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Q&A: Edin Dzeko on Roma, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Champions League

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PST spoke to a quartet of AS Roma players this week as the club contends the 2017 International Champions Cup in the United States with the aim of a profile piece on i Lupi captain Daniele De Rossi’s quest for an elusive scudetto.

That piece came out well, but the conversations with some of his teammates were just as fun. While Kevin Strootman’s resilience and Hector Moreno’s Mexican ambassador status neatly fit into individual posts, our talk with ex-Man City striker and reigning Capocannoniere winner Edin Dzeko works better in Q&A form.

[ MORE: How will Chicharito slot in at West Ham? ]

Plenty has changed since Dzeko scored in Man City’s wild title-clinching finish against QPR. Dzeko talked about his surprising and explosive 29-goal Serie A season, his interest in a UEFA Champions League return to the Etihad Stadium, and a love for representing his home nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Enjoy.

PST: Obviously we know your quality from having scored 25-plus goals three times in seasons at Wolfsburg and Manchester City, but what was it like going from 10 goals to 39 in your second season at Roma?

Edin Dzeko: “It was definitely one of the best in my career. When you get up in your years you are supposed to go down, but actually I’ve gone up. I felt good and from the beginning of preseason I trained hard and it was an important season after getting to know the qualities of the teams and players in the league after my first season in Italy. Last year was big proof of it and like it always is, it was harder than it looked.”

PST: You’ve won the Bundesliga and the Premier League, the latter twice. Last season you shaved Juventus’ table advantage to four points. Can this be the year?

Dzeko: “I have hope that I can do the same in Italy. It’s definitely not easy with Juventus having it the last few years and not selling, only buying new players. Last season was really good for us. We were very close but we still dropped some easy points against the small teams and that cost us at the end. Next year we play Champions League. We changed coaches and a few players left and others came so we have to gather up to the new style of the coach and the new players have to learn what it is to play in Italy. Hopefully this season can be better than last, but we have to go step-by-step.”

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

PST: Wolfsburg had never won, and Man City hadn’t in 40-plus years. Can those experiences help in pushing Roma to its first scudetto since 2001?

Dzeko: “Hopefully. Also when I went to City and we won the first and second title, the team was probably was one of the best in England where it’s also not so easy to win the title. I have another three years contract in Rome and this town and these fans deserve a title. It’s such a shame, every year without a title for this club.”

PST: What would it mean?

Dzeko: “It would mean everything. Hopefully we will manage to do this in the next few years, but it would mean everything to them. I’d habe a lot of good feelings if Roma would manage to win the title. It would be amazing for all the players. They will love us and never forget. The people in Rome, they live for football. They live for us.”

PST: Hector Moreno mentioned that hunger in training was evident in just the few days he’s been there.

Dzeko: “You have to be hungry for good things because it’s a new young team, a new coach, and the team is step-by-step building itself in new directions. We lost four, five players from last seasons so it’s never easy to bring seven, eight new players and immediately work it out. So this preseason is important.”

(Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images)

PST: You’re Bosnia and Herzegovina’s all-time leading scorer, and you seem to relish international breaks and pulling on the shirt. 

Dzeko: “I’m proud of myself for what I’ve achieved because I remember when I was young and I was looking to the players, my idols, who were playing with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s something special, we can take it to heart and I’m proud that I can be the idol of some young boys in Bosnia that can still believe they can do some good things and positive stuff in the future. When someone from our small country goes out and plays in a league like Italy, it gives the confidence for the rest of the young people that they can know that everything is possible.”

PST: You’re also pretty active in causes around Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dzeko: “It’s important for me because it’s my country, it’s the country that gave me everything, where I grew up for 18 years before I left for Czech Republic first and then Germany, England, Italy. I want to help the people who need help because I have the possibility to do it. I will always be there for them and I’m also the UNICEF ambassador that makes me even more proud because I love kids.”

PST: Finally, Roma is in a different pot than Manchester City for this year’s UEFA Champions League. Would you like to be drawn with your old team, or prefer the clubs stay separate?

Dzeko: “I would love it, to be fair. I would love to go back there and even against City I bring so many good memories from the beautiful days and my connection with the fans and club. I would definitely look forward to it.”

Real Madrid on brink of La Liga title; record ninth-straight win

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid is on the verge of reclaiming the Spanish league title, after its ninth straight win following the pandemic break.

Madrid defeated Granada 2-1 on Monday to move within two points of winning the La Liga title.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Ferland Mendy and Karim Benzema scored first-half goals to keep Madrid four points ahead of second-placed Barcelona with two rounds to go.

Madrid can clinch its first title since 2017 on Thursday with a win at Villarreal, or if Barcelona loses points when it hosts Osasuna. Two draws in the final two rounds will also be enough to secure Madrid a record 34th league trophy.

“We are a step closer but we can’t relax, we haven’t won anything yet,” Madrid captain Sergio Ramos said. “There are still points to be won. We depend on ourselves and we have a game at home coming up, hopefully we can win it and celebrate the league title.”

Madrid was in control early in Granada and Mendy’s first goal since joining the Spanish club this season came from a beautiful angled shot into the top corner after getting past a defender inside the area in the 10th minute.

Benzema added to the lead six minutes later by scoring his 19th league goal with a right-footed strike into the far corner.

Granada, which was 10th in the standings, got on the board with a goal by Darwin Machis in the 50th and pressured to the end.

The hosts came closest to the equalizer with about five minutes left, when Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had to make a difficult save and Ramos cleared a shot at the goal line.

Madrid had not conceded a goal in its last five league matches.

Sevilla secured the final Champions League spot after Villarreal lost to Real Sociedad 2-1.

The loss left Villarreal nine points behind fourth-placed Sevilla with two rounds to go. Sevilla beat Mallorca 2-0 on Sunday for its fourth straight win.

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have the other berths in the Champions League.

Sevilla last featured in the Champions League in 2018 when it was eliminated by Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals. It played in the Europa League in 2018-19 and this season, where it will face Roma in the round of 16.

Villarreal needed a win to keep alive its hopes of making it to the Champions League. It has won six of its nine matches following the pandemic break, but the home setback against Sociedad ended its chances of qualifying. It remains in good position to grab a Europa League spot, though, as it kept fifth place.

Sociedad also stayed in contention for the Europa League with its third win since the break, moving to seventh place. Willian Jose scored in the 61st minute and Diego Llorente in the 75th, while the hosts pulled closer through Santi Cazorla in the 85th.

Getafe stayed in sixth place after drawing at relegation-threatened Alaves 0-0.

A late goal disallowed by video review kept Getafe from earning its second win since the league resumed after the pandemic stoppage.

Alaves has also won only once since the break and is winless in seven straight league matches. It is four points above the relegation zone.

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

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Man United: ‘We will put it right’ and not feeling pressure in top 4 race

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Manchester United insist they will put their draw against Southampton right and the reaction from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players was clear that they aren’t feeling the pressure of the top four race.

Leading 2-1 in the 96th minute at home against Southampton, they conceded a late equalizer from a corner and Solskjaer looked understandably frustrated with two points dropped.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Within a few seconds they went from moving up to third with three games to now sitting in fifth, behind both Leicester City and Chelsea in the top four race.

Speaking to reporters via Zoom after the game, Solskjaer was asked if he believes in the mentality of his players to put things right.

“I have to say the mentality of the boys has been absolutely brilliant. We’ve had a few setbacks and this is another challenge for us. I’m very confident in the mentality of them,” Solskjaer said. “Very disappointed, of course, but you have to take the disappointments as well as the positives when you win games. Disappointment because one of the last kicks of the ball you concede a goal and you lose two points, that’s just part of football. We’ve learned a hard lesson today, hopefully. We will make it right and put it right. The boys, I trust them in that respect.”

[ MORE: Maguire reacts to draw ]

Solskjaer was then asked if the pressure of the situation, watching Chelsea and Leicester both get hammered at the weekend and giving them the chance to jump up to third, played on the mind of his players.

“Absolutely not,” was Solskjaer’s reaction. “I don’t think any of our players have been thinking what have Chelsea done this weekend. Not at all. It is just the way the games go. We all play against the same teams and we all have 38 games to go through. It will even itself out during a long season and you will deserve the position you get in the end.”

That position for Manchester United will still probably be in the top four but they have made it harder for themselves now.

From the start they looked sluggish against Saints, with Paul Pogba giving the ball away on the first goal, then they sat back and looked tired in the second half.

Although Solskjaer said tiredness wasn’t an issue, it looked like midtable Southampton were chasing third place and not Manchester United. Maybe a busy few weeks caught up with United but they now have an FA Cup semifinal and huge games against Crystal Palace, West Ham and Leicester City to finish the season.

Going forward they looked slick and they should have just about enough in the tank to finish in the top four. However, this will be tight and could go to the final game of the season at Leicester.

WATCH: Akinfewa’s inspires after verbal abuse, Wycombe promotion

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Adebayo Akinfenwa is living the life right now.

The 38-year-old striker has helped Wycombe Wanderers into the Football League Championship for the first time in their existence after the club beat Oxford United 2-1 in the League One playoff final on Monday.

If Akinfenwa’s name sounds familiar, it should. The muscular 38-year-old “Beast” shot into the spotlight when he used Wimbledon’s promotion to broadcast that managers should “hit him up on Whatsapp” because he wasn’t done playing the game.

[ MORE: Maguire, Solskjaer rue late Man Utd draw ]

The striker mentioned Whatsapp again on Monday, saying “The only person who can WhatsApp me tonight is Klopp so we can celebrate together. ”

He was recently in the news for vile reasons, reporting that he had been called a “fat water buffalo” in Wycombe’s semifinal win over Fleetwood Town. Akinfenwa says that if the barb wasn’t intended as racial abuse, then his opponents need to be educated on racism.

He didn’t want to speak about that on Monday.

“Today is about, listen, for me, life in football is all about opinions. Four years ago someone gave an opinion about me and that was their opinion. I hope my story shows that the only opinion that matters is the opinion you have about yourself. I was lucky and blessed to find a manager and players who believed in me. I’ll say it for the people in the back: Wycombe is in the Championship. Wait, wait, I’ll say it one more time. Wycombe’s in the Championsh- WAIT! The people in the back didn’t hear me: Wycombe is in the Championship.”

Akinfewa played the final 28 minutes of Monday’s win and his next league appearance will be the first above League One in his long career that started with Watford’s academy in 2000.

He scored 10 goals and added six assists this season, giving him 200 professional goals in more than 650 appearances.

Solskjaer, Maguire react to disappointing Manchester United draw

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The 18th game of Manchester United’s unbeaten streak isn’t going to leave a good taste in the Red Devils’ mouths.

United threw away a late lead and third place on Monday, drawing Southampton 2-2 on a stoppage time goal from Michael Obafemi that came after Red Devils defender Brandon Williams left United with 10 men thanks to a head injury.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

“Well it’s the worst time to concede a goal but that happens in football,” said United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

“You’ve gotta be strong and take it because we’ve won so many games that way. It’s part of learning for this team to be sat there really disappointed after you thought you’ve got the three points in the bag. We probably didn’t deserve the three points today. … They’re a physical, very very fit side. We never got the rhythm in our passing today especially after we got 2-1.”

Solksjaer was baffled that United didn’t play half the match up a man after Oriol Romeu clattered into Mason Greenwood.

“I know my ankle wouldn’t take that challenge. It’s a nasty one, but we’ve said enough about VAR.”

United failed to claim a top four place for the first time since September and remains behind fourth-place Leicester City on goal differential. Both sides trail Chelsea by one point with three to play.

Red Devils center back Harry Maguire was upset at the failed opportunity to pass his former side.

“Playing at Old Trafford you want to win every game you play for Manchester United. We go for three points. We didn’t get three. We’re disappointed at the moment but we know we’ve gotta dust ourselves down tomorrow. We’ve got some big games coming up and we’ve gotta go get three points.”

United has Crystal Palace, West Ham, and Leicester City on the schedule in its bid for a top four spot.