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Southampton to Anfield in an hour: Incredible fan story emerges

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LIVERPOOL – Over 35 Southampton fans were still in Southampton just over an hour before their team kicked off at Anfield on Wednesday.

Around an hour later they were stood in the Anfield Road end watching their team in the huge EFL Cup semifinal second leg clash.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Southampton beat Liverpool 1-0 and sealed their spot in the EFL Cup final for just the second time in club history and a group of fans who feared they’d miss the landmark moment have an incredible story to tell.

UK airline Flybe have dubbed their incredible efforts on Wednesday as a “rescue operation” as a miraculous operation from their staff, and airport staff in Southampton and Liverpool, ensured that Saints fans and club officials witnessed one of the greatest nights in Saints’ history first-hand.

How did it all play out?

With a technical fault delaying the 3:20pm flight from Southampton to Manchester on Wednesday – Manchester Airport is the closest airport to Liverpool you can fly to from Southampton on a scheduled service – fans, Southampton’s Chief Executive Officer Gareth Rogers and club ambassador Kelvin Davis were all stranded over 235 miles from Anfield less than two hours before kick off.

[ MORE: Saints edge Liverpool to reach Wembley ]

Compounding their misery was the fact that several other flights had been delayed or canceled at Southampton Airport in previous days due to freezing fog, meaning other flights were fully-booked and plenty of aircraft were displaced due to cancellations.

A four and a half hour drive in rush hour meant they would have reached Liverpool around an hour or so after full time, as would the best available train journey.

That seemed to be it. Their hopes of making the game were over. Or so they thought…

As some fans left the airport in Southampton and gave up hope of making the game, a plane was miraculously made ready after being flown in from Edinburgh to fly the fans directly to Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport instead, an airport you can’t fly to on a scheduled service from Southampton. After a quick charter flight put on by Flybe the fans then landed before the scheduled arrival time of 7:40pm local time and a bus was arranged to pick them up at the airport and take them straight to Anfield, 10 miles away, for the game which kicked off at 8pm.

The mastermind of this mission was Flybe’s Chief Operating Officer Luke Farajallah as he and his staff noticed the unfolding situation via social media and frantically made all of the arrangements to first find a plane, then a crew and arrange priority clearance at Liverpool Airport for the aircraft to land.

After all of Farajallah’s work, the fans only missed the opening few minutes of the match and with their luggage alongside them they were celebrating a famous win in the away end by the end of normal time.

This journey was far from normal. But boy, was it worth it for the Saints fans.

Recalling the craziness after the famous win at Anfield, Saints fans in Liverpool told Pro Soccer Talk about the incredible effort from Flybe to get them to the game and were overwhelmed they made it to the match.

Some Liverpool fans were also on board and Liverpool supporter Katie Stockwell was grateful for the effort Flybe made, despite seeing her team lose.

“When it was announced our flight would not be taking off until 8pm and we would miss the game, one guy was so upset and had his head in his hands. We were pretty gutted and were told we could get our money back for the flight but then it was announced we were flying to Liverpool, somewhere they don’t usually fly to, so it was really good for the fans,” Stockwell said. “It was a really nice thing for Flybe to do and they didn’t have to do it but it was much appreciated by everyone. It was mostly Saints fans on the plane and bus but some Liverpool supporters to and everyone was in really good spirits heading to the game on the bus after all the drama. In the end it didn’t matter who you supported because we all got there to enjoy the game.”

Flybe released the following statement late on Wednesday to reveal exactly what happened behind-the-scenes.

“Flybe regrets that the flight was delayed due to a technical fault with the aircraft and the subsequent anxiety this caused the many Southampton football supporters relying on this service to travel to Liverpool for this evening’s key EFL Cup semi-final.

“We can however now confirm that a replacement aircraft has been flown to Southampton to fly the supporters direct to Liverpool where it will be given priority landing at the airport. Flybe has also organised a coach to meet the aircraft and transport the fans immediately to Anfield. The aircraft departed Southampton at 1840 and Flybe is taking all possible steps to ensure that the supporters reach the ground as quickly as possible.

“Flybe sincerely regrets the inconvenience and hopes that the alternative arrangements it has put in place will ensure that Southampton supporters can watch the majority of this important match.”

The fact that Saints ended up winning the game 1-0 and secured a 2-0 aggregate victory over Liverpool to reach the final at Wembley on Feb. 26 made all of this effort even more worthwhile.

For most Saints fans, their win at Anfield is one they’ll never forget. For the 35 who were whisked from Southampton to Anfield in the space of an hour by Flybe, this VIP trip made it even more memorable.

Well done to the airline, airports and individuals involved as they all came together to make a seemingly impossible journey possible.

CONMEBOL WCQ: Venezuela, Bolivia teetering on elimination

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CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying is always a challenge, and this World Cup cycle is no different.

With six teams currently separated by a mere five points under leaders Brazil, everything is left to play for as Round 14 hits South America.

[ MORE: Messi could face suspension from CONMEBOL ]

Here’s a look at what’s on the docket for Tuesday:

Bolivia vs. Argentina — 4 p.m. EDT

It wasn’t pretty at all, but La Albiceleste picked up a crucial three points against Chile, which could produce a morale lift for Argentina given their past struggles against the reigning Copa America holders.

Lionel Messi’s actions from the match could harm the Albiceleste though, with the Barcelona man reportedly facing sanctions from CONMEBOL for verbally abusing a linesman.

Meanwhile, Bolivia is in desperate need of a win in La Paz, and anything but three points could potentially end La Verde’s hopes of reaching Russia 2018.

Ecuador vs. Colombia — 5 p.m. EDT

It took a long time for Colombia to crack the Bolivia backline on Thursday but a late run from Juan Cuadrado helped set up the eventual winner from James Rodriguez, and kept Los Cafeteros in the top four.

Ecuador didn’t have the same fortunes though four days ago after falling to a very game Paraguay side. La Tricolor have gone winless in three of its last four World Cup qualifiers, leaving Gustavo Quinteros side with little margin of error against the Colombians.

Chile vs. Venezuela — 6 p.m. EDT

Chile’s qualifying struggles continued on Thursday after falling to La Albiceleste in a closely-contested match. Arturo Vidal’s six goals leave the Bayern Munich midfielder third in all of CONMEBOL this campaign, but the Chileans still sit on the outside looking in at the moment and in sixth place.

Venezuela is teetering on the edge of elimination, and a loss against Chile would all but seal their fate of missing out the World Cup. After reaching the quarterfinals at last summer’s Copa America Centenario, La Vinotinto have failed to replicate that form this qualifying campaign with just one win to show.

Top scorer Josef Martinez is no longer with Venezuela after suffering an injury in Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Peru, creating a major void in the side’s attack.

Brazil vs. Paraguay — 8:45 p.m. EDT

The Selecao continue to score at a lightning pace this qualifying campaign with 32 goals in the first 13 rounds of play. Despite conceding early to Uruguay on Thursday, Brazil responded emphatically with four goals, and most notably Paulinho‘s hat-trick.

Elsewhere, Paraguay kept itself within striking distance of the top five after its 2-1 win over Ecuador. The side is just two points behind fifth place Ecuador.

Peru vs. Uruguay — 10:15 p.m. EDT

Los Incas have not reached a World Cup since 1982, and although the team is just five points behind fifth, they need to pick up victories. Ricardo Gareca will be pleased with his side’s resiliency against Venezuela on Thursday, but more draws simply won’t do with only four rounds remaining after Tuesday.

Uruguay still sits in a solid second position after Thursday’s slip up against Brazil but another defeat could be potentially disastrous for La Celeste, who are just three points above sixth place Chile. However, Edinson Cavani’s nine goals leads all of CONMEBOL and Peru has allowed the third-most goals this campaign (22).

Ugly scene forces Ivory Coast-Senegal match to be abandoned

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Monday’s international friendly between Ivory Coast and Senegal turned out to be anything but that when the match was interrupted towards the tail end.

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The fixture was abandoned with two minutes remaining in regulation after pitch invaders disrupted the the match by getting past security guards and began chasing after players from both sides.

The score was level at 1-1 in the 88th minute when the disruptions occurred, causing the referee to halt play at the Stade Sebastien Charlety in Paris.

One of the intruders even managed to tackle Senegalese defender Lamine Gassama (as shown in the picture to the right).

Liverpool’s Sadio Mane gave Senegal the lead minutes into the second stanza after he converted from the penalty spot, while Cyriac Gohi Bi leveled the score at one apiece just minutes later.

Messi could face CONMEBOL suspension for verbal abusing official

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Already facing some uncertainty with a depleted roster, Argentina could face a significantly greater challenge.

[ MORE: Aguero left out of Argentina starting XI vs. Bolivia ]

Barcelona star Lionel Messi could face suspension after reportedly verbally abusing linesman Marcelo Van Gasse during the second half of Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile.

UPDATED: Fox Sports Argentina is reporting that Messi will receive a two to four match suspension and will be effective for tomorrow’s match against Bolivia.

Messi was reported to CONMEBOL for yelling, “F*** off, your mother’s c***” at Van Gasse and refused to shake the official’s hand at the end of the match.

The officiating crew from the match didn’t initially include Messi’s rant in the post-match report, however, it was added on Monday and submitted to CONMEBOL.

The South American federation must now decide if and when it will punish Messi for his reported actions, and there is the potential that the world-class attacker could be suspended for Tuesday’s clash against Bolivia if the federation acts quickly.

There are several other scenarios though for CONMEBOL to action, including disregarding Messi’s verbal assault.

La Albiceleste currently sit third in World Cup qualifying on 22 points.

Arena speaks about USMNT turnaround, says “no secret formulas”

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It’s only been one competitive match since Bruce Arena regained control of the U.S. Men’s National Team and there’s already been a noticeable difference in form.

[ MORE: Three keys for the USMNT ahead of Panama clash ]

The former LA Galaxy manager wouldn’t have you believe that though following Friday night’s convincing 6-0 victory over Honduras in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

“It’s nothing I can write a book on,” Arena said about his team’s turnaround in form against Honduras. “You have a sense of your group, and you go about doing your business. There’s no secret formulas to this stuff. Work together, take ownership in what you’re doing, treat them like responsible professional athletes, and you get on with your business.

He added, “They want to be successful. They want to play in a World Cup. Is that a recipe for success? I don’t know. I’m sure Honduras wants to play in a World Cup too.”

Arena, who took over for Jurgen Klinsmann following the U.S.’ collapse during the first two matches of the Hexagonal, is unbeaten in his first three games in charge since getting his job back with the Stars and Stripes.

Although there has been a considerable turnaround in the way the USMNT has performed in the first three matches of 2017, Arena wouldn’t stoop to comparing his style to that of Klinsmann.

“I’m not doing anything differently,” he said. “I’m not taking a survey [of the players]. I know it’s different. We lose tomorrow, there will be articles written that, ‘This a—— is letting these guys run loose.'”

“I have spent no time on the past. There’s nothing I can do about it. I kind of have a sense about things, but there’s no point in me spending time investigating what went on in the past. The idea was to get it going the right way from the start.”

Arena’s next test with the U.S. will be on Tuesday when the Yanks travel to Panama City to take on Panama.