Saint-Etienne’s proud defensive record faces a Neymar test

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PARIS (AP) Saint-Etienne is the only team in the French league not to concede a goal so far ahead of Sunday’s trip to play Paris Saint-Germain.

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Whether that remains the case after defending against Neymar remains to be seen.

Neymar has made a strong start to his PSG career since joining from Barcelona. It was somewhat expected considering he cost a world record 222 million ($262 million), but the speedy way he has adapted and the seamless high quality of his play have perhaps even exceeded expectation.

“I don’t know if there’s a way of stopping him,” said Toulouse striker Andy Delort, who witnessed Neymar’s destructive brilliance first-hand when PSG routed Toulouse 6-2 last weekend.

Somewhat modestly, Neymar puts his instant success down to the players around him helping him to settle in smoothly.

“The team has a Brazilian style of play and that makes it easier for me,” Neymar said. “The presence of Daniel Alves, of Marquinhos, of the South Americans is very important. We can laugh and joke together.”

Opponents are not finding it funny playing against him.

Neymar has been involved in eight of PSG’s nine goals in the two games he’s played, scoring three of them. He touched the ball 118 times against Toulouse, scored twice and was directly involved in the four other goals.

“He’s phenomenal, an artist. He’s just like Ronaldinho was, you just never knew what to expect when he got the ball,” Delort said. “The only good thing is that we only have to play against him once more this season.”

The comparison with Brazilian ace Ronaldinho – who made the reverse journey, leaving PSG to join Barcelona in 2003 – is an apt one.

Like Ronaldinho, Neymar has an unpredictable edge to his game. Although not as explosive and direct as Ronaldinho – a former Golden Ball winner – Neymar’s electric pace and speed of thought make him a nightmare to defend against.

Neymar’s second goal against Toulouse was among the best solo goals the French league has seen in recent years. A blur of quick feet, astonishing balance and exotic dribbling moves, it left his spectators and teammates alike in awe.

“He scores goals you see in cartoons,” midfielder Marco Verratti said, while Edinson Cavani – scorer of a whopping 49 goals for PSG last season – added that “for us it seems crazy, but for him it’s just normal.”

Neymar’s starting position is on the left flank, but he rarely stays there. His eye for goal often takes him into more central positions, where he can use his skill and glue-like ball control to attack the heart of the defense at speed.

As the team’s center forward, Cavani also needs that central space to flourish. Therefore, signing Neymar came with an element of risk in that they might get in each other’s way – or that Neymar would eat up the space needed by Cavani.

Yet in two games so far, they have switched positions with relative ease, and even set up goals for each other.

There seems to be none of the confusion that sometimes appeared in recent years, when Cavani had an awkward time alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic – PSG’s all-time top scorer with 156 goals in just 180 games.

In fact, the early signs are encouraging that Neymar and Cavani – who is still in his prime at 30 – are highly compatible.

Potentially, PSG has a dream partnership in the making, and that’s unwelcome news for Saint-Etienne.

Juventus president Andrea Agnelli banned for 1 year

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Juventus president Andrea Agnelli was banned for one year by the Italian soccer federation on Monday for his role in selling tickets to hardcore “ultra” fans that encouraged scalping.

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The court also fined Juventus 300,000 euros ($350,000).

The ban comes less than three weeks after Agnelli was elected to chair the 220-member European Club Association.

“Having taken note of today’s decision by the FIGC’s National Tribunal, Juventus preannounces its appeal to the FIGC Court of Appeal in the full conviction of its own good arguments, which have still not found adequate recognition,” the Serie A club said in a statement.

“The club expresses its own satisfaction because today’s sentence, even though it inflicted heavy bans on the president and other people involved, has “after extensive evaluation of the evidentiary material” (page 11 of the sentence) excluded all alleged links with representatives of organized crime.”

Federation prosecutor Giuseppe Pecoraro also said he would appeal for a harsher sentence. Pecoraro requested a 2 1/2-year suspension, a fine and an order to force Juventus to play two home matches behind closed doors.

“I am partially satisfied because we managed to prove everyone’s guilt but the facts are so serious that I think they should be punished more,” Pecoraro told Italian news agency Ansa. “The judgment of another court would be useful, taking into account that the resources coming from the ticket scalping went to a criminal organization, and that is very serious.”

The ban means Agnelli remains Juventus president but cannot represent the club in any official matter governed by the FIGC. He cannot, for example, go into the dressing room during matches or have transfer dealings with players’ agents.

However, the ban has not been extended to UEFA and FIFA – and there is no chance of that happening until all the appeals have been heard. Agnelli’s position as head of the ECA is not at risk for now.

Agnelli allegedly authorized the sale of season passes and other tickets. He has acknowledged meeting with Rocco Dominello, an “ultra” fan linked to the Calabrian `ndrangheta crime mob who has since been sentenced to nearly eight years in prison for scalping.

But Agnelli said the meetings came only with large numbers of other fans at celebratory occasions and that the club never intended to engage in illegal activity.

Juventus security director Alessandro D’Angelo has been banned for 15 months while ticketing director Stefano Merulla and former marketing director Francesco Calvo have also been handed one-year suspensions.

Each of the four has also been fined 20,000 euros ($24,000) for violating sporting integrity and illicit relations with fans.

The 41-year-old Agnelli has led Juventus, the club his family has owned for nearly a century, since 2010. Agnelli has also been a non-voting member of the UEFA executive committee since 2015. He received full voting rights last week at a UEFA meeting in Geneva.

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Dominello’s father, Saverio Dominello, was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a court in Turin in June for his role in the scalping case.

Anti-mafia prosecutors said the `ndrangheta was involved in scalping among Juventus ultra fans for at least 15 years, guaranteeing order in the stadium in exchange for open ticket access.

Juventus has denied any wrongdoing.

Report: NYCFC seeks stadium project near Belmont Park

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New York City FC has found its feet pretty well in MLS, and the club could finally be closing in on a location for its own stadium moving forward.

Newsday Sports is reporting that NYCFC is prepared to bid on land at Belmont Park as the club continues its search to find a permanent stadium for its future.

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The report also states that Belmont isn’t NYCFC’s preferred destination to play matches, with the stadium in Elmont — roughly an 18-mile distance from the club’s current venue, Yankee Stadium.

In the past, Flushing Meadows has been one of many sites discussed as a location for NYCFC to build its own venue, which would make sense given the fact that the land currently houses the New York Mets as well as the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

NYCFC has shared Yankee Stadium with MLB franchise, New York Yankees, since the MLS side entered the league in 2015.

A move to Belmont could hinge on what the New York Islanders of the NHL do moving forward as well because the hockey team is reportedly looking at options outside of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where they currently play.

UCL Tuesday preview: Dortmund hosts Real; 3 PL sides in action

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Round two of the UEFA Champions League is back on Tuesday, and while clubs cannot book their place in the Round of 16 just yet it’s just as easy for them to put themselves out of contention.

Three Premier League sides will be action on the afternoon, including Tottenham — who has the chance to start Group H play with six points.

Meanwhile, Liverpool and Manchester City will also take the pitch in Group E and F, respectively.

The day’s biggest clash of the day though comes in Germany as Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid meet in the other Group H fixture. Dortmund will be looking for a positive result after falling to Spurs in their opening day loss in the competition.

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Here’s the full rundown of matches on Tuesday’s UCL docket.

All games kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET

Group E

Spartak Moscow vs. Liverpool
Sevilla vs. Maribor

Group F

Manchester City vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Napoli vs. Feyenoord

Group G

Besiktas vs. Red Bull Leipzig
Monaco vs. Porto

Group H

Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid
APOEL vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints take in Arsenal match

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The New Orleans Saints will be playing a different sort of football on Sunday at historic Wembley Stadium, but the NFL franchise took in Arsenal’s match today during their trip to London.

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Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees posted a picture on Instagram with several of his Saints teammates taking in the Arsenal-West Brom fixture at the Emirates Stadium six days before the NFL team plays the Miami Dolphins.

The Saints-Dolphins matchup is the second NFL game to take place in England thus far in 2017, after the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 44-7, on Sunday at Wembley.

Headed to the Arsenal game in London. Our first Premier League game! Pumped

A post shared by Drew Brees (@drewbrees) on