Low attendance figures continue at U-20 World Cup, but why?

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As the knockout stages of the Under-20 World Cup begins in Turkey today, one factor is hugely noticeable as the world’s top young talent continue to square off.

Where are all the fans?

Game after game the attendances seem to have got worse, with only the Turkish U-20 team able to draw decent crowds. Other nations such as Iraq and Egypt have had sizable followings, given their closeness geographically, but that is about as good as it gets.

Trying to analyze why the crowd numbers are so low isn’t easy. But one aspect sticks out more than most.

Location, location, location.

Despite being just within the boundaries of Europe, Turkey sits thousands of miles away from the huge conurbations of London, Paris, Western Germany and the larger cities in Spain, Italy and central Europe.

Those are the regions soccer fans inhabit more readily than any other areas. They have more disposable income and are willing to travel to watch soccer games, however with the European championships occurring in Poland and Ukraine last time out, European soccer fans may have had enough of traveling so far out East to cheer on their nations.

FIFA have aired their displeasure at the low attendances with the Chairman of the Organizing Committee, Jim Boyce, speaking of the disappointing figures.

“Despite the Local Organizing Committee’s excellent event preparation, I am nevertheless very disappointed by the match attendance figures,” Boyce said. “This tournament is a wonderful chance for Turkey, but the low number of spectators currently detracts from this opportunity.”

But one other huge factor that has hampered crowd figures across Turkey, is the large anti-government protest that erupted in the weeks leading up to the U-20 World Cup.

(MORE: USA begin U-20 World Cup quest vs. Spain)

For me, that is a huge reason why fans are not attending the tournament. Couple that with the current unrest in the region as a whole — more violent outbreaks in Syria, Egypt and Iraq have broken out during the event — and many supporters from the Western world have been put off. Turkey’s long-term aim to get into the EU seems to have vanished, and having failures at  tournaments such as this will impact the country’s ability to attract other high profile sporting events in the future.

During the opening 12 games of the tournament, the average attendance was a mere 4,828 spectators per game, which was in fact the lowest figures since the U-20 World Cup began in 1977.

On the eve of the tournament on June 20, just 300,000 tickets were sold. 1.3 million were available, meaning over 75% of tickets went unsold. That is remarkable.

(MORE: U.S. U-20 squad crashes out of U-20 World Cup after shellacking by Ghana)

People are readily citing the ‘Gezi effect’ for the lack of spectators, following the lengthy protests sparked off across the country due to the governments plans to build shops and other modern buildings in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. The decision to build on such a sacred spot, which dates way back to the Ottoman Empire, has since been delayed. But unrest remains and spectator numbers have been effected.

As we’ve discussed many other issues come into play, you can’t solely blame anti-government protests for poor attendance.

Regardless, you can watch the play get back underway today, as Mexico take on Spain in their tough last-16 clash at 10:45am ET this morning, live on ESPNU, ESPN3.com and ESPN Deportes in North America.

Hopefully it isn’t in another empty stadium. But, sadly, it probably will be.

Four-star Manchester United wins Europa League group

Manchester United Mata Greenwood
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Manchester United is in fine feather and showing it, smashing AZ Alkmaar in a stylish 4-0 win at Old Trafford in Europa League play on Thursday.

Juan Mata had a goal and set up two others, while Mason Greenwood scored twice after Ashley Young opened the scoring in a group-claiming victory.

[ MORE: Saka leads Arsenal comeback ]

United wins the group with 13 points, conceding just twice in six matches.

The Red Devils have won three-straight matches, as AZ joins Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the loss column. Up next is a Sunday visit from Everton in the Premier League before Wednesday’s League Cup quarterfinal visit from Colchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed starts to James Garner, Brandon Williams, and Axel Tuanzebe, bringing youngsters Ethan Laird and Tahith Chong off the bench.

Greenwood, 18, now has six goals in 22 senior appearances, while Mata, 31, gets on the score sheet for the first time this season.

For his career, the award-winning Spaniard is doing okay, though: 125 goals and 149 assists in 542 senior appearances.

Ljungberg hails ‘amazing’ teen Saka after game-changing performance

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Arsenal phenom Bukayo Saka‘s big day spurred the Gunners to a top seed in the Europa League knockout rounds.

Arsenal went behind on two deflected goals in the second half’s first 25 minutes, but Saka answered with a goal and an assist in three minutes to take a point from Belgium in a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege.

[ RECAP, VIDEO: Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal ]

Saka was at the heart of it of all good things Arsenal, the 18-year-old handed plenty of responsibility. despite his tender age.

“He was amazing,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg. “He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He’s a tremendous talent.”

Saka had four key passes to go with his goal and assist, winning six of eight duels while producing two tackles and an interception.

Ljungberg said Arsenal hasn’t sent its young players on loan enough, though that hardly applies to Saka given he was 17 until September.

The injured Gunners used Konstantinos Mavropanos, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson in the Starting XI, and brought Gabriel Martinelli off the bench.

“I feel sorry for our young players,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t been on loan, they’ve not had that exposure to men’s football. Some of them made mistakes but they’ll learn from those mistakes and won’t do them again.”

Smith-Rowe was loaned to RB Leipzig last season and Nelson starred on loan at Hoffenheim. Mavropanos played first team football for Greek Super League side PAS Giannina in his late teens.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

Arsenal uses thrilling comeback to win Europa League group

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Nothing Arsenal-related is allowed to be easy, it seems.

The Gunners used a goal and an assist from Bukayo Saka to come back from a two-goal deficit and draw Standard Liege 2-2 in Belgium on Thursday, winning its Europa League group when Vitoria came back to beat Eintracht Frankfurt on a wild afternoon of soccer.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Arsenal trailed on second half goals from Samuel Bastien and Selim Amallah, but rallied behind Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette to score a second-straight win for interim boss Freddie Ljungberg.

Saka sent in a laser cross in the 78th minute and Lacazette did quite well to power it under the bar.

He’s loving this competition, having made a serious entrance earlier in the tournament versus Eintracht Frankfurt. The 18-year-old now has two goals and five assists across all competitions this season.

The Gunners needed just three more minutes to tie the score on a day they outshot the hosts 15-11.

Saka showed his nose for goal to tie the score five minutes later with a dribble to the top of the 18 and a sly finish to the keeper’s left.

This was all happening around the same time Vitoria scored twice in three minutes to take a 3-2 lead on Eintracht Frankfurt.

Standard Liege goes from the knockout rounds to nothing in a blink, while Eintracht goes from winning the group to second.

The field for the Europa League is looking fierce, with Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Club Brugge, Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg joining the competition via transfer from the UEFA Champions League.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Matchweek 17 is here in the Premier League as the games continue to come thick and fast during the festive season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Liverpool 3-1 Watford – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 3-1 Brighton – (Monday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Leicester 3-0 Norwich – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Southampton 1-1 West Ham – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Sheffield United 2-1 Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Man United 2-1 Everton – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Arsenal 3-3 Man City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Newcastle United – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM