Africa has a new champion: Egypt’s Al-Ahly claim CAF title

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Like the rest of Egypt’s teams, Al-Ahly hasn’t played a domestic match since the Port Said tragedy, where rioting at a Feb. 2 soccer match in the Egyptian port city let to the deaths of 74 spectators. Al-Ahly, one of Egypt’s clubs, were facing Al-Masry that day, with players and coaches left scrambling to escape as Masry supporters surged onto the field.

In March, security concerns forced the country’s soccer federation to cancel the remainder of the Premier League season. Egypt hasn’t played since. (They’re now scheduled to resume play in December).

Since February, the only soccer seen by Al-Ahly and Zamalek (Egypt’s other big club) has been in African Champions League. Both teams played their way through initial rounds and into this summer’s eight-team group stage where the Cairo-based rivals were grouped together with former champions TP Mazembe (DR Congo) and Ghanians Berekum Chelsea.

While Zamalek stumbled, Al-Ahly finished at the top of the group, their only loss coming in DR Congo. Three matches later, and the Egyptians found themselves in Tunis, facing continental power Esperance one week after a 1-1 draw in Alexandria swung momentum in the CAF Champions League final toward the Tunisians.

But as any cynic would note, momentum is only a goal away:

(Al-Ahly is in blue. Esperance is in the yellow and red)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLQXf2rnCA4]

Your goal scorers were Geddo (putting home a 43rd minute setup from Al-Sayed Hamdy), Walid Soliman (with an amazing piece of skill before a great finish), and Cameroonian Yannick N’Djeng (who pulled Esperance within a goal of the title).

“Ahly deserved the victory as they dominated the entire game,” Esperance coach Nabil Maaloul admitted after the match.

For Al-Ahly, the win clinches their seventh continental title (a record), though the story of where they’ve been is more compelling that the accumulation of another trophy.

Forward Mohamed Aboutrika, one of the players on the field at Port Said, initially retired from soccer in the wake of February’s tragedy. “I will not play football again,” he told the club’s television station.

“People here are dying and no one is doing a thing. It’s like a war,” Aboutrika said. “Is life this cheap?”

Midfielder Mohamed Barakat said there would be “no football after [Port Said],” while forward Emad Moteab told Al-Ahly TV he would not play again until there was “retribution for the people that died.”

Nine months after considering the end of their careers, all three were on the bench today, Aboutrika getting a late runout in place of Hamdy.

After the team’s victory, the trio is on their way to Japan, their team set to represent Africa at next month’s Club World Cup.

Prosecutors question Beckenbauer in World Cup fraud case

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BERN, Switzerland (AP) Swiss authorities say prosecutors have questioned Germany soccer great Franz Beckenbauer in their ongoing World Cup fraud case.

[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT looks to build momentum vs. Honduras ]

Criminal proceedings against Beckenbauer and three other German members of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee were opened in 2015. The four are suspected of fraud, money laundering, criminal mismanagement, and misappropriation relating to a payment of 6.7 million euros ($7 million) to FIFA in 2005.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ahead of Honduras WCQ ]

The Swiss attorney general’s office said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday that federal prosecutors questioned Beckenbauer earlier in the day in Bern, adding that “Beckenbauer was cooperative.”

Beckenbauer’s home in Austria was raided last year for evidence on behalf of Swiss federal prosecutors investigating corruption linked to FIFA.

Report: Man City launching massive bid for AC Milan’s Donnarumma

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Gianluigi Donnarumma has quickly established himself as the best young goalkeeper in European soccer, and AC Milan won’t be letting the 18-year-old go without a pretty penny in return.

[ MORE: Schedule, preview for UEFA World Cup qualifying ]

According to Sky Sport Italia, Manchester City is preparing a massive bid in the range of $130 to $160 million to acquire the AC Milan shot-stopper as the English side’s goalkeeping situation is still unsettled.

The Citizens have failed to hunker down at the goalkeeper position this season despite spending big to bring in Barcelona’s Claudio Bravo, who has underperformed. Willy Caballero has also been shaky at times for the English giants, while on-loan keeper Joe Hart will almost certainly move on from the club over the summer.

Donnarumma is currently second in Serie A in saves (110), trailing only Crotone’s Alex Cordaz, who has stopped two more shots.

Since turning professional in 2015, Donnarumma has quickly enjoyed his rise through Italian football for both AC Milan and with the national team. After previously featuring for the Under-15, U-17 and U-21 sides, Donnarumma has established himself as the surefire replacement for Gianluigi Buffon once he retires from the international game.

Honduran federation suggests U.S. Soccer gamesmanship ahead of WCQ

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Three critical points are on the line for the U.S. Men’s National Team and Honduras on Friday night when CONCACAF World Cup qualifying returns to action, but the Central American side may have some added motivation.

[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT looks to build momentum vs. Honduras ]

In the lead up to their Hexagonal meeting in San Jose, California, Honduran federation president Jorge Salomon has suggested that his national team has had difficulty finding training facilities because of U.S. Soccer’s gamesmanship.

[ MORE: Five USMNT questions ahead of WCQs ]

Salomon told Honduran outlet Diez that Los Catrachos were forced to train in Fort Myers, Florida ahead of the match because of U.S. Soccer’s attempt to sabotage Honduras’ comfortability ahead of Friday.

“That’s why we went to (Fort Myers),” Salomon told Diez. “We found two (fields) but they weren’t up to the standard for a national team.

“They have blocked us from some fields to train, but that is part of the sporting psychological battle you face when you are the visiting team,” Salomon added. “It’s no problem, we have done a good job.”

Meanwhile, Goal USA is reporting that U.S. Soccer claims to have provided Honduras with the same resources that it does for every visiting opponent and that it was Honduras’ choice to train in Florida as “a cost-saving measure.”

Rapinoe named to USWNT roster ahead of April friendlies

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The U.S. Women’s National Team wasn’t at its best the last time they stepped out for the SheBelieves Cup, but Jill Ellis’ group will have a chance to find their feet again next month as they prepare to face Russia in a pair of friendlies.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ahead of Honduras WCQ ]

Ellis announced her 24-player roster on Thursday, which was headlined by the inclusion of Seattle Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe.

“This is our last chance to get together before the NWSL starts and we’ll take full advantage of the training time as well as the two matches against a team in preparation for the European championships,” said Ellis. “Following these matches, my staff and I will begin a heavy investment in attending and evaluating the NWSL games as well as tracking our players overseas before we get back together for our European trip in the summer. I’m very much looking forward to our domestic league starting.”

Back-to-back losses to England and France in the SheBelieves Cup gave the USWNT an unwanted start to 2017, however, the Russians will give the U.S. another strong test in April.

The USWNT will play the first of the two friendlies on April 6 in Dallas at Toyota Stadium before meeting the Russians three days later in Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Here’s the entire 24-player roster for the USWNT ahead of their Russia friendlies.

Goalkeepers (3): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

Defenders (6): Meghan Klingenberg (Portland Thorns FC), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Megan Oyster (Boston Breakers), Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars)

Midfielders (8): Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), Rose Lavelle (Boston Breakers), Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash/Manchester City), Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)

Forwards (7): Crystal Dunn (Chelsea FC), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride/Olympique Lyonnais, FRA), Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Mallory Pugh (UCLA), Amy Rodriguez (FC Kansas City), Lynn Williams (NC Courage)