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Liverpool's Klopp rips AFCON move
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Liverpool’s Klopp rips AFCON move, says FIFA needs to step in but won’t

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Jurgen Klopp is furious about Cameroon moving the Africa Cup of Nations to January 2021, something that would hinder the Reds’ likely title defense.

(No, Klopp is not counting his title chickens before they hatch, even if it’s a foregone conclusion).

Cameroon moved the tournament from summer to winter due to its climate, which seems like a decision that could’ve been made ages ago. The nation had hosting rights stripped away for the 2019 tournament, but will host in 2021.

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The Reds could be without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita for the better part of a month should Senegal, Guinea, and Egypt all qualify for the tournament. Joel Matip could be there with hosts Cameroon if the federation is successful in convincing him to return to the international fold.

Klopp went on a lengthy and mostly understandable diatribe against the move. We write mostly because there’s something lost in translation regarding the import of the tournament.

He’s upset at how it will tax his squad and how he keeps the players happy if he needs to add players just to deal with one month of the schedule.

“Do we really want to open this book? I couldn’t respect Africa Cup of Nations more than I do, I like it, I’ve watched it a lot. Difficult circumstances a lot of times,” Klopp said, via The Liverpool Echo. “It is another tournament, there are too many of them. Other thing is it doesn’t help African players. We won’t sell Naby, Mo or Sadio because of it but if we bring someone in, it affects the decision. Normal process. We have to think about that. Players aren’t asked. … FIFA, who should [step in] doesn’t look like being involved. It’s a strange situation. If we want lesser games they will say take less money. I will say, I am ready to do so. Yes.”

He continued.

“For us it’s a catastrophe, If we say (a player) can’t go, he’s suspended. How can the club who pay his salary not decide. If he’s injured and we say he cannot play for us, we have to send him to Africa so they can have a look. We don’t have any say. We just plan the route. These are all things that should not be like this. I speak about it now and no one will listen. The moaner from Liverpool again. It’s a complete waste of time. As long as nothing changes, I will keep saying it. It’s about the players, not me.”

Manchester City (Riyad Mahrez), Arsenal (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), and Leicester City (Wilfried Ndidi) are among the many clubs who could lose stars for a month.

Africa Cup of Nations moved, Premier League clubs impacted

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The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon has been moved and it is likely to impact several Premier League clubs.

In a statement the African Football Confederation (CAF) confirmed the switch, as they had previously agreed to hold the tournament in the summer (just like in 2019) but due to the hot weather conditions in host nation Cameroon in the summer time, the Cameroon Football Federation has switched the dates to Jan. 6 to Feb. 6, 2021.

The deputy general secretary of CAF, Tony Baffoe, revealed more details about why the dates have been switched.

“We have reviewed the period of the competition as requested by the Cameroonian party due to unfavourable climatic conditions during the period initially slated. After listening to the various arguments and viewpoints – and in particular from the Cameroonian meteorological authorities, the coaches and players – the representatives of the AFCON organising committee, which received the mandate from CAF Executive Committee to take the decision, has granted this request. A detailed reported shall be presented to the members of the Executive Committee during its next session on 6 February.”

That means the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, to name a few, would be missing for over a month of the 2020-21 Premier League season.

Liverpool would be the Premier League most impacted with Salah and Mane potentially joined by Naby Keita, while Leicester City would potentially lose Nigerian duo Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho, plus Southampton’s Moussa Djenepo and Sofiane Boufal would be unavailable.

Of course, this over a year out and teams haven’t even qualified for the tournament yet, but this will seriously impact the plans of Premier League clubs.

AFCON tournaments have previously been held in January to February but switched to a summer model for the 2019 edition in Egypt, with clubs across Europe delighted by that decision as they were losing star players at a key part of the season.

Mane named CAF Player of the Year

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Sadio Mane has bragging rights for at least the year over his club teammate, and fellow African, Mohamed Salah.

On Tuesday, the Confederation of African Football voted Mane as the African Player of the Year for 2019, his first continental individual award. Mane beat out Salah (Egypt), who had won the previous two seasons and Algerian and Manchester City midfielder Riyad Mahrez. Interestingly, it’s the first win for a Senegalese player since El Hadji Diouf won it in 2002, shortly after joining Liverpool, Mane’s current club.

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“I’m very happy and proud to win this award,” Mane said, per the CAF. “I thank my teammates at the Senegal national team and also my club, Liverpool for their support.”

Mane’s had a heck of a last 18 months or so. He finished tied for the Premier League Golden Boot with 22 goals and also won the UEFA Champions League and the Golden Boot for that competition in 2019. Then he followed that up by leading Senegal to the African Cup of Nations final, and so far this year, he’s got 11 goals in 18 Premier League matches as the Reds are way ahead in the race for the league title.
In addition to Mane, Salah, and Mahrez, Liverpool’s Joel Matip, Tottenham’s Serge Aurier, and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were all named to the CAF Best XI for 2019. Former Everton midfielder Idrissa Gueye was also named to the list.

Court date set for UAE appeal against Qatar’s Asian Cup win

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GENEVA — A legal challenge by the United Arab Emirates soccer federation that threatens Qatar’s 2019 Asian Cup title will be heard at sport’s highest court.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport said Tuesday it will hear the UAE’s appeal on March 12 in a case that alleges Qatar fielded two ineligible players at the tournament. The Asian Cup was hosted by the UAE during an ongoing diplomatic rift with neighboring Qatar, which will stage the next World Cup in 2022.

A verdict by CAS judges is likely at least several weeks after the hearing in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The ruling could strip Qatar of its biggest success in world soccer, affect key young players in its World Cup planning, and see the UAE inflict an embarrassing loss on a regional political rival.

The UAE filed a complaint with the Asian Football Confederation after a 4-0 loss to Qatar in the Asian Cup semifinals in Abu Dhabi last January.

When an ineligible player case is proven, AFC rules say a team must forfeit the game.

The Asian governing body’s first disciplinary ruling cleared Qatar of wrongdoing hours before beating Japan 3-1 in the final.

UAE officials have appealed to CAS against the Qatar Football Association and the AFC, whose appeal committee also later dismissed the claims of wrongfully submitted documents.

The UAE alleges Qatar’s star forward Almoez Ali and defender Bassam Al-Rawi were not born there and did not meet FIFA nationality requirements to represent the country.

FIFA’s statutes say players can acquire a nationality if they have “lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant association.”

Both Ali, who turned 23 since the Asian Cup ended, and Al-Rawi, who is now aged 22, seemed not to meet the five-year residency rule.

However, both reportedly claimed their mothers were born in Qatar – meeting FIFA’s national eligibility standard if a parent or grandparent is born on a territory.

Ali scored against the UAE, and again in the final, for a tournament-leading nine goals. Al-Rawi was suspended for the semifinal but returned to play against Japan.

They are also club teammates at Al-Duhail, runner-up in the Qatari league last season, and fellow graduates of the state-of-the-art Aspire youth academy in Doha which has educated many players born outside of Qatar.

The latest appeal extends difficulties between the soccer neighbors which showed in a heated semifinals game played 20 months into an economic and travel boycott of Qatar by regional political rivals.

After Qatar took a 2-0 lead in Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium – named for the UAE crown prince – players celebrating the goal had to dodge shoes thrown by some spectators.

The UAE soccer body was later fined $150,000 by the AFC for the fans’ misconduct, including the shoe-throwing and disrespecting the Qatari anthem.

The teams met again in Doha five weeks ago, when the UAE and Saudi Arabia agreed to travel to Qatar to play in the Arabian Gulf Cup, won by Bahrain. Qatar beat the UAE 4-2 in a group-stage game.

Curtis Jones stunner boosts young Liverpool side in Merseyside derby

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Liverpool’s kids took center stage again in Cup action, and this time they came through. Jurgen Klopp rotated his squad for the Merseyside derby against Everton in FA Cup play, and while Carlo Ancelotti selected a strong Toffees lineup, it was a day for the youngsters.

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino were all rested alongside fellow regulars Virgil Van Dijk, Alisson, Andrew Robertson, and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Instead, the Liverpool lineup was dotted with youth players who stepped up to the challenge. While Liverpool dominated in possession throughout the match, they found the attacking third a stumbling block until young Curtis Jones changed that with one spectacular 71st minute moment, leading the Reds to a 1-0 victory over Everton.

Liverpool suffered an early blow as James Milner, one of the few veteran players in the squad, was forced off just eight minutes into the match after pulling up behind the play. He was replaced by 19-year-old Yasser Larouci

Everton, having made just two changes from its last Premier League match, had a big chance on 12 minutes as Adrian kept out Mason Holgate‘s free header, a fabulous opportunity that was disappointingly directed straight at the Liverpool goalkeeper. The Toffees were quite good in the attacking third throughout the first half, forcing Adrian into a few more big saves. Yerry Mina flashed a header wide on 37 minutes and Dominic Calvert-Lewin also just barely dragged one shy of the post.

Liverpool’s young squad still had its moments through the first 45 minutes, including one where Divock Origi searched for the far post, only kept out by Jordan Pickford‘s acrobatic diving save. The second half was even more cagey than the first, and while Liverpool’s kids dominated in possession, Everton was wasteful with its chances. Theo Walcott delivered an absolutely abysmal ball for a streaking Moise Kean with 25 minutes to go.

As the Reds gained in confidence, they eventually went in front as 18-year-old midfielder Jones rescued the match. The Liverpool youth product cropped up with an absolute stunner, rifling a long-range shot into the top-right corner.

The goal was good enough to send Liverpool through to the fourth round, dumping Everton out of the competition. It’s not the first winning moment for Jones with the senior squad, as he was also on hand to deliver the decisive penalty in the EFL Cup penalty shootout against Arsenal which Liverpool won 6-5.

The win somewhat avenged Liverpool’s 5-0 defeat to Aston Villa in which the youngsters took the field with the senior squad in Qatar for the Club World Cup. The young team deployed that afternoon played well, with the scoreline somewhat harsh on the side. This time around with senior team support sprinkled throughout, the kids produced a display worthy of a landmark rivalry win.