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Seven Ironman triathlons in seven days? Saints legend explains why

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Southampton legend Francis Benali is on a mission. In the past five years he has taken part in two huge challenges for charity, and the third starts on Apr. 29 and is his most demanding yet.

7 Ironman triathlons in 7 days. Yep, you read that correctly.

Benali, 50, has set himself a goal of raising £1 million ($1.3 million) for Cancer Research UK in his post-playing career, as the 13-year Premier League veteran, who spent his entire 16-year career at hometown club Southampton, pushes his body and mind to the limits with a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and then a 26.2-mile run each day, for seven days.

Let that sink in.

The “IronFran 2019” challenge will take him on a journey through England from Manchester to Southampton, and will take place from Apr. 29 to May 5, as it will finish with him completing the Southampton Marathon after seven gruelling days.


You can donate to support Benali by clicking here, or on the link above, as he aims to raise over $1.3 million to help Cancer Research UK. 


Talking to Pro Soccer Talk about what spurs him on each and every day during these challenges, Benali revealed he thinks about the individuals and families suffering with cancer. That pushes him on to keep going.

“I have paid a visit to the local cancer ward at Southampton General Hospital recently and I’ve met a number of children, a few of whom are planning to be part on the last day of the challenge [the Southampton Marathon on May 5],” Benali said. “We’ve been touched by it as a family and we have had close friends who have either been diagnosed or lost to this awful disease since starting the first challenge a few years ago. That drives me on and reinforces the efforts we are trying to make on the fundraising side to enable the researchers and the scientists to find ways of treatment and ultimately to find a cure.

“That is very much a factor in my mind. Knowing that I’ve got a few aches and pains and may not want to go training or continue through a session, when your mind flips to people that are fighting this disease and who are affected by this terrible illness, not just the individuals themselves but their families and friends as well, it has a massive impact. It certainly drives me on and spurs me on during the difficult moments.”

(Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)

A fiery left back during his playing says, Benali was a huge part of Southampton staving off relegation year after year in the 1990s, as the hometown hero led the battles at the Dell alongside the likes of Matt Le Tissier and James Beattie. He epitomizes the spirit of a true battler.

In recent years he’s turned his attention to raising money for Cancer Research UK with extreme endurance challenges, and has pushed himself to the limit by running between every Premier League stadium in 2014, covering over 1,000 miles on 21 consecutive days. In 2016 he then travelled between all 44 teams in the top two tiers of English soccer in just two weeks, covering 1400 miles which meant running a marathon then cycling at least 75 miles every day

Benali has now been training for months for IronFran, which is billed as his final big challenge to get over the £1 million marker as his current fundraising total now stands at just under £700,000.

As he enters the final days of his preparation for the incredible challenge, Benali admitted that making sure he gets the desired rest and refuelling in-between Ironman’s is just as challenging as completing the physical disciplines each day.

“I am really racking up the hours and distance on a daily basis to have the last final push to try and get my body accustomed to the pain and the aches I know are going to come on the challenge itself, and I know they will probably be a lot worse than what I am feeling now,” Benali explained. “It’s just getting my mind and body used to that uncomfortableness of the training and getting out of bed, and keeping moving really. I know from the previous experiences from the other challenges, it is sure as hell going to be the case. It is not just the physical and mental challenge of each of disciplines each day, it is as much a challenge to refuel and get the calories back in and start and get a good enough recovery process in. Including sleep, and what will be a lack of it, in order to get up the next morning to do it all over again the following day.”

The soccer world has rallied around Benali, just as it did in his previous two challenges in 2014 and 2016, with former and current professionals, Premier League and Football League clubs and personalities across the game in the UK and the world helping to spread the word about this mammoth challenge.

Benali admitted the support has been amazing to witness but ever the professional, he wants to make sure he finishes the challenge and do what he set out to do.

“It is wonderful to know you have that level of support and the well wishes coming in from colleagues and people I work with now,” Benali said. “At the same time it brings a pressure. I’ll be honest. The pressure to deliver the challenge, in my head, and complete it. The fundraising target is the main goal, but at the same time I ultimately want to complete what I set out to do. That certainly brings a few sleepless nights as well in my own mind.”

Credit: Chris Cole/ALLSPORT

Asked if he fancies taking his incredible endurance events Stateside, Benali, of course, mentioned some of the toughest event as capturing his attention for the future if he fancies another big challenge.

“I’ve seen some stuff in America, with the Race Across America (RAAM) with cyclists, which is an incredible event. I’ve seen the Badwater Ultramarathon is something that looks right out there on the limits of extreme challenges,” Benali said. “There is stuff I’ve seen in the U.S. that has certainly captured my attention. Maybe one day I might be able to run, or get permission from my wife Karen, to give me the green light on something like that. We will get this challenge out of the way first.”

Benali has never shirked a challenge, and throughout his career in the Premier League he dug deep to keep his hometown club in the top-flight against all the odds and was a machine at left back for Saints.

With Southampton in their own relegation battle heading into the final weeks of this season, Benali believes the club he loves can pretty much seal their place in the Premier League by beating Newcastle on Saturday at St James’ Park (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Just like his challenges, the battle is far from over for Saints.

“I always thought two more wins would do it prior to the victory against Wolves last weekend, so I think having seen Cardiff’s victory against Brighton, that really throws them in the mix and keeps us in contention of being in a relegation place,” Benali said. “I’ve always had that confidence in Ralph Hasenhuttl and the squad to survive and stay up this season, and that is no different right now. Three points and a big victory at Newcastle would be a big step towards survival. I think that would probably be enough given the games that are left and the run-in that Cardiff have. Fingers crossed it will all go well for Saints, and it will be a great game for everyone to watch.”

Premier League to change VAR from December

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Premier League shareholders met in central London on Thursday and have agreed to change the way VAR is used in the PL.

Owners of all 20 PL clubs met for several hours, as they analyzed how the first few months of VAR being used in the Premier League had gone.

In a statement released by the Premier League, they confirmed that the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) is “committed to improving the consistency of decisions, speeding up processes and increasing communication to fans.”

The league added that PGMOL chief Mike Riley addressed the clubs and accepted improvement is required, with plenty of key incidents such as offside and handball decisions infuriating fans and pundits alike.

Below is a look at the key areas discussed, as small changes will come in to place starting in December.

  • Extra information will be displayed on stadium TV screens for fans. For example when “Checking Penalty” is displayed it will now say “Checking Penalty – Possible Handball.” This enhancement will be delivered in December 2019.
  • Pitch-side TV monitors will continue to be used sparingly by referees, as “ensuring the pace and tempo of Premier League football remains an important focus for clubs.” But it is expected referees will go to the TV monitors more than they have done in the opening months of the season.
  • Premier League revealed that VAR has improved the accuracy of match officials around “key match incidents” (KMI). Last season match officials achieved 82 per cent KMI accuracy. With VAR this accuracy has risen to 91 per cent this season.

Landon Donovan to manage San Diego Loyal

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Landon Donovan will become the first manager of the San Diego Loyal.

Donovan, 37, is part of the ownership group of the USL Championship side, which kicks off its inaugural season in 2020.

Speaking to Sports Illustrated, Donovan confirmed he will manage the newly-formed Southern Californian club and he will also be the VP of soccer operations for the second-tier team.

SD Loyal will hold a press conference on Thursday to officially announce Donovan’s appointment.

The MLS and USMNT legend has retired and made comebacks multiple times in recent years but his playing days are now over and he will focus on leading the USL franchise alongside Warren Smith, who previously founded Sacramento Republic FC.

Donovan has lived in San Diego in recent years and was part of the group who wanted to bring an MLS team to the city as part of a planned Soccer City complex. After that bid failed, Donovan instead put all of his energy into the USL side and he will now be the leading man on the sidelines.

His name has plenty of pull and along with the team calling San Diego home, this team will be a very popular one to play for.

Thierry Henry named Montreal Impact manager

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Thierry Henry has been named as the new manager of the Montreal Impact in Major League Soccer.

Henry, 42, has signed a two-year contract to lead Montreal and has an option to extend his deal to 2022.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Speaking about his return to MLS, this time as a manager, Henry is delighted to be heading to Quebec.

“It’s an honour to coach the Montreal Impact and return to MLS,” Henry said. “It’s a league I know well, in which I had some very nice moments. To be in Quebec, in Montreal, which has an enormous multicultural heritage, it’s extraordinary. I’ve always kept an eye on the club and now I’m here.”

Henry holds his UEFA Pro licence and his previous managerial experience includes being the assistant manager for the Belgian national team before and during the 2018 World Cup and then a brief stint at his former club Monaco.

The latter didn’t go well, with Henry fired less than four months into the job and with Monaco battling relegation in Ligue 1.

Henry has also worked as a TV pundit for Sky Sports in the UK after he called time on his legendary playing career with Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona and the New York Red Bulls.

But coaching has always been his plan, and now the World Cup winner has the chance, just like his former Arsenal and France teammate Patrick Vieira, to stamp his identity on an MLS club.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the legendary French striker gets on as a head coach in MLS, but at least he knows from his playing days how the league operates and some of the logistical challenges that will face him and his team.

The Impact have missed the MLS playoffs in each of the past three seasons and parted ways with previous boss Wilmer Cabrera, who had taken over after Remi Garde’s tumultuous time in charge.

Players will certainly flock to Montreal to play for Henry, but given some of the reports about his time in charge of Monaco and how strict he was on the training ground, it will be interesting to see how Henry’s approach has developed, if at all.

Senegal, Nigeria win in African Cup qualifying

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Senegal and Nigeria started with wins on the first day of the final stage of qualifying for the 2021 African Cup of Nations on Wednesday.

Senegal was comfortable in a 2-0 victory over Republic of Congo, and Nigeria less so when it came from behind to edge Benin 2-1.

Senegal opened its qualifying campaign less than four months after losing to Algeria in the final of this year’s African Cup in Egypt. Sidy Sarr and Habibou Diallo sealed the win over Congo in Group I with first-half goals. Sadio Mane also played.

Semifinalists at this year’s African Cup, the Nigerians made a fumbling start to the decisive group stage when they went behind in the third minute at home in Uyo to Stephane Sessegnon‘s goal following a defensive error. Victor Osimhen converted a penalty on the brink of halftime and Samuel Kalu scored the winner in the second half to put three-time African champions Nigeria top of Group L.

The result provided some relief for Nigeria head coach Gernot Rohr, whose relationship with the Nigeria Football Federation has become uneasy since failing to make the African Cup final in Egypt.

Cameroon, the 2021 host, was held 0-0 at home by Cape Verde to draw another blank under new coach Toni Conceicao, the second goalless draw in two games under Conceicao. Cameroon has already qualified as host but is playing in qualifying for match practice. The Cameroonians couldn’t find the target again in their Group F opener after a 0-0 draw against Tunisia in the Portuguese coach’s first game in charge a month ago. Conceicao replaced former Netherlands international Clarence Seedorf, who was fired after Cameroon’s title defense at this year’s African Cup in Egypt ended with a round of 16 defeat by Nigeria.

The top two in each group will qualify for the 24-team finals except in Cameroon’s group, where just one other team will make it through. The qualifiers run until November next year.

African champion Algeria starts its campaign on Thursday against Zambia. Egypt plays Kenya the same day and the Pharaohs will be without Mohamed Salah for that game and Monday’s meeting with Comoros, the Egyptian Football Association said, because of an ankle injury. Salah has been wearing a protective boot on his left foot while sitting out training with Egypt.

New coach Hossam el-Badry, a former Egypt player, will take charge of his country in a competitive game for the first time against Kenya as the team moves on from the bitter disappointment of not even making the quarterfinals at their home tournament this year. That failure led to the departure of coach Javier Aguirre and the resignation of the entire EFA board.

There were also wins in Wednesday’s qualifiers for Namibia, Malawi, Sudan, Gambia, Central African Republic and Guinea-Bissau. Sudan provided the most resounding result with a 4-0 rout of 10-man Sao Tome and Principe.

Sierra Leone and Lesotho drew 1-1 in an eventful game in an empty stadium in Freetown. Sierra Leone was ordered by FIFA to play the game behind closed doors as punishment for fans misbehaving in a game against Liberia in September, when they threw objects and invaded the field.

Kwame Quee gave Sierra Leone the lead with 20 minutes to go. Thabantso Jane equalized in injury time and after both teams had a man sent off. Lesotho captain Marepe Basia was given a second yellow for his foul on George Davies in the final 10 minutes. Davies was sent off for retaliating.

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