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UEFA Nations League: Dzeko scores, Finland wins again

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England’s 3-1 win over Spain was the biggest news of the day in UEFA Nations League play, but there was plenty else to take from the action on Monday.

Edin Dzeko bagged a double as Bosnia & Herzegovina defeated Northern Ireland 2-0. The Roma striker robbed Jamal Lewis of the ball in his own defensive third after the defender slipped, and he buried the chance before the defense could regroup. He picked up his second with 17 minutes remaining as Miralem Pjanic completely bypassed the midfield with a fantastic long chip to Dzeko waiting on the left side of the box, and he had an easy finish with the defense trailing the play.

Dzeko’s two goals were two of just five total shots on target between the two sides in an otherwise drab match, as Northern Ireland has just one win in its last six matches.

Finland topped Greece 2-0 for its fifth consecutive clean-sheet win, going ahead on a goal by Pyry Soiri who finished off a messy chance in the box just after halftime as Greece failed to clear. Finland has not conceded a single goal since falling 2-0 to Romania in mid-June, a run of 479 total minutes. The center-back pairing of Joona Toivio and Paulus Arajuuri has started and played every minute of the three UEFA Nations League wins. Midfielder Glen Kamara scored Finland’s second, ending the country’s run of three straight 1-0 victories.

Switzerland held on to beat Iceland 2-1, with Haris Seferovic and Michael Lang on target for the visitors in Reykjavik. The former headed in a perfect far-post cross from Granit Xhaka just after halftime, while Lang finished off a beautiful bit of team play as Seferovic switched play from right to left before it came back in front of net, touching two Swiss players before finding Lang on the doorstep for finish in traffic. Alfred Finnbogason picked up a consolation with nine minutes left but that would wrap things up.

Hungary drew 3-3 with Estonia in a wild match that featured a double from Hoffenheim striker Adam Szalai. The 30-year-old Hungarian bagged a brace on his 50th cap, including his second that rescued a point for his country in the 81st minute after they wasted a 2-1 lead and fell behind 3-2.

Luxembourg topped 10-man San Marino 3-0, grabbing the opener just four minutes in and cruising to the win. Belarus and Moldova drew 0-0 in Minsk as Moldova failed to register a single shot on target despite holding the majority of possession.

Former Arsenal, Brazil midfielder Baptista announces retirement

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Julio Baptista’s time at Arsenal only lasted 12 months, but it was a memorable stint.

The Brazilian, who played the 2006-07 season for the Gunners, announced his retirement on Thursday at the age of 37. The former Brazil international only managed 10 goals with Arsenal, but they came in bunches.

Baptista memorably scored four goals against Liverpool in the League Cup quarterfinal, as Arsenal finished with a 6-3 win. Baptista even missed a penalty kick that game.

Baptista cemented his legacy later in the season with a brace in the FA Cup against rival Tottenham.

Baptista, clearly an immensely talented player, suffered from being a good, but not great player. He seemed to have no perfect position other than the No. 10, and most teams he played for had better players in that position. It forces him to play along the wings, deeper in midfield or as a striker during the prime of his career.

In the end, injuries beset his career, especially a short spell at Orlando City in MLS.

 

U-20 World Cup Rewind: Italy tops Mexico, host Poland falls on Day 1 (video)

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Italy opened the FIFA Under-20 World Cup with a bang, knocking off fellow Group B favorite Mexico, 2-1, in Gdynia, Poland.

It only took Italy three minutes to get on the board, as Davide Frattesi found a pocket of space in front of the El Tri backline and dribbled in on goal. The Sassuolo midfielder then decided to fire on goal from distance, hitting a rocket into the corner to give Italy a 1-0 lead.

Later in the first half Gianluca Scamacca also took a rip from outside the box, but his strike sailed just wide.

A defensive error on a corner kick gave Diego Lainez and Mexico life. In the 37th minute, AC Milan product Alessandro Plizzari committed a howler, coming out to punch away the curled corner kick. Plizzari missed the ball and it went right to the head of Roberto De La Rosa, who calmly made it 1-1.

El Tri however suffered a blow late in the match as Italy took back the lead. In the 67th minute, Luca Ranieri collected the ball on the edge of the six yard box and from a tight angle, he scored past Mexico goalkeeper Carlos Higuera.

For Mexico, it’s a rough way to start the World Cup, having to go against a perennial power in Italy and playing on European soil. Not all is lost for Mexico, but it has to rebound with a win in its next game against Japan.

Elsewhere, Colombia defeated host Poland, 2-0, Japan tied Ecuador 1-1, and Senegal beat Tahiti, 3-0.

Saudis, Bahrain, UAE join to bid for FIFA’s U-20 World Cup

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GENEVA (AP) Middle East neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are jointly bidding to host the Under-20 World Cup in 2021.

FIFA says the Gulf plan is among five to express interest in bidding, including Brazil.

Indonesia, Peru and a Myanmar-Thailand joint bid are the others.

FIFA announced the contenders Thursday, one day after dropping a proposal for Qatar to share hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup with regional neighbors.

The 2021 U20 contenders must submit a formal bid by Aug. 30. FIFA’s ruling Council will pick the winner, likely in October.

The 2019 edition kicks off Thursday in Poland.

Putin awards medal to FIFA president Infantino

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MOSCOW (AP) Vladimir Putin has given FIFA president Gianni Infantino a medal.

The Russian president awarded Infantino the Order of Friendship at the Kremlin on Thursday.

Infantino has often said last year’s World Cup in Russia, where the host nation surprisingly reached the quarterfinals, was the best of the 21 editions of the tournament.

Putin thanked the FIFA leader for “your glowing assessment of our efforts.”

Infantino says of Russia’s “bonds of friendship” with soccer “is not the end, it is only the beginning of our fruitful cooperation and interaction.”

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