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Lippi urges China to unite for ‘improbable’ World Cup run

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BEIJING (AP) Marcello Lippi has urged his China team and the nation to pull together to accomplish the “improbable” task of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup before he begins a thorough overhaul of the struggling football program.

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The Chinese Football Association formally unveiled Lippi as head coach of China’s Dragons at a news conference on Friday, almost a week after the deal was agreed.

[ MORE: Liverpool reaches summit of PST’s PL Power Rankings ]

Chinese media reports say Lippi’s three-year contract is worth 20 million euros ($21.8 million) annually and makes him the highest paid national team coach in the world. Association officials have declined to discuss specifics of the compensation package for Lippi, who led Italy to World Cup victory in 2006.

China is ranked No. 84 by FIFA and is a perennial under-achiever in international football competition, despite massive spending on foreign players and coaches in the domestic league. High-profile managers including World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari and former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson have also arrived to take charge at Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG.

“I believe the players are all skillful and have no need to feel inferior or envy toward players of other countries, because they can reach the same level,” Lippi told reporters. “What they need is a sense of responsibility, mission and belief.”

Still, it’s unlikely China will even qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Gao Hongbo quit as head coach after the 2-0 loss to Uzbekistan earlier this month left China with just one point from four games in Asia’s last round of World Cup qualifying. China has qualified for the World Cup only once, when the tournament was co-hosted by South Korea and Japan in 2002, but was bounced out of the group stages without scoring a goal.

“In the qualification stages, our chances are not great, but what we need to do is pull together – the entire squad, the CFA, logistics, medical team – and maximize our chances and accomplish this improbable mission,” Lippi said. “After that, we can consider our long-term issues.”

Above all, the Chinese team – frequently derided by China’s soccer-loving public as a national embarrassment – needs to fix its mentality and gain self-confidence, said Lippi, who said his first priority is to psychologically evaluate his players.

“What I need to know first is why our players play very well for their club but only at 40 percent for their country,” he said. “I want to tell them it’s the highest honor to put on the country’s shirt and they need to fight and perform at the same level.”

Lippi is already familiar with Chinese football at the club level, having coached Guangzhou Evergrande from 2012 to 2015. He led Evergrande to multiple domestic titles and, most notably, the Asian Champions League trophy in 2013.

The financial details of Lippi’s arrangement remains murky, with domestic media reporting his salary will be partially paid for by the real estate group Evergrande, whose owner, Xu Jiayin, is an avid supporter of Chinese football. Other Chinese commentators have questioned whether Lippi’s services are worth the expense.

CFA president Cai Zhenhua declined to address Lippi’s salary on Friday, citing his privacy, but said the amount was fair for a manager of his credentials.

The investment is part of a national soccer push. President Xi Jinping, a big fan of the game, has made improving Chinese football from the grassroots all the way to the international level a priority of his administration, saying it could boost children’s physical education as well as national pride.

Inter-Ludogorets to be played in empty stadium due to coronavirus

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan announced on Monday that its Europa League match against Ludogorets will be played behind closed doors as authorities try to contain a spreading virus that has made northern Italy the focal point of the outbreak in Europe.

The Italian government is moving toward having other soccer matches played without fans in attendance in affected areas but Thursday’s match was the first to be confirmed as going ahead in an empty stadium.

“Inter announces that, in accordance with the requirements of the health authorities in the Region of Lombardy and the Municipality of Milan and with the agreement of UEFA, the second-leg clash between Inter and Ludogorets at the round of 32 stage of the Europa League will take place at 21:00 CET on Thursday 27 February behind closed doors at San Siro,” Inter said in a statement on Monday evening.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule

The decision was widely expected and Ludogorets had announced shortly before that Inter had sent it a letter stating that the city’s health authorities have allowed the match to go ahead behind closed doors.

Ludogorets added that UEFA has said it is monitoring the situation and will react immediately if anything changes.

Inter leads 2-0 from the first leg of the round of 32 clash.

Civil protection officials said at least 229 people have tested positive for the virus in Italy. State television on Monday night reported the seventh death of an infected person – that of a 62-year-old man who already had serious health problems. The other six victims, also with pre-existing medical conditions, were elderly.

The majority of those known to be infected with COVID-19 hail from two main clusters – some 10 towns in Lombardy and another area in the neighboring region of Veneto. Italy has the highest number of cases outside Asia.

Four Serie A match scheduled for last Sunday were postponed, including Inter’s home match against Sampdoria.

Inter’s key match at Juventus next Sunday will likely also be played behind closed doors, as well as several other matches in northern Italy.

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

Man United release latest financial results

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Man United have released their latest financial results and revenue has fallen by 20 percent year-on-year, while net debt has also risen.

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What is clear from the results is that not being in the UEFA Champions League has hit United hard but they continue to make money with commercial revenue on the up seven percent.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward revealed the latest results as Man United’s financial might is clear for all to see even.

“We have continued to make progress on our squad rebuild … the foundation for delivering the long-term success that we are all working towards is in place as we implement our plan and our footballing vision with Ole,” Woodward told investors. “We are pushing for a strong finish in the Premier League, the Europa League and the FA Cup as we enter the final third of the season.”

Man United are currently in fifth place in the Premier League table ahead of a pivotal run of games which will decide if they will once again dine at Europe’s top table under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. On the pitch they’ve beaten Chelsea and Watford in the last week without conceding and things are coming together nicely with new signings Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Daniel James and Bruno Fernandes making a big difference. 

Man United face Everton, Man City, Tottenham and Sheffield United in their next four PL games and that will be crucial in deciding if they’re going to reach the Champions League next season. Given Man City’s European ban and the potential for a UCL spot to move down to fifth-place, Man United are exactly where Solskjaer hoped they would be right now.

Below we have a look at the main takeaways form the financial results, which are always a huge talking point among United fans all over the world.

Main talking points from Man United’s Q2 results:

  • Revenues of $218.3 million, down 20 percent year-on-year
  • Operating profit of $47.3 million
  • Commercial revenue up 7 percent
  • Broadcast revenue down 37 percent due to no UEFA Champions League qualification
  • Matchday revenue down 15 percent due to fewer home games
  • Player wages down 9 percent
  • Net debt is $506.9 million, up $94.6 million, 23 percent

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

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The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

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

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

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LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday