Emotional, poignant U.S. vs. Ukraine game reveals defiant Ukrainian spirit as war looms

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With less than a thousand fans inside the hollow, empty and slightly eery Antonis Papadopoulos stadium in Larnaca, Cyprus, the neutral setting for the U.S. national team’s friendly against Ukraine on Wednesday was a poignant, emotional and disturbing reminder of the troubles affecting Ukraine.

The game was switched to Cyprus last week, after the situation in Ukraine grew more serious, as anti-government protests have already seen dozens killed and political unrest sweep across the former Soviet nation. Ukraine beat the U.S. 2-0 in a confident display, but that wasn’t important. Sure, a win will take the threat of impending war off the minds of Ukrainians, for now, but it was all about their team coming together and uniting as one.

Ukraine’s players looked thoughtful, sad and defiant as they lined up and belted out their national anthem (in Russian) before kick off full of gusto and pride. Seeing 11-men representing a nation on the verge of crumbling stand together as one was awe-inspiring and sent a shiver down the spine.

“Ukraine has not yet perished.”

That is the title of Ukraine’s national anthem, and as it rung around the near empty stadium, about 900 Ukrainian fans were sat up in one stand with sullen looks on their faces. Back home Russian troops are swarming Ukraine’s borders as we speak and full conflict seems to be just a matter of days away. This is a disturbing and worrisome time for not only Ukrainians but the entire Western world.

(MORE: U.S. friendly with Ukraine switched to Cyprus after political unrest)

Following the emotional national anthem, the two squads lined up around the center circle and observed a minutes silence for all those people who’ve perished in the uprising in the capital Kiev and elsewhere in Ukraine. Most of the Ukrainian players bowed their heads, but stood with their arms around one another. This was about more than a soccer game.

source: AP
Ukraine beat the U.S. 2-0, as the nation switched their attention from potential war to soccer.

Lengthy discussions about the Ukraine national team traveling to Cyprus to play the game had taken place, but seeing the faces of the players during the immaculately observed minute silence said it all.

These players, right now, need to represent their country and give their people something to cheer and rally behind as more troubling times lie ahead.

What was a run of the mill international friendly has now turned into a huge political and humanitarian message from the Ukrainian people.

They are united. They are ready to fight for their country. And as their national anthem states: “Ukraine has not yet perished.” This match was reinforced that notion to those trying to tear Ukraine apart.

A huge banner was unfurled by the small band of Ukraine fans who’d made the trip to Cyprus.

“Ukraine is Undivided – One Country, One Team.”

Oxlade-Chamberlain’s compassionate statement after World Cup-ending injury

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Knee ligament damage will cost Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain his World Cup and a potential UEFA Champions League final, but it hasn’t hurt his perspective.

The 24-year-old injured his knee in Tuesday’s 5-2 win over Roma, and needed to be stretchered off the field.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

Liverpool announced the extent of his injury on Wednesday, and “The Ox” took to social media to declare his regret.

Oxlade-Chamberlain admitted that he’s “gutted” to be hurt, but added, “This pales in comparison to how the family of the Liverpool fan badly hurt before last night’s game must be feeling. My thoughts are with him and his loved ones.”

The player is referring to a 53-year-old man was left in critical condition after being beaten by Roma supporters before the match at Anfield.

LIVE, UCL semifinal: Bayern Munich v. Real Madrid

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Bayern Munich host Real Madrid in their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Wednesday (2:45 p.m. ET kick off) as two European giants collide once again in the latter stages of the tournament.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Real are hoping to win a third-straight UCL title but with Bayern showing throughout the tournament they are solid defensively, plus Robert Lewnadowski deadly in front of goal, Real know they will be up against it in the first leg away from home.

That said, Zinedine Zidane has an ace up his sleeve in Cristiano Ronaldo who is in incredible goalscoring form.

What a game this should be.

Click on the link above to follow all of the action live, while we will have reaction and analysis from the clash in Bavaria right here on Pro Soccer Talk.

Oxlade-Chamberlain to miss rest of season, World Cup

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This is awful news.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will miss the rest of the season for Liverpool and England after damaging ligaments in his right knee.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, 24, injured his knee in a tackle with Aleksandar Kolarov early in Liverpool’s 5-2 win against AS Roma in their UEFA Champions League second leg on Tuesday.

In a statement released on Liverpool’s website on Wednesday they revealed the extent of the Ox’s injury.

”Liverpool FC can confirm Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s 2017-18 season is over for both club and country due to a knee ligament injury sustained against AS Roma on Tuesday evening. The extent of the injury means Oxlade-Chamberlain is set to miss the remainder of the campaign for Liverpool, as well as the World Cup finals in Russia with England.

“The 24-year-old was assessed by the club’s medical team at Melwood on Wednesday morning and no specific timescale is being placed upon his return to action at this stage. However, Oxlade-Chamberlain will now begin a rehabilitation programme to enable him to reach full fitness again as soon as possible, returning to action next season.”

Oxlade-Chamberlain has reinvented himself this season in a central midfield role following his move from Arsenal in the summer of 2017.

