FA Cup final preview: Aston Villa underdogs in Arsenal’s pursuit of back-to-back cups

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  • Arsenal to play in a record 19th FA Cup final
  • Villa haven’t won the FA Cup since 1957
  • The Gunners won 3-0 and 5-0 vs. Villa during PL season

On Saturday the FA Cup final takes place at Wembley Stadium in London, as Premier League duo Arsenal and Aston Villa do battle for the famous trophy.

Arsenal is the defending champions, as the Gunners defeated Hull City 3-2 in extra time in a dramatic final last season.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Arsenal vs. Villa from Wembley ]

Once again Arsene Wenger’s side will be the heavy favorites in their native north London but Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa stunned Liverpool in the semifinal and despite finishing just one place above the relegation zone in the PL this season and being hammered twice by Arsenal during their league meetings, the Villans will fancy their chances of causing an upset in world soccer’s oldest cup competition.

If Villa’s star striker Christian Benteke can get at Arsenal’s defense early on then we are in for one heck of an FA Cup final. Also, Villa’s U.S. national team goalkeeper Brad Guzan could be the first American to play in an FA Cup final since Tim Howard went to Wembley with Everton in 2009. In team news Arsenal will be without striker Danny Welbeck, while Mathieu Debuchy and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are battling to make the squad. Villa could welcome back Shay Given and Kieran Richardson from injury for the showpiece final which brings down the curtain on the domestic season in England.

How they got there

Aston Villa

Third round: 1-0 vs. Blackpool
Fourth round: 2-1 vs. Bournemouth
Fifth round: 2-1 vs. Leicester City
Quarterfinals: 2-0 vs. West Bromwich Albion
Semifinals: 2-1 vs. Liverpool

Arsenal

Third round: 2-0 vs. Hull City
Fourth round: 3-2 vs. Brighton and Hove Albion
Fifth round: 2-0 vs. Middlesbrough
Quarterfinals: 2-1 vs. Manchester United
Semifinals: 2-1 (AET) vs. Reading

What they’re saying

Arsene Wenger on Arsenal’s new balance: “We are more stable defensively than we were before and I think that’s a good basis to go from there. We still have some improvements to make but overall I think there’s a style of play that we set and our balance between attacking and defending is much better. We have a good opportunity to show that on Saturday.”

Tim Sherwood on Villa being underdogs: “We know we’re huge underdogs, but every time we’ve been underdogs and I’ve asked them for a big performance we’ve produced it – at Tottenham and Man City, in the FA Cup against Liverpool, even a huge performance in the FA Cup against Albion. They can rise to the occasion – they just need to do it one more time. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to give the club a platform to move on.”

Prediction

Arsenal will be the big favorites heading into this one but just like last season against Hull, it is likely to be a very tight game. Expect Villa to come flying out of the traps and if they score early, this game could change on its head. I expect the Gunners to weather the storm and prevail. 2-1 to Arsenal as Wenger will guide them to back-to-back FA Cup trophies.

Turkish players defy UEFA with another military salute

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PARIS (AP) Turkish players defied UEFA with another military salute in Turkey’s 1-1 draw with France in their European Championship qualifier on Monday.

UEFA was already looking into Turkish players’ salutes from during and after Friday’s 1-0 win over Albania. The European soccer federation prohibits political statements in stadiums.

But Turkish players lined up again to show a military salute after Kaan Ayhan’s late equalizer in Paris. Captain Burak Yilmaz was joined by goalkeeper Mert Gunok and several other outfield players in giving the salute toward the crowd – in apparent support of the Turkish forces involved in the country’s invasion of Kurdish-held regions in northern Syria.

Defender Merih Demiral urged Ayhan to salute, too, leading to what looked like a heated discussion between the two, but the goal-scorer desisted and made his way back to the pitch.

Ayhan and Turkey striker Kenan Karaman both play for German side Fortuna Dusseldorf, which had issued a statement after Friday’s game to distance itself from “politically motivated acts.”

“Both players stand for values that the club lives by,” Dusseldorf sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel said.

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

Bulgarian prime minister intervenes, Bulgaria FA chief resigns

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Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov asked for the president of their football association, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign following the racist abuse of England’s players in Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium on Monday.

And on Tuesday Mihaylov stepped down and handed in his resignation.

During the EURO 2020 qualifier monkey chants were heard from sections of the home crowds, while Nazi salutes were also made and the officials stopped the game twice in the first half and then followed step one of UEFA’s anti-racism protocol as a message was broadcast over the speakers that the game was in danger of being abandoned.

The Bulgarian sport minister, Krasen Kralev, released a statement on the incident and said that Mihaylov, who had previously complained to UEFA about Gareth Southgate‘s concerns over potential racist abuse in Bulgaria, should resign.

“The prime minister called me urgently a short time ago,”  said. “You know that the government has done a lot for the development of Bulgarian football in the last four years. But after the recent events, having in mind the whole state of football and last night’s incidents, the prime minister has ordered me from today to suspend any relations with the BFU, including financial ones, until the resignation of Borislav Mihaylov.”

UEFA is opening a full investigation into the disgusting scenes inside the stadium, as England’s players and staff have been applauded for the way they handled themselves in their 6-0 win.

Southgate, Tyrone Mings and other England players have reacted to the abuse and say they have made a statement on and off the pitch for UEFA having to use their anti-racism protocol.

“We know it’s an unacceptable situation, and I think we’ve managed to make two statements. By winning the game, but also we’re raised the awareness of everybody to the situation,” Southgate said. “The game was stopped twice, I know for some people that won’t be enough, but we as a group were on board with that process.”

On This Day: Bornstein becomes national hero – in Honduras

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You know what today is? It’s Jonathan Bornstein day in Honduras.

Ten years ago today at RFK Stadium in our nations capital, a young, hot-shot kid with plenty of hair named Michael Bradley and Bornstein helped the U.S. Men’s National Team come back to draw Costa Rica, 2-2, in World Cup qualifying. In fact, it’s eerie watching Bornstein’s celebration, running to the corner flag and diving headfirst as he’s mobbed moments after by his teammates. It’s a bit similar to what Lanson Donovan did about nine months later.

[READ: USMNT looks to build in match v. Canada]

To add some context, it was the final day of qualifications matches in the Hex. Three days earlier, the U.S. had already secured a place in the World Cup with a wild 3-2 win at Honduras, meaning Los Catrachos needed to win over El Salvador on the final night and hope that the U.S. would keep Costa Rica from winning in the final match.

Who else, but Carlos Pavon gave Honduras a 1-0 win over El Salvador that night. Then, it was Bornsteins goal later that night that put Los Catrachos into the World Cup for the first time since 1982, and left Costa Rica to battle for the shared spot between CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.

In honor of the big day, hundreds of Honduras fans had been mentioning Bornstein on social media, and the veteran defender – currently of the Chicago Fire – retweeted quite a few of the thankful messages to him. Below, here’s video of the call from Honduras TV, as well as from Ian Darke and the ESPN crew.

Unfortunately for Bornstein, this may be the highlight of his national team career. He did make the 2010 World Cup squad and started twice, including the matches against Algeria and Ghana, but he never truly took the next step in his career to become a star left back.

After a calamitous performance against Mexico in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, which also Bob Bradley his USMNT job, Bornstein was dropped and hasn’t been seen from again on the national team stage.

However, even though he’s only a club player these days, he’ll never have to buy a drink in Honduras, that’s for sure.

Euro 2020 qualifying: France settles for draw with Turkey

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Euro 2020 qualifying continued on Monday and included a top-of-the-group clash in Group H.

[READ: England rout Bulgaria in game marred by racist chants]

France 1-1 Turkey

France spoiled a chance at home to put one foot in Euro 2020 after conceding late in the match and settling for a draw with Turkey.

Despite playing without a lot of starters – Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, and Hugo Lloris are all out injured – France still was strong in the first half and peppered Turkey with 12 shots. Goalkeeper Mert Gunok made an outstanding double-save in the first half and Leicester City’s Çağlar Söyüncü did his best to keep Antoine Griezmann in front of him.

In the 72nd minute, Olivier Giroud came on the field as a substitute and four minutes later, he put France in front to the delight of the home crowd at the Stade de France. What else, but a header off a corner. However, the lead didn’t last long. Off a free kick in the 82nd minute, Hakan Calhanoglu’s delivery was nodded home by Kaan Ayhan. The 1-1 draw leaves both France and Turkey tied with 19 points from eight qualifying matches. It also means that Turkey hasn’t lost to France over two games in this qualifying cycle.

Here’s a look at the rest of Monday’s scores:

Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifying scores

Group A

Bulgaria 0-6 England

Kosovo 2-0 Montenegro

Group B

Lithuania 1-2 Serbia

Ukraine 2-1 Portugal

Group H

Iceland 2-0 Andorra

Moldova 0-4 Albania