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Barkley struggling under weight of expectation at Everton

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LIVERPOOL, England (AP) It was natural to put Ross Barkley‘s nasty challenge on Jordan Henderson down to emotions running high in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park.

Look deeper, though, and it might just have been the moment when months of pent-up frustration inside the Everton midfielder came to a head.

Compared by many to England great Paul Gascoigne because of his technique, build and playing style, Barkley has long been viewed as one of English soccer’s most talented players. Much is expected of him by Everton fans desperate for Barkley – a local lad attached to the club since the age of 11 – to help the northwest club revive its glory years of the 1980s, when the Merseyside rivals were the country’s dominant forces.

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Barkley is 23 now and should no longer just be regarded as one for the future. It is all about the here and now for Everton manager Ronald Koeman and the team’s supporters, and Barkley hasn’t developed as many would have hoped.

Go to a game at Goodison Park and what quickly becomes apparent is the heightened sense of expectation when Barkley gets the ball – and the loud groans of disappointment when something he tries doesn’t work. Everton supporters can be among the most passionate in England but they can also be among the most demanding, and Barkley appears to be lacking confidence and struggling under the weight of pressure.

Hence the ugly lunge on Henderson’s right ankle in the second half of Everton’s 1-0 loss against Liverpool on Monday that earned him a yellow card – a red probably would have been merited – and sparked a melee on the field.

Maybe over-praised by Roberto Martinez in his time as Everton manager from 2013-16, Barkley has found Koeman to be a harsher judge.

“Sometimes I expect more from Ross Barkley,” Koeman said this month after dropping the playmaker from the team for a match against Manchester United. “He needs to accept it. He needs to show it on the training pitch.”

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After also criticizing Barkley this season for his tactical indiscipline, Koeman has dropped the player for games against Manchester City and Watford, too. In the final months of last year, Barkley was in the form of his career but now he is in and out of the Everton team at a time when his future is up for debate, with 18 months left on his contract.

Barkley is also being overlooked by England’s national team, with Dele Alli, Adam Lallana and Wayne Rooney preferred as options in the No. 10 position behind the striker. Barkley played at the 2014 World Cup, went to this year’s European Championship – albeit, without playing a single minute – and now is out of the squad completely.

At a time when Barkley should be growing in stature, he’s in decline as far as appearances for club and country is concerned.

“He is young, but he is not because he has been playing four years in the first team,” Koeman said. “It means you are not a talent anymore, and need to show what you can do.”

Barkley is well-built, impressively two-footed and can worry opposition defenses with his powerful, driving runs. Much of his time off the field is spent watching footage on YouTube of Zinedine Zidane and Gascoigne, his favorite players growing up, as well as contemporary stars in his position such as Mesut Ozil.

To be at the level of those kinds of players, Barkley needs to start being more consistent, more prolific – he has two Premier League goals this season – and less error-prone.

That might even require a move away from Everton to kick-start his career.

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

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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…

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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

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

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New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

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New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”