His driving runs from midfield have caused so many problems and he was in the best form of his career over he past few months.

After struggling for so long with injures, the Ox finally had a run of six months or so without an injury and he was fulfilling his potential with big goals and performances against Manchester City in Liverpool’s wins against them in the PL an UEFA Champions League.

The fact that Oxlade-Chamberlain will have to watch on if Liverpool reach the UCL final and then again for the World Cup with England is a cruel blow.

Argentina shocked by abuse of minors at top clubs

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) The young victims are still here: they’re among the kids who like to share stories while they sip on traditional Argentine tea, who check their phones outside changing rooms, and kick a ball around during a break from practice.

The teens live in the boarding house for Independiente’s youth section, where they should have been safe, dreaming of becoming Argentina’s next soccer great.

Instead, investigators say pedophiles turned their lives into a nightmare when they paid many of these children, who come from poor families in remote corners of the country, as little as a bus ride back home or a pair of football boots in exchange for sex.

The prosecutor investigating the case says that at least 10 minors were prostituted and several other more minors are believed to have been potential victims. So far, seven men, including a referee, have been arrested.

The child prostitution ring at Independiente was followed by reports that minors had also been allegedly abused at River Plate’s youth divisions. The growing scandal at two of Argentina’s most popular and successful clubs has shocked many in this soccer-mad nation.

The Argentine Football Federation has ordered monitoring of club boarding houses nationwide. But former players, sports psychologists and parents say that much more needs to be done to protect the children who train in talent factories where Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and other stars polished their skills growing up.

Independiente filed a complaint with prosecutors earlier this year when the allegations first surfaced after one of the players broke down during a session with a club psychologist.

“We had two paths: reporting this or covering it up, and we decided to look the children and the parents in the eyes and file a complaint,” a club official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the case is still being investigated.

“Thanks to this complaint, all the people involved are behind bars,” the source said. “There’s a huge social phenomenon here: There have been other reports since we filed the complaint, and I hope others have the courage to come out as well, because this goes far beyond Independiente.”

Just days after the Independiente case broke out, River Plate said that it would cooperate with authorities after a local group reported minors were allegedly abused in the club’s youth divisions from 2004-11.

“The state should be much more involved so that a child doesn’t have to sleep with a man for some football boots or money to send back to his family,” said Maria Elena Leuzzi, a founder of the AVIVI Association for Victims of Rape that filed the complaint about River Plate.

“A child should always be cared for. We don’t know if we’ll have a future dad, a president, or a soccer player.”

Argentina is home to some of the world’s greatest players, but also fan violence by hooligans and endemic corruption by generations of soccer bosses and scouts who run the lucrative and often unregulated business of finding future stars.

“At the clubs, the bosses need to understand that kids are not numbers,” said Leonel Gancedo, a former player for River Plate and several other clubs who now runs the “Angeles Unidos” club.

“What has happened is shameful,” he said. “It’s a consequence of poor decisions.”

Many children in club boarding houses come from impoverished faraway communities, living far from their parents under the care of clubs, dreaming of a chance to make it big in the ultra-competitive world of professional football.

But for the thousands of talented youngsters who try out in the lower divisions, only a small percentage will become elite players. Some will struggle to overcome injuries. Others will fall to the psychological pressure at home or on the field.

“A kid can’t be pressured to save his family economically. It’s too much,” said Oscar Mangione, a sport psychologist and a former therapist for the Boca Juniors club.

Like elsewhere in the world, Argentina has experienced a string of sex abuse disclosures in the Catholic Church, and more recently, among celebrities and athletes. But the magnitude of the latest abuse scandal in sports is unprecedented in a country that prides itself on its World Cup victories and its Olympic medals in everything from sailing to field hockey.

Argentina’s Olympic Committee recently filed a legal complaint against a gymnastics coach who is accused of abusing a still undetermined number of athletes in the 1990s. As part of the investigation by a local prosecutor, authorities raided the headquarters of the Argentine gymnastics confederation.

“This is being spoken about much more: Newspapers, the radio, they all help to spread the word. We’re helping the victim lose its shame,” Leuzzi said. “The one who has to feel shame is the one who carries out the abuse.”

The kickoff for change should come from a serious effort by the Argentine Football Association to set safety rules among clubs nationwide, said Cesar La Paglia, a former player for Boca Juniors and the manager of Club Social Parque, a youth club.

“There are kids aged 8 or 9 living in these club boarding houses – it’s insane,” he said. “Those kids should be with their parents.”

In all, there are 50 teenagers from across Argentina living at the brick residences painted in the red and white club colors of Independiente. On a recent day, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The sound of a ball being kicked in a field surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees could be heard inside the main hall; Football boots were neatly lined up below the club’s red emblem; and a poster of the stadium with a cheering crowd on a wall, read: “The temple of your dreams.”

The club says that the victims have been reunited with their families in Buenos Aires and continue to receive psychological support while it continues to cooperate with authorities.

Meanwhile, a judge is expected to issue charges this week against the seven people who are being held in the alleged prostitution ring, and the prosecutor investigating the case has requested that they remain in prison.

Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao