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Albania soccer federation fights drone pilot’s extradition to Serbia

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation is calling on Albanian authorities to stop the extradition to Serbia of a man who reportedly flew a drone with a nationalist banner over a stadium in Serbia, a move that prompted fan violence.

Ismail Morinaj was arrested in Croatia in June based on a warrant from Serbia. A court in Dubrovnik agreed this week to extradite the 35-year-old Albanian to Belgrade.

An Albanian Football Federation statement on Saturday called on Albania’s government to intervene “to stop the extradition of Ismail Morinaj to Serbia.” The federation assured Morinaj’s family it would keep fighting to prevent his extradition.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has negotiated with Croatian authorities in the last two days on the matter, the federation said.

Justice Minister Gazmend Bardhi also has formally asked Croatian authorities not to approve the Serbian request, arguing that Morinaj could “suffer from politically motivated persecution or discrimination” if sent to Serbia.

A group of Albanians called the Red and Black Fans held a peaceful rally Saturday in front of the prime minister’s office in the Albanian capital of Tirana, urging the government to do its utmost to release Morinaj. Holding national flags, including the Croatian one, and banners they called on the government “not to betray the people.”

Albanian national team players, writing on their Facebook pages, described Morinaj’s arrest as absurd and called for his release.

Morinaj, who is from the northeastern Kukes area but lives in Italy, has been a regular at the Albanian national team’s away matches.

His brother Xhevair complained to Report TV about the government’s lack of attention to the case, saying Ismail’s life would be in danger in Serbia.

“We call on the Albanian state to intervene and stop extradition to Serbia,”

During the fans’ rally, Xhevair repeated his threat that the family would take “extreme acts” if his brother was extradited to Serbia.

Violence interrupted an October 2014 European qualifying match between the Serbia and Albania when a drone with an Albanian banner appeared over the pitch. The 0-0 game was suspended after Serbian fans injured some Albanian players who rushed a Serbian player who pulled down the banner.

UEFA, soccer’s governing body in Europe, ultimately awarded Albania the match victory, helping the tiny western Balkan country win a spot in the Euro 2016 finals, its first major tournament.

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

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Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.

Report: Simon Dawkins making move to Minnesota

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The Loons are taking a flier on Simon Dawkins.

The London-born Jamaican international hasn’t done a ton since returning to MLS from Derby County, and turned 30 over the offseason, and Paul Tenorio says the player is on his way to Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Dawkins scored 14 goals between 2011-12 with San Jose, but scored just five times in his return to California and was blanked in 14 appearances last season. He registered just 10 shots in those matches.

The left winger would join an attack with Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay, and a pair of Generations Adidas forwards: Abu Danladi (2017 SuperDraft) and Mason Toye (2018).

Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

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Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”