Emotional Solskjaer hails Pogba: “He is happy now”

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Paul Pogba scored twice for Manchester United on Boxing Day as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is making this managerial lark all seem rather easy…

United’s caretaker manager has now won two games from two in the Premier League, scoring eight goals and conceding two.

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Solskjaer’s side did give up some big chances to Huddersfield at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, but United were in second gear for most of the game and two moments of quality from Pogba in the second half (plus a world-class save from David De Gea) swung the game in their favor.

“Dave’s [de Gea] save was the defining moment, one of the best saves I’ve seen. I could see it going top corner and he stretches his second arm out,” Solskjaer said. “Paul [Pogba] knows he can score more goals and create chances. He had a few assists last week. He’s happy now… I was very pleased for him and the whole team. He loves football and has a big smile. That’s the Paul I have known since he was in the reserves and youth team. He’s always been a happy boy, a big smile on his face and when you score two you’re happy. It’s a response and Paul loves playing for this club. He’s a Manchester United boy through and through and knows what it means to play for the club.”

That last line will be music to the ears of United’s fans.

We all know the quality Pogba has in his locker, but it was clear he had clashed with Jose Mourinho ever since they both arrived at Old Trafford in the summer of 2016 and United’s former manager had failed to get the best out of the central midfielder.

As a teenager Pogba played for Solskjaer when he was the reserve team coach of United, and it appears the Norwegian is getting the best out of him once again. His two goals were superb finishes, and the second a wonderful effort into the bottom corner from over 25 yards out.

Discussing his return to Old Trafford (this time as manager) with the BBC after the game, Solskjaer lauded the incredible ovation he received. It left him feeling emotional as one of the most legendary goalscorers in United’s history hailed the fans.

“I’ve not got used to it yet. It’s humbling knowing I’m leading this team out. Let’s see if I get used to it. I captained a couple of games but this was very different,” Solskjaer said. “They are the best fans in the world. I had such a great relationship with them. It was probably more emotional for my family in my box as I was focussed on the game. I was surprisingly calm all day. The lads have helped me settle in really quickly.”

Next up for United is a home game against Bournemouth on Sunday and then a trip to Newcastle on Jan. 2. They are edging their way back into the conversation for a top four finish, and although they have beaten two struggling teams, the way they’ve beaten them points towards better times ahead between now and May when Solskjaer’s caretaker role ends.

The way United are attacking and playing without any fear, who says Solskjaer isn’t the right man to lead them back in the top four this season and then even more beyond that?

For now, nobody at Old Trafford is getting too ahead of themselves. They are just happy, like Pogba, to be able to express themselves and win games.

“It was important to win at our stadium, to bring a smile on the face of our supporters,” Nemanja Matic, who scored the first goal, added. “We made some mistakes. We need to see what we can do better. It’s a completely different atmosphere when you win games. This club doesn’t accept drawing or losing a game. This is the way we have to try to win the next one.”

With Solskjaer in charge and Mourinho gone, United have plenty of momentum and have already pushed their way back into the top four picture.

He also revealed that Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial are all in the running to return for their upcoming festive games.

Not a bad front three to come in and knock on the door. It will be great to get them back. Maybe we’ll change the front three,” Solskjaer said.

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.”

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

Why Derby deserve Premier League promotion

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With the Championship playoff final at Wembley Stadium on May 27, the richest game in soccer will see one of Aston Villa or Derby County promoted to the Premier League.

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Which club deserves a spot in the English top-flight, and the estimated minimum $120 million it will generate, more?

You can use metrics such as fanbase, stadiums, players, historical success and quality of coaches to try and sort this out, but the fact of the matter is, the playoffs are always a complete, and utterly brilliant, lottery.

The path Villa and Derby took to get to the final this season proves that.

We’ve already focused on why Villa deserve to return to the PL after a three-year absence, so now it is time to see why Derby should return after an 11-year absence…


The Rams are on a roll and Frank Lampard, in his first season as a manager, has led Derby to Wembley to play Aston Villa with the latter the favorites to win.

Like Villa, we are talking about a team which has some magical moments in its history. Derby were Champions of England under Brian Clough twice in the 1970s but since then success has been hard to come by. A five-season spell in the Premier League from 1996-2002 was followed by a miserable season in 2007-08 (the worst in PL history) and the Rams haven’t been back to the top-flight since.

Owner Mel Morris, a local businessman who is behind gaming apps such as Candy Crush, has led their crusade back towards the PL in recent seasons but Derby have come up short in the playoffs time and time again, with the Rams failing in the playoffs in three of their previous five campaigns.

Heading into the final weeks of this season Derby were in the chasing pack after a poor second half of the campaign. For most of the season it seemed like Frank Lampard’s youngsters were nailed on for a top six finish, but then they wobbled and it seemed like they may miss out on the playoffs altogether.

But a run of four wins in their last six to finish the season gave them extra momentum heading into the playoffs.

Then came that incredible night at Leeds.

1-0 down from the first leg, then 1-0 down on the night in the second leg, Derby had a mountain to climb with a 2-0 aggregate deficit at Elland Road as Leeds’ fans started the party… Then Derby scored three unanswered goals in a wild 13-minute spell to turn the game on its head before Jack Marriott added his second and Derby’s fourth of the game late on to stun Leeds and send them to Wembley.

With the backdrop of the spygate scandal — which saw Leeds and Bielsa punished earlier in the season for spying on Derby’s training sessions — and the fact Leeds were heavy favorites to get past Derby, this was a sweet moment for Lampard and his adoring squad and fans.

Derby don’t have a lot of cash to work with. They have relied this season on Lampard’s contacts as some of the best young talents at the Premier League level (Mason Mount and Harry Wilson) wanted to learn from him and that is why they arrived at Pride Park on loan. Lampard has translated his knowledge as a player who had an amazing career to several of his Derby players, and it is exciting to think what he can go on to do.

This Derby squad is made up of youngsters from the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool and veterans like Richard Keogh, Ashley Cole and Bradley Johnson who are desperate for one last chance to play in the Premier League.

Lampard has galvanized the entire club and the Chelsea legend regularly bounces in celebration with the Derby fans after games. Runs in both the FA Cup and League Cup saw them beat Manchester United and Southampton on penalty kicks, while they also pushed Chelsea close to show they are capable of competing with PL clubs regularly.

Derby are full of guts and their young stars Wilson and Mount have the ability to win games with one swipe of their foot.

Lampard is a loveable character and if Derby do beat Villa to clinch promotion, he can work his magic to secure some big names signings and they will be an intriguing squad who, like Villa, will play open, expansive soccer. If Derby don’t get promoted then Lampard is already being lined up for Premier League jobs, even at the club where he became a legend, Chelsea. If the Rams do go up we will get to see Lampard and this exciting attacking side put on a show.

That is why Derby deserve promotion to the Premier League.

Real Betis beat DC, as US U17 star scores (video)

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Remember the name: Griffin Yow.

It shouldn’t be too hard, as the Clifton, Virginia native has a pretty cool name, and it seems like a new star could have well been born at Audi Field on Wednesday.

16-year-old D.C. United forward Griffin Yow scored in their 5-2 friendly defeat to La Liga side Real Betis, as the U.S. national team U-17 star continued his speedy rise at DCU.

His goal came just after half time and halved Betis’ lead after first half goals from Loren and Sergio Leon put the Spanish side in a commanding position.

After Yow’s goal made it 2-1, legendary winger Joaquin made it 3-2 before Quincy Amarikwa made it 3-2 as late goal from Marc Bartra and Robert put some gloss on the scoreline for the visitors.

As for Yow, he made his MLS debut as a late sub in April against New York City FC after some impressive displays for their USL affiliate, Loudoun United FC.

After coming on as a sub in the 32nd minute in this game, Yow certainly made an impact.

He has scored six goals in 11 appearances for the U.S. under 17 side, and it seems like we will be hearing a lot about this guy in the years to come.