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Lyon goalkeeper makes a blunder – before match even starts

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PARIS (AP) Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes made a blunder even before the match against his club’s biggest rival.

Lyon travels to play Saint-Etienne at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Sunday in a stadium nicknamed “Le Chaudron” (The Cauldron) because of the intense, hostile atmosphere generated by passionate fans priding themselves on their industrial roots.

But even without kicking a ball, Lopes is already a marked man and should brace himself for a vitriolic reception.

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On Tuesday, Lopes was playing in a French Cup game at Marseille. For matches in that competition, players don’t have their names on the back of jerseys, only their number. Printed inside the number is the name of every team to have won the French Cup. Lopes put a clearly visible black line through Saint-Etienne’s name, prompting a furious reaction on social media.

While not one of the league’s tallest goalkeepers, Lopes is regarded as one of the bravest and is fearless off his line and commanding on corners. But he was foolhardy this time.

“I didn’t think this would reach such proportions,” Lopes told Lyon newspaper Le Progres. “I heard and read things that left me dumbfounded.”

However, the Portugal international did apologize.

“The rivalry between Lyon and Saint-Etienne is out of the ordinary and the only ones who can really understand this are the fans of both clubs,” Lopes told Le Progres. “If I upset or denigrated Saint-Etienne and its directors, then I’m really sorry. It wasn’t my intention.”

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Saint-Etienne and Lyon are separated by only 60 kilometers (37 miles) and their rivalry is one of the fiercest in French soccer.

Saint-Etienne, nicknamed “Les Verts” (The Greens), won a record 10 league titles and reached the European Cup final in 1976, losing to Bayern Munich. Les Verts were loved by neutrals – even outside of France – because of the attacking game they played. France playmaker Michel Platini scored 82 goals for the team from 1979-82 before a spectacular career with Juventus.

Following Platini’s departure – and in the aftermath of a financial scandal – Saint-Etienne fell into mediocrity.

Lyon started climbing up in the late 1990s and won seven straight titles from 2002-08 with homegrown players such as striker Karim Benzema, who now plays for Real Madrid. Lyon has been runner-up to Paris Saint-Germain the last two years, while Saint-Etienne has been sixth and fifth.

There is a lot at stake Sunday, where a Saint-Etienne win would move it within one point of fourth-place Lyon in the hunt for a Europa League spot. The build-up has been overshadowed by hectic events off the field – and not just by Lopes.

Earlier this week, Saint-Etienne fans forced winger Anthony Mounier to leave the club, just four days after arriving on loan from Italian side Bologna.

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The Frenchman had made offensive comments about Saint-Etienne when playing for Nice a few years ago. Mounier, who came through Lyon’s ranks, had scored twice in a match for Nice and celebrated in a video with a profanity-laced tirade about Saint-Etienne.

Some notable players have worn both the white jersey of Lyon and Saint-Etienne’s green. They include former France goalkeeper Gregory Coupet, striker Bernard Lacombe and Aime Jacquet – France’s World Cup-winning coach in 1998.

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.

[ MORE: Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League ]

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.