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Tunis on high alert for African title showdown

Category : AFP

Tunis (AFP) – Tunisian police deployed more than 6,000 officers as well as drones and canine units for a hotly anticipated CAF Champions League final on Friday after a controversial first leg.
Between 50,000 and 55,000 fans are expected to pack Rades stadium in a southern suburb of the capital for the battle between Tunisia’s Esperance and Al Ahly of Egypt.
Ahly, bidding to win a ninth continental crown, enter the second leg holding a 3-1 lead after a stormy first leg on November 2 in the Egyptian city of Alexandria when they converted two disputed penalties.
“The last time the stadium was so full was before the 2011 revolution… But all preparations are in place, we’re ready,” National Security spokesman Walid Ben Hkima told AFP.
He said metal detectors had been installed for the first time at all gates into the ground and extra security measures taken to protect Ahly players and staff and the 2,000 to 3,000 accompanying Egyptian fans.
Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed met this week with officials of Esperance and the country’s football federation to discuss match security.
Esperance coach Majdi Traoi told a news conference on Thursday that he had “great faith in the supporters” of his club and did not expect trouble.
At a semi-final match last month between Esperance and Primeiro Agosto of Angola, clashes between police and fans left 51 people injured and led to 12 arrests.
Tensions have run high since the death in March of a young supporter who drowned near the Rades stadium after being chased by police. An investigation was opened and 17 policemen have been charged in the case.

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Only winning title will silence critics says Klopp

Category : AFP

London (AFP) – Jurgen Klopp admits he is frustrated that the high expectations surrounding Liverpool’s Premier League title bid have overshadowed their strong start to the season.
Klopp’s third-placed side have won eight of their 11 matches in an unbeaten opening to the league campaign.
But despite their position among the leading title contenders, Liverpool have endured criticism of late after some erratic displays both domestically and in the Champions League.
A midweek loss at Red Star Belgrade was especially underwhelming, but Reds boss Klopp believes the doubters are wrong to question his team.
Aware that champions Manchester City and in-form Chelsea — both also unbeaten in the league — have garnered more praise than Liverpool, Klopp launched a passionate defence of his side on Friday, claiming only winning the title for the first time since 1990 will be enough to silence the critics.
“The season so far-wise, points-wise in the Premier League, has been really successful,” Klopp told reporters.
“But it doesn’t really feel like that because there are two reasons in comparison with last year: free-flowing football in a few games and Man City and maybe Chelsea and a few others play a very good season as well.
“It feels a bit like this season can only be a success if we become champions.
“Our competitors are the champions of last year (Manchester City), the champions of two years ago (Chelsea), a more refreshed Arsenal and a more experienced Tottenham and Manchester United.
“That’s a really tough job but we have no problem with that, we go for everything. We have to build on our situation, we have to get better, to get more confidence out of the season.”
– ‘Not easy game’ –
Klopp admitted the 2-0 Champions League defeat to Red Star Belgrade “was a rather massive knock which was not expected”.
“Now we have to react for us in the right way, not only on Sunday, but in general.”
Fulham head to Anfield on Sunday having slid to the foot of the table after a miserable run of five consecutive defeats.
But Klopp bristled at suggestions Liverpool should thrash the west Londoners.
“I would be really an idiot – a few people think I am but not that much – if I would talk about any goal difference before that game,” Klopp said.
“This is a really strange situation for Fulham, I can really imagine how they feel. Their football is good, they caused (Manchester) City a lot of problems.

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Mourinho side-steps City’s Financial Fair Play row

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Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Jose Mourinho has described the quality of Manchester City’s work on the pitch as “untouchable” while refusing to get embroiled in the controversy about alleged Financial Fair Play breaches made by his rivals.
Mourinho’s Manchester United side travel across the city on Sunday for a Premier League derby against their neighbours, who are two points clear at the top of the table.
However, the build-up to the match has been overshadowed by a series of Football Leaks reports claiming that Abu Dhabi-owned City artificially inflated sponsorship deals in order to comply with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations.
City, who were given a £49 million fine after they were found to have breached the rules in 2014, have responded by saying that they will not comment on the specific allegations.
They claim that the criticism they have faced is an “organised and clear” attempt to damage their reputation.
United manager Mourinho declined to answer in depth when asked if he thought about the allegations against City.
“It’s difficult for me to answer because I focus on my job. I focus on the four lines, focus on football,” Mourinho told reporters on Friday. 
“So if you want to speak about their football potential we can speak, and football potential starts with investment.
“After that, of course, there is a quality of the work, of the organisation, I think that is untouchable.
“But what is behind, I cannot say. But in this moment I have only to think about football, and to think about football is to think about Manchester City as a football team there.”
Mourinho has instead preferred to focus on the fighting spirit of his own players, who go into Sunday’s derby having won three matches in a row, coming from a goal behind to win the past two, at Bournemouth in the Premier League and a memorable 2-1 win against Juventus in the Champions League that rolled back the years.
– Mourinho optimistic-
United produced an arguably even more impressive comeback victory on their last visit to City in April, recovering from two goals down to win 3-2 on a day when Pep Guardiola’s side would have secured the title with a win.
City still won the league anyway, finishing 19 points clear of United in second, but Mourinho sees reason for optimism as his side look to improve on their current position of seventh.

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‘Whatever it takes’ – Kashima vow to seal title in Tehran

Category : AFP

Tehran (AFP) – Japan’s Kashima Antlers pledged to keep their focus and finish off Persepolis in the Asian Champions League final as they head to Tehran’s imposing Azadi Stadium with a 2-0 advantage from the first leg.
The eight-time Japanese champions go into the game with a handy cushion but they will face a test of nerve as well as skill at the 78,000-capacity Azadi, arguably the region’s most intimidating venue.
Second-half goals from Brazilian duo Leo Silva and Serginho, who scored his fifth in five Champions League appearances, gave Kashima a convincing win last week on home soil.
But defender Shuto Yamamoto said an opening goal from Persepolis in Tehran would turn the tie upside down on Saturday as both teams bid to lift the trophy for the first time.
“I believe it’s important we don’t concede the first goal, because if they score first they will build on that momentum. With that in mind I really want to focus at the beginning of the match,” Yamamoto said, according to the Asian Football Confederation website.
“Of course, we don’t want to concede and so having a strong defence and keeping an awareness of risk management is vital. But to win the game, one goal can change the situation entirely.
“Having a strong defence is a must, but when we have the opportunity to we will also look to score. This will be our style, I think.”
With tickets virtually sold out, the game will set a new attendance record, eclipsing the second leg of the 2014 final when 63,763 watched Al Hilal and Western Sydney Wanderers at Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium.
A fervent home atmosphere will boost the chances of Branko Ivankovic’s team mounting another comeback, after they erased a two-goal deficit against Qatar’s Al Duhail to reach the semi-finals.
“I never experienced playing in front of that many spectators before, so I am feeling excited to have the opportunity to do so,” said Yamamoto.
“It will be a rare experience, but at the same time we want to win this game so we will do our best as a team.”
Silva also said Kashima would have to be on their guard in Tehran, warning that “nothing is finished yet”.
“We all worked together and did everything we needed to today, but now we have to make sure we keep our concentration and make sure that in the end we take the title,” he said after last week’s game.

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Solari to make closing argument for revived Madrid job

Category : AFP

Madrid (AFP) – Santiago Solari is pitching for more than just three points as Real Madrid continue their revival under the interim coach and head to Celta Vigo aiming for their fourth straight win.
Solari’s time as the European champions’ stop-gap following Julen Lopetegui’s sacking will expire over the international break, and club president Florentino Perez needs to decide whether to take the Argentine on permanently.
Real have bounced back under Solari, with Wednesday’s 5-0 drubbing of Viktoria Plzen a clear sign of life in the struggling giants.
A win at bouncing Balaidos could well be enough to convince Perez the job should be Solari’s, at least until the end of the season, when a more established alternatives could be available. 
“We’re doing fine with him,” striker Karim Benzema said on Wednesday. “I don’t see a coach coming for one or two months, for me Solari has to stay until the end of the season. He’s a great coach. Now we have more confidence and we are going to fight.”
Few could begrudge Solari the opportunity to prove himself after stepping up from Madrid’s B team to take charge. 
Madrid have scored 11 and conceded none since Solari’s arrival, against admittedly modest opposition — Melilla from the Spanish third tier, Real Valladolid at home and Plzen. 
Luck has also played its part, as Vinicius Junior’s deflected shot prevented what looked set to be a stalemate against Valladolid with seven minutes to play. A draw there and Solari’s tenure might never have got off the ground. 
However it was Solari’s decision to bring on the 18-year-old Vinicius, whose youthful exuberance produced an ambitious strike at the end of a weaving run.
Celta will offer a sterner test this weekend. They are the third highest scorers in the division and in Iago Aspas boast the sort of smart finisher Madrid might have signed in the summer. 
– Messi return? –
Aspas’ eight goals this term puts him one up on Lionel Messi, who could return on Sunday when league leaders Barcelona host Real Betis after three weeks out with a broken arm. 
Messi was included in Barca’s travelling squad to face Inter Milan on Wednesday but watched from the stands as his side reached the Champions League knockout stages with a 1-1 draw at the San Siro. 
“We wanted him to travel with the team, to train to see how he was,” coach Ernesto Valverde said.

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Juve focus on AC Milan after Man United slip

Category : AFP

Milan (AFP) – Massimiliano Allegri urged Juventus not to dwell on their slip-up against Manchester United but instead to use the Champions League drama to avoid a repeat against AC Milan in Serie A on Sunday.
Juventus lost to two late goals against the Premier League club for their first defeat of the season, but will be determined to extend their unbeaten run in Serie A as they target an eighth consecutive league title.
The Italian champions have 31 points from 11 games — six points ahead of Inter Milan and Napoli — with AC Milan in fourth position, a further four points adrift along with Lazio.
Another banana skin could await at the San Siro against Gennaro Gattuso’s Milan who have pulled off some late winners themselves recently, with a 97th-minute goal sealing victory over Udinese last weekend.
“No one expects to win all games, but this kind of defeat, especially from a psychological point of view, can upset us,” said Allegri.
“But it will make us smarter and first up we have the match against AC Milan.”
“I’m not worried but we just need to be more accurate in front of goal,” added the coach after a series of misses on Wednesday following Cristiano Ronaldo’s stunning volley that put them in control.
Allegri’s side were the only Italian team to lose in European football during the week.
Inter Milan held Barcelona 1-1, with Napoli drawing against Paris Saint-Germain by the same scoreline, and Roma beating CSKA Moscow 2-1.
Lazio booked their passage to the knockout rounds of the Europa League with a 2-1 win over Marseille with AC Milan snatching a point at Real Betis.
“Now we’ve got two and a half hours to fly back and do some work on the plane,” said Gattuso.
“Juventus are one of the best sides in Europe, not just in Italy, but we won’t sit here crying. We’ll face them and play our football.”
– Injury woes –
Both sides have injury problems with Milan midfielder Lucas Biglia out for four months after surgery on a calf muscle tear.
Their top-scorer Gonzalo Higuain went off with a back twinge against Udinese but is expected to return against his parent club after joining Milan on loan from Juve in the close season.
Inter, meanwhile, travel to Atalanta, with Napoli, who are behind Luciano Spalletti’s side on goal difference, travelling to Genoa on Saturday.

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Henry’s Monaco in disarray as PSG come to town

Category : AFP

Paris (AFP) – Winless in 15 matches and coming off the club’s heaviest European home defeat, it could well get worse for Thierry Henry and Monaco this weekend with the visit of runaway Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain.
Monaco’s flickering Champions League knockout hopes fizzled out completely with a “shameful” 4-0 defeat by Club Brugge in midweek, leaving Henry still chasing his first victory as manager since taking over from Leonardo Jardim.
The odds are massively stacked against his injury-depleted side ending that wait on Sunday. Monaco have lost their last seven meetings with PSG — including a 7-1 thrashing in the last league clash in April.
Meanwhile, PSG are off to a record-setting start with 12 successive wins, the best-ever start to any of Europe’s so-called big five leagues — Spain, England, Italy, Germany and France.
“We need to try and get back on the right track. I hope we’ll find the solution to stopping Paris,” said Henry, albeit admitting “the worst is possible”.
“We’re trying to do everything to regain a sense of calm but if you don’t win it’s difficult,” he added.
“We lost another player to injury in (Kamil) Glik. That’s not going to help matters as we already had 10 or 11 injured players. I have to be positive, otherwise what can you do?”
Henry received the backing of France boss and former team-mate Didier Deschamps, Monaco’s coach when they reached the 2004 Champions League final, who believes the 41-year-old can excel in management. 
“He is starting in a tough and difficult situation,” said Deschamps. “He’s just beginning but he has all the abilities to become a very good coach.”
PSG will look to put a turbulent week off the pitch to one side. The club has come under scrutiny following Football Leaks revelations about their breaches of Financial Fair Play regulations, while a probe is underway into claims that young players were subject to racial profiling by talent scouts.
Monaco owner Dmitry Rybolovlev also made the headlines on Wednesday after the Russian billionaire was charged with influence peddling and bribery in connection with a fraud case involving a Swiss art dealer.
– Anelka lands in Lille –
With PSG a staggering 11 points clear already, Montpellier hope to maintain their surprise push as the best of the rest away to Angers on Saturday.
“We’ve got to maintain the spirit we’ve shown since the start of the season, but in football everything’s fragile and can change quickly. We can’t get carried away,” said coach Michel Der Zakarian.

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Make-or-break? Kovac in firing line as Bayern tackle Dortmund

Category : AFP

Dortmund (Germany) (AFP) – Bayern Munich are embracing the role of underdogs for Saturday’s Bundesliga showdown at leaders Borussia Dortmund with captain Manuel Neuer admitting all is not well with the defending champions.
Bayern have won 10 of their last 19 games against Dortmund, including a 6-0 thrashing of the current league leaders last March when Robert Lewandowski scored a hat-trick against his former club in Munich.
Six months later, third-placed Bayern trail Dortmund by four points in the table and struggling for form under coach Niko Kovac.
In the wake of a 2-0 defeat at Hertha Berlin and a 3-0 upset at home to Moenchengladbach — with Bayern out-played in both league games — the Bavarian giants have laboured to beat even limited teams in recent weeks.
“We are not the ‘Super-Bayern’ that everyone knows and aren’t setting off fireworks with our performances,” admitted Neuer after Wednesday’s laboured 2-0 win over AEK on Wednesday in the Champions League.
Even Bayern president Uli Hoeness sees the Bavarians as “underdogs” at Dortmund, a notion the hosts reject.
“We’ve heard what has been said, but we don’t care — we are just enjoying the situation,” said Dortmund’s director of sport Michael Zorc on Thursday.
“It doesn’t make much sense to compare (Dortmund with Bayern) — they have won the last six Bundesliga titles.”
– Unrest in Munich –
On paper, there is little cause for concern from Bayern’s perspective.
They trail Dortmund by only four points and on the verge of the Champions League knock-out stages, topping their group with 10 points.
Yet frustrating recent performances tell a different story with rumours of unrest in the dressing room.
Senior players Thomas Mueller, Mats Hummels, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are reportedly not behind Kovac — a toxic situation for any head coach at Bayern.
Ex-Bayern and Germany legend Lothar Matthaeus believes Saturday’s match can make — or break — Kovac’s tenure.
“A victory there and all Bayern fans would conjure up a smile again,” said Matthaeus, 57, who sees a “great chance” for Bayern to “reassert themselves and silence a few critical voices”.
However, defeat would leave Bayern seven points behind Dortmund — a near-unthinkable situation for Hoeness — with Matthaeus warning Kovac is effectively “not allowed to lose with his team in Dortmund”.
Thomas Mueller expects an electric atmosphere at Dortmund in front of an 81,000 sell-out crowd.
“We will have to torture ourselves a bit,” said the Germany midfielder.

