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New search for missing plane, Sala to begin

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LONDON (AP) The man leading a private search of the missing plane carrying Argentine soccer player Emiliano Sala said on Monday there was a “very good chance” of finding the aircraft.

David Mearns, an American-born marine scientist and shipwreck-hunting specialist, said a survey vessel equipped with state-of-the-art search equipment has been mobilized and will conduct an underwater search for the plane this weekend.

“There’s no guarantee,” Mearns said, “but (Sala’s) family is determined to do everything they possibly can through the support they have in the football community and through family and friends.”

The plane carrying Sala and pilot David Ibbotson disappeared from radar last week over the English Channel. The flight was going from the French city of Nantes to Cardiff, where Sala was set to start playing for his new club in the Premier League.

More than 300,000 euros ($340,000) have been raised online to allow Sala’s family to fund a private search, after an official rescue operation for the light aircraft was called off on Thursday after three days. Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona were among those making pleas to resume a search.

Family and friends of Sala went on a special flight on Monday to view the area over the English Channel where the plane disappeared. The “scenic flight” circled the island of Alderney, according to Aurigny, an airline that operates in the Channel Islands.

Mearns, who has said he has located 24 major shipwrecks, said the purpose of the flight was to recreate the route of the plane and “the type of pattern the search-and-rescue aircraft might have created so (the family) could have a feel exactly for the waters.”

“I want to emphasize,” said Mearns, speaking to reporters at Guernsey Airport as Sala’s mother and sister stood beside him, “that the family are determined to get answers that they don’t have right now, and the only way to do that is find this missing plane.”

The private search, which began on Saturday, initially used two fishing boats – one from Guernsey and one from the U.K. – that were in the area at the time of the last radar contact of the plane.

“In terms of something being lost in the ocean, this is a relatively small search area,” Mearns said. “But there are complications in terms of it being a small plane, the bottom is very hard, there is lots of other wreckage out there and we have the weather. We are working in the worst time (of the year).”

Mearns said he was confident there were enough funds to carry out the “search and identification of the plane.” If the plane was to be recovered, he would hand over the operation to police and other authorities.

The official search was abandoned after Guernsey harbor master Capt. David Barker said the chances of survival after such a long period were “extremely remote.”

Cardiff signed Sala from Nantes for a club-record fee, reported to be 15 million pounds ($19 million), on Jan. 19. The striker left the Welsh capital after completing the move and returned to Nantes to collect his belongings and say goodbye to teammates and staff of the French club.

Cardiff’s first game since Sala’s disappearance will be on Tuesday at Arsenal, and manager Neil Warnock said some of his players have needed “help from outside” the club to deal with the situation.

“One or two of the lads, it was only right that they speak to people who might help them in this situation,” Warnock said. “You don’t realize the trauma that it causes a lot of families, whether it’s memories brought back or different situations.”

Warnock said it had been the most difficult week of his 39-year managerial career.

“It is such a strange situation,” he said. “I don’t think we could have played a game on Saturday, but it doesn’t get that much better this morning … I don’t know how it’s going to be in the next 24 hours.”

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

Robben claims Anfield to be his “worst stadium”

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What goes up must come down.

That’s essentially what Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben said before the German side heads to Liverpool to take on the Reds in Champions League play this coming week.

“You always have your favourite opponent and there always has to be a negative one,” Robben said to The Guardian. “I think, if you ask [about] the worst stadium for me, it’s probably Liverpool.”

Robben had a pair of Champions League heartbreaks at Anfield, both coming with Chelsea in 2005 and again in 2007. In the latter, Robben had a penalty saved by Pepe Reina in the shootout that sent the Reds to the final against AC Milan.

“At that time [Liverpool] were really capable of being this cup fighter team, also in the FA Cup or [League] Cup,” Robben said of those difficult memories. “In one or two games they could really live up to it and perform; just not the whole season, which was maybe too much. That was their biggest quality: they were there at the moment they needed to be there.”

“Now I think it changed and they developed really well. The manager has done a great job.”

Robben is a doubt to even play in the match due to a thigh injury, and that will probably help Jurgen Klopp sleep at night. The German boss saw Robben score nine goals against Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund across all competitions, including the decisive goal in the 2013 Champions League final in the 89th minute.

PSG chasing another kid named Kylian Mbappe

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What’s in a name? Probably a lot for the 11-year-old named Kylian Mbappe whom Paris Saint-Germain is reportedly interested in signing.

While his older namesake is hailed as the best young player in the world playing for PSG’s senior team and the world champion French national team, younger Kylian Mbappe currently plays for Roissy-en-Brie, the same youth club Paul Pogba played for as a young child before moving to Le Havre’s youth system and then Manchester United.

According to the child’s father, PSG has made an approach to add him to their youth ranks, but the family is taking its time to make a decision about Mbappe’s future.

“He will do what he wants and we will not push him at all costs to become a professional footballer,” said the boy’s father Eric, who is Cameroonian, just like the father of older Kylian Mbappe. “If it is the case that he goes to PSG, who have approached us, we would of course become closer to the other Kylian.”

“I have often been asked if I did it on purpose to call my son what his name is,” Eric added, speaking to French publication Le Parisien. “People quickly forget that there is only an 8-year age difference between the two and so obviously he was not a footballer when my son was born.”

Child Kylian said, “Since the other one became big, I have got used to it. I don’t even pay attention to it even if it generally makes me feel good. I am a PSG fan, I would like to have the same career as him.”

Wouldn’t we all, Kylian, wouldn’t we all.

Balotelli scores again for new club Marseille

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Mario Balotelli sure does love joining a new club.

Balotelli scored in just his second professional match with Inter in 2008. He scored a winner in his first Manchester City appearance in 2010 in Europa League play and bagged a brace in his second Premier League start. He scored seven goals in his first six league matches with AC Milan in 2013. He scored five goals in his first three Ligue 1 appearances for Nice. And now, after signing for Olympique Marseille in the winter transfer window, he is on a tear again.

Despite failing to find the back of the net the entire first half of the season as his Nice career came to a close, in four appearances for Marseille since joining in late January, Balotelli has scored three goals, his latest coming on Saturday as Marseille topped Amiens 2-0 to move above St. Etienne into fourth in the Ligue 1 table.

The 30-year-old Italian is clearly loving life at the Stade Velodrome, as he poked fun at his own teammate with his goal celebration. Florian Thauvin had scored the opener 19 minutes in, but pulled up lame after striking his shot, muting the celebration somewhat. He managed to stay in the game, and when Balotelli scored just six minutes later, he began to mock Thauvin’s injury by pretending his own hamstring was hurt. Thauvin was loving the joke, even joining in to poke fun at himself.

While it’s been an up and down season for Marseille as they fight for their Champions League lives, the club has won three in a row ahead of absolutely critical matches against Stade Rennais and St. Etienne on the horizon. The club then hosts Nice, Balotelli’s old club, where he enjoyed a fabulous start to his time there which served as a sort of revival for the Italian after struggles at Liverpool and AC Milan.

It remains to be seen if Balotelli can enjoy an extended stay at Marseille and prolong his success or if it is just a flash in the pan, but he’s obviously become an important figure in the moment, and Balotelli has always been about the moment.

Sanchez speaks about Man United struggles

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Alexis Sanchez has been a bit-part player this season at Manchester United under two different managers, and it’s beginning to take its toll.

The 30-year-old Chilean admitted in an interview with BBC’s Guillem Balague that the lack of playing time at Old Trafford is sapping his enjoyment of the game, and his inconsistent time on the pitch is feeding his poor form.

“I’m a player that, if I’m not in contact with the ball, I lose that spark,” Sanchez said, “and sometimes I want to play in every game. You’re in, you’re out, and I’m used to playing.

“It’s not an excuse because if I go on for 10, 20 minutes, I have to perform because that’s what I’m here for, to make a difference. I would like to have brought more joy to the club. Yes, it worries me because I believe in my abilities as a player, I want to show it.”

Sanchez has made 14 Premier League appearances for Manchester United this season, with just six of those coming from the opening whistle. A hamstring injury at the start of December is a major culprit of his lack of playing time this season, but so has been a lack of the creativity that he showed at times during his time at Arsenal. Sanchez has just one goal and three assists in 615 Premier League minutes this season, far below what the team likely expected he would provide.

“Within the group there was that feeling that you were in the team, then out,” Sanchez said of the squad’s waning confidence in Jose Mourinho before he was fired. “Sometimes I didn’t play, then I did, then I didn’t and as a player you lose confidence. I’ve played football since I was five and if I have the ball taken away from me, it’s as if I lose my joy.”

With 12 matches remaining in the Premier League and a tight battle for the Champions League places under way, Sanchez will have plenty of opportunities to make his mark, but he will need to prove he deserves a spot in the lineup moving forward.