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African Cup of Nations: A look at Group D

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) A look at the teams, key players and coaches in Group D at the African Cup of Nations:

GHANA

When will the pain end for Ghana? No team has had to deal with more near-misses in the recent history of the African Cup. Always among the favorites, the four-time champions haven’t tasted any success in 35 years and have lost three finals and four semifinals since its last title in 1982. Ghana has the players, it just needs to find the mental strength to break the losing run.

KEY PLAYERS: Asamoah Gyan, Jordan Ayew and Christian Atsu

Ghana’s attacking trio must re-produce the form that took the team to the 2015 final – and crucially deliver in the final this time – if Ghana is going to finally get its hands back on the African Cup.

COACH: Avram Grant

Grant led Ghana to the 2015 final barely a month after being appointed, but two years down the line his job may be under threat if Ghana doesn’t win in Gabon. Ghana is in danger of missing out on the 2018 World Cup, meaning the African Cup could be the saving grace for the former Chelsea manager. He faces a stern test to guide his team through a group that also contains Egypt and Mali.

BEST RESULT: Winner, 1963, 1965, 1978 and 1982.

MALI

The team that had the cruelest experience in 2015 when it was denied a place in the quarterfinals through the drawing of lots. Mali and Guinea finished with identical records in their group, leaving a Guinean official to pick the winning ball out of a bag and eliminate Mali from the tournament. That ended a run of two successive third-place finishes for Mali. Mali faces tough group opposition in Ghana and Egypt in 2017 and doesn’t have talismanic midfielder Seydou Keita anymore.

KEY PLAYER: Adama Traore

Without the retired Keita, the focus will be on Monaco’s Traore to run Mali from midfield, with help from Werder Bremen’s Sambou Yatabare.

COACH: Alain Giresse

Giresse is back for a second spell in charge of Mali, a team he took to the semifinals and ultimately third place in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in 2012. Giresse also previously coached Gabon, so he’s likely to feel right at home at this tournament.

BEST RESULT: Runner-up, 1972.

EGYPT

The most successful team in Africa is back. Egypt has won seven titles, and claimed three straight from 2006-10, but after beating Ghana in the 2010 final, it failed to qualify for the next three tournaments. Politics contributed to that, with the slump coinciding with revolution and upheaval at home. Egypt has had a strong revival, though, and its squad for Gabon has a good balance of home-based and Europe-based players. Goalkeeper and captain Essam el-Hadary, who is 43, won with Egypt in 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

KEY PLAYER: Mohamed Salah

The speedy Roma forward leads Egypt’s attacking threat with his ability to score goals and create opportunities for others. This is the 24-year-old Salah’s first opportunity to showcase his talent at an international tournament.

COACH: Hector Cuper

Egypt found the right man in Hector Cuper after Bob Bradley and Shawky Gharieb couldn’t get Egypt back into the African Cup. The Argentine is a former Inter Milan and Valencia coach and has created a tactically impressive Egypt team.

BEST RESULT: Winner, 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

UGANDA

Uganda had to wait much longer than Egypt to return to the African Cup: This is its first trip to the championship in 39 years. That means that apart from debutant Guinea-Bissau, Uganda is the most inexperienced team in Gabon. That won’t matter for the Ugandans, who have faced all sorts of challenges on their way to Gabon, most recently a severe lack of money to fund their trip. Politicians back home came to their aid, with every Ugandan lawmaker agreeing to take a pay cut of $138 this month so that the money can be sent to the team.

KEY PLAYER: Geofrey Massa

Goalkeeper Denis Onyango is often the hero for Uganda but the Ugandans will need more than that if they are to make an impact on their long-awaited return, meaning captain and striker Massa will be arguably more important.

COACH: Milutin Sredojevic

Serbian Sredojevic managed to negotiate Uganda through qualifying and to the African Cup despite a severe lack of financial resources. He’s also not afraid to talk his team up, taunting Ghana coach Avram Grant after Uganda’s 0-0 draw in Ghana in World Cup qualifying last year, and saying his team has got Ghana’s number. Uganda faces Ghana first in Gabon.

BEST RESULT: Runner-up, 1978.

AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf in Rome contributed to this report.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

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The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

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The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

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Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

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On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.