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Italian soccer federation signs deal with Chinese government

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ROME (AP) The Italian soccer federation has signed a wide-ranging memorandum with the Chinese government to promote soccer between the two countries.

The deal foresees playing the Italian Super Cup or Italian Cup in China within the next three years.

[ MORE: Upsets in EURO qualifying ]

The Italian Super Cup – which pits the Serie A champion against the Italian Cup champion – has already been played in China four times over the last 10 years.

The meeting with China Media Group head Shen Haixiong also focused on TV content and rights, collaboration over developing young Chinese players in Italy and instruction for using the video assistant referee.

Shen was in Rome for the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Italian federation president Gabriele Gravina says, “Soccer has shown once again to be a bridge between different cultures.”

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

Field set for African Cup of Nations as last five teams qualify

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South Africa became the last team to qualify for the African Cup of Nations as it ended Libya’s hopes with a 2-1 win in Tunisia.

Bafana Bafana took the 24th spot at an expanded African Cup in Egypt in June and July, the first time the continental championship will be increased from 16 to 24 teams.

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South Africa was one of five teams to leave it to Sunday, the last day of qualifying, to book its place. Benin, Zimbabwe, Congo and Tanzania also made it to complete the 2019 African Cup lineup.

Striker Percy Tau was South Africa’s hero with both goals as the game against Libya came alive in a dramatic 20-minute spell after halftime.

Tau put South Africa ahead in the 49th minute with a powerful left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty area. Ahmad Benali equalized with a penalty in the 65th after South Africa goalkeeper Darren Keet kicked a Libyan player in the face as he went up to catch the ball.

Tau re-established South Africa’s lead just three minutes later with a right-footed goal this time.

South Africa needed just a draw to qualify. Libya had to win.

The world’s most political game? Venezuela v. Catalonia

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MADRID (AP) There will be lots of politics to talk about when Venezuela takes on a Catalonia squad in a friendly soccer game in Spain on Monday.

Venezuela has a coach who offered his resignation over the alleged political use of his national team, while Catalonia — the region in the middle of an independence dispute with — will be missing players because some non-Catalan teams didn’t release them.

Venezuela is coming off a convincing 3-1 win over Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Friday, but what attracted most of the attention after the friendly was an announcement by Venezuela coach Rafael Dudamel. He offered his resignation because he was not happy with the politicization of a pre-game visit by a representative of Juan Guaido, the man challenging Nicolas Maduro’s claim to the presidency in Venezuela.

Dudamel and the rest of the squad had welcomed the visit but the coach apparently did not like that images were later released to the public.

“Regrettably, they politicized the visit,” Dudamel said. “The agreement was that if there was any image or video, it would have been used internally only. But they politicized the visit, and we can’t allow that to happen. It was regrettable how they used it.”

Venezuela is in the middle of a power struggle since Maduro’s re-election last year was deemed illegitimate by several governments.

Dudamel said he will remain in charge of the squad on Monday, but his future will depend on talks with Venezuelan soccer federation officials in the coming days.

Catalonia has also undergone political turmoil, peaking recently in 2017 with an independence referendum not recognized by Madrid. The issue divided Spain at the time and remains a hot topic politically.

Although the region is not independent, Catalonia has often put together squads to play in friendly matches against other nations.

Among the Catalan players expected to play on Monday are veterans Gerard Pique and Xavi Hernandez. Both have retired from the Spanish national team and are off-duty with their clubs because of the international break.

Hernandez, a 39-year-old midfielder, currently plays in Qatar. The 32-year-old Pique, still a starter with Barcelona, decided to stop playing with Spain’s national team after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

But other players initially selected for the squad were not released by their clubs, who said their decisions were not related to politics.

Valladolid, which is fighting relegation from the top tier of the Spanish league, was the first team to keep its players from taking part in Monday’s match, and Rayo Vallecano and Huesca — also threatened by relegation — later followed suit.

“We understand the reasons why these clubs are not going to let their players play,” Catalonia coach Gerard Lopez said.

The match will be played in Girona, a Catalan city about 60 miles from Barcelona.

Juventus sets record for attendance at women’s club game

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TURIN, Italy (AP) A week after the world record for the highest attendance at a women’s soccer club match was set, a league record in Italy was also broken.

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Juventus’ women’s team played for the first time at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday and a total of 39,027 people turned out to see the league leaders beat second-place Fiorentina 1-0.

That annihilated the previous record attendance for a women’s club match in Italy of 14,000 spectators.

All tickets were free.

Defending champion Juventus, which normally plays its matches at the club’s training center in Vinovo, extended its advantage at the top of the Serie A table to four points ahead of Fiorentina and seven ahead of third-place AC Milan.

[ MORE: Messi injured in Argentina return; likely to recover for Man Utd clash ]

A total of 60,739 people were present at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium last Sunday as the hosts lost 2-0 to Barcelona.

In January, Athletic Bilbao said it set a European record when 48,121 spectators attended a Spanish Cup match against Atletico Madrid at San Mames Stadium in Bilbao.

The record for any women’s match was set in 1999 when 90,185 people watched the World Cup final between the United States and China at the Rose Bowl, which the U.S. won. At the 2012 Olympic final in London, 80,203 saw the U.S. beat Japan.

Albania fires coach after losing at home against Turkey

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian coach Christian Panucci has been fired a day after his team lost to Turkey in a European Championship qualifier.

In a statement Saturday, the Albanian soccer federation said it had terminated the 46-year-old Italian’s contract.

Albania lost 2-0 at home to Turkey in their opening Euro 2020 game on Friday.

Panucci led Albania for 15 matches – winning four, drawing two and losing nine. He became coach in July 2017, replacing another Italian, Gianni De Biasi, who took Albania to its first major tournament at the Euro 2016 finals.

Albania plays at Andorra on Monday in its next Group H game with former national team players Ervin Bulku and Sulejman Mema in charge.

France, Iceland and Moldova are also in the group.