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Three former champs lose in African Cup qualifying’s final round

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Three former champions lost at home at the start of the final round of qualifying for the 2019 African Cup of Nations on Saturday, with Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Zambia all slipping up.

Ivory Coast was beaten by Guinea 3-2 after leading 1-0 and 2-1, Nigeria lost to South Africa 2-0, and Zambia was upset by Mozambique 1-0.

Cameroon, the African champion and host of the next Cup of Nations in 2019, beat Morocco 1-0 with a goal by striker Vincent Aboubakar, the man who scored the winner for Cameroon in this year’s Cup of Nations final.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up versus Mexico? ]

Cameroon has its place at the 2019 tournament guaranteed as host but will still take part in the qualifying competition and collect points from games.

Qualifying comes down to 12 groups of four teams. The group winners and three best second-place teams qualify alongside the host team. If Cameroon wins its group, the second-place team can qualify. If Cameroon finishes second in its group, only the winner qualifies.

Ivory Coast, African champion in 2015, fell to a late winner from Guinea’s Naby Keita after Seydou Doumbia twice gave the Ivorians the lead in Abidjan.

South Africa enjoyed immediate success under new coach Stuart Baxter as he oversaw Bafana Bafana’s first ever competitive win over three-time African champion Nigeria. Second-half goals by Tokelo Rantie and Percy Tau took South Africa to its surprise win in the southern city of Uyo after Nigeria blew a number of good chances in the first 45.

Zambia, African Cup winner in 2012, was undone late on when Stanley Ratifo scored for Mozambique with a shot from a tight angle in the 90th minute.

Madagascar, Malawi, Burundi, Mali, Libya, Sierra Leone, Congo, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau also made winning starts to the group stage.

[ MORE: USMNT-Mexico preview ]

Congo won the battle with neighboring Republic of Congo after a double from Cedric Bakambu.

Two of Burkina Faso’s stars of their run to the semifinals at this year’s Cup of Nations were on target in a 3-1 win over Angola as Aristide Bance scored twice and Bertrand Traore sealed victory.

Uganda’s qualifier in Cape Verde was postponed until Sunday after the Ugandan squad was stranded in Senegal because of technical problems with its airplane.

Ghana and Algeria start their final group campaigns on Sunday, and Tunisia hosts Egypt, the losing finalist at this year’s African Cup.

Report: Villarreal defender Semedo arrested on charges of alleged assault, kidnapping

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For the third time in the past four months, Ruben Semedo has found himself in trouble with the law.

According to a report from Spain, the Villarreal centerback was arrested Tuesday morning at his home on charges of assault, kidnapping and robbery. A complaint filed to the police by a victim alleges that Semedo and two others tied the victim up and locked the victim in a room in Semedo’s home.

Semedo and the others then allegedly took the victim’s keys and went to the victim’s house, where they allegedly stole money and/or other valuable items.

[READ: Wigan shock Man City in FA Cup]

Villarreal has yet to respond to the latest incident off the field, which has marred Semedo’s season and the club’s reputation. Semedo has only played four times this year as he’s currently recovering from a right leg injury, and he’s been sidelined with a variety of injuries since joining from Sporting Lisbon for around $17.3 million last summer.

This is Semedo’s third time in trouble with the law. Last October, after a long night of partying, Semedo allegedly smashed a bottle over someone’s head. In November, in the early hours of the morning following an all-night session at a night club, Semedo pointed a gun at a member of the night club’s security staff after an argument earlier in the evening forced Semedo to leave.

For the latter crime, the local prosecutor is pushing for two years in prison. If the current allegations can be proven true, Semedo could face even more time behind bars.

As of right now, it seems incredibly unlikely that Semedo could feature for Portugal in the World Cup, as he’ll have more important matters to deal with.

Russian authorities fine hotels for World Cup price-gouging

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian authorities in two cities say they have issued hundreds of fines after finding many hotels were illegally hiking prices for the World Cup.

The Rospotrebnadzor consumer regulator says one Moscow hotel raised prices up to 570 percent above what is allowed by a government decree designed to prevent excessive profiteering during the tournament.

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The regulator’s Moscow branch says it issued fines totaling 5.95 million rubles ($105,000) to 198 legal entities and 181 people.

In the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg, where Mexico and France will each play a group game, the regulator said it fined seven hotels, some of which were charging almost three times the allowed rate for rooms.

Russian authorities have taken a hands-on approach to regulating hotel and travel costs during the tournament to prevent the negative publicity of visiting fans being charged large sums.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.