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Doping ban for Peru captain threatens World Cup dream vs NZ

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Since arriving in New Zealand for their World Cup playoff, Peru’s players have responded cautiously and patiently to the same question. Not about who might play on Saturday, but who will not.

Paolo Guerrero, Peru’s captain and leading scorer, is missing while provisionally suspended for failing a doping test following the World Cup qualifier against Argentina.

The absence of striker Guerrero is the biggest setback Peru faces as it attempts through home-and-away playoff matches against New Zealand to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 35 years.

There are also the formidable obstacles of travel, time zones and climate which make the match against No. 122nd-ranked New Zealand more difficult than it might have been for 10th-ranked Peru.

Peru’s players have tried techniques of sleep deprivation to quickly acclimatize to a new time zone and have padded themselves lavishly against New Zealand’s strong winds and cool temperatures.

But Guerrero’s absence has been the recurring theme. He scored six times in South American qualifiers and led his team to fifth place. Peru’s football association will challenge his suspension with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland and, if successful, will have him for the return leg in Lima on Nov. 16.

For now, the South Americans have done their best to treat persistent questions about their captain with respect but indifference.

Edison Flores, whose partnership with Andre Carrillo is one of the team’s strengths, is hopeful the Guerrero-size gap will be filled by a player he is not naming.

“It will be someone who has all our confidence and characteristics similar to those of Paolo,” Flores said. “We just have to wait for him to adapt to the work so that he does it in the best way.”

New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson has said Guerrero is “irreplaceable,” taking a neat opportunity to highlight Peru’s problem.

“I don’t really think they have anyone that is a physical presence like him and who can play the type of game they like to play with him in the team,” Hudson said.

But he makes a concession.

“Attacking midfielders, the two who sit in behind whoever plays up front … they’re all quality players. Where people say (Peru goes) direct to Guerrero, they actually play a lot through (Christian) Cueva and Flores and (Yoshimar) Yotun. They’ve got some very good players through the middle.”

Flores, based in Denmark, is one of those players and part of a new generation.

The older generation is represented by 36-year-old New Zealand striker Shane Smeltz and 33-year old Peru forward Jefferson Farfan, both in their last World Cup cycles. Smeltz played for New Zealand at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa but Farfan has never had that experience, which adds urgency to his personal quest in Saturday’s match.

Smeltz knows the opportunity to play in football’s showpiece will never come again for him.

“It certainly adds to the occasion, I think, knowing that this is definitely or probably my last,” Smeltz said. “It would certainly be a fairytale to get to another World Cup.

“I think it’s just as exciting, the pressure, the intensity, as it was the first time.”

Neither Farfan nor Smeltz have fully realized their youthful potential. Smeltz has played 58 games for New Zealand without matching his young promise and Farfan, whose talent was first recognized at 14, first played for Peru at 19. Now at Lokomotiv Moscow and after 75 caps, the inconsistent Farfan remains a contentious figure in Peru.

But his greatest endorsement may have come from the absent Guerrero, who said come the World Cup playoffs “Farfan will be playing. He is needed in the team.”

More AP World Cup coverage:

“A new impulse” – Hughes, Hojbjerg hope to ride Saints momentum

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It’s safe to say this is a season neither Mark Hughes nor Southampton had planned when it began this summer.

Saints are plodding along near the bottom of the table for most of the campaign while Hughes was fired from his post as Stoke City boss as his club found a similar level of underachievement.

[ MORE: USMNT names squad for friendly ]

Now both have a chance to stay in the Premier League together, and took a decent step in establishing some positive momentum with a 2-0 FA Cup win over Wigan Athletic on Sunday.

“I think I speak on everyone’s behalf when I say it has been positive,” said Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. “It is a new impulse, new energy, good vibes, a fresh start. He worked a lot on intensity and discipline, and the desire to go the extra yards as individuals and as a team.

“We have some really good players and maybe this is the perfect fit, nothing is perfect in this world but it’s a good start, let me just say that.”

As for Hughes, his hiring comes straight out of the relegation scrap playbook. And it comes as no surprise he’s following it to a T when it comes to post-match talk.

He’s starting with the fans.

“We thank each and every one of them,” Hughes said, “Because it’s clearly not been an easy period for anybody with allegiances to Southampton FC.

“I like to think this was a reflection of what this group can do for them – we just need their support from now until the end of the season.

“If we get that, which I’m sure we will on the evidence of today, and everybody’s in it together, we will be fine.”

It is absurdly early in Hughes stint to make judgments, but Sunday’s win is a positive start. Next up is a critical tilt at West Ham on March 31, and a win will push Saints ahead of their hosts.

Ligue 1: Alves secures late win for PSG; Depay does same for Lyon

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PARIS (AP) — Memphis Depay scored in the last minute of a frantic match to give Lyon a 3-2 win at third-placed Marseille that keeps alive its chances of Champions League soccer next season.

In the fight for a Champions League playoff spot, fourth-placed Lyon closed the gap on Marseille to two points with eight games left. Monaco is seven points ahead of Marseille in second spot.

The match at Stade Velodrome ended with players pushing and shoving after the final whistle. Lyon defender Marcelo then mockingly brandished a Lyon jersey in front of Marseille’s players as they were walking off. It sparked a further melee which took more than a minute before security officials brought it under control. Several players from both sides tried to get at each other, rather than walking away when they had the chance.

It was the latest volatile incident in the French league.

On Thursday, several police officers were injured after clashes with Lyon fans before a Europa League game against CSKA Moscow.

This followed on from a mass pitch invasion by angry fans of struggling Lille on March 10, when about 200 fans charged onto the pitch to confront players after a home draw with Montpellier.

The acrimony continued Sunday.

As the players walked back through the tunnel to the dressing rooms, Marseille center back Adil Rami had to be held back as he launched himself at Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes. Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda also had to be pushed away moments later as he sought to back Rami up.

“When I see that it just makes me sad,” said Lyon defender Jeremy Morel, who formerly played for Marseille. “This isn’t even about football. I think we’ve really had enough of this, we don’t need it.”

Marseille winger Florian Thauvin saw it differently.

“Some Lyon players took the liberty of mocking us. It’s not professional on their part,” Thauvin said. “They lacked respect. (Marcelo) is a professional player, he should be leading by example. They shouldn’t behave like that.”

Greece striker Kostas Mitroglou’s looping header in the 84th minute appeared to have earned Marseille a point, after Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar put Lyon ahead 2-1 shortly after the break with a sweetly struck shot from winger Betrand Traore’s pass.

Mitroglou then almost went clean through from the halfway line in the 89th, only to be incorrectly called back for offside. It proved a key moment as Depay scored the winner one minute later.

Lopes took the free kick after the offside decision, striker Mariano Diaz headed the ball on just outside the edge of the penalty area and Depay read it well to nod it over the advancing Mandanda from just inside the area.

Rami’s own-goal late in the first half canceled out center back partner Jorge Rolando’s opener in the 31st.

“We defended really badly,” Mandanda said. “We just didn’t match them in the challenges.”

Dani Alves took Paris Saint-Germain a step closer to the French title, scoring his first league goal of the season with a late header as PSG won 2-1 at Nice.

The 34-year-old Brazil defender met midfielder Adrien Rabiot’s astute curling pass with a powerful header into the bottom right corner in the 82nd minute.

PSG is 17 points clear of defending champion Monaco and almost certain to win its fifth title in six seasons. PSG has seven games left and Monaco has eight.

Nice took the lead in the 17th minute. Mario Balotelli expertly chested down a high ball to the feet of strike partner Alassane Plea near the halfway line, and Plea’s pass sent Allan Saint-Maximin scampering though to finish coolly.

Four minutes later, Angel Di Maria took advantage of slack defending to equalize. It was his ninth goal in 25 league games and he needs one more to match his career-best tally.

The match started at 1 p.m. local time (1200 GMT) to capture a prime-time television audience in Asia. This follows on from the opening of a French league football office in Beijing last year.

“The Spanish and the English did this before. We train in the mornings, so it shouldn’t be a problem,” said Nice coach Lucien Favre, referring to the early kickoff. “I hope it was a good advert (for Ligue 1). It was a good game.”

Nice is in eighth place, three points above Saint-Etienne in ninth.

Bundesliga: Bayern finally lose; Batshuayi scores a stunner (video)

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BERLIN (AP) Runaway Bundesliga leader Bayern Munich lost 2-1 at Leipzig on Sunday in a rare stumble ahead of the international break.

Sandro Wagner headed the visitors into an early lead but Naby Keita equalized before the break and Timo Werner claimed the winner 10 minutes after it.

“We didn’t play like we have in the last weeks,” Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said. “Leipzig is the deserved winner. You get such games.”

It was Bayern’s third defeat in 27 German league games and Leipzig’s first-ever win over the Bavarian powerhouse after three losses in the Bundesliga and a defeat on penalties in the German Cup last October.

Bayern leads Schalke by 17 points with seven games remaining. It can wrap up its record-extending sixth consecutive title with a win at home over third-place Borussia Dortmund on March 31 – if Schalke drops points to Freiburg on the same day.

Schalke and Dortmund had already postponed the celebrations by winning their 27th-round games, but Wagner got Bayern fans cheering when he scored in the 12th minute.

Wagner, selected to give Robert Lewandowski a rest, was one of several Bayern players waiting to head James Rodriguez’ brilliant cross inside the far post.

But Bayern failed to cope with Leipzig’s pressing game and Keita deservedly equalized on a rebound after Werner’s effort was blocked.

Keita then sent Werner through to score his first goal since Jan. 20 and end Leipzig’s four-game winless run.

Heynckes, who had called up Bayern under-19 midfielder Meritan Shabani to the senior squad for the first time, sent Lewandowski on for the last 20 minutes but the Poland striker was unable to add to his league-leading tally.

Cologne, which made the worst-ever league start by any team, rekindled its slim hopes of survival by beating Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 in the Rhine derby to leave the bottom of the table for the first time since the third round.

“The corpse is still alive,” said Leonardo Bittencourt, who was impressive for Cologne.

Yuya Osako fired the home side into an early lead after good work from Bittencourt, and Simon Zoller sealed the win with 20 minutes remaining when he lifted the ball over the outrushing goalkeeper.

Leverkusen’s hopes of claiming an equalizer were damaged after a half-hour when Lucas Alario swung his elbow back into Dominic Maroh in an off-the-ball incident, leaving the Cologne defender on the ground clutching his neck. Referee Harm Osmers sent the Argentine off after consulting video replays.

Cologne moved two points above Hamburger SV and five points behind Mainz in the relegation playoff place with seven games remaining. Relegation rivals Hamburg, Mainz, Wolfsburg and Freiburg all lost in the 27th round.

Leverkusen dropped to fifth, one point behind Eintracht Frankfurt in the last Champions League qualification place.

Michy Batshuayi‘s brilliant first-half strike was enough for Borussia Dortmund to beat visiting Hannover 1-0 and consolidate third place in the Bundesliga on Sunday.

The home side enjoyed the better start as it looked to make a statement following its disappointing Europa League exit to Salzburg on Thursday.

Batshuayi scored in the 24th minute, running toward Andre Schuerrle’s corner and flicking it on the volley with his heel to send the ball inside the far post.

Dortmund stayed a point behind Schalke with seven games remaining, while Hannover dropped to 13th after its fourth consecutive loss.

Serie A: Napoli make good on Juve’s slip-up, now just 2 back

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona still unbeaten after 29 league games; Ronaldo scores 4 ]

Napoli 1-0 Genoa

Juventus slipped up in a big, big way on Saturday, stumbling to a scoreless draw away to tiny SPAL 2013, and opening the door ever so slightly for Napoli. With a win on Sunday, secured by Raul Albiol’s late winner, Napoli now trail Juve by just two points with the two sides level on games played (29) once again.

The victory snapped a two-game winless skid for Napoli, a run which saw them cough up the top spot which they had held for nearly the entire season, and set up perhaps a colossal title decider on April 22, when first hosts second in their quest to claim a seventh straight Serie A title.

Crotone 0-2 Roma

One spot and 14 points further down the table, you’ll find an interesting battle for third, with Roma picking up their third straight win, 2-0 over 18th-place Crotone on Sunday.

Stephan El Shaarawy (38th minute) and Radja Nainggolan (74th) bagged the goals for Roma, who lead Inter Milan by four points with nine games to go (Inter have a game in hand).

Sampdoria 0-5 Inter Milan

No one was more impressive this weekend than Inter, who put four past Sampdoria in the first half, including a hat trick from Mauro Icardi, who would then go on to add his fourth — Inter’s fifth — in the second half. That’s 22 league goals for the Argentine forward, who now trails Lazio’s Ciro Immobile by two in the Golden Boot race.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Lazio 1-1 Bologna
AC Milan 3-2 Chievo
Hellas Verona 0-5 Atalanta
Torino 1-2 Fiorentina
Benevento 1-2 Cagliari