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City out to settle Manchester derby score as Leicester honour Vichai

Category : AFP

London (AFP) – Premier League leaders Manchester City can ensure Manchester United’s recent revival is short-lived by opening up a 12-point gap on their local rivals on Sunday.
Meanwhile, a series of tributes are planned as Leicester return to the King Power Stadium for the first time since club owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and four other people were tragically killed in a helicopter crash.
Here, AFP Sport looks at three things to watch out for in the Premier League this weekend:
City with a score to settle
The champions hold just a two-point lead over Chelsea and Liverpool at the top of the table, but have looked relentless in recent weeks and shown no sign of a slip in standards from their record-breaking 100-point Premier League campaign of last season, scoring 12 times in their last two outings alone.
One of precious few blemishes from last term, though, was blowing the chance to claim the title by beating United at the Etihad as City threw away a 2-0 half-time lead to lose 3-2.
That result only marginally stemmed the tide in the power shift across Manchester towards City since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
United have failed to finish above City in the league since, and are already nine points behind the leaders.
However, Jose Mourinho’s men were also buoyed by their best result of the season by a distance in winning at Juventus in dramatic fashion on Wednesday to back up victories over Everton and Bournemouth.
Defensive concerns remain for Mourinho, though, with United keeping just one clean sheet in their last 10 matches. Stopping a City side averaging four goals a game at the Etihad in the Premier League this season is a monumental task.
Leicester remember Vichai
Two weeks after Vichai’s helicopter crashed in the car park of the King Power shortly after Leicester’s last home match against West Ham, the Foxes will again pay tribute to the man who helped produce one of the greatest upsets in sporting history as a team labelled a 5,000-1 shot won the Premier League in 2016.
Leicester players, staff and fans united for an emotional victory at Cardiff last weekend before the players flew to Thailand to pay their respects at Vichai’s funeral.
More tributes will be made ahead of kick-off with an expected 20,000 fans set to take part in a walk from Leicester city centre to the stadium in Vichai’s honour, as well as a video tribute before kick-off and a two-minute silence jointly in memory of the victims of the crash and Remembrance Sunday.

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Leicester return to King Power Stadium for emotional farewell to Vichai

Category : AFP

London (AFP) – Leicester return to action at the King Power Stadium on Saturday with football a mere afterthought as fans prepare to pay heartfelt tribute to the man who turned their dreams into astonishing reality.
Manager Claude Puel’s pre-match preparations for the game against Burnley were disrupted after he and a number of players, including Jamie Vardy and Kasper Schmeichel, travelled to Thailand to pay respects to the late Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
Leicester owner Vichai was killed in a helicopter crash just outside the ground along with four other people after his club’s 1-1 draw at their King Power Stadium on October 27.
His shocking death — moments after taking off from the pitch — sent shockwaves through Leicester, where the charismatic Vichai had become a beloved figure in the club and the city — a feat rarely achieved by Premier League clubs’ billionaire owners.
It was under Vichai’s ownership that Leicester crafted one of the biggest fairytales in English football history by winning the 2015/16 Premier League, having started the season as 5,000-1 outsiders for the title.
The team, currently 10th in the Premier League, returned to action last weekend, beating Cardiff 1-0 away but Saturday will give a chance to a capacity crowd to show their appreciation for the man who transformed their club.
A special “Tribute to Khun Vichai” video will be shown on big screens before kick-off followed by a two-minute silence and fans will receive commemorative scarves and souvenir matchday programmes in honour of the club’s late chairman.
– Tributes –
Tribute T-shirts will be worn by the players during their warm-up and Khun Vichai’s name will be embroidered on the team’s match shirts during the first half.
The second-half shirts will bear the embroidered poppy symbol in honour of those who have given their lives in war, with the match selected as the club’s annual remembrance fixture, 100 years after the end of World War I.
“We know our fans, they are fantastic… there were 3,000 of them at our last game in Cardiff, it was a fantastic reunion with the fans,” Puel said.
“After the game, there was a lot of emotion that we shared with them and we can imagine what it will be like at home with 30,000 people in the stadium.”
Puel admitted preparing for the game against struggling Burnley had been tough, with emotions running high.
“It’s not easy to prepare this game, but the togetherness between us all, it’s a good feeling, a good energy, a fantastic strength,” he added.

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