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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.

New St. Louis stadium plan calls for state land contribution

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ST. LOUIS (AP) Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has made it clear he’s opposed to state funding for stadiums, yet a revised proposal for a $200 million soccer stadium in St. Louis calls for the state to contribute land that’s potentially worth millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, a city aldermanic committee delayed a vote Thursday to advance a measure putting the proposal, which also requires city voters to approve $60 million in funding, on the April ballot.

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The investor group SC STL’s proposal calls for a 22,000-seat stadium near Interstate 64 and Union Station, a key component in the group’s effort to lure a Major League Soccer expansion team. MLS officials have expressed strong interest in St. Louis, but only if a stadium is built.

Time is of the essence: The league is expected to award two new expansion teams in the fall, with play starting in 2020.

St. Louis’ project was on life support after Greitens, a Republican who took office this month, said repeatedly that he opposed taxpayer funding for stadiums, calling it “welfare for millionaires.” SC STL had been seeking $40 million in state tax credits.

But a provision of SC STL’s revised financing plan, presented at Thursday’s meeting at City Hall, says the state would contribute the majority of the 24-acre project site, which is currently owned by the Missouri Department of Transportation, and perform some site clearing and infrastructure work.

The value is still being appraised, but given its location and the amount of land, it likely is worth several million dollars.

Greitens spokesman Parker Briden told The Associated Press in a statement that the governor “remains opposed to state funding to build the soccer stadium.” He did not immediately respond to a question about how the potential donation of land doesn’t conflict with Greitens’ hard-line stance.

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The first hint of compromise with the governor came in an email from SC STL spokesman Jim Woodcock late Wednesday, when he wrote that a “path forward” had been reached after two weeks of meetings.

“Gov. Greitens has made it clear to us that he is very supportive of adding a new professional sports franchise to the State of Missouri, and that’s a sentiment we wholeheartedly share,” the statement said.

The stadium project also requires taxpayer help from the city. The city Ways and Means Committee heard from SC STL officials Thursday, but no vote was taken on whether to ask the full Board of Aldermen to place the issue on the April ballot. The committee is expected to reconsider the measure Monday.

SC STL would be responsible for at least $95 million of the project cost, the entire $150 million expansion fee and all maintenance costs going forward.

Bundesliga returns: Will Bayern hold off competition again?

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Germany’s top flight returns to action Friday when Bayern Munich travels to Freiburg in an attempt to keep the pressure on new boys RB Leipzig.

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For those who haven’t paid a ton of attention to the Bundesliga this season or need a bit of a refresher after several weeks away, here’s what to monitor over the next several months.

Really Big surprise Leipzig looks to keep title race going

Formed in 2009, RB Leipzig is a lot of German fans’ least favorite club after cash infusions caused a rapid rise into the top flight.

The new club is looking down at most of the haters, however. League leaders for much of the first half, Leipzig is three points shy of league leading Bayern Munich.

Bayern waxed Leipzig 3-0 before the holiday break, and the two sides won’t meet again until May 13. How long can the new boys keep up the show?

Historic relegation candidates

What does USMNT strikers Bobby Wood and Aron Johannsson share besides a national team? Both are on sides that have been in Germany’s top tier longer than the players have been alive.

Wood’s Hamburg has six national titles and hasn’t seen the second tier in 54 years. That’s the longest stretch in the league, two more seasons than Bayern Munich. Hamburg is a currently third-bottom, which would force them into a relegation-promotion playoff against the third-placed team in 2.Bundesliga.

As for Johannsson, his Werder Bremen side is just three points ahead of Hamburg. Bremen has been in the top flight for 36 seasons.

Chasing the Golden Boot

Robert Lewandowski has scored the most goals in two of the past three seasons, with Alexander Meier of Eintracht Frankfurt seizing the honor in 2014-15.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is leading the pack by three goals, but is with Gabon at the Africa Cup of Nations to help open the door for the rest of the bunch.

Koln’s Anthony Modeste is second with 13, while Lewandowski has 12. Two players, Timo Werner (RB Leipzig) and Sandro Wagner (Hoffenheim), have nine.

Can surprise Europe-chasers hold up?

Hertha Berlin was in 2.Bundesliga a few seasons ago, while Eintracht Frankfurt was there a season prior to that. RB Leipzig, as mentioned earlier, wasn’t even a club until 2009.

Eintracht made a Europa League run one year later, but neither was expected to be competing for a spot in Europe this season. As it stands, all three are in the mix.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 16 12 3 1 38 9 29 7-2-0 5-1-1 39
 RB Leipzig 16 11 3 2 31 15 16 6-1-0 5-2-2 36
 Hertha BSC Berlin 16 9 3 4 24 16 8 7-0-1 2-3-3 30
 Eintracht Frankfurt 16 8 5 3 22 12 10 5-3-0 3-2-3 29
 1899 Hoffenheim 16 6 10 0 28 17 11 4-5-0 2-5-0 28
 Borussia Dortmund 16 7 6 3 35 19 16 5-3-0 2-3-3 27
 1. FC Köln 16 6 7 3 21 15 6 4-4-0 2-3-3 25

Report: El Tri’s Chicharito to LAFC in 2018

Bayer Leverkusen's Javier Hernandez, left, and Atletico Mineiro's Mattheus Rolden fight for possession of the ball during the first half of a Florida Cup soccer match, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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It makes a lot of sense, you know?

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will turn 30 in 2018, not a spring chicken for a striker but still plenty productive if healthy.

His national team, Mexico, will likely be revving its engines for the World Cup, and won’t be upset to have the forward playing a bit less soccer and a lot closer to home.

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And Los Angeles FC will want to make a massive mark as it seeks to butt its head into a market dominated by the LA Galaxy (and, perhaps still then, Mexico national teamer Giovani Dos Santos).

So, tell us more, Steve Brisendine of MLSSoccer.com:

“[LAFC] are going to do everything possible to sign the current Bayer Leverkusen player, whose contract ends in 2018 and could therefore leave for a reduced fee. That’s what AS.com has confirmed with sources close to the project. LAFC hope to announce their new manager this spring and dream, a little later, to do the same with Javier Hernandez, aka Chicharito.”

Make it happen. Make. It. Happen. We’re already reserving his spot on our MLS fantasy teams.

Transfer rumor roundup: Jagielka, Begovic, Berahino, Zarate

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 13: Saido Berahino of West Brom challenges for the ball with Phil Jagielka of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Everton at The Hawthorns on September 13, 2014 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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There’s action all over England, from those defending the goal mouth to others striving to conquer it.

[ MORE: More transfer gossip ]

— Bournemouth wants an upgrade on Artur Boruc, according to The Telegraph, and that could come in the form of Chelsea backstop Asmir Begovic.

The Cherries reportedly had a $12.5 million bid turned down by Antonio Conte, who has Thibaut Courtois in the No. 1 seat and Portugal national team backup Eduardo in the ranks (along with three keepers on loan and young goalie Mitchell Beanie).

— Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger shut the door on acquiring West Ham wantaway Dimitri Payet according to Sky Sports’ Transfer Centre:

“We have many players offensively who can play in this position. You are interested by the quality of the player but there needs to be a need as well, and we have no need in this domain.”

— Clubs in need of experienced Premier League backs need look no further than Everton, where manager Ronald Koeman has admitted that England international Phil Jagielka could leave Goodison Park. The 34-year-old center back has 40 caps for England and has made 337 appearances for Everton. He could be a massive upgrade for Sunderland if David Moyes is up for a reunion.

— Stoke City chairman Peter Coates says a purchase of Saido Berahino from West Brom is not contingent on a sale of Bojan Krkic. The latter has been linked to Middlesbrough.

— Mauro Zarate may be returning the Premier League. Watford boss Walter Mazzarri has been largely let down by his strike corps as Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney have taken steps back this season. Could $4 be enough to bring the ex-West Ham and QPR man from Fiorentina to Vicarage Road? Zarate has four goals in nine matches for La Viola, and has nine goals in 40 Premier League matches.