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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.

VIDEO: 70-yard volley from Chile is nearly impossible to believe

Alejandro Camargo, Universidad de Concepcion
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His name is Alejandro Camargo, and he scored what might just go down as the best goal of 2016 on Sunday: an impossibly perfect volley from well beyond the halfway line.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

Miguel Pinto is the opposing goalkeeper whose long-range clearance, which covered about 50 yards during the final seconds of Universidad de Concepcion’s clash with O’Higgins in the Chilean first division, was taken off the fly, first-time, by the Argentine midfielder to seal a 3-1 victory for the home side.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

“The coach told us Pinto was always playing in advance of his goal, so I closed my eyes and hit it,” Camargo said after the game.

“Hit it and hope” has never looked so good.

Roma fans stay away from derby to protest new security barriers

A view of a huge section of empty seats as Roma fans desert derby in protest over security barriers, during a Serie A soccer match between Lazio and Roma, at the Rome Olympic stadium Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
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ROME (AP) Roma’s most ardent supporters stayed away from the derby match against Lazio in protest at barriers introduced at the start of last season in their area.

Normally filled with supporters waving huge banners, lighting flares and singing, half of the “curva sud” — southern end — of the Stadio Olimpico was left empty for Sunday’s match.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

Three of Roma’s locally born standouts held a meeting with the “ultra” fans during the week. Captain Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi asked the supporters to return, and the club itself has also tried to resolve the matter.

But the appeals had no effect.

In contrast, Lazio fans filled the northern end of the stadium as usual.

The plexiglass barriers were put in place by city officials for security reasons.

VIDEO: “Behind The Badge: Watford FC” — Episode 2

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In Episode 2 of Behind the Badge: Watford FC, watch the players’ recovery after a win against Leicester, a look at the club’s one-of-a-kind internship program and a flashback to a memorable moment in Watford’s history.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

To watch past episodes of Behind The Badge, including last season’s edition featuring a look inside Crystal Palace, head over to the full archive by clicking here.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Above video
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Pardew saves his job, says Palace owners “don’t know a lot about football”

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Alan Pardew, Manager of Crystal Palace thumbs up prior to the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Southampton at Selhurst Park on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
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While some may advise that keeping a low profile would best suit Alan Pardew right now, Crystal Palace’s embattled manager is of a totally different mindset.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Following Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Southampton, in which Pardew’s side saved his job (for the time being), the 55-year-old Eagles boss and former player chose the first bright moment, Palace’s first Premier League win since Sept. 24, to hit out at the club’s new American owners with a scathing assessment of the footballing prowess, or perhaps lack thereof — quotes from the Guardian:

“The chairman got a bit edgy this week, as you’d expect. We have a lot of serious investors at the club who perhaps don’t know a lot about football so the chairman has been defending me.

“I always think as a manager at any level, particularly in the modern era, expect the sack. Just expect it; it’s coming at some stage, so just do your job as best you can. Every week, that’s what I try to do.

“Sometimes it’s hard to dress up six defeats when you’re the owner of the club and you have investors. Obviously there are things he’s got no control over but he’s tried to offer me all the assistance that he could. He’s been brilliant for me and I just want to say thank you to him really.”

With various reports linking Sam Allardyce and Roberto Mancini to a job which he still holds, it’s understandable that Pardew would be slightly on edge, quick to thump his chest and restake his claim as the right man for the job, but perhaps alienating and borderline embarrassing the new investors, who are now responsible for signing your paychecks, wouldn’t have been my go-to move.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

On the other hand, as Pardew rightly stated in the above quotes, his day of reckoning will eventually arrive, so what’s he really got to lose?