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Girl soccer player challenges gender rules in Argentina

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CHABAS, Argentina (AP) At age 7, Candelaria Cabrera goes after the soccer ball with determination. She drives toward her rivals without caring much about getting hurt and deftly manages the bumps on the dirt field.

She wears a loose white jersey from Huracan de Chabas, her hometown, located 230 miles (370 kilometers) north of the capital, Buenos Aires. Printed on the back and on her red shorts is a number 4. She uses white boots and shin guards. Her long, copper colored hair tied in a ponytail distinguishes her from the rest of the players.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines for Wk5 ]

“Cande,” as she is known by friends and family, is the only girl playing in a children’s soccer league in the southern party of Santa Fe province, birthplace of stars including Lionel Messi, Gabriel Batistuta and Jorge Valdano. Former Argentine coaches Marcelo Bielsa, Gerardo Martino and Jorge Sampaoli were also born there.

But a regional regulation that prohibits mixed-gender teams in children’s categories threatens to take her off the field – a ruling that has helped dramatize the inequality in opportunities for men and women in this soccer-crazed county.

“I had to sit down with her and tell her that there are some people who have to make rules in soccer and that these rules do not agree with what she wants,” said Rosana Noriega, Candelaria’s mother. “And, well, we both cried, and she said: `The people who make the laws are bad people.”‘

She was 3 years old when her parents gave her her first ball. They understood that it didn’t make sense to insist she play with dolls, even if there were “comments from other moms that they should not give her male toys because it would encourage her to be a lesbian,” Noriega recalled.

Two months ago, the regional soccer authorities notified Huracan that the team could no longer include Candelaria. She could only play on a girls’ team – which does not exist where Candelaria lives.

Noriega took to social media to speak out about her daughter’s case and was surprised to find that she was not the only one. Girls wrote to her saying they were facing the same problem in nearby towns and more distant provinces.

Of the 230 regional leagues recognized by the Argentine Football Association, only 68 have women’s teams. This is just one of the many disparities with men’s soccer. The most notable is financial: The best-paid contract in men’s first division is around $3 million a year. In contrast, women who play in their top category receive a travel voucher of $44.

Argentina’s female players, who will play in a November runoff game for the 2019 World Cup, have struggled financially when their payments were delayed. They also expressed discomfort when Adidas, the brand that sponsors a few members of the national teams of both genders, unveiled the new shirt for the Female America Cup this year with models rather than players.

“The biggest lack is that they don’t have younger players. They start playing at age 16, 17 and by then they’ve missed out on a bunch of issues that have to do with understanding the game,” said Ricardo Pinela, president of the Football Association’s Women’s Football Commission.

“The important thing is that every club in every corner of the country gives a girl the possibility of joining a female soccer team, to play with other girls, even if it’s just for fun, and from there generate the necessary structure that … sets them on equal standing as the male players”, he argued.

After Candelaria’s case became widely publicized, her regional league committed to reviewing the rule in an assembly at the end of the year – leaving her case in limbo until then.

While she’s officially now banned, the team has let her keep playing – at least until an opponent objects.

Candelaria’s most recent match ended with her team beating rival Alumni de Casilda 7-0.

“No one should say that a girl can’t play soccer,” she said.

Allegri wants VAR, Bonucci doubts ref vision on Ronaldo red

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Sky Sports in Italy says its lip readers confirm that Cristiano Ronaldo’s sending off Wednesday was down to tugging the hair of Jeison Murillo while the Valencia man was on the turf.

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci wasn’t too impressed, even after his club went on to win 2-0 in Spain.

[ UCL: Real rocks Roma, Man City falls ]

“As far as I could see, it was a pretty normal clash,” Bonucci said. “Murillo put his hands on Ronaldo first, he reacted, but these things can happen and we must be stronger than everyone and everything.

“Ronaldo was angry, of course. The referee saw what he saw – not very well – and we overcame the obstacles.”

Juventus boss Max Allegri wants to take it a step further.

Juve is no stranger to calling for VAR, and Allegri is upset that the Portuguese megastar will miss at least one more match due to the red card (and could miss his Manchester United reunion should his suspension go beyond one match). From Football-Italia.net:

“I can only say that VAR would’ve helped the referee in this decision,” Allegri said. “Going down to 10 men in the Champions League for an incident like that is disappointing. We risked losing tonight with this and we’ll miss him for the next games too.”

It all pales in comparison to the vitriol seething out of Ronaldo’s sister, who reportedly posted on Instagram that “there will be a high price” for his tears, adding that “God never sleeps.”

Arteta: Despite loss, Man City was “ready for the game”

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Mikel Arteta might have enjoyed the opportunity to sit in the hot seat for Manchester City when the Premier League champions opened their UEFA Champions League season at home to Lyon on Wednesday, but he sure didn’t like the result.

[ RECAP: Man City 1-2 Lyon ]

With suspended Pep Guardiola watching from the stands, Man City went behind 2-0 to the French visitors. The champs could muster one second half marker in a loss at the Etihad Stadium.

Arteta said he couldn’t say whether the game would be different with Guardiola on the touch line, but doesn’t think the loss comes down to his absence. From ManCity.com:

“We missed the right pass and didn’t find consistency,” he said. “We felt under threat every time we lost the ball, that can bring the confidence lower. We were ready for the game, keen to start to Champions League because the way we ended it last season really hurt.

“The players are not perfect, sometimes they have bad days, sometimes better. I can’t fault the effort. I won’t judge them because we lost.”

He’s finding more positives than his players when it comes to the day’s mettle.

“We started slowly, and we were inconsistent in the way we wanted to play,” Arteta said. “We lost too many duels. We gave the ball away in difficult circumstances and they scored twice, but after that, the reaction from the lads was superb. We tweaked a few things to control situations better and we created chances, but at this level, it wasn’t enough.”

John Stones was at the back for both of Lyon’s goals, and admitted that halftime hit the players hard.

“Really disappointing,” he said. “To concede two goals like we did is very frustrating,. We came in at half-time a bit deflated. We picked ourselves up and played a better second half but it was frustrating.”

Report: Martino to leave Atlanta, national team job looms

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Tata Martino’s future has been debated for some time.

Would he elect to stay with Atlanta United beyond the season? Would national team duty call? And if so, would it be the USMNT? A return to Argentina?

[ UCL: Real rocks Roma, Man City falls ]

Now ESPN is reporting that Martino will leave Atlanta United at the end of this season, opening another high profile MLS job next to the LA Galaxy vacancy.

Presuming he wants to leave Atlanta, which option is most attractive?

  • Mexico and the USMNT are both on the precipice of golden generations, assuming they pick the right shepherd. El Tri is a bit further along in the process than the U.S., and it would be an easy selection.
  • Argentina is Martino’s home, and he’s held the job before. Would the idea of melding Lionel Messi’s final prime throes with Paulo Dybala to try and claim a first Copa America since 1993 be enough?
  • Colombia would also face the test of World Cup qualifying in CONMEBOL, and is a pretty packed side. James Rodriguez (27), Yerry Mina (23), and Davinson Sanchez (22) will be around for the long haul, while Juan Cuadrado and Radamel Falcao are still productive.

Mourinho, Man Utd revel in Pogba performance

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Paul Pogba blessed Manchester United with a powerful performance in the Red Devils’ 3-0 UEFA Champions League win at Young Boys on Wednesday, and it was impossible not to notice his class.

[ UCL: Real rocks Roma, Man City falls ]

Jose Mourinho did, as did several of his teammates on a night the French midfielder scored twice and assisted United’s other goal.

“Solid, class and gave the team the pace we needed at times,” said Manchester United’s manager. “He controlled the tempo and of course it was a very good goal.”

Pogba again captained the side, which has won three-straight and allowed just one goal in wins over Burnley and Watford in addition to Wednesday’s win.

Luke Shaw drew a penalty that Pogba converted for the match’s second game, and loved what he saw from his captain. From the BBC:

“He gets some stick sometimes but we know what quality he has. For me, he is one of the best in the world. He is important as captain. He shows on the pitch what kind of leader he is. Hopefully he can carry that on.”

Mourinho’s praise carries a bit more weight considering he didn’t quite enjoy the competition.

“Job done,” he said. “Not phenomenal but good enough. (Young Boys) were intense, compact and had self esteem.”