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African Cup of Nations: Preview of Group C

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) A look at the teams, key players and coaches in Group C at the African Cup of Nations:

[ MORE: AFCON 2017 coverage ]

IVORY COAST

The defending champions are without a couple of big names from two years ago, none bigger than former captain Yaya Toure, who has retired from international soccer. Also, coach Herve Renard, who won with Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015, is now in charge of Morocco. Those two absences mean the Ivorians are not outright favorites like they were last tournament, but it’s still a very good team and a strong contender.

KEY PLAYER: Wilfried Zaha

The 24-year-old Zaha represents the new generation and although he’s only made two appearances for the national team, he’s had a major impact. He set up a goal on debut and scored in his second game, a 3-0 win over Uganda this week. The winger is a former England youth international who switched allegiance back to his country of birth late last year and was immediately called up by Ivory Coast.

COACH: Michel Dussuyer

Dussuyer had the tough task of taking over from Renard, the popular coach who led Ivory Coast to its first continental title in 23 years. Dussuyer’s Ivory Coast was subdued in qualifying and the Frenchman will have to deal with the retirements of the experienced Toure brothers Yaya and Kolo. He still has a large amount of talent to call on.

BEST RESULT: Winner, 1992 and 2015.

CONGO

A big surprise at the last African Cup of Nations when it finished third. Congo was once a power in African soccer with two titles in the 1960s and 1970s, but the team fell on hard times. It’s back now and the 2017 squad has a strong contingent of players in top European leagues. Congo, with unmistakable sky blue shirts and diagonal red stripes, will sorely miss injured Everton winger Yannick Bolassie, though, its most creative player.

KEY PLAYER: Dieudonne Mbokani

Without Bolassie, there’s more pressure on the center forward to ensure Congo scores goals. Mbokani is his country’s top scorer.

COACH: Florent Ibenge

Ibenge is a rarity, a black African coach taking charge of a national team. He’s one of only four black coaches at Africa’s 16-team tournament. Ibenge won praise for the way he led Congo at the African Cup two years ago and coached the country to triumph at last year’s African Nations Championship, the continent’s tournament for home-based players.

BEST RESULT: Winner, 1968 and 1974 (as Zaire).

MOROCCO

Morocco’s hopes took a big hit when midfielders Younes Belhanda, Oussama Tannane and Nordin Amrabat, and now this week forward Sofiane Boufal, were all ruled out with injury, stripping the squad of many of its top players. That seriously reduced its chances of going far, with Morocco struggling at recent African Cups anyway. Not only has Morocco not won a title since 1976, it hasn’t got out of the group stage in its last four African Cups.

KEY PLAYERS: Mehdi Benatia and Nabil Dirar

In the absence of so many stars, it’s now up to Juventus defender Benatia and Monaco midfielder Dirar to hold the team together.

COACH: Herve Renard

Morocco’s biggest asset is its coach. The charismatic Frenchman has had the golden touch at the African Cup recently, taking Zambia to a shock triumph in 2012 and ending Ivory Coast’s long drought to win two out of the last three titles. Renard is bidding to become the first coach in the history of the tournament to win three titles with different teams.

BEST RESULT: Winner, 1976.

TOGO

Togo is expected to struggle at this tournament, even with striker Emmanuel Adebayor back in the squad. Like Morocco, its one saving grace could be its coach, Claude le Roy. He has managed in Africa since 1985, taken teams to eight African Cups, and has reached the quarterfinals seven times.

KEY PLAYER: Emmanuel Adebayor

Adebayor so often represents Togo’s hopes. When he is playing poorly, or arguing with coaches, Togo often loses. When the former Arsenal and Manchester City striker is on form, Togo is a much better, much happier team.

COACH: Claude le Roy

Le Roy has acquired the nickname “White Wizard” in his 30 years managing African teams. Unmistakable with his flowing blonde hair and spectacles, he has a habit of working wonders with less-fancied teams, as he did to take Republic of Congo to the quarterfinals two years ago. Togo will need all of his wisdom.

BEST RESULT: Quarterfinals, 2013.

Report: Minnesota United chasing Ecuadorian national teamer

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Minnesota United may be hoping another Ibarra can cure what ails its attack.

