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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 Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.

Lippi leads China over SKorea 1-0 in World Cup qualifier

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Marcello Lippi earned his biggest victory since taking over as coach of China’s national soccer team, leading his squad to a 1-0 victory over South Korea on Thursday in a World Cup qualifier.

[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT hosts Honduras as WCQ resumes ]

The coach, who led his native Italy to the World Cup title in 2006, was hired by China in October.

Yu Dabao scored the lone goal at Helong Stadium in Changsha with a header in the 34th minute, giving China only its second victory over South Korea in 32 matches.

China spent much of the second half defending with the visitors piling on the pressure. Ki Seung-yeung and Ji Dong-won both went close for South Korea but could not find a way past China goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.

South Korea has 10 points from six matches in Group A and is still on course to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. China, which last qualified for the World Cup in 2002, has five points.

Only the top two teams from the six-nation group qualify automatically. The third-place team will head to the playoffs.

CONMEBOL wrap: Brazil routs Uruguay, Messi guides Argentina past Chile

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A roundup of Thursday’s action from around CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying…

[ MORE: USMNT looks to build momentum against Honduras in WCQ ]

Paulinho‘s hat-trick helped bring Brazil back from an early deficit as the Selecao topped Uruguay, 4-1. Edinson Cavani put the hosts ahead after nine minutes from the penalty spot, but it was Paulinho that answered 10 minutes later for his first of the night. Neymar also tallied for the Brazilians, who continue to lead CONMEBOL qualifying with 30 points.

Lionel Messi scored in the first half to help lift Argentina over Chile, 1-0. The Barcelona attacker scored after 16 minutes when Angel di Maria was taken down inside the Chilean area by José Fuenzalida. Chile was held to just one shot on target throughout, and the loss leaves the reigning Copa America winners on the outside looking in at the top five.

James Rodriguez rescued Colombia on Thursday as the Real Madrid winger capitalized off of his penalty-kick rebound to give Los Cafeteros a 1-0 win over Bolivia. Goalkeeper Carlos Lampe did his best to preserve a draw for the visitors, recording six saves on the afternoon, however, it wasn’t enough to tame Colombia.

Meanwhile, Paraguay knocked off Ecuador, 2-1, behind goals from Bruno Valdez and Junior Alonso. The visitors pulled a goal back in the 70th minute when Felipe Caicedo converted from the penalty spot, but it wasn’t enough for Ecuador.

Peru battled back with two second-half goals to preserve a 2-2 draw against Venezuela on the road. The hosts got out to a 2-0 advantage before halftime when Mikel Villanueva and Romulu Otero scored for Venezuela, however, the Peruvians struck back in the second stanza to knick a point. Andre Carrillo and Paolo Guerrero scored in the 46th and 64th minutes, respectively, for Peru.


Thursday’s results

Colombia 1-0 Bolivia
Paraguay 2-1 Ecuador
Uruguay 1-4 Brazil
Argentina 1-0 Chile
Venezuela 2-2 Peru


Updated CONMEBOL table

  1. Brazil — 9-3-1 — 30 pts.
  2. Uruguay — 7-2-4 — 23 pts.
  3. Argentina — 6-4-3 — 22 pts.
  4. Colombia — 6-3-4 — 21 pts.
  5. Ecuador — 6-2-4 — 20 pts.
  6. Chile — 6-2-5 — 20 pts.
  7. Paraguay — 5-3-5 — 18 pts.
  8. Peru — 4-3-6 — 15 pts.
  9. Bolivia — 2-1-9 — 7 pts.
  10. Venezuela — 1-3-9 — 6 pts.