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Greek game abandoned after ‘armed’ owner protests decision

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) A disputed goal at the end of a Greek league match on Sunday between leader AEK and title rival PAOK led to a pitch invasion by one of the team owners, who appeared to be carrying a gun.

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Fernando Varela scored in the 90th minute, putting host PAOK ahead 1-0 in the northern city of Thessaloniki. The referee signaled a goal but then seemed to disallow it for offside.

PAOK’s owner, businessman Ivan Savvidis, came on the field twice and was accompanied by bodyguards. On the second occasion, without the overcoat he was wearing before, Savvidis appeared to be carrying a pistol which was in its holder. Savvidis made no move to use the weapon at any time.

AEK officials claimed Savvidis threatened the referee during his first foray onto the pitch, before being pulled away. They claim he also threatened AEK’s operations manager, Vassilis Dimitriadis. AEK said it will file a complaint with FIFA and UEFA, the world and European soccer governing bodies.

PAOK said in a statement: “After what happened today, PAOK chairman Ivan Savvidis is preparing all necessary procedures to protect the team and all his collaborators from the threats and attacks they have been subjected to. There will be relevant announcements on the issue soon.”

The game was finally abandoned after more than two hours and the stadium emptied of fans. Adding to the widespread confusion, there were claims that the referee, Giorgos Kominis, had actually allowed the goal. The score at the time of abandonment remains uncertain – 0-0 or 1-0 to PAOK – with the referee’s report still to come.

AEK claimed that the atmosphere had become too threatening for the game to resume, while the referee was reportedly in favor of resuming.

Earlier, AEK coach Manolo Jimenez had been sent to the stands, in the 83rd minute, for constantly complaining.

PAOK’s previous home game – against another title rival, Olympiakos – never started after Olympiakos coach Oscar Garcia was hit in the face by a cash register paper roll.

The latest incident has thrown the outcome of the season into further disarray.

“Images of team owners invading the pitch armed are setting back soccer for years,” Deputy Culture Minister for Sports Giorgos Vasileiadis said in a statement after the game. After claiming that the current season was the “cleanest and most exciting” because of the government’s attempt to clean up the game, Vasileiadis said “we will not allow anyone to divert us from our task, even if we have to, in consultation with UEFA, to take difficult decisions.” That has been widely interpreted as a threat to suspend the entire league.

After the non-starter against Olympiakos, PAOK was fined and deducted three points, the game was declared a 3-0 victory for Olympiakos and PAOK was due to have played its next two home games in front of empty stands. But an appeals panel decided early Sunday morning to void the points deduction and to allow PAOK to play inside a full stadium, although the result remained in Olympiakos’ favor.

PAOK says it will appeal again, demanding that the game with Olympiakos takes place.

Olympiakos itself is appealing a decision that had deducted three points from the team for fan behavior in a Feb. 4 home game against AEK, which it lost 2-1. The appeal hearing has been delayed at least twice, and the current Greek league standings do not reflect any of the current sanctions.

If a PAOK official is judged to have threatened the referee as well as the AEK official, the team could potentially face relegation.

In soccer games which finished Sunday, Olympiakos won 4-0 at last-place Platanias, Xanthi beat Panetolikos 1-0 and Levadiakos drew 1-1 at Lamia.

International preview: What is to come over the next week

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With the 2018 World Cup less than three months away, countries are taking these last moments to see players within their selection pool and make tweaks to the squad and tactics.

This week’s international window has already kicked off with the likes of South Africa, Liechtenstein, and Andorra taking the opportunity to see the field, and World Cup countries take the field tomorrow – two, to be exact. And they play each other.

Denmark and Panama meet in a rare friendly between countries set to take part in the summer festivities, with the match taking place in Bronby at 3pm ET. The two countries chose to play knowing they cannot possibly meet in Russia 2018 until at least the quarterfinals, with their respective Groups C and G split apart across the knockout rounds.

The hosts are fantastic from set-pieces and focus their attack around Tottenham star Christian Eriksen. Panama’s midfield rock Gabriel Gomez will likely be tasked with keeping Eriksen quiet, something the Republic of Ireland was unable to do last time Denmark took the field as Eriksen bagged a hat-trick. Defender Andreas Christensen is headed towards the World Cup in fantastic form with Chelsea, having earned a starting spot with the Blues. With some injuries at the back, Christensen has also played out wide along the back line before as well, something to keep watch for.

On Friday, the heavyweights begin to see the field as Uruguay hosts Czech Republic. The South American nation received a friendly draw in World Cup Group A, but brought in a solid European side to match wits with after the Czechs finished third in their qualifying group. Japan also takes to the pitch on Friday, playing Mali on a neutral field in Belgium. The Japanese will need to be at the top of their game come summer, matched into Group H against Colombia, Poland, and Senegal.

England and Argentina have both scheduled games against European sides that disappointed by failing to make the 2018 tournament. On Friday, England travels to Amsterdam to take on a Netherlands squad in turmoil, while Argentina travels to the Etihad to meet Italy.

Russia and Brazil meet in Moscow on Friday, with over 50,000 tickets already reportedly sold for the match at Luzhniki Stadium. The hosts will then get another stiff test as they take on France four days later on Tuesday. If Russia’s squad has lots of work to do before hosting the World Cup, we’ll know in a week.

The main event on Friday will be Germany and Spain meeting in Dusseldorf in a matchup of the last two World Cup winners. Germany will be without Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus, but still fields one of the deepest squads in the entire world. The Germans don’t then get the week off, having to meet Brazil on Tuesday. If Jogi Low’s side comes out of those matches on top, they could cement their status as favorites headed into the summer.

France has a stiff test as well, meeting Colombia on Friday. Like Denmark and Panama, the two countries reside in Groups C and H, meaning they could not rematch in the World Cup until at least the quarterfinals. The French then go to take on Russia next week.


Denmark vs. Panama
Slovakia vs. UAE
China vs. Wales
Algeria vs. Tanzania
Malta vs. Luxembourg

Germany vs. Spain
Italy vs. Argentina
Russia vs. Brazil
Netherlands vs. England
France vs. Colombia
Portugal vs. Egypt
Uruguay vs. Czech Republic
Mexico vs. Ireland
Poland vs. Nigeria
Austria vs. Slovenia
Peru vs. Croatia
Austria vs. Slovenia
Greece vs. Switzerland
Norway vs. Australia
Mali vs. Japan

Sweden vs. Chile

Kuwait vs. Cameroon
Nicaragua vs. Cuba

Portugal vs. Netherlands
Bulgaria vs. Kazakhstan

Russia vs. France
Germany vs. Brazil
England vs. Italy
Spain vs. Argentina
United States vs. Paraguay
Tunisia vs. Costa Rica
Colombia vs. Australia
Belgium vs. Saudi Arabia
Egypt vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Chile
Japan vs. Ukraine

Alexis Sanchez says he “expected better” from himself at Manchester United

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Alexis Sanchez isn’t happy with his performance so far at Manchester United.

The Chilean superstar has scored just one goal for the Red Devils in 10 appearances since joining from Arsenal, and the club has lost three of those games and has been knocked out of the Champions League by Sevilla.

Speaking with Chilean media on national team duty in Sweden, Sanchez said he expects more of himself and that he’s so far let himself down. “As I am self-demanding, I expected something better,” Sanchez said. “After my arrival at United, it was hard to change everything very quickly. I even hesitated to come here [to join the national team].”

Chile missed out on World Cup qualification, and has friendlies with Sweden and Denmark scheduled over the next week. With so little at stake, Sanchez was poised to take time off from the national team, but says he was convinced by Manchester City goalkeeper and Chilean captain Claudio Bravo to stick it out.

“The change of club was something that was very abrupt – it was the first time I’ve changed clubs in January – but many things have happened in my life that are difficult,” Sanchez said. “I had asked permission to miss these games, but then I thought better and spoke with Claudio and told him that we should all be united.”

Once the international break is over, Manchester United resumes Premier League play against Swansea at the end of March before an April 7th derby meeting with Manchester City.

James Collins injured in West Ham friendly

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West Ham defender James Collins hobbled off the field in the 29th minute of the Hammers’ friendly against Dagenham & Redbridge on Wednesday, a big blow to the club’s already paper-thin back line.

With the league on an international break, West Ham agreed to play a friendly against Dagenham & Redbridge to help raise money for National League club that could be in serious financial trouble. However, it could be detrimental to the short-term future of the Hammers, who are hoping to stave off relegation, sitting just two points above the drop.

The 34-year-old defender has missed significant time this season due to injury, with an ankle injury keeping Collins out for nearly three months in 2017. West Ham has lost just four of the 12 Premier League matches Collins has appeared in this season, with three clean sheets. However, two of those have come in the club’s last three games, thrashed by a combined 7-1 scoreline between 90 minutes against Liverpool and Burnley.

The injury comes at the worst possible time, with West Ham set to play Southampton in a critical relegation matchup between teams in the in 17th and 18th in the Premier League table. The Hammers are already without defender Winston Reid who remains out for the season with a knee injury, while the club sold center-back Jose Fonte to Chinese club Dalian Yifang F.C. in late February.

West Ham was hoping to do its part to help save the London club. Former director Glyn Hopkin abruptly resigned and pulled all financial backing in early February, leaving the club fearing for its immediate future. They reportedly need $353,000 just to stay afloat the rest of the season, even with zero club debt.

Men In Blazers podcast: Mohamed Salah continues to shine

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Rog and Davo marvel at Mo Salah’s four goal, one dime haul in Liverpool’s 5-0 beatdown of Watford, analyze Jose Mourinho’s recent rants about football heritage at Manchester United, and recap Rog’s family trip to Stoke vs. Everton.

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