodison Park in 2013-14, promisingly scoring four goals in 29 appearances, but having returned to his parent club a second loan at Sevilla was not as successful.

Then Toffees manager Roberto Martinez brought him back to Everton on a permanent basis in the summer of 2015 and he scored four goals in 33 appearances.

However, following Koeman’s appointment last summer Deulofeu found opportunities limited and joined AC Milan on loan in January, again scoring four times in 18 appearances.

Although he was scheduled to return to Everton for pre-season training next week, the release clause inserted in the original deal when he moved from Barcelona meant the Catalans could buy him back before the start of July and that is what they have now done.

However, he is not guaranteed a place in their first team and there is already speculation he could be loaned out with a view to a permanent move in order for Barcelona to make money on a player they have developed since the age of nine.

Source: PA

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Angelo Ogbonna commits to West Ham with five-year deal

Italy international Angelo Ogbonna has signed a new five-year deal at West Ham, the Premier League side announced on Friday.

The 29-year-old missed almost the entire second half of last season having undergone knee surgery in January, returning only for the Hammers’ final Premier League game of the campaign in a 2-1 win at Burnley.

Ogbonna has now penned a fresh contract to keep him at the London Stadium until 2022, having originally signed for Slaven Bilic’s side from Juventus in 2015.

The ex-Torino defender is expected to be fit enough to play for West Ham on their pre-season tour and will then battle with the likes of James Collins and Jose Fonte for a place in Bilic’s side.

“I’m really grateful for this new deal,” Ogbonna told the club’s official website.

“Our position last year was quite high and we are looking forward to improving next season.

“My target is that I can’t wait to get back playing. I think we have a long season ahead and for me my target is to be better than last season. We finished in 11th position but very close to 8th position and we know we can do better than what we did last year.

“I am excited to show my quality on the pitch and the support is always amazing, even when I had my injury. We have got lots of experience in the team at the moment, which is very good.”

West Ham will be hoping to add to their squad ahead of the new campaign, with the free transfer signing of former Manchester City full-back Pablo Zabaleta their only summer recruit to date.

They have been linked with Arsenal striker Oliver Giroud and former Manchester United forward Javier Hernandez, who is currently plying his trade at Bayer Leverkusen.

Source: PA

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Tottenham agree multi-year deal with Nike as new kit supplier

Tottenham have announced a multi-year deal with Nike which sees the manufacturer become the club’s official kit supplier.

Under Armour had previously provided kit for Spurs but their five-year partnership has now ended and Nike has replaced them.

It means Nike is now the official kit suppliers for the Premier League’s top three sides from last season, having replaced Adidas at champions Chelsea and with Manchester City also sporting its logo.

Spurs finished second last season behind the Blues and will play at Wembley in the coming season ahead of a move back to a new stadium based on the site of their previous White Hart Lane Home.

Reports earlier in the year suggested the deal could be worth three times as much as the £10million a year Under Armour contract it replaces.

“We are delighted to be partnering with Nike, one of the world’s leading brands,” Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy said in a statement confirming the deal.

“Nike is committed to partnering with us both at home, at a time when our new stadium scheme is the catalyst for the regeneration of Tottenham, and globally, with our growing fan base mirrored by Nike’s worldwide reach.”

Source: PA

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Mohamed Salah and Chelsea are cleared of any wrongdoing by CAS

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Chelsea have been cleared of wrongdoing after the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed a complaint brought by Fiorentina.

Salah, who recently joined Liverpool from Roma, joined Fiorentina on loan from Chelsea in January 2015 for the remainder of the 2014-15 season.

But Fiorentina alleged breach of contract when the Egpyt winger instead moved to Roma on loan for the 2015-16 season in a deal which later became permanent.

FIFA threw out the complaint in May 2016 and, 13 months on, CAS has come to the same conclusion.

A CAS statement read: “CAS has dismissed the appeal and confirmed the decision issued by the FIFA dispute resolution chamber on May 26, 2016 (FIFA DRC) in which Fiorentina’s claim for compensation of Euros 32 million was rejected.

“The CAS panel found that the player did not breach the employment agreement by returning to Chelsea FC after June 30, 2015 and that Chelsea FC did not induce the player to terminate the employment agreement without just cause.

“Accordingly, it dismissed the appeal and confirmed the FIFA DRC decision.”

Salah, who joined Chelsea from Basle in January 2014, joined Liverpool for 39million euros (£34.3million) on June 22.

Source: PA

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Mohamed Salah and Chelsea cleared of wrongdoing by CAS

Mohamed Salah says he wants to win trophies after completing his move from Roma to Liverpool.

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah and Chelsea have been cleared of wrongdoing after the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed a complaint brought by Fiorentina.

Salah, who recently joined Liverpool from Roma, joined Fiorentina on loan from Chelsea in January 2015 for the remainder of the 2014-15 season.

But Fiorentina alleged breach of contract when the Egpyt winger instead moved to Roma on loan for the 2015-16 season in a deal which later became permanent.

FIFA threw out the complaint in May 2016 and, 13 months on, CAS has come to the same conclusion.

A CAS statement read: “CAS has dismissed the appeal and confirmed the decision issued by the FIFA dispute resolution chamber on May 26, 2016 (FIFA DRC) in which Fiorentina’s claim for compensation of Euros 32 million was rejected.

“The CAS panel found that the player did not breach the employment agreement by returning to Chelsea FC after June 30, 2015 and that Chelsea FC did not induce the player to terminate the employment agreement without just cause.

“Accordingly, it dismissed the appeal and confirmed the FIFA DRC decision.”

Chelsea fiercely criticised Fiorentina for their conduct.

A spokesman for the Premier League champions said: “Chelsea’s position throughout this case was that Fiorentina had acted in bad faith in bringing a claim which was totally unfounded.

“We are pleased that the CAS panel came to the same conclusion, with Fiorentina’s case rejected in full and costs awarded to Chelsea and the player.

“We look forward to the full decision being published so that everyone can see the lengths that Fiorentina were prepared to go to in order to extort large sums of money from Chelsea and the player.”

Salah, who joined Chelsea from Basle in January 2014, joined Liverpool for €39million (£34.3m) on June 22.

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Pogba says silverware is ‘all that matters’ in response to Man Utd criticism

Paul Pogba has shaken off criticism of Manchester United‘s 2016-17 campaign by stating winning trophies is “all that matters”.

Jose Mourinho’s first year at Old Trafford resulted in three additions to the Old Trafford trophy cabinet in the form of the Europa League, League Cup and Community Shield.

However, having spent a world-record fee on Pogba, which could be worth up to 110million euros (£92.35million), and acquired Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his first transfer window, Mourinho’s side were expected to fare better than their eventual sixth-placed Premier League finish.

Their style was also scrutinised, with Bournemouth scoring more league goals, yet Pogba has responded by insisting silverware is the only measure of any team’s success.

In an interview with Esquire magazine, the 24-year-old Frenchman said: “I accept that we didn’t play well, we didn’t do this, we didn’t do that. I know what we did – we won three trophies. That’s all I know.

“And that’s all that matters. Because you can be the best team in the world, you can play great football and you win zero trophies. And who remembers them? No one. Right?”

Earlier in the season Pogba had said his status as the world’s most expensive player had created unrealistic expectations of what his role at Old Trafford should be.

Yet he insisted that the price tag was not something he had personally contemplated since he swapped Juventus for Manchester last summer.

“After one week, I forgot,” he claimed.

“It’s people that reminded me. Because at the end of the day, when you die, the most expensive and the less expensive, they go in the same grave. So I don’t even think about it.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Pogba spoke about his upbringing and the impact of the death of his father Fassou Antoine earlier this year.

He was also asked if, as a Muslim living in the city, he had a message for the people of Manchester following the terrorist attack at Ariana Grande’s Manchester Arena concert, which occurred less than 48 hours before the Europa League final kicked off.

Pogba, who scored in that win over Ajax, had dedicated the victory to the 22 people who were killed by the suicide bomber when speaking after the game.

“It’s a very difficult moment but you cannot give up,” he said.

“We can’t let them get in our heads, we have to fight for it. Sad things happen in life but you cannot stop living.

“You cannot kill a human being. To kill a human’s something crazy, so I don’t want to put religion on it. This is not Islam and everybody knows that. I won’t be the only one saying that.”

Source: PA

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FC Dallas Toronto FC short on numbers while California Clasico looms large

ESPN FC’s Alejandro Moreno breaks down the best in MLS with his weekly awards.

Jason Davis takes a look at some of the top matchups and storylines ahead of Week 19 of the 2017 Major League Soccer season in this edition of W2W4.

Contenders clash, minus some key players, in Dallas

In any other week, a clash between the 2016 Supporters Shield winner and the defending Eastern Conference champion would be a really big deal. FC Dallas and Toronto FC are two of the most talented teams in Major League Soccer, each a serious contender to win silverware this season.

As it is, this game is made a little less big by the timing of the match. The Gold Cup looms, which means several starters will be missing from the combined starting XIs. For FC Dallas, Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges are already away with the United States men’s national team, while Toronto arrives short of five players, including possible starters Justin Morrow and Raheem Edwards. Striker depth will be an issue for Toronto too with Tosaint Ricketts and Armando Cooper called up by Canada and Panama respectively, while Steven Beitashour is also out injured.

But Toronto FC will still have Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco in their lineup under the heat of the Texas sun. Considering the holes he has to fill, coach Oscar Pareja certainly has a tougher task than his counterpart Greg Vanney, something that could give the visiting team a bump. Vanney might decide to rotate his team, however, with Toronto fresh off a Tuesday victory in the Canadian Championship.

This is going to be a tough midfield ask for the more depleted FC Dallas team, though the more time Mauro Diaz gets to settle in after his long injury layoff, the better they’ll be moving forward.

Toronto FC will be missing five players because of call-ups, but will still have Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore in the lineup against FC Dallas.

Columbus aims for measure of revenge against Atlanta

Columbus Crew SC and Atlanta United are separated by a single point in the Eastern Conference standings, and while it’s much too early to call this match a playoff six-pointer, it could lead to something of a shakeup. Columbus might also be on the hunt for revenge; just two weeks ago, Gregg Berhalter’s team was pressed and harried into several mistakes that Atlanta turned into a 3-1 win.

That game was at Bobby Dodd Stadium, in front of Atlanta’s vociferous support. This time, Crew SC will have the home-field advantage.

The advantage might take a hit thanks to a bit of drama swirling around Columbus. Midfielder Dilly Duka was disciplined for tweeting internal team stats in what looked to be a complaint about playing time. Berhalter excluded Duka from training, and Duka will not be in the 18 against Atlanta. Duka hasn’t played in a single match this season, but with Columbus’ recent history of internal drama, there’s reason to be concerned about team dynamics.

Atlanta has no such issues and will bring what amounts to a full-strength squad to Ohio. Venezuelan striker Josef Martinez returned from injury and picked up where he left off in terms of goal scoring. It will be up to the Crew SC defense to slow him down. That defense could include Ghanaians Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful. The pair were called up by Ghana for the friendly against the U.S. on Saturday, but FIFA should allow for Berhalter to recall them.

California Clasico puts heat on new San Jose coach

The California Clasico is always an emotional affair, regardless of where the two teams sit in the standings. In the season’s first meeting, the LA Galaxy beat the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium 4-2 on May 27.

The 65th match overall between the teams will go down at Stanford Stadium. A sellout crowd should be on hand, and the ground has served as backdrop to some of the most dramatic moments in the late history of the Cali Clasico.

The Quakes enter the game fresh off a shocking shift in leadership on the sideline. Venerable MLS head coach Dominic Kinnear was dismissed after last week’s win over Real Salt Lake, summarily dumped despite leading San Jose to a playoff position at this point in the season on one of the league’s more modest budgets. Chris Leitch, a 10-year MLS veteran as a player who has served as the club’s technical director for two years, moves into the head coach role. Leitch’s lack of coaching experience and the near universal respect Kinnear commanded in San Jose and around the league means the pressure is on the 38-year-old new coach.

LA will be missing Giovani dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes, both of whom are on international duty. San Jose will lose several players to the Gold Cup, but Panamanian midfielder Anibal Godoy should be in the lineup before heading to join his international teammates.

Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.

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Jason Kreis return as Orlando City coach a reminder of how far Real Salt Lake has fallen

Jason Kreis, Luis Gil and Giles Barnes look ahead to Orlando City’s match against Real Salt Lake.

Real Salt Lake’s long fall from grace began with a dinner invitation.

Just days after RSL lost the 2013 MLS Cup final on penalty kicks, and despite a proven core seemingly primed to contend for years to come, longtime coach Jason Kreis summoned his players to his home to inform them that he wasn’t renewing his contract. He loved Salt Lake, he assured his dinner guests, but it was time for a new challenge.

Kreis’ ill-fated decision to take the New York City FC job shook Salt Lake to its foundation. In truth, ahead of his return to Rio Tinto Stadium with Orlando City on Friday night (9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN/WatchESPN), RSL still hasn’t solved the identity crisis his departure triggered.

Salt Lake is currently the worst in MLS in points per game (0.94), losses (11) and goal-difference (-20). The firing of Jeff Cassar, Kreis’ successor and former assistant, just three matches into this season, has not provided the intended spark. There are caveats — injuries and international absences foremost among them — and with a slew of talented youngsters breaking through, RSL could be decently positioned moving forward.

Yet there’s little doubt that what was once MLS’ model small-market franchise has fallen on hard times. It has been less a free fall than a gradual, protracted slide. If it started with the departure of Kreis, it didn’t end there.

Attrition continued the following offseason when general manager Garth Lagerwey left for Seattle, and again that August, when president of soccer and two-time MLS executive of the year Bill Manning headed to Toronto. Few, if any, teams in the league could have successfully weathered that kind of brain drain.

It’s tempting to connect the dots between local entrepreneur Dell Loy Hansen assuming full ownership of the club in early 2013 and the bloodletting that followed. (Hansen hasn’t done himself many favors on the PR front, either, with the club infamously having pulled the credential of a journalist who was critical of the owner last summer.)

Yet most of those involved insist the departures were inspired less by clashing personalities than the allure of higher-profile gigs with bigger clubs. That dynamic was nothing new for RSL, from the front office to the roster itself.

So much of Salt Lake’s success was predicated on prioritizing the collective over the individual. “The team is the star,” became a rallying cry, and if it were cliche, it rang true about a squad filled with players who had been written off elsewhere. That ethos became harder to maintain with every consecutive playoff appearance, the 2009 MLS Cup title and run to the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League final, as castoffs turned into standouts.

“We thrived on being a team that could consistently punch above our weight,” Kreis told ESPN FC in a recent interview. “We were a victim of our own success. We could no longer be salary-cap compliant with all of those big players who had done so well.”

Orlando City’s Jason Kreis returns to Utah on Friday night, coaching against the team he led to its greatest heights.

Kreis’ ambitions — as would Lagerwey’s and Manning’s later on — also began bumping up against the ceiling of what was possible at a club of RSL’s size. New York City FC, backed by the financial might of the New York Yankees and Manchester City of the English Premier League, represented an especially alluring alternative.

Looking back now, even after lasting just a single season in The Bronx before being fired and now coaching for his reputation in Orlando, Kreis said he has no regrets.

“I don’t believe in thinking that way,” Kreis said. “Even if I am to force myself into thinking that way, the what-ifs or whether I would change anything, the answer is no. I think it was time to move on. I wanted to take a leap of faith. I wanted to challenge myself and take that risk.”

This is his second trip back to Rio Tinto as an enemy combatant, having visited with NYCFC in 2015.

“It was surreal,” said Kreis, who was Salt Lake’s first-ever player signing before becoming its coach. “It felt almost like an out-of-body experience. It was really, really odd to be sitting on the other bench, to be in the other locker room, to not be feeling the support of the fans. It was difficult, for sure.”

Difficult is a concise way to describe the path his former club has followed in trying to move on from Kreis’ far-reaching influence.

With Lagerwey still around and most of that aforementioned core still in place, Salt Lake returned to the postseason in 2014 only to get flattened by LA Galaxy 5-0 in the conference semifinals. RSL missed the playoffs a year later, and though it returned in 2016, it did so only because Portland choked on the final day of the regular season. RSL’s stay lasted all of 90 minutes before another elimination at the hands of the Galaxy.

Craig Waibel, who took over from Lagerwey as GM, has been open about how daunting it has been to follow the man he calls “the best general manager that’s ever been in Major League Soccer.”

“I would tell you very comfortably, and very confidently, that I’m still learning this position,” Waibel said.

This campaign has been bleak, a perhaps inevitable bottoming out. Salt Lake finds itself stuck between eras, with standbys such as Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman still hanging around and the next generation not quite ready to take the reins. RSL lost the first three games of the season, a stretch that cost Cassar his job, and a brief spike under new coach Mike Petke has since flatlined.

Waibel is frank: “We’re not where we want to be. That’s clear.” He’s also optimistic to a degree that feels misplaced at first glance, but more justifiable the deeper you dig. Injuries are a fact of life in any sport, but Salt Lake has been especially hard-hit. Friday’s match against Orlando is the first time all year RSL has had anything close to a full squad.

Danny Hoesen and Marco Urena both had chances for multiple goals, but one each was enough to lead San Jose past RSL.

Waibel says he has the roster flexibility and financial means to make multiple “impact” signings during the upcoming summer transfer window, some of which could be completed within the next week.

Asked about the changing culture of the club, Waibel said he’d take it one step further: “It’s a new era of MLS.”

In the age of the Designated Player and targeted allocation money, it’s tougher to build on the cheap. In his playing days, Waibel won MLS Cups with Earthquakes and Dynamo teams stocked with overlooked players looking to prove doubters wrong.

“Salt Lake was built in a similar way,” Waibel said. “Salt Lake was successful because it had a chip on its shoulder. The teams with the most to prove seemed to do the best… We’ve entered a new realm. Building a roster is much different and much more difficult.”

RSL is aided on that front by a burgeoning group of prospects funneled through its highly lauded academy — whose new, $60 million, 132-acre facility is currently under construction in the suburb of Herriman, Utah. Justen Glad, Brooks Lennon and Sebastian Saucedo each represented the U.S. at the Under-20 World Cup last month, and six of the 11 players who started in San Jose last weekend (in what ended, granted, in a 2-1 loss) came through the club’s academy system.

“We are redefining ourselves,” Waibel said. “We’re building a different way. We’re building a new culture that is educated, that is young, that is entertaining… And that takes a little bit of time.”

It’s taken more than three years. RSL could very well come out the other side stronger for all the recent adversity. For now, the end game is still hypothetical.

On Friday night, the sight of Kreis in the opposite dugout will give an unhelpful reminder of how good things used to be, how far the club has to go to approach anything close to those former heights, and what could’ve been if the former coach had never called together that unhappy dinner party in the winter of 2013.

Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter covering primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.

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Alexis Sanchez clear over Arsenal future but keeps cards close to chest

Alexis Sanchez has revealed he knows in his mind where he will be playing next season but has stopped short of announcing his plans.

The 28-year-old Arsenal forward has been linked with a move away from the Emirates Stadium this summer and has just 12 months remaining on his current deal with the Gunners.

Sanchez, currently at the Confederations Cup with Chile, hit 30 goals last season but cut a frustrated figure at times as Arsenal finished fifth in the Premier League and crashed out of the Champions League following a 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich.

His contract situation, coupled with a lack of Champions League football for Arsenal in the coming season, has seen the former Barcelona man linked with the likes of Manchester City and Bayern.

While Bayern have reportedly cooled their interest, speculation over a reunion with City boss Pep Guardiola, who Sanchez played for at the Nou Camp, continues.

Sanchez spoke to the media to preview the Confederations Cup final meeting with Germany and was sat alongside City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

When asked if he would be a team-mate of Bravo next season, Sanchez replied: “Good question. Right now I’m focused on the Confederations Cup. When this is finished I will see if I stay or if I go. I don’t know.”

Sanchez then confirmed he had made a decision when asked if his future was clear in his mind, adding: “Yes it’s clear, but I can’t tell you.”

He also batted down a question over his Arsenal future.

“I don’t know, my friend, I don’t know,” he told Sky Sports News when asked what the chances were of him staying put.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has said Sanchez will not be allowed to leave this summer and he would rather see the player leave on a free transfer at the end of his contract next year.

The club’s record signing, Mesut Ozil, is in the same position with reports last season claiming the pair want parity with the Premier League’s top earners before signing fresh terms.

Source: PA

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Al-Hilal Al-Ubbayyid chase a win in Obayed over Recreativo do Libolo

Recreativo Do Libolo captain Dario De Sousa Borges

Phumzile Ngcatshe

Friday Jun 30, 2017. 13:30

Sudanese giants Al-Hilal Al-Ubbayyid are out to claim the maximum points as they meet Angola’s Recreativo do Libolo in a CAF Confederation Cup, Group C match on Saturday.

The hosts are motivated to play after coming from a 2-1 win over Egyptian side SC Smouha in their previous match.

However, coming to this encounter, they know winning at home is crucial in the tournament and will go out to do so.

Al-Hilal lead Group C with seven points from five matches after two wins and one draw.

With matches slowly becoming few in the group stages, a win will be vital for the home side.

In the opening round, the Bulls claimed a 1-0 win in Libolo and this encounter presents an opportunity for coach Ibrahim Hassan’s men to avenge the loss.

Looking at the visitors, Libolo are placed at number two on the log table with six points from five matches.

Heading to Sudan, they will be gunning for their third win in the group as they have six points.

Coach Vaz Pinto’s charges will be in high spirits ahead of this tie as they are fresh from a 3-0 win over Zambian side, Zesco United last week.

The encounter is set to be staged at Al-Ubayyid Stadium in Al Obayed on Saturday at 20:00 (CAT).

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El-Badry wants a win over Zanaco desperately – 2017 CAF Champions League

Graeme Jackson

Friday Jun 30, 2017. 13:00

Ahead of their CAF Champions League, Group D encounter against Zambian side Zanaco FC, Al Ahly coach Hossam El-Badry admits they are desperate to reach the knockout stages of the competition.

El-Badry says his charges will have to use their experience in the club continental tournament to protect their legacy come Saturday.

The Red devils are fresh from a 2-0 loss against Wydad Casablanca and will now want to bounce back to winning ways in Lusaka.

Although he said his players are aware of the importance of the game against Zanaco, he acknowledged it will not be an easy assignment.


“Experience is very important. The name Al Ahly is very big in Africa and we need to do well. All we are thinking about is qualification,” El-Badry said.

“It will be a tough match because now we are not only thinking about ourselves [Al Ahly] and Zanaco but there is also Wydad Casablanca from Morocco. We know what we need to do.”

The coach has also named his squad for the encounter set to be staged at National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka on Saturday.

Al Ahly full squad:

Goalkeepers: Sherif Ekramy, Ahmed Adel, Mohamed El-Shennawy.

Defenders: Ahmed Hegazy, Rami Rabia, Saad Samir, Mohamed Naguib, Mohamed Hany, Ahmed Fathi, Sabri Rahil, Ali Maaloul.

Midfielders: Hossam Ghaly, Hossam Ashour, Amr El- Sulaya, Saleh Gomaa, Momen Zakaria, Karim Nedved, Ahmed Hamoudi, Abdallah El-Said, Walid Soliman.

Forwards: Junior Ajayi, Amr Gamal

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Horoya eyeing SuperSport scalp – 2017 CAF Confederation Cup

Grant Kekana of Supersport United celebrates a goal with teammates during the 2017 CAF Confederation Cup match between CF Mounana and Supersport United at the Libreville Stadium in Gabon on 23 May 2017 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Phumzile Ngcatshe

Friday Jun 30, 2017. 12:30

CAF Confederation Cup Group D log leaders, Athletique Club Horoya will be hoping to retain the full three points when they host SuperSport United on Saturday.

The Guinean side has had a good run in the competition as they sit at the top of the log table with eight points so far.

After five matches in the campaign, Horoya have eight points from two wins and two draws.

Their biggest asset is their solid defending as they have conceded only three goals.

The previous meeting between these two sides in South Africa produced a 2-2 draw.

Coming to the second-placed United, the Pretoria-based side will want to claim a win and also maximise their chances of making it to the next stage.

This match comes after their triumph in the Nedbank Cup final last weekend over Soweto giants Orlando Pirates and their morale is high.

However, United only have one win to show for their efforts in Group B coupled with three draws – they have six points.

The encounter is set to be staged at Stade du 28 Septembre in Conakry on Saturday, 01 July at 17:00 (CAT).

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Manchester City and Tottenham to enter Checkatrade Trophy

Manchester City and Tottenham have accepted an invitation to enter their academy sides into the 2017/18 Checkatrade Trophy having turned down the opportunity last season.

