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Rio Ferdinand withdraws from England’s upcoming qualifiers

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The story here isn’t that Rio Ferdinand isn’t playing. His withdrawal due to fitness concerns was foreshadowed by Alex Ferguson this weekend. The story is more about how we got here, with the nine-month history of Ferdinand under England boss Roy Hodgson inverting on itself after today’s news.

Because of the particular way the 34-year-old has to manage his fitness (subtext: his bad back), Ferdinand isn’t prepared to accept Roy Hodgson’s recall to the England national team. He called the England boss today to explain the peculiarities of his situation, an explanation the Three Lions boss both bought and appreciated:

“I’m disappointed Rio will not be available but due to the detailed pre-planned training and medical programme he must follow it’s not possible,” said Hodgson. “However, I was pleased that Rio called and asked to meet with me. It was important to hear from him personally about the way he must manage his body between games.”

That must have been a remarkable conversation. Recall last summer, when Rio Ferdinand (above) shared his feelings that his exclusion from England’s Euro 2012 squad had less to do with health concerns than internal conflicts. Hodgson, heading into his first major tournament, decided to exclude Ferdinand while professing doubt about whether the veteran defender’s health would allow him to compete in a three-plus-week tournament. For Ferdinand, the exclusion had more to do with his inability to play with John Terry, who at the time faced charges on racially abusing Ferdinand’s younger brother, QPR defender Anton.

Fast forward nine months, and the tables are turned, even after Hodgson once mistakenly said Ferdinand would no longer be considered. John Terry’s retired from international duty, and thanks in part to Michael Dawson’s withdrawal from the upcoming qualifiers, Hodgson’s thin in the middle. And he’s now convinced Ferdinand’s fitness won’t be a problem.

source: Getty Images“This is not to say he cannot play back-to-back games – he can and has proven so,” Hodgson (right) said on Monday. “He’s out this time due to particular pre-planned details already in place for his programme.”

Ferdinand could meet England’s demands, but to do so, it seems he needs to be at a different point in his program. And not anticipating a callup to the national team, Manchester United’s staff probably outlined a routine assuming he’d have a week off. And that didn’t happen.

“The issue is not [the amount of games],” Alex Ferguson said this weekend.  “The issue is his whole preparation for football today. It involves treatment, it involves rest, it involves heavy days followed by some light days followed by some easy days.”

It sounds like the England callup just came at the wrong time, something Ferdinand had to explain personally.

So it is that Hodgson’s reach comes up empty-handed, but give the England boss some credit. Although he’s saying the right things and being convivial about the whole situation, Hodgson has ultimately been vindicated. It’s still questionable whether fitness concerns were the only reasons Ferdinand didn’t go to Euro 2012, but given health is keeping him out of the national team for San Marino and Montenegro, Hodgson would be justified in a “I told you so!”

But that’s not the Roy Hodgson we know.

“I must place on record how I was impressed with his commitment to playing for England,” Hodgson said. “I look forward to hopefully selecting him for squads in the future.”

The feeling is mutual.

“One thing I made clear was that my passion and commitment to represent my country is as strong as ever,” said Ferdinand. “It is disappointing that I won’t be able to play a part in the upcoming games but I told Roy that I want to continue to be available for England and I look forward to working with him in the future.”

It took a long time for them to come together, but Hodgson and Ferdinand are back on the same page. It puts the player back where he belongs – where should have been all along. We don’t see him in uniform this week, but there should be a time in the near future where we’ll see Ferdinand in all white once more.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.