Arsenal may want Simon Mignolet, but Paolo Di Canio’s prepared to fight for him

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In the wake of a run-in that left Sunderland fortunate to stay in the Premier League, manager Paolo Di Canio is promising big changes. The Black Cats may need “half-a-dozen” new signings this summer (really, an annual ritual around the Stadium of Light), though in order to keep that number from escalating, Di Canio’s going to have to hold on to the few solutions he has. That means keeping Steven Fletcher, retaining Stephane Sessegnon, and fighting off the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool for Sunderland’s true gem: goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

The 25-year-old Belgian was among the league’s best `keepers this season, facing the second-most shots in the league as he played every minute for the flounder Cats. Behind that barrage, Mignolet felt the downside of Martin O’Neill’s negative tactics, his ability tested not only with shots on goal but having cut out changes on endless balls sent into his area. Both aggressive off his line and posessing quick shot-stopping reflexes, Mignolet was given plenty of opportunity to shine behind a terrible team.

Unfortunately for Di Canio, it may be impossible to keep Mignolet now that clubs near the top of the table are in pursuit. No young Belgian heads to England to spend the rest of his career at Sunderland. Teams like the Black Cats provide a proving ground for foreign talent eager to work their way into the league’s seven high-profile teams. Once one comes knocking, it’s usually a matter of extracting full value.

Depending on how Liverpool feel about Pepe Reina, that my be difficult to extract from the Reds, as it’s unclear Brendan Rodgers is ready to let the Spaniard return to Barcelona. Arsenal, on the other hand, moved away from Wojciech Szczesny at year’s end, and while Arsène Wenger has typically imported younger goalkeepers, Mignolet makes sense if he’s looking for a new number one.

Able to speak five languages (Flemish, Dutch, German, French, and English), Mignolet will immediately be able to communicate with the bulk Arsenal’s defenders, and being a rare footballer with a four-year degree (politics, University of Leuven), Mignolet may be a natural fit for Wenger’s more erudite approach.

Add in the fact Arsenal won’t have to set any transfer records to bring the Belgian to The Emirates and everything lines up, though if Di Canio’s remarks to the Hartlepool Mail are to be taken at face value, Mignolet’s move would be a contentious one:

“It is clear that we have to bring in players over the summer – half-a-dozen, maybe more,” said Di Canio.

“We finished near the relegation zone and so it is obvious that we need to make changes to make sure that we are not in this situation next season.

“But at the same time we already have some quality players here, and I want them to stay.

“I want to build something here at Sunderland and take the club forward – that is my mission. So the last thing I want to do is to let any of our quality players leave.

“Simon is a top class goalkeeper,” he said. “He’s very important to us.”

For Di Canio, it would be better if he cashed in and reinvested the money. Sunderland needs some much at so many positions, getting a potential eight-digit (or, high seven-digit) sum for your goalkeeper has to be considered. With Irish international Kieran Westwood on the bench, the Cats have somebody who should be able to do a minimal job should a different replacement fail to head north.

For Arsenal, it’s just a matter of prioritization. If they do have a £70 million war chest, as has been speculated, how much of that do they want to allocate toward a goalkeeper? And are they willing to give up on Wojciech Szczesny?

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

AP Photo/Bryan Woolston
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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia