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Nigerian midfielder signs for Stoke City ahead of World Cup

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Stoke City’s fight to make their Premier League hiatus just one year under Gary Rowett will include at least one new player from a World Cup roster.

Nigeria center midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo, 22, is headed to the bet365 Stadium from Feirense for about $8.5 million.

Etebo played 14 times on loan for Las Palmas last season and was one of the La Liga side’s top performers.

[ MORE: Nigeria’s World Cup preview ]

Stoke CEO Tony Scholes was humbled by Etebo’s choice, via StokeCityFC.com:

“I’m particularly pleased that he took the time to look beyond our current league status and understand who we are as a club before choosing us ahead of current Premier League and Bundesliga clubs.”

Etebo is the second Nigerian international to make a move to England this season, with defender Leon Balogun moving from Mainz to Brighton and Hove Albion.

EFL Cup preview: Liverpool-Chelsea highlights 3rd round

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The EFL Cup returns with 15 games — featuring 14 Premier League sides — spread across Tuesday and Wednesday.

[ MORE: Sarri believes Chelsea still far from competing with Liverpool ]

Liverpool face Chelsea on Wednesday, as the premier tie of the third round will be played at Anfield. The Reds and Blues are yet to play in the PL this season, though they were the last two remaining sides with 100-percent records to start the campaign until Chelsea slipped up away to West Ham United on Sunday. Following Wednesday’s clash in the northwest of England, they’ll meet again on Saturday at Stamford Bridge for that first meeting in league play (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

Following his side’s draw at the London Stadium, first-year Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri threw a bit of cold water on Blues fans’ growing hopes that a title challenge might be possible this season, claiming that this week’s opponent remains “a step forward of us at this moment.”

“We have to play against a very, very good team who have worked with the same coach for three years,” he said. “We have started to work together 40 days ago, less 10 days for the international break, so for us it is a bit early. We have to work and then, maybe, in one year we will be at the same level as Liverpool.”

[ MORE: Mourinho’s mixed messages over Man United progression ]

Elsewhere this week, Manchester City and Manchester United will each take on lower-level opposition on Tuesday, as the Red Devils will get a visit from Championship side Derby County and the defending holders take a trip to League One side Oxford United.

A pair of all-London battles featuring Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal take second billing to Liverpool versus Chelsea on Wednesday. Tottenham will get their chance at revenge against Watford, the side that ended Mauricio Pochettino’s side’s perfect start to the season, at Wembley Stadium. Back in north London, the Gunners will host west London’s Brentford, one of nearly a dozen sides with dreams of winning promotion from the Championship this season.

Tuesday’s EFL Cup schedule (all games 2:45 p.m. ET, unless noted)

Manchester United vs. Derby County — 3 p.m. ET
Oxford United vs. Manchester City
Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Leicester City
West Bromwich Albion vs. Crystal Palace — 3 p.m. ET
Bournemouth vs. Blackburn Rovers
Burton vs. Burnley
Millwall vs. Fulham
Blackpool vs. Queens Park Rangers
Wycombe vs. Norwich City
Preston North End vs. Middlesbrough

Wednesday’s EFL Cup schedule (all games 2:45 p.m. ET, unless noted)

Liverpool vs. Chelsea — 3 p.m. ET
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Watford
Arsenal vs. Brentford
West Ham United vs. Macclesfield Town
Nottingham Forest vs. Stoke City

Oct. 2 EFL Cup schedule

Everton vs. Southampton

Real Madrid to reject La Liga’s plans for USA games

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Real Madrid aren’t interested one little bit about moving La Liga games from Spain to the United States of America.

La Liga, along with clubs Barcelona and Girona, have asked the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) to move their league game from Catalonia to Miami, Florida in January 2019.

Amid growing negativity towards the idea from FIFA president Gianni Infantino plus several other La Liga clubs, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has now stuck his oar in.

“We won’t go to the United States,” Perez said. “I don’t know whose interest it is in to play there but it is not in the interests of the clubs or the supporters, so we outright reject it.”

And there you go.

This idea seemed to be a decent one to start with but the more it has developed, the more it has become a bit of a PR disaster for the league.

With the Spanish FA, La Liga, U.S. Soccer, CONCACAF and others all having to agree on moving a regular-season game out of Spain, it seems like a lot of people will need a lot of convincing between now and November/December time when this will have to be confirmed or canceled.

Last week RFEF demanded more details on the game in Miami from La Liga and refused to give the green light to the game.

Javier Tebas, head of La Liga, seems desperate to make this happen after agreeing to a 15-year deal to play one league game a season in North America. But Tebas hasn’t received much backing from clubs, officials and pretty much anyone else in-between.

La Liga is trying to grow its global brand but moving regular season games across the Atlantic Ocean a la the NFL, NBA and MLB doesn’t seem to be the way fans and players in Spain want to go about it.

What other alternatives are there?

They could perhaps start by playing the Spanish Super Cup in the USA and see how that fares? Or maybe host a mini preseason tournament in the USA involved over half of the La Liga teams? Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona and others already spend pretty much every preseason in the USA playing in front of European giants in prestigious friendly games and fans accept it is a scrimmage but still show up in their thousands.

If La Liga’s brand is that strong, fans will want to travel from across the globe to watch Real, Barca, Atletico and others in action. That already happens, but can you fault them for trying to strengthen it by taking games elsewhere?

La Liga want to try something different and to close the gap between themselves and the Premier League. Throw in the growing popularity of the Bundesliga and Serie A, at least from a commercial standpoint, and it makes sense fo think outside the box, or the country in this instance.

But if the key stakeholders do not agree, it can’t happen. End of discussion.

VIDEO: Worst dive in history? Quite possibly

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Now, we’ve all become accustomed to seeing some of the ugly parts of the beautiful game.

Diving is undoubtedly one of the biggest problems we needed to clean up. And ridiculous videos like this one may help to do that.

Feyenoord’s Steven Berghuis got a little pat on his head from an opposition player at the weekend. It was a friendly ‘nice one, mate’ from Utrecht player Willem Janssen. That was it. Nothing more.

Yet this was how Berghuis reacted as he is being ridiculed across social media.

Now, we all know that ‘trying to win a free kick’ and other forms of embellishment are apparently part of the game. We don’t like it. But until VAR is commonplace at all levels of the game, players will continue to try and get away with whatever they can.

But incidents like this and some of Neymar’s antics this summer, coupled with the public ridicule that type of simulation has received, will surely act to dissuade future generations from attempting such outrageous levels of skullduggery.

We live in hope.

Word has it Berghuis is off to a swimming pool in Rotterdam on Monday to perfect his diving skills…

Women’s Ballon d’Or award launched

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PARIS (AP) A woman will win the most prestigious individual trophy in soccer for the first time this year.

Awarded every year by France Football magazine since Stanley Matthews won it in 1956, the Ballon d’Or for the best player of the year will be given to both a woman and a man on Dec. 3 in Paris.

Pascal Ferre, the magazine’s editor in chief, told The Associated Press women’s soccer has grown so much in recent years it was a logical step to create the new award.

“Women’s soccer is a booming discipline that deserves the same respect as men’s soccer,” Ferre told the AP. “It’s coming to maturity and growing bigger. More than 760 million TV viewers watched games at the last women’s World Cup in 2015, this did not happen by chance.”

France Football will make an official announcement in Tuesday’s edition of the magazine.

A list of 15 nominees for the prize will be announced on Oct. 8 alongside the 30-man selection. The players will be selected by France Football and a panel of international journalists specialized in women’s soccer will vote on a winner.

“The jury won’t be the same as the jury voting for the men,” Ferre said. “Only experts can vote. I’m confident we will get a jury of about 40 journalists, from countries where women’s soccer is growing.”

The Ballon d’Or merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year award from 2010-15, but the magazine and soccer’s governing body split two years ago. FIFA also awards a trophy to the best women’s player.

Ferre said most of the female players he spoke with about the new Ballon d’Or have been enthusiastic.

“They are thrilled and can’t wait for it,” Ferre said. “They are very proud to see that the world of soccer considers that women should be treated in the same respect as men.”

France Football is also launching a new award for the best young player of the year, the Kopa trophy, named after the late Raymond Kopa. The former Real Madrid attacking midfielder who became the first French player to win the Ballon d’Or back in 1958 died last year at 85. Only former winners will be entitled to choose the winner from a list of 10 under-21 players.

The award ceremony will be broadcast live in more than 120 countries.

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