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EURO 2016: Why’s Del Bosque not giving Spain’s youngsters many chances?

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SAINT-MARTIN-DE-RE, France (AP) The young players considered the future of Spanish soccer have not been getting many chances to show their potential at the European Championship.

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Coach Vicente Del Bosque has been revamping Spain after the debacle at the 2014 World Cup but has preferred to stick to more experienced players at Euro 2016.

Most of the youngsters he brought to France have not played a major role for the two-time defending champions so far, and it’s unlikely many will be on the field when Spain faces Italy in the tournament’s round of 16 on Monday at Stade de France.

Goalkeeper David De Gea and striker Alvaro Morata are the only “new generation” players to have started in the team’s first three matches. Of the other six players in the squad who are 25 or younger, only midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion got to play a few minutes off the bench. Yet to play are defenders Marc Bartra and Hector Bellerin, as well as forward Lucas Vazquez and third-string goalkeeper Sergio Rico.

[ MORE: EURO 2016 Best XI (so far) ]

“It hurts that I’m not able to use players such as Koke, Thiago and Bartra more often,” said Del Bosque, who has favored the veterans from Spain’s recent triumphs and older players who are relatively new to the national team but certainly aren’t part of the country’s new generation, including 31-year-old Juanfran Torres and 29-year-old Manuel “Nolito” Agudo.

The coach brought 14 players with less than 25 international appearances, but only five are younger than 25 years old.

Some of the main players of Spain’s highly successful generation from recent years have already retired from the national team, including Carles Puyol, Xabi Alonso, David Villa and Xavi Hernandez. Some didn’t even make it to France, like striker Fernando Torres.

The fate of those still on the squad, like Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Iker Casillas, who are all 30 or older, is yet to be decided. The 35-year-old Casillas, Spain’s most experienced player with 167 caps, has already lost his starting position in goal.

[ MORE: Predicting the knockout rounds of EURO 2016 ]

“We used to have a team with a lot of quality players, and now we have one with other quality players,” defender Sergio Ramos said. “The goal is to keep winning, even if we have less experienced players.”

Many expected Del Bosque to give some of the youngsters a chance to play in last Tuesday’s game against Croatia, when Spain had already secured a spot in the knockout stage, but the coach fielded the same 11 from the first two games.

When he brought in players from the bench in the group stage matches, he favored older players such as 35-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz and 32-year-old midfielder Bruno Soriano.

Of the youngsters on the bench, Alcantara is the one with the most playing time. He came on as a substitute for 23 minutes in the 1-0 opening win against the Czech Republic, and for 10 minutes in the 2-1 loss to Croatia in the team’s third group match. Koke played 21 minutes in the 3-0 win over Turkey in the second match.

[ MORE: What does UK’s exit from EU mean for the Premier League? ]

Spain won the last two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, but is coming off early elimination in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which marked the first sign that its winning generation was starting to falter.

“What the youngsters bring to the team is quality,” Iniesta said. “That is what is important, regardless of their age. “There are always changes in a team, but you have to try to keep the winning mentality. We still have a great squad.”

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni

Serie A roundup: Napoli falls to Parma in debut for Gattuso (video)

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Napoli’s last-minute loss to Parma in Gennaro Gattuso’s debut highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Napoli 1-2 Parma

Napoli remains in a dark place as Gennaro Gattuso debut with Gli Azzurri ended in a last-minute 2-1 loss to Parma.

The defeat marks eight consecutive games without a win in Serie A play for Napoli, who dismissed Carlo Ancelotti earlier this week despite punching a ticket in the last 16 of the Champions League after a win over Genk.

After their fifth loss of the season, Napoli are currently eighth on the table with 21 points, seven behind sixth-placed Atalanta and 17 behind league leaders Inter Milan.

 

 

In the third minute of stoppage time, Gervinho – experienced as anyone else in tightly-contested situations – received a simple pass from Dejan Kulusevski, carefully striking it into the back of the net inside the six-yard box. The 32-year-old Ivorian has five goals in Serie A this season, and Saturday’s was his most important yet. 

For Gattuso (and hopeful Napoli supporters), Saturday was the antithesis of dreamy start, but with time and a change of mentality the situation may change.

“I don’t believe in bad luck. Right now we’re not good mentally,” the 41-year-old manager said following the match. “The team is paying for the fact that it has not won (in the league) for 50 or more days.”

“The first 10 minutes also prove it,” he added. “It’s tough as are the whistles of the fans. There’s a lot of work to do.”

The home side recorded 33 shots throughout the night, but Parma proved to be more clinical, scoring at death and opening the scoresheet just four minutes in. In the 64th minute, Napoli were able to get one go their way, as Dreis Merten’s lofting cross with force was headed home by Arkadiusz Milik. 

Gattuso and his men will be tested once as they travel to Sassuolo in a weeks time, while Parma look to trim their four-point gap with Atalanta when they host Brescia.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Brescia 3-0 Lecce

Genoa 0-1 Sampdoria

Hertha’s under-16s stop playing after alleged racist abuse

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BERLIN (AP) Hertha Berlin’s under-16 team stopped playing a game at regional rival Auerbach after its players were allegedly subjected to racist abuse from their opponents on Saturday.

The Bundesliga club says in a statement on its website that “several players from our team were racially abused by their opposing players.”

Hertha officials informed the referee of the alleged abuse and decided to stop playing in the 68th minute while leading 2-0 “because we as Hertha BSC condemn racism and discrimination in every form,” the club said.

Hertha executive board member Paul Keuter called it “the only correct decision, not to continue with the game.”

On Twitter, the club said: “There are times when football doesn’t come first. Racism has no place in our society.”

Hertha under-23 player Jessic Ngankam said he was targeted with monkey chants and called an “ape” by an opposing player during his side’s fourth division game against Lokomotive Leipzig on Dec. 6.

“Insults are unfortunately an everyday occurrence in football, and I can put up with them. But racist abuse is a no-go,” the 19-year-old Ngankam told broadcaster MDR.

Both Hertha and Lokomotive condemned the alleged abuse.

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

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

La Liga roundup: Sociedad hold leaders Barcelona to draw (video)

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A stunning draw from top-of-the-table Barcelona highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Real Sociedad 2-2 Barcelona

If Real Madrid manages to walk away from Mestalla with three points, they’ll dethrone nemesis Barcelona and become clear-cut leaders of La Liga.

Just days before El Clasico itself, a rare 2-2 draw from Barcelona against hosts Real Sociedad is the reason behind Los Blancos’ prime opportunity.

 

Former Borussia Dortmund starlet Alexander Isak tapped in his fourth goal of the season in the 62nd minute, leveling the score for Sociedad and sending the home fans into a frenzy.

In true Barcelona fashion, Real Sociedad, ironically hit the ground running first. 

After earning a foul inside the box from a corner kick set piece, Reala captain Mikel Oyarzabal converted from the spot, putting Sociedad, who have exceeded expectations this season under first-year manager Imanol Alguacil, up against the defending champions. 

It wouldn’t take long before the visitors responded, however.

A familiar face and experienced goalscorer at Anoeta, it was the ideal scenario for Antoine Griezmann to shake off some pressure that has been a key talking point surrounding the Frenchman lately. Darting inside the box with only Alex Remiro to beat, No. 17 – like in the old days – carefully chipped the ball over Remiro and into the back of the net the ball wandered. 

If the second half indicated anything early on it was that it was going to be difficult for Barcelona to drop points on Saturday. Unselfish as ever before, Lionel Messi laid off the ball to an unmarked Luis Suarez, who his team up 2-1 four minutes into the second half.

A lack of control of possession and, most notably, an unstable defensive line, would end up costing Barcelona two points.

Next for Barcelona is the game of the season: a league bout against Real Madrid on Wednesday, while Real Sociedad travel to Becerril in the second round of Copa del Rey. 

Elsewhere in La Liga

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Osasuna

Granada 1-2 Levante

Atheltic Bilbao 0-0 Eibar

South Florida officials seeking more international soccer

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) More than two dozen political leaders in South Florida have written letters to the U.S. Soccer Federation’s board of directors, urging them to allow top-tier international matches to take place in the Miami region.

Relevent Sports, the soccer-promoting group owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, filed suit against the USSF earlier this year saying that the sport’s governing body in this country was helping to prevent them from hosting certain matches.

The letters were released Friday to media outlets, including The Associated Press.

The USSF did not respond to a request for comment.

Ross’ group and top Spanish league La Liga have been working for some time to bring a regular-season match to Hard Rock Stadium, the facility Ross owns and is the Dolphins’ home.

The politicians – ranging from city mayors, county mayors, county commissioners and one state Senator – all essentially said the same thing, that bringing major international soccer to South Florida only will help the region’s tourist-dependent economy.

“Doing so will demonstrate a genuine commitment to our communities and the growth of the game, which you, as the United States Soccer Federation, are charged with promoting,” wrote Dean Trantalis, the mayor of Fort Lauderdale. That’s the city where David Beckham’s new MLS team, Inter Miami, will begin play next March.