For Colombia, Women’s World Cup performance a chance to advance role of females in sports back home

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EDMONTON, Alberta – In the case of the Women’s World Cup, the hope is that bigger means better.

Much has been made of the tournament’s expansion from 16 to 24 teams for the first time this year. Many feared that the inclusion of eight additional teams in the group stage could bring blowouts. While there were a few lopsided results, matches were largely entertaining and most were pretty close. Even some expected duds, like Thailand vs. Ivory Coast in a matchup of debutantes, turned out to be thrilling.

And now the games have more meaning than ever. Colombia is in the knockout stage of a major international women’s tournament for the first time. Las Cafeteras’ (the coffeemakers’) reward? A match against world No. 2 USA in the Round of 16 on Monday.

“For me it’s really exciting because it’s a game I played in my head a thousand times,” said Colombia goalkeeper Catalina Perez, a rising redshirt sophomore at the University of Miami. “It’s what kind of has motivated me throughout my career, so I’m very excited. I really respect and admire everyone on this team because we all have a winning mentality, because our dreams are bigger than our fears. I’m very excited to step on the field with them and play the United States.”

That bold attitude is newfound among a Colombia team whose words this week have drawn headlines. Colombia players claim that the Americans “belittle” them and that the U.S. has disrespected Colombia. The Americans said they’ve done nothing of the sort and they remain perplexed by Colombia’s comments.

Colombia forward Yoreli Rincon said Sunday that the Americans “don’t have the heart that we Colombians have. She is

“We came with great expectations we want to make headway into the future we want to have a new league in our country,” Rincon said.

[KASSOUF: Colombia’s claims of trash-talking leave US women perplexed]

This sense of confidence from Colombia players did not previously exist. Much of that confidence stems from advancement to the knockout stages of the tournament for the first time and the sense that what they are doing is bigger than them.

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Colombian goalkeeper Catalina Perez. (Getty Images)

Colombia’s run at the Women’s World Cup – which thus far includes a win over world No. 3 France in one of the biggest upsets in women’s soccer history – is paving a path to make women’s soccer acceptable in still machismo countries like so many in Latin America and Africa.

The 20-year-old Perez, who could see time against the United States on Monday in the Round of 16 of the World Cup, since starter Sandra Sepulveda is suspended, said she didn’t even know that Colombia had a national team for women before the team’s recent relative successes at the 2011 World Cup and 2012 Olympics. She grew up in Florida after being born in Colombia.

But now, Perez is part of a Colombia squad inspiring little girls back home. She said sees the messages from kids and fans on social media. The hope is that there will be a cultural change in how women in sport are viewed in Colombia, which is the last-standing South American team in this tournament after Brazil’s upset loss on Sunday.

“I see it changing a lot,” Perez said. “In the past few years it has been very difficult. It’s been something that wasn’t seen too much, but I feel like we’re opening a new path for that, for all of soccer to grow in Colombia. I feel like it is more than just a game to us. I feel like we can really be the generation that makes soccer acceptable and bring a lot of opportunities to Colombian girls.”

[MORE: How a 50-50 ball changed fates of Australia, Brazil in historic upset]

Colombia coach Fabian Taborda, 36, says he grew up in a time of antiquated thinking. Parents did not think it was acceptable for girls to play sports and those females who did were harassed. Those issues persist today, but views of women’s roles in sports are changing in Colombia and other countries.

“It’s not about gender,” Taborda said through a translator. “It’s not about a man or a woman. It’s about sport and it’s about the passion that people can feel about football, and the passion that football represents for the whole world.”

Colombia is not alone in its fight for equality. Spain is a team that participated in its first Women’s World Cup this year. Players viewed advancing from the group stage as a way to earn respect back home and stimulate social change to start making soccer acceptable for women. Spain missed out on the knockout stage, but all 23 players penned a letter following the team’s exit that demanded a coaching change. Ignacia Quereda has been in charge of the team for 27 years.

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

Five of the 16 teams to make the knockout stage did so for the first time at a Women’s World Cup, including Cameroon, only the second African nation to ever advance out of the group stage (Nigeria in 1999).

Cameroon narrowly lost, 1-0 to China on Saturday to miss out on a berth in the quarterfinals. But the team’s appearance in the Round of 16 – as second-place finishers in Group C behind reigning world champions Japan – was mildly surprising and inspiring for its country – inspiring enough to maybe be cause for change in how women in sport are viewed.

“It is quite complicated in Africa. At times, they don’t allow women to play football,” Cameroon coach Enow Ngachu said prior to Saturday’s match. “But I want to assure you that with the results we’ve been having, just today I received over 50 messages of young girls interested in playing soccer. So I’ve given them appointment when I come back home.”

Like anything in life, experience is paramount. Ngachu said after his team’s loss to China that he and the players have learned a lot.

“You must always believe in your dream,” he said. “We are believing in our dream. I want to say that the game against Japan had a positive influence on the Cameroonian squad. After that game, we started believing our dream. If we could play like that against Japan, the current champion, why not the others?”

The Women’s World Cup’s expansion to 24 teams has countries like Colombia and Cameroon dreaming for the first time. And with the seeds planted for future success, it could mean new opportunities for girls in countries where soccer has long been viewed as a man’s game.

“Girls that dedicate so much of their lives to it are actually having a good life and succeeding,” Perez said. “I feel like that is making the difference.”

On Monday, Colombia gets a chance to play out the big game against the United States in real life, not in anyone’s head. But the match could mean wonders inside the head of the young girls watching back home.

Liverpool reverse furlough decision

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Liverpool have announced they will no longer seek financial help from the UK government to pay non-playing staff during the coronavirus pandemic with the furlough scheme.

Over the weekend Liverpool announced they would take advantage of the furlough scheme from the UK government, which will pay 80 percent of wages of any staff impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Liverpool had announced that staff not needed over the next few weeks would be paid 80 percent of their wages by the UK government and they would make up the remaining 20 percent as part of the furlough scheme.

That decision by their billionaire American owners the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) enraged Liverpool’s fanbase.

Peter Moore, the chief executive officer of the runaway Premier League leaders, announced on Monday that the decision would be reversed after talks which included supporters groups, the Mayor of Liverpool and FSG.

“We believe we came to the wrong conclusion last week to announce that we intended to apply to the Coronavirus Retention Scheme and furlough staff due to the suspension of the Premier League football calendar, and are truly sorry for that,” Moore said. “Our intentions were, and still are, to ensure the entire workforce is given as much protection as possible from redundancy and/or loss of earnings during this unprecedented period. We are therefore committed to finding alternative ways to operate while there are no football matches being played that ensures we are not applying for the government relief scheme.”

Moore added that Liverpool will be financially impacted by this crisis and they are trying to find ways to offset the loss of revenue due to the season being suspended.

“But in the spirit of transparency we must also be clear, despite the fact we were in a healthy position prior to this crisis, our revenues have been shut off yet our outgoings remain. And like almost every sector of society, there is great uncertainty and concern over our present and future. Like any responsible employer concerned for its workers in the current situation, the club continues to prepare for a range of different scenarios, around when football can return to operating as it did before the pandemic. These scenarios range from best case to worst and everything in between,” Moore continued.

“It is an unavoidable truth that several of these scenarios involve a massive downturn in revenue, with correspondingly unprecedented operating losses. Having these vital financial resources so profoundly impacted would obviously negatively affect our ability to operate as we previously have. We are engaged in the process of exploring all avenues within our scope to limit the inevitable damage. We thank the many amazing people in our club, at all levels, who are committed to helping us do just that, despite the complexity and unpredictability in the world and our industry.”

The backlash against Liverpool’s decision follows plenty of criticism for Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur who did the same, as many leading voices believe that the billionaire owners of Premier League clubs should be paying their staff during this unprecedented pandemic instead of getting help from the government.

Many Liverpool’s fans and former players slammed the initial decision so it is good to those concerns have been addressed, as the Reds recorded a pre-tax profit of $51 million last year alone and $153 million profit the year before that.

VOTE: Premier League March Madness playoff final

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Our Premier League March Madness tournament began on Monday and we had some early drama in the relegation playoff semifinals.

The opening two games of our bracket produced two surprise winners, as #20 Norwich City edged out #17 Watford after winning 50.48 percent of the vote, while #19 Aston Villa comfortably beat #18 Bournemouth with 62.14 percent of votes.

[ LIVE: March Madness PL hub

That means Norwich will now face Aston Villa in the final, and Villa won both of their meetings in the Premier League this season. The first with a 5-1 win at Carrow Road, the second with a undeserved home win at Villa Park.

What do the winners get? If you win the relegation playoff final you are exempt from relegation and finish as the 2020 tournament as #17 seed, while the runner up will be relegated along with the two semifinal losers.

If you want to see the full game schedule, seedings and bracket, here is the post you need as the tournament will run all week long:

Monday: Relegation semifinals, final
Tuesday: Sweet 16
Wednesday: Elite Eight
Thursday: Final Four
Friday: Championship game

Plus, our own Nick Mendola handicapped the field and here is who he thinks will be the favorites to win it all and which teams you should look out for as dark horses over the next few days. His predictions are wild and Arsenal fans will want to prove he is correct and they pick up a first piece of silverware under Mikel Arteta.

Okay, vote below (until 3 p.m. ET) for the two relegation playoff finalists as our Premier League March Madness tournament continues!

Report: Premier League prepares for June return

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The Premier League is reportedly preparing to return to action in June as the current season remains suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Multiple reports across the UK, including this one from the Daily Mirror, claim that the government has given the Premier League the green light to return to action from June, provided the situation has improved as expected by then.

Per the report, Premier League clubs have been told that they should prepare for games to be played from June 1 onwards behind closed doors and there is a ‘tentative agreement for the top flight to resume behind closed doors after the 20 clubs mapped out a plan with senior officials on a resumption of matches.’

The report adds that ‘in principle, with government health officials hopeful of a coronavirus peak in the UK in the next few weeks, they will sanction games under strict guidelines.’ 

Plans are in place for players to be isolated together and away from the public, as they could begin training in May so they can prepare for the current campaign resuming.

With the situation in the UK deteriorating over the last week and the country on lockdown, these tentative plans can of course change quickly.

Premier League players have had differing views on what should happen to the 2019-20 season and Luke Shaw is the latest to say games should not be played behind closed doors. But if teams play two games per week in empty stadiums or training grounds from June 1, there is the real possibility the season could be finished by the start of July and then FA Cup and Europe competitions could follow.

The overwhelming feeling from Premier League clubs, the league itself and many other individuals is that the 2019-20 season should be finished whenever it is safe to do so. Recent PL club meetings came to that agreement and that is the official stance.

However, the next big question is whether or not fans will be able to attend games for the rest of the season and this report seems to suggest that is totally off the table and if the current campaign is concluded, fans will not be present.

Luke Shaw: Scrap season and start again

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Man United and England defender Luke Shaw has said the 2019-20 season should be scrapped and started again if games cannot be completed.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Shaw, 24, was speaking during a FIFA 20 competition which was streamed on Twitch to raise funds for UNICEF’s Combat Corona campaign.

“Scrap it and start again. Start it again, yeah,” Shaw said. “It’s got to be, you know. If we can’t carry it on, it’s got to be void.”

All 20 Premier League clubs remain committed to completing the 2019-20 season whenever ‘safe to do so’ but there’s no resumption date currently lined up.

One option is for games to played behind closed doors, when possible, but Shaw isn’t keen on that either.

“Fans are so important. You realise it even more (now),” Shaw said. “I think the sport is for fans really… I think if you don’t have fans, and you don’t play in front of fans, it just doesn’t feel right. Especially on matchday, the fans are always amazing and always help the team. Whether it’s home or even away, our fans are always brilliant and I feel like they’re always there with us.”

The view of Shaw differs slightly from other Premier League players who have discussed the current suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic but there is a general consensus that they want to move onto the next season as soon as possible. When it comes to Shaw, his views are very interesting as Man United had rallied to be three points off the top four and had plenty of momentum ahead of the final nine games of the current league campaign, as well as being in a great position in the latter stages of the Europa League and FA Cup.

Man City star Kevin de Bruyne wants to move on from the 2019-20 season as soon as possible as he doesn’t think the start of the 2020-21 campaign should be delayed and is concerned about players being injured if they are asked to resume the season quickly.

Other players are fine to wait to see what the Premier League plans but Tottenham forward Harry Kane has also expressed his desire to move on from the current campaign if games cannot be completed by the end of June.

It is intriguing to hear so many differing views from Premier League players on when the season should resume, if at all, but Kane, Shaw and De Bruyne are all saying something slightly different. Therein lies the problem. How will a consensus be reached between PL clubs with so many different ideas and opinions on what should happen next?

If you throw club affiliations and rivalries into the mix, why on earth would a Man United star want the current season to be deemed as ‘void’ when Liverpool are 25 points clear at the top of the table and just five points away from securing the Premier League title…