Africa Cup of Nations: Referee blunder, security concerns mar Wednesday

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LIMBE, Cameroon — A major refereeing blunder and serious security concerns overshadowed Wednesday’s games at the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

The referee in charge of the Mali-Tunisia game caused chaos by twice blowing the final whistle too early, incensing coaches on the losing team and causing a lengthy debate about whether the match would have to be restarted.

Mali was ahead 1-0 when referee Janny Sikazwe of Zambia ended the game early in the western city of Limbe. But it was Tunisia that refused to come back out 30 minutes later when officials tried to restart the match, with the coach saying his players were already in their ice baths by then.

While the farcical scenes created more negative headlines for the tournament, there were more serious concerns away from the matches.

[ MORE: Latest PST unfiltered ]

The Cameroon news agency reported that a gun battle between separatist rebels and government soldiers left two dead and five injured in Buea, a city 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Limbe and where the Mali squad is based. “Heavily armed” rebels fired guns indiscriminately near a training stadium used by the Mali squad, the Cameroon news agency said.

The fighting was a stark reminder that Cameroon’s African Cup is not just unfolding under the shadow of the coronavirus, but also during a far less publicized but violent rebellion playing out in the western part of the country. The fighting is precariously close to where Group F teams Mali, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Gambia will operate.

And if that wasn’t enough problems to contend with on Day 4, the sound system temporarily failed at Limbe Stadium before the day’s second game, causing Mauritania and Gambia players to stand around waiting to sing national anthems.

There was one feel-good moment at least: Gambia’s Ablie Jallow sent a shot arrowing into the top corner from outside the penalty area to give his country a 1-0 victory in its first appearance at the continent’s soccer showpiece.

Max-Alain Gradel scored with an equally-good long range shot in the sixth minute to give 2015 champion Ivory Coast a 1-0 win over Equatorial Guinea in Wednesday’s last game. It meant nine of the first 12 games at the tournament have ended 1-0.

But there’s no doubt which incident was the talking point of the day.

With Mali leading Tunisia 1-0, referee Sikazwe first blew for full time after only 85 minutes. He seemed to realize his big blunder and restarted the game.

He then sent off Mali substitute El Bilal Toure in the 87th minute for a rash tackle – also a questionable decision. But Sikazwe blew full time again about 20 seconds before the 90 minutes were up, according to the clock at the stadium and on TV broadcasts. About three minutes of added time had been expected.

The second early whistle infuriated Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier and other members of the coaching staff. Kebaier ran to confront the referee while pointing angrily at his own watch and Sikazwe had to be escorted from the field by security officials. One of the match officials shoved a Tunisian official during the commotion, stoking the situation.

There were then suggestions that the game would be restarted and reports that organizers had burst into Mali’s post-game news conference and told coach Mohamed Magassouba that his players had to get back on the field to play another three minutes.

Officials gathered on the field about 30 minutes after the game ended and were seen in discussions. Mali players also came back out but Tunisia refused to re-start the game.

“The players were in their ice baths and then he (the referee) asked us to come back out,” said Tunisia coach Kebaier. “In 30 years in this business I have never seen anything like it.”

There was no official word from the Confederation of African Football on any decisions made over the game and it appeared the 1-0 win for Mali would stand.

Sikazwe was temporarily suspended by CAF in 2018 following accusations of match-fixing for his performance in charge of an African club game. The Zambian was an official at the World Cup in Russia earlier that year and refereed two games there.

Ibrahima Kone scored from the penalty spot for Mali’s goal after a handball by Ellyes Skhiri. Tunisia was awarded a late penalty, also for handball and after a video review by Sikazwe. Tunisia captain Wahbi Khazri had his powerful penalty saved. Mali held on with 10 men after Toure’s red card, although not for as long as they should have had to with Sikazwe ending it early.

The violence in Buea led to more questions over why organizers chose it as a suitable base for African Cup teams considering the volatile situation. Buea, the regional capital, has seen many deadly clashes because of an insurrection by English-speaking separatists. More than 3,000 people have been killed in the fighting across the western part of Cameroon since it erupted five years ago.

There was a heavy police and military presence outside the Limbe Stadium and a military helicopter hovered overhead during the Mali-Tunisia game.

Antonio Conte, Tottenham part ways

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Antonio Conte’s belabored but seemingly inevitable exit from Tottenham Hotspur was just that, as Spurs announced the Italian legend’s exit late Sunday.

Conte went off on everyone at the club following a 3-3 draw with Southampton in Premier League Matchweek 28, and the international break did nothing to calm or rectify the situation.

“I see selfish players, I see players that don’t want to help each other and don’t put their heart [into the game],” Conte said at one point, later criticizing ownership, coaches, and staff. See the full press conference atop this post.

Cristian Stellini will stay on and oversee the season as “Acting Head Coach” with longtime Spurs man Ryan Mason assisting the Italian.

[ MORE: Saka, Kane scored as England cruises past Ukraine ]

Conte, 53, was appointed Spurs boss on Nov. 2, 2021 following the firing of Nuno Espirito Santo, and helped Tottenham to a top-four finish and a return to the UEFA Champions League.

Spurs went unbeaten in their first seven matches to open the 2022-23 season, only losing away to West Ham and Chelsea, but a 3-1 loss at Arsenal in the North London derby started a run of ups and downs not normally associated with Conte teams.

After beating Brighton and Everton, Spurs failed to win consecutive Premier League matches between October 19 and late January, when Spurs beat Fulham and Man City on consecutive match days.

Tottenham was on a 5W-1D-2L Premier League run when Conte launched into his incredible rants following the Southampton draw. That, combined with a lifeless Champions League exit against AC Milan, was far too much to sustain him at the club.

Tottenham Hotspur statement on Antonio Conte

From TottenhamHotspur.com:

“We can announce that Head Coach Antonio Conte has left the Club by mutual agreement. We achieved Champions League qualification in Antonio’s first season at the Club. We thank Antonio for his contribution and wish him well for the future.

“Cristian Stellini will take the team as Acting Head Coach for the remainder of the season, along with Ryan Mason as Assistant Head Coach.

Daniel Levy, Chairman: ‘We have 10 Premier League games remaining and we have a fight on our hands for a Champions League place. We all need to pull together. Everyone has to step up to ensure the highest possible finish for our Club and amazing, loyal supporters.'”

What now?

It’s very strange that Spurs would wait one week into the international break and then announce that Conte was leaving without a new coach in place (Stellini was a long time Tottenham assistant).

Spurs are currently in fourth place on the table with 49 points, one point behind Manchester United, but Newcastle (47 points) and Liverpool 42 points) both have two matches-in-hand on Stellini’s men. Brighton’s also on 42 points and has three matches-in-hand on Spurs.

Stellini actually may have a pretty easy task presuming he didn’t follow up Conte’s comments about the players by yelling, “Yeah, I agree!”

There are points to be had along the way as Spurs return from break to meet Everton, Brighton, and Bournemouth, but the relatively soft landing ends with Newcastle, Manchester United, and Liverpool in the following three PL matches.

Palace, Villa, Brentford, and Leeds wind down the fixture list, so it’s reasonable to think Spurs will return to the Champions League if they can get through Liverpool on April 30 with a look at the top four.

EURO 2024 qualification live! EURO qualifiers schedule, updates, standings

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EURO 2024 qualifying is here, and you’re in the right spot for groups, fixtures, and results.

Italy outlasted England in penalty kicks to win EURO 2020 and is bidding to become the first repeat winner since Spain in 2008 and 2012.

[ MORE: Breaking down Premier League title race ]

England is still seeking its first European Championship and will be favored to emerge from Group C with aforementioned Italy as well as Ukraine, North Macedonia, and Malta.

Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions started off 2024 qualifying well as Harry Kane snapped a tie with Wayne Rooney atop England’s all-time goals list with a 2-1 win in Italy, the nation’s first in the country since 1961, and then Bukayo Saka led the Three Lions to a 2-0 win over Ukraine on Sunday.

Netherlands and France are also in a spicy group that has dark horse Republic of Ireland and former champions Greece, as well as Gibraltar.

[ MORE: Live scores, updates, standings from EURO 2024 qualifying ]

A number of nations have guaranteed themselves no worse than a playoff spot due to their performances in the UEFA Nations League: Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Spain, Scotland, Georgia, Croatia, Turkey, Serbia, Kazakhstan.



EURO 2024 qualifying schedule

Thursday, March 23

Kazakhstan 1-2 Slovenia
Slovakia 0-0 Luxembourg
Italy 1-2 England – Video, player ratings as Kane breaks Rooney record
Denmark 3-1 Finland
Portugal 4-0 Liechtenstein
San Marino 0-2 Northern Ireland
North Macedonia 2-1 Malta
Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-0 Iceland

Friday, March 24

Bulgaria 0-1 Montenegro
Gibraltar 0-3 Greece
Moldova 1-1 Faroe Islands
Serbia 2-0 Lithuania
Austria 4-1 Azerbaijan
Sweden 0-3 Belgium
Czech Republic 3-1 Poland
France 4-0 Netherlands

Saturday, March 25

Scotland 3-0 Cyprus
Israel 1-1 Kosovo
Armenia 1-2 Turkey
Belarus 0-5 Switzerland
Spain 3-0 Norway
Croatia 1-0 Wales
Andorra 0-2 Romania

Sunday, March 26

Kazakhstan 3-2 Denmark
England 2-0 Ukraine — Video, player ratings as Saka leads Three Lions
Liechtenstein 0-7 Iceland
Slovenia 2-0 San Marino
Slovakia 2-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Northern Ireland 0-1 Finland
Luxembourg 0-6 Portugal
Malta 0-2 Italy

Monday, March 27

Montenegro vs Serbia — 2:45pm ET
Netherlands vs Gibraltar — 2:45pm ET
Poland vs Albania — 2:45pm ET
Austria vs Estonia — 2:45pm ET
Sweden vs Azerbaijan — 2:45pm ET
Moldova vs Czech Republic — 2:45pm ET
Hungary vs Bulgaria — 2:45pm ET
Republic of Ireland vs France — 2:45pm ET

Tuesday, March 28

Georgia vs Norway — Noon ET
Wales vs Latvia — 2:45pm ET
Romania vs Belarus — 2:45pm ET
Switzerland vs Israel — 2:45pm ET
Kosovo vs Andorra — 2:45pm ET
Turkey vs Croatia — 2:45pm ET
Scotland vs Spain — 2:45pm ET


EURO 2024 qualifying standings

Group A

Spain — 3 pts, +3 GD
Scotland — 3 pts, +3GD
Georgia
Norway — 0 pts, -3 GD
Cyprus — 0 pts, -3 GD

Group B

France — 3pts, +4 GD
Greece — 3 pts, +3 GD
Republic of Ireland
Gibraltar — 0 pts, -3 GD
Netherlands — 0 pts, -4 GD

Group C

England — 6 pts, +3 GD
Italy — 3 pts, +1 GD
North Macedonia — 3 pts, +1 GD
Ukraine — 0 pts, -2 GD
Malta — 0 pts, -3 GD

Group D

Turkey — 3 pts, +1 GD
Wales — 1 pt, 0 GD
Croatia — 1 pt, 0 GD
Latvia
Armenia — 0 pts, -1 GD

Group E

Czech Republic — 3 pts, +2 GD
Faroe Islands — 1 pt, 0 GD
Moldova — 1 pt, 0 GD
Albania
Poland — 0 pts, -2 GD

Group F

Austria — 3 pts, +3 GD
Belgium — 3 pts, + 3GD
Estonia
Azerbaijan — 0 pts, -3 GD
Sweden — 0 pts, -3 GD

Group G

Serbia — 3 pts, +2 GD
Montenegro — 3 pts, +1 GD
Hungary
Bulgaria — 0 pts, -1 GD
Lithuania — 0 pts, -2 GD

Group H

Slovenia — 6 pts, +3 GD
Northern Ireland — 3 pts, +1 GD
Denmark — 3 pts, +1 GD
Finland — 3 pts, -1 GD
Kazakhstan — 3 pts, 0 GD
San Marino — 0 pts, -4 GD

Group I

Switzerland — 3 pts, +5 GD
Romania — 3 pts, + 2 GD
Israel — 1 pt, 0 GD
Kosovo — 1 pt, 0 GD
Andorra — 0 pts, -2 GD
Belarus — 0 pts, -5 GD

Group J

Portugal — 6 pts, +8 GD
Slovakia — 4 pt, +2 GD
Iceland — 3 pts, +4 GD
Bosnia and Herzegovina — 3 pts, +1 GD
Liechtenstein — 1 pt, -7 GD
Luxembourg — 0 pts, -10 GD

USMNT upcoming schedule – Nations League, friendlies, Gold Cup

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After reaching the last 16 of the 2022 World Cup, the USMNT have a big 2023 coming up as they aim to build off a successful showing on the world’s biggest stage.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA

For the next few months CONCACAF Nations League takes center stage, while the program is very much in transition as Anthony Hudson takes temporary charge and both the general manager (Brian McBride) and sporting director (Earnie Stewart) left in recent months.

[ MORE: USMNT roster for Nations League features Gio Reyna, no Tyler Adams ]

As for now, here is the USMNT’s upcoming schedule for 2023, with plenty more games to be added based on their potential qualification for the 2023 Gold Cup on home soil.


How to watch USMNT

TV channels in English: HBO Max, TNT
TV channels en Español:
Universo, Telemundo Deportes
Streaming en Español: Peacock


USMNT upcoming schedule

* Friendly | ** CONCACAF Nations League | *** 2022 World Cup

2023

vs. Serbia* — Jan. 25, 10 pm ET — Loss 2-1 | Recap & highlights
vs. Colombia* — Jan. 28, 7:30 pm ET — Draw 0-0 | Recap & highlights
at Grenada** — March 24, 8 pm ET — Won 7-1 | Recap & highlights + Player ratings
vs El Salvador** — March 27, 7:30pm ET — Orlando, Florida
vs Mexico* — April 19, 10:22pm ET — Glendale, Arizona – More details

2023 Gold Cup from June 16 to July 19 (USMNT yet to qualify)


USMNT games in 2022

vs. Morocco* — June 1 — Win 3-0
vs. Uruguay* — June 5 — Draw 0-0
vs. Grenada** — June 10 — Win 5-0
at El Salvador** — June 14 — Draw 1-1
vs Japan* — Sept. 23 (in Dusseldorf, Germany) — Loss 2-0
vs Saudi Arabia* — Sept. 27 (in Murcia, Spain) — Draw 0-0


USMNT at 2022 World Cup

Group B
vs. Wales*** — Nov. 21, 2 pm ET — Draw 1-1
vs. England*** — Nov. 25, 2 pm ET — Draw 0-0
vs. Iran*** — Nov. 29, 2 pm ET — Win 1-0

Last 16
vs. Netherlands*** — Dec. 3, 10 am ET — Loss 3-1


USMNT 2022 World Cup qualifying scores, recaps, analysis

at El Salvador — Sept. 2Draw 0-0
vs. Canada — Sept. 5 — Draw 1-1
at Honduras — Sept. 8 — Win 4-1

vs. Jamaica — Oct. 7 — Win 1-0
at Panama — Oct. 10 — Loss 0-1
vs. Costa Rica — Oct. 13 — Win 2-1

vs. Mexico — Nov. 12 — Win 2-0
at Jamaica — Nov. 16 — Draw 1-1

vs. El Salvador — Jan. 27 — Win 1-0
at Canada — Jan. 30 — Loss 0-2
vs. Honduras — Feb. 2 — Win 3-0

at Mexico — March 24 — Draw 0-0 
vs. Panama — March 27 — Win 5-1
at Costa Rica — March 30 — Loss 0-2 


Final CONCACAF World Cup qualifying standings

Canada — 28 points – (QUALIFIED) GD +16 – automatic qualification
Mexico — 28 points (QUALIFIED) GD +9 – automatic qualification
USMNT — 25 points – (QUALIFIED) GD +11 – automatic qualification


Costa Rica — 25 points (PLAYOFF) GD +5


Panama — 21 points (ELIMINATED)
Jamaica — 14 points (ELIMINATED)
El Salvador — 10 points (ELIMINATED)
Honduras — 4 points (ELIMINATED)

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Bukayo Saka leads England to 2-0 win over Ukraine in EURO qualifying

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Bukayo Saka scored a goal and set up Harry Kane for another as England beat Ukraine 2-0 in a UEFA EURO 2024 qualifier at Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday.

That gives England six points from six to start qualifying and Ukraine barely got a sniff of goal after an early chance didn’t go its way. The Three Lions out-attempted Ukraine 18-3 and led the xG battle 2.05-0.12.

England was without Phil Foden, who had his appendix removed, and several others but was minimally troubled over 90 minutes.

[ LIVE: EURO 2024 qualifying scores – England vs Ukraine ]

It was an extremely emotional atmosphere in London as the war rages on across Ukraine following the Russia invasion just over a year ago. The English Football Association gave away close to 1,000 free tickets to Ukrainians who were forced to flee their country and resettle with families in the UK.

The United Kingdom have been one of Ukraine’s key partners in the fight against Russian forces. Over 4,200 Ukraine fans were estimated in the away end at Wembley. This match was Ukraine’s first of 2023, as they narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2022 World Cup after losing to Wales in a playoff last summer.

[ MORE: Full EURO 2024 qualifying schedule, standings ]

England beat Italy 2-1 in Naples on Thursday as Harry Kane became their all-time leading goalscorer with his 54th goal for the Three Lions and they held on after going 2-0 up as Luke Shaw’s red card with 10 minutes to go complicated matters.


England vs Ukraine player ratings: Stars of the Show

Bukayo Saka

Ben Chilwell

Jordan Henderson

Georgiy Sudakov

England vs Ukraine player ratings
fotmob.com

Harry Kane goal video: Saka cues up North London rival

Bukayo Saka goal video: Sensational curl makes it 2-0


How to watch England vs Ukraine live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 12pm ET, Sunday (March 26)
Updates: Via NBCSports.com
Stadium: Wembley Stadium, London
Stream: Fubo


Key storylines, in-form players

The last time this nations met England ran out 4-0 winners in the quarterfinals of EURO 2020. They will be the heavy favorites in this game but Ukraine should not be underestimate as the No. 26 ranked team in the world have the likes of Oleksandr Zinchenko, Mykhailo Mudryk, and Vitalii Mykolenko all playing in the Premier League.

England’s forwards ran riot in the first half against Italy with Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka sensational, plus Jude Bellingham’s driving runs from midfield give this Three Lions side an extra dimension. There is more creativity and cutting edge about this England side compared to recent years and it feels like they are ready to win something. There will be a ceremony before this game to honor Harry Kane becoming England’s all-time goalscorer as he passed Wayne Rooney with his goal in Italy on Thursday.


England team news, lineup options

Luke Shaw will be suspended for this game after his red card in Italy, so Ben Chilwell comes in at left back. Jordan Henderson enters for Kalvin Phillips in midfield, while Phil Foden misses out after undergoing appendix surgery. Reece James is also out, but Jude Bellingham perseveres through an injury to start and James Maddison is also in the XI.

Ukraine team news, lineup options

Andriy Yarmolenko (three goals away from equalling Andriy Shevchenko as Ukraine’s all-time leading scorer) has been struggling with a hamstring injury and misses out, while Bournemouth’s Ilya Zabarnyi and Shakhtar’s Oleksandr Zubkov are both out. Roman Yaremchuk offesr real quality in up top while Arsenal’s Oleksandr Zinchenko is the heartbeat of this Ukraine side and Chelsea’s Mykhailo Mudryk will drive the left side in front of Everton’s Vitalii Mykolenko.