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Study of footballers’ brains highlights dementia concerns

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LONDON (AP) The degenerative damage potentially caused by repeated blows to the head in soccer has been highlighted by a rare study of brains of a small number of retired players who developed dementia.

Fourteen former players were part of the research that began around 40 years ago and six brains, which underwent post-mortem examinations, had signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Four brains were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) pathology, a possible consequence of repeated impacts to the brain, including heading the ball and concussion injuries from head-to-head collisions. A previous study of 268 brains from the general population in Britain found a far lower CTE detection rate of 12 percent.

[ MORE: Clattenburg leaves England ]

The small sample size of former footballers prevented researchers from University College London and Britain’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery from drawing any conclusions about the dangers posed by playing soccer as they released their research.

But researchers hope the findings provide the impetus for more substantial studies in conjunction with soccer authorities. The researchers require current or retired players to be willing to take part of investigations that could take decades to produce conclusions.

“Our findings show there is a potential link between repetitive head impacts from playing football and the later development of CTE,” lead author Dr. Helen Ling of the UCL Institute of Neurology told The Associated Press.

“This will support the need for larger scale studies of a larger number of footballers who need to be followed long term, looking at various aspects in terms of their mental functions, imaging of the brain and also markers that might identify neurological damage.”

England’s Football Association said it is committed to “independent, robust and thorough” research, which it is jointly funding with the players’ union. The Alzheimer’s Society maintained that the latest “results do not provide proof that heading a football, or sustaining a head injury by any other means during the sport, is linked to developing dementia.”

“Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia and it’s important to ensure that people playing any kind of sport are able to do so safely,” Dr. James Pickett, research head at the Alzheimer’s Society, said.

Concerns have grown in Britain about the impact of head injuries after campaigning by the family of former England striker Jeff Astle, whose death at age 59 in 2002 was attributed to repeatedly heading heavy, leather balls.

Astle’s daughter, Dawn, is urging “current footballers or families of footballers to pledge the brain” for medical research.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings ]

“If we hadn’t donated dad’s brain, we wouldn’t know what we know now – we wouldn’t know what had killed him,” Dawn Astle said. “It’s too late for dad. The research is so important for current players and for future players. That’s why we need it.

“I think that’s what is so very frustrating – the fact that it’s nearly 15 years since my dad died. And the fact that nothing from any footballing authorities has been done. It is really indefensible and disgraceful.”

At least four members of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad have developed dementia or memory loss.

In the United States, there has been a $1 billion settlement between the NFL and thousands of its former American football players who have been diagnosed with brain injuries linked to repeated concussions. In 2015, the U.S. Soccer Federation recommended a ban on headers for players 10 and under in a bid to address concerns about the impact of head injuries.

[ MORE: NYCFC adds new DP ]

The British soccer research was instigated by consultant psychiatrist Dr. Don Williams, who started to monitor former players who were diagnosed with dementia from 1980. From Swansea in south Wales, Williams monitored the retired players and collected data on their playing and concussion history.

“In 1980 the son of a man with advanced dementia asked me if his father’s condition had been caused by heading the ball for many years as a powerful center half,” Williams said. “As the brain is a very fragile organ, well protected within the skull, this was a constructive suggestion.

“As a result I looked out for men with dementia and a significant history of playing soccer, followed them up and where possible arranged for post-mortem studies to be carried out.”

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Klopp: Liverpool “changed the system” to beat PSG

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Bullet dodged via Roberto Firmino, Liverpool can reflect on a thrilling start to a new UEFA Champions League season.

The Reds built a two-goal lead against Paris Saint-Germain and very much looked the part of the favorite even after allowing Thomas Meunier to pull the visitors back to 2-1 before the break on Tuesday at Anfield.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 3-2 PSG ]

But a Mohamed Salah giveaway led to a Kylian Mbappe goal, and the Reds were in danger of giving two points away to start life in a group which also includes Napoli and Red Star Belgrade (who played to a 0-0 draw in Serbia).

Enter the man they call Bobby, who came off the bench days after a scary eye injury that earned reports of possible long-term damage.

A goal, and an eye-patch celebration that will live in the Anfield memory for some time.

That the match needed late heroics was a sign of some worry for Liverpool, who have taken their foot off the gas more than a few times in recent seasons. For example: the blowing a pair of leads in draws against Sevilla in last season’s group stage.

That’s not a trend, but a complete win over Paris Saint-Germain would go a long way to cementing the Reds’ status as a UCL finalist threat. And that would need

“It was really important we started like we did,” said Jurgen Klopp. “We were so strong and good with the ball. We changed the system because we expected a change from them. We needed all of our focus and we covered a lot of yards and closed all of the gaps.”

Liverpool came out of the gates with vigor, and showing an urgency which laid plain their angst from last season’s final loss to Real Madrid.

“This club and the fans have been waiting for the Champions League to come back since May,” said Andy Robertson.

The Reds scored early from Daniel Sturridge, then took advantage of a lazy Juan Bernat challenge to get a penalty conversion from Mr. Reliable, James Milner.

Faced with another disappointing stalemate, Firmino stepped up. And it’s possible that winning in the manner they did may mean more to their hopes than cruising to 2-0 or 2-1.

“It is the perfect start for us,” Milner said. “Hopefully we can build on that. I think it would have been very disappointing not to win. They didn’t create too many and we had a number of chances.

“I can’t say enough good things about Bobby (Roberto Firmino). To come off the bench after his injury at the weekend is incredible really.”

Next up: a visit to Southampton, followed by a League Cup date at Chelsea, a Blues visit to Anfield, and then a trip to Napoli.

Liverpool wins stoppage time thriller

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  • Sturridge opens scoring
  • Mane wins PK, Milner converts
  • Salah giveaway leads to equalizer
  • Firmino saves the day

Roberto Firmino‘s stoppage time goal saved Liverpool blushes after the Reds gave away a two-goal lead but came back to beat Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 in the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday at Anfield.

Daniel Sturridge and James Milner scored first for the Reds, who looked to be on cruise control after a dominant first half.

Thomas Meunier and Kylian Mbappe scored for the visitors set the stage for a grandstand finish.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Liverpool was twice denied by the paw of Alphonse Areola within seven minutes of kickoff, with Virgil Van Dijk and James Milner earning corner kicks.

PSG found its first real danger when Edinson Cavani set up Neymar for a drive at Alisson Becker, and Virgil van Dijk helped produce a tame rebound effort.

Sturridge, only starting due to an injury to Roberto Firmino, put the Reds ahead in the 31st minute when he headed an Andy Robertson cross past Areola.

Liverpool headed to the spot for a chance to make it 2-0 when Juan Bernat made a clumsy challenge on Georginio Wijnaldum. That’s Milner’s office, and the two-goal lead arrived at Anfield.

But Meunier was on hand to pull one back when a partially-blocked shot came to him for a left-footed volley inside the 18.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Mohamed Salah believed he had restored Liverpool’s two-goal lead, but Sturridge’s sliding stamp on Areola’s groin was called a foul and a free kick was awarded.

Moments after Sadio Mane came oh-so-close to giving the Reds a two-goal lead, Liverpool collapsed under the weight of a Salah giveaway.

Julian Draxler snagged the ball and fed Neymar, who dribbled towards Virgil van Dijk. The Dutchman got a piece of Neymar’s dribble, but the block went right to Mbappe, who did not miss his chance to best Alisson Becker.

Trent Alexander-Arnold came close to restoring the lead when Marquinhos gave away a free kick on the edge of the PSG box.

But Firmino was the man to give all three points to the Reds.

UCL wrap: USMNT’s Pulisic, McKennie shine

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Christian Pulisic can score by blocking clearances and Weston McKennie won’t stop running, as Americans made their impacts felt in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

[ MORE: PL Player Power Rankings ]

Of course, Spurs and Liverpool threw away leads and only the latter recovered to get a result on a busy night in Europe.

Inter Milan 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur RECAP

Christian Eriksen scored for Spurs, as the North London side had a 1-0 lead in the 53rd minute. But Inter struck twice in the final few minutes, including Matias Vecino’s winner in the second minute of stoppage. That will leave Spurs licking their wounds after a third-straight loss.

Barcelona 4-0 PSV EindhovenRECAP

Lionel Messi now has more hat tricks than anyone in Champions League history — for now — nabbing his eighth in moving ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus plays Wednesday). And Ousmane Dembele scored a gorgeous dribble and finish in the win.

Liverpool 3-2 Paris Saint-GermainRECAP

The Reds went ahead 2-0 through a Daniel Sturridge header and James Milner penalty, and controlled much of the proceedings. Thomas Meunier’s 40th minute goal seemed destined to mean very little when Mohamed Salah gave away the ball late in the second half.

Kylian Mbappe made it 2-2, but it only set the stage for Roberto Firmino.

Schalke 1-1 Porto

USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie turned provider on the match’s first goal, sliding across for Breel Embolo’s fortunate offspeed finish (see below). But Salif Sane conceded a penalty to the visitors, and Otavio finished his chance for a share of the points.

Monaco 1-2 Atletico Madrid

A goal from diminutive Serge Grandsir gave the hosts an early lead, but Diego Costa and Jose Maria Gimenez scored before halftime to give Diego Simeone’s men all three points.

Red Star Belgrade 0-0 Napoli

The Serbians send a message that no one’s coming to their house and getting an easy night. Napoli managed 20 shots to Red Star’s six, but a 7-save performance from Canada’s Milan Borjan got a point for the hosts at the Stadion Rajko Mitic.

Galatasaray 3-0 Lokomotiv Moscow

Garry Rodrigues and Erden Derdiyok scored on either side of halftime to give the Turkish powers a win at the Turk Telekom Arena.

Club Brugge 0-1 Borussia Dortmund

Christian Pulisic began the game on the bench, entering for the final 20 minutes or so of his 20th birthday to make his 100th BVB appearance.

Happy birthday, kid.

Pochettino: “Best performance of season” in 2-1 loss

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Tottenham Hotspur came within minutes of picking up an unexpected away win at Inter Milan to kickoff live in this UEFA Champions League season.

[ RECAP: Inter Milan 2-1 Spurs ]

Christian Eriksen had given Spurs a lead it held until the 85th minute. That’s when Mauro Icardi’s wonderful volley leveled the score line before a Matias Vecino header in stoppage time gave Inter a 2-1 win at the San Siro.

Serge Aurier did not appreciate the result, according to Football Italia.

“Every player played well but we conceded two stupid goals,” Aurier said. But we stay focused and we stay together for the next week. You just have to stay focused, I’m sad for my team today because every player wanted to win the game.”

His manager struck a different tone despite the set back.

Mauricio Pochettino loved his team on the day, and said it was better than it was when it handed Manchester United a 3-0 loss last month.

From Football Italia:

“I’m happy with the performance, we dominated until the end but it’s so cruel,” Pochettino told BT Sport.

“For me it was the best performance of the season. I’m happy with the performance but so disappointed and so annoyed, because we deserved more but we conceded twice in two actions.

“We made a mistake and we paid for that mistake, sometimes you don’t but in the last few games we’ve been punished for our mistakes.”

Pochettino said Spurs have to be patient during this “negative period,” which has the club losers of three-straight in all competitions.

Next up: Away to Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League on Saturday, then home to Watford in the League Cup.