They join Premier League champions Chelsea in agreeing to enter their under-23 teams alongside League One and League Two sides, a move which was implemented last year to mixed success.

Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United have once again abstained from entering the tournament with only category one academies receiving an invite.

While fans stayed away in their droves for much of last year’s competition, over a third of the EFL clubs voted to retain the format for the next two seasons with few amendments.

Now City and Spurs will enter their own academy outfits into the group stages, which will be formed to keep travel time down for supporters and will see the 16 youth sides play all of their group games away from home.

The invitations are extended to the 16 teams who finished highest in the Premier League table last year and hold category one status.

Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, Burnley, Watford and Hull miss out as they are not classed as category one, while Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United rejected the chance to participate.

The 12 remaining top-flight clubs from last season, including relegated pair Middlesbrough and Sunderland, will all be involved.

So to will Sky Bet Championship winners Newcastle and fellow promoted side Brighton, with Reading and Fulham completing the line-up of academy sides.

Coventry beat Oxford to win last season’s Checkatrade Trophy in front of 74,434 fans at Wembley.

The revamped competition came in for harsh criticism earlier in the season with sparse crowds and protests against in the involvement of the Premier League youth teams.

But 66.6 per cent of League One and League Two clubs voted in favour of retaining the format, rather than reverting to the previous straight knockout tournament or scrapping the competition completely.

Several amendments were announced to the format, including an increase in competition funding to £3million, regionalisation of fixtures being in place until the quarter-final stages and the ability to play matches outside of international weeks on the calendar.

It was the scheduling of the fixtures and the clash with international dates that played a major part in both Tottenham and Manchester City opting out last season.

But now it will be hoped that their presence in the tournament will serve as a shot in the arm for the group stages, which will be drawn in July and will begin the week commencing August 28.

Source: PA

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AfricanFootball previews the weekend’s CAF Confed Cup action

Ben Ngita of TP Mazembe challenged by Clayton Daniels of Supersport United during the Caf Confederation Cup match between Supersport United and TP Mazembe at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Pretoria on 20 June 2017 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Graeme Jackson

Friday Jun 30, 2017. 12:00

AfricanFootball previews Matchday 5 of the 2017 CAF Confederation Cup, with this weekend’s action set to to paint a clear picture of who is going to progress into the quarterfinals.

The action gets underway on Friday evening as Smouha SC and Zesco United battle to reignite their quarterfinal hopes with a Group C clash in Alexandria, while MC Alger will fancy their chances of securing progression with a win at home to Group B’s last-placed Platinum Stars.

Saturday also features just two matches, with Horoya AC of Guinea and SuperSport United – who come into the game having won South Africa’s Nedbank Cup last weekend – meeting in a top-of-the-table Group D match in Conakry, while the night match sees Sudan’s Al-Hilal Al-Ubayyid host Recreativo Libolo in a potential Group C decider.

Sunday will see a busy afternoon and early evening in the competition, with the focus mainly falling on the Group A matches: KCCA v FUS Rabat in Kampala and Rivers United v Club African in Port Harcourt. All four teams are locked on six points and it would take a brave soul to bet on anything other than home wins, which is all this pool has produced so far.

Elsewhere, three-time Confed Cup champions CS Sfaxien face a potential banana skin in their Group B match at Mbabane Swallows, while defending champions TP Mazembe will need to ensure they are not the first team to concede a point to CF Mounana in Group D, when they face the Gabonese side in Libreville.

CAF Confederation Cup Matchday 5 fixtures
All times CAT

Friday 30 June

Group C – Smouha SC v Zesco United – 18h00

Group B – MC Alger v Platinum Stars – 22h00

Saturday 1 July

Group D – Horoya AC v SuperSport United – 17h00

Group C – Al-Hilal Al-Ubayyid v Recreativo Libolo – 20h00

Sunday 2 July

Group A – KCCA v FUS Rabat – 15h00

Group B – Mbabane Swallows v CS Sfaxien – 15h00

Group A – Rivers United v Club Africain – 17h00

Group D – CF Mounana v TP Mazembe – 17h00

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Already eliminated Coton Sport fight for pride in Garoua

epa05543424 Zamalek’s Bassem Mrsi (R) in action against Wydad Casablanca player Ayoub Qasmi (L) during the African Champions League (CAF) Semi Final first leg soccer match between Zamalekand Wydad Casablanca at Borg Al Arab stadium in Alexandria, Egypt, 16 September 2016. EPA/KHALED ELFIQI

Bertin Basson

Friday Jun 30, 2017. 11:30

Coton Sport will be eager to give their fans something to smile about when they welcome Wydad Casablanca to the Roumdé Adjia Stadium in Garoua on Saturday.

Already out of the running for the 2017 CAF Champions League title, the Cameroon giants will seek some redemption this weekend.

Kick-off is at 17h00 CAT.

Les Cotonniers have suffered four successive defeats in Group D, including two home losses and a 2-0 defeat away to Wydad in Casablanca, in the reverse fixture.

Al Ahly and Zanaco have both beaten Coton Sport in Cameroon in this season’s competition, with the Zambians having netted a stoppage time winner to steal all three points.

In contrast, 1992 champions Wydad returned to winning ways with an impressive 2-0 win over the White Knights last time out. Fabrice Ondama and Walid El Karti on target for the ‘Kings of Titles’.

Victory re-igniting the Moroccan league champions chances of reaching the knockout stages following two successive defeats.

Kenyan referee Davies Omweno will take charge of the clash.

Al Ahly and Zanaco cross swords at the same time in Lusaka with the Zambians eager to keep hold of top spot.

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Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic makes international beach volleyball debut

While many footballing contemporaries are lounging around on luxury yachts, Ivan Perisic is spending his summer holiday doing something a little more active.

Indeed, the Inter Milan winger, who has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United, made his professional beach volleyball tournament debut this week.

Perisic partnered with Niksa Dell’Orco to represent Croatia at the Porec Major event.

Sadly, Perisic and Dell’Orco slumped to a heavy defeat in their opening match against Brazilian pair Alvaro De Morais Filho and Saymon Barbosa Santos, who won comfortably in straight sets.

Still, there were glimmers of skill from the home pair.

Alas, Perisic also tasted defeat in his second pool game on Thursday, wherein he ended up losing to a team from the United States.

“This was always my dream. I have been playing beach volleyball since I was 10. I’m very passionate about this game and every summer I have been practising with my friend,” the 28-year-old told reporters.

“I’d like to thank everyone who has given me the opportunity to play with the best beach volleyball players in the world. It felt amazing — even though I lost.”

Chris covers the funny side of the game for ESPN FC in the Toe Poke blog.

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David Wagner signs new two-year contract at Huddersfield

Huddersfield head coach David Wagner and his assistant Christoph Buehler have signed new two-year contracts with the newly-promoted club.

The German pair have been rewarded with improved deals after guiding the club to promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their first full season at the John Smith’s Stadium.

Wagner declared his intention to stay at Huddersfield via his agent Marc Kosicke earlier this month following approaches from a host of clubs in England and Germany.

“Head coach David Wagner and assistant head coach Christoph Buehler have reaffirmed their commitment to Huddersfield Town after signing new contracts at the club,” the Terriers announced on their official website.

“David and Christoph have put pen to paper on new contracts that will run until the summer of 2019 ahead of the club’s first ever Premier League campaign.

“The pair, alongside Town chairman Dean Hoyle, will hold a press conference to discuss their new contracts at PPG Canalside from 10am (on Friday) morning.”

Wagner’s stock has risen sharply since he and Buehler left their roles with Borussia Dortmund reserves to become shock appointments by Terriers owner Hoyle in November 2015 following the departure of Chris Powell.

Both Wagner, 45, and Buehler, 43, signed new undisclosed contracts in June last year and Hoyle has moved again to keep them following their stunning success.

Town won promotion to the top flight for the first time in 45 years last month on one of the lowest playing budgets in the Sky Bet Championship via their penalty shoot-out win against Reading in the play-off final.

Wagner pledged his commitment to Huddersfield in December last year after interest from Bundesliga clubs Wolfsburg and Ingolstadt. He had also been linked with the vacancy at Aston Villa in October last year and with Derby in March.

The Terriers were 18th in the Championship when Wagner arrived and after steering them clear of relegation at the end of the 2015/16 season, he drafted in 13 new players last summer.

As Town’s transformation last season from also-rans into genuine promotion contenders took shape, Wagner distanced himself from vacancies at various other clubs, including Leicester, West Ham and former club Dortmund.

Huddersfield made their first summer signing last week with the arrival of Belgium international striker Laurent Depoitre from Porto for a club-record fee, believed to be £3.5million.

Town hope to complete a reported £10million deal to turn midfielder Aaron Mooy’s season-long loan from Manchester City into a permanent move and are expected to smash their transfer record again with the capture of Benin international striker Steve Mounie from Montpelier.

Source: PA

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Top 10 European free transfers Totti Dani Alves Pepe Honda and more

Sid Lowe details what exactly Manchester City would be getting by signing Dani Alves.

While there is still the chance these players may be offered a new deal before the season starts, here are some of the players who are available on a free transfer across Europe this summer.

Francesco Totti

Francesco Totti is 40 but may not retire just yet.

“I don’t know where, but I am going to carry on,” Totti told friends on the night of his final game for Roma. His entourage would later brief that it was only a joke and, even if he did give the impression of not being ready to retire, it’s difficult to see Totti playing in the colours of another team after 25 years in the red and yellow of Roma. Miami FC, the club coached by former Lazio captain and Totti’s old friend Alessandro Nesta, were rumoured to have made an offer, while Japanese clubs have also shown an interest. But the smart money is on Totti staying at Roma as a director. All that remains to figure out is the role.

Dani Alves

Dani Alves looks set to sign for Manchester City.

Alves’ time in Italy ended bitterly. There were reports of a bust-up in the tunnel at half-time of the Champions League final in which he apparently came to the defence of Paulo Dybala. The veteran full-back then infuriated fans by saying Dybala should leave Juventus and posted a photo of the boots he wore when Barcelona beat the Old Lady in Berlin two years ago. As he left, Alves asked Juventus fans for forgiveness and denied he is leaving for money. It’s never been about that for him. To borrow a phrase from his former teammate Patrice Evra, Alves loves this game, not to mention playing under Pep Guardiola… Even at 34, he lit up the knock-out stages of the Champions League last season and still delivers on the big occasions. Manchester City will be getting a serial winner.


Pepe boasts a wealth of experience.

One of European football’s great villains of the last decade, Pepe was arguably the closest personification of Jose Mourinho on a football pitch until, of course, the Special One found Marouane Fellaini. The stamp on Messi’s hand and Clasicos spent as a destroyer in midfield made him a symbol of anti-football and got in the way of the fact that he is very good defender, which the veteran further underlined at the Euros last summer where he was outstanding. To last so long at Real Madrid and persuade manager after manager he deserved to be at the Bernabeu is testament to a great competitor and player. Offered to Inter and PSG, it now looks like he will become the latest Mendes client to end up at Besiktas.

Keisuke Honda

Keisuke Honda
Milan released him but Keisuke Honda is keen to stay in Europe.

Honda bade farewell to Milan in the best of ways with a beautiful free kick in a 3-0 win against Bologna at San Siro. It served as a reminder of what the 31-year-old, right-sided midfielder can do. Whether he’s prepared to play on into his 50s like Yokohama’s incredible Kazuyoshi Miura remains to be seen, but for now Honda wishes to remain in Europe for at least one more season. It’s his aim to convince Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic that he deserves a place in his 2018 World Cup squad.

Rachid Ghezzal

Lyon's Algerian midfielder Rachid Ghezzal
Rachid Ghezzal has a long career ahead of him.

Ghezzal is in his prime, still only 25, the Algeria international is to leave Lyon on a free transfer and isn’t short of offers. Ghezzal is no Riyad Mahrez but his ability as a left footer on the right flank makes him an attractive proposition for teams who like an inverted winger. He starred in the derby win against Saint-Etienne in October and was Man of the Match when Lyon upset champions Monaco at the Stade Louis II before Christmas. Ghezzal will make an interesting pick up for someone.

Antonio Cassano

Antonio Cassano still has what it takes to succeed.

“I’m still the best there is in Italy,” Cassano told Sky Italia a week ago. Frankly it’s hard to know given how little he plays. Cassano took six months out two seasons ago and hasn’t played at all this year after falling out with Sampdoria. His talent is undeniable, even at 34, and is matched only by his ability to have a blazing row with an owner or manager. But having said all that he’s a loveable rogue and the prospect of him reuniting with Giampaolo Pazzini at Verona is exciting. His offer to go back to Parma, who just won promotion to Serie B, fell on deaf ears, as memories of how he walked out on them at the first sign of financial trouble are not dead yet.

Kevin Grosskreutz

Kevin Grosskreutz
Kevin Grosskreutz has not played for a couple of months.

Once the poster boy of the Jurgen Klopp revolution at Borussia Dortmund, Grosskreutz, who used to stand in the Yellow Wall, has suffered quite the fall from grace. Promoted Stuttgart terminated his contract after he was hospitalised following a fight while out with some academy players in March. The two-time Bundesliga winner, who was also a member of Germany’s World Cup winning squad, is taking some time out but could be persuaded to return.

Mirko Vucinic

Mirko Vucinic once starred for Roma and Juventus but wants a return to Italy.

Remember him? The Montenegro international has spent the last couple of years sunning himself in the Arabian Gulf League with Al-Jazira but wants one last crack at Europe. Now 33, Vucinic will perhaps struggle to find a team in one of the Europe’s major leagues. In fact, he seems more inclined to let romance and nostalgia dictate his decision. A return to Lecce where Vucinic first made his name looks on the cards.

Thiago Motta

Thiago Motta in action for Paris Saint-Germain during a Coupe de la Ligue game against Metz in January 2017.
Thiago Motta would bring great intelligence to any team.

One of the most underrated players of his generation, Motta was not only a big part of Inter’s treble winning side but has played a big role in mentoring Marco Verratti at PSG. A metronomic, tempo-setting midfielder, Motta is like a coach on the pitch and while his body can’t do everything it used to, his brain still means he is one or two steps ahead of opponents. He’s a chess player. Motta’s agent has set a deadline of Friday June 30 for PSG to hammer out an extension. If can’t reach an agreement, an orderly queue will form to sign the 34-year-old.

Eric Choupo-Moting

Thiago Motta would bring great intelligence to any team.

Surplus to requirements at Schalke, the 28-year-old frustrated fans in Gelsenkirchen. Choupo-Moting used to get into some great positions but his decision-making and finishing left the crowd at the Veltins Arena wringing their hands. Memories of his final season at Mainz when he hit double figures will persuade teams into taking a chance on him. His ceiling isn’t perhaps as high as Schalke thought but he could still prove a useful for mid-table team.

Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

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Bournemouth sign Nathan Ake from Chelsea for club record fee

Bournemouth have signed Chelsea defender Nathan Ake for a club record fee, reported to be in the region of £20million.

The 22-year-old Holland international, who spent the first half of last season on loan with the Cherries, has put pen to paper on a long-term deal at the Vitality Stadium, the Premier League club have announced.

He joins former Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe who completed a move to Bournemouth on Thursday as manager Eddie Howe continues his summer recruitment ahead of the 2017-18 season.

Source: PA

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FC Bayern München to face Bayer 04 Leverkusen in 2017/18 season opener

DFL announces 2017/18 Bundesliga schedules: FC Bayern München open campaign against Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

Champions FC Bayern München will kick off the 55th Bundesliga season against Bayer 04 Leverkusen on 18 August (20:30 CEST).

The opening game of the Bundesliga 2 campaign will be on Friday, 28 July (20:30 CEST) as VfL Bochum 1848 host FC St. Pauli.

The complete schedules are available now at and

The precise timings for the first matchdays of Bundesliga fixtures will be announced the week commencing 10 July. Those for Bundesliga 2 will be announced in the first week in July.

Precise timings for the remaining matchdays will follow over the course of the season taking into account the appearances of clubs in European competitions and the DFB Cup.

Watch: Bayern and Leverkusen set to go head to head on Matchday 1

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Germany’s Under-21s: The triumphant class of 2009

On Friday night in Poland, Germany will take on Spain in a bid to win the UEFA European Under-21 Championship for only the second time. looks back on the 2009 tournament, when a team packed with future FIFA World Cup winners swept to victory.

Nine years after Germany’s group-stage exit from Euro 2000, the DFB’s decision to invest in an ambitious youth development programme was starting to pay off. Germany, a country that had won nothing at youth level since 1992, would in 2009 become the first nation to hold all three major continental titles.

A year previously a German team managed by Horst Hrubesch and featuring the Bender twins – Lars and Sven – had won the European Under-19 title. In May 2009, a side built around Borussia Dortmund attacker Mario Götze captured the Under-17 crown.

Watch: Mario Götze’s opening-weekend stunner

At the start of 2009, Hrubesch was installed as interim manager of the Under-21s. Unlike this year, there was no Confederations Cup to drain the resources available to the coach as he prepared for the European Championship in Sweden. Germany had topped their qualifying group, although a defeat in Moldova suggested that they were not the finished article.

“We want to compete for the title in Sweden,” Hrubesch said prior to the tournament. “It is not an easy draw but we want to make it through the first round.”

Looking at the players available, it is easy to see why the former West Germany international was relatively confident. Wearing the number one jersey was 23-year-old Manuel Neuer, who had just completed his third season as Schalke’s first-choice goalkeeper and had already gained plenty of UEFA Champions League experience.  

A 20-year-old Jerome Boateng had played in the Bundesliga for Hamburg for two seasons and Mesut Özil had scored the winning goal in the DFB Cup final for Werder Bremen two weeks before the European Championship kicked off. The team was captained by Sami Khedira, who had won the Bundesliga with Stuttgart only two years previously.

Neuer would make his senior debut for Germany days before linking up with the Under-21s, while Özil, Gonzalo Castro, Andreas Beck and Marko Marin had already been capped by Joachim Löw.

Watch: Manuel Neuer is the world’s undisputed No.1

In Sweden, though, a star-studded side took a while to get going and drew 0-0 with Spain in their first game. Afterwards, Hrubesch said his team had shown their opponents too much respect, but tipped Özil to make up for missing a chance to win the match.

“Özil is hard to describe as a player,” he said.  “He has near-perfect skills, can play at pace and play on the left or right

“The only thing missing today was a goal, but I’m convinced he’ll have a good tournament. He’s an important player for the team and he’s one of the most perfect players I’ve ever had.”

Goals from Benedikt Höwedes and future Iran international Ashkan Dejagah saw Germany past Finland before Boateng set up Castro to score the opener in their final group game against England. Stuart Pearce’s side levelled to go through as group winners, however, leaving Hrubesch fuming.

“The only thing I’m happy about is reaching the semi-finals. I can’t live with the way we did it,” he said.

The coach demanded an improvement, and his players delivered in the last-four clash with an Italian side that included Mario Balotelli. Germany were indebted to Neuer in the first half, but controlled things once Beck – a future Hoffenheim captain – got the only goal shortly after half-time.

That result set up a rematch with England in the final, a game in which Dortmund centre-back Mats Hummels was deployed as a holding midfielder to cut off the supply to Theo Walcott. Once again it was Castro who struck first, clipping home on 23 minutes after a defence-splitting pass from Özil.

Click here to read how this year’s squad made the Under-21 final

The provider then became goalscorer three minutes into the second half as Özil’s long-range free-kick was fumbled by England net-minder Scott Loach. The English were missing the suspended Joe Hart, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Frazier Campbell and as a result they suffered at both ends of the pitch. In the final 11 minutes Sandro Wagner netted twice – with his left foot and from the edge of the area with his right – to complete a 4-0 success.

Watch: Sandro Wagner was a key cog in the Hoffenheim machine in 2016/17

Özil, as predicted by Hrubesch, had been superb and the way Germany hit ruthlessly on the counter was a sign of things to come in later years.

“My team hit form at just the right time and did it in style,” Hrubesch said afterwards.  

His players did not stop there. Beck, who now plays for Besiktas, said that the tournament was a “huge stepping stone” for the squad, although some had already been well on the road to success.  

“It was clear that not only stars but also superstars would emerge from this team,” Beck told Sportbuzzer this week.  

“It was apparent that Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil were on this path – they were outstanding in every age group.

“I think Mats Hummels developed hugely since 2009 and the tournament also gave Jerome Boateng a boost. Both are now world-class players.”

It is testament to the Bundesliga, the DFB’s underage system and of course the talent within the squad that every one of the starting eleven from the final went on to play at senior level for Germany or – in Fabian Johnson’s case – for the United States.

Watch: Fabian Johnson’s Goal of the Season contender

Neuer, Höwedes, Boateng, Özil and Hummels all started the 2014 World Cup final too and Khedira would have done had he not pulled up injured in the warm-up. Perhaps it is fitting that Wagner finally got his chance for Löw’s senior side in the same month that a new generation has reached the Under-21 decider.

“You only have to look back at 2009 to see what winning the title represented for these players,” Hrubesch told the DPA this week.  

“One thing is clear. When you become European champions in your age group, then you have achieved something that very few people manage in their career.”

Germany’s 2017 finalists are just one win from joining the select few. Beyond that, anything is possible. The world-beating achievements of the class of 2009 attest to that.

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Cologne’s Jhon Cordoba: ‘Anyone can beat anyone in the Bundesliga’

With two career goals against Bayern Munich to his name and a game modelled on Didier Drogba, new Cologne signing Jhon Cordoba’s confidence is more than a little understandable.

The Billy Goats moved quickly to bolster their squad ahead of their first raid on European football in 25 years, with the signing of the Colombian striker Cordoba from Mainz. caught up with the 24-year-old target man recently to get his thoughts on football in Germany, his role models in the game… and the culture shock that is recycling… Jhon Cordoba, Colombia has exported many great strikers to Europe, such as Faustino Asprilla, or Adolfo Valencia – the 1990s Bayern player who everyone called “the train”. Are they your role models?

Jhon Cordoba: Honestly, my role model is [Chelsea and Côte d’Ivoire legend] Didier Drogba! I just like his physical style of play, which he showed in every game when he was at Chelsea – the best period of his career. Is your game becoming more similar to his? Have you improved as a player?

Cordoba: I have to keep working hard on my game. I’m not where I want to be yet. I want to become a great player, so I have to keep on pushing in that direction. I’m happy to have scored my first goals. I’ve improved physically and now I can start to score more. Do you prefer to play as a lone striker or with a partner up front?

Cordoba: I can play both ways, but as a lone front man you often end up with support anyway. That’s what used to happen with Yunus Malli at Mainz. I really like playing this way. You scored the winner for Mainz in a 2-1 win over Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in March 2016. Was that the highlight of your career so far?

Cordoba: To score in such a stadium, against a team like that and picking up three points, is of course wonderful. It was an incredible feeling, especially since my family back home were watching that game very closely.

Watch: Highlights of Mainz’s shock 2-1 win at Bayern! You are from Istmina, a town in the west of Colombia. How did you progress from there to this level of football?

Cordoba: I grew up in a small town [Istmina has a population of 25,000], but there was a football academy there. I first began playing with a ball when I was seven, and when I turned 11 I joined a professional academy where I could train at a higher level. My passion for football was always there. Becoming professional has always been my dream. You had a curious route to Cologne: from Colombia to Germany via Mexico and Spain…

Cordoba: It is not that unusual: Mexican clubs like to sign Colombian players. I moved to Chiapas because the club wanted me to be the replacement for Jackson Martinez, who had just left for FC Porto. As for my style of play, I may look like Martinez, but it was difficult to replace him. What did you know about the Bundesliga before you arrived?

Cordoba: The truth is that I let myself be advised by [former Mainz midfielder] Elkin Soto, who had played here for a long time and was also an international player for Colombia. At first I had some injuries that prevented me from playing. However, now I am playing in one of the most important leagues in the world.

Watch: Cordoba living the dream in Germany What do you think of the Bundesliga compared to La Liga in Spain?

Cordoba: They are two completely different leagues. In the Bundesliga you have to go at full throttle – you cannot lose a single second. In Spain, the game is slower. Greater focus is put on possession and tactics. In Spain there are only two or three big teams, though. In Germany, anyone can beat anyone. What do you think of the atmosphere in the stadiums in Germany?

Cordoba: In Granada the stadium was always full, but that was unusual in Spain. In Germany, on the other hand, all the stadiums are always full to capacity. It’s great. The atmosphere here is always fantastic. What is the most surprising thing about Germany, culturally speaking?

Cordoba: The recycling system (laughs)! I still don’t understand it.

Cordoba was speaking to Tobias Schächter

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