Low attendance figures continue at U-20 World Cup, but why?

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As the knockout stages of the Under-20 World Cup begins in Turkey today, one factor is hugely noticeable as the world’s top young talent continue to square off.

Where are all the fans?

Game after game the attendances seem to have got worse, with only the Turkish U-20 team able to draw decent crowds. Other nations such as Iraq and Egypt have had sizable followings, given their closeness geographically, but that is about as good as it gets.

Trying to analyze why the crowd numbers are so low isn’t easy. But one aspect sticks out more than most.

Location, location, location.

Despite being just within the boundaries of Europe, Turkey sits thousands of miles away from the huge conurbations of London, Paris, Western Germany and the larger cities in Spain, Italy and central Europe.

Those are the regions soccer fans inhabit more readily than any other areas. They have more disposable income and are willing to travel to watch soccer games, however with the European championships occurring in Poland and Ukraine last time out, European soccer fans may have had enough of traveling so far out East to cheer on their nations.

FIFA have aired their displeasure at the low attendances with the Chairman of the Organizing Committee, Jim Boyce, speaking of the disappointing figures.

“Despite the Local Organizing Committee’s excellent event preparation, I am nevertheless very disappointed by the match attendance figures,” Boyce said. “This tournament is a wonderful chance for Turkey, but the low number of spectators currently detracts from this opportunity.”

But one other huge factor that has hampered crowd figures across Turkey, is the large anti-government protest that erupted in the weeks leading up to the U-20 World Cup.

(MORE: USA begin U-20 World Cup quest vs. Spain)

For me, that is a huge reason why fans are not attending the tournament. Couple that with the current unrest in the region as a whole — more violent outbreaks in Syria, Egypt and Iraq have broken out during the event — and many supporters from the Western world have been put off. Turkey’s long-term aim to get into the EU seems to have vanished, and having failures at  tournaments such as this will impact the country’s ability to attract other high profile sporting events in the future.

During the opening 12 games of the tournament, the average attendance was a mere 4,828 spectators per game, which was in fact the lowest figures since the U-20 World Cup began in 1977.

On the eve of the tournament on June 20, just 300,000 tickets were sold. 1.3 million were available, meaning over 75% of tickets went unsold. That is remarkable.

(MORE: U.S. U-20 squad crashes out of U-20 World Cup after shellacking by Ghana)

People are readily citing the ‘Gezi effect’ for the lack of spectators, following the lengthy protests sparked off across the country due to the governments plans to build shops and other modern buildings in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. The decision to build on such a sacred spot, which dates way back to the Ottoman Empire, has since been delayed. But unrest remains and spectator numbers have been effected.

As we’ve discussed many other issues come into play, you can’t solely blame anti-government protests for poor attendance.

Regardless, you can watch the play get back underway today, as Mexico take on Spain in their tough last-16 clash at 10:45am ET this morning, live on ESPNU, ESPN3.com and ESPN Deportes in North America.

Hopefully it isn’t in another empty stadium. But, sadly, it probably will be.

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.