Egypt faces biggest challenge of World Cup qualification yet in Ghana

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Fate threw one final piece of adversity at Egypt and head coach Bob Bradley during the draw for the African World Cup qualification playoffs when it matched the Pharaohs against Ghana. Bradley’s bogey team from his time as the United States coach stands in his way once again, at the end of a qualification campaign fraught with stumbling blocks.

From revolutions to riots to massacres, Egypt’s road to the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been probably the most difficult in the world. If Bradley can carry his team that one final step, his status as national hero would climb again, nearly to the point of erecting another pyramid in his honor.

“In Egypt, everyone speaks about their World Cup dream, regardless of their political background,” Bradley said in a press conference on Thursday (via KingFut). “Qualification could indicate that the country is moving forward.”

The Pharaohs’ perfect record in the final round of qualification will be severely tested in the first leg in Kumasi, Ghana, on Tuesday (noon ET, beIN Sport). In 18 matches between the countries, Ghana has won eight, while the teams have drawn five times. The most recent matchup was a 3-0 friendly win for the Black Stars on Jan. 10.

However, the record in competitive fixtures has been much closer, with each team taking a win and drawing once in three Africa Cup of Nations games spanning from 1970 to 2010. In the 2010 final, Egypt took the trophy after a narrow 1-0 win, delivered in the 85th minute on Gedo’s boot.

“We studied Ghana well,” Bradley said. “We respect them, but not too much. We are a good team. … We must be smart in Kumasi. We need to play with the right mentality — intellectually, but with confidence.”

Logically, confidence should be in short supply, with Egypt having failed to qualify for a World Cup since 1990, while Ghana has been to the last two, reaching the quarterfinals in 2010. However, Egypt doesn’t seem to care much for the odds this World Cup cycle, running the table in six matches against Guinea, Mozambique and Zimbabwe before meeting Ghana.

The Black Stars will be without star midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng for at least the first leg, as he suffered a knee injury in club duty for Schalke. Meanwhile, CAF qualification leading scorers Mohamed Salah and Mohamed Aboutrika are set to start for Egypt.

Leading scorer Asamoah Gyan should also get the nod for Ghana. American fans will remember him as the player who knocked the U.S. out of the 2010 World Cup with an extra-time volley in the Round of 16.

While Ghana’s attack is what Bradley will remember, the other end of the field has been the Black Stars’ best asset in qualification, conceding just three goals in six group games. However, Jonathan Mensah and John Boye are both injured after starting the last four games together in defense. Boye started all six group games for Ghana.

After everything Egypt has overcome so far, the final hurdle should provide the most difficult on-field test in reaching Brazil. Considering the context, it seems the stars have aligned for a last piece of odds-defying Pharaoh magic that could unite the country in some of its most difficult days.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

Serena Morones/The Oregonian via AP
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Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.

The 2 Robbies: “Wenger was the Guardiola of his day”

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle discuss the shock news of Arsene Wenger announcing he will stand down at the end of the season and celebrate the living legend’s career, while also exploring who will take this massive job, then finish up talking about the FA Cup semifinal results.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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