Romario Ibarra, 23, is on the Loons’ radar according to The Athletic‘s Kristian Dyer and Jeff Rueter, who say Minnesota would like to land the Ecuadorian when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Ibarra was limited to eight matches for Universidad Católica this season as he battled through a lingering metatarsal fracture. But he’s scored against Argentina and Chile in each of his appearances for the national team, both World Cup qualifiers.

From The Athletic:

Sources say that Ibarra’s contract is unlikely to make him a designated player, leaving Quintero as the club’s sole DP. (It could depend, in part, on the size of the transfer fee.) Based on league standards, his salary will likely be drawn from Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) contract seems likely.

Ibarra’s older brother Renato plays for Club America, and has 36 caps.

Minnesota is six points outside the West’s final playoff spot, and has scored just 17 goals in 14 matches.

Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal field set

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The 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is down to one non-MLS entrant after LAFC fought past Sacramento Republic’s dogged effort to make it two, twice equalizing en route to a 3-2 win.

[ MORE: TFC extends Bono ]

Louisville City won a battle of USL sides in Wednesday’s final day of fifth round action, knocking off Nashville SC by a 2-1 score.

Now attention turns to the quarterfinals, where USL champions Louisville City will face the Chicago Fire on July 18.

All four quarterfinals will be staged on that day, and the winner of Louisville-Chicago will face the winner of the duel between Philadelphia Union and Orlando City.

The other side of the bracket shows Houston Dynamo against Sporting KC, and LAFC against the Portland Timbers.

Chicago and KC have won the cup an MLS-best four times each, while Philadelphia has finished second twice.

The remaining quarterfinalists have not advanced to a USOC final.

Sprawling translated Emery interview talks PSG, Guardiola, more

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Arsenal manager Unai Emery has given a sprawling interview, translated by France Football News, in which he discusses his history and his philosophies.

The interview was conducted after Emery was dismissed by Paris Saint-Germain but before he was hired by the Gunners.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

It’s a fascinating read, with Emery going deep into his relationship with Neymar, the need for PSG to get an “A-ha” goal for its history books, and much, much more.

The interview is with Marti Perarnau, the author of “Pep Confidential,” and there are plenty of good nuggets regarding the Manchester City boss, as well as Rafa Benitez, Zinedine Zidane, PSG, Real Madrid, and Barcelona.

It’s fairly clear that Emery figured he’d be going to a new league, and he certainly seems like a guy fit for a project like succeeding Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. For one thing, he’s proud of his team’s style.

That’s something valued by the North London set, and Emery pointed out that Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid and Pep Guardiola at Man City had to fail before they succeeded.

Let me say this: PSG played well and won. Many people don’t value that enough and believe that it is easy. But what happened to us? We lacked competitiveness in important moments. Why? Because this team is not confronted with enough moments of adversity in the league. Being competitive also means being faced with adversity. One has to suffer like Simeone’s team to win. One has to suffer like Pep’s team to win in England.

My team had two basic principles: having possession and pressing. That was the basis. Having the ball, and winning it back as fast as possible. I should add a little nuance. I’m talking about having possession and not positioning because there are moments where you can win the ball through positioning, and others where moving out of position can surprise the opponent. And like Guardiola says, if you have to win with a long ball from the goalkeeper towards the striker and that the forward scores with his ass, then so be it! We work like that as well.

And here’s just a quick nugget on the importance of playmaking, and how good players make a coach look better.

During his first match against Toulouse at the Parc des Princes, we get corner. Neymar takes it quickly and Kurzawa scores. We hadn’t worked that at all with him. Afterwards, I told Neymar, “My work is limited to your strokes of genius.”

Love it. Arsenal seems like it’s in good hands. Read the full interview here.

Khedira laughs off Swedish reporter’s offer of tickets home

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Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira brushed off a gesture from a Swedish reporter, trading a bit of banter ahead of Germany’s big World Cup match against Sweden on Saturday.

Germany fell 1-0 to Mexico in its opener while Sweden beat South Korea, leading a playful Swede to hand Khedira boarding passes for a flight home to Germany.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Khedira’s reply? He joked that Sweden won’t be a problem and he’ll use the tickets after the World Cup Final.

From Goal.com:

“After this bad start, we know that it’s super difficult, but we know that we are a strong team. We analysed the game, we saw Sweden play and we are sure that we are winning this game.

“I think we’ll need them [plane tickets] on the 16th of July.”