Cardiff City 0-0 Aston Villa: Villans denied by battling Bluebirds (video)

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Cardiff City grabbed a crucial point at home on Tuesday against Aston Villa, as the away side dominated for large periods but came up against a stubborn Bluebirds defense in the 0-0 draw.

Fabian Delph, Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor all came close to scoring but Cardiff ‘keeper David Marshall was in inspired form to keep Villa’s attackers at bay with a last gasp stop salvaging a draw for the home side.

Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Bluebirds struck the woodwork twice in quick succession in the first half, as Fraizer Campbell and Craig Noone were both denied an opener, but in truth the Welsh outfit will be pleased to take a point home from this one.

With the draw Cardiff stay in 19th but are just two points from safety on 22. While Villa are 11th on 28 points.

(Latest Premier League Standings)

Villa started the better of the two sides, as the Villans young squad looked pacey on the break and caused Cardiff plenty of early problems.

But the home side settled down well and in the 12th minute they came agonizingly close to opening the scoring, as Campbell dinked his effort over Brad Guzan but the USMNT ‘keeper got a touch as the ball clipped off the post and away. Then Villa failed to clear and the ball came back to Noone moments later, but the the winger saw his shot deflect onto the crossbar and over.

Cardiff were unlucky not to get a penalty soon after, as Nathan Baker grabbed hold of Kenwyne Jones but appeals were waved away, then moments later Villa fought back as Christian Benteke headed goalwards but failed to work Cardiff ‘keeper David Marshall.

After 30 minutes Cardiff were forced into a change as Magnus Wolff Eikrem replaced the injured Jordon Mutch in midfield. Minutes later a corner was met by Ben Turner and Manchester United loanee Wilfried Zaha controlled and finished superbly… but the goal was chalked off as Zaha was in an offside position.

The rest of the first half played out evenly, in a tense affair between two teams battling for their lives at the wrong end of the table.

At the start of the second half Villa tried to pin Cardiff back, but Campbell was lively up front for the Bluebirds and created a chance for himself by turning Villa’s defense inside out but then dragged his shot wide after 52 minutes. However Villa were beginning to take a stranglehold on the game as Marc Albrighton and Leandro Bacuna saw plenty of the ball out wide as the Bluebirds dropped deeper and deeper.

Villa should have been 1-0 up just after the hour mark, as a lovely one-two saw Bacuna raced clear but instead of slotting the ball across to a wide-open Christian Benteke, the Villa midfielder dragged his shot wide. Up the other end a brief foray forward saw Jones head a great cross from the right goalwards, but Guzan saved comfortably.

In the 77th minute it was Marshall’s turn to make a save, and it was a spectacular stop as Delph’s effort was deflected by Steven Caulker and Cardiff’s ‘keeper reacted superbly to push the ball wide of the post. In the 80th minute Gabriel Agbonlahor was the latest Villa player to spurn a good chance, as he dawdled on the ball and Cardiff were able to clear.

The best of Marshall’s saves came in stoppage time, as the ball found itself to Weimann at the back post and a deflection looked to have the ball going past Marshall, but somehow the Cardiff ‘keeper sprung to his right to tip the ball over and grab his team a vital point.

LINEUPS

Cardiff City: Marshall; Theophile-Catherine, Caulker, Turner, John; Zaha (Daehli, 61), Mutch (Wolff Eikrem, 32), Medel, Noone; Campbell, Jones

Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Bennett (Weimann, 70), Bertrand, Westwood, Albrighton, Delph, Benteke, Agbonlahor

UEFA playoff draw sets up intriguing battles

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The fight for the final four 2018 World Cup spots from UEFA is well and truly on.

On Tuesday in Zurich, Switzerland the draw for the two-legged playoffs was made as the eight best runners up from the UEFA qualifying group stages found out their fate.

[ MORE: Latest World Cup rankings released ]

The Republic of Ireland will face Denmark over two games, while Northern Ireland face Switzerland and two monster clashes have been set up as Sweden and Italy will lock horns and Croatia and Greece will do battle.

A spot at the World Cup in Russia next summer is the prize for the four winners of these home and away playoffs.

The Republic of Ireland seem to have got the better draw, especially as they will play at home in the second leg in Dublin. Northern Ireland will also be okay with having Switzerland but are slightly hampered by playing the first leg in Belfast. Italy against Sweden will be a tight game and one neither nation will relish, and the same can be said for Croatia vs. Greece with their intense local rivalry.

First leg matches will take place on November 9-11, while the second leg will take place on November 12-14.

Below is the full schedule for the two playoff games.


UEFA playoff schedule

First leg

Northern Ireland vs. Switzerland
Croatia vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Republic of Ireland
Sweden vs. Italy

Second leg

Switzerland vs. Northern Ireland
Greece vs. Croatia
Republic of Ireland vs. Denmark
Italy vs. Sweden

Watch Live: England, Mexico, Spain, France in U-17 World Cup action

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It is a busy day at the U-17 World Cup in India as four Round of 16 games take place.

[ LIVE: Stream U-17 World Cup ] 

Red-hot England play Japan, while France and Spain collide and Mexico clash with a very impressive Iran side who won all of their group games. Mali and Iraq complete the Round of 16 games on Tuesday.

The winners of the England v. Japan game will face the U.S. on Saturday after they blew away Paraguay 5-0 on Monday.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s four games, while you can click on the link above to watch all four games live.

Tuesday’s U-17 World Cup Round of 16 games

Iran vs. Mexico – 7:30 a.m. ET
France vs. Spain – 7:30 a.m. ET
England vs. Japan – 10:30 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Iraq – 10:30 a.m. ET

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: USA U-17s top Paraguay in convincing style ]

Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.