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After the hand and the bite, Suarez gets his head right

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NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) First, it was his hand. Then, his teeth. Luis Suarez’s feet and football ability are yet to take center stage for Uruguay at a World Cup.

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Maybe this time, now that his head is right.

Like Barcelona teammate and close friend Lionel Messi, Suarez could be playing for his World Cup legacy in Russia. At best he has three games left, starting with Friday’s quarterfinal against France.

Messi’s failures at the World Cup have been well documented. Suarez’s experiences have been far rawer.

At both his previous tournaments, the Uruguay striker hasn’t just left disappointed, he’s left in disgrace, labeled a cheat in one and the world’s dirtiest player in the other.

“You mature, you learn things and you live in the present,” Suarez said at Uruguay’s team base in Russia in the buildup to the France game.

In South Africa in 2010, Suarez’s defining act was to block a goal-bound header from Ghana with his hand in the dying seconds of extra time in their quarterfinal. Suarez was sent off for the intentional handball but Ghana missed the resulting penalty.

Suarez’s clear cheating and wild celebrations on the side of the field incensed a continent as it helped Uruguay reach the semifinals at the expense of Africa’s last hope.

Four years ago in Brazil, there was an even more shocking exit: Suarez bit Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in a group game – leaving visible teeth marks in Chiellini’s left shoulder – and FIFA banned him for nine matches and four months, ending his tournament. It was the third time Suarez had been banned for biting an opponent.

Suarez, now 31, is back for another go at the World Cup, maybe his last.

At Uruguay’s base he appeared unaffected by his ignominious history at the tournament, answering questions from journalists about previous disciplinary breakdowns with no outward signs of discomfort. There seemed to be no attempts to hide anything, either.

Suarez has taken steps to address his on-field behavior for Uruguay, he said, with the help of Oscar Tabarez, the coach and former teacher who has been in charge for Suarez’s entire international career.

“Tabarez helps a lot. He’s one of the best coaches in the world because of his personality, the way he helps players,” Suarez said. “Personally, he has helped me a lot. Before games, he always talks to me about what goes on in my head. That’s important to me. That talk I have with him is important.”

For over a decade, Tabarez has worked to develop a specific team mantra in the Uruguay squad, putting emphasis on humility, work ethic and respect for others.

That has manifested itself at the team’s World Cup base in Russia, a sports center on the outskirts of Nizhny Novgorod where the players’ accommodation is more like school dormitories than five-star luxury.

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From the camp, stories emerge of Uruguay’s best players and biggest stars being asked to clear away their own plates and cutlery after meals, wash their own boots, carry training equipment to and from the field, and, in a nod to plain good manners, start press conferences by greeting journalists with a “good morning” or “good afternoon.”

Suarez also spoke about the “serenity” Tabarez brought to the squad and referred to himself, once the troublemaker, as now a veteran and a role model.

“Now I’m one of the oldest, an example … the younger ones look up to us,” Suarez said. “You get nervous (in games), but at the same time you are one of the ones who has to remain calm. You have to set a good example to the younger ones. You have learned how to handle these situations.”

More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

CCL wrap: Atlanta United, Cruz Azul advance

CONCACAF Champions League
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The underdogs did not have their days on Tuesday in the CONCACAF Champions League.

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MLS side Atlanta United and Liga MX mainstays Cruz Azul cruised to second legs win at home to clinch places in the quarterfinals.

Cruz Azul 4-0 (6-1 agg.) Portmore United

Bringing a pair of away goals from Jamaica, the Liga MX hosts just needed to put this one on ice early.

Orbelin Pineda did that in the 22nd minute, and Cruz Azul struck thrice in the second half to win in a landslide.

Atlanta United 3-0 (4-1 agg.) Montagua

It was all about the Martinezes in Georgia, as Pity sandwiched a pair of goals around Josef’s 61st minute tally to send the Five Stripes into the next stage.

All the goals showed calm under pressure, but Pity’s first was gorgeous football. He also assisted Josef’s goal in Honduras during the first leg.

Remaining Round of 16 second legs

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

Coronavirus: Italy may lift ban on sporting events by Monday

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MILAN (AP) The Italian government could lift its ban on sporting events by Monday in areas affected by the coronavirus if the number of cases stabilizes.

The outbreak forced a number of sporting events to be called off throughout the country this past weekend, including four Serie A matches in the north of Italy.

This week, the ban on sporting events was extended from Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont – the areas hardest hit by the outbreak – to also include the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, until March 1.

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“If, as I hope, the statistics don’t give us different signs then maybe already by Monday these measures won’t be continued,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “But it’s only Tuesday today and we have to wait and see what happens over the next few days. The health of the Italian citizens is the most important thing.”

Italy reported a 45% increase in the number of coronavirus cases Tuesday, from 222 to 300. Ten people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments.

“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we have implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Serie A matches this weekend are set to be played behind closed doors, including Juventus’ key match against Inter Milan. That game is not only potentially crucial to the title race but also sees the return of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Inter’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets on Thursday will also take place without any fans allowed in.

Serie C canceled all games in two leagues which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that “for now” next weekend’s World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d’Aosta region were still set to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already canceled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

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

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

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The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

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So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…