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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: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

[ Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin¬†— 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET