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Still party time for World Cup champion France in Nations League

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PARIS (AP) Less than two months after claiming a second World Cup title, no wonder France is still in a partying mood.

After a summer of euphoria, Didier Deschamps’ players didn’t look ready against Germany in the teams’ opening UEFA Nations League match, which ended in a goalless draw. The French were on the back foot for long spells and avoided defeat only thanks to a series of outstanding saves from Paris Saint-Germain `keeper Alphonse Areola.

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Thursday’s game in Munich was France’s first match since it beat Croatia 4-2 in the World Cup final in Moscow in July. Deschamps’ team kept the same style of play based on solid defending and counterattacks as in Russia, with not as much efficiency. Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante worked well in midfield but France’s attacking players Kylian Mbappe, Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann did not find each other, and did not look sharp enough.

“We wanted to come back with a win, but I think we are not ready, both physically and mentally,” Pogba said. “This is not easy following a World Cup like the one we did. We quickly got back to work, we would have needed more time to recover. But that’s football, we need to move on to something else and find new challenges.”

Next on the plate of Pogba and co. is the Netherlands, on Sunday at the Stade de France. Although the Nations League match against the Dutch has the ingredients required to be competitive – the Netherlands have missed out on both the 2016 European Championship and the World Cup and are eager to prove themselves against the world champions – the atmosphere in Saint-Denis will feel more like a celebration.

France’s players were treated like heroes on their return from Russia but were somewhat frustrated that their parade on the Champs Elysees on an open-top bus was limited to less than 15 minutes. Sunday’s match will give them a chance to celebrate properly in front of some 80,000 fans, and that’s one of the reasons why Deschamps wanted to keep his squad unchanged for the two September games, despite the poor form of some players.

The 23 world champions, including the injured Hugo Lloris and Steve Mandanda, will be at the Stade de France to attend the ceremony that will start right after the game, whatever its result. The French football federation said the sound and light show will consist of the France players introduced one by one before a lap of honor with the World Cup trophy.

Then it may well be times for changes.

“Newcomers could join us, and other players could return to the team,” Deschamps said this week when asked about the future of the World Cup squad. “We are supervising about 50 players and the door is not closed to anyone.”

Deschamps has the reputation of being conservative in his choices, yet only nine of the French players who featured at the 2016 European Championship two years ago took part in the World Cup campaign.

Up front, Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud, who has not scored in his last 10 matches with France, could soon be in danger of losing his spot, to the benefit of players like Alexandre Lacazette, Kingsley Coman and Moussa Dembele.

In defense, Marseille center-back Adil Rami has been struggling recently, while Everton duo Kurt Zouma and Lucas Digne are making compelling cases for a return. It also remains to be seen whether defenders Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez, who revealed themselves during the tournament, will be able to retain their starting spots at the expense of Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy.

In the long term, Areola looks also set to become the heir to Lloris when the Tottenham goalie calls time on his international career.

“You can expect everything,” Deschamps said.

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

Italy women’s team awarded for ’emancipating’ female game

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ROME (AP) The Italy women’s national soccer team was awarded the Foreign Press Association’s Invictus award Monday for promoting and “emancipating” the female game in the country with its run to the World Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Head coach Milena Bertolini and forward Barbara Bonansea were given the award during a ceremony at the Rome-based association.

With soccer dominated by men in Italy and few opportunities for girls, Bertolini recounted how she had to dress up as a boy to play as a kid.

“Now things are changing, thanks to the Italian federation’s school programs,” Bertolini said.

Bertolini and Bonansea lamented that female players are still not considered professionals and therefore are not permitted to earn more than $33,500 per year by Italian law.

“It’s not about the money, it’s a question of rights,” said Bonansea, who also plays for Italian champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

While Italy’s men’s team is a four-time World Cup champion, the women had not played in a World Cup for two decades and entered as a prohibitive underdog during its opening match against Australia in France in June. But the Azzurre came back from a goal down for a 2-1 win courtesy of Bonansea’s two scores , with her second coming in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

“That goal shaped our World Cup, both in terms of results and in terms of promoting women’s soccer in Italy,” Bertolini said. “The strong emotions on the field were transmitted to everyone who was watching. I still get goosebumps now just thinking about that goal.”

The Azzurre went on to win their group then beat China in the first knockout round before losing to eventual finalist the Netherlands.

In a country of 60 million people, a total of more than 20 million spectators watched Italy’s five matches on RAI state TV, setting audience records for women’s soccer game after game.

The Invictus award is dedicated to “promoting the positive effects of sports in terms of integration and emancipation by the vulnerable sections of society.”

UCL preview: Spurs desperate for a win; Man City host Atalanta

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By the end of the week, we’ll be at the halfway point of the UEFA Champions League group stage, and while some Premier League clubs (Manchester City and Liverpool) are currently in rather strong positions, a couple others (Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea) have some serious work to do to rescue their respective campaigns.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Tottenham’s start to the group stage has gone about as poorly as it could have done, considering the positions in which they’ve found themselves early in games. Going from 2-0 up to a 2-2 draw away to Olympiacos was bad enough, but going from 1-0 up to a 7-2 home defeat to Bayern Munich was the real demoralizer.

Now, last year’s UCL runners-up find themselves third in the group with just one point. However, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is set for a back-to-back home-and-away with (presumed) doormat Red Star Belgrade, beginning Tuesday when the Serbian side visits the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Spurs will continue to be without goalkeeper Hugo Lloris following his dislocated elbow, while midfielders Christian Eriksen and Giovani Lo Celso are back in full training and expected to be available for selection. Tanguay Ndombele was only involved as a second-half sub during Spurs’ draw with last-place Watford over the weekend, so he is likely to return to the starting lineup.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

Man City, meanwhile, are coming off a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace and feeling a renewed sense of PL title contention after Liverpool dropped their first points of the season. While a domestic three-peat is undoubtedly high on the list of priorities for Pep Guardiola‘s side, it’s probably safe to assume that breaking though in the UCL is the main objective for 2019-20. Since Guardiola took over at the Etihad Stadium, City have reached the quarterfinals twice and the round of 16 once. Under the direction of Manuel Pellegrini, City reached the semifinals the season before Guardiola’s arrival.

Outside of long-term knees injuries to Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane, City have a clean bill of health.

Tuesday’s full UEFA Champions League schedule

Atletico Madrid v. Bayer Leverkusen — 12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Dinamo Zagreb — 12:55 p.m. ET

Tottenham Hotspur v. Red Star Belgrade — 3 p.m. ET
Manchester City v. Atalanta — 3 p.m. ET
Galatasaray v. Real Madrid — 3 p.m. ET
Juventus v. Lokomotive Moscow — 3 p.m. ET
Brugge v. Paris Saint-Germain — 3 p.m. ET
Olympiacos v. Bayern Munich

The 2 Robbies podcast: Man United 1-1 Liverpool; Struggles in North London

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe review the key results from Matchweek 9 in the Premier League focusing on Manchester United and Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford (0:50). The chaps also discuss Manchester City’s win at Crystal Palace (16:50), Arsenal’s defeat at Sheffield United (23:25), Tottenham’s draw at home to Watford (35:25) and debate who currently is the 3rd best team in the Premier League (42:05). Finally, the guys name their under-appreciated performances of the weekend (50:50).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

FA Cup qualifier to be replayed after team walks off for racist abuse

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LONDON (AP) The FA Cup qualifying match between Haringey Borough and Yeovil Town that was abandoned following racist abuse will be replayed next week.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

The Football Association said Monday that the match will be replayed from the start on Oct. 29 at Haringey’s home ground.

Saturday’s game saw the players walk off in the 64th minute, shortly after Yeovil had gone 1-0 up via a penalty. Haringey officials said after the game that its Cameroonian goalkeeper Valery Pajetat and defender Coby Rowe had both been targeted by racial abuse by visiting fans.

London police said they had arrested two men, age 23 and 26, on Monday on suspicion of racially aggravated common assault in connection with the incident.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

The FA said: “Following the incident in the original tie and the two arrests already made, the FA’s investigation is ongoing. We are continuing to work with the relevant authorities on our investigation into the matter.”

The winner of the game will advance to the first round of the FA Cup.