Steven Gerrard gets fitting farewell as Liverpool legend departs Anfield for the final time

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LIVERPOOL — “Steve Gerrard, Gerrard. He’ll pass the ball 40-yards. He’s big and he’s f***ing hard. Steve Gerrard, Gerrard.”

As Steven Gerrard walked out onto the Anfield pitch for the final time with his daughters holding his hands through a guard of honor from the playing and coaching staffs of both Liverpool and Crystal Palace, that famous song sung to the tune of “Que Sera, Sera” thundered around the terraces. Serenaded by Liverpool’s faithful, mosaics simply stating “Captain” filled the Centenary Stand, plus “SG” and the number eight was emblazoned across the Kop along with a number of banners depicting Gerrard’s greatest moments in a Liverpool shirt over the years.

[ VIDEO: Reliving Gerrard’s farewell ]

It was a sight to behold and a fitting farewell to perhaps the greatest player in Liverpool’s history, as Gerrard addressed the fans after the game.

“I am absolutely devastated I am never going to play in front of these supporters again,” Gerrard reflected. “The moment you play for the first time for Liverpool is an absolute dream come true and anything else after that is a bonus for me… Before the tears come, I’d like to thank the fans. These supporters here stand out more than any. I’ve played in front of most supporters around the world, but you are the best.”

On Saturday, the day of his final game for Liverpool at Anfield, there was a buzz in and around the stadium as banners and scarves saluting Gerrard lined the streets. All round the city people were wearing Liverpool shirts with Gerrard and his famous number eight on the back. The sense of occasion was strong in a stadium which has seen so many great moments over the years. The overall mood was one of celebration but it was also somber as Liverpool’s leading man for nearly two decades would never maraud around these parts in a red shirt again.

[ VIDEO: Gerrard says goodbye to Anfield ]

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Gerrard kisses his daughters ahead of the game against Palace at Anfield.

Following all of the rigmarole and procession of Saturday’s match, Gerrard looked emotionally drained during the game and the occasion seemed to weigh heavy on him. When Adam Lallana gave Liverpool the lead in the 26th minute the first person he ran to was Gerrard. The joy on Lallana’s face said it all, Liverpool’s players wanted to send Gerrard off in the best way possible but they couldn’t manage it. In the 64th minute he curled a shot towards the bottom corner which lacked the desired pace to beat Wayne Hennesey. Gerrard was moved into an advanced midfield position late in the game by Brendan Rodgers but despite a few surging runs — which were cheered on by home fans screaming “go on lad!” — there wasn’t going to be a fairytale ending to his Anfield career as Liverpool lost 3-1 to Palace but his name was sung loud and proud in the final minutes of the match.

[ RELATED: Rodgers, Pardew salute Gerrard ]

The hometown hero has carried the weight of expectation squarely on his shoulders for the majority of his 17 years as a professional at Liverpool. Gerrard, 34, has been with the Reds since the age of nine and on Saturday his emotional farewell sparked scenes of celebration and sadness around one of world soccer’s most hallowed stadiums.

Gerrard has chosen to move to the United States of America and start a new life with the LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer. Many feel that he should have remained at Liverpool for another one or two seasons and then retired but Gerrard has made his decision and the U.S. awaits this summer.

On the surface, the decision to leave Liverpool in his mid-30s to move abroad for the first time in his career seems like a strange one but the fact of the matter is, Gerrard has spent his entire life in Liverpool. His childhood, adolescence and adult life has been consumed by one thing: Liverpool Football Club. Born and raised just 6.5 miles from Anfield, Gerrard has admitted that his entire life all he ever wanted to do was play for Liverpool. That hunger and drive saw him break into the first team as a teenager in 1998 and he has remained their ever since.

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Liverpool v Crystal Palace – Premier League

As he strode around Anfield at the end of the game and applauded every stand and looked up to the vast rafters of the Kop wistfully, Gerrard’s bond with the fans seems unbreakable. That’s because it is. He’s one of them. Through the good times and the bad. When Liverpool fans mourned the 96 fans lost in the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, Gerrard’s family mourned more than most. Gerrard’s younger cousin Jon-Paul Gilhooley was the youngest victim of the Hillsborough disaster and Gerrard ended his 2006 autobiography with the simple yet powerful sentence: “I play for Jon-Paul.”

Gerrard also explained that the death of his cousin in the greatest soccer tragedy in English history had a huge impact on his career. “It was difficult knowing one of your cousins had lost his life,” Gerrard said. “Seeing his family’s reaction drove me on to become the player I am today.”

Liverpool and Gerrard go hand in hand. Like Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins. Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers. Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees. One of the greatest, most successful and prestigious clubs in the world has lent on a local lad for inspiration for nearly two decades but now, reluctantly, it’s time move on. He had chances to leave Liverpool for more trophies and success as Chelsea, Real Madrid and others came calling but each and every time Gerrard refrained from walking out on his club, his people, and instead stuck around to drag them to success time and time again. He epitomizes the one-club man and in modern day soccer, he may be one of the last to dedicate himself to Liverpool the way he has. The likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were legendary figures at Manchester United but both weren’t treated like this in their final home matches for United.

Before and after the game another song was belted out to signify Gerrard’s stature among Liverpool’s loyal supporters.

“Steven Gerrard is our captain. Steven Gerrard is a Red. Steven Gerrard plays for Liverpool. Scouser born and bred.”

From his memorable goal and performance in the incredible UEFA Champions League final win of 2005 to his stunning last-gasp goal in the 2006 FA Cup final, Gerrard dragged Liverpool out of trouble time and time again. Despite captaining England at two World Cups and representing the Three Lions 114 times, he never really had the same influence as he did with the Reds.

Gerrard’s hometown club and the people in it has always seemed to bring out the best in him.

The City of Liverpool (the red half, anyway) has embraced ‘Stevie G’ since day one and his image as the local lad come good resonated with every Liverpool fan and most soccer fans around the world. Everybody wants to see one of their own succeed and Gerrard has certainly done that, and more, after winning 11 trophies with Liverpool and captaining the club for the last 12 years. His humble demeanor has remained throughout his career and although sour looks and crunching tackles have kept his hard-man status on the field intact — he even left room for a few of those late in the game on Saturday — Gerrard’s personality off it reflects his hometown. Determined. Full of grit. And hard as nails.

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Gerrard was honored by the fans at Anfield.

Gerrard was heavy-hearted as he was given a standing ovation by the 44,000-plus fans at Anfield on Saturday. As he walked across the hallowed turf for one final time as a Liverpool player and down the tunnel, it was a real lump in the throat moment as grown men wept in the stands. For fans of a certain age, they will have grown up wanting to replicate Gerrard’s success. They will have worn the No. 8 jersey because Gerrard did. And they will have wanted to play soccer because Gerrard did. He was, and will be for quite some time, an inspiration to millions around the world. His loyalty, dedication and professionalism were the benchmarks of one the greatest careers the PL has ever seen.

Some legendary players have called Anfield home over the years. Kenny Dalglish. Graeme Souness. Ian Rush. Phil Neal. Kevin Keegan. Years from now — and even over the past few years it has started happening — Gerrard’s name will be mentioned in the same breath as those greats. Nobody knows what the future may bring, if Gerrard may return to the Reds as a manger one day or in another capacity, but his name will forever be inextricably linked with Liverpool Football Club.

For the local lad who grew up supporting Liverpool and captained them for most of his career, Gerrard may have said goodbye to Anfield as a player but his heart will always remain with his boyhood club. And every fan of his boyhood club will forever have memories of Gerrard’s greatness etched into their own hearts.

He inspired. He conquered. Gerrard lived for Liverpool Football Club and despite his farewell on Saturday, his heart will always remain at Anfield.

FIFA sees no obstacles for women to attend games in Iran

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ZURICH (AP) Soccer’s governing body FIFA says an inspection visit to Iran has shown “no noteworthy operational obstacles” to lifting the country’s 40-year ban and letting women attend a World Cup qualifying game next month.

After meeting government and soccer officials in Tehran this week, FIFA says it will work with Iran’s soccer body to also open domestic league games to female fans.

FIFA wants Iran to end its ban on women entering stadiums which breaches international soccer statutes prohibiting discrimination.

Global attention on the ban followed the death this month of a 29-year-old activist, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire outside a courthouse. She had been detained for dressing as a man to enter a soccer stadium in Tehran and faced six months in prison.

Ahead of Iran hosting Cambodia at the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium on Oct. 10, FIFA says the visit on Thursday focused on “international relations, security and ticketing matters.”

Iranian officials were told of FIFA’s “firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely” with tickets sold to as many who wanted to attend.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Socce r and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

FOLLOW LIVE: Atlanta v. Quakes, Galaxy v. Impact on a busy MLS Saturday

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Eight games in seven hours, now that’s a jam-packed MLS Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: MLS scoreboard, for the next 7 hours ]

Things kickoff with Matias Almeyda’s San Jose Earthquakes visiting red-hot Josef Martinez’s Atlanta United, and comes to a close in Los Angeles, where league leaders LAFC host Toronto FC and LA Galaxy, who look to continue moving up in the Western Conference standings, host Montreal Impact.

In between, the New England Revolution look to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff picture as they welcome Kyle Beckerman and Real Salt Lake, while the Chicago Fire hope to jump level with the Revs in the standings as they take on FC Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium.

Saturday’s full MLS schedule

Atlanta United v. San Jose Earthquakes — 3:30 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Columbus Crew — 5 p.m. ET

New England Revolution v. Real Salt Lake — 7:30 p.m. ET

FC Cincinnati v. Chicago Fire — 7:30 p.m. ET

Sporting Kansas City v. Colorado Rapids — 8:30 p.m. ET

Houston Dynamo v. Orlando City — 8:30 p.m. ET

LAFC v. Toronto FC — 10:30 p.m. ET

LA Galaxy v. Montreal Impact — 10:30 p.m. ET

Bundesliga wrap: Lewandowski’s Bayern keeps rolling, Leipzig stays top

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Week 5 of the Bundesliga season looked a lot like so many others since Robert Lewandowski arrived in the country from Lech Poznan in 2010.

He scored, and his team won.

[ MORE: Man City hangs 8 on Watford ]

It wasn’t enough to put Bayern Munich atop the league, as the Bavarian side also saw RB Leipzig get a win and could sit third once Lewandowski’s first German team, Borussia Dortmund, plays on Sunday.

Bayern Munich 4-0 Koln

Robert Lewandowski is humming along, scoring two more goals to give him nine in Bayern’s first five matches of the Bundesliga season. The 31-year-old Polish superstar scored at midweek in the Champions League, and has scored in all seven matches he’s played since being skunked in the DFL SuperCup loss to Borussia Dortmund.

Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Perisic also scored for Bayern, who will finish the weekend no lower than third on the table. A 59th minute red card to Koln’s Kingsley Ehizibue came with Bayern already leading 2-0, so it was a bit snoozy in terms of drama at the Allianz Arena.

Werder Bremen 0-3 RB Leipzig

A 64th minute red card to Konrad Laimer couldn’t slow down the table leaders, as Leipzig added a goal after going down to 10-men in the win.

Willi Orban and Marcelo Saracchi scored for the visitors, and Marcel Sabitzer scored a terrific free kick in the win.

American teenager Josh Sargent started and played 80 minutes for the hosts, covering 9.63 kilometers and getting a lone shot on goal.

Elsewhere
Schalke 2-1 Mainz — Friday
Freiburg 1-1 Augsburg
Hertha Berlin 2-1 Paderborn
Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Union Berlin
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Fortuna Dusseldorf — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Borussia Dortmund — Noon ET Sunday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 RB Leipzig 5 4 1 0 13 3 10 1-1-0 3-0-0 13
 Bayern Munich 5 3 2 0 16 4 12 2-1-0 1-1-0 11
 SC Freiburg 5 3 1 1 11 4 7 1-1-1 2-0-0 10
 FC Schalke 04 5 3 1 1 10 5 5 2-0-1 1-1-0 10
 Bayer Leverkusen 5 3 1 1 8 7 1 2-1-0 1-0-1 10
 Borussia Dortmund 4 3 0 1 13 5 8 2-0-0 1-0-1 9
 VfL Wolfsburg 4 2 2 0 7 3 4 1-1-0 1-1-0 8
 Mönchengladbach 4 2 1 1 5 4 1 0-1-1 2-0-0 7
 Eintracht Frankfurt 4 2 0 2 5 5 0 2-0-0 0-0-2 6
 Werder Bremen 5 2 0 3 8 12 -4 1-0-2 1-0-1 6
 FC Augsburg 5 1 2 2 7 11 -4 1-1-0 0-1-2 5
 Fortuna Düsseldorf 4 1 1 2 6 7 -1 0-1-1 1-0-1 4
 1899 Hoffenheim 4 1 1 2 3 6 -3 1-0-1 0-1-1 4
 1. FC Union Berlin 5 1 1 3 5 10 -5 1-0-2 0-1-1 4
 Hertha BSC Berlin 5 1 1 3 5 11 -6 1-0-1 0-1-2 4
 1. FC Köln 5 1 0 4 4 11 -7 0-0-2 1-0-2 3
 FSV Mainz 05 5 1 0 4 5 15 -10 1-0-1 0-0-3 3
 SC Paderborn 5 0 1 4 6 14 -8 0-0-2 0-1-2 1

Nothing to separate Newcastle, Brighton at St. James’ Park

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A bright performance from the visitors produced nothing, as Newcastle United and Brighton played to a scoreless draw at St. James’ Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brighton had more than 70 percent of the ball and an advantage in shots, but couldn’t get a goal over the line. Newcastle only arrived late after the introduction of Allan Saint-Maximin and Andy Carroll, and would not truly challenge Mathew Ryan.

The Seagulls rise 15th with six points, two spots and one point ahead of the hosts.


Three things we learned

1. Relegation candidates for sure: Both Graham Potter and Steve Bruce are new managers of their sides, but neither looks much better than their predecessor. Maybe Brighton is on a slightly better trajectory than the Gulls side that survived by two points last season, but the Magpies looked very poor over two formations in the first half. Maybe that’s a symptom of the sick, but a winner of this game might’ve ended up pointing to the points as what kept it up come May.

2. Brighton cannot capitalize vs. awful Newcastle midfield: The match was screaming out for Glenn Murray as Brighton was the brighter side but oh-so-wasteful in the 18. The Seagulls press befuddled Newcastle’s midfield and kept the back line on edge, but every chance was wasted.

There was a gulf between the Magpies’ back line and center forward Joelinton, who himself struggled to assert himself on the game. It’s telling that Steve Bruce’s 73rd minute subs were Allan Saint-Maximin and Ki Sung-yeung for Miguel Almiron and Jonjo Shelvey, as the Magpies had little possession and less threat.

3. Carroll back in black (and white): Hometown hero Andy Carroll last played for the Magpies in a Premier League game on Dec. 29, 2010, against Spurs before being sold to Liverpool for a massive fee. The oft-injured but powerful striker came on for the final 10 minutes to a rousing “One of our own” chant from St. James’ Park, and cued Allan Saint-Maximin up for a chance during his cameo.

Man of the Match: Schar — It just has to be. Martin Dubravka was beaten by Neal Maupay, but his dink could not cross the goal line before Schar leapt to clobber the ball to safety with an overhead clearance. What a play, and indicative of how often the Swiss centerpiece has saved Newcastle at either end of the pitch over the last two years.


 [ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Martin Dubravka was tasked with making the match’s first save after Pascal Gross blazed down the right and toward the six-yard box.

Almiron came close to getting his first goal with a well-timed run and shot which was saved by Mat Ryan in the 22nd minute.

The Magpies’ season record of wobbly starts continued, and Dubravka and Jamaal Lascelles needed to make borderline heroic plays to keep it 0-0 by the half-hour mark.

Joelinton came very close to nodding a corner kick home as Lewis Dunk forgot to mark the Brazilian. His free header just missed the far post.

Steven Alzate had the ball in the back of the goal, as Newcastle was at sixes and sevens at the back, but was offside in the 34th.

The Magpies were booed off the pitch at halftime, and started brightly with a 46th minute shot punched wide by Christian Atsu.

Almiron made a delightful turn on the right side before dribbling into the 18 for a low shot saved by Ryan. Closer, but still not enough. The ex-Atlanta United man two more extremely bad giveaways on the day, and isn’t offering too